Granada’s famous for its magnificent Alhambra. Here’s not only a taster of why you should visit it, but also a few of the best things to do in around town that are less famous yet just as alluring. Discover the real Granada with me!
Pro Tip: With all these things to do in Granada, you’ll quickly work up an appetite. So you better check out our list of the top 10 restaurants near the Alhambra.
16 Coolest Things to do in Granada, Spain
16. Something Sciency for the Kids
One of Granada’s biggest attractions for families is the Parque de las Ciencias, a sprawling 70 square kilometer park full of interactive science fun. It’s one of the most visited museums in all of Andalusia, and rightly so.
There’s the hands-on Explora section, where younger kids can touch and play with science with their own hands and senses. Then, the Eureka and Perception Halls, the Human Body Pavilion and other permanent and temporary exhibition areas offer analogous experiments with light, sound, motion, and technology that will stimulate older kids of all ages.
In the giant, darkened dome of the planetarium, you’ll be able to see a projection of over seven thousand stars. While, outside, in the parkland, among various puzzles, sculptures and games, there’s a maze, a tropical butterfly house, birds of prey demonstration, and a fifty-meter-high observation deck.
The star of the science park, though, is perhaps the BioDome, which recreates a series of sub-tropical habitats home to hundreds of species of animals and plants. Finally, a visit to the shop is a must if you want your children to have a little souvenir of the day. If all that doesn’t get them interested in science, probably nothing will!
Location: The science park is located just to the south of the city center, about a twenty-minute walk along the river Genil.
15. Get Lit Up About Literature
If you like legends and lore, make sure you read the ‘Tales of The Alhambra’. Washington Irving, the famed American author of ‘Rip Van Winkle’ and ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’, wrote this collection of stories while actually living in the fortress of the Alhambra itself.
Another literary great who wrote of Granada is Federico García Lorca. He often wrote as a defender of the marginalized in society, be they women, black people, queers, or the gypsies of the caves that lived, and still live, in the caves above the city of Granada.
Probably Spain’s most famous poet and playwright, Lorca grew up in a house just on the outskirts of town. In fact, you can visit the house, called Huerta de San Vicente, which they have preserved as a museum. You’ll find it right in the center of the park named after the writer.
After visiting the museum, take a copy of one of his masterpieces, and stretch out on the grass under the shade of a palm tree. You’ll discover, like Lorca himself, that Granada is a great source of inspiration.
14. Create your own Perfume
Another place to abandon yourself to your senses is the Patio de los Perfumes. This is a restored renaissance building dedicated to the fine art of creating perfumes. It combines a perfume shop, a museum, a patio full of fragrant plants and a space offering workshops on creating your own perfume.
First, learn which scents are most powerful and longer-lasting, and which are more delicate, subtle and fleeting. Second, choose whether you are creating your scent for yourself or someone special. Select from among hundreds of distinct fragrances, such as tobacco, chocolate, vanilla, rosewood, cardamom, sandalwood, jasmine, vetiver, orange, pomegranate, and so on. Then, using graded pipettes, build your perfume up gradually from its base notes to its heart, and, finally, its head.
Once you’re done, you’ll take a bottle away with you. But, most importantly, perhaps you’ll have the secret recipe, in its exact measures, that could make you rich and famous in the perfume world! Or at least you’ll have the perfect gift to show someone you care.
13. Live in a Cave
Above the city of Granada, thousands of caves decorate the hills. Hippies, nomads and gypsies flock from all over the world to spend some time in living for free in these chiseled out grottoes.
If you rock up with the right attitude, this flourishing international community of eco-minded artists and artisans will welcome you with open arms . In any case, you’ll see them often busk, dance or sell their wares in the streets below.
Most of the caves have basic living facilities, but some come with jacuzzis and flat-panel TVs, and are available as tourist accommodation. There’s even a cave museum, so you can learn all the history and culture of Granada’s cave-dwellers.
So, why not come to Granada and actually try living in a cave? Whether it’s for a season as a hippy taking a break from modern society, or for a week as tourist in unforgettable Fred Flintstone style luxury.
Locations: There are various cave hotels and apartments in Granada at various prices. Or head up into the hills around Sacromonte and speak to the community.
12. Flamenco A-go-go
When you think of Spain, two things may immediately spring to mind, tapas and Flamenco. Both have extremely strong connections with Granada.
Well, while you’ll walking around the Realejo, the Jewish quarter, you’ll see guitar-making workshops around almost every corner. Then, buskers will regale you with their strumming on any street.
Enter a bar, and the soundtrack will invariably have that unmistakable rhythm of Flamenco. Cars will pass by with the music blaring out of its windows. You may even see people ambling down the street singing and clapping.
