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The simple evocation of this city in the south of Spain is a call to escape, to step back in time. The Andalusian city forged its history on the meeting of Christian and Islamic cavillations and a unique culture has emerged alongside a flamboyant architecture which hundreds of thousands of tourists come to admire each year. All this is to be found in a breath-taking natural setting at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. To help you plan your visit, we’ve put together this list of the best things to see in Granada and the surrounding area.
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The Alhambra (official site) is the jewel of the city, and the first of our ten must-see attractions. This palace is the most visited in the country and, alongside the Mosque of Cordoba, the greatest example of the architectural heritage left by the Muslims during their occupation of Spain. This majestic complex, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, is located on the Sabika plateau (map) which dominates the city, and consists of four parts surrounded by an imposing fortification: the Nasrid palaces, the Alcazaba, the Generalife and its gardens, and the palace of Charles V. Remember to book in advance, before your trip: you are not the only ones who want to admire one of the most beautiful places in the Mediterranean world.
The Albaicin district
Located at the top of a slope right in front of the Alhambra, this is one of the most authentic and charming areas of the city, with its narrow, cobbled streets and whitewashed houses. This is the best place to go if you are looking for oriental products like spices or dried fruits. There are also many fantastic restaurants. The best sites to see in the Albaicin district of Granada include:
- Saint Nicolas Church, the focal point of the district
- The craft shops
- The Corral del Carbon, a former Nasrid caravanserai built in the 14th century
- The minaret turned bell tower of the Santa Ana church
The Royal Chapel and the Cathedral of Granada
The Catholic kings built this cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin of the Incarnation, in the 16th century. During your visit, you will notice that the architecture is a mixture of Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic styles. The Royal Chapel (Capilla Real) is a must-see when visiting Granada: it was built in the 15th century to serve as a burial place for the Spanish monarchs.
Watch a flamenco show in the Sacromonte cave district
Granada, the birthplace of flamenco, is arguably the best place to see it, especially in its most traditional form: the Zambra. The cuevas (caves) of the Sacromonte district, on the Valparaiso Hill, have been redeveloped into small theaters. Try to catch a performance in one of Granada’s most famous caves, Cuevas Los Tarentos.
There are several other “tablaos” (show bars) in Granada that offer evening flamenco shows, including:
- The Rocio Cave
- La Pena Plateria , which is one of the oldest restaurants in Spain. It offers shows on Thursday evenings.
Carmen de los Martires Park
The Carmen de los Martires, dating from the 19th century, consists of a palace and several gardens. And what gardens! There is something for everyone. A French Baroque-style garden, surrounding a pond centred on a statue of Neptune. An English-style garden, where palm trees take the lead. A lake, islets, a patio (“of the Nasrids”, reproducing the unique style of the Arab dynasty of Spain in the 13th century). It is the perfect place for a family break.
The Basilica of San Juan de Dios
Who was San Juan de Dios (Saint John of God)? Quite simply the patron saint of the city. This church was built in the middle of the 18th century, and if it looks simple from the outside, its interior is breath-taking, boasting truly magnificent gilding! There is also a splendid altar and a massive organ. The basilica is open from Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nearby, there is a small hospital founded by Saint John of God, and the Gothic monastery of Jeronimo, which is really worth a visit.
The Alcaiceria market and Bib-Rambla square
In Granada, the Bib-Rambla Square is a great place to shop. Around the square, there are lively shopping streets, lined with various local and international brands, such as the Alcaiceria market and the Arab market. You will no doubt find something to take home in the booths of ceramics, colored glass lamps, magnets, postcards and jewellery. Bib-Rambla Square has always played a central role in Granada, so if you are not into shopping, simply come and soak up the authentic atmosphere it provides while seated on the terrace of a café. A simple pleasure.
Granada’s historic Arab baths
When the Christians reconquered Granada, they destroyed most of these baths because they were considered places of debauchery in the Catholic dogma. A huge mistake: Granada’s public baths were built in Moorish times, in the 11th century. Luckily some have been preserved. You will pass through three rooms during your visit: a cold room for changing, a lukewarm room for massages, and a hot room with large baths. Here is a site where you can learn more.
The Cartuja monastery
This monastery took three centuries to build it, starting in the 16th century, but what a result! It is planted on a hill in the north of Granada and offers an interior combining Baroque (from the beginning of construction in 1506), Gothic and Renaissance style. The monks of the Carthusian order lived there in solitude until the middle of the 19th century, praying, taking a vow of silence, and fasting. The interior of the church is lavishly decorated, and quite impressive.
Granada Science Park
If you are visiting Granada with children, you must go to the Science Park, which is about a 15-minute walk from the city centre. You’ve probably never heard of it, but it’s Andalusia’s most visited museum! There is also a planetarium. It’s the easiest thing to do with kids in Granada, and it’s included in the Granada Card !
There are so many wonderful things to do and see in Granada, that we have tried to include all of our favourites here. If you have more suggestions of places to discover, please let us know in the comments.