Visitors flock to Granada to step foot in the Alhambra Palace, the most sensual and romantic of all European monuments. But there is so much more to this city than its Moorish palace, as near-perfect as it may be.
To immerse yourself in the city’s rich history and culture, and experience its famous tapas scene, you should spend at least two days in Granada. But what are the best things to do in this captivating city?
As a two-time visitor, this is where I can help. Make every minute count by following my 2-day Granada itinerary which is a complete guide to the best things to see in one of southern Spain’s gems.
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How Many Days Do You Need in Granada?
I recommend that you spend at least two days in Granada. This will allow you to give the Alhambra the attention it deserves, plus time to explore Granada’s other highlights and get a feel for its vibrant cultural and gastronomic scene.
However, life isn’t always perfect. If you have just a day in Granada, I have included suggestions further for how to tweak your itinerary.
The Best Things to Do in Granada in 2 Days
A 2-Day Granada Itinerary
No trip to Granada is complete without visiting the Alhambra. Much of your first day in the city will be devoted to exploring this magnificent Moorish Palace.
Your Granada itinerary continues with discovering the Albaicín and the city’s Arab heritage, the unique old gipsy quarter of Sacromonte and the monumental cathedral. There will be plenty of opportunities to graze on tapas, for which Granada is famous, and to catch a dazzling flamenco performance.
Granada Itinerary Day 1
BREAKFAST AT OTEIZA
Choose from an extensive breakfast menu at this modern café housed in former stables. The quality of the coffee is only trumped by the café’s friendly service.
Address: Carrera del Darro, 25
The Alhambra Palace has kept watch over Granada for the best part of nine centuries.
Through this palace-fortress of the Nasrid dynasty, the rulers of the final Spanish Muslim kingdom, Moorish art and architecture reached its spectacular zenith. Light, space, water and decoration are used in a way that is nothing short of magical.
This UNESCO-listed site is not one building but a vast palace complex. The main components of this complex are the Nasrid Palaces, the Alcazaba and the Generalife Gardens.
Don’t leave it to chance. This is one place where you MUST buy your ticket as soon as you have booked your visit to Granada.
Alhambra tickets, which are available up to one year in advance, sell like proverbial hotcakes.
There are two main types of Alhambra tickets.
- General Alhambra – this allows you to enter the Nasrid Palaces, Generalife and the Alcazaba and is the most popular type of Alhambra ticket.
- Gardens, Generalife and Alcazaba – this ticket includes admission to the Generalife and the Alcazaba but not the Nasrid Palaces.
Tickets for night visits are also available.
At a bare minimum, you should allow half a day to visit the Alhambra Palace complex. I easily spent four hours there and it was a return visit.
READ THIS NEXT: 15 Essential Tips for Visiting the Alhambra
STOP FOR LUNCH AT ONE OF THE ALBAICÍN’S TEA HOUSES
A lasting legacy of the influx of North Africans to Granada, there are a number of excellent tea shops in the Albaicín at which to wet your whistle.
My favourite was La Teteria de Bañuelo, which has a lovely outdoor patio, complete with an Alhambra view and a resident cat.
Address: C. Bañuelo, 5
STROLL AROUND THE ALBAICÍN
Stretching over a fist-shaped area facing the Alhambra is the Albaicín (Albayzín), the site of the city’s first fortress. Filled with whitewashed buildings and elegant private villas (cármenes) that guard their secrets behind stone walls, exploring its narrow cobblestoned streets is one of the best things to do in Granada.
Although its 30 mosques were converted to Baroque churches almost 900 years ago, its Moorish roots are hidden in plain sight.
This was a rundown and poor neighbourhood as recently as the 1990s.
During a free walking tour of Granada, our guide gleefully shared that he had sighted his first pair of breasts in the Albaicín. A lady working in one of the district’s brothels gave his school group a free show from her window.
A good way to explore the Albaicín is to join one of the free walking tours operated by Walk in Granada. As these walking tours are based on tips, the guides usually go out of their way to offer a first-rate experience.
BUY CONVENT COOKIES AT SANTA ISABEL LA REAL
For melt-in-the-mouth macaroons, head to Convento de Santa Isabel la Real.
