I love the south of Spain. Andalucia is a magical land of warm nights, friendly people, white villages and some of the best food in the whole Spain. I did a road trip exploring the area in 2014, but sadly that time I couldn’t see Granada. So I came back now, with more time and even more will to explore this beautiful city, and the result is this insider`s guide to a perfect weekend in Granada!
Granada is famous for the Alhambra, a complex of palaces, gardens and a military fortress on the top of a hill overlooking the city that is part of Unesco’s World Heritage buildings and that should definitely be on every traveler`s bucket list. So yes, a visit to the Alhambra is a must-do, but Granada is much more than this. I recommend staying at least two full days in Granada so you can not only explore the city but live a little of the local life, with its delicious – and extremely cheap! – tapas and cheerful nightlife.
I’ll divide this guide into three categories: Insider`s tips to enjoying Granada; A photographic itinerary to help you take the best of your time and explore the most beautiful areas of the city, and a where to eat/drink/go out local guide so you can enjoy your nights as much as your days! Are you ready? So come with me on this journey!
Insider`s tips to enjoying Granada:
Take the Aerobus from the airport:
I only took transport to go from the airport to the city center, and there`s a shuttle bus that you take outside the airport that only costs 2,90 euros and has many stops into the city. I recommend that instead of paying for a cab.
Book a room at the city center:
All the touristic and interesting parts of Granada are located within 3 neighborhoods: The center (between Plaza del Triunfo and Plaza de Isabel la Catolica), the Albaicín and Sacromonte. While the first one is a more modern, traditional area, the last two are made of small, narrow white streets on a hill, like a maze. If you`re looking for a more authentic experience, I recommend staying in the Albaicín or at one of the amazing cave houses of Sacromonte (you can find many of them to rent on Airbnb).
Read here why you should use Airbnb when traveling, and win a coupon for your first booking!
Walk everywhere … and wear comfortable, flat shoes!
Granada is not a big city so if you book your accommodation in the downtown area, you can do everything by foot. I walked everywhere because I think this is the best way to get to know a city, but if you don’t feel like climbing the hills of the Albaicín and Sacromonte neighborhoods, there are some local vans/buses that take you from the bottle to the top. Most of the streets are stone streets, so don`t even think about wearing high hills or shoes that are not comfortable unless you wanna risk a broken leg!
Indulge yourself in tapas… Without paying for it!
It`s almost a rule in Granada: When you ask for a drink, they bring you something to eat, for free. In most of the places you can’t choose what they bring, they`ll serve as they prepare, but they change it every time you order another drink, so you can try different things. There is, though, one place, my favorite, that you can choose what you’re having on the menu and ask for your drink, and still they only charge for the drink. I`ll talk about it on the recommendations part of this guide!
Buy the tickets to the Alhambra online, and at least one month ahead of your visit:
It does sound exaggerated, but it is not. The Alhambra is a very popular place to visit but for preservation reasons, only a certain number of people are allowed inside every day, so you may want to buy your ticket way ahead or otherwise, you may be left without it. A normal ticket is 17,oo euros. If you want a guided visit (which is worth it if you`re interested in the historic and architectural details of the place, then it is a little more, but if you leave if for let`s say, 1 week before, you may only find tours that cost from 39 to 100 euros. And they usually only take 3 hours which, for me, is not enough time to see all there is to see inside. The good thing about the tours is the explanation of everything you see, though.
You can buy the tickets here.
A photographic itinerary of Granada:
With its narrow, labyrinthic white streets on the top of the hill, the Albaicín is a neighborhood to be explored on foot, calmy and with a camera on hand. Also, forget about maps or GPS: This is a place to get lost in, that’s the fun of it. Don`t worry, from time to time between your wandering, you will be rewarded with the best views of the Alhambra and the city of Granada. And as you can see in this picture, the view is worth it:
The best time to explore the Albaicín neighborhood is in the afternoon, as the stores and bar are usually always opened but in my opinion, this is not the best place to go at night, unless you are looking for a place just to have dinner. But wandering around the streets of this area during the day is a pleasant and rewarding experience.
The bottom part of the Albaicín, near Elvira street, is like being transported to Morocco. Granada has a great Islamic influence and it doesn’t get any clearer than here. It’s like walking through a souk in Marrakesh, lots of shops that from the outside look small, but as you get in, is like being part of one the 1001 Nights tales. Or Alladins cave. Clothes, accessories, jewelry, and the beautiful Moroccan lamps. All that you`ll find here so prepare your wallets!
As you reach the top, there are some cute little squares with bars and restaurants where you can sit at a terrace to rest from the walk and have a drink. As I said before, it is common here to receive a tapa (a small bite of food) whenever you order a drink, so just relax and enjoy it!
Like I said before, the Albaicín has one of the best panoramic views of the Alhambra and the city of Granada, and a stop at the Mirador de San Nicolás to watch the sunset and wait for the Alhambra to light up is a definitely a must-do. Just check the sunset hours before going so you won`t have to wait too much. But even if you do, this is the reward, and I was so glad I waited:
The neighborhood of Sacromonte is considered the birthplace of the Flamenco and is the best place in the city to enjoy this beautiful musical tradition. This area is also known for its unique caves, some turned into houses, other into bars and restaurants.
The best time to go to Sacromonte is at night, so I suggest you head for it after watching the sunset in the Albaicín since the two areas are side by side and pretty close. I went during the day and on a Sunday and even though it was a nice walk, all the caves were closed, and I could not really see the insides, so learn from my mistakes!
There is a caves museum that you can visit (steep walk up, so wear comfortable shoes!) where they tell the story of the caves. The origin of this kind of residential occupation is not very clear, but this caves houses, also know as “troglodyte houses” (funny name) where traditionally occupied first by the Jews and Muslims that were expelled from the city after the Christians conquers, then by the gypsies, and it`s with them that the Flamenco was born.
Since most of the caves that you can visit are now live flamenco bars, the night is the best time to explore it. I also recommend not making reservations since most of the places you`ll see offers that are the most touristic (and expensive) ones. The bars are not far from each other so give yourself the freedom to walk by them and choose the one you like the most without being stuck into going to just one of them.
The city center:
The most traditional and classy area of Granada, the square between Plaza del Triunfo/Gran Via del Colon, Reys Catolicos Street, Las Puntezuelas Street and Gran Caprian Street is not only one of the liveliest and busiest areas of the city, is also where you`ll find the main shopping streets, beautiful historical buildings and impressive architecture.
There are many beautiful churches in Granada, even though this was originally an Islamic city. Ironically enough, the one that I thought was not worth paying for getting in is the main one, the cathedral. On the opposite, one of the most beautiful churches I’ve seen (and I’ve seen many, as the Saint Peter`s Basilica in the Vatican, the Sagrada Familia in Spain or the Basilica of Saint Francisco de Assis, in Italy) was the one inside the San Jeronimo Monestir.
I assume that, as I walked from one bare room to another bare room around the courtyard of the San Jeronimo Monastir, I was more than a little disappointed with it. I was… bored. Until I got to the church… And don`t worry, I won`t completely ruin the surprise, because the photo I`ll show here is a good photo, yes, but in no way it shows just how stunning and impressive this place is. The painted walls, the frescoes, the altar… I was looking for a “wow” moment and I definitely got one!
Granada is a pretty bohemian city so if you’re not really the architectural kind of tourist, don worry. There are so many adorable squares in the city center where you can sit down for a drink while watching the people walk by but still surrounded by beautiful buildings (like it or not, you are going to be in a very attractive neighborhood). One of them is the Pescaderia Square, where I fell in love with a red building (I know. But I did…) and the artistic atmosphere:
Another beautiful and delicious square is the Plaza Bib Rambla, surrounded by restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. Granada is not a city to rush through, so yes, please, take your time, sit down and have a cold beer/coffee/whatever you feel like drinking, whenever you feel like doing so. This is slow travel, this is living like the locals.
The siesta time is not a tale, is a reality in Spain, especially in the south and even more during the summer when sometimes is just too hot to be walking around. Even the churches close for visitation from 1:30 to 4pm (except the cathedral). The smaller stores also close. So what do you do during this forced break? You adjust to Spanish eating hours. Have lunch at 1:30-2pm (many restaurants are not even opened at 12) and extend that lunch with one more drink (or two. or three) until siesta is over. Yep!
Or use this time to plan your next move… Like we did. This is how travel planning feels like in Granada. And if you`re wondering, the food came with the beers. And yes, I still use paper maps!
The Alhambra is not a neighborhood, but it deserves a whole half of the day – and a whole other post coming soon – to be rightly seen. You can do the Alhambra tour in the morning and then take the afternoon to explore one of the neighborhoods above, or explore the city in the morning and go to the Alhambra in the afternoon. Just make sure to leave at least 4 hours to do so, less than that you won`t be able to see all there is to see. I could actually spend 6 hours there and still be enjoying it…
The where to eat/drink/go out local guide to Granada:
Where to eat/drink:
Tapa: A small portion of food, that can be anything from a small plate of fried fish/meatballs/fried potatoes to a montadito (a small sandwich or piece of bread with different fillings/toppings). Typical Spanish food.
The tradition of “tapeo” (going out for tapas) is found in every part of Spain, but is not everywhere that they still keep serving the tapa for free whenever you order a drink. Granada is one of the few cities who still does that, and the prices for eating there are unbelievable low. A beer can cost as low as 2 euros; a glass of wine, the same. Add to that the food that they serve and you can have a whole dinner for, let’s say, 4 euros per person (if you`re not a heavy eater like me).
