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Granada | 5 Free Things to do in Granada

view of plaza nuevaview of Plaza Nueva and Alhambra from Duplex Terrace

Granada is justly famous for its internationally famous monument, the Alhambra Palace, and also for the Cathedral and Royal Chapel. You will want to see all of these, and indeed, the Alhambra may be the reason you’re here in the first place (be sure you have booked your tickets in advance). They don’t come cheap, however, and you may find yourself wondering what you can do for the rest of your stay that isn’t going to cost you anything. In short you want a few freebies.

view of albaicinview of the Albaicin from Loft 6

Saint Nicolas Mirador (Albaicin)

The Albaicin is the hillside neighbourhood (also known as the old Moorish quarter) across the River Darro from the Alhambra. You can wander through it’s narrow streets and steep paths to your heart’s content without it costing you a dime (unless you stop for refreshments), but it’s good to have a destination, and in the Albaicin all roads (figuratively speaking, and you should expect some of them to end up in other places) lead to the San Nicholas Mirador – the lookout platform beside the church. From here, especially in the evening, you get the best views of the Alhambra, and can while away a pleasant hour wondering how on earth it was captured, or why Carlos V built that square palace in the middle of it.

carmen gardenCarmen Terrace 5 walled garden

Carmen de los Martires

Carmens are the traditional houses with a walled garden that are unique to Granada. The largest is the Carmen of the Martyrs at the end of the Realejo, south of the Alhambra, a 19th century house built on the site of a former convent, and surrounded by nearly seven acres of gardens with some fabulous views. Well worth taking the bus up and having a stroll around this delightful spot.

Bañuelo (Arab Baths) and Casa del Chapiz

Just off the Carrero del Darro, the street that runs alongside Granada’s tumbly mountain stream, the River Darro, you can find the 11th century Arab baths, probably the oldest remains of consequence in the city. They were preserved largely by chance as a private house was built over them early in the Christian period. A little further on is another stunning early Christian period house with a fabulous courtyard, the Casa del Chapiz.

cave houseSacromonte Cueva 2 cave house 

Sacramonte Abbey

Go a little further and you’re in the Sacramonte, the “gypsy” neighbourhood famous for its flamenco and cave houses. At the top of the hill is the 17th century Abbey of Sacramonte, a place regarded by some as being of mystical significance because of the Christian relics supposedly found in the nearby caves. It’s a bit of a haul if you do it on foot, but wort it for the views of the Alhambra, Albaicin and the rest of the city.

Tapas

Okay, this is cheating (a bit), but it’s still common to get a free tapas with your drink in the city’s bars. Or a tapa that’s included in the price of your drink, depending on how you look at it. But if you find the right bar you can certainly get fed with decent food, inexpensively.

Granada | What else to do in Granada

It’s been a long, wet winter, but at last Spring seems to be just around the corner. This is the best time to come to the south of Spain, and to one of its most popular destinations, the city of Granada at the foot of the Sierra Nevada.

You will of course be paying a visit to the Alhambra, the magnificent palace fortress of the Moorish kings, and to the Generalife (top tip – have a drink on the terrace of the Parador hotel looking across to the Generalife), but what are you going to do for the rest of your stay?

albaicin markets

First option is to make your way up through the Moroccan market into the Albaicin, the old Arab quarter of the city with its picturesque steep, narrow streets to the San Nicholas Mirador for a view across the valley of the River Darro to the Alhambra and the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada beyond. It’s also worth walking up the river valley from Plaza Nueva, the classic Spanish square in the heart of the city. It still looks like the mountain stream it was, but now with houses perched on its high banks below the steep hill of the Alhambra. Going further brings you into the Sacramonte neighbourhood, famous for its gypsy community, cave houses and flamenco night-life (nowadays mostly for tourists, but still an unmissable experience).

On the other side of the Alhambra is the old Jewish quarter of the Realejo, now a busy neighbourhood of bars and restaurants. Between the Realejo and the Alhambra you can find the Carmen de los Martires, one of Granada’s less well known gems. Carmenes (houses with walled gardens) are typical of Granada, and there are quite a few of them, often now functioning as hotels and restaurants rather than private houses, but Los Martires is the grandest, with several acres of gardens laid out around a 19th century country house.

carmen terraceview from our Carmen Terrace 2 apartment in Granada

At the foot of the Realejo, as you get back to the centre is the Corral del Carbón, originally built as a coal warehouse way back in the Moorish period, but adapted in the 16th century for theatrical performances (these courtyard theatres are roughly contemporary with Shakespeare and the birthplace of Spanish theatre). Pay your respects at the Royal Chapel and Cathedral, then take a walk along the Alcaicería, once the Moorish silk market, but now mainly little souvenir and artesan shops, but still with a Morroccan feel to it.

