Day 1: Settling In
Casa Morisca Hotel
One step into this charming boutique hotel and you’re whisked away to an ancient past. Designed with the themes of the ancient Muslim artisans who once inhabited this city (plaster molds, archways and wooden ceilings), the Hotel Casa Morisca is a tranquil oasis within a bustling tourist town. Situated close to La Alhambra, in the winding, foot-traffic-only streets of the Albaicín neighborhood, the hotel offers luxurious and comfortable rooms. And the breakfast buffet is just what you’ll need before exploring the city.
Where: Cuesta de la Victoria 9, 18010, Granada, Spain
More info: +34 958 22 11 00; hotelcasamorisca.com
Huerta de San Vicente
One of Spain’s most beloved poets, playwrights and authors, García Lorca was a native of Andalusia. Known for many works, among them Blood Wedding and Gypsy Ballads, his writing is heavily steeped in the lore and romance of Andalusia. And though he traveled the world, famously living in New York for some time, he would always return to his home in Granada. Now you can tour the gardens and summer home where the poet created many works until 1936, when he was killed by Nationalists at the start of the Spanish Civil War.
Where: Federico García Lorca Park, at Calle Virgen Blanca, 18004, Granada, Spain
When: Sept. 16-May 31, Tues.-Sun., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; June 1-Sept. 15, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
More info: +34 958 25 84 66; huertadesanvicente.com
Sunset at Mirador San Nicolás
Climb up the corridors of the white-walled Albaicín neighborhood around sunset and you’ll hear the flamenco guitar and singing before you even reach the lookout. Each night, Granadan locals, entertainers and visitors alike gather at this spot overlooking the Alhambra, illuminated against the night sky. Bring a bottle of tinto and don’t forget to tip your fire dancers.
Where: Plaza Mirador de San Nicolás 2-5, 18010, Granada, Spain
Jardines de Zoraya
Cocktails and Spanish delicacies such as cured meats and exquisite cheeses adorn the tables at Jardines de Zoraya while you await an evening of spectacular flamenco. The art of flamenco dancing is a performance including guitar, song and dance, dating back to the late 1700s. The music has many influences, including Jewish, Arab and Romani traditions. It’s an energetic and captivating ritual that shouldn’t be missed on any trip to southern Spain. Be sure to make a reservation.
Where: Calle Panaderos 32, 18010, Granada, Spain
When: Daily, shows at 8 & 10:30 p.m.
More info: +34 958 20 62 66; jardinesdezoraya.com
Day 2: Getting the Lay of the Land
Tea in Calle Elvira
Visiting the Arabic teahouses (called teterías here) of eclectic Calle Elvira is a great way to start or end a day of wandering the city. Adorned in most cases with mosaic glass, allowing little light to flow into the intimate spaces, each teahouse has a bit of its own flavor. Is there such a thing as a tea crawl? If there is, it’s going to be in this neighborhood, just steps from the city’s bustling center. Sit for a while, sample the different freshly brewed teas and don’t be afraid to give in to the hookah. When in Granada….
Where: Calle Elvira, bet. Calle Reyes Católicos & Calle Marqués de Falces
When: Most are open late morning well into the night, keeping hours similar to area bars
The prime attraction of Granada, beside’s the town’s addictive vibe itself, the Alhambra is a marvel of ancient architecture, illustrating the elaborate artistry and detail associated with Islamic art. It began as a fortress in the late 800s, constructed on the remains of Roman fortifications; the Moorish emir Mohammad ben Al-Ahmar had it rebuilt in the 1200s, and it was converted into a sultan's palace in the 1300s. After the Christian Reconquista in the 15th century, Alhambra became the royal court of Ferdinand and Isabella. The grounds are massive (roughly 142,000 square meters), and include various palaces, gardens and a surrounding forest that is magical in its own right. Plan several hours for this excursion.
You can buy tickets to the palaces online — sometimes with just a day's notice, but they're often sold out weeks ahead of time. You can also show up at the box office before it opens in the morning and hope to get some of the extra tickets released each day. Tickets to the Generalife gardens tend to sell out less quickly. The night tour of the palaces is less popular, though not lacking in majesty, and tickets for it can usually be purchased day of.
Where: Calle Real de La Alhambra, 18009, Granada, Spain
When: Daily; see schedule online
More info: +34 958 027 971; alhambra-patronato.es
In Spain, they don’t want you drinking unless you’re eating. Or perhaps it’s the other way around? Either way, you won’t go hungry or unnecessarily sober in these parts. Tapas are small plates of food, ranging in variety depending on the region, that magically appear on your table when you order a glass of wine or a beer. We assume they come with cocktails as well, but whatever corner of Andalusia you may find yourself in, there’s always a cheap glass of beer or wine to be had and a plate of seasoned olives not too far behind. Most tapas bars are open during the early afternoon, about noon-4 p.m., then close for a few hours and reopen around 7 or 8 p.m. for the evening crowd.
Day 3: New Heights
Now that you’ve drunk and eaten enough to make you merry, perhaps you want to walk off those few extra pounds.
Hiking in the Sierra Nevada
Only about an hour from the Mediterranean coast, Granada also sits in front of the nearly perpetually whitecapped Sierra Nevada mountains. Mulhacén mountain reaches 3,479 meters, the highest peak in western Europe outside of the Alps and the Caucasus. The area is resplendent with meadows, wildflowers, valleys, cascades, forests, ancient caves, gorges and tough summits. Take advantage of Granada’s proximity to this legendary range and get into the wild for a day. In winter, go skiing; he rest of the year, you have your pick of hiking trails. For details on which hikes to check out, visit treksierranevada.com. For details on how to arrive by bus, click here.
The Royal Granada Chapel, the St. Jerome Monastery & St. John of God Basilica
The Moors controlled Spain from 711 until 1492 CE, when the city of Granada went back to belonging to the Christians — this time the Catholic rulers Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. These were the same two who famously funded Christopher Columbus's expedition. So, yeah, I guess you could say they were a pretty big deal. Their remains lie underneath the Royal Chapel, built between 1505 and 1517. Actually, your visit to the Royal Chapel will include a chance to peer beneath their African-marble-laden sepulchers and see the Renaissance-era leather caskets that hold their bones. Pretty creepy. Next to the chapel stands the impressive Roman Catholic St. Jerome Monastery, construction on which began in 1504. Buy tickets on site.
Where: Granada city center
When: Hours vary by season; see Royal Chapel hours online
Puerta de Syria
Lentil soup for 2 euros? Lemon and mint elixirs? Damn good hummus? Yes, yes and yes. This tiny little diner is at once intimate and open. Sure, there are kebabs to be found on nearly every street in Spain (for cheap, and at all hours, which we appreciate greatly). But sometimes you want to take it up a notch. Meander into this comforting space for a break from the street and enjoy the cushioned seats and health-conscious food. Owned by a family of Syrian immigrants, this restaurant serves some of Granada’s most affordable and quality Middle Eastern fare. If only they had internet and some sort of room-and-board situation, I never would have left.
Where: Calle Elvira 56, 10810, Granada, Spain
When: Daily, noon-midnight