Granada, which means “pomegranate” in Spanish, has been near the top of our wish list for years, mainly because of the world-famous Alhambra, one of the world’s most celebrated buildings/historical attractions. What we didn’t realize until visiting, though, was just how much more Granada had to offer.
Whether you’ve got a long stay planned or are just trying to see as much as you can on a short 2-day Granada itinerary, there are dozens of fascinating things to do in this amazing old city. We managed to squeeze in 4 days of busy exploring and eventually (with some difficulty) narrowed it down to the best 17.
Boasting a dramatic location in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada spend centuries as a key city in the Moorish empire. It was actually the last Moorish stronghold in Andalusia and this history is still evident everywhere you look. Mixed in with further centuries as an important Christian base, this beautiful city features a complex mix of Catholic, Moorish and even gypsy history.
One of the best things to do in Granada is simply wander around its amazingly unique neighbourhoods, from the narrow, winding alleys of the Moorish days to the immaculate squares and huge churches of the Spanish conquerors.
Why is Granada Famous?
The Alhambra. As one of the last Moorish cities to surrender to the Christians in the Middle Ages, Granada features a fascinating mix of historical sites and top tourist attractions, all enhanced by the ever-present backdrop of the extraordinary Sierra Nevada mountain range.
However, if you ask most people the first thing that comes to mind when you mention Granada, 9 times out of 10 they will mention the Alhambra. One of the world’s great historical complexes, its beauty and majesty is a perfect match to its time as both palace and cool summer retreat of the emirs of the Nasrid dynasty and later the Royal Court of Catholic monarchs.
Map of Things to Do in Granada
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17 Best Things to Do in Granada
If you are wondering what to do in Granada we have a list with everything you need to know. Narrowing down a list of the best things to see in Granada isn’t easy, as there are so many to choose from. But here is our personal list of the top Granada attractions and Granada things to do.
Marvel at the Alhambra
One of the most impressive monuments in the world and the most visited in all of Spain, the phenomenal Alhambra is an absolute must-see for every visitor to Granada. Mostly built in the 13th century by the Nasrid emirs of the Moorish ruling class at that time, today the Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous complexes in the world.
Also known at the “Red Palace”, the Alhambra is massive (140,000 square metres) and divided into three unique sections:
The oldest part of the Alhambra, this fortress was built in the 11th century for defense of the city. It is the first area you see if entering via the lower gate and it is perfect for wandering and enjoying a variety of fabulous views over the city and the rest of the Alhambra.
Your ticket to enter the palace (see below) has an entry time so we arrived a full half-hour before our time to make sure there weren’t any mistakes, then explored the nearby Alcazaba while waiting to enter.
The Nasrid Palace
A series of outstanding, elegant palaces that served as royal residences, all sporting surprisingly different architectural styles and themes. The Palace of Lions boasts over 100 stunning marble columns in the Court of Lions.
Meanwhile, the Carlos V Palace is mesmerizingly round and the reflective pool in the Comares Patio is the most popular photo spot in the Alhambra.
Our personal favourite, though, was the reflection of the gallery and immaculate hedges around El Partal (with the hills of the city and possibly the Sierra Nevada in behind on a clear day).
Pronounced hen-er-al-EEF-ay, these wonderful gardens filled with trees, flowers, fountains and shaded paths served as the main draw for past sultans hiding out from the summer heat. This multi-level area is massive, colourful, relaxing and all topped off by the Generalife Palace, looming over the area from the top of the hill.
The views from the Generalife gardens over the rest of the Alhambra and Granada are worth the walk up.
The Alhambra limits the number of guests each day as it is the most popular of all the Granada tourist attractions so it is important to buy your tickets well ahead of time in high season (and it’s not a bad idea any time of year).
Official tickets (€14) include entrance to all three sections and we would highly recommend going that route and allowing at least 3-4 hours to do the place justice. However, if you are interested in a more in-depth experience you can then also buy separate tickets for a return visit to just the Alcazaba/Generalife (€7), Nasrid Palaces at night (€8) or Generalife at night (€5). Many people opt for a return visit to see the gardens more thoroughly since they can feel a bit overwhelming during a single visit.
Or, considering Alhambra is the unquestioned top thing to do Granada, you might want to consider a guided tour. Speaking from experience, the Alhambra is HUGE, and it can also be confusing at times. For just a little extra cash you can ensure you don’t miss any of the best sites or viewpoints, plus learn about all the fascinating history of this incredible attraction.
Another added benefit, booking a guided tour lets you “skip the line” which, trust me, can be lengthy.
