Forget Seville, Barcelona or Madrid. If there’s one destination in Spain you should visit right now, it’s Granada. Sitting at the bottom of the Sierra Nevada mountains in eastern Andalusia, it was described by Laurie Lee as “probably the most beautiful and haunting of all Spanish cities”. Here’s why now is great time to visit.
Last November, the first Beer Spa in Spain opened in Granada, adding to the list of incentives to visit this beautiful city. The baths are filled with a bubbling mixture of water, hops and yeast, which is supposed to be good for your skin; and whilst marinating, you are provided with a tankard which you can fill and refill from your own beer tap.
Regardless of when exactly you visit Granada, you’ll want to visit its star attraction. The mighty Alhambra fortress-palace complex was built between the 9th and 14th centuries by the city’s Moorish rulers and sits high above a lush forest at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Don’t even think of queueing up for your tickets on the day: book them as early as possible.
Particularly beautiful at this time of year are the gardens of the Generalife, the whitewashed structure that served as the Alhambra’s summer palace. Set apart from the main fortress and Nasrid palaces, its delicate, symmetrical courtyards are full of colour in May and June. The Generalife’s gardens were also used by the Moors to grow vegetables.
Even by southern Spanish standards, Granada is an incredibly cheap city to visit. Accommodation will be the biggest expense (although of course there are plenty of inexpensive places to stay too) but eating and drinking out will hardly set you back at all. Here are our suggestions for things to do in Granada that are completely free.
…AND THE TAPAS IS FREE
One of the reasons a trip to Granada is so easy on the wallet is because the tapas is free. Yes, you read that correctly: with every beer, soft drink and glass of wine you order, you receive an often generously sized snack for no extra cost. Except for in Almeria, which also has a free tapas scene, this is true of no other Andalusian city.
Summer temperatures in Granada frequently top 40 degrees Celsius, so now is a much better time to visit than in August. Throughout May and June, it’s warm but not too hot (around 25 degrees Celsius), meaning that sightseeing isn’t too arduous. All the parks and flowers look beautiful too. Here’s why we think spring is the best time to visit Granada.
FOR THE FESTIVAL OF MUSIC AND DANCE
A visit to Granada in late spring/early summer will also enable you to visit the city’s wonderful International Festival of Music and Dance. Held this year from June 22nd to July 8th, it features live performances of different kinds of music in breathtaking settings. Go and see a symphony orchestra at the King Carlos V Palace or ballet on an open-air stage in the Alhambra.
Held in late May/early June, Granada’s annual feria started life as a purely relilgious celebration but is now one of Andalusia’s biggest blow-outs. Most of the partying takes place on a sanded fairground on the city’s outskirts, where locals dance, drink and eat in marquees called casetas. There won’t be many other foreign visitors around if you join them for this week-long extravaganza.
TO EXPLORE ALBAICIN
The steep lanes of Albaicin, the city’s old Arabic quarter, are often off-limits in the searing heat of summer. But the weather around this time of year is perfect for exploring one of the most other-worldly neighbourhoods in all of Spain. Flamenco voices and guitar drift from open windows and tall white walls protect verdant paradises known as carmens (private gardens).
The same goes for Sacromonte, the gyspy quarter above Albaicin where cave-homes are carved into the hillside. Sheets of tarpaulin serve as doors in the more primitive dwellings. This is a barrio in which time has stood still, where locals still ride around on horses and cook over open fires. It’s a place that makes you forget that big cities even exist.
TO CHILL BY THE RIVER
Some of the best places to relax on a spring or summer day in Granada are still largely unknown to tourists. If you cross over the Darro river via the little bridge at the end of Paseo de los Tristes, you can get down to the banks and spread out a picnic in the shade of the trees. You can even explore an underground tunnel that leads into the grounds of the Alhambra.