Founded by Queen Isabella of Castile on the site of the Moorish Palace Dar al- Horra (more about that later), this convent is home to an order of cloistered nuns. An important part of their calling is the avoidance of interaction with the outside world.
Make your way to the corner of the courtyard where you’ll find a wooden hatch in the wall.
Ring the bell and wait for a response. Then, open the hatch, and an unseen hand spins a Lazy Susan to reveal a menu of sweet goodies.
Speak your choice to the faceless nun on the other side of the wall and place your euros on the shelf. She will spin the Lazy Susan a final time to reveal your cakes.
Cake and sweet-making is a burgeoning cottage industry amongst cloistered nuns in Spain. Not only do you get a box of delicious sweets in exchange for a modest sum, but this interaction offers a small window into a part of the spiritual landscape of the country.
TAKE IN THE CLASSIC ALHAMBRA VIEW FROM MIRADOR SAN NICOLAS
This handsome plaza at the heart of the Albaicín is the most popular place in Granada for classic Alhambra views.
However, it’s not exactly a well-kept secret. At busy times of day, and especially around sunset, you may find yourself bumping elbows with other shutterbugs to capture that perfect Alhambra vista.
I preferred the view from the garden of the Grand Mosque of Granada, the city’s sole surviving mosque. This tranquil and welcoming spot is next door to San Nicolas Church and also sells sweets and tea for €1.
Alternatively, take in the view from Placeta Cavajales. This is a little-known viewpoint in the lower part of the Albaicín, close to the teahouses.
GO ON A TAPAS CRAWL
After a busy day in Granada, you should have worked up quite an appetite and will be hunting for somewhere to eat and drink. Well, you’re in luck.
Granada has one of the best tapas scenes in the whole of Andalusia. It is also one of the last cities where, for the most part, tapas are served for free with a drink.
This is how it works.
When you order a drink at a bar in Granada, you will get a small plate of food along with it. With each subsequent drink, you will get another plate of food.
The choice of food is usually random, which is part of the fun. That said, there are a handful of places in Granada where you can select your choice of tapa from a menu.
But tapas bars in Granada are not for the faint-hearted.
Bars are boisterous and loud and may have limited places to sit. Good bars fill up quickly and it will be standing room only.
You are likely to find your favourite tapas bar just by wandering around, but here are some to try
This is a Granada city centre institution. Although it’s a guidebook favourite, it is also authentic.
Address: C Reyes Católicos, 61
One of the city’s oldest bars, Bodegas Castañeda has a sit-down restaurant and a bar.
Address: C Almireceros, 1-3
This popular tapa joint, known for its seafood, is at three central locations in Granada
Address: C Navas, 28; C Rosario, 12; Pl
Granada Itinerary Day 2
BREAKFAST AT CAFÉ 4 GATOS
Set yourself up for your second day in Granada with a breakfast special at this café in the heart of the Albaicín. All of the breakfast specials at Café 4 Gatos are served with freshly squeezed orange juice & a coffee or tea.
Get there early to bag a table on the café’s outside terrace.
Address: Placeta Cruz Verde, 6
VISIT GRANADA CATHEDRAL
I came close to sacrificing Granada Cathedral to the altar of time. I’m so glad that I didn’t yield to that temptation.
Built on the site of the city’s main mosque, this is one of Andalusia’s most important Renaissance cathedrals.
Like many cathedrals in Spain – take a bow La Sagrada Família and Málaga Cathedral – this outward display of the power of the Catholic monarchs took many years to build. Construction of the Cathedral of Granada started in 1523 and finished in 1704.
Granada Cathedral has many side chapels of different styles, reflecting its staggering 181-year genesis. Renaissance meets Gothic with a touch of Baroque thrown in for good measure.
This soaring space, supported by immense Corinthian columns, brings to mind a Roman temple. These whitewashed columns add to the sense of space and light and serve as blank canvases for shafts of kaleidoscopic light streaming through the cathedral’s stained glass windows.
PAY YOUR RESPECTS TO ISABEL & FERDINAND AT THE ROYAL CHAPEL
Adjacent to the Cathedral is the Royal Chapel (Capilla Real).
This flamboyant Gothic building was intended to be the final resting place of Los Reyes Católicas, Granada’s liberators. Their ornate mausoleums, sculpted from Carrara marble, take centre stage in the chapel’s transept.
