After I checking into my $50/night hotel, Pension Londres, located along one of the city’s main streets (Via Colon), I quickly made a mad dash for a late lunch. On a small street off Calle Zacatin, I found Mas Que Vinos, a traditional tapas wine bar with a wide selection of small plates. I satisfied my hunger with Iberian jamón and spinach & jamón croquettes – both so amazingly delicious that my mouth is watering as I write this. After lunch, I quickly realized that my late arrival to Granada wasn’t the best planning since most businesses were closed for siesta. The lower part of the city center along Calle Acera del Darro seemed lifeless and uninviting. During siesta hours, the city closes down and the streets are left barren which can change your entire experience. Since I only had 1.5 days in the historic Andalusian city, I decided to make the most of it! After getting lost while trying to find the Rio Darro and then stumbling upon the Alcaicería, an Arabic bazaar that used to be a silk market, I remembered that vacations aren’t meant to be rushed and sometimes allowing yourself to get lost in a city can lead to Experiencing the Unexpected.
With my theme of the year in mind, I embraced my adventure and eventually made my way up Calle Reyes Catolicos to Carrera del Darro, a beautiful scenic street along the Rio Darro. Contrary to the area near the Rio Genil, this area (Albayzin) was much more charming with its small streets, colorful homes, beautiful plazas, and plenty of small tapas bars. It exuded Andalusian character.
Continuing to Experience the Unexpected, I signed up for a “night adventure tour” of Granada and had no idea of what was to come! Starting at Plaza Nuevo, the tour took us through the Albayzin (old Moorish quarter of Granada) and Sacramonte (known for its caves and gypsy/gitano inhabitants), as well as for a hike up the al-Sabika (the hill the Alhambra sits on). We crawled through pitch black echoless caves and literally rock climbed the last stretch of the hike all in the dark!
The Albayzin, also declared a World Heritage Site, is hands-down the most charming part of Granada. With hibiscus flowers lining the cobblestone streets, sometimes you could look behind you and catch a picture perfect glimpse of the Alhambra.
The Alhambra is a must-see – it is the last and greatest Moorish palace & fortress built for Muslim Emirs and their courts in Spain. Behind the walls of the bland exterior of the palace is a stunning and breathtaking interior. Ornate geometric patterns of interlocking shapes fill the walls and if you let yourself get lost, you will most definitely stumble upon one of the many secret gardens, tranquil courtyards with trickling fountains, or magnificent palace rooms decorated in exquisite detail. Tickets must be reserved months in advance, so it may be best to actually plan your trip to Granada around ticket availability.
A few other places
- Miradores San Nicolas – an amazing lookout with jaw-dropping views of the Alhambra. The snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains in the far distance provide the perfect backdrop for the breathtaking palace and all its grandeur.
- Granada Cathedral / Royal Chapel – the first Spanish cathedral in the Renaissance style. Contrary to its exterior, the interior has a beautiful gold and white finish and plenty of light.
- Bodegas Castaneda – traditional tapas bar where you can throw your trash on the floor with hanging jamón over your head
- Viva Maria – a small Italian restaurant for an authentic taste of Italy
- Los Italianos – the best ice cream in town on the corner of Via Colon and Calle Reyes Catolicos
Other cities I visited in Spain: