Granada Travel Guide: Short Breaks to Visit the Alhambra Palace

Granada lies in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in southern Spain. Its airport is just 17km outside the city but the budget airlines aren’t currently offering services there so Malaga is the nearest international airport. Many visitors to Spain believe that if there is only one place to visit then it should be Granada.

The city has a population of 240,000 of which 80,000 are students so there is a vibrant atmosphere about the place. Apart from the University there is only one other major employer, the Alhambra Palace, which attracts almost 2.5 million annual visitors and is key to a thriving tourism industry. Other key attractions in this historic city include the Cathedral where the Catholic Kings, Fernando and Isabella, are buried and a delightful Moorish quarter known as the Albaicín where there are some charming small hotels and authentic tapas bars.

When to Go to Granada

Climate: The climate in Granada involves hot, dry summers and cold, fairly dry winters. In summer it can be very hot during the day with average temperatures of around 25°C but it does tend to cool down in the evenings. There is very little rain from June to September. Whilst winters temperatures occasionally fall as low as 0°C, the average is around 7°C for January and February with daytimes often characterised by glorious blue skies and little rainfall. Spring and autumn are usually perfect times to visit.

Events: In terms of event tourism, the city is very busy during Semana Santa which is the Easter week leading up to Easter Sunday and during the Fería de Granada celebrations in early summer . In addition, the city hosts the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance during the month of June which attracts performers from around the globe.

Getting There

By Air: Granada’s Federico García Lorca Airport lies 17km west of the city of Granada and 106km south of Jaén where it is more commonly referred to as Granada-Jaén Airport. For a number of years Ryanair offered international flights to Granada which attracted huge numbers of visitors keen to see the wonderful Alhambra Palace. Unfortunately, the Granada town council refused to continue their subsidy of budget airlines which once again made the city relatively inaccessible.

There are domestic flights into Granada from Madrid, Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca and a few limited services from London. An alternative is to fly to Malaga Airport which lies 130km south-west of Granada then arrange to transfer to Granada by road which takes approximately 1½ hours. Otherwise you can fly to Almeria Airport which lies 160km to the south-east with a similar journey time. Similar advice would be given to skiers heading for the slopes of the Sierra Nevada ski resort.

The cheapest way of travelling from Malaga to Granada is by bus. Check the Alsa website for timetables and fares. Services run from the airport and from Malaga city centre. Alternatively, you can rent a car at Malaga Airport and drive to Granada.

By Road: If you’re driving around Spain then you’ll find that the road network to Granada is of excellent quality. A few popular destinations from Granada include Malaga (125km), Madrid (420km), Seville (250km), Cordoba (210km), Valencia (450km) and Barcelona (890km). Driving within the historic centre of Granada is not recommended. Granada’s bus station (Carretera de Jaen) is inconveniently located some 4km north of the centre so you’ll need to take a taxi or local bus to get to accommodation in the touristy areas. The main bus company serving Granada is Alsa who offer connections to destinations all over the country including Malaga, Madrid and Barcelona.

By Train: Granada’s railway station lies just outside the historic centre on Avenida de Andaluces but direct train travel in and out of the station has been suspended since April 2015 due to delays in linking the city with the national high speed AVE network via Antequera. As a result, Granada bound rail passengers are having to get off trains in Antequera then take a one hour bus trip to get there. The bus journey, whilst a little inconvenient, is a well organised service and needn’t deter visitors who are keen to travel by train. If travelling from Malaga, however, there is no point going by train via Antequera as it takes much longer than simply travelling by bus. Check the RENFE in English website for timetables and fares.

City Breaks: There are direct flights to Granada from London Gatwick otherwise you can fly to Malaga and arrange a transfer from there.

Excursions from the Costa del Sol: If you’re on holiday on the Costa del Sol you can book a day excursion to Granada from Marbella, Estepona or Torremolinos.

Getting Around

If you’re reasonably fit then you’ll be able to see most of Granada on foot, however, the city is quite hilly so can be challenging for lesser mobile visitors. The climb up to the Alhambra from Plaza Nueva and up to the Albaicín are particularly steep so a local bus is strongly recommended. Just look out for the red and white buses with the words ‘Alhambra Bus’ on the side which travel up to the Alhambra and to the Albaicín, otherwise just jump in one of the official, metered taxis which are easy to find.

