TripAdvisor's right about one thing: The #1 attraction in Granada is The Alhambra. For your visit you don't need a fancy tour guide, but you do need to book your ticket in advance and approach the timing of your visit strategically. This guide includes all the tips you need to visit the Alhambra and experience it best!
Purchasing Your Alhambra Ticket
Tickets to the Alhambra sell out well in advance and unless you want to be at the mercy of cancellations, buy your ticket at least a couple of weeks before your trip to Granada. The official and recommended way to buy a ticket is through Ticketmaster. You'll have the option of a very early morning visit entering after 8:30AM or an afternoon visit starting after 2PM.
Pick the 2PM entrance time.
When you purchase your ticket you'll need to select a time to visit the Nasrid Palaces. Select the earliest time available within your visit window (2PM or 2:30PM is perfect).
Getting to the Alhambra
In the morning, head to the Alhambra bookstore to print your ticket. It's right in the heart of Granada and you'll avoid all of the lines at the Alhambra entrance. (If you're reading this the night before you planned to visit the Alhambra and need to figure out if there's a last minute cancellation, this is also the perfect place to stop to do that.)
Around 1:30PM, if you're up for a climb, walk up the back side of the Alhambra along the Calle Real de la Alhambra. The walk gives you great perspective on just how high the Alhambra sits and also provides beautiful views of its exterior. If you'd rather save your feet, the C3 bus will also take you from Plaza Nueva straight to the Alhambra entrance.
Your Visit Inside the Alhambra
When you first enter the Alhambra, take a minute to just enjoy its beauty! My first thought upon entering was, “Yep, I would probably be alright living here.” The gardens are stunning - and I was there in winter, so I can only imagine how much more beautiful the area is in the spring, summer, and fall.
Your visit will include 3 main areas (with lots in between) and your itinerary will likely look like this:
- The Nasrid Palaces
- The Alcazaba
Or, if you had to grab a slightly later Nasrid Palaces entrance time, it will look like this:
- The Alcazaba
- The Nasrid Palaces
Whatever route you choose, take your time wandering through the spaces in between. If you rush from one destination to the next, you'll miss things like finding where Queen Isabel was initially buried, the old palace ruins of Abencerrajes, and the Alhambra Museum (inside the Palacio de Carlos V). Make sure to grab a map at the entrance and orient yourself along the way with the numerous “you are here” maps posted inside.
Your Visit to the Nasrid Palaces
Because of limited space in the Nasrid Palaces, you will have your specific entrance time and the earlier your time, the less crowded it will be.
Your ticket says you only have 5-minutes to enter after your assigned time, but when I was there the attendant let in ~100 people from the prior time slot right before my group was supposed to enter. What's great about that is that if both your Alhambra and Nasrid Palaces entrance times are 2PM you don't worry about missing your time slot. But that also means that the later your entrance time, the more crowded it will be (so grab that 2PM spot!).
So what are the Nasrid Palaces? Constructed in the late 1200s, these were the official quarters of the royal family. The inside is incredibly ornate so that the king could impress his visitors.
Your Visit to the Alcazaba
In the Alcazaba area you'll experience the former fort which offered protection to Granada and the Alhambra. The current construction dates back to the 9th century, and from within its walls you'll experience fantastic views out over the city, over to Generalife, and the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Your Visit to Generalife
After visiting the Alcazaba and Nasrid Palaces, you'll head over to Generalife which is the area the royal family used to relax. It was meant to be the more casual summer-home-like area. The structural and decorative designs are much more plain than the palaces because the fountains and flowers are meant to be the focal point.
Remember, take your time getting from point to point and enjoy all that is in between.
Bonus Tip: Once you've wrapped up your tour, don't miss the sunset view from the Mirador de San Nicolas and the Mesquita Mayor.
Have you been to the Alhambra? What was your favorite find? Let's chat in the comments below!
P.S. While I stayed in Granada I was a guest of El Granado which provided me the best nights of sleep I've ever had at a hostel. The property was full of fabulous details including outlets by each bed, night lights, spacious lockers for each guest (lock provided!), and it's in a great location. My only complaint is that if you need access to wifi, you'll have to fight to get a good connection in the common areas and you'll be out of luck in your room. If you're willing to go elsewhere for your wifi fix, I can't recommend El Granado enough.
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