The mighty Alhambra is visible from most streets and squares in the old centre of Granada. On Plaza Nueva, its chunky red towers loom above the tallest buildings. Along the Carrera del Darro (surely the most romantic street in Granada), it rears up out of the valley on the other side of the river, dominating the sky. In Albaicin, on the other side of the hill, it can be glimpsed whenever there is a small gap between the tightly-packed old houses.
Inside, it is even more arresting, although in a very different way. Whilst the exterior speaks of dominance and strength, of formidable defence, the inside is delicate and refined. Tile mosaics and patterned plasterwork adorn the walls, arches and ceilings and the carefully-proportioned gardens harness a sense of tranquility. A two or three hour visit to this great relic of Granada’s Moorish past is enough time to also visit the Palacio de Generalife.
After a few hours up at the Alhambra, refreshment will be required. Granada is famous in Spain for its free tapas with every drink (except for hot drinks and cocktails). Sizzling little terracotta dishes of paella; plates of fresh, cold prawns served with a wedge of lemon; spicy, peppery cured hams; slow-cooked chicken or pork stews – all on offer, for no extra cost, in the city’s huge array of tapas bars and cafes.
Tapas-bar hopping is a wonderful way to experience street life in Granada and see how the locals interact, and also provides an incomparably cheap way to sample Andalucia’s rustic cuisine. Standouts are Los Diamentes for fish, Los Manueles for its meat dishes and La Riviera for a bigger selection and portions (including vegetarian dishes).
Bar Los Diamantes, 13 Plaza Nueva, Granada, Spain, +34 958 07 53 13
Bar Los Manueles, 61 Calle Reyes Catolicos, Granada, Spain, +34 958 22 46 31
Bar La Riviera, 7 Calle Cette Meriem, Granada, Spain, +34 958 22 79 69 During a morning or afternoon Granada’s two loveliest and most other-worldly neighbourhoods can be explored on foot. Albaicin is the old Arabic quarter, a hillside of crunched-together, whitewashed houses that faces out over the valley to the Alhambra. The best views of the fort – especially at night – are from the Plaza San Nicolas, right at the top of Albaicin. This lively square is always packed with tourists gazing at the awesome view and Gypsies singing flamenco, smoking and enjoying raucous catch-ups against a backdrop provided by the crisp peaks of the Sierra Nevada.
The neighbourhood of Sacromonte is, if possible, even more seductive than Albaicin. This was the quarter established by Gypsies when they arrived in Granada in the eighteenth century. It is steeped in flamenco and an earthy, simple way of life that hasn’t changed for centuries. The caves in which some locals still live are carved into the hillside and often emanating from these are the strains and laments of flamenco. Here, people still cook on fires, ride horses through the streets and live without TV, computers or WIFI.
Flamenco is an integral part of southern Spanish culture, so the visitor to Granada is inundated with bars and theatres offering nightly shows of varying quality. A safe bet is the Chien Andalou bar, situated just off Plaza Nueva on the Carrera del Darro. It is an underground cave that holds no more than about thirty people, which creates an intimate, intense atmosphere during the two nightly performances (sometimes three at the weekends).
Le Chien Andalou, 7 Carrera del Darro, Granada, Spain, +34 617 10 66 23