Wander the Albaicin Neighborhood
Located on a hill parallel to the Alhambra, this original Arab quarter is an alluring jumble of narrow alleys, cute plazas, pleasant courtyards and, of course, this being Granada, dozens more important historic and religious sites.
There are still souqs in Albaicín, or souq-like markets, at least, making it a fun place to shop, eat or drink. Most of the buildings are still white, owing to their Moorish origins, and the Arab tiles are fascinating. There are also several impressive churches, almost all of which used to be mosques or are built on the remains of a former mosque. Just getting to Albaicín is fun, too, entering through any of the 4 fantastic Puertas de las Muralles (mural gates).
Wandering without a real plan is the best way to visit Albaicín but, just as a starting point, here are some of the top Granada attractions:
The 15th century Dar al-Horra Palace
The Royal Chancellery in the Plaza Nueva
San Nicolas Church
Santa Ana Church with its tall minaret
The 11th century baths of El Bañuelo
The craft shops of Corral del Carbon
Then… just wander.
Watch the Sunset Over the Alhambra
Because of where the sun goes down and the Alhambra’s prominent location on top of the hill, there are several excellent places to watch the sunset with this unbelievably photogenic landmark.
However, Mirador de San Nicolas in the Albaicin is definitely the best and most famous spot. The views are amazing, the sun reflecting off the walls of the Alhambra with the Sierra Nevada peaks in the background. The San Nicolás plaza is very festive and communal but gets busy and the best spots fill up fast. We’d recommend getting there at least an hour before sunset.
It involves a fairly steep climb up from the river so some people decide to take a taxi and save their energy for all the oohing and aahing.
Find the Granada Miradores
While Mirador de San Nicolas offers the clearest sunset view of the Alhambra, some of these other miradores are just about as good for sunset, better for other views and almost always less crowded.
Mirador de San Cristóbal, next to San Cristóbal church, is close to Mirador de San Nicolas and provides similar views from a slightly different angle, with far fewer people.
Another good Alhambra viewpoint is the Mirador de San Miguel Alto, the highest mirador in Granada and also less crowded.
A few of the other viewpoints you should check out include:
Mirador de los Carvajales on the tiny Placeta Carvajales square.
The Mirador del Carmen de los Martires is a great photo op on your way up to the Alhambra.
For a very different view from the others, hike about 15 minutes above the Alhambra on Cerro del Sol to the Silla del Moro (Moorish Seat) where you can look back down on the Alhambra with the city in the background.
Mirador de Santa Isabel la Real offers amazing views from the Convento Santa Isabel la Real.
There are some great views from the ancient Sacromonte Abbey, although you won’t see the mountains from here.
Another panoramic city view can be found at El Ojo de Granada.
You’ll need to check if it is open but if so, the Manuel de Falla Auditorio balcony has awesome city views.
Tour the Granada Cathedral and the Royal Chapel
Built atop the ruins of the Great Mosque by Catholic kings, the awe-inspiring Cathedral of Granada took 181 years to build, finally completed in 1704.
Because it took so long to complete it actually has an odd mix of architectural styles, including baroque, renaissance and Gothic. There are terrific sculptures, evocative paintings and some of the nicest stained-glass windows you’ll see anywhere.
In the separate 15th century Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) there is a museum, crypt and the tombs of monarchs Isabella I, Ferdinand II, Joanna of Castile and Philip I.
We’ve seen a lot of churches so while most people consider the cathedral to be a must see in Granada initially we weren’t sure. After wandering this impressive church we think its well worth the time and small entrance fee.
Unlike the Alhambra, you shouldn’t need to buy tickets (€5) ahead of time as there is almost always space and audio guides are included in the entrance fee.
Learn About the Cave Houses in the Sacromonte
In the years after the Christians reconquered Granada, the Sacromonte (Sacred Mountain) was home to a diverse collection of gypsies, artists and refugees. Medieval hippies, so to speak.
Known as “Romas”, they resided in caves dug into the hill. Today, some have been turned into proper homes, others host flamenco performances and the Museo Cuevas del Sacromonte offers a fascinating look into 10 different caves and their origins and history.
While you’re up there you should also check out the outstanding views from the Sacromonte Abbey and head inside to visit the catacombs.
It is yet another long uphill walk to reach the Sacromonte caves and abbey or you can take a taxi or bus.
Attend a Flamenco Show in a Gypsy Cave
As we mentioned, though, the caves are more than just a photogenic historical curiosity. They are also the best place in Granada to see a flamenco show. Granada is considered the birthplace of the famous flamenco dance and the Sacromonte gypsies created a unique local version known as the “zambra”.