In the late afternoon, walk to the square of Plaza Nueva. There, you’ll probably see a couple of dancers tapping it out on a square of heavy wood laid over the flagstones. There’ll also be a singer, a guitarist and a percussionist sitting atop a beatbox.
If you’re looking to make a special evening of it, climb up to Sacromonte, the ‘Sacred Mountain’. Along the road clinging to the side of the ‘Valley of Paradise’, you’ll find the Flamenco caves dug deep into the hill. These clubs offer dinner and drinks, and a show so full of passion and pride, it’ll be impossible to forget.
Locations: In Plaza Nueva, you’re sure to find some street performers in the evening. While, up the hill in the Sacromonte quarter, there are plenty of traditional Flamenco cave-clubs offering dinner shows, about twenty minutes from downtown Granada, whether that’s by a beautiful walk or a taxi or bus ride.
11. Heart the Street Art
It’s not all folklore and history, there’s also a strong tradition of street art in Granada. This is particularly thanks to one now internationally renowned artist who goes by the name of ‘El Niño de las Pinturas’.
Growing up in the Jewish quarter, ‘The Child of the Paintings’ took to decorating its most neglected and shabby walls. In doing so, he has raised not only the street-cred, but also the reputation and elegance of the entire neighborhood.
With ocher tones reflecting the local landscape and architecture, his works express the fusion of cultures and spiritualities that is Granada. That is, a meeting place of East and West, North and South, the confluence of rivers and religions.
If you want to do the tour, you’ll find a map of the artist’s most famous works on his website. However, there are many more around town, as well as plenty of works by other budding spray artists. Just see how many you can spot and snap!
Locations: A map of El Niño de las Pinturas’ most famous works around Granada are on his own website.
10. The Three Religions
One thing that makes Granada special is that it has always been a melting pot of the world’s great religions. Indeed, all around town are art and architecture and symbols and writings of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
Many think that the name Granada refers to the fruit pomegranate. However, in Arabic, it originally meant ‘Hill of Strangers’. This was an allusion to the important Jewish Sephardic community that inhabited the city. In the Jewish quarter, called the Realejo, you’ll find a gem of a museum explaining the importance of the city for Jewish culture, and Jewish culture for the city.
On the other hillside, in the Albaicín quarter, you’ll meet a warren of Moorish streets, houses, the remains of various minarets and a modern-day mosque. All this overlooks the Alhambra, which, with the specific form of its battlements and towers, appears to write out the name of God, Allah, in Arabic.
In addition to its visitable catacombs and ‘Star of David’ symbolism, the Abbey of the Sacred Mountain conserves the ‘Lead Books of Sacromonte’. These circular metal plates are unique among Christian religious texts for being written in a mix of early Arabic, Latin and an undeciphered secret code. And also for seeking to establish a middle ground between Christianity and Islam.
In the Christian quarter, at the center of town, is the majestic Cathedral. Underneath it, you should visit the Royal Chapel of the First Catholic Kings of Spain. These, of course, are the very Catholic Kings that sent Christopher Colombus on his way to discover the Americas.
Locations: You’ll find the Jewish micro-museum, Museo Sefardí, hidden among the cobbled streets of the Realejo quarter. Granada’s main mosque is at the top of the Moorish quarter, overlooking the Alhambra on the opposite hill. The Abbey of the Sacred Mountain is a fifteen minute bus ride from the city center, or a rewarding 40 minute hike. The Royal Chapel is right at the heart of town.
9. Tapear Until You Tap Out
The original concept of tapas came about by using a simple piece of bread to “tapear”, or cover, your drink so flies wouldn’t get in. Then they started adding toppings to the bread, so as not to waste it. And the rest is history.
Though they serve tapas throughout Spain, most places you have to pay for them. Not so in Granada. They come freely and automatically with every glass of beer or wine you order.
And here’s where it gets a little complicated, if you want to explore Granada’s rich culture of tapas. Let me give you a few rules of the game to help you along.
So, if you order a coffee, you certainly won’t get tapas. If you order coke, or a fruit juice, you may, or may not. Though you can always try asking for one. If you order a cocktail, you’re more likely to get peanuts and candies.
Perhaps you want to choose your tapas, so you grab the menu. Well, it doesn’t work like that. The waiter will think you want to eat a more consistent meal, and, therefore, won’t bring you tapas.
You want tapas? Then just order a beer or wine. And a few minutes later, a tapa will magically appear. If it doesn’t, simply smile and ask, “Hay tapa?”. With every successive refreshment, you’ll get a different tapa. Indeed most bars have three, four, five, six – or I don’t know how many – rounds of tapas. You can even challenge yourselves to complete the rounds and come full circle to the first.
