Granada: Spain’s Hidden Gem
I read a lot of travel articles that help me decide where to go. Most of them say, “Go to Sevilla, it’s romantic,” or “Go to Barcelona, it’s unique,” or “Go to Madrid, it’s Spain’s melting pot with all the good museums,” or “Go to Northern Spain, it has the best food and wine.” If Granada is ever listed on one of the “YOU HAVE TO VISIT” cities, my eyes must skip over it because I had never put this city on my list until multiple local Spanish people told me I must see it. Here is my ‘YOU HAVE TO VISIT” city!
Granada, Granada, Granada. Oh, how wonderful you are! There are free tapas; not the small plate of papas bravas or 2 chicken wings that you get with your drinks in other places, but real, large tapas! In some bars, you get different courses with each drink (first course, second course, etc.) In some bars, you can choose from rosco sandwiches (closest things Spain has to a bagel), sandwiches on bread, baguette sandwiches, or non-sandwiches. Some of the busier bars give smaller tapas but they are delicious. With each drink, you get a free tapa. You can drink beer, wine, soda, water, cocktails – you name it, you get a free plate of food with it. Of course, every drink is the same price – around 2 euros plus tax. For around 10 euros, 2 people can have 2 drinks and be full! What other big city in Spain can save you so much money?
Some tapas places I recommend in Granada:
Antigualla II: Super tapas! This bar serves courses with each drink. You don’t get to choose, but you will be full. The first course is either a rosco sandwich (ham on a bagel) or grilled cheese sandwich, the second course is always a burger. It gets crowded but it’s worth it! The medieval times decorations aren’t bad to look at either.
Reina Monica: Up in the Albaycín neighborhood, close to San Nicholas viewpoint (where you can get an excellent picture of the Alhambra), this restaurant has a table full of tapas. With each drink, you can choose any 2 tapas you like and they will warm it up for you. Seriously, I had to drink 3 beers just to try everything I wanted to try, and if I could have fit more into my stomach, I would have!
Bodegas Castañada: Tourist trap and written up in Rick Steves so you’ll find yourself surrounded by tourists, but it’s worth a visit. It’s a young crowd, and always crowded (11am, 5pm, 11pm always packed). There’s a big bull head on the wall and the typical Iberian ham legs hang from the ceiling, and the tapas you get usually include ham from the legs. Even with the crowds you will still get tapas with every drink, but it’s not very conducive to eating, so go here for heavy drinking.
Bar León: Right past Bodegas Castañada is a tiny hole in the wall with delicious food. There are only 4 tables so it gets crowded, but you get a great selection of tapas here. With each drink, you can choose from a tapas menu of about 15 different tapas. Perfect if you’re in the mood to eat, then go to next door Bodegas Castañada just to drink.
Los Diamantes: All fish tapas! I can’t comment too much on this one because unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get here, but 2 local Spanish people and 1 tour guide all recommended this restaurant. Personally, I was iffy because I was worried it would be sardines and anchovies, but the tour guide told me it could be anything from shell-fish to some seaweed they dug up that morning. Haha – a joke, obviously, but if, no WHEN, I go back to Granada, I will definitely try it out!
OK, let’s move away from food and onto the next best thing: La Alhambra. You have to buy tickets in advance on ticketmaster.es to see the Alhambra. Let me repeat that: YOU HAVE TO BUY TICKETS IN ADVANCE ON TICKETMASTER.ES TO SEE THE ALHAMBRA. Don’t risk it being sold out…it’s a long walk up the mountain and a long wait in the non-ticketholder line, and tickets are sold by time so you may end up waiting a long time until some spots open up. Save yourself the trouble and buy them in advance to secure your spot and don’t waste time.
The Alhambra General ticket is your best bet – it includes everything for only 15 euros. You will get to see Nasrid Palaces (you will have a separate, special time to visit here), Alcazaba, Palace of Charles V, Generalife (gardens), and the Mosque Baths. The Alhambra is very big – there are signs to tell you how long it will take you to get to the next exhibit, so wear comfortable shoes. From the Alcazaba to Generalife, it will be about a 25 minute slow walk (but it’s a beautiful walk through gardens and well-landscaped walkways and it won’t feel like 25 minutes; also, I think I did the walk in 10-15 minutes at a fast pace). If you like to read, read up on everything before you go; otherwise, there’s an option for an audio guide. It’s probably worth it, otherwise you’re just looking at some beautiful, amazing old buildings with incredible Islamic architecture. (Ok, I’ll give you a small tidbit as an appetizer: Queen Isabel fell in love with La Alhambra and moved in, but kept it exactly as it was. Isabel and Ferdinand brought Catholicism to the region but kept the Islamic architecture and throughout the city, Islamic architecture was a sign of wealth.)
There are free tours of Granada! You can’t beat free. The guide is very knowledgeable and entertaining and it’s worth a 2 hour tour to get a little history and better understanding of why Granada is a truly amazing place. He does work on tips, but doesn’t guilt you into it. Also, he is from England so the tours are in English and Spanish (he repeats everything in both languages). He offers three tours that you can find on his website: Granada tour, cave tours, street art tours. I did the Granada tour (every day at 11am) and the cave tour, and I am extremely happy I did!
There are many beautiful cathedrals in Granada. Cathedrals aren’t really my thing, but I’ll add them in here for good measure.
Arab Tea Houses
You’ll notice Granada is very Arabic; all the souvenir shops sell Arabic clothing, leather bags, baggy Aladdin pants, hookahs (for only 15 euros), stained glass lanterns, etc. You will feel like you’re in Morocco! There are many Arabic restaurants like the Sultan Restaurant and Boabdil Restaurant (Boabdil was the last sultan in Spain). Therefore, there are many Arab Tea Houses lining the streets. These are very cool – they are dark lounges with Arabic drapes, pillows, and music. You can eat here, drink typical Arabic tea (or any other tea, they have a wide selection), have a drink or dessert, and order a hookah for 5 euros. The Kasbah is down a side street littered with Arabic shops, restaurants, and tea houses. Reading about these houses might not do them justice, but if you visit old Granada and the main street of Calle Elvira, you must visit an Arab Tea House!
30 minutes east of Granada you will find the Sierra Nevada mountains and ski resort. You can visit for a day, or add a night here as part of your trip. To get here, you will take the highest road in Europe. You will have some amazing views way up on those mountains! There are plenty of ski rental huts on the way, but all the prices are negotiable so it’s best to just get to the mountain and negotiate prices in one of the many rental stores there. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to relax and enjoy the views as well. The ski resort is a cute little town of its own! Ski season goes until May but the snow is best much before that.
Things I Wish I Got To Do:
Natural hot springs! Yes, there are natural hot springs like you would find in Iceland. You can bring your bathing suit and lounge in a warm pool even on the coldest of days. It’s about 30 minutes from Granada capital, but I will be visiting on my next trip out to Granada.
Arab baths: there are the old ruins of Arab baths, which I did see (they were free but as of February 2015, they start charging to view these ruins), and there are Arab baths included in the Alhambra General ticket. Bring your bathing suit! For about 30 euros, you can enter the baths and get a massage.
If you have been to Granada and have a recommendation for other things I should do that I haven’t done, please let me know! I will be traveling back again and would love to add to my itinerary.