Guitar, castanets, talented barefoot dancers – all taking place in a repurposed troglodyte cave. The best ones, such as Los Tarantos, tend to book up quickly so we would recommend reserving your spot ahead of time.
While the cave shows are probably the most unique and memorable, it is also possible to catch flamenco performances in various “tablaos” (show bars) down in the main part of Granada, such as the Jardines de Zoraya or La Pena Flamenca la Plateria.
Walk Along the Carrera del Darro
The perfect place to enjoy an after-dinner constitutional, this pretty street follows the Darro River all the way across Granada. You walk next to lush foliage and rushing water and over adorable little stone bridges while passing many of the city’s most important buildings.
The large Moorish bridge, Puente del Cadí, is a highlight and eventually the trail leads you to the bottom of a hill with Alhambra looming above.
Check out the Palacio de la Madraza
Very little remains in Granada from the Nasrid dynasty but the beautiful Palacio de la Madraza is worth a stop. It was actually home to the first university in Granada, founded by Yusuf I in the 14th century.
Enjoy Free Tapas with Your Drinks
Sure, tapas are popular all over Spain but in Granada the concept of “ir de tapas” (go for a drink and snack) is a key part of daily life. Most bars in the city will provide free tapas with any drink you order, even those small draft beers (cañas) the Spanish are so fond of.
Sometimes you just get whatever they have ready, while other places will give you some options.
Head to the Carmen de los Martires Gardens
This beautiful (and free!) park offers exceptional viewpoints, plus interesting variety from the British garden (with a tall fountain) to the French garden (with a placid pond) to the Nasrid patio with its maze. There is also pretty lake. Once you get up to the gardens it is one of the more relaxing things to do in Granada Spain.
Relax on the Bib-Rambla Square
This gorgeous square is the focal point of Granada, surrounded by terrific 19th century buildings and featuring a huge 17th century fountain with a sculpture of Neptune that is brilliantly lit at night.
There is plenty of welcome shade and dozens of restaurants, bars, cafés and shops around Plaza Bib-Rambla.
Shop at the Alcaiceria Market
If Granada’s busy Alcaiceria Market resembles a Middle Eastern souq, that’s because it started out as the Great Bazaar during Moorish times. These days the eastern silk and spice trade has given way to tacky tourist clothing and souvenirs but it is still an interesting place to wander.
Visit the Granada Arab Baths
To see the oldest and best Arab baths in Andalusia, head to “El Bañuelo”. Built in the 11th century, these baths served as an important part of both spiritual and social Moorish life. In Islamic culture, water represents purity and the baths provided a place for both physical and spiritual cleansing.
Unfortunately, the Christians immediately assumed the worst – Communal baths? Surely filled with perverts! – and destroyed most of the Arab baths when they took back Andalusia. Although a home was eventually built over top of it, El Bañuelo still managed to survive long enough to be protected as a National Monument in 1918.
It isn’t a big place – just a changing room, massage room and the “hot room” with the actual baths – but it is still fascinating. You will only need 10-15 minutes to see it all.
Walk beneath the Puerta de las Granadas
One of the enduring images of Granada, Spain is this spectacular triple Roman gate. Located at the entrance to the Forest of Granada and the Nasrid Palace, the Puerta de las Granadas provides a massive, highly picturesque welcome to all visitors to the Alhambra.
Check out the San Jeronimo Monastery
A Heritage of Cultural Interest and Historic-Artistic Monument, the 16th century San Jeronimo Monastery was the first monastery built after the Christians took Granada back and is one of the most memorable Christian buildings in the city.
A classic Renaissance building, it features a stunning baroque sacristy, the work of famous artists such as Pablo de Rojas, Jacobo Florentino and Diego de Siloé and a fabulous courtyard filled with trees and 36 unique arches.
Go Hiking in the Sierra Nevada National Park
This fantastic national park starts just east of Granada and has some of the best scenery and hiking trails in Spain. It boasts Mulhacén, the tallest peak in the country at nearly 3,500 metres above sea level, and, in winter it is the most southern ski resort in all of Europe.
Along with providing a scenic backdrop for your Granada photos, the Sierra Nevada is a great place to get away from the city and enjoy nature. Although there are many good spots within a half-hour drive of the city, many of the best trails can be found slightly farther southeast in the Alpujarras region.
We spent 5 days hiking from white village to white village in these dramatic Sierra Nevada foothills, marvelling at the incomparable scenery and enjoying the distinct local culture and hospitality.