But, don’t worry, to avoid getting drunk while eating, you can always get something else from the menu later, or order a “Sin”, that is a non-alcoholic beer or even wine!
Locations: My personal favorite tapas bar is Ras, which you’ll find along the beautiful street of Carrera del Darro. However, you’ll find a great variety of excellent tapas among the thousands of bars across the city.
8. Skiing in Your Skivvies
Given Granada’s location in the southernmost reaches of Europe, you might be surprised to see people carrying skis through town. Well, in the winter months that is. This is because there’s a ski resort in the 3 kilometer high mountains towering above, at just 45 minutes drive.
On a clear day at the top, you can make out not only the Alhambra down in town, but also the North African coastline from across the Mediterranean. Otherwise, you might be skiing or snowboarding above the clouds.
You can, in fact, ski from November to mid-May. So, towards the end of season, there’s a tradition of everyone making their way down the slopes in their underwear. Or better, their swimming costumes. So why not join them?
In any case, it’s certain that you can ski in the morning and then head down for a swim in the balmy sea of the ‘Tropical Coast’, at again 45 minutes drive from town. Where else in the world can you do that? Nowhere I know of!
7. Miradores that Will Floor You
Tap out the word ‘mirador’ on Google Maps and you’ll get flags pop up right across town. A ‘mirador’ is a panoramic viewpoint, and Granada has plenty of them.
The most spectacular of them all is the Mirador San Nicolás, which offers a truly unforgettable view of the city, the Alhambra and the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada.
Head up there early in the morning to take it all in, and it’ll take your breath away. Or be there at dusk for what Bill Clinton famously described as “The most beautiful sunset in the world”.
There’s likely to be a gypsy guitarist sat on the low-wall, strumming away to set the scene. And he’ll be accompanied by dreamers looking off into the distance. Or lovers determined to immortalize the moment with a sensational selfie.
Find an elegant bar or restaurant nearby, offering a similar view. Or grab a few cans of beer, and climb past the cave houses to the Mirador de San Miguel Alto to enjoy a more hippy vibe.
6. Hiking and Biking
The qualitative elegance of the historic town center is matched by the quantity of directly accessible hiking, biking, and motocross trails.
From the bustling town center, you can don your hiking boots and find nature and stunning views in just 20 to 30 minutes’ walk. Particularly along the ‘Valley of Paradise’ that stretches away from town to the northeast. Or along the many paths that criss-cross the ‘Sacred Mountain’, or the mountain-view parkland above the Alhambra.
Raise your adrenaline to new highs, or test your stamina by biking up to three thousand meters above sea level. And then down again! Cheat if you must by hiring a pedal-assist electric bike. You certainly won’t be alone.
However you ride, you’ll be back just in time for an evening aperitif. Ice-cold beer served in a frozen glass, will never have tasted so good!
Locations: Explore any of the paths along the Valley of Paradise, such as near the Sacromonte Abbey, or along the path of the Camino Fuente del Avellano. Check out the views in the expansive parkland above the Alhambra in the Dehesa del Generalife. Or ride up to the top of the mountain at 3,000 meters. There are several adventure tour agencies and bike rental shops across town, but Sacromonte Off-Road, in particular, offers a comprehensive range of specialized biking tours as well as accommodation.
5. Hammam a Bath
You may have admired the majestic Comares Baths in the Alhambra, or wandered through the 11th century Bañuelo Baths down along the Darro River. But what was it really like in the times of the Muslim rulers of Granada? Or the Romans before them?
Well, you can get an idea by treating yourself to any one of the many hammams across town. You’ll be greeted by a series of rooms with star-shaped skylights, and lined with tiles bearing colorful geometric forms. There’ll be a large, heated marble slab on which lay, a steam-room, pools of water of varying temperatures and masseurs on hand.
As you cycle your way through the different rooms, help yourself to cups of mint tea and gradually feel your body and mind slip into the deepest state of relaxation. When you walk out, you’ll be a new you!
Locations: There are many baths throughout the city, but I would highly recommend booking at the Hammam Al Ándalus, which is very close to the historic Bañuelo Baths in terms of both style and walking distance.
4. Regenerate in the Generalife
Everyone equates the Alhambra with what are actually the Nasrid Palaces. And that’s what your main ticket will get you. But there’s plenty more to discover on the same hilltop. For instance, the Generalife summer palace and its sumptuous gardens.
In the heat, wandering alongside the long pools of water, you’ll find it difficult not to want to dive in. Though they’ve always forbidden that, even in the time of the original Moorish inhabitants!
Thankfully, there’s lots of shade among the cypresses and rose bushes, gurgling and gushing fountains, and even a stairway whose handrails stream with water.