Insider Tip: Once you’ve completed your tour of the Alhambra Palaces take a taxi from outside the complex to Mirador de San Nicolás in the Albaicin. This is the best place in the city for panoramic views of the Alhambra. Have lunch either in the bar behind the church in Plaza San Nicolas or walk down to Plaza de San Miguel Bajo and eat at one of the terrace bars in that square. My personal favourites ic Meson El Yunque.

Driving in Granada is not recommended. The central part of the city consists of a complicated network of one-way streets and no-entries which is almost impossible to manage for drivers who don’t know their way around. I’m very familiar with the city but have received traffic fines as a result of having my car registration number plate photographed in places I (apparently) shouldn’t have been. If you are driving to a hotel in the historic centre be sure to get precise instructions in advance.

Where to Stay in Granada

Granada hotels can be very difficult to access with its ever changing traffic system and parking is scarce. So if you’ll be driving there be sure to get precise directions and choose a hotel which offers on site parking. Access to Plaza Nueva is restricted so if your hotel is in that part of the city it’s best not to have a car. And keep a copy of your hotel bill as proof that you stayed at the hotel otherwise pictures from the traffic cameras will be posted to your car rental company with a fine that may be passed on to you.

This is a selection of our favourite hotels in Granada:

Palacio de Santa Paula
Address: Gran Via de Colon, 31
Rating: 5-star
The Palacio de Santa Paula is the only 5 star establishment in Granada. It is located in the city centre just a couple of minutes from the Cathedral. It is a unique building which was formerly the Convent of Santa Paula which still maintains the old cloister. Five star luxury in a privileged central location.

Granada Parador
Address: Calle Real de la Alhambra
Rating: 4-star
The Parador lies in the grounds of the Alhambra Palace and is one of the most prestigious places to stay in the whole country. With few rooms and enormous demand it’s crucial that bookings are made a long time before arriving in Granada.

Granada Parador
Parador de Granada

Hotel Macia Condor
Address: Avda de la Constitucion, 6
Rating: 4-star
The Macia Condor is the choice for people who look for an exclusive atmosphere, personalized service and a high degree of comfort. It is located near the commercial and administrative sections of Granada, just a short walk to the old town and the city’s historical monuments.

Hotel Carmen
Address: Acera Del Darro, 62
Rating: 4-star
An excellent choice in the heart of Granada with a rooftop swimming pool in summer overlooking the old city, Alhambra and Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance.The hotel offers first class facilities and an ideal location with easy access to all the city’s attractions.

Hotel Corona de Granada
Address: Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, 10
Rating: 4-star
The Corona de Granada Hotel is situated in the tourist centre with easy access to the main monuments. It offers excellent recreational facilities include an indoor and an outdoor swimming pool and a squash court. Also it has a quality restaurant featuring traditional Mediterranean cuisine.

Hotel Alixares
Address: Paseo de la Sabica, 27
Rating: 4-star
The hotel Alixares is located outside the city centre just 1km from the Old Town and Alhambra. Guests who prefer some peace and quiet will delight in this convenient location which puts them convenient to the area’s attractions but still far enough from the city centre to enjoy peace and tranquility.

Alhambra Palace Hotel
Address: Plaza Arquitecto García de Paredes, 1
Rating: 4-star
The Alhambra Palace hotel is located on the Alhambra hill just 5-minutes walk from the palace entrance. It is a first class property which was opened by King Alfonso XIII in 1910. This aristocratic building with a magnificent interior design maintains the “belle époque” feeling in an Islamic influenced environment. From its terrace you can marvel at the beautiful landscapes of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Hotel Plaza Nueva
Address: Plaza Nueva, 2
Rating: 3-star
This family owned and operated hotel is in the perfect location in Plaza Nueva at the bottom of the Alhambra hill. Some of the rooms at the front offer tremendous views right across to the Palace and the style of each floor is based on a particular theme relating to life in Granada.

Maciá Monasteria De Los Basilios
Address: Paseo De Los Basilios, 2
Rating: 3-star
The Hotel is located in a monastery which was built in the early 1600’s on the remnants of an earlier Muslim convent. It is within easy walking distance of the major sites. A unique place to stay which offers a cost-effective alternative to the more expensive and ordinary hotels in the town.

