What you need to know about the Alhambra (Granada)
Granada is home to the Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Spain’s most visited historical attraction. It is incredible, with palaces, gardens, fortress walls, as well as an amazing location looking over the city of Granada.
Lots of tips that you need to know about the Alhambra in this post, because the Alhambra needs a bit of pre-planning. I’m also including a lot of images in case you are on the fence about visiting. The Alhambra really is spectacular.
Why the Alhambra is historically relevant?
The Alhambra was the last stronghold of a Great Muslim empire that at one point included most of Spain and Portugal. In 1492, the last Moorish sultan of Granada (and head of the Nasrid dynasty), surrendered his city and handed over the keys of the Alhambra to the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It would be the culmination of over 700 years of Moorish rule on the Iberian peninsula.
What exactly is the Alhambra?
The Alhambra was built by the Nasrid Dynasty in 1232. It was both a palace and a fortress with 1,730 meters (about 1 mile) of walls with thirty towers enclosing a city of about 26 acres. The highlight of the Alhambra are the 3 palaces within the walls: The Mexuar or Meshwar, the Comares Palace, and the Palace of the Lions. These palaces were where the king carried our official functions and also where the royal family lived. After the palaces, the Alcabaza (the fortress part of the Alhambra) is the most impressive part of the complex with its high towers and ramparts. You’ll also find the Palace of Carlos V, which was built after the Christians took control of the Alhambra (today it includes 2 museums: the Museum of the Alhambra and the Fine Arts Museum). You’ll see lots of gardens and towers wandering around the Alhambra. Connected to the Alhambra by a little bridge over a ravine, are the Generalife Gardens which was the summer palace of the Nasrid rulers. There you’ll find gardens, fountains, pools and great views looking at the Alhambra.
Tips and practical information
You have to book your tickets far in advance to get into the Alhambra. We booked 2 months in advance using the official website. You have to choose the time that you want to see the Nasrid palaces (the highlight of the Alhambra) and you will have to stick to that time when visiting. Note however that once in the palaces you won’t be limited in the amount of time you can explore them (we spent 90 minutes in the palaces).
When booking, take note that 1) the Alhambra opens at 8:30 am 2) the Nasrid palaces are at least 20 minutes walk from the main gate (I have more on the gates below). If you haven’t pre-purchased your tickets you have a couple of other options (see this post).
Important: bring your identification document that you indicate on your ticket purchase. You might have to show it (it’s completely random…but I was asked to show my passport at one of the many checkpoints).
Take the C30 or C32 bus to get to main gate. You can take the bus from the plaza Isabel la Catolica in Granada (the bus stop is up the street from the fountain on the right hand side). The bus takes about 20 minutes (note that the main gate is at the far end of the Alhambra, the furthest end from town). Alternatively, you can walk from town (about 20 minutes from Plaza Nueva) and enter at the Puerta de la Justicia gate which is closest to the Nasrid palaces (I have a map down below to help you).
Note: you don’t have to print your tickets (contrary to what a lot of websites will tell you). The electronic copy of the ticket that you get from booking on the website is sufficient (it will be scanned many times during your visit). If you don’t have a modern phone, you’ll have to print your tickets in advance or access the Alhambra at the main gate where you can get the ticket printed.
You need a full day to properly see the the whole of the Alhambra. The highlight without a doubt are the Nasrid palaces. But everything is stunning, from the Generalife Gardens to the Alcazaba to the Carlos V palace…
Want to take a tour? They take care of all the arrangements for you and you’ll get lots of in-depth information on all aspects of the Alhambra. This tour is one of the few that includes the Nasrid Gardens as part of the Alhambra tour. Absolutely worth it. Again, book early because tickets go fast.
Below: Map of the Alhambra (click for full size)
Suggested itinerary if visiting the Alhambra on your own: choose a time around noon to see the Nasrid palaces. Arrive early at the main gate, explore the Generalife Gardens. Cross the little bridge into the Alhambra. Walk on the trail to the left, seeing the hedges and gardens along the way. Go to the Nasrid Palaces for your reservation. If you’re early, explore the Carlos V Palace right next to it (also home to extensive museum exhibits). Show up about 10 minutes early for your Nasrid palace appointment time. You’ll probably be exploring the palaces for the next 90 minutes or so. You might want to wander the gardens around the exit of the Nasrid Palaces. Next you should explore the Alcabaza, the fortress part of the Alhambra. The fortifications are impressive and the views over the city incredible.
When you’re done, exit the Alhambra at la Puerta de la Justicia gate (which is itself very impressive). Outside you’ll see the Pilar de Carlos V (a beautiful fountain). Follow the trail into Granada (you’ll get to Plaza Nueva in about 20 minutes).
Accommodation in Granada: We really recommend staying somewhere in the center and not in the Albayzín. Hotels: The Eurostars Catedral Hotel is a beautiful and historic 4 star hotel right in the center and is excellent value for what you get. If on a budget, the Hotel Los Tilos is centrally located, clean, and has great views over the city. Apartments: the Shine Alcaiceria Apartment Hotel (beautiful, modern, and in the heart of Granada). A budget option is Bibo Plaza Nueva which is also very nice, modern and centrally located.
Have you been to the Alhambra? What did you think?
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