The monarchs’ actual tombs are housed in a simple underground crypt and are kept company by those of their daughter, Joana “the Mad”, and her Habsburg husband, Felipe “the Handsome.”
From the portraits of Philip I of Castile that I’ve seen, I beg to differ.
WHAT ABOUT THE SILK MARKET?
The Silk Market is close to Granada Cathedral and Capilla Real and features in some “best things to see in Granada” lists. Unless you are passing through, I say don’t bother.
Rebuilt on the site of a 14th Century silk market, the shops lining its narrow alleyways are filled with the type of tourist tatt you can find the world over.
TAKE IN THE VIEWS FROM CASAS DEL CHAPIZ
Casas del Chapiz is one of Granada’s hidden gems.
Formerly two mansions that belonged to two Arab families who converted to Christianity when the city was conquered, Casas del Chapiz now houses the School of Arab Studies. From the orange tree-filled garden there are wonderful views of the Alhambra.
Covered in prickly pear cacti, Sacromonte Hill rises behind the Albaicín. Once the domain of Granada’s gipsies, this neighbourhood is like a tranquil Andalusian village.
Sacromonte is famous for the colourful caves (cuevas) riddling its hillside, many of which have been carefully restored. If you are looking for an intimate, and interactive, flamenco performance, this is the place to come.
CATCH A FLAMENCO SHOW
There can be few better ways to end your 48 hours in Granada than to catch a flamenco show.
Even though flamenco is one of the things for which Spain is most famous, I confess that I was on the fence about it. I was picturing a kitsch show, all frills and castanets.
Boy, was I wrong.
Flamenco perfectly encapsulates the soul of Andalusia. I was blown away by the sheer passion and yearning in the performance, from the beating rhythms to the expressive guitar playing.
Granada is one of the best places in Spain to catch a flamenco performance. There are a number of venues in the city, but here are two that I can recommend.
I caught a flamenco performance at this intimate theatre in the heart of Granada. It was first-rate and the location just off Plaza de Santa Ana is unbeatable.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKET
Cuevas Los Tarantos
For a more intimate flamenco experience, head to Sacromonte’s Cuevas los Tarantos.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKET
Other Granada Itineraries
One day in Granada
But what should you do in Granada if you only have a day there?
Don’t worry. With an early start and a can-do attitude, you can pack a lot in 24 hours.
Arrive at the Alhambra as soon as its doors open in the morning. Remember to book your Alhambra ticket in advance to get this early morning time slot.
When you have finished exploring the Alhambra and Generalife gardens, make your way to the Albaicín and Sacromonte. To make the most of your afternoon, consider joining one of the free walking tours run by Walk in Granada or this sunset walking tour of Albaicín and Sacromonte.
Take in that classic sunset view of the Alhambra from the Mirador de San Nicolás, Grand Mosque of Granada or Placeta Cavajales, before a tapas bar crawl.
Just make sure that you leave enough time to catch a flamenco show.
3 days in Granada (or more)
There are lots more to do if you have more than two days in Granada.
I would explore more of Granada’s Moorish heritage through its other World Heritage sites.
El Bañuelo dates from the 11th Century, making it the oldest public building in Granada. One of 21 baths that were once scattered across the city, this comprises three rooms – cold, hot and warm – that were built using recycled Roman, Visigoth and Caliphate elements.
CASA HORNO DEL ORO
Casa Horno del Oro, or House of the Golden Oven, was built towards the end of the 15th Century and extended following the Castilian conquest.
PALACIO DAR AL-HORRA
This grand palace was home to Aixa, wife of Sultan Muhammed XI. It is built around a central patio and features exquisite plasterwork with inscriptions from the Nasrid era on the upper floor.
CORRAL DEL CARBÓN
Founded by Muhammed V, Corral del Carbón was used as a shelter and goods warehouse for traders and merchants
Entry to all of these sites is free every Sunday. They are open daily from 10 am until 5 pm.
Alternatively, you could take a day trip from Granada.
The Sierra Nevada National Park is Spain’s largest national park. For example; this ebike tour is highly rated and looks tremendous fun.
Another top pick is the white villages of La Alpujarra. This day excursion covers the best of the bunch.
What is the Best Time to Visit Granada?