You can read more about it here:
Hiking the GR7 in the Sierra Nevada
The Granada Card
If you’re planning to track down a lot of the best things to do in Granada it might make sense to purchase a Granada Card before you arrive. This 3-day pass costs €43 (€10.50 for children under 12) and gives you access to all the big hitters:
The Royal Chapel
San Jeronimo monastery
Dar al-Horra Palace
Plus, another dozen or so sites. It also includes free public transport to help you get around the city.
You can also buy 24-hour (€36.50) and 48-hour (€40) versions that still get you into the main sites but leave out a few of the smaller ones.
Where to Stay: Best Granada Hotels
There are so many good options that it can be hard to choose the best Granada hotels but here are some of our recommendations for every price range.
If you want to stay somewhere truly special, the Alhambra Palace is the place for you. Its location just outside the walls of the Alhambra means spectacular views over the city of Granada. And not only the view will impress, as every inch of the Alhambra Palace hotel is beautiful in its own right and you can expect superb service from the helpful staff. Of course, this kind of luxury doesn’t come cheap, but it might be worth it for a truly memorable experience.
Click here for Alhambra Palace prices
The conveniently located Shine Albayzin will let you walk to all the main things to see in Granada. It is located in a beautiful 16th century palace right on the Carrera del Darro – which you may remember from the information above as one of the prettiest streets in Granada. Some rooms even have a view of the river and the Alhambra towering above.
Click here for Shine Albayzín prices
Granada Five Senses Rooms & Suites
If you are looking for a midrange choice with a rooftop pool and views of the historic city centre and cathedral, look no further. The Granada Five Senses Rooms & Suites also offers an on-site spa, solarium, beauty treatments and hairdressers. And there is even convenient on-site secure parking for an extra charge if you have a car.
Click here for Granada Five Senses Rooms & Suites prices
The Porcel Navas is located in the old town near an array of lively tapas bars yet is still quiet inside. It is only a 5-minute walk from the Cathedral and surprisingly affordable considering the recent renovations and comfortable rooms. The friendly and helpful staff will make sure you get the most out of your time in Granada.
Click here for Porcel Navas prices
Best Places to Visit Near Granada
Once you are done with your Granada sightseeing you should check out some of these nearby options. With a bit of extra time and maybe a rental car, there are a wide range of terrific day trips to be enjoyed near Granada.
See the Other Amazing Andalusian Cities
Malaga was a pleasant sightseeing surprise for us. It has some nice old streets, good pedestrian areas and the Alcazaba, a phenomenal ancient medieval Moorish fortress that is comparable to the big attractions in Seville, Granada and Córdoba.
Well worth a few days.
The 14 Best Things to Do in Malaga
Much smaller and more manageable than Madrid, Barcelona or Seville, cute Córdoba has the world-famous mosque-cathedral, La Mezquita, which is definitely worth the visit alone.
There is also a fascinating Jewish quarter, vibrant old town and impressive bridge (that also featured in Game of Thrones). It is just 40 minutes from Seville by high-speed train.
Check out How to Visit Córdoba on a Day Trip from Seville for all the best things to do in Cordoba.
Classic Seville is one of the gems of Spain, with a beautifully walkable old town, many amazing churches and, of course, the world-famous Real Alcazar.
Hopeless romantics will also love the street and balcony that inspired Romeo and Juliet.
Check out our guide to the Best Things to Do in Seville
A somewhat bizarre bit of Britain dropped right on the edge of Spain, Gibraltar has some pretty compelling sites (i.e. Rock of Gibraltar) and historic WWII attractions. The border crossing is straightforward and Gibraltar is easily visited on a day trip, although the sites are pretty spread out so if you want to see everything it wouldn’t hurt to stay a couple of nights.
Although it lacks the one big, incredible site of the other major Andalusian cities, Cádiz was among our favourite cities in Andalusia for its beaches, atmosphere and old town ambience.
With balmy weather (even by Andalusian standards) and perfect for wandering, Cádiz is the kind of place where the days slide by and you’ll always wish you could stay a bit longer.
Check out The 15 Best Things to Do in Cádiz
Tour the White Villages
The famous pueblos blancos of Andalusia are an absolute must-see if you have any spare time during your visit to Granada. These ludicrously picturesque white villages each have a unique personality and feel, and the only hard part is deciding which ones to see.
For an overview of our white villages road trip, check out 12 Spectacular Pueblos Blancos in Andalusia
Olvera has some of the best viewpoints in the area from its impressive castle.
Setenil de las Bodegas is famously built under a massive rock, making it extremely unique among all these hilltop fortress and soaring views.
Ronda is both the largest town in the region and the crown jewel of the pueblos blancos with its stunning El Tajo gorge and fabulous Puente Nuevo (New Bridge).
