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Things to do in Granada, Spain
Granada tierra soñada por mí.
Mi cantar se vuelve gitano cuando es para ti.
Granada, I'm falling under your spell,
And if you could speak, what a fascinating tale you would tell.
After travelling abroad this summer and spending 2 months in Granada, Spain, the opening line of Agustin Lara's 1932 song entitiled "Granada" speaks to me more than I ever imagined it would.
I decided to spend my summer in Granada, Spain mostly because of the language. As a college senior majoring in international relations, I needed to go to a country that would help me brush up on my Spanish skills. I thought about going somewhere in South America, but ultimately decided on Spain mostly because of its proximity to the France and Italy, which I was absolutely dying to see. I honestly never expected to fall in love with the country in the way I did.
Granada is a small city in southern Spain, located about an hour from the Mediterranean sea and nestled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. As you can imagine, this location makes for some absolutely astounding scenery. On top of this absolutely amazing scenery, there is an astoundingly rich history here. Home to tapas, flamenco, the Alhambra, Sacramonte, monuments, crypts, and World Heritage sites, Granada should be at the top of the list for any international traveler.
Gitanos & Flamenco in Sacramonte
The Caves at Sacramonte
Sacramonte is a neighborhood that encompasses a series of caves that were used as housing for the Roma community in the 19th and early 20th centuries. While the caves once held over 3,600 full time residents, a flood in the 1960's forced many of these families out of their homes and made many of the caves uninhabitable.
Now, the caves of Sacramonte are generally used to house local artists and nomads who are passing through, hoping to make money selling their jewlery, art, or other items in the city plazas or along the streets of Sacramonte. There are also many flamenco theaters in this neighborhood, although most of the dancers do not reside here full time.
The caves of Sacramonte are also very easy to find. They are accessible by foot, but the streets leading up to them are extremely steep and people with mobility issues may have some trouble walking there. Luckily, there are several trams that will take you to the caves for very cheap (8 Euros for a day pass). These trams also run to most of the other major monuments in the city, so this could be a good investment. Additionally, many hotels in Granada partner with flamenco theaters and provide their guests with transportation to and from the Sacramonte district.
Places to Go
The caves at Sacramonte were once home to the gypsy community and now house artists, nomads, and flamenco theaters.
The Alhambra is a Moor palace that was later converted for use by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabelle.
The bodies of Ferdinand and Isabelle are buried in a crypt here.
A UNESCO world heritage site, the Albaicin was once home to the Jewish community in Granada. Now, the only mosque in Granada is located here.
Located at the top of the Albaicin, the Mirador de San Nicolas is the place to see all of Granada, including the Alhambra. Beautiful panoramic view.
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The Albaicin (Albayzín)
Declared a world heritage site in 1984, the Albaicin features narrow, winding streets and amazing panoramic views of the entire city - including the Alhambra! This 'medina', or neighborhood, dates back to the 11th century. Here, you can see the remains of ancient Arab bath complexes, archaeological museums, and ancient Moorish houses. One of the major attractions in the Albaicin is the Mirador de San Nicolas, where you can see what Bill Clinton once called the "most beautiful sunset in the world". Restaurants serving North African cuisine line most of the streets in the Albaicin and most of them offer terrace seating so that you can enjoy the view while you enjoy your meal.This area is also the very well known for its shopping. There are tons of Arabic shops at the foot of the Albaicin district where you can find everything from post cards and keychains to leather handbags and silver teapots.
The Alhambra is a fortress complex and royal palace in the hills of Granada. Originally built in 899, it was rarely used until the middle of the 11th century when it was renovated and rebuilt as a fortress. The palace was added in 1333 by Yusuf I, then the Sultan of Granada. The palaces were used for the Sultans and the royal court. After Granada was conquered by the Catholics in 1492, Queen Isabelle and King Ferdinand used the royal palace as their home in Granada. In fact, when you visit the Alhambra, you can actually see the royal meeting room where Christopher Columbus gained an audience with the queen to ask for funding to discover a new route to India.