Thanks to its chilly winters and hot summers, the best times to visit Granada are in the spring and autumn.
I visited Granada for the first time in early September and it was uncomfortably hot. Learn from my mistake.
When I visited Granada in February, it was cold in the morning and at night. However, the afternoons were pleasantly warm. Layers were needed.
A bonus of visiting Granada in the winter is that crowds are fewer
How to Get to Granada
Granada is well served by train, bus and air.
Getting to Granada by plane
Granada has its own airport that receives some international flights, including from the UK. The region’s largest airport is at Málaga, just over 80 miles to the southwest. There are excellent bus and train connections to Granada from Málaga.
READ THIS NEXT: How to Get from Málaga to Granada by Train, Bus and Car
Getting to Granada by train
Thanks to Spain’s trains, arriving in Granada by rail is a breeze.
Spain’s AVE high-speed trains run to Granada from Málaga (1 hr 10 minutes), Madrid (3 hr 20 minutes), Seville 2 hr 30 minutes), Valencia (5 hrs 30 minutes) and Barcelona (6 hrs 20 minutes). Book in advance for the best fares.
Book your train ticket through Renfe, the national rail operator, for the best prices. However, if the Renfe website doesn’t play nice – on more than one occasion it refused to recognise major destinations for me – make your reservation via Omio. You will pay a small booking fee but it’s a clear booking engine and hassle-free.
READ THIS NEXT: How to Get from Seville to Granada by Train, Bus and Car
Getting to Granada by bus
Travelling by bus in Spain is sometimes a better option than taking a train.
I travelled from Málaga to Granada by bus. Not only was this service far more frequent than that of the train but it was also cheaper.
You can check the times of bus services and book a ticket on Alsa’s website.
Granada Bus Station is on the Carretera de Jaen, about 3km north of the city centre.
Getting to Granada by car
The first time I visited Granada we were touring Andalusia by car. Whilst this provided maximum flexibility, parking was sometimes challenging.
This is certainly the case in Granada.
You will only be able to enter the historic centre by car if you are staying at one of the hotels inside the restricted area. Also, factor in the cost of parking and manoeuvring your car along those narrow streets.
How to Get Around Granada
Granada is a walkable city, albeit one with steep streets. The only times that you are likely to need public transport are to travel to and from the bus station, and if you decide to take the bus up the hill to the Alhambra.
Getting from the bus station to Granada city centre
Take the number 33 bus from outside the bus station via Gran Via.
Buses leave every 15 minutes and the journey takes between 10 and 15 minutes. A ticket will cost you €1.40 which you can buy from the driver (2023 price).
Buses to the Alhambra
Minibuses number 30 and 32 climb the hill to the Alhambra from Plaza Nueva approximately every ten minutes. In 2023, a single ticket costs €1.40.
Where to Stay in Granada
I recommend that you base yourself around the Albaicín or in the city centre (El Centro).
The Albaicín is a charming neighbourhood in its own right and is also close to Granada’s tourist attractions. The downside of this area is there are several inclines and it is paved with cobblestones. This is fine for light backpacks but not so good for wheeled luggage.
Whilst not as characterful, El Centro is a very convenient base as it is close to the city’s main sights and there are lots of bars and restaurants.
Here are my recommendations:
Splurge – Casa Morisca
I stayed at this wonderful hotel at the foot of the Albaicín. From my tiny balcony, there were views of the Alhambra.
Here are a few other accommodation options that I have found that may suit other tastes or budgets:
Mid-range hotel – Aurea Catedral by Eurostars
Close to Granada Cathedral, this 4-star hotel offers modern, comfortable rooms in a central location.
Budget hotel – Room Mate Leo
This 3-star hotel offers modern rooms in a traditional building close to the cathedral.
Is Granada Worth Visiting?
Granada will capture your heart.
Poised below the magnificent backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada has one of the most dramatic locations in Spain. It is stuffed with traditional tapas bars and is one of the best places in the country to catch a flamenco performance.
Granada has a treasure trove of attractions, not least of which is the Alhambra.
But is not just about the Alhambra. There are whispers of Granada’s rich history throughout the city, from its other UNESCO World Heritage Sites to its steep and winding streets.
And therein lies its appeal.
Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.
Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.
To get in touch, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on social media.