Last May, we visited Granada, a wonderful place for a city break located in the vibrant region of Andalusia in southern Spain. The region was under Moorish rule from the 8th to 15th centuries, and Granada is known for its well-preserved examples of architecture dating back to that period – in particular its UNESCO World Heritage sites situated on two adjacent hills, the Alhambra palace complex and Generalife gardens, and Albayzin, the old Moorish quarter of city.
Highlights during our visit include exploring the winding streets of Albayzin, where we also stayed; visiting the incredible Alhambra; going on an olive oil tasting tour in the countryside; bringing Little T to a city fair at Plaza Bib Rambla and watching an outstanding flamenco performance in the Sacromonte caves. Here are a few snapshots from our trip;
On the hillside opposite the Alhambra, Albayzin is a beautiful district of Granada that has retained many elements of the distinctive design and architecture of its medieval Moorish past. It is a pleasure to wander around with so much to discover along a maze of narrow streets: whitewashed buildings, hidden plazas, orange trees and bright flowers, and traditional houses with secluded inner gardens known as carmens.
Throughout the neighborhood, you find amazing views of the Alhambra – and in some places, you can see as far as the Sierra Nevada mountains. The highest point of Albayzin and best viewpoint for Alhambra, especially at sunset, is the Plaza de San Nicolas. The photo below was taken from nearby Callejón de las Tomasas where we had dinner.
Visiting the Alhambra
The Alhambra is a palace complex that was built under the Nasrid Dynasty between the 13th and 14th centuries. The most popular monument in Spain, the “red fortress” stands at the foot of the country’s highest mountain range, the Sierra Nevada, and overlooks Granada and the countryside.
The places open for public visits are divided into four areas: Alcazaba (the military area and watchtower), Nasrid Palaces (central palace complex), Partal (includes portico of Palace and Promenade of Towers) and Generalife (palace retreat of the kings of Granada with beautiful gardens). The Nasrid Palaces is the pinnacle of the Alhambra’s design and architecture, and visits to this part of the complex are very restricted and need to booked in advance with a specific time slot.
It is recommended to spend 3 hours touring the Alhambra, and unfortunately this was a day of bad stomach bugs for us and we only managed less than half that time. It was still a memorable visit and I’ll be sharing more photos and details in a separate post.
Tip: Tickets to the Alhambra are available to purchase three months in advance – to visit the Nasrid Palaces, you select a time slot and will only be allowed to enter at that time. Demand for tickets is high, so be sure to book in advance. The official website for the Alhambra is: http://www.alhambra-patronato.es
Olive Oil Tour
One afternoon, we went on an olive oil tasting tour in the quaint village of Nigüelas, about a 30 minute drive south of the city. The tour operator, Olive Oil Tour, picked us up with other customers from a spot in Granada. The tour started at an olive grove near Nigüelas, where we were shown magnificent centuries-old olive trees and the innovative irrigation system used since Roman times.
We then visited an agricultural museum, the Museo Almazara de los Laerillas, that houses a well-preserved 15th century mill and is where we learned about the traditional tools and equipment used during the process of pressing olives to extract oil.
The tour ended with an olive oil tasting session, where we tasted various extra virgin olive oils from the Andalusian region and learned about the different aromas and flavors. The session included, at additional cost, a selection of 4 Spanish wines paired with tapas of Serrano ham and fresh goat cheese.
Overall, we enjoyed the experience and learned a lot on the tour. We especially appreciated how accommodating the tour guide was with Little T throughout the tour, and that she provided a car seat for the drives.
Flamenco at Sacromonte Caves
The quarter of Sacromonte, which overlooks the city from the north, is home to Granada’s Roma community and is famous for its cave dwellings and flamenco performances. We booked to watch a flamenco performance at Zambra María la Canastera, which is one of the oldest flamenco cave venues in the city of Granada.
It was a brilliant, energetic performance watching several flamenco dancers and listening to the music in this intimate setting where we were so close to the performers. Little T was captivated for most of the time and watched the show sitting on Mr. G’s lap. (Children under 5 enter free but must sit on a parent’s lap.)
Touring Granada Cathedral
Granada Cathedral was built by Queen Isabella immediately after the conquest of Granada on the site of an ancient mosque as an expression of victory of Christianity over Islam. It is a stunning building, a masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance built on Gothic foundations, and the fourth largest cathedral in the world.
The detail within the cathedral is amazing, with a grand altar and several chapels – the main chapel shown below was simply breathtaking. I’ll be sharing more on my visit to the cathedral in a separate post.
Browsing the Markets
Part of the fun of exploring Granada was browsing its markets. There were food markets, clothes and souvenir markets and stalls along the main streets selling tea leaves, dried fruit and nuts. Our hotel was steps away from Caldereria Nueva, a street lined with shops selling souvenirs, lamps, clothes, musical instruments, babouches, home decor and more. Little T loved exploring the markets as much as I did!
