Per the suggestion of many Spaniards, I decided to change my hotel arrangements and spend an extra night in Granada instead of Malaga. I am SO glad I did!
Don’t get me wrong. Malaga is a beautiful city with an excellent combination of the beach, shopping, and cultural monuments. That being said, I found it to be too overtly touristy for me, and too much of a party town for my liking. Granada is also touristy, but it felt much more culturally significant and it truly captured my heart.
By the time I made it into the city and checked in, it was early afternoon. I had just a few hours to kill before the Sacramonte walking / hiking tour I’d booked for that evening.
I decided to toss my map into my bag and just wander through the streets. I ended up accidentally stumbling upon a ton of cool places!
Plaza Bib Rambla – a meeting square with tons of restaurants that once held the largest book burning in Europe
Alcaiceria – a small wave of interwoven streets making up a small alley market. I felt like I was transported back to Morocco!
By the time I’d finished wandering and grabbed lunch, I had just enough time to get back to my hotel to change out of my flip-flops and then meet the group for the hike. Guess who got distracted and forgot to change her shoes? This girl! Yes, I did a hike in flip-flops. Thank goodness I’m a California girl at heart and can pretty much do anything in sandals!
For those of you who have never been to Granada, I highly recommend going up to Sacramonte. It gets a lot of flak for being unsafe due to the gypsies that live there, so I opted for the free walking tour and I loved it. Not only did I see the best views from above the city, but was also given an extensive lesson in history as well. Granada’s post-Inquisition history of religious strife and illegal mountain caves is as a dramatic as an episode of The Jersey Shore. Truly fascinating stuff! And good news – you can totally do the hike in sandals if you need to. I do have to say that it is quite a steep way up, so be prepared for your legs to be a little sore afterwards.
While on the tour, I made friends with two girls who were on their last Busabout stop, and we became dinner companions. Someone had recommended Bodegas Castañeda to me, and we arrived to find it bursting with locals. Always a good sign! The service was a bit of a pain, and it took us some time to get a table and the waiter’s attention, but the wait for tapas and raciones was totally worth it.
For my second day in Granada, I had scheduled a downtown and Albaicin walking tour. Side note – I’m clearly a walking tour addict, but hey, they’re free (plus tip) and they’re a great way to get acquainted with the city and meet people! Win win win! The tour didn’t start until 11, so I had some time to explore the main road, Calle de Los Reyes Catolica. On the way I snagged a breakfast tart, some coffee, and a pionono, a Granadian specialty. The pionono was much too sweet for my liking, but definitely worth a try! Following the main road is a great way to explore Granada. I stumbled upon a bunch of old buildings and monuments that I wanted to return to and even found an inexpensive local flamenco bar. Score!
At 11 am, I met the walking tour in Plaza Nueva and became fast friends with an Aussie, a German, and an Egyptian. Amr is now the second Arab I’ve stumbled upon on this trip, and it’s pretty exciting to see young Arabs traveling. We all followed our tour guide, Ana, through the streets of the main city, as well as up through Albaicin, the traditional Arab quarter and a UNESCO heritage site. It’s really easy to get lost in the maze of streets and white cave houses, but that seems to be the best way to explore Albaicin. Plus, with all the fountains around, I felt like a bit of a local filling my water bottle up (yes, I know I’m cheesy).
Some of the others had to run off to make their Alhambra appointments, but Amr and I decided to have lunch at Gran Café Bib-Rambla. I had my first paella since arriving in Spain. Delish!
After lunch, I went back to my place for a brief siesta before returning to Albaicin to visit the Bañuelo (traditional Arab baths) and Casa de Zafra. There is gorgeous Moorish architecture at both sites, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was back in Morocco. Really digging the mix of Spanish and Arab architecture here – they’re two cultures that are very dear to me.
Amr and the two girls had agreed to meet that evening to watch a local flamenco show (located inside a cave!) at Le Chien Andalou. It was really intimate and we were sitting so close to the stage that I kept feeling the draft from the dancer’s skirt. Mesmerizing. The photos don’t even begin to do justice to the emotions of the dance.
On our way to dinner afterwards, we spotted a guerilla flamenco show in the streets near Plaza Nueva, this time with male dancers. I was officially in love with Granada.
We were all pretty hungry by this point, so we opted for a touristy but tasty 3-course dinner rather than the traditional nighttime tapas. There is so much good seafood in the south!
After a leisurely meal, we headed off our separate ways.
