An Arabic wonderland for over 700 years, Granada was the last surviving Moorish kingdom in Spain and if you think that when the Catholic Kings banished the Moors, the culture dissipated forever- you’re mistaken.
Today, you can still experience what once existed in those days by visiting some of Granada’s World Heritage sites. Whether navigating the laneways of the Albaycín, sipping tea in a dim-lit tetería or experiencing the Moorish origins of zamba flamenco in the caves of Sacromonte, this city will entice you to lose yourself in its charms.
Best time to visit: In the cooler months of Spring between April and May, when you can meander through the manicured gardens without passing out from heat exhaustion! For detailed information on Granada’s weather and climate click here.
1. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site Alhambra الْحَمْرَاء
Calle Real de la Alhambra, 18009 Granada Ph: 958 02 79 71 Directions / Buy Tickets Online
Even Los Reyes Católicos fell in love with the Alhambra’s beauty when they conquered Granada in 1492 and decided to spare it. That’s saying a lot considering after a 10 year battle, they ordered anything remotely Arabic to be destroyed or converted. Lucky for us, the Catholic Monarchs decided that blessing the grounds with holy water would suffice. Though that clearly didn’t satisfy their grandchild Carlos V, who decided 34 years later to build a clunky, odd-looking palace on site as some sort of symbol of “the great triumph of Catholicism over Islam”. Well, at least he didn’t wreck the rest of it.
- Enjoy a picnic in Generalife gardens
- Peak season? Pre-book your tickets
- Off-peak? Purchase your tickets on the day. The queues for picking up pre-booked tickets are huge! The main office takes cash only, but there is a self-booking station on site (around the corner near the bookshop) where you can use your credit card
- Make sure you get the ‘Alhambra General’ pass for access to all the visitable spaces of the Monument: Alcazaba, Nasrid Palaces, Generalife, Carlos V Palace, Public baths and Mosque
- Don’t get the night pass, it’s impossible to navigate the Nazrid Palaces in the dark
2. Soak in the Baños Arabes (Arabic Baths الحمام)
(Source) Hammam Al Ándalus C/ Santa Ana, 16. Granada Ph: 958 229 978 Directions / Reserve Online
Public bathhouses were a vital part of Moorish culture as they provided a meeting place for religious practitioners, political figures and were occasionally used for rituals such as cleansing a bride before her wedding. There is a fully restored hammam on the grounds of the Alhambra, but it’s no longer a functional bathhouse – you can only see its remains and imagine how it used to be to bathe there. But if you’re a bathhouse addict like me, you must visit one of Granada’s Baños Arabes. I’ve experienced all three and noticed that each bathhouse attracted different clientele. Here are some tips from my visit in May 2015;
- Hammam Al Andalus – Very well known. Popular with tourists, but by far the most authentic experience on offer in Granada. Each hot pool has it’s own room which allows for more privacy, even if you are unlucky enough to book at a time with a large crowd. 3 hot pools, and 1 cold pool. Has Hammam. Arabic music. (Dee recommends: Choose a late night session, or a weekday. It is best experienced when you have the place to yourself. Check their website for current offers/specials before booking.)
- Baños de Elvira – Intimate, suitable for couples. Beautifully decorated. Fruits, teas and chocolates provided. Very friendly service. 1 large hot pool, and 1 cold pool. Has Hammam. Fountain.
- Alijbe de San Miguel – Great spot for groups. May be a little too loud for couples, though if you manage to secure an appointment without other guests, its a totally different experience. 6 hot pools, and 1 cold pool. No hammam on site. (Dee recommends: See the Alhambra first, show them your ticket and you will receive 10% off.)
Dee Recommends: If you only have time to visit one, without a doubt choose Hammam Al Andalus.
3. Taste Middle Eastern Cuisine at a Tetería
One of many teterías in the Albaycín, Granada
As you walk through the Albaycín, you will find various tea houses. It wouldn’t be right to recommend one, half the fun is finding your own favorite! Try a fruity, herbal or milky tea with a tagine lunch and a middle eastern sweet to finish. Hookah’s are also a thing in teterias, if that’s something you’re into.
Dee Recommends: Ask your server to pour your tea for you. You’ll see why when they do it!
4. Navigate the streets of the UNESCO World Heritage Albaycín
Mirador de San Nicolas, Granada (Map)
Watch the sunset over the city from the Mirador de San Nicholas, where you can get a perfect view of the Alhambra accompanied by the sweet tunes of local street musicians.
Dee Recommends: If you’re looking for a more intimate lookout, visit the Paseo de los Tristes, San Miguel Alto or La Silla del Moro where the locals prefer to hangout.
5. Witness a Zambra in the Cuevas del Sacromonte
(source) Example of Moorish Zambra
Evolved from earlier Moorish dances, the Zambra is a flamenco dance born from the meeting of two cultures. The Moors and Romani (gypsy) people of Granada were banished to the outskirts of Sacromonte during Christian rule. It is said that these two groups shared festivities, dances, music and influenced one another during the period that both communities called the caves of Sacromonte home. Touristy and a little over-the-top in nature, the Sacromonte cave shows may not showcase the best Flamenco dance talent in the province (and I’m a decent judge, my fiancé is a flamenco dancer!) but it definitely is an intimate experience dining in a cave with brass pots and clay plates hanging from the walls while witnessing a style of flamenco created in those very caves hundreds of years ago. It almost takes you back to how it must have felt to be them, outcast from their own city, wailing and crying, singing and expressing all they could through song and dance.
- If you’d like to learn more about the history of Zambra, visit the Caves Museum of Sacromonte where you can explore 10 refurbished caves of Sacromonte
- If you’d like to take flamenco dance classes in Granada, you can learn from the gypsies themselves at the school my fiancé Ryan attended: Carmen de las Cuevas. Classes are run in the actual caves!
6. Wander through the Alcaiceria, Granada’s Great Bazaar
A shop along Calle Alcaicería, Granada (Map)
Walk towards the Bib-Rambla end of the Alcaicería and you will get a glimpse of how the Bazaar used to be with vendors selling herbs, spices, fruits, clothes and silks.
Other Recommended Moorish Sites To Visit
- La Silla Del Moro
- El Banuelo
- Puerta De Elvira
- Corral del Carbon, the oldest monument in Granada (14th-century)
- Mezquita Mayor de Granada
- Carmen de los Martires
- La Madraza
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