Granada: unveiling the popular Andalusian gem in 3 days

The former capital of the Nasrid kingdom is one of the best destinations in Andalusia. It is surrounded by the magnificent mountain range of Sierra Nevada and beautiful villages such as Guadix or Calahorra. To the south, the Costa Tropical bathes beautiful coastal towns, connected by the A-7 road; for example Motril, Salobreña or Almuñécar. However, the provincial capital of Granada is a huge destination by itself, perfect for a long getaway. Not in vain, it has the most important palatial monument in Spain. This three-day journey will unveil the most charming treasures of Granada.

First day: Granada’s city centre

Usually the first day is dedicated to visiting the Alhambra. However, in this case we choose to visit the old town first. In this way you can get to know the atmosphere of Granada before immersing yourself in the Moorish citadel and its gardens. The cathedral, its royal chapel and the monastery of La Cartuja are the centre of the day, which extends to the beautiful Arab palace of the Cuarto Real de Santo Domingo. It is also possible to do the walk in reverse. It is a journey between the Christian and the Muslim that prepares you for what awaits you later in your getaway.

Monastery of La Cartuja

One of the country’s greatest representatives of the baroque is the first stop. It is recommended to get here by public transport. The same solution can be applied for the rest of the trips, since the city has many slopes. It is a relatively open space that leaves good views. The origin of this monastery is in Santa María del Paular, in Madrid near the A-1. Its Carthusian community planned an expansion in the 15th century that led to the opening of this centre in the 16th. The popularity of the Madrid cloister also inspired La Cartuja de Sevilla.

An old monastery

La Cartuja de Granada. | Wikimedia

As in the case of other monuments with tickets, it is recommended to get this one in advance. The opening times for the sites on the first day are normally from 10:00 to 18:00, which gives great flexibility. Returning to the monument, its full name is Real Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de la Cartuja. It was built over a long period of time and was full of interruptions. Thus, it was never finished until its exclaustration in 1835. The land chosen was the mountains of Aynadamar. There, the Muslims recreated themselves in the midst of gardens and orchards.

The extension of the works meant that various masters participated in the decoration of the complex. What is left of La Cartuja de Granada today shows this, especially its church. Frescoes, extraordinary altarpieces, canvases, plasters or sculptures are mixed in a true treaty of baroque art. Spaces like the refectory survived, despite the fact that the cloister or the monks’ cells have been lost.

Towards the Monastery of San Jerónimo

Towards the center there are several stops of interest. One of them is the Granada bullring. The city is known for its bullfighting fans and the bullfighters who have come out of it. The Monumental de Frascuelo illustrates this, since its name comes from the famous bullfighter. Its fair coincides with the Corpus Christi and has a beautiful neo-Mudejar style. For years it fought for the prominence of bullfighting with the Plaza del Triunfo, which disappeared in the middle of the century.

Exterior de Plaza de toros de Granada o Monumental de Frascuelo

Exterior of the Granada Bullring or Frascuelo Monumental. | R. Fernández (Flickr)

Another stop that is worth mentioning is the Royal Hospital of Granada. Of plateresque Gothic style, it was founded in 1526. Over the years it took in various types of patients who were to be confined. For example, it treated the mentally ill or victims of plagues. After the disentailments it suffered ups and downs. Finally it became the seat of the rectorship of the University of Granada and a library, as well as a good tourist area.

The monastery of San Jerómino in Granada

The monastery of San Jerómino. | Shutterstock

We will eventually reach the Royal Monastery of San Jerónimo. Again the conquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492 led to the construction of this monastery. Because of this, it was built at the beginning of the 16th century. The complex is spectacular and very well preserved, despite the damage caused by the French during the War of Independence. Of its many interesting landmarks, the tomb of the Gran Capitán, possibly the most important military man in the history of Spain, stands out. The cloister is also of great beauty.

Cathedral and Royal Chapel of Granada

The political and warlike epicentre of the Iberian Peninsula during the end of the 15th century was in the Nasrid capital. Once powerful thanks to the control of towns such as Alhama de Granada or Montefrío, it finally gave way to the Christian impulse. A faithful reflection of this is the local cathedral. Before visiting the Episcopal see of Granada, it is advisable to have lunch. This is very easy thanks to the wide economic possibilities that the city offers. These are mainly based on tapas, which allow you to savour the local gastronomy and the wines of the province’s D.O.

Interior of the Cathedral of Granada

Interior of the Cathedral of Granada. | The temple itself

Already in the Cathedral of Granada, it shows the real aspect that characterizes the whole population. At first it was a Gothic project, but it ended up in the hands of the architect Diego de Siloé, responsible for many of the local buildings. This meant the move to a more renaissance look. Be that as it may, the complex is harmonious and completes the great offer of sacred art in the former Nasrid capital. Later additions generated baroque but contained spaces, so as not to break up with the rest of the temple. Its five naves give rise to various chapels with remarkable decorations. It is highly recommended to have the audio guide, included in the entrance, to understand all the interior landmarks.

