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Leisure Guides. Granada Guide.

 

It may be the Moorish jewel of Spain’s southern Andalusian region, but there’s more to Granada than the fabled citadel of Alhambra. Thanks to lively tapas bars and a large student population, there’s a breathless night scene, while the food’s compelling fusion of North-African and Iberian ingredients makes dining out – dare we say it – rather moreish.

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Hotels

There’s no shortage of hotels welcoming the tourists flooding in to see the Alhambra – it is, after all, one of Europe’s biggest attractions. From large palatial hotels to boutiques and carmens – traditional Moorish houses with terraced gardens – there’s a wide range of accommodation, including some comfortable budget options such as the cheerful Hostal La Ninfa (Plaza Campo del Principe).
 
For those with a taste for luxury, the best place to stay is up on the hills of the Alhambra, though with such unrivalled views of the citadel comes a hefty price tag. Hotel Alhambra Palace (Plaza Arquitecto García de Paredes 1) is the obvious choice; more than a century old, its mosaics, rugs and lanterns conjure a real Moorish palace. Similarly extravagant is Parador de Granada (Real de la Alhambra), which was once a 15th-century convent. In Albaicín, the 17-room Moorish relic Casa del Capitel Nazarí (Cuesta Aceituneros 6) still has the original ceramic tiling, as well as Roman columns.
 
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Getting around

Granada is a small city and most visitors will find it easy enough to explore on foot. A bit of exercise will be required when climbing the steep districts of Albaicín and Sacromonte, not to mention traversing the hills of Alhambra, so be sure to stop in at bars to refuel on tapas and a drink along the way.
 
If you tire of walking, taxis can be hailed in the street; the official ones are white with a green stripe and aren’t overly expensive. Alternatively, there’s a good public bus system that runs across the city. Numbers 31 and 32 will carry you from Plaza Nueva up to the hills, while 33 runs from the city centre to the bus station. Bicycles are a good option, too, and available to hire from several companies.
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Top 10 sights

Top 5 sights for first-timers
 
Alhambra
Built in the 14th century by the Nasrid sultans, the flamboyant Arab fortress is Granada’s top attraction and the most impressive remnant of Moorish rule in Spain. Stunning day and night, it glares down from the verdant hills leading up to the Sierra Nevada mountains as though in haughty defiance. There is a daily cap on visitors so be sure to book ahead.
 
Generalife
The gardens of the sultans just beyond the Alhambra are almost as impressive as the palace-citadel itself. In one dark corner of Patio de los Cypresses, between immaculately kept trees and garden walls, the sultan’s wife Zoraya was said to rendezvous with her secret lover. With so many elegant fountains, reflecting pools, alluring pavilions and manicured greenery, you’ll think that you’ve stumbled into a dream.
 
Albaicín
The Moors ruled most of Spain for some 400 years, but the Nasrid emirate in Granada was the last to be relinquished, finally falling in 1492. For an idea of what Moorish Spain was like, the Albaicín quarter beneath the Alhambra is an essential visit. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, its white houses with ornate latticework and narrow streets are fascinating.
 
Realejo
The Jewish quarter of the city was prominent under the Moors – so much so that it was named al-Yahud Garnate (Granada of the Jews). The Jews and their pre-Christian rulers lived beside each other in relative peace, but under the Catholic monarchs they were forced out and the area was renamed Realejo. Today, the lanes of whitewashed houses are dominated by expats in this bohemian neighbourhood.
 
Sacromonte
This area in the lofty heights of Granada was once home to the city’s poorest, most notably gitanos (gypsies), some of whom still live in the caves cut out of the soft rock. The curious cave dwellings are popular for flamenco, with vigorous performances at night. The 17th-century Abbey of Sacromonte is also worth a look, containing relics from the martyr Saint Caecilius.
 
Top 5 sights for old hands
 
Capilla Real de Granada
Intended as a symbol of superiority over the supplanted Muslim rulers (in a tactic repeated against the indigenous empires throughout the New World), the Cathedral of Granada is grand enough – if a little dull. Yet the royal chapel can’t be missed. Its crypt of marble tombs contains the bodies of the Catholic monarchs Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, whose union brought about the birth of Imperial Spain.
 
Calle Oficios
www.capillarealgranada.com 
 
Bañuelo
Perhaps the highlight of the Albaicín district are the 11th century Moorish baths. You can’t bathe there anymore but you can imagine distinguished locals meeting for a chat, having their beards trimmed or enjoying a massage beneath incredible stone arches, light trickling in through hexagonal holes in the ceiling.
 
Carrera del Darro
 
Archaeological Museum of Granada
To get a grip on what Andalusia looked like before the Moors arrived – long before, mind – it’s worth checking out this museum filled with artefacts from the Iberian and Phoenician cultures. Curious ceramics and impressive jewellery give the picture of a sophisticated prehistory.
 
Carrera del Darro 41
 
Huerta de San Vincente – Casa-Museo Federico García Lorca
The writer Federico García Lorca produced some of his finest works in this, his family home. In fact, it was Lorca’s summer retreat for the last 10 years of his life. He wrote the tragic play Blood Wedding here before his death by the hands of Franco in 1936. The desk he scribbled on is on display along with several other odds and ends, while the handsome garden is now a park.
 
Calle Virgen Blanca
www.huertadesanvicente.com
 
Plaza de la Trinidad
Shadowed by an impressive canopy of tall trees, this famous square is a pleasant place to stop for an hour. Sit back on one of the old benches and admire the 18th-century fountain – or better yet, do some essential people-watching.
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Top 5 activities


Extreme cycling
The adventurous need nothing in Granada except two wheels. Bicycles can be seen gliding up and down the hills near the Alhambra every day, and the further you go towards the Sierra Nevada mountains, the greater the thrill becomes.
 
