Alhambra Palace sits atop a steep terrace that maintains watch over the city below. In the background are the breathtaking peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, with a rolling horizon stretching out for kilometres. The setting is both dramatic and defensive – it is easy to see why the Moors chose this particular spot to build their citadel.
Inside, the scope of the Alhambra’s beauty will invariably astound you. The peaceful and enchanting Generalife Gardens echo to the sound of rippling water and gently swaying branches, a perfectly preserved Arabian garden set under the Spanish sun.
Then there’s the quaint Old Town, a massed huddle of hilly, twisting and tight cobbled streets that are home to superb tapas bars. To explain: “tapa” means “lid” in Spanish, and the custom derives from the practice of placing a piece of bread over your drink in order to keep flies from it. Over time, the bread was flavoured and tarted up, and soon became an attraction in its own right – every drink came with a tasty tapa. Today, there are fewer places that still deliver this free tapa with a drink, but Granada has them in abundance.
What it also has in abundance is impressive monuments and historical buildings. Apart from the Alhambra, the old quarter of Granada is home to the majestic cathedral, the Santa Ana church, the Basilica of St. John of God, the Castril Palace (which houses the Architectural Museum of Granada), the Charterhouse, the Albayzín, the Gate of Elvira and the Almorabitin Mosque.
Further afield, the nearest beaches can be found on the Costa Tropical at the foot of the serenely bucolic Alpujarras mountain range.
Of course, Granada offers much more than skiing and gazing at grand buildings. It is, quite simply, sophistication personified. Although the rougher outskirts of Granada are quite industrial – this is a common feature of most larger cities in Spain – once you have traversed the rim of the city, its beauty and character quickly shine through. Clean, café-laden, commercially muted and culturally enhanced, the mostly pristine streets of Granada are fronted by beautifully restored old buildings and decorated with fresh flowers and well-scrubbed monuments.
Although shopping in Granada is as varied and diverse as you would expect in a major city, stores tend to defer to the city's greater attractions, namely its lovely buildings, brilliant plazas, cool cafés and exceptional restaurants and tapas bars.
Granada also enjoys an enviable climate, with winters relatively cool but quite dry, and summer temperatures hot, but not too stifling. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has gone on record as stating that Granada province has one of the healthiest climates in the world.
Day-Time Pursuits and Evening Pleasures
During a summer’s day, dazzling pinks, reds and yellows can be found in the wild carpet of flowers that blanket the surrounding mountains of the Sierra Nevada, before heavy snowfalls in early November transform the landscape into a gleaming, glistening and undulating horizon of white.
In the foothills of the mountain range, rich emerald greens abound for as far as the eye can see, while in the city itself a majestic kaleidoscope of colours assaults the senses, in the form of carefully selected decorative flowerbeds. There's colour, too, in the buildings, the statues, the houses and the rooftops, all illuminated by a sky that seems to be a deeper blue than all the world's seas and oceans combined.
Every step you take throughout Granada’s stunning streets yields a surprise or delight. From the impressively cosmopolitan array of restaurants, to the varied architectural stylings, Granada is no place to rush through.
The Alhambra Palace is worth a day all on its own. A recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site, the palace is a massive tourist attraction that welcomes a daily average of 8,000 visitors through its doors.
Another great way to enjoy a day in Granada is to enter the old town on foot from the Alhambra. A steep descent alongside the fast-rushing River Darro soon leads out on to the bridge that straddles it, where you will find several smart cafés and restaurants with al fresco riverside seating.
Granada has no reason to pander to the whims or wants of a transient tourist town. As a result, to experience a night out in Granada, you are probably going to have to do it their way – head out at 10pm for tapas and a beer or sherry with friends/work colleagues, chat with the waiters, enjoy the experience of drinking outside, move on to a livelier bar, drink a bit more, continue chatting and then, at around 2am (or later), head to a club where you can dance and drink until sunrise. It's exhausting and wipes out the first part of the next day, but it's immensely enjoyable.