Another fun thing about going out for tapas: It is a very spontaneous way of eating so people don’t actually go to one place, book a table and spend the whole night there. Sure you can do that if you want to, but the best part of eating tapas is that you can have one drink/tapa at each restaurant and that way you can try different styles. That`s what a lot of locals do, and that`s what I usually do too especially when exploring a new city!
Calle Navas: Located in the city center, this street is filled with tapas bars where you can sit in the terraces that occupy both sides of the street and people-watch while you eat. This street is also 2 minutes from where the most high-end bars and discos are, so if you go during the weekend nights, the probability of seeing beautiful young people having dinner before going out is big. If you’re single, that`s the place to go. If you`re not, go anyway cause the food is great.
Recommended bar: Entre Brasas, Calle Navas, 27.
Calle Cetti Meriem/Calle Almireceros/Calle Elvira: The square formed by these streets is a foodie`s dream in Granada. Located on the base of the Albaicín neighborhood, just 5 minutes from the Gran Via del Colón Avenue, these streets have one of the biggest concentration of tapas bar in the city. Unless you want to, ignore all the kebab bars in Elvira Street and please head to this area. Order one drink at each bar so you can try different tapas and see different places.
Recommended bar: La Riviera, Calle Cetti Meriem, 7.
This was actually my favorite bar in Granada because that’s the only one where you can choose which tapa you`re having, the food is absolutely delicious and the portions are big, so big that my friend and I were full after having only two beers and two tapas. But if you want more food, the extra tapa is less than 2 euros. That`s the place we had a full dinner for 4 euros each! Needless to say, we came back the next day.
Food with views: In the high part of Albaicin neighborhood, there are a few restaurants that despite great food, have the most amazing views of the Alhambra, especially if you go at night. These two are real restaurants, not tapas bars, so if you`re looking for a more relaxing (and maybe romantic?) atmosphere, this is the place the go.
El Trillo, Calle Callejon Aljibe de Trillo, 3.
Even though only the upper terrace has views of the Alhambra, what makes this restaurant special is the patio. You can sit at a table outside, surrounded by trees, flowers and a fountain, like a hidden oasis, and enjoy a more contemporary, sophisticated Mediterranean meal. The place can get full so booking a table is advised. You can book here.
Carmen Verde Luna, Camino Nuevo de San Nicolás, 16.
The views of this place are simply amazing, directly facing the Alhambra. It`s the kind of place where you could spend the whole day just sitting there, absorbing the panorama. The lunch menu was 12 euros with 2 plates and a dessert, which great options for each plate. The portions were well served, the food was delicious and the service was kind and attentive. If I had more time I would come back at night, it must beautiful with the Alhambra all lighten up!
Going out/drinks/dancing: Granada has a lively nightlife and you can find something for every style.
Calle Elvira and Carrera del Darro: For a more relaxed, almost hippie vibe, head to this bohemian area. Between Moroccan stores and tapas bars, you can find some clubs to dance. The party starts really late in Granada so don`t be surprised if you get to a bar at 12 pm and the place is still empty since dinner time is around 10 pm.
Reccomended club: Boom boom room, Calle da Carcel Baja, 10.
Calle Moras: If your thing is a more refined atmosphere and a crowd around their 30`s, this street has many bars that are perfect for you. From the afternoon to 3 am, you can find good-looking people sipping cocktails and listening to music. This was my favorite spot for enjoying the night in Granada.
Recommended bar/club: Paripe, Calle Moras, 2.
With a great interior design, cool crowd and good cocktails, this place is one of the most popular choices in the area. You can start with happy hour and finish dancing and listening to live music since the place on the side, another super cool bar with music and a stage is connected to this bar, so people circulate from one to the other! I had a great night here until they closed at 3pm, when we headed to…
Aliatar Club, Calle Recogidas, 2.
If you like commercial music/house music and an older crowd (passed their 20`s I mean), this is your nightclub. They have a big dancing area with 2 bars and a stage where sometimes there are concerts. Also, you can smoke shisha in there!
Ganivet, Calle Ángel Ganivet, 13.
Another option if you like shisha, this bar/disco pub offers commercial and Latin music.
For flamenco shows: Granada is the birthplace of Flamenco and if you haven’t seen a flamenco show, you just can`t leave Granada without going to one. For a more authentic experience, head to the Sacromonte neighborhood and look for one of the Peña Flamencas (local flamenco associations), located inside the caves where you can watch the flamenco dancers tap their feet to the sound of the beautiful Spanish guitar while having a drink.
I really hope you enjoyed this insider`s guide to Granada, I had a great time exploring the city to create this and I would love to hear your experiences!
More weekend scapes guides? Read about a perfect weekend in Porto, Portugal here!