My neck is arched and I’m squinting towards the sky. The dome ceiling above my head is pearly white and covered in the most intricate design I’ve ever seen. Thousands of tourists have passed through these halls and gazed up at this ceiling, feeling the same awe. This is the Alhambra, a moorish palace complex, the most popular attraction in Granada, Andalusia, Spain.
The morning of my visit, I feasted on a tomato tostada (a popular breakfast in the region) and took a crowded bus up the hill to the famous palace and fortress complex. Immediately I was impressed with the shear size of the property. There was a lot to see and I had only one day to do it! I put on my walking shoes and began to wander.
Inside the Alhambra complex
The Alhambra was built in sections over hundreds of years. Each complex has its own beauty as well as cultural, royal and religious influences. The royal palace complex is the most popular section of the Alhambra and requires an appointment to reduce crowding. On the day of my visit, the Alhambra was swarming with tourists. My palace appointment wasn’t until 11am, so first I visited the gardens and summer living quarters at the Palacio de Generalife.
Alhambra Travel Tip: If possible, visit on a weekday and book your palace appointment time as early as possible. This will help you avoid the crowds.
The structures in the Generalife complex were constructed around 1300 AD, almost 500 years after the fortress, making it a young appendage in the body of the Alhambra. As I crossed under several archways, I imagined the former kings and court members who strolled through on these same paths. I think the gardens would have been my favorite area if I were living on the property 700 years ago.
Next I entered the fortress built in 889 AD, back when the original purpose of the Alhambra was for defense instead of royal housing. I wandered through the narrow staircases and poked my head through the tiny holes constructed for lookouts. Soldiers used to stare through these portholes for hours, or days even. I wonder, if you dedicate your life to one singular view, how does that affect your outlook on the world?
Alhambra Travel Tip: Make your way to the very top of the fortress, which provides a stunning overlook of Granada and its surrounding area. A great photo opportunity.
At 11am, it was time for my royal appointment at the Palacios Nazaríes (the place complex). To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the palaces and was dismayed by the crowds waiting to enter. I had already seen several grand castles and ancient communes throughout Europe, including the spooky Mont Saint-Michel in France. What made this place so special? I soon found out.
Unlike Versailles, or many other lavish palaces, the walls at the Palacios Nazaries are etched with arabic phrases and colorful tiles rather than paintings and tapestries. I slowly floated across the marble floors of the sun soaked courtyards, observing fountains, sculptures and ornate ceilings. The architecture was well preserved; Unaffected by time.
The palace at the Alhambra is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I’ve ever visited.
Alhambra Travel Tip: Bring a book (I recommend this one) and read as you walk through the complex. The legends behind the Alhambra are thick with murder, deceit and juicy royal drama!
Nightlife in the City of Granada
After visiting the palace, it was time for me to hike down the hill to explore the city. Granada is a cocktail of Northern African and Spanish influence. You’ll find many hidden plazas full of rustic restaurants and eccentric bars. It’s easy to find a place to socialize but navigating the narrow, winding roads can be confusing. Don’t get lost!
I hailed cabs and jumped from plaza to plaza, drinking and enjoying free (yes, I said free) tapas! A culturally famous fact about Granada is that you receive free tapas with each drink order. Order two drinks? Receive two tapas! It’s an easy way to get a free meal, though I must warn you: not all free tapas are created equal. Once I received a cut up hotdog. Yuck!
I’m a huge fan of escargot. My favorite restaurant in Granada was Bar Aliatar Los Caracoles, located in the Aliatar plaza. This restaurant offered a free escargot with each drink purchase. I stayed there for two or three orders and declared my love for Granada. That’s what a full day of history, architecture and a few drinks will do!
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