A favourite of English poet and Hispanophile Laurie Lee, Granada is a city that should be visited at least once in a liftetime. Spreading itself out below the Sierra Nevada mountains like a ‘rose preserved in snow’, as Lee once wrote, it seduces with its spectacular location and Moorish flavour. Read on for eleven reasons to visit this Andalusian gem.
There is nowhere else in Europe quite like Albaicín, the old Arabic quarter of Granada that extends up the hillside opposite the Alhambra. It’s a hauntingly beautiful barrio of winding, cobbled lanes, flower-covered houses and secret little plazas that you’ll never get to the end of, no matter how much time you spend exploring. Best enjoyed by getting completely lost.
For the ultimate antidote to tech-driven modernity, head to Sacromonte, the gypsy quarter of Granada tucked away in the hillside above Albaicín. Here, locals live in dappled caves carved into the cacti-strewn hillside, while even more rustic dwellings are improvised from scrap metal, cloth and wood. Its best hangout is Bar Pibe, which has a lovely terrace overlooking the Alhambra.
Competition for the accolade of ‘Prettiest Street in Granada’ is plentiful, but there is one clear winner: the Carrera del Darro. On your right (as you walk from Plaza Nueva), gorgeous buildings rise up from the riverbank, their worn façades overhung by creepers and decorated with bright flowers. On your left, mysterious streets wind their way through the buildings up into Albaicín.
The views of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountains from Albaicín’s Plaza San Nicolás are some of the most humbling in Granada. A local gypsy flamenco band is often found performing here, providing the perfect soundtrack to the awesome perspective. Their repertoire features an energetic version of the Gipsy Kings classic ‘Bamboleo’.
Granada is famous in Spain for its tapas scene, and rightly so: with every beer, wine or soft drink you order, you receive a free snack. The often-generous portions mean it’s entirely possible to eat out for the price of two or three cheap drinks, making a trip to Granada one of the least expensive you’ll ever make. Here are our picks of the city’s best tapas joints.
Less than an hour’s drive from Granada is one of Spain’s most spectacular natural parks. The rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada include mainland Spain’s two highest mountains, the 3398-metre (11,150-foot) high Veleta and the 3478-metre (11,410-foot) Mulhacén (read our guide to tackling the latter here). Trekking, skiing and biking are the best ways to enjoy the park’s wild, uninhabited expanses.
Realejo, Granada’s former Jewish quarter, has been turned into a de facto art gallery by local artist Raúl Ruiz, AKA El Niño de las Pinturas. Ruiz’s striking spray-paint works enliven building façades and shutters all over the neighbourhood and together constitute one of the most important collections of street art in Spain. You can download a map of their locations on the artist’s website.
When it opened its doors last November, Beer Spa Granada became the first such spa in Spain. Go along, sink into one of the deep Jacuzzis and let the main ingredients of cerveza – yeast, barley, hops, water – sooth your skin. As you sit there, you can help yourself to as much of the locally brewed Alhambra beer as you like. Afterwards, recline on a bed of barley before returning to the real world.
Granadino writer Federico García Lorca (1898–1936) was one of the finest poets of the 20th century. Today, the beautiful 20th-century townhouse that Lorca summered in between 1926 and 1936 is a fascinating museum, containing the poet’s sketches, manuscripts and writing table. Lorca was murdered at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and his grave has never been found.