Tips n Tricks, Travel Stories

Granada: the allure of al-Andalus

Maybe it was the cobblestone pathways that seemed to lead to another place, in another century. Maybe it was the feeling of “savoir faire,” or the carefree aura that radiated off of every person walking around. Or, perhaps it was simple the fact that I was walking the same paths that were once tread by some of the most remarkable Arabs to ever grace the planet. I can’t really tell you, and over a year later I still can’t pinpoint what my favorite thing about Granada is.

 

Settled in the heart of Spain’s Andalucía region, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada is known for its grand examples of breathtaking architecture from the Moorish era – in particular, the Alhmabra. I’ll elaborate more on that later. First, let me back up: I traveled to Spain in 2016 with my mom for Eid – it was my second time and her first. Granada was the last stop on our trip – you know how they say “we saved the best for last?” Well, we really did do that. Just so we’re clear: there is nothing that I don’t like. I literally enjoyed every single second of every day the entire trip. Each city had something very special about it, but whenever I am asked what part of Spain I liked the best, my answer is always Granada without hesitation.

In fact, mom and I were only planning to spend two days in Granada, but the second we set foot in the city, we quickly changed our plans and extended an extra day. We had that flexibility because I had booked our accommodations in Granada through Airbnb; for two nights we paid $162! Trying getting that kind of a rate at a four-star hotel in this location.  We got an entire apartment in the heart of the city – and when I say the heart, I mean it; our balcony overlooked the city square. The views and sounds were surreal, and our hosts were very accommodating. I’ll end my unofficial Airbnb plug by recommending that you do not book your stay in Granada at a hotel – unless you are adamant about people changing your bed sheets and replacing your bathroom towels every day. In my humble opinion, it’s not worth the cost, and you’ll get a much more enriching