Journeys, Travel Guides

How I went to Granada, didn’t visit Alhambra, but still had fun

Dancing Zambra with the gypsies in the caves of Sacromonte, watching the holy processions of Semana Santa or admiring the sunset over Sierra Nevada and Alhambra are the most rewarding experiences we had in Granada, Andalucía.

When most people say Granada, they automatically add Alhambra as the go to place, but that’s not all this city has to offer. If you’re wondering what else you can do here, read on to discover the wonderful things you can experience in Granada.

Postcard from Granada with wisteria frame

[Granada, Andalucía, Spain – 2 itineraries: 2 days, 1 night / 3 days, 2 nights]

Experience Andalucía: 12 things to do in Granada

Your map of experiences in Granada, Andalucia:

  • See a Zambra Gitano Show in Sacromonte Caves
  • Admire the sunset at Mirador de San Nicolás
  • Get a Henna tattoo 
  • Stroll the white streets of the picturesque neighborhood of Albayzín
  • Walk or shop in Alcaicería – Grand Bazaar of Granada
  • Wander the streets around Carrera del Darro
  • Watch the Processions of Semana Santa / Holy Week in Spain
  • Visit the impressive Granada Cathedral
  • Relax at Hammam Al Andalus
  • Find out useful tips about Alhambra and Generalife
  • Visit Madrasah of Granada – La Madraza
  • See Granada from above – best view of Alhambra and Sierra Nevada

Read on for travel tips, photos and details about the experiences >


  1. See the impressive Granada Cathedral

Spanish Cathedrals are spectacular and the one in Granada is no exception. It was built during the Spanish Renaissance, incorporating some Baroque elements into its splendid interior, and it’s one of the must-see attractions of Granada.

During the Semana Santa, Granada Cathedral becomes the center of the Processions and it can’t be visited in the afternoon, so we came back the next day to visit its amazing interior.

Granada-Cathedral---looking-up-architecture


  1. Watch the sunset at Mirador de San Nicolás

This is the place where you’ll get the best panorama over Granada because you can admire both Sierra Nevada and Alhambra at a glance.

People say sunset is the best time to visit Mirador de San Nicolás, and it might be so on some days, but you can also try going in the morning for a more enjoyable time. We went at the sunset, but also the next morning, and it was less crowded and we were able to enjoy a coffee with a view at a nearby terrace.

sunset-at-Mirador-de-San-Nicolas


  1. Get a Henna tattoo in the Moorish neighborhood of Albayzín

Wandering the streets of Granada, I found a couple of French girls with very pretty henna tattoos. I knew I could get a henna tattoo done in Alcaicería – Grand Bazaar of Granada, but still asked them about theirs. And so I went to the Moorish neighborhood of Albayzín, at Mirador de San Nicolás, the next morning and got myself one.

But it wasn’t the one I asked for! 🙂 So be very careful with whom you choose to get your henna tattoo done, wait for someone else to have theirs and see if it matches the drawing in front, because it’s really nothing you can do afterwards.

It’s pretty nice, but still her dishonesty bugs me a little. 10€ well spent for the experience, since it was my first time.

henna-tattoo-in-Granada,-Andalucia


  1. Stroll the white streets of the picturesque neighborhood of Albayzín in search of Moorish architectural details

Albaicin-district-and-a-wonderful-view-to-Alhambra,-Granada

Albayzin,-Granada,-Andalucia


  1. Walk or shop in Alcaicería – Grand Bazaar of Granada

I love the Bazaar experience, even if I know it’s a very touristy one these days. Went to Istanbul Bazaar twice already, 2006 and 2016, and even if it changed considerably in those 10 years, I still love eating and shopping there for spices, scarves and tea because it kept some of its initial vibes (and grew a lot bigger).

If you’ve ever been to the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, then Alcaicería, the Grand Bazaar of Granada, will not impress you that much. I’ve read that it used to be a lot bigger, but now it’s only a few alleys packed with shops, and most of the items are similar to those in Istanbul whereas I was hoping to find more Moroccan items.