Plaza Bib Rambla City Fair
At the time of our visit, a local city fair was running at Plaza Bib Rambla, a large square in the heart of commercial Granada, lined with cafés and shops. The fair was on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and once we discovered it – we were there each day! It was a great place to bring Little T for a break from the sightseeing, where he could enjoy himself at bouncy castles and a covered play area – which were free to enter – and a wooden carousal (about €2).
Palacio Conde de Cabra
Our hotel for our five day stay was the Palacio Conde de Cabra, an apartment hotel set in a renovated 16th century former palace in the heart of the Albayzin. It is beautifully designed and furnished in keeping with the neighbourhood’s Moorish influence, with a quaint indoor courtyard and handmade furniture and doors from Morocco.
Our apartment was very spacious, consisting of 2 bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, a kitchen counter with sink, an open plan dining area and living room with beautiful high ceilings.
We had a city view, overlooking the steps to Plaza San Gregorio. In the distance, you can just about see Granada Cathedral peeking over the buildings. Some apartments also have a view of the Alhambra, and you can make a request for availability in advance with the owner.
From the Palacio Conde de Cabra, we would walk down some steps to Plaza San Gregorio, where one street would bring us to the cafes and restaurants of Plaza Nueva in one direction while another through a pathway of shops towards Granada Cathedral and the commercial part of the city.
It would only be a 10 minute walk to various attractions, so I rarely needed the stroller as it was fairly easy for Little T to walk around on his own. Heading the other way and uphill (shown in photo below) would take us through a labyrinth of narrow streets to Plaza de San Nicolas which offers amazing views of the Alhambra.
We had a comfortable stay at the Palacio Conde de Cabra with a plenty of space in the apartment for the three of us. I loved the bright, open dining and living space with views overlooking the city. The excellent location in the heart of Albayzin made it the perfect base for exploring Granada.
To be honest, with the thousands of tourists Granada sees a day – many of which come on day trips to see the Alhambra – there are quite a lot of tourist traps in the city and I’d recommend researching restaurants for the trip in advance.
Here are the highlights from our experience eating out in Granada;
Taberna des Bests
Our hotel has a restaurant, Taberna del Beso, that serves Mediterranean cuisine and where you can have your meal indoors or in the courtyard. It’s a place I would also recommend if you’re staying elsewhere in the area and looking for a great bar or restaurant at a good value. For Little T, we would order chicken skewers, while I had the delicious chicken tajine with olives.
Carmen Aben Humeya
On our last evening in Granada, we headed up the hill to Carmen Aben Humeya for dinner with a beautiful view of the Alhambra at sunset. The food was fantastic – especially the plate of Iberian ham with cheese and pear that we started off with, the best we had on our trip!
Little T had grilled pork chops, while Mr. G and I ordered the ox entrecôte that came highly recommended and was bursting with flavor.
And the highlight was definitely enjoying this delicious food with an incredible view of Alhambra at sunset.
This restaurant turned out to be a short walk from where we were staying and one of the best places in the area for Moroccan food. I loved the ambience and decor that reminded me of our holiday in Marrakech years ago.
And the food was delicious! Mr. G and I ordered lamb tajines with prunes, which were very tasty. Little T had a plate of chicken skewers with vegetables and loved the fresh juices. I’d definitely recommend this restaurant for great Moroccan cuisine.
Antigua Bodega Castañeda
We had a good lunch at this tapas restaurant within walking distance of Granada Cathedral. I ordered vegetarian paella and chicken with peppers and tomatoes in a clay dish that I shared with Little T, while Mr. G had seafood.
Flying from London
I traveled solo with Little T for both journeys since Mr. G went ahead of us for a business trip. While British Airways does fly direct to Granada from London City Airport, the best ticket option in our case was to travel from London Heathrow via Madrid through BA’s airline partner, Iberia Airlines.
24 hours before our flight, I received a text from BA saying that our flight was cancelled due to an air controller strike in France which affected all flights flying through French airspace. I had to reschedule with Iberia and had a choice between flying out that evening with Iberia or leaving a day later than expected with BA. I chose the earlier flight which meant having less than two hours from when I put the phone down to get to the airport – and I had just barely started to pack.
That and other travel mishaps aside, we had pleasant flights with Iberia both ways and I was very impressed with the family-friendly facilities on offer at the Madrid Airport. There was a special queue for families at security, play areas throughout the airport – near many of the departure gates and at baggage claim – and a family room complete with a small kitchen and soft play.
Years after we first visited Andalusia with a city break to Seville, we fell in love with the region all over again with this trip to Granada. The warm weather and relaxed atmosphere combined with the city’s beautiful architecture and culture made for a wonderful family holiday. Traveling with Little T, who was 32 months at the time, it was fairly easy for us to walk around Albayzin and the squares near Granada Cathedral, where we had plenty to explore. Albayzin is on a steep hill where many roads are pedestrian only so a good amount of walking up- and downhill is required – something to keep in mind if you’re traveling with little ones or using a stroller.
Visiting Alhambra was definitely a highlight and in fact I’d love to go again as there are areas we didn’t see with such a short visit. We found that five days was plenty enough to see Granada and I’d highly recommend it for a city break exploring this beautiful, historical part of Spain.
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