Food. Life. Travel

Andalusia Diaries: A Quick Guide To Granada

Red tiled roofs of Granada

Spain is undoubtedly a beautiful country, packed with a vibrant history rich in different cultures. The south of Spain is no different. The Andalusia region (also known as Al Andalus), is located in the south of Spain and is made up of 8 provinces. In addition, the territory is considered autonomous, primarily due to its unique historical and cultural makeup. The eight provinces of Andalusia include AlmeríaCádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and the capital Sevilla.

After spending a colourful 5 days in Lisbon, we made our way further south to Andalusia, with our first stop being Granada. While the majority of our travels across Portugal and Spain were navigated by land (bus or car), we actually flew into Madrid, and then took a small plane to Granada.

Granada is most famous for being the foothold of the Islamic empire in Spain. Nestled at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, grand monuments like the Alhambra, remain an iconic part of the landscape. As you stand at the top of a balcony, your gaze sweeps across the red-tiled roofs, and sepia-toned walls takin in the marvelous sights of this grand city.

View of the cyrup trees from the Palace walls. 

As the southernmost city of the province, Granada is very quiet. There is a certain tranquility that sets into the city, although perhaps that is also due to the sweltering heat. Make no mistake, despite being in close proximity to the mountains, the temperatures can make for a stifling heat. As you navigate your way across the nooks, crannies and cobblestoned pathways, the heat follows you, almost oppressively. Yet despite the fiery temperature, Granada is strikingly beautiful. The heat adds a distinct element, as the sun illuminates the foothills and trees in a golden glow.

We spent 3 days in Granada, basking in its splendid history and extraordinary architecture. Below, I outline my journey in Granada, sharing with you my adventures to help plan your trip to this historic landmark! Here is my Granada Travel Guide.

 

WHERE TO STAY

View from Albaycin

Since we are a large family (5) – hotels were quite expensive. However, AirBnb’s are a great and inexpensive alternative choice for our family. The best part of choosing AirBnb’s over a traditional hotel was our ability to choose the location.

Our accommodation was situated in the historic Arab quarters of Granada. The neighborhood Albayzín – is the historic heart and former Muslim neighborhood of Granada. Many Islamic elements remain in the architecture, making it a delight to explore in your own time.

The view is spectacular. We were treated to a wonderful vista, overlooking the red-tiled roofs and lush green vegetation. I cannot gush enough about how pleased I was with our accommodation. It was spacious, and we were lucky enough to sleep with the windows open. During the night, the cool breeze was a welcome relief to the sweltering heat.

Finally, the neat part about our AirBnb was finding out that the water from the taps was potable. In fact, across Granada, one is able to drink from the taps because the water comes from the slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Pretty cool eh?

WHAT TO EAT

1. Tapas

It would be a shame to trek across the plateaus of Spain, and remain oblivious to the abundance of tapas bars that litter the streets. Tapas (small sharing plates) and wine are considered the main food groups of Spanish cuisine. I am only kidding, although I would not be surprised if it stands alone as its own food group.

There are a plethora of different tapas bars to choose from. However, I would advise against dropping by into the first bar you see. Instead, I recommend taking the time to leisurely stroll along the streets, indulging in all the sights and sounds before making up your mind.

In the end, tapas are tapas. You get small sharing plates (and normally your wine or water is free). Tapas are considered more of a social gathering rather than an affair geared towards just eating. Nibble on the platas, attune your ears to the buzz of people’s conversations and relax. There is nowhere you need to be but here.

2. Churros

Incredible Spanish churros and cafe con leche

Equally as important as tapas, churros are a main staple in the Spaniard’s diets (I suspect). Make no mistake, these churros are not the same as the ones at your local Mexican eatery. Whereas Mexican churros are denser with copious amounts of sugar and cinnamon and are often served with chocolate Mexicano or dulce de leche, Spanish churros are more simple. That is not to say that Spanish churros are lackluster. Quite the opposite. In fact, the Spanish churro is more elegant in its affair. Long strands of dough are piped into hot oil, and two tongs are used to spin the dough into a spiral. They are removed and roughly chopped into foot-length pieces and served with a less viscous chocolate sauce.

As such, Spanish churros are lighter in taste and feel compared to Mexican churros. I liken Mexican churros to a meal best suited for dessert whereas Spanish churros can be consumed for breakfast, lunch, a mid-day snack and dessert. I am not going to lie, I indulged in churros whenever I got the chance.