I made a point not to exert myself too early on my last day in Granada, since I had afternoon tickets to the Alhambra. Although I woke up early sans alarm, I opted to lounge in bed, blogging and editing pictures.
My first goal was, of course, to find breakfast. Luckily, breakfast is served until 1 or so, and I had no problem scoring a basic Spanish breakfast – chocolate con churros – at Cafeteria Alhambra! Thank goodness I’ve been walking so much, because my healthy food intake has been quite lacking.
After dropping off my stuff at the hotel and grabbing a quick shawarma lunch, I started trekking up the hill to the Alhambra. My entrance to the Nasrid Palaces wasn’t until 6:30*, but I figured I could spend time lazily exploring until then. Besides, I consider myself lucky to have snagged the last available online ticket and wanted to take full advantage. (*When you go to the Alhambra, you have to book your ticket to the Nasrid Palaces far in advance since it has a timed entry). Entries are every half an hour in either the morning or afternoon slot. Ask me about it if you have questions or plans to visit Alhambra – I found it quite confusing initially!
Spectacular, magnificent, a work of art. These adjectives don’t even begin to do justice to the Alhambra. I arrived at around 3 after quite a steep walk, but that didn’t stop me from spending the next 4.5 hours inside. Of all the monuments I’ve seen in my lifetime, this is definitely a must-see!
I begrudgingly mastered the art of using my selfie stick (thanks for the present, Jenny!), and occasionally trusted strangers to take my photo
At 8 pm, I made my way back down to the city to meet up with Lee, a fellow Pueblo Ingles volunteer, for dinner. Despite having spent the previous week talking non-stop, I realized that I hadn’t really spoken to him throughout the program. We had a lovely dinner of tapas and wandered into the non-touristy part of Granada, near the university. I loved it! It was nice to actually “get lost” without having to be super vigilant, and I quickly realized that Granada is much larger than I thought. It is certainly worth returning to!
At this point, it was getting late and I had to go back to pack for Córdoba the next day. Granada has stolen my heart so far, but with 4 more Spanish cities to go, competition is stiff.
TLDR: a short summary of what I did and where I ate in Granada for those too lazy to read the post
Where I went:
- Plaza Bib Rambla: A meeting square with tons of restaurants that once held the largest book burning in Europe
- Alcaiceria: A small wave of interwoven streets making up a small alley market. Straight out of Morocco!
- Granada Cathedral & Royal Chapel – I didn’t go inside as I was a bit tired of churches, but the architecture is rumored to be exquisite
- Sacramonte (walking/hiking tour): A fairly steep walk up through the Albaicin to Sacramonte. Sacramonte is known for its gypsy caves and is often said to be the birthplace of Flamenco. Take this tour to explore the tunnels and mountains and see stunning views of the city
- Downtown and Albaicin (walking tour): A comprehensive guide to the history of both the downtown Granada area as well as the Albaicin. Has a bit of an overlap with the Sacramonte tour, but gives an excellent overview of the most important must-see areas
- Bañuelo: The small, traditional Arab baths in Albaicin. Easily skippable if you don’t have time, as there are similar baths in The Alhambra, but really nice
- Casa de Zafra: A Moorish style house once owned by a prominent rich family before the Inquisition. It now serves as a cultural center, offering historical and cultural context for the Albaicin neighborhood
- Le Chien Andalou: The BEST location for traditional, local Flamenco. Tickets are between 8-10 euro, and the show is intimate and authentic, located inside a cave in the Albaicin.
- The Alhambra: If you come to Granada to see one thing, The Alhambra better be it. Dedicate a half day (or at least a few hours) to see this grand palace-fortress as it is truly a stunning masterpiece. Be sure to buy your tickets to the Nasrid Palaces as far ahead as possible, as they tend to run out.
What I ate:
- A cheese plate and a bacalao tapa at Bodegas Castañeda
- A pionono, a traditional Granadian pastry from a café near Plaza Nueva
- A three-course lunch of hummus and bread, paella, and ice cream at Gran Café Bib-Rambla
- A three-course dinner of fish soup, calamari, and fruit at a random touristy café in Plaza Bib-Rambla
- Churros and chocolate at Cafeteria Alhambra
- Mediocre tapas at a bar near one of the plazas.
Where I stayed:
- Nest Style Granada: Hands down my absolute favorite hotel I stayed at the entire time I was in Spain. The room was huge, had a ton of amenities and great service all at a really low price. The location is amazing as well.