The Royal Chapel of Granada

Royal Chapel of Granada. | Temple website

Of the cathedral annexes, such as El Rosario or La Sacristia, the most outstanding is undoubtedly the royal chapel. It is an addition that ended up being independent from the central complex. It followed the lines of the first person in charge of the works, Enrique Egas. Therefore, it is Gothic. From the beginning, its mission was to house royal remains. The plans included the Catholic Monarchs and later it was considered that it would be the resting place of the Austrias. However, Philip II changed this by building the monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Because of this, the tombs that can be enjoyed are those of Juana I of Castile and her husband, Philip the Handsome, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile.

Cuarto Real de Santo Domingo

The gardens of Cuarto Real Santo Domingo

Cuarto Real Santo Domingo. | Town Hall

Before finishing the day and dedicating to recover energy for the visit of the Alhambra in the second day of the trip to Granada there is one last monument to take a look at. It is the Cuarto Real de Santo Domingo. At first it was an Arab palace, raised during the 13th century. It was associated with the Realejo quarter and the wall that protected it. Its Muslim past is clear thanks to its well-preserved structure, despite its adaptation as a convent and the disastrous depreciation of the 19th century. Once seen, all that remains is to have dinner in this central area, where the Plaza de Isabel II is also located, next to the cathedral.

Second day in Granada: the Alhambra and Generalife

One of the most famous monuments in Spain is the focus of the second day of this three-day getaway in Granada. It starts in the vicinity and then enters the palace grounds. The recommendation is to have a good breakfast and prepare something to take away, such as a sandwich, to make the most of the visit. The afternoon is reserved for the beautiful descent down the Cuesta de los Chinos and the Paseo de los Tristes with its bridges.

Generalife de Granada

Generalife of Granada. | Shutterstock

Falla House Museum and Carmen de los Mártires

Before assuming the long visit to the Alhambra and the Generalife, we will stop briefly at Manuel de Falla’s house. It is located in the complex of the foundation dedicated to this brilliant composer. Although he was born in Cádiz, Granada ended up becoming his favourite residence. In 1920 he arrived in the city and in 1921 he moved to this carmen, a house in Granada that has annexed gardens and orchards. The museum space allows visitors to discover the Falla period, when he led the Nasrid cultural life together with Lorca, and to see one of these typical houses. Not far away is the most exceptional Carmen in the city, that of Los Mártires. Heir to an Arabic space, its 19th century mansion and courtyards are of great beauty; as is the garden that accompanies it.

Camern de los Mártires Granada

Carmen de los Mártires. | Shutterstock

The Alhambra

There is news of this walled complex since the 9th century. Its evolution was linked to that of the city; which went from being a relatively humble site to one of the most important in Arab Spain. Despite the reinforcements of the 11th century, it was in the 13th century that the Alhambra began to shine. It was then that the Nasrid kingdom was established and, after a while, its kings went to live in this protected medieval fortress. Thanks to this, a strongly protected palatial city was created from which the whole city could be watched over.

Palacio de La Alhambra en Granada

Palace of La Alhambra in Granada.

This is a long tour and it is recommended that you sign up for a guided tour. Otherwise, it is easy to miss details due to the many spaces to visit. For this reason, there is also an article dedicated exclusively to the Alhambra and the Generalife gardens. In any case, by way of a brief summary, it is worth mentioning various sites in this Arab palace city, the most outstanding in the country next to Medina Azahara in Córdoba. The Nasrid palaces are several buildings that include the Comares Palace, the Palace of the Lions or the rooms promoted by Charles V. The Renaissance palace of the King-Emperor, the parador-convent of San Francisco, the various fortifications of the alcazaba, the courtyards or the church of La Encarnación are also notable.

A fountain with lion sculptures in a courtyard

Fountain of the lions in the Alhambra of Granada.

As you walk around the corners of this architectural wonder, a World Heritage Site, it is worth paying attention to the legends it has generated. Those collected by the American writer Washington Irving served to popularize the Alhambra in the world. The folklore of Granada and of the fortress includes stories about Boabdil’s mourning at the loss of the city and his kingdom, that of the enchanted soldier, the curse of the Abencerrajes or the story of Isabel de Solís.