You might want to take advantage of the night visit. As dusk settles and the lights begin to illuminate the green foliage, wander hand in hand with that someone special. Then, duck behind a hedge for a gentle embrace.
Or contemplate the legend of Prince Ahmed al Kamel whose father imprisoned him there until an adult to protect him from the ravages of love.
Location – You’ll find the Generalife above the Alhambra, just outside of its walls.
3. Orient Yourself to the Orient
You can’t get much more Spanish than Granada, but you also can’t get more Middle Eastern without heading south across the Mediterranean. The city was the last stronghold to fall to the Christian reconquest of Muslim-ruled Europe. The vestiges of the various Arab and Berber caliphates are clearly visible throughout town.
Pay a visit not only to the Alhambra, but also the Corral del Carbón behind the town hall. It’s a historical structure that, in terms of both architecture and functionality, you can see echoed all over the Middle East. That is, a form of inn arranged around a central market square to accommodate caravans of traveling tradespeople.
Cross the road and pass through the old silk bazaar or souk they call the Alcaicería. There you’ll find souvenir shops selling wares not only imported from North Africa, Morocco in particular, but also handmade in Granada ever since the Islamic era. Such products include zellij, or colorful mosaic tiles, and differently sized wooden jewellery boxes painstaking inset with a mosaic of woods and mother of pearl.
On the other side of the bazaar, opposite what was once the main mosque and is now the cathedral, is the old Arab university, or ‘Madrasa’. And just a couple of minutes walk away, in the street of Calle Elvira, you’ll find plenty of tea parlors serving mint teas, couscous and honey and rosewater soaked Arab desserts.
Then walk up into the Moorish quarter via the picturesque street of Calderería Nueva. After an “As-salaam ‘alaykum”, or “Peace be upon you” greeting, chat with local shopkeepers, many of whom hail from Tétouan. A very similar Moroccan city, nicknamed the Southern Granada, and founded by Ali al-Mandri, who had fled Granada as it fell to the Catholic Monarchs in 1492.
2. Calm out in a Carmen
The etymological root of the English word “charming”, a “carmen” is an ornamental walled garden typical of Granada. Generally, a little paradise of lush plants and trees arranged around some kind of pool or running water feature.
These oases are everywhere around Granada, and you can easily find accommodation that incorporates if not a carmen then a similarly styled patio. Here you can enjoy some well-earned peace and quiet, or welcome refreshments with your traveling companions.
Apart from the Generalife, there are other monumental gardens that are well worth a visit. First among these is Carmen de los Martires, a sprawling series of English, French and Spanish styled gardens, with views over the mountains and plains to the south of Granada.
Then there’s Granada University’s Botanical Gardens and the Carmen de la Victoria. You’ll find others at Casa del Chapiz and Palacio de los Córdova, in addition to the gardens of the artists Max Moreau and, last but not least, Rodríguez-Acosta. Many are free to enter, and the perfect place to take a moment sitting on a bench in the shade of an orange tree.
Locations: Near to the Alhambra you’ll find the Carmen de los Martires and the gardens of Rodríguez-Acosta. In the Moorish quarter, on the hill opposite the Alhambra are the gardens of Casa del Chapiz, Palacio de los Córdova and Max Moreau. The University’s Botanical Gardens are right down in the center of town.
1. The Alhambra
There is no place in the world quite like the Alhambra. Whether you see it is as a sprawling fortress complex, a series of palaces and gardens, or the remains of a great citadel, its architects built it as a paradise on Earth. Certainly, their design was to reward the senses of the pious and the worthy.
Everywhere, there is the gentle burble of running water and the sounds of nature to regale the ears. The herb and flower gardens are intent on delighting the nose. While, the palaces, with their stuccoed geometric domes, lattice screens, and reflecting pools, celebrate light and dark, shade and color.
Some might see the Alhambra as an example of the Muslim conquest of Christian territory, others as a symbol of the Christian conquest of Muslim lands. However, like the rest of Granada, what the Alhambra really has come to represent is not acculturation or assimilation of cultures, but an amalgamation. That is a chance for peace, for different cultures to appreciate the other and find common ground.
As the sun sets, and the walls glow a bright, warm red, you’ll be glad you have visited this, one of the world’s most famous and most visited monuments. You’ll be glad you have visited the sumptuous medieval Nasrid Palaces and the proud militaristic Tower of the Candle that veils over the city. You’ll be glad you have taken the time to appreciate the Renaissance squaring of the circle that is the Palace of Emperor Charles V and its precious museum. And like Queen Isabella I of Castile, you may never want to leave.
Location: The Alhambra sits under the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada and above the City of Granada on its own hilltop. You can easily reach it from the center of town, either by a rewarding half-hour walk through the shady Alhambra Forest, or by a ten-minute taxi or bus ride.