There is no going back: Alhambra is a must-see monument on any trip to Granada. It is one of the great attractions of Andalusia - and it is not difficult to perceive the motives.
It is a walled and autonomous medieval city, located on La Sabika hill, which at the time housed palaces, mosques, schools, workshops and all other services essential for its operation. Fortunately, nowadays the complex of Alhambra remains very well preserved and is open to tourism.
Visit the Nasrid Palaces (or Nazaríes, in the original in Spanish) is an incredible experience. First of all, the magnificent Comares Palace; the moorish-inspired decorative details and the arabesque windows; the mocárabes dome of the Room of Abencerragens; spaces such as the Patio of the Lions; the bold Palace of Charles V; and all the monumental halls and little places that I found while strolling leisurely through the Alhambra. Words are missing to describe such architectural and decorative richness.
I only regretted that I did not have the opportunity to villa of Generalife and its extensive gardens; but the rain that hit Granada that day, entitled to red alert and television news, did not invite big rides. In any case, and despite the many tourists, the Alhambra is same must visit. Come on.
My visit to Alhambra
I think that was my first unobstructed view of the fortress palace of the Alhambra. Walked by Albaicín neighborhood, my great passion of Granada, when I approached the Miradouro San Nicolás. On the hill in front, all the grandeur of the Alhambra stripped before my eyes. No filters or mists.
The sky was heavy and it rained, but there I was absorbed in the magnitude of the Alhambra. At my side, there were people playing flamenco, hippies to sell handicrafts, a couple of street vendors and some tourists. The next day I would be on the other side of the Alhambra.
In the early afternoon, I took a minibus from Albaicín to Alhambra. I left well in advance - and I'm glad I did, since the traffic in the center of Granada was chaotic. Arriving at the Alhambra, and since I still had some time, I chose to get off at the stop by the main entrance.
I walked through the gardens to the Nasrid Palaces. And I waited for my turn. Had it not been bad weather and would have been able to enjoy the magnificent view over Albaicin and the lower area of Granada. Twenty minutes later, dazzle began.
Once inside I was exploring and trying to distance myself from the big groups. I was not counting on Alhambra just for myself, but sometimes the large groups, entering a division of the Nasrid Palaces at the same time, made the visit less peaceful. Maybe headphones with appropriate music would have solved the problem, allowing me to immerse myself in the arabesques of the Alhambra; but I was not warned to do so.
Even so, the Alhambra is so overwhelming that hardly anyone will not leave there in awe.
Here are some of the most fascinating spaces of the Nasrid Palaces (group consisting of the palaces of Mexuar, Comares and Lions).
The Great Audience Hall, or Mexuar, is the starting point for the palatial visit. Despite the decorative exuberance of the room, which will have served for important audiences and meetings, it was one of the places I could least enjoy in Alhambra (a lot of people concentrated at the beginning of the visit). On the other side of the Mexuar, there is access to the Golden Courtyard.
Patio and Dorado Room
The Golden Courtyard was a kind of antechamber where the sultans received their subjects. Outside the door, the Golden Room functioned as a waiting room. IS only a waypoint - but a beautiful waypoint! Continuing the visit, you come to the so-called Pátio das Murtas.
Courtyard of Comares (or the Murtas)
The visit continues through the so-called Pátio de Comares, the neuralgic center of the homonymous palace and official residence of the Sultan and his family. The courtyard includes a full length lake, flanked by a live hedge of myrtles. Soon after, one of the most spectacular rooms of the Alhambra.
Hall of the Ambassadors (or Alhambra Throne Room)
As soon as I entered the Sala del Trono de Alhambra, I gaped. I am accustomed to seeing Islamic decoration in my travels, but the geometric wood work on the ceiling is dazzlingly beautiful. In addition, it is said to be a masterpiece of Islamic carpentry. There are more than 8.000 wood pieces embedded as one puzzle, which apparently are a representation of the "Seven Heavens". I had a sore neck from looking up ...
It is a small corridor with unobstructed views of the historic neighborhood of Albaicín, where it is worth stopping to contemplate. Ahead, the much photographed Lions Palace.
Courtyard of the Lions
Iconic image of the Alhambra, the Courtyard of the Lions is surrounded by 124 marble columns, beyond which are the spectacular rooms of the Abencerragens and the Two Sisters. Unfortunately, visitors are barred from access to the center of the courtyard and the Lions' fountain.
Room of the Abencerragens and Room of the Two Sisters
Notwithstanding the decorative magnificence of the Room of the Two Sisters and the Room of Abencerragens, well-known in the portentous cupola of mocárabes, was a window profusely decorated with motifs of Arab inspiration that caught my attention. Yes, a window!