We were lucky enough to have churreria so close to our accommodation in Albayzin. It was a mere two-minute walk and sat on the corner of a small street. I cannot remember the name of the place, but the environment was relaxed and intimate. Locals grabbed their coffee and mulled over the newspaper, while others stood at the bar, sipping cautiously on their cafe con leche.

Although I cannot remember the name of this cafeteria, here is a link that outlines the top places to eat churros in Granada! 

3. Moroccan Restaurant 

It seems obvious that whilst in Spain, one must eat as the Spaniards do. Although this is true, the province of Andalusia has a diverse food scene that is due to their Moorish roots and close proximity to Morocco. As such, there is an abundance of Moroccan and other Arab food stalls that border the streets and markets. In fact, at one point I was convinced I was in Morrocco!

We ended up at a Teteria Meknes Rahma located along Calle Elvira. Calle Elvira is almost like a mini Morocco, as you will find many vendors and food stalls with trinkets and products from this area, as well as other touristy items. The restaurant’s interior is very magnificent and colourful, albeit a bit orientalist in decor.  As you make yourself comfortable amost the plush pillows, and you wash your hands in brass bowls, you will have no doubts that you are dining in a Morrocan restaurant.

Walls of the Alhambra. As you can see lines from the Qu’ran are etched into the archways along with geometric designs. 

The food was very tasty, and the service prompt. The portions are quite large, making them perfect sharing plates. I would not say that the restaurant served authentic Moroccan food as they made a little bit of everything. However, their tagines and couscous were flavourful so I recommend those dishes. If you would like to check out the reviews, you can check them out on TripAdvisor.

Update: It seems that over the last year and a half, the food and service have deteriorated (according to TripAdvisor), which is a shame.

4. Shawarmas

Much like tapas and churros, shawarmas are a great grab and go snack to munch on while exploring the streets of Granada. The shawarmas here reminded me of the gyros in Greece since there put fries in the wraps as well!

Outer walls of the fortress

 

WHAT TO DO

1. Visit the Alhambra

This sprawling hilltop fortress complex encompasses royal palaces, serene patios, and reflecting pools from the Nasrid dynasty, as well as the fountains and orchards of the Generalife gardens. Once the seat of power during the Islamic Empire, this stunning site now sees hundreds of visitors a day.

It is important to pre-purchase your tickets prior to visiting the Alhambra. You must only go on the date specified on your ticket. We purchased our tickets here. They were around 20 euros per person, and it is well worth the cost. The only downside is that depending on the time your “tour” is scheduled to visit the Alhambra, you may or may not be stuck standing under intense heat. Alternatively, you can line up the day of, and grab your tickets, but the line up is long and there are limited times available.

Lines from the Qu’ran are etched into the reliefs of these walls.

Just to clarify, the Alhambra is a large fortress made up of various different buildings, such the Nasrid Palaces. For this particular building (the palace), you must only visit it on the time indicated on your ticket. This link here does a good job explaining the entire architectural complex!

Pro Tip: If you want a stunning view of the Alhambra without the (major) crowds, make your way on over to Mirador San Nicolas. Here you can see the outer walls, and pointed peaks of the fortress, surrounded by a sea of lush green. Even major pro tip – go out during the hottest hour of the day and I can guarantee you there will be no crowd 😉 !

View of the sprawling grounds of the Alhambra

2. Get Lost in the streets

Granada is a city that begs to be explored. Every nook and every cranny is inviting and is filled with intrigue and history. As I mentioned earlier, Granada is serenely quiet. The neighborhood streets and corners are blanketed in the sound of the warm Spanish breeze and bird chirps. Every twist and turn calls out to you, and eventually, you will find yourself lost in a pleasant maze. That is unless you decide to explore the streets at high noon – when the sun is at its hottest. Although quiet and tranquil at first, you will soon find yourself soaked in sweat, and frantic with slight delirium at not having reached any sliver of shade. My sister and I found ourselves in that exact situation (oh the joys of exploring places at the hottest time). When we finally reached home, we lay in bed letting the cool breeze wash over us, thankful that we finally found some repreive from the harsh Mediterranean heat.