Check out Ronda: A Guide to Spain’s Best Pueblo Blanco
Algodonales boasts an impressive location next to the Sierra de Lijar mountains and is famous for a) having the largest hang-gliding school in Andalucia and b) making great guitars. I kid you not.
Zahara de la Sierra features an impressive Moorish castle on top of a huge, rocky hill located next to a beautiful blue lake.
Grazalema is known for its many amazing hiking areas.
Check out Grazalema: A Guide to Spain’s Hiking Pueblo Blanco
Pretty Casares is close to the Costa del Sol and is considered the gateway to the white villages. It also features a photogenic castle atop a rocky outcropping, a griffon vulture colony and a fun via ferrata.
Tiny Villaluenga del Rosario has an awesome little bull ring and fantastic cheese.
Arcos de la Frontera is all about the arches, many obvious and others hidden in the least likely spots.
Jerez de la Frontera is the sherry and flamenco capital of Andalusia. So if those are things you are into, Jerez is a must-see. If not, well, it’s still a very beautiful place (and much larger than most other towns on this list). It is also the location of the closest international airport to Granada.
Medina-Sidonia is the oldest pueblo blanco and features an understated elegance perched atop a hill not far from Granada.
Of all the amazing white villages we visited, Vejer de la Frontera was our favourite. Great vibe, beautiful place and the nicest main square in Andalusia.
Is Granada worth visiting?
Emphatically yes. Every avid traveller should visit Granada at least once in their lifetime if for no other reason than to experience the truly sensational Alhambra. As we always say, famous places are famous for a reason, and the Alhambra is about as famous as they come. You won’t be disappointed.
Best Time to Visit: Granada Weather
Andalusia gets very hot in summer, which is good for beaches and water sports but may be a bit warm for hiking or sightseeing. Granada is a bit higher than most of the other Andalusian cities, though, so it tends to stay a bit cooler. July and August are the hottest (30C+) but June and September can also be quite warm, and it almost never rains.
Winters are relatively mild with daily low and high averages ranging from about 4C to 15C but there is a lot more rain at this time, starting in November and continuing right into April.
The best times to visit Granada are in spring and fall, with May and October both boasting perfect 20-25C daytime highs and less rain than the winter months.
How to Get to Granada Spain
You have a lot of choices on how to get to Granada Spain and we ended up using most of them. We arrived by plane, left by train, took a bus to hike in the Sierra Nevada and rented a car to see the white villages
There is a domestic airport in Granada but if you are coming from overseas you will probably want to fly into Malaga, if possible. While Seville and Madrid are farther away, there are also good transportation options from both.
If you don’t have your own car (or a rental), train is usually the best way to get to Granada. It is conveniently located on the main Renfe high-speed lines, making it easy to reach Cordoba, Seville and Madrid. High-speed trains from the capital can take less than 4 hours.
Malaga is the most common destination by bus, taking 1.5-2 hrs.
However, many people visit Granada by car, either their own or a rental. With the Sierra Nevada mountains nearby and so many great towns and villages in the area we highly recommend renting a car for a few days to cover more ground and set your own schedule. We find Discover Cars usually have the best deals in the area.
Nearby Main Centres by Car:
Málaga to Granada: 125 km / 1.5 hrs
Córdoba to Granada: 210 km / 2.25 hrs
Seville to Granada: 250 km / 2.75 hrs
Gibraltar to Granada: 250 km / 3 hrs
Cádiz to Granada: 290 km / 3.5 hrs
Nearby pueblos blancos:
Olvera to Granada: 165 km / 2 hrs
Setenil de las Bodegas to Granada: 165 km / 2 hrs
Ronda to Granada: 180 km / 2 hrs
Algodonales to Granada: 185 km / 2.25 hrs
Zahara de la Sierra to Granada: 195 km / 2.5 hrs
Grazalema to Granada: 205 km / 2.5 hrs
Casares to Granada: 225 km / 2.5 hrs
Villaluenga del Rosario: 215 km / 2.75 hrs
Arcos de la Frontera to Granada: 230 km / 2.75 hrs
Jerez de la Frontera to Granada: 265 km / 3 hrs
Medina-Sidonia to Granada: 320 km / 3.5 hrs
Vejer de la Frontera to Granada: 325 km / 3.75 hrs
Ancient, picturesque and historic – Granada is truly one of the greatest cities in Spain. The Alhambra is one of the best historic sites in the world (that’s right, the WORLD), making Granada worth a visit for that alone. But with a bit more time to delve into the back streets and fascinating historical tourist attractions of Granada, as well, most visitors end up coming away with a whole new appreciation for this ancient city.
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