Granada is a magnificent city nestled in the Andalusian region of Spain right next to the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Granada was originally a small Jewish town called “Garnata,” which roughly translates to “hill of strangers” in Moorish, due to its location. Granada is located on a low plane, which is why it was often prone to attacks back during Medieval Times. Known primarily for its Moorish influence, Granada is extravagantly beautiful with architecture that boasts intricate domes, rounded arches, muqarnas (ornamental, vaulted ceilings), and botanical-friendly design.
There may be more than just the Alhambra in Granada, however, that does not mean that shouldn’t rank highly, or even as number one on the list of top things to do in Granada. The Alhambra is not only a major stop for those visiting Granada, but really a must-see for anyone traveling to the country of Spain in general. A Moorish palace originally designed as a military fortress, the Alhambra is settled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and surrounded by the convergence of the Darro, Beiro, Genil, and Monachil rivers. This stunning structure includes a background of the snow dusting the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The palace is one of the best examples of architecture of the Moorish era, making it a stop for over seven million tourists annually. The amount of history, the sheer beauty of the Alhambra, and the surrounding landscape make this one of the very best things to do while visiting not only Granada, but anywhere in Spain.
The Sierra Nevada National Park
Located only a short fifteen minutes away from the Alhambra, the Sierra Nevada National Park is a must-see when in Granada. This mountain range is the largest in Spain and boasts incredible mountain lakes, rivers, and formations shaped by glaciers. The location of this range is somewhat isolated, which makes the nature surrounding it unique to any other area in Spain. There have been multiple species identified within this national park that are endemic to the region—botanists often flock here in order to get a glimpse at these rare species.
Although the Sierra Nevada National Park’s formations, flora, and fauna are reasons in and of themselves to visit, the park also offers activities that provide a perfect marriage of action and sightseeing. Some of these activities include skiing, hiking, bird-watching, and even paragliding. The ski season at the Sierra Nevada National Park is also a long one due to its high altitude. In fact, the ski season usually lasts from around November until May. In 1996, this national park hosted the Alpine World Ski Championships.
For those more interested in hiking, this park offers multiple hikes at multiple difficulty levels. The hike to the summit of Veleta is considered to be one of the easier hikes, with treks to Güéjar Sierra and Monachil at a higher difficulty. This national park makes hiking a comfortable experience by offering attended cabins at a small charge or unattended cabins for free of charge, where hikers can rest and relax before continuing on their journey.
Bird-watching, although not as action-packed as skiing or hiking, is a common activity at the Sierra Nevada National Park. This area is a safe haven for multiple species of birds, such as the Turkey Vulture, the Cedar Waxwing, the Golden Eagle, and the Great Horned Owl, and many others. Due to the fact that this national park offers a wide variety of bird species, it is a bird-watcher’s paradise.
Along with skiing, hiking, and bird-watching, the Sierra Nevada National Park offers some of the most incredible paragliding/parasailing in the world. There are multiple companies that offer paragliding adventures for those who are just beginning, all the way up to experts.
This area of Granada is primarily known for the Sacromonte caves, however, there are countless things to do within this urban neighborhood. Originally the neighborhood of Grandaian Gypsies, this area is one of the most beautiful areas of Spain. The Sacromonte caves are a picturesque sight: whitewashed and pressed up against the hillside of Valparaíso. The origin of these caves is somewhat unknown, however it is believed that this area was constructed around the 16th century, when both Jewish and Muslim families were forced from their native homes. Due to the mixture of Jewish, Muslim, and Gypsy culture, this area is totally unique to other locations in Spain.
It was not only the combination of cultures that made these caves unlike the rest of the area. The terrain of the foothills that these caves were built into made the layout of each cave each unique from one another.
Within this neighborhood lies the Abbey of Sacromonte. This abbey houses many important relics and remains of the first Christians of Grenada, the Old College of San Dionisio Areopagita, an ancient library (currently closed to the public), catacombs, and the School of the Holy Mary. Many hours can be spent inside this abbey walls admiring the ancient relics, manuscripts, and chapels, or at mass every Sunday at noon.
The Arabian Baths
The Arabian Baths are another must-see attraction when traveling to Granada. Each bath is categorized into a different space, and all are named after the temperature of each pool within them. There are multiple sites to visit, but some of the most highly ranked are the Hammam Al Andalus, Aljibe de San Miguel, and Balneario de Lanjaron. Each site is different but most all provide a genuine experience that that dates back during medieval times.
Hammam Al Andalus is one of the more famous Arabian baths, with multiple pools at varying temperatures. This spot offers massages, usually with your own choice of aromatherapy oils adding to the relaxing atmosphere.
Aljibe de San Miguel lies below the Alhambra Cathedral, and although more of a laid back environment than Hammam Al Andalus, it still remains very professional with massage options and 90-minute bath times. If you are looking for an Arab bath location with slightly less traffic, this is a great option.
Lastly, Balneario de Lanjaron, a spa that has been run since 1928, but contains properties dating back to 1778, offers slightly more diverse options than Hammam Al Andalus or Aljibe de San Miguel. Balneario de Lanjaron has baths with waters that originate from five different water sources, each with their own mineral sources. These water sources claim to have cleansing properties, aid with weight loss, or promote digestive health.
No matter which Arab bath you choose to experience, each will provide its visitors with a relaxing atmosphere and stunning architecture.
While in Granada, the Palacio de Generalife is an essential stop. Once a summer palace of the Nasrid rulers of the Emirate of Granada, the palace and gardens are an exquisite example of this period’s architecture and design. The grounds consist of: Patio de la Acequia or the “Water-Garden Courtyard,” and Jardím de la Sultana or the “Courtyard of the Cypress.” The Persian style of this complex has been artfully preserved, complete with a gorgeous pool framed with native flowers and plants and fountains that were once sculpted in a medieval-Persian style, which have recently been replaced with a more modern style fountain.
In 1931, these gardens were completed by Francisco Prieto Moreno. Although the gardens have been recently updated, Moreno ensured that the Granadan style remained consistent throughout the entirety of the grounds. The pathways are decorated in a beautiful mosaic style comprised of black pebbles from the nearby River Genil and white pebbles from the other nearby River Darro. While in Granada, the Generalife Palace is a stop that should absolutely be made. A tour of these grounds is not necessary, however it may provide additional pieces of information that would otherwise remain unknown.
How to Get Around in Granada, Spain
When traveling in Granada, it is important to know the cheapest and quickest way to get to where you’re going. The bus systems in Granada are the absolute best way to get around, with Uber at a close second. Of course, the bus will be cheaper, but Uber will get you to your destination much quicker. The train systems are much slower than both the bus and Uber, therefore most visitors opt for busses, taxis, or Uber.
Walking is also a possibility if you are planning on staying in the city center. Not only is it the best way to get a feel for the city and its architectural elements, but it’s also the best way to truly know what it was like living in a medieval city. Most of all—it’s better for your health and it is a great practice of sustainable travel!
It may seem as though Granada has so much to offer that it is nearly impossible to explore all of its stunning sights. However, many of these incredible places are all within the vicinity of one another, making it easy to enjoy multiple points in a few days. If touring Granada on your own still seems slightly overwhelming, there are multiple tour programs that will highlight the absolute best of the beautiful city of Granada.
Alex is a Montana-born traveler and writer. She is currently a New York dreamer living in Brooklyn, encouraging sustainable travel for millennials. You can read more about her travels at The Wayfaring Voyager. You can also follow her on Instagram at @wayfaringvoyager.