The Andalusia region of Spain is completely different to the north and centre of Spain. My first taste in the region was in Granada. Arriving here, I felt a large influence from the Middle East; walking around I saw pomegranate symbols and emblems placed around the city, and market-filled streets selling pomegranate souvenirs. I soon discovered that this huge influence derived from the Islamic tribes that conquered Spain, and had control over the area until the 15th century. Eventually, the Catholics took over and despite their efforts to eradicate their entire identity by turning their mosques into churches, forcing Christian conversions and eventually banishing them from the city, a large part of Islamic culture is strongly present today.
The Muslims also influenced the food we eat in Spain today, such as the Saffron we taste in Paella, and of course pork, which is the most prevalent meat eaten throughout Spain. This is due to the Spanish Inquisition, as what better way to test if someone is a Jew or Muslim than by testing his or her willingness to eat pork. This isn’t still the reason why Spaniards eat so much pork today, but the tradition of eating pork has merely been passed on through generation to generation. I also learnt that Sephardic Jews were from Spain, not north Africa- they moved to North Africa after they were expelled from Spain in the Spanish Inquisition, which lasted for over 300 years.
The city today is divided into three different areas. You have the Down Town area that is the Catholic area, Albaicin that hosts the traditional, white Spanish buildings and the Sacromote area where people live in caves.
Granada is a very unique city, filled with rich history and a buzzing vibe that makes you want to get inside and find out every detail, story, and secret. I found it a smaller, peaceful city to visit, especially after the craziness of Madrid.
1. View up to the Alhambra, 2. Alhambra, 3. Albaicín area,
Things to do:
Alhambra: This was a highlight during my whole time in Spain. The Alhambra is built on a large hill, which can be seen from town. The Alhambra has a few different highlights such as the Charles V Palace and surrounding areas, Nasrid Palaces, Towers and higher Alhambra, Alcazaba and Generalife.
- To go into the Palace you must book a designated time slot, which can be done online following this link. I found this to be a good technique, as the Palace didn’t get too busy as only a certain number of people were let in every half hour. The Palace is the part you pay for, costing 14€, but without seeing this I don’t think you really grasp the beauty, hard work and design of the Alhambra. Inside the Palace is breathtaking; the intricate details, colourful tiles, Arabic writing and stunning archways make you never want to put your camera away, as it is a photographers heaven! But make sure you do- just stop and stare for a moment, and make sure you take it all in with your own eyes before you proceed to snap away.
Make sure you visit every spot on the provided map as each spot offers different views over Granada, or impressive vantage points looking back towards the Palace. The Generalife is also beautiful so make sure you don’t miss it. I spent four hours walking around the Alhambra.
4. Sacromonte area, 5. Plaza Nueva,
- Squares and streets: Carrera del Darro and Paseo de los Tristes are among the most beautiful and popular places to visit in Granada. They are situated next to the River Darro, and offer stunning views up towards the Alhambra. There are shops and restaurants situated along here. Make sure you eat dinner out here one night, to sit and watch the Alhambra light up. Plaza Nueva is the oldest and main square in Granada. From here, you can walk up to the Alhambra or sit in one of the restaurants and watch the city pass you by. If you get lost, this is a good point to navigate your way back to and then work off of that.
- Flamenco: Flamenco’s origins are not entirely clear, and are a subject of debate since it has only been documented for the past two hundreds years. However, it is certain that Flamenco originated in Andalucía when Spain was under Arab domination, and then modified and adapted by Jews and Christians over the years.
- My parents and I went to an hour show with Casa Del Arte Flamenco, costing 18€ Having not watched flamenco before, I was unsure what to expect, plus the singing was in Spanish (obviously), so I had to watch the emotions of the performers to try to understand what was happening. On the stage there is one singer, one guitarist, one female and one male dancer. The movements by the dancers were quick, sharp and powerful. You need to continually change between watching the feet and the hands, in the hopes to not miss anything. It was beautiful and interesting to watch, and I definitely recommend going to at least one flamenco show whilst in the Andalucía area.
6. Alhambra, 7. Santa Iglesia Catedral Metropolitana de la Encarnación de Granada,
- Walking tours: I went on two free waking tours with Walk in Granada. They are a smaller company, local to Granada. I really enjoyed both tours, but for me, the Sacromonte Tour was most memorable.
- On the Sacromonte tour, you are taken up through the Albaicín area into the hills of Sacromote. This is an area for people living an alternative hippie lifestyle in caves for free. They do not have running water in the caves, and must walk up a hill by a church to get water; they gather electricity through solar energy. There are some caves that people pay to live in, and are quite expensive! These have running water and power, and are apparently available for rent on AirBnB. We walked all the way up to the hill, to the San Miguel Alto viewpoint, which offered wide views over the city. I found this tour really interesting as it took you off the beaten track to places you wouldn’t have found on your own, whilst providing a deep historical explanation for how people came to live in caves.
- The main city walking tour took you around the central areas of the city, the Cathedral, the Royal Chapel and Alcaiceria. The tour spoke about the Spanish Inquisition and the Islamic influence presence in Granada and where it came from.
- Churches: The Catedral de Granada, and Santa Iglesia Catedral Metropolitana de la Encarnación de Granada, are the main cathedrals in Granada.
- Food: Try the Piononos de Santa Fe, which is a local cream, orange, cinnamon cake. I didn’t love this, but I always like to try the local cuisines.
- Food: You can get one free tapas with every drink you buy in many of the restaurants. Usually wherever I travel I can find Italian or some form of Asian cuisine to break up from just eating the local food, but here, all the food appeared to be Spanish and Middle Eastern cuisine.
- Bus: You can get a small red bus up to the Alhambra instead of walking or taxi. The bus cost 1,40€ per person.
- Shops: There were not many shops in Granada, so don’t come expecting to make a lot of unique purchases.
- Alhambra: As I mentioned, the Alhambra lights up at night. Make sure you see it from at least one vantage point.
- Views: The most stunning views of the Alhambra can be seen from the Mirador de San Nicolás in the Albaicín or San Miguel Alto viewpoint in Sacromonte. The best views overlooking the city of Granada will be found in the Alhambra.
13. San Miguel Alto viewpoint, 14. Alhambra gardens, 15. Alhambra,
My parents picked a beautiful AirBnB on Calle Santiago, a 10-minute walk from Plaza Nueva. It was in a quiet street, which meant a peaceful nights sleep. There were a few restaurants 2 minutes down the street, but the better restaurants were located around Plaza Nueva. I would recommend staying anywhere around here if you’re after a more relaxing time in Granada, slightly tucked away from the city centre.