Hotel Comfort Dauro II
Address: Calle Navas 5
Rating: 3-star
A first-class hotel located in the centre of Granada with easy access to the Alhambra. The Dauro II is built within a historical building that was converted into a hotel. It is is situated on a quiet pedestrian street in a commercial area.

Granada Five Senses
Address: Gran Via De Colon, 25
Rating: 3-star
The Granada Five Senses Rooms & Suites (formerly the Macia Gran Via) is located in the centre of Granada, adjacent to the Cathedral and the Royal Chapel. The Alhambra and commercial district are easily accessible. Private parking (a must in Granada) is available for guests.

Pensión Venecia Gomérez
Address: Cuesta de Gomérez, 2
Rating: Budget
This is a budget option located within walking distance of the city’s main sights. It is a lovely, family-run property located near to Plaza Nueva with private rooms and shared bathrooms.

What to See in Granada

Alhambra Palace: Originally built on a hillside in 889AD as a small defensive fortress, the Alhambra was largely abandoned until the 13th century when it was rebuilt and converted into a royal palace under the Nasrid Dynasty. In the following centuries it was developed into a well-defended citadel with three distinct groups of buildings: the Alcazaba (fortress); Palacios Nazaríes (Nasrid Palaces); and the Generalife (gardens).

Visitors will also see the Charles V Palace which is a Christian building constructed after the city fell to the Catholic Monarchs in 1492. Tickets to this UNESCO World Heritage Site are in great demand so you should pre-order them before travelling to avoid the disappointment of not being able to get into the complex. For further information on buying tickets and booking tours please refer to our Alhambra Palace Travel Guide.

Albaicín and around: Lying on the hill across from the Alhambra, the Albaicín is the largest and most characteristic Moorish quarter that survives in Spain. It contains minor Moorish sites as well as the city’s later Christian monuments and is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. You can get there on foot from Plaza Nueva but it’s quite a steep climb so you might prefer to take Alhambra Bus C1 which runs from Plaza Nueva to the Albaicin.

Mirador de San Nicolás: This is one of the highlights of the Albaicin which is a lovely square which serves as a viewing point offering the best view of the Alhambra in the whole city.

El Bañuelo Moorish Baths (Carrera del Darro, 31): Under Moorish rule Granada was home to a large number of public baths which served as a key element of daily life. Most of these places were destroyed under Christian rule. To visit one of the remaining ‘hammams’ just follow the street parallel to the river Darro from Plaza Nueva and you’ll come across ‘El Bañuelo’. These tiny baths which date back to the 11th century are often missed by visitors yet they are the finest example of such establishments in the city.

Cathedral and Royal Chapel: Granada’s Cathedral adjoins the Royal Chapel (Capilla Real). Construction began in 1521 just as the chapel was completed but was then left incomplete well into the 18th century. The Royal Chapel is the city’s most impressive Christian building which contains the tombs of Fernando and Isabella).

What to Do in Granada

See a Flamenco Show: A popular attraction geared to tourists is the opportunity to watch a flamenco performance in one of the caves in the Sacramonte gipsy quarter. The main venues are listed below.

Take a Tapas Tour: Granada is well-known for offering free tapas with drinks in the city’s bars. However, to fully enjoy this Andalucian delicacy it’s well worth ordering a few ‘raciones’ (big portions of tapas) whilst wandering around a selection of tapas bars in the areas surrounding Plaza Nueva and Campo del Principe.

Relax at the Arab Baths (c/Santa Ana 16): Lying just off Plaza Nueva behind the church of Santa Ana are the Hammam Al Ándalus Arab Baths which are a modern version of a typical Moorish bathhouse. If you take your swimming gear you can have a dip after a day’s sightseeing followed by a cup of tea in the tetería (tea room) upstairs.

Go Skiing in the Sierra Nevada: Standing at 2100m, some 40km from Granada is Pradollano village which is the centre of the Sierra Nevada ski resort. The ski season varies every year depending on conditions but generally runs from early December until April. Buses depart from Granada Bus Station (Carretera de Jaen, s/n) which lies on the outskirts of the city at 9am every day during the season and take approximately 45 minutes to the resort though this can be longer when traffic is heavy. Buses return from outside the Hotel Melia Sierra Nevada in Pradollano at 5.15pm.