It gives the name of Mirador de Daraxa and is one of the most poetic places in the Alhambra. I could not resist spending infinite time looking at such a perfect and geometric nook. It was, together with the imposing Alhambra Throne Room, the place where I most involved myself with the Alhambra.
When to go
Although theoretically it is possible to visit Alhambra at any time of the year, I recommend spring and autumn in order to avoid the more extreme temperatures of Andalusia.
How to organize a visit to the Alhambra
After having done something totally different and after reflecting on the subject, I think the best strategy to visit the Alhambra complex is as follows:
- Go from minibus and arrive with about two and a half hours in advance of the scheduled time on the ticket.
- From the entrance, first follow Generalife and visit the gardens and the homonymous palace.
- After the visit, walk to the opposite end of the complex and visit the alcáçova. It is the military area of Alhambra (it is one of the oldest parts of the complex).
- Finally, head for the Nasridas Palaces, near by, at whose entrance you will have to show the ticket.
- At the end of the visit, exit through the Door of Justice and down to the center of Granada on foot.
If you do not have time to visit the fortress before the Nasridas Palaces (which have scheduled time), head first to the palaces and leave the fortress for the end.
Alternatively, you can arrive at the Nasridas Palaces at the time (it's the ones the ticket is for) and only then see the other Alhambra attractions, which are free to access in time. This was my strategy and it worked well, but only because I did not visit Generalife. If he had done so, he would have been obliged to walk "behind" unnecessarily.
See the following map to better understand the geography of the Alhambra (in Spanish).
How to get to Alhambra
As mentioned above, my recommendation is to go by bus and return on foot. While in Albaicín, for example, you can take the C32 minibus (1,40 €) to one of the Alhambra entrances.
On the way back, go on foot. It is a very pleasant walk, always descending, which leads to Plaza Nueva, roughly on the dividing line between the Albaicín quarter and the center of Granada. Perfect to continue exploring the city, so.
Other useful tips
Some additional tips for visiting Alhambra without fuss:
- Buy Tickets on-line for the Nasrid Palaces (14 €) three months in advance (the maximum allowed). It may seem exaggerated, but keep in mind that Alhambra is the most visited monument in Spain. It is also possible to make an overnight visit to the three Nasrid Palaces: Mexuar Palace, Comares Palace and Palacio dos Leões (8 €).
- If you opt for a last minute trip and there are no tickets available for Alhambra on the day you want, there are two possible solutions so you do not leave Granada without visiting Alhambra. First, the Granada Card, which can be purchased on-line and includes admission to Alhambra (no scheduled time). Second, integrate a group (with a guide) to visit Alhambra.
- Tickets are personal and non-transferable; take printed tickets (or on the mobile phone) and identification document.
- Do not forget that the only attraction by appointment is the Nasrid Palaces; do not be late. The remaining Alhambra complex can be visited at any time.
- Although there is a scheduled time to enter the Nasrid Palaces, there is no limit to the visit to the Alhambra. Take it easy, "finte" the large organized groups and enjoy. Alhambra deserves time. In all, including Generalife and the Alcazaba, it will hardly take less than three or four hours to see everything.
- There is an application with the Official Alhambra Guide for tablet or smartphone (iOS ou Android).
Where to stay
To try to decide which area of the city best suits your traveler profile, see the text where to stay in Granada.
Opting for center of Granada I recommend, among others, the Eurostars Catedral, a traditional hotel with excellent value for money and unbeatable location for those who want to stay in the center of Granada. I personally like the Room Mate Leo (is not it pretty?). For those who want even more comfort and can afford it, the gorgeous Gar Anat Hotel Boutique and the extravagant Casa 1800 are two excellent lodging choices in Granada. At the opposite end of the more economical hotels, Hostal Lima, do not Granada Old Town Hostel and in the neighbor Hostel Verona. For those who prefer apartments see for example the magnificent studios Palacio Cabrera - Lillo.
Em Albaicin, when it comes to apartments, there are extraordinary calls Smart Suites Albaicín. Alternatively, the fantastic Shine Albayzín, the traditional Palace of Santa Inés, or the Hotel Santa Isabel La Real, in The Posada de Quijada or House of Aljarife are also excellent choices. You will be very well installed in any of these hotels - although on one or the other the prices may be above average. If, instead, you prefer to save on accommodation, look out for the cheapest ones Cuevas Coloras Hostel e White Nest Hostel.
Anyway, you will find all the best hotels in Granada (for all tastes and budgets) in link below.
A World Nomads offers one of the best and most complete travel insurance recommended by National Geographic and Lonely Planet. Other excellent and cheaper option is IATI Seguros, which has no age limit and allows multivariate insurance (including long-term travel) to any destination in the world. It's the insurance I use in my travels.