One of the most interesting rooms in the palace, aside from the audience hall, is the Hall of Abencerrajes. Legend has it that the father of the last sultan of Granada saw one of his wives with another man on one of his evening walks through the garden. Although he didn't see who the man was, he noticed the Abencerrajes family crest on the back of the man's clothing. After confronting his wife, who denied everything, the sultan decided to call all of the men from the Abencerrajes line to his palace for a banquet. During this banquet, it is said that he stepped into the side hall and, claiming that he needed military advice, called the men in one by one. As they entered, he beheaded them. According to legend, he killed every man in the family and piled their heads in the fountain. Bloodstains can still be seen here.
In another room, there are the faces of 9 small dolls carved into the walls. Rumor has it that finding all 9 faces will give the viewer luck and fertility. These are just a few of the stories that surround the historic Alhambra.
Night view of the Alhambra and the city of Granada
Capilla Real - Crypt of Ferdinand & Isabelle
The Capilla Real of Royal Chapel of Granada is the royal mausoleum of King Ferdinand & Queen Isabelle. After capturing Granada from the Moors, the Catholic King & Queen traveled to the city where Isabelle immediately fell in love. She loved Granada so much that she immediately began planning to relocate there and, soon after, began construction of the Capilla Real so that she could be buried in Granada upon her death. She and Ferdinand are both buried in Granada along with their daughter Queen Juana I and her husband, Felipe I. These monarchs were the first and only to be buried outside of the capital city.
National Holidays of Granada
- 1st January - Ano Nuevo
- 5th January - Epifania
- 19th March - Dia de San José
- Late March or early April - Jueves Santo
- Late March or early April - Viernes Santo
- 1st May - Fiesta del Trabajo
- 15th August - La Asunción
- 12th October - Nacional de Espana
- 1st November - Todos los Santos
- 6th December - Dia de la Constitución
- 8th December - La Inmaculada Concepción
- 25th December - Navidad
Fiestas and Celebrations
The largest celebration in Granada, as in all of Spain, is the Semana Santa. This holiday takes place the week before Easter and each day is marked by large processions and masses with an emphasis on a different portion of the Gospel. These processions are extremely somber, which is uncharacteristic of most holidays in Spain. In addition to processions and masses held throughout the city, Semana Santa is celebrated by spending as much time as possible with family and in prayer. All meals are eaten at home and most families do not drink any alcoholic beverages during this time. There is no work for the entire week, as everyone is encouraged to partake in the Holy Week celebrations.
Another big celebration is the Feria de Corpus Christi. Taking place in June, this celebration is held at the fair grounds and lasts for a week, but most people only get 2 or 3 days off of work to attend. Unlike the Semana Santa, Corpus Christi is a giant party. At the fair grounds, there is not much to do other than drink, eat, and dance. Different tents are set up by local dance clubs, restaurants, or radio stations, and each one plays different music. Women dress up in typical flamenco clothing and dance the night away. It is not unusual for people to attend the fiesta one night and stay for 24 hours or more. The fiesta features one parade, where belly dancers, fare breathers, and acrobats perform on the street alongside local bands. Following the dancers and acrobats are a slew of people wearing gigantic paper mache heads. These guys run around popping children and spectators on the head with balloons.
Throughout the year, there are many other fiestas. These are just two of the biggest in Granada.
Feria de Corpus Christi
Granada Review & Travel Tips
Tours & Prices
Tours in Granada can have a pretty huge range in prices. A few of the common tours that I discovered while living in Granada are listed here:
Historical Granada Sightseeing Tour: 4 hours, $70
Hop-On Hop-Off City Bus Tour: 2 day pass, $25
Alhambra Palace Audio Guided Tour: $55
Granada in a Nutshell (Includes Albaicin, Flamenco, & Alhambra): $113
Arabic Granada Scooter Tour: $53
Alpujarras Sightseeing Tour: $80