Watch a Football Match: In 2012 the city’s football team Granada CF was promoted to La Liga which is the first tier of the sport in Spain. They play their home games in the 23,000 seater Estadio Nuevo Los Cármenes. Tickets are available at the gate for most games although they may sell out for matches against Barcelona and Real Madrid. The season runs from August to May.

Watch a Bullfight: The bullfighting season in Spain takes place between March and November. Granada’s historic Plaza de Toros (Avenida del Doctor Olóriz 25) dates back to the year 1928 and has a capacity of 14,500. All these seats sell out during the Feria de Granada (La Feria del Corpus) in May/June.

Day Excursions: There are some other great day excursions that can be arranged from Granada including trips to Seville or Cordoba. These cities cannot be included on the same day excursion as there’s simply too much to see in both of these magnificent Moorish cities. Closer by you can take fascinating trips into the Alpujarras and Sierra Nevada mountains or drive down to the Costa Tropical and Nerja where you can visit the famous Nerja Caves.

Flamenco Shows in Granada

Granada still has a large gypsy population from which many of Spain’s best flamenco guitarists, dancers and singers have emerged. Traditionally, the gypsies have inhabited cave homes on the Sacromonte hill a number of which have been converted into ‘tablaos’ where flamenco shows are performed. Whilst such performances are geared towards tourists they generally offer an enjoyable night out. Some of these venues offer transport from hotels and the option of having dinner with the show.

Cuevas los Tarantos (Camino de Sacramonte, 9): This popular venue has expanded into three different caves since Zambra style flamenco was first performed here back in 1972. Transport is made available from hotels and guests can select a show with drink only or opt for the full dinner service.

Cueva La Rocio (Camino de Sacramonte, 70): This historic tablao dates back to the 1950s when the first show was held here. Today it is one of the most popular venues from where the floodlit Alhambra Palace can be seen in the background. In recent years Cueva La Rocio has attracted a number of celebrity guests including the King and Queen of Spain. Transport and dinner options are available.

Zambra de María La Canastera (Camino de Sacramonte, 89): This is another of the well established venues which has been hosting flamenco cave performances for more than 50 years. Shows take place in the living room and are rather more intimate than at other ‘tablaos’ with no option for dinner. Transport is available from hotels.

Jardines de Zoraya (Calle Panaderos, 32): Located in the Albaicín near the Mirador de San Nicolás this is currently one of the city’s most popular flamenco venues. Dinner is served at an outdoor terrace before guests move inside for an exceptional flamenco show.

Taller de Arte Vimaambi (Cuesta de San Gregorio, 30-38): Every Friday and Saturday this flamenco workshop in the lower Albaicin presents authentic flamenco which attracts widespread local support.

Restaurants in Granada

Granada isn’t known for its culinary delights but you’ll find a few excellent restaurants making the most of local produce from the nearby sea and mountains. Some have privileged locations with stunning views of the floodlit Alhambra at night. Here are a few of our favourites:

Mirador de Morayma
Address: C/ Pianista García Carrillo, 2
Located in a typical Granadino villa in the Albaicín with views across to the Alhambra. Local produce such as artichokes, asparagus and Riofría sturgeon are typical in the dishes on offer.

Address: Plaza del Campillo, 9
Restaurant located in the centre of Granada with a summer terrace, bar and dining-room. Cuisine is mainly Andalucian and Granada-style dishes with specilaities such as anchovy salad with roast peppers, Chikito codfish and sweets known as ‘piononos’.

Address: Plaza Pescadería, 14
Granada’s top seafood restaurant located in the historic quarter near the cathedral. Specialities include ‘quisquillas’ from Motril on the coast of Granada, fish stew (zarzuela), assorted grilled fish (parrillada) and rice with seafood in a ‘caldereta’.

El Claustro
Address: Gran Vía Colón, 31-32
El Claustro specialises in dishes created from local produce such as Remojón Granadino (a mixed salad containing cooked potatoes and grilled peppers and garlic). Ox sirloin with duck liver is an interesting option whilst there are a variety of dishes using mango and avocado from Granada’s tropical valleys.