Nonetheless, I loved those stained-glass lamps, called granadino farolas in Granada, because they make me dream about a small bohemian inner courtyard covered in plants, with colorful pillows, veils, candles and delightful summer vibes. The ones I saw here were about 100€ each, so that woke me up fast.

Since it’s a unique part of Granada, a stroll here is a nice change of scenery and a different experience.

Alcaiceria---Grand-Bazaar-of-Granada,-in-Andalucia

  1. Wander the streets around Carrera del Darro

Carrera del Darro is a pretty narrow street along the homonym river and it’s a wonderful spot for architecture lovers because of all old houses tucked in the hills.

You can stroll up this labyrinth of streets to go into Albayzín neighborhood or enjoy tapas in the many restaurants on Carrera del Darro. This is also one of the streets where the Processions of Semana Santa were held this year, and we had the pleasure of watching them from above while waiting for the streets to clear out.

narrow-street-near-Carrera-del-Darro-in-Granada

  1. Watch the Processions of Semana Santa / Holy Week in Spain

Fiestas and holidays are a big part of Spanish culture, so if you’re planning a trip to Spain, always make sure to check their calendars (plenty online) to find out the dates and times for any upcoming events.

It’s a seasonal experience, but worth mentioning because Semana Santa is one of the most important Spanish events. It takes place each year and the religious processions dominate the whole week before Easter.

We didn’t choose to take our Andalucían road trip at this time because of Semana Santa, but it seems that we get lucky often with the Spanish fiestas (or they have too many).

3 years ago, we managed to see Batalla de las Flores in Valencia without even knowing about the event before the trip  – we just happened to be downtown 2 hours before and saw the preparations (this event is held each year, on the last Sunday of July).

We saw most of the events around Semana Santa in Granada and a bit during our short stay in Malaga, and I must say it’s a fascinating event for a traveler because you can actually experience another culture in an authentic way.

On the Sunday before Easter, Granada was packed with people on all the main streets (btw, closed all week).  Also, we figured something was about to happen as we walked by Granada Cathedral, where a big group of men dressed in white were waiting for something.

Later on, we heard the music played by the marching bands and we found out those white men were actually carrying the Pasos / Floats – wooden structures adorned with flowers, candles and a sculpture of Holy Mary on their backs. That’s impressive because those floats – wooden structures actually take tours of the city center – a difficult task even for the religious brotherhoods that seem to perform this every year.

Women and even 10yo girls take part in the processions somehow indirectly by getting dressed in black and with a lace veil on their heads. We saw some of them on the streets, but their part is still pretty unclear.

Apart the brotherhoods that help the processions, there are others who dress in a monk-like tunic called nazareno and wear a pointed hat called capirote. If you want to find out more about Semana Santa, see a good article about it here.

All in all, it’s an experience to have, if you find yourself in Granada or Andalucía the week before Easter.

Semana-Santa-in-Andalucia---Granada

 


  1. See a Zambra Gitano Show in Sacromonte Caves

It’s a must-have experience, if you’re staying in Granada even for a night (like we did).

Zambra is a style of Flamenco only performed by the gypsies in Granada and Almeria – Andalucia, Spain.

Sacromonte Caves in Granada is where you’ll find these shows (every night during the season), and even if these are only danced for tourists, the experience feels authentic.

The typical Zambra band has two parts: the music players – guitar player, a lead singer, the cajón player and the dancers – a young couple and two older ladies.

As I understood from the beginning of the first show, the dancers perform more than a loud tapping dance with their wooden heels – it’s more like a little theater play featuring wedding rituals, where the young couple plays the newlyweds and the old ladies play their mothers.

The Zambra Gitano show at Cueva del Rocio in Sacromonte Caves takes 50 minutes and features 2 different bands, and we paid 20€ per ticket. Some hotels offer the same for 30, but they include a tour of the neighborhood and a ride back, and I guess it’s worth it – we paid almost the same, if you count in the taxi fee.