Behind the Cathedral is the Plaza Bib-Rambla, Granada’s largest public square, and an important commercial space since mediaeval times, and also the location of bullfights and autos-da-fé. Nowadays it has many cafés and restaurants in the colonnades around it, and in the centre is the Fountain of the Giants, added in the 19th century. From here, take a walk up through the Bib-Rambla neighbourhood to the San Jeronimo monastery. Built in the period following the Reconquista, it’s a calm and peaceful oasis with its two cloisters full of orange trees and magnificent altarpiece. It’s also the burial place of El Gran Capitán, Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, who led the Spanish forces that conquered Granada.

Finally, for something completely different, pay a visit to Granada’s famous science park. The interactive displays and exhibits are child-friendly and great fun as well as fascinating, dealing with everything from the birth of the universe to the diversity of life.

For more information about Granada, and some great holiday apartment rentals visit our website.

Granada Neighbourhoods

The ancient city of Granada in the South of Spain lies at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains to its east, and overlooking the fertile plain to its west, to which it owed its early prosperity. Between the eleventh century and its final conquest by the Christians in 1492 it was the most important Muslim city in Spain, and the layout of the central part of modern Granada, and the unique character of its principal neighbourhoods, still owes a lot to this period of its history.

View of the Alhambra from the San Nicolas Lookout

Granada’s most famous landmark, the Alhambra, dominates the city centre from its perch on a rocky outcrop above the deep, narrow valley of the River Darro. On the other side of the valley, on hills only a little less lofty than the Alhambra, are the neighbourhoods of the Albaicín and Sacramonte.

Where the river emerges from between the hills you can find the city’s central square, the Plaza Nueva, or New Square, so named because it was the first to be built by the Christians after the reconquest. Built over the River Darro, which runs in a culvert underneath, it’s a wide, pleasant square lined with shops and cafes, as well as the historic court house. To the south and east is the neighbourhood of Realejo-San Matias, and to the south and west that of el Centro.

Albaicín

Moroccan Market in the Albaicín

The Albaicín neighbourhood is one of the oldest parts of the city, and is made up of a network of steep, winding streets and small squares, many with wonderful views of the famous palace fortress, with the Sierra Nevada in the background beyond. Best known of the miradores, or lookouts, is San Nicolas, and it’s a great place to come in the evening for a drink, look across to the Alhambra, and if you’re lucky, to hear some Flamenco or Spanish guitar.

After the reconquest it became the Muslim quarter of the city, but with the expulsion or conversion of Muslims by the Catholic Kings it gradually became depopulated, and before long moneyed Christians began to move in, demolishing the small houses and building what became known as Carmenes or grand houses with gardens or orchards. The mosques were demolished and replaced with churches, although remnants of the original buildings can still be glimpsed, as in the Church of San Salvador. Another feature of muslim architecture that can still be found dotted around the area is the aljibes, underground cisterns built for the storage of water.

Today, there is a distinctly North African feel to the lower Albaicín with tearooms and small shops selling Moroccan goods. In 2003 the upper Albaicín became home to the Main Mosque of Granada, the first in the city since 1492.

The Albaicín is, above all, a neighbourhood for wandering slowly through narrow streets, taking pleasure in hidden corners and the scents from the many gardens; peeping into Carmenes; and enjoying the spectacular views from its terraces and miradores.

Sacramonte

Flamenco Caves in Sacromonte

Beyond the Albaicín is what is surely Granada’s most picturesque neighbourhood, the Sacramonte, named for the 17th century abbey at the top of the Valparaíso hill, which is well worth the trouble of a visit. It’s known as the gypsy neighbourhood, and is notable for the whitewashed cave houses built into the hill, and for being the best place in the city for Flamenco.

Realejo-San Matias

The Realejo is the old Jewish quarter of the city, and like the Albaicín on the other side of the Alhambra, has many steep, labyrinthine streets, with whitewashed houses and Carmenes. The most famous of these, the Carmen de los Martires, is open to the public and enjoys lovely views over the plains, the city and Sierra Nevada. Go up to the Campo del Principe for the bars and restaurants, and walk back down past the Casa de los Tiros, the Antigua Capitania and the Convent of the Mercadarias to San Matias street, another place with lots of places to eat and drink.

El Centro

To the southwest of Plaza Nueva is El Centro, the main commercial centre. Just off the Gran Via you can find the Cathedral and the Royal Chapel, both built in the 16th century as part of the process of Christianization of the city. Nearby is San Agustin, the main food market, and the Alcaicería, once the Arab silk market, but now mainly lined with souvenir shops. Behind these is the Plaza Bib-Rambla, a grand open square with a central fountain called the Gigantes, colonnades, bars and restaurants. Although it has undergone many changes, there has been a public space here since early Nasrid times, which has been used for markets, bullfights, fairs and autos-da-fé.

View from Granada Studio Terrace in the Plaza Nueva