El Huerto de Juan Ranos
Address: Callejón de Atarazana, 8
Idyllic setting in a villa with a garden offering stunning views of the Alhambra. The restaurant serves up traditional local cuisine of the region such as partridge and other dishes of Magrebi origin.

La Chumbera
Address: Camino del Sacromonte 107
Located in a cave in the Sacromonte gipsy district with views over the city. La Chumbera offers modern and well prepared dishes such as pork with thyme and black pudding.

Ruta del Veleta
Address: Carretera de Sierra Nevada, 136
Located 5km outside Granada in Cenes de la Vega. Excellent Spanish restaurant offering grilled meats, fish dishes baked in salt and regional specialities including wild boar cooked with apples.

Tapas Bars of Granada

First time visitors to Granada are surprised (and delighted) to find that the tapas culture thrives in this city. Not only are they good, they’re also free … just order a drink and in most bars in Granada you’ll be given a tapa with it. No wonder so many Spanish students choose to spend their formative years here! Rather than try to provide you with a definitive list of Granada’s tapas bars we’ve selected the key areas you should target and suggested a few you might like to check out:

Plaza Nueva and Cathedral Area

La Trastienda (c/Cuchilleros, 11): For novelty value you must make a brief visit to this little bar where you have to crouch under the counter of a shop selling ham and cheese to get into the bar area.
Bodegas Castañeda (c/Almireceros, 1): One of the city’s oldest bars which serves great tapas including generous ham and cheese.
Bodegas La Mancha (c/Joaquin Costa, 10): Traditional bar just around the corner from Bodegas Castañeda serving a good range of tapas.
Casa Enrique (Acera de Darro, 8): This fine little bar on the right between Puerta Real and Corte Inglés has a fine selection of quality hams and wines. Well worth a visit.
Al Pie de la Torre (c/Pie de la Torre): Close to the foot of the cathedral’s tower this is an atmospheric little bar for simple tapas.
Hannigan and Sons (c/Cetti Merriem): Central Irish pub popular with visitors and students. Reasonable Guinness and Skysports if you need it.
El Rinconcillo (c/ Hospital de Santa Ana, 7): Friendly bar with terrace serving good tapas and raciones.
Casa Julio (c/Hermosa): Small drinking bar off Plaza Nueva which serves some excellent fried seafood tapas.
Casa Cepillo (c/Pescadería): Cheap comedor (dining room) very popular with locals for its great-value menús – fish and squid are the specialities.
Bar La Riviera (c/Cetti Meriem, 7): Popular café with a good menú económico, including a vegetarian option.
Hotel Reina Cristina (c/Tablas, 4): This hotel bar is the building in which Lorca spent his last days before being seized by the fascists. Good tapas.


El Yunque (Plaza San Miguel Bajo, 3): Great place to sit outside at lunchtime after visiting the Mirador de San Nicolás. It is owned by an ex-flamenco singer and his wife. Try the pollo en salsa de almendras (chicken in almond sauce) and lomo alpujarreño (pork loin). They have a tiny dining room for wet days.
Bar Lara (Plaza San Miguel Bajo): A good bar with a terrace on the same square as El Yunque and serves good tapas.
Rincón del Aurora (Plaza San Miguel Bajo, 7): Another good bar with outdoor tables on the same square. Try the fritura (fried fish) or carne al la Rondeña.

Campo Del Principe And Carrera Del Darro

Los Martinetes (Campo del Principe, 17): One of a number of fine tapas restaurants located on this popular square which attracts a mainly local clientele. Great area for exploring tapas bars.
Rabo de Nube (Paseo de los Tristes): A good bar at the far end of the Carrera del Darro where you can enjoy a superb view of the Alhambra from next to the river bed.

Festivals in Granada

The region of Andalucía is well known for its local fiestas and Granada is one of the top destinations for attracting tourists from around the globe to its festivities. Highlights of the annual festival calendar include Semana Santa (Holy Week), Cruces de Mayo and the Fería de Granada. In addition, the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance and the Granada Jazz Festival are two important events on the list of cultural events worth attending. Take a look at our Top 10 Festivals in Granada page to get more information about all the main religious and cultural activities taking place in the city this year.