Set to the dramatic backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Granada is a charming melting pot of Spanish and Moorish cultural influences. And given its closeness to Morocco and the fact it was the last Moorish kingdom to fall into the clutches of Ferdinand and Isabella, it’s easy to see why.
More than two million travellers flock to Granada every year to explore the world-renowned Alhambra. And whilst there’s no disputing its beauty or significance, there’s definitely more to this Andalusian city. So, allow me to open your eyes to a handful of other fascinating Granadan highlights.
1. Embrace the pomegranate
Did you know, the word Granada means pomegranate in Spanish? This regal-looking fruit is the official symbol of the city and its image will follow you absolutely everywhere. From topping traffic bollards to adorning manhole covers, featuring in fountains to taking pride of place on the city’s flag. Pomegranate season in the northern hemisphere runs from September to February and you’ll spot them in the branches of plenty of trees around this time.
2. Stop by the Corral de Carbón
Corral de Carbón literally translates as the Coal House, which admittedly doesn’t sound especially riveting. However, this 14th century monument is actually the only Nasrid alhóndiga (warehouse) that remains exactly as it was back in the 1300s anywhere on the Iberian Peninsula. The entryway boasts an original Moorish clay relief that would mirror the layout of the city if you turned it the other way up. Nowadays it’s home to the International Festival of Music and Dance of Granada, and also occasionally stages theatrical performances and flamenco shows.
3. Try piononos at Rey Fernando
For those with no clue what a pionono is, it’s a small round cake steeped in a sweet liqueur and topped with a browned cream. Designed to be eaten in two bites, they make the perfect accompaniment to your mid-morning coffee. Whilst they’re originally from Santa Fe, a village nearby, you’ll be able to find them in pastry shops all over Granada. Head to Rey Fernando to sample some of the best, or to try a twist on the traditional with six more flavours to choose from.
4. Haggle for souvenirs at the Alcaicería
Making your way down Calle Alcaicería you could be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally stumbled into a Moroccan medina. Once a lively Arabic marketplace formed by a series of narrow alleyways selling silks and spices, it was almost entirely destroyed by a fire in 1843. The remaining section of this historic Moorish bazaar begins close to Calle Reyes Católicos and winds up near the cathedral. Shop here for locally painted ceramics, stained glass lamps, tea sets and more.
5. Visit the Royal Chapel of Granada
Commissioned by the famous Catholic kings and queens in 1504, the Royal Chapel of Granada was built as their final resting place. It houses the bodies of Ferdinand and Isabella, Philip the Handsome and Joanna the Mad, amongst several others. A number of monarchs passed away before construction of the chapel was completed and so their remains were moved there at a later stage. Ensure you see the cathedral whilst you’re in the area, its ornate white and gold dome is bound to impress.
6. Learn the history behind the Puerte de Elvira
As the main access point for the city of Granada whilst under Islamic rule, the Puerte de Elvira has a long history. Originally erected by the Zirid sultans in the 11th century, it has undergone several transformations over the years. After the Reconquista, thieves and criminals would be hung from the gate in order to deter others from doing the same. Remember to visit Calle Elvira too, the oldest street in Granada, it’s filled with Moroccan stalls and used to mark the entrance to the kasbah.
7. Shop for Spanish delicacies at San Agustín Market
If you’re looking to escape the heat of the Spanish sun or simply fancy a bite to eat, duck into the covered San Agustín Market. Inside you’ll find a selection of busy stalls selling the freshest fruits and vegetables, locally-caught fish and seafood, mouth-watering cured meats, delicious cheeses, top quality olive oils and fine wines. There’s also a number of small cafes and tapas bars, which offer an ideal place for a quick snack stop with excellent opportunities for people watching.
8. Relax with an Alhambra beer
In Granada, it’s not unusual to be given a free plate of tapas when you order your favourite tipple. So, don’t be surprised if you’re treated to a wedge of Spanish tortilla or a mélange of olives to enjoy alongside your sangria. Be sure to savour a bottle of the resident beer as well, Alhambra, which comes in two varieties: original and especial (a toasted brew). For some of the top tapas bars in town, check out Calle Navas that runs off Plaza del Carmen, the square in front of the town hall.
9. Admire the architecture of the Alhambra
No trip to Granada is complete without a day spent at the magnificent Alhambra. Spanning an enormous 14 hectares and composed of three distinct parts (the palaces, fortress and medina), this palatial Moorish city is a real sight to behold. Whilst it dates back as far as the 9th century it was the first Nasrid ruler, Mohammed ben Al-Hamar, who established the royal residence here in the 13th century. Prepare to be wowed by the ornate Court of the Lions, to feel utterly serene in the Court of the Myrtles and to admire expansive vistas over Granada through gold-gilded windows.
10. Take a stroll through the Generalife
Stepping beyond the Alhambra walls you’ll spy the stunning Palacio de Generalife, or summer palace, perched on the hill opposite. It’s here that the Nasrid sultans used to come and relax. The surrounding gardens would have once formed the medina but are now meticulously planted with beautiful trees and flowers. Inside the palace, you’ll stumble upon one of the most iconic spots in the whole Alhambra complex – the Court of the Water Channel, featuring perfectly manicured shrubs and flower beds, as well as fountains that dance in the sun.