  1. Relax at Hammam Al Andalus

One of the experiences that set Granada apart from the other Andalucían cities is hammam. It’s not like a spa, but it does offer a relaxing experience. These hammam places are also located in well-designed Turkish baths with wonderful columns, mosaics and other Arab motifs.

We went to Hammam Al Andalus, but it seems booking in advance is required during the season, and we didn’t have enough time the next day. Felt a bit sorry about not being able to see that beautiful place, but hopefully I’ll be back in Granada someday.

  1. Alhambra & Generalife (Useful Tips)

It looks great from outside! J We didn’t manage to get in, not even after V. woke up at 4.30 in the morning to stay in long line outside the palace.

This seems to be the Holy Grail of tourist attractions in Europe because there’s no other place that makes it so hard for tourists to get in.

We tried booking online a month before, meaning right after we decided to go to Andalucía, but everything was already booked. It was a surprise since it’s the first time this happened to us. I guess you need to book your online tickets to Alhambra 2 or 3 months in advance, if you really want to see it.

After V. waited in line since 4.30 a.m. until 8.30 a.m. (20 people in front of him and only because they slept there), he didn’t manage to buy tickets for that day.

I think it’s a matter of poor management because we found out later why this happens: they only sell 147 tickets to the palaces and 300 for the gardens per day, even if the tourist volume is at least 5 times bigger and the palace area is spacious enough to accommodate a lot more visitors.

From what I’ve seen in the pictures, the famous Alhambra is indeed beautiful, but it’s strikingly similar to Alcazar of Seville, so much so that when researching for our trip to Andalucía, I found many pictures on travel websites mixing up these two palaces.

Pro Travel Tip for a visit to Alhambra

Our hotel was right near the entrance to Alhambra, and we found out at the reception desk upon our arrival that they also sell a few tickets on their website, but they don’t mention it on booking.com, hence we had no idea about that.

It’s also hard to imagine that a hotel sells tickets to the main tourist attractions, but it seems it’s not the only one, so check that as a second option, if the official site has run out of tickets.

  1. Madrasah of Granada – La Madraza

La Madraza is a former mosque school and a small architectural gem you can find near Granada Cathedral.

There are three impressive elements about it: the richly decorated facades, the stunning old “classroom” adorned with Arab motifs and mosaics and the council room ceiling featuring an octagonal Mudéjar.

The visit takes 10-15 minutes, but loved its beautiful architecture so much that I think you shouldn’t miss it.

Madrasah-of-Granada---La-Madraza,-Andalucia

If you have two extra hours, you can also visit Palacio de Dar la-Horra.


  1. See Granada, Alhambra and Sierra Nevada from above

There are many lovely viewpoints in the city, and if you walk down from Alhambra following the main road, you’ll get to a wonderful panorama of the city and Sierra Nevada nearby.

Another point of view, closer to the city and more spectacular is Mirador de San Nicolás mentioned above.

Postcard-from-Granada,-Andalucia---city-view-from-above

Sierra-Nevada-and-AlHambra---Postcard-from-Granada,-Andalucia


Travel Tips for a holiday in Granada, Andalucía, Spain

  • Time required to visit top attractions in Granada – we stayed in Granada for 2 days, but if you add a visit to Alhambra and Generalife and a relaxing hammam session, you’ll need 3 days.
  • When is the best time to visit Granada – April and October seem to be the best times to visit Granada, but if you want to enjoy one of the most renowned holidays in Andalucía – Semana Santa, then choose April – the week before Easter.
  • Book tickets to Alhambra at least 2 months in advance – Alhambra is the Holy Grail of tourist attractions in Andalucía, so it’s impossible to get in, if you don’t book your tickets online at least 2 or 3 months in advance. You can also book a ticket to Alhambra at the hotels right next to it, but only if you book directly on their website, probably a couple of weeks in advance.

Road Trip in Andalucía, Spain: Seville – CordobaMalaga – Granada | April 2017 | All Photography: ©Ana Matei > Instagram: @MateiAna


Read Next:
Things to do in Cordoba, Spain >
Visual Tour of Malaga, Spain > 


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Ana
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