The gardens of Generalife

The gardens of Generalife. | Shutterstock

On the Cerro del Sol, the Generalife has been left this time for after the Alhambra. It is a place where the kings of Granada relaxed and rested. An area of gardens dating from the early 14th century dedicated to recreation. Of course, the architects were totally right to create an environment of peace and relaxation. In the article dedicated to this space and the nearby palatial city mentioned in the previous section, its attractions are explained in depth. Palaces, patios, fountains, stairs, gardens… It should be noted that in the past it was a part of the Muslim city.

A courtyard with fountains and gardens

Generalife in Granada. | Shutterstock

Cuesta de los Chinos

It will be late when we have to leave the Alhambra and the Generalife. It is proposed to do so through the Cuesta de los Chinos promenade. This descent separates both elements and it meant the access to the second one. Only in the 20th century was the connection between both executed. Going down you can see bastions, as well as the slopes that characterize this part of the city. Once again the Arab and Christian mixture is present on the way to the course of the River Darro. As a curiosity, its name comes from the moment when it was paved with small stones also called Chinese (“chinas” in Spanish). It was also called Cuesta del Rey Chico.

A painting of the landscape of Granada

The Alhambra and Cuesta de los Chinos. | Hernandez Miguel Vico

It finishes ending up at the Aljibillo Bridge and the Paseo de los Tristes. It was called this because in the 19th century it was the way to the local cemetery. In any case, it runs through the Darro valley leaving some of the best views of the Alhambra. This can be done in a relaxed way, given how long the day may have been, while stopping in bars. Next to the waterway you can find several little bridges that characterize this walk.

Third day in Granada: El Albaicín and Sacromonte

To finish with this three-day trip to Granada, there are two very representative districts of the place. One is the Albaicín and the other is Sacromonte. Both are very close to each other and have their own history. There are temples, squares and small streets to visit. In any case, it is a more relaxed day than the previous one; in which what prevails is not so much to see concrete landmarks but to enjoy the local atmosphere.

Panoramic view of Granada at sunset

The Albaicín and the Alhambra. | Shutterstock

A walk through the Albaicín

On the morning of the last day, it is suggested to start in the Albaicín. There are many other quarters with the same name in Spain, for example in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Antequera or Pastrana in Guadalajara. It is believed that it emerged as a medieval suburb after the fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba, when the inhabitants of the ancient city of Iliberis moved closer to the Alcazaba. This is how the relationship between the slum and Granada came about.

Its amalgamation of streets has a great legacy, both Nasrid and Renaissance. This mixture has earned it the declaration as a World Heritage Site along with the Alhambra and the Generalife. Although it is a somewhat free visit and depends on what you want to walk; we recommend starting at the Dar Al-Horra Palace. On top of the old alcazaba that fortified this part of Granada during the Taifa period, it represents a good walk through Nasrid history. It was a royal residence that was inhabited by famous people such as Aixa, mother of Boabdil and wife of Muley Hacén, the king who gave his name to one of the most important peaks in Spain.

Aerial view of a neighbourhood with white little houses

The quarter of Albaicín. | Shutterstock

From there you can go to the viewpoint of San Cristobal after visiting the convent of Santa Isabel La Real. Another exceptional viewpoint is that of San Nicolás. Going to the banks of the Darro again to visit the Arab baths of El Bañuelo or the medieval Casa de Zafra may be a good idea. This way you can take advantage of the opportunity to have lunch and then go to the Sacramonte Abbey.

Sacromonte Abbey

The great monument to see on this third day is the Sacromonte Abbey. The beginning of its history dates back to the end of the 16th century, when several archaeological remains from the Roman period were found on the site. Among them were the relics of the first bishop of the city. This predecessor of Granada was called Iliberis. There were also found some writings in lead associated to the Mozarabic population, false ones, and remains of Roman furnaces. This caused an extraordinary devotional explosion. The derived set of sacred caves was opened in 1598 and the monastery shortly after, in the 17th century.

The decorated dome of a church

Collegiate Church of the Sacromonte Abbey. |

Connected to the centre by a road from the beginning, you can get here by public transport or car. It is also possible to do it on foot. The complex has beautiful viewpoints and has been renovated in recent years. A private foundation has been responsible for it. It used to be a university and a school, from the 17th century until the last third of the 20th century. The visits are guided and last one hour, two if you choose to see the complete art collection it has.

Sacromonte quarter

Barrio de Sacromonte Granada

The Sacromonte quarter. | Shutterstock

Sacromonte is known as the gypsy quarter. It can be seen on the way to the abbey with which it shares its name. On the way back a great stop is the museum of the caves of Sacromonte. These houses that go into the rock show how life was in them. Thus, they remind us of the village of Setenil de las Bodegas. They also allow you to learn more about the history of local flamenco. Fans of this musical genre have an exceptional place in Sacramonte. That is why it has been left for the end of the day. This way you can go to one of its tablaos to enjoy a show and have dinner.

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