Granada - the epitome of España (Spain), and a grand presentation of a historic city. The story that lies within this monumental city tells us more than we know. The iconic city once hosted a strong Andalusian community in the 12th century when the Nasrids came to conquer. It was the time where the region was the final surviving stronghold of Muslim Spain, and though much has faded, history is still alive in the memories of Muslims.
Credit: Ronny Siegel on Flickr
Today, Granada is a city of dramatic cultural splendour that offers travellers the best of the old and new. Here are 10 reasons why Granada should be your next travel destination!
1. Discover the most important Islamic monument at The Alhambra
Named after its red walls, The Alhambra breathes a rich influence of Arab culture. Built by the last Muslim rulers in Spain, the monument is an essential pilgrimage for travellers. It is a testament to the lavish beauty of the Islamic art and architecture.
The Nasrid Palaces display a dramatic infinity of intricacy that epitomises the Islamic legacy in the Andalusian region, once upon a time. It is recommended to spend the whole day at the site to discover the remarkable history, and admire the medieval architecture.
Also if you’re a cat lover like me, you’ll find just as many cats at the complex wandering around the mysterious fortress looking for someone to offer endearing pats.
2. Take a walk at the narrow-winding streets of AlbaicinCredit: Fran Hidalgo Carmona on Flickr
The best way to travel around Granada is by walking. While you’re at it, explore the oldie but goodie Albaicin district. The neighbourhood was built on a hill opposite the Alhambra. Opt for a walking tour around the district, or you can challenge yourself to walk around and get lost in the enchanted locality. You may even find hidden gems along the way.
The residential district reflects the medieval vernacular architecture that still retains the narrow cobblestoned maze of its Medieval Muslim past. For a more enchanted atmosphere, book a place to stay in Albaicin and discover the mind-blowing paths.
3. Catch the traditional flamenco danceCredit: Bill Hertha on Flickr
If anything epitomises the legacy of Granada, it is definitely the old tradition of flamenco that lies in the heart of Sacromonte!
The historical and musical background of this dance came from the low levels of the Andalusian society. The culture was made popular amongst the persecuted community such as the Muslims, Jews and Gitanos during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. Hence, most of the songs performed in flamenco reflect the stories of their struggle and hope during the persecution.
Credit: Brad Hammonds on Flickr
Today, the genuine southern Spanish art of flamenco is popular amongst the residents and became a powerful form of art. The usual show would run for about one and a half hour, comprising a singer, a guitarist, a male dancer and a female dancer. You can choose to catch the show inside a dramatic cave in the Sacromonte district, or at the Jardines de Zoraya in Plaza Nueva.
: The cave shows are usually prepped with food, but most of them do not offer Muslim-friendly food. Hence, it is best to opt for any performing theatre around the city.
4. Hop on (and off) the City Tour train around the city centreCredit: Elliott Brown on Flickr
While most countries offer their Hop-On-Hop-Off bus services for tourists, Granada offers a slightly different commute. Instead of the usual double-decker bus, the city tour in Granada offers a mini train that goes by the city’s symbolic monuments.
If you’re in Granada for a short trip, the city tour train is the best option to cover all the essentials in the city. You can create your own itinerary by hopping on and off the train to visit the attractions. There are two options to choose from: The Alhambra Route or the City Center Route.
Credit: Elliott Brown on Flickr#HHWT Tip
: The Alhambra Route does not offer the entrance ticket to the complex, thus you may need to have the tickets beforehand, or you can buy the tickets at the ticketing counter. Earphones are available for an extra € for the audio guide.
5. Stave off hunger with the Moroccan-style shawarma at Shawarma KingCredit: Shawarma King on Facebook
There are a lot of halal food options in the city centre. Most of them are mostly Moroccan cuisine as the Muslim residents in Spain mainly come from Morocco or North Africa. Try the Moroccan-style shawarma at Plaza Nueva’s Shawarma King.
Credit: Shawarma King on Facebook
Not only is it easy to spot, but this Moroccan-inspired eatery serves fantastic kebabs. For drinks, go for the Moroccan Mint Tea. It’s refreshing and revitalising!
6. Get your shopping on at Plaza RomanillaCredit: Aidan Wakely-Mulroney on Flickr
Known for its tall palm trees, Plaza Romanilla has so much to offer - and we're not only talking about shopping! Besides basking in the euphoria of culture, the plaza houses large vegetable stands and souvenir shops around. Come by in the morning where you can witness how the market operates.
Credit: James Manners on Flickr
Some stands also offer dried fruits, spices, various tea leaves (some medicinal too!), and pitted olives which are the staple food in Spain.
Credit: Michael Rhodes on Flickr
If you’re feeling touristy, drop by the souvenir shops around the plaza. If you’re attentive enough, you may find Muslim vendors who sell authentic Moroccan items.
7. Discover the Christian heritage of Granada at the Granada Cathedral
Due to its rich historical background, Granada blends its Muslim and Christian heritage into everything. After the successful conquest of Granada by the Christian soldiers, the Granada Cathedral was built and has become one of the most important churches in Granada.
Inspired by the mysterious Spanish Renaissance combined with the Baroque architectural techniques, the exterior of the Granada Cathedral is enough to lure you in with its majestic and distinctive warm, earth-like colour.
As you set foot in the church, you will be welcomed by the sight of the dramatic Corinthian columns, high ceilings and hand carved representations of religious figures.
8. Look for Halal Paella around the city centreCredit: JaulaDeArdilla on Flickr
When you’re in Spain, trying out the country’s favourite dish is a must. Look no further than the famous La Estrella de Elvira where you can get a vegetarian (and obviously delicious) paella.
If you don’t feel like eating vegetable paella and uncertain of which paella to choose, ask the waiter. They’ll recommend the chef’s favourite. Enjoy feasting your eyes on the interior of the restaurant that gives a hint of Spanish and Moroccan tone.
: This restaurant offers vegetarian options in its menu, so fret not!
9. Witness various busking performances at the Plaza NuevaCredit: Harvey Barrison on Flickr
Though you may expect the typical music-playing in the streets, busking in Granada may vary. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you may be able to see various performers in different acts. The trick is to find the best spot for it.
Credit: Viv Lynch on Flickr
In Granada, Plaza Nueva is the most popular spot for buskers due to its location where tourists are seen pouring through the area. Expect dances, singing, music-playing from usual instruments to the unusually unique instruments like the handpan!
: If you wear a backpack, it is highly recommended to wear it on your front as there are many sneaky pickpockets around commercial area like the Plaza Nueva.
10. Be at peace with yourself at Granada’s Arab bathhousesCredit: Hammam Al Andalus on Facebook
With the influence of the Nasrid kingdom, Arab bathhouses are popular in Granada. This is also due to the geographical location where pure mountain water comes from the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The environment makes it perfect for the residents to enjoy bathhouses for treatments and relaxation ?
Credit: Hammam Al Andalus on Facebook
Seek refuge in Granada’s famous Hammam Al-Ándalus and immerse yourself in the warm, soothing waters of the Arabian baths where you can just surrender to tranquility as the thermal bath in a steam room that carries a sweet aroma relaxes your mind and body. A cup of Arabian mint tea will be prepared for you as you enjoy your bath. The Arabian decor of this bathhouse will make you feel like you’re in the 12th century!
If there’s one word that can describe the entirety of Granada, it would be unique
. The city screams a unique mix of cultures and architecture. Even it's cuisine is unlike any other country! It is a province, dare I say, that is often overlooked as a travel destination, but there is more to this city than just the history?