Arabic architecture, Middle Eastern food, cave houses, snow-capped mountains, free tapas with every glass of wine… The more we heard, the more irresistible the idea of visiting Granada became. So we abandoned our winter sun chasing in Seville and booked ourselves a cheap ticket on board the next bus to the mountainous town of Granada.
While Seville was traditional and charming, there was something more unique and beautiful about Granada for us. It’s appeal was probably a result of the glorious mountain scenery, the amazing vegetarian food, the hippy streak running through the town, and the awesome couple we stayed with on Airbnb.
Not ones for rushing around, our five days in Granada were spent travelling slowly and getting to know the city:
Slow Walking Route Around Granada
Set in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada is a city of spectacular views. We took our time walking between Granada’s many miradors, stopping for coffee or tapas in between, following the curved cobbled streets wherever we fancied, and marvelling at the beautiful views of the Alhambra, the enchanting hilltop fortress that sits above the city.
Albaycín is a UNESCO World Heritage neighbourhood with houses that sprawl up the hillside. The traditional houses here are called “cármenes,” and are houses with a small garden, surrounded by a high wall that runs along the street.
Moorish Markets in Albaycín
Behind Plaza Nueva, heading uphill, are a series of side street filled with Arab shops and teahouses. You can buy anything from hand woven rugs and pottery to loose leaf tea and late night sweet baklava.
Mirador San Nicolás is tipped as the best viewpoint in the city to see the Alhambra. The viewpoint is only a short climb compared to the rest and because of that it’s also one of the most crowded.
Local Tip! Our Airbnb hosts shared a tip that only the locals know. Just to the left of Mirador San Nicolás is a small mosque, which has a small garden area set away from the busy square where you can get a much clearer view. The square attached to the mosque is open to the public and you can simply enter through the gate.
San Cristóbal is a great alternative to Mirador San Nicolás, but it’s also much higher up the hill. While some people have said it’s “less special” than San Nicolás, I definitely didn’t think so. From here you can see a wider view of the city and the expanse of the Sierra Nevada mountains behind the Alhambra.
Granada City Centre
Granada’s city centre is really akin to any other high street and shopping area. However, it’s worth heading into town to see the cathedral and the surrounding squares and side streets.
When we first arrived at our Airbnb place in Granada, our host showed us a map of all the things to do in Granada. She pointed out the cathedral but said it wasn’t all that impressive just because it paled in comparison to other more grand cathedrals like Seville’s. Though it was true that the architecture was much more simple and less ornate than other cathedrals, Granada Cathedral is still grand and definitely worth seeing.
Peek in at Palacio de la Madraza
If you’re walking near the cathedral then definitely nip over the road to have a peek at the beautiful façade of the Palacio de la Madraza. The site was originally a mosque school and is now currently part of the University of Granada.
Tipped as being the “less touristy” souk style shops than the markets that spiral up Albayzin, this row of shops next to the cathedral sells all the same wares. The Alcaiceria is the old Moorish silk market where all of the highest quality silks were once sold.
Walk Along the River
Escape the busy town centre and stroll along the river. The traditional hammam (Arabic baths) are located here. Eventually you’ll reach Paseo de los Tristes, an outside courtyard area with various restaurants and cafes that sits right in the shadow of the Alhambra.
Up the hill from Albaycín is the white-washed neighbourhood of Sacromonte. This is the one that you see on all the postcards and tourist brochures for Granada because it’s just so picturesque.
The Gypsy Caves in Sacromonte
The Sacromonte neighbourhood is famous for it’s gypsy caves and flamenco bars. The pretty underground homes were carved into the soft white stone on the hillsides by Arab settlers and later lived in by gypsies who moved into the area.
Sunset at Ermita de San Miguel el Alto
The highest of the viewpoints in Granada, and with sweeping views of the city. There’s a small church with a stone wall just in front where you can sit to watch the sunset. During the winter, sunset is usually around 6pm. It gets chilly though, so wrap up warm before you head up the hill.
Don’t Miss the Alhambra!
The main attraction in Granada is the Alhambra and rightly so, this glorious palace come fortress complex is mesmerising. It’s so big though that I had to write a whole separate blog post about visiting the Alhambra!
Local Travel Accommodation in Granada
We had a good experience with Airbnb in Seville and an even better one in Granada. We decided to stay in a shared apartment with locals this time and mainly decided on the place based on how friendly the couple who owned it seemed – we picked really well!
Our experience with Neria and Agus was much more like Couchsurfing than a formal Airbnb apartment. They were really warm and welcoming, and we shared meals with them and chatted late at night when they came in from work.
Their apartment is a traditional style home located in Albaycín. If you’re looking for a unique and local experience, then we’d definitely recommend staying with this couple.
Travelling in Granada
During our trip to Barcelona, Seville and Granada, we went without a travel guide. We used a couple of online resources and blogs for our travels in Barcelona and Seville, but when it came to Granada we mostly just asked our very friendly Airbnb hosts and went out exploring. The city is only small, so you can find your way around pretty easily.