3. Walk down the town center/stalls

When I am in a new city I just let my feet do the talking. That is, I find myself wandering all over the place getting lost and happening upon small little treasures. Granted, when your feet are the vehicle you are limited to the amount of distance you can cover. At times this means that the little treasures you find are just other tourist traps. In any case, this did not bother me at all because Granada had a unique charm of its own even in the touristy areas.

Granada is very green with lush decidous and coniferous trees. 

One such area is the Alcaiceria – a flea market bazaar of sorts. Once again you feel as if you crossed the straits of Gibraltar and find yourself transplanted in Morocco. Another great market area to explore is just off of where Mirador San Nicolas is located. Along that route you will find yourself fixed between tapas bars, small art galleries and tiny stores of trinkets and other goodies.

4. Buy spices 

The Alcaicería, home to the Great Bazaar of Granada, was originally a series of streets between Plaza Nueva and Plaza Bib-Rambla (the Christian Quarters), bursting with stalls selling silks, spices and other precious goods from Arabia. Today, the only section that remains is Calle Alcaiceria. Nevertheless, the area remains rich with history and local culture. Despite being a smaller section of the original bazaar, you can still purchase spices that trace their roots to the spice route.

We happened upon the spice shop Medievo, which sold an assortment of spices (including a Moorish spice mix) and teas. The items were incredibly fragrant and fresh. In fact, my favourite part of this spice shop was their assortments of teas for such a reasonable price. When I came back to Calgary, I couldn’t find a tea that replicated the same fragrance and taste.

5. Visit the “pee stairs”

The infamous "Pee Stairs"

These stairs have been appointed this unique name due to the fact that they indeed did smell like pee. I imagine that this was a place where animals, and their rowdy human counterparts, chose to relieve themselves in their time of need. Combined with the heat and humidity, the smell is magnified to the point of being suffocating.

The sad part is that the “pee stairs”, located right at the top of the road leading to Albayacin/Albayzin, offers a very spectacular view of Granada, and the red-tiled roofs below. It also is the best place to take photos because of the amazing natural sunlight that bounces off the whitewashed walls. My sister and I had a mini photoshoot there despite the putrid scent. The things we have to do for the ‘Gram, am I right?

And in any case, we were forced to take the pee stairs as our main point of transportation to get to and from the town center of Granada back to your Air BnB. But when you travel, sometimes you just have to make these sacrifices!

6. Check out obscure and hidden museums

If you decide to take the time to explore the town center of Granada, you will come across little gems like small off the beaten path museums such as the Archaeological Musuem of Granada, the Palacio de los Olvidos and Casa de los Pisa. They are by no means the Louvre but they offer a unique insight into the history of Granada.

HOW TO GET AROUND

1. Walk

Walking in Europe is the best way to get to and from anywhere you need to go. Especially if your accommodations are centrally located. The main center of Granada is easily connected to the other neighborhoods (and historically this makes sense), so take advantage of this ingenious urban planning. The best way to experience a city, after all, is to walk a mile in their shoes!

2. Taxi

There are no Ubers in Granada, unlike Lisbon. However, the taxis are pretty reasonable and will not rip you off (for the most part). We paid about 20 euros each (we had to take two cabs), and we got to our destination safely. I did find that despite whatever attempts you make, in cities that rely on the heavy flow of tourists there will be people who want to rip you off. There seems to be a misguided assumption that tourists are incredibly rich, and are willing to shell out whatever price you quote them – and in Europe, it seems that the taxis drivers are the worst (and usual) suspects.

If you land in the airport in Granada, be prepared to wait a while before you can grab a taxi. While there is a taxi waiting area, there were no taxis lined up (at least when we landed). But instead of rushing, take the time to breathe in the deep mountain air of Granada.

EXPERIENCE HISTORIC GRANDEUR IN GRANADA

An archway allowing a glimpse into the future. 

“The truth is, that I’m beginning to wonder if there is any greater pleasure in life than visiting Granada. …and it is going back and visiting it again.” – Alexandre Dumas.

Granada is undoubtedly a beautiful place. The city is steeped in history and culture, and remnants of its rich past exist today in tiny nooks and crannies. Although hot, there is something uplifting about a warm mountain breeze and the subtle tranquility that takes over the city during the afternoon. When visiting Granada, take the time to walk with deliberate care, admiring what this city has to offer.

 

 

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