Bathing
If while visiting the spectacular Bañuelo you longed for some water to dip into, Granada boasts a couple of fantastic hammams for an idea of what it would have been like. You’ll find several of the Arab-style baths on Calle Santa Ana.
 
Paragliding
Practically top of the list of places to paraglide in Spain, Granada has hosted several international competitions. With perfect winds supplied by the Sierra Nevada during the summer, it’s possible to reach the coast some 70 kilometres away.
 
Cooking
With such acclaim for Granada’s Andalusian and Moorish cuisine, the city’s many cooking courses are pretty illuminating. The best is to pair up the food with wine tasting.
 
Skiing
Though Granada isn’t thought of much for skiing, the summit of the Sierra Nevada is icy enough to make it Europe’s southernmost spot for ski resorts. Warm days through much of the year make for a unique skiing experience.
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Top 5 events


Granada Tapas Fair
During this five-day event, bars compete to show their best dishes. It goes without saying that the standard of tapas at the fair is exceptional and often incredibly inventive.
 
Date: March
Venue: Throughout the city
 
Capitulations of Santa Fe
In the west of the province, the small town of Santa Fe is important as the base from which the Catholic monarchs plotted the reconquest of Granada in 1492. On 17 April, Columbus’ authorisation to sail west in the same year is celebrated here with a market, exhibitions, medieval dancing, crafts and more.
 
Date: 17 April
Venue: Santa Fe
 
Festival of Corpus Christi
Taking place 60 days after Easter Monday, this is the biggest event in Granada. Despite centring around the religious procession celebrating the body and blood of Christ, there’s also the pagan Tarasque parade featuring a dragon, giants and caricatures of politicians. Meanwhile, the extravagant Granada Fair lasts for an indulgent 10 days.
 
Date: May/June
Venue: Throughout the city
 
International Festival of Music and Dance
Theatres, parks and caves play host to the city’s dance festival. Flamenco is much loved in Granada and some of the best flamenco companies around today take part in the festivities.
 
Date: June
Venue: Throughout the city
 
Festival of Water
The Fiesta del Agua is celebrated on the shortest night of the year in the spa town of Lanjarón, just south of Granada, while Alpujarra sees a massive water fight at midnight.
 
Date: 24 June
Venue: Lanjarón, Alpujarra
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Shopping

Souk meets style boutique – that’s how the shoppers describe Granada. As with so many things here, you’ll find it to be an experience blending the city’s Arabic and Iberian heritage. Haggle over rugs and Moroccan lanterns between breaks for mint tea and shisha on the pedestrianised streets near Calle Calderería Nueva, more than a little reminiscent of North Africa’s ancient medinas. 
 
Many of the trinkets on sale are as disposable as those found in Marrakech’s markets, but Bazaar Nueva Karavan (Carrera del Darro) is a step above with handsome lanterns and leather bags. Meanwhile, the Alcaicería market (Calle Zacatín) contains a range of great handmade crafts; visit if only to see what remains of the original arches of the Arab souk.
 
There are also a number of fashion boutiques around Plaza de Bib-Rambla including typical Spanish names like Bimba y Lola (Calle Mesones), and for the ultimate in retail therapy head to the iconic Spanish department store, El Corte Inglés (Carrera de la Virgen 20-22).
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Restaurants

Start your Granada culinary adventures in the pub: for the price of a beer or sangria, you’ll receive tapas. Given the fierce competition between bars, they often resemble a full course rather than merely an appetizer. You’ll find several good tapas bars on Calle Navas off Plaza del Carmen, though Paseo de los Tristes by the River Darro is also a good bet – look out for Rabo de Nube. The best bar in town has to be the legendary Bodegas Castañeda (Calle de Almireceros 1), known for its cheeses and hams.
 
Classic dishes like broad beans with ham, lamb stew with prunes (rather like tagine) and meat pastries can be found at any of the city’s classic restaurants. Ascend to Mirador de Morayma (Calle del Pianista García Carrillo 2) for a little more luxury, including delights such as artichokes in almond sauce, as well as a jaw-dropping view of the Alhambra. Granada is also known for its seafood, which you’ll find in abundance at Plaza Pescadería.
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Nightlife

Much like the rest of Spain, Granada’s nightlife is dizzyingly decadent, usually getting going at midnight and not ending until dawn (or later). It’s likely you’ll start at a tapas bar or two; Bar Los Diamantes (Calle Navas 28) is worth looking in if you want to keep things on the elegant side. Culture lovers should check out La Tetería del Hammam (Calle Santa Ana 16), a throwback to the cultural past with traditional dance, live music and storytelling in the Arabo-Andalusian style. Realejo, once home to Granada’s Jewish community, is now popular with expats; its cheerful bars with tables outside are worth a visit.
 
For a wild night out, Granada’s university is home to more than 60,000 students – almost a quarter of the population – and so there are bars and clubs galore catering to almost every music genre. Those curious about Spanish rough gems should head to Plantabaja (Calle Horno de Abad 11), whose basement regularly hosts live bands, while hip Somo (Calle Pedro Antonio de Alarcón) is good for a dose of blaring rock. If you’re still standing in the early hours, you might attempt El Camborio (Camino del Sacromonte 47), a vast uncompromising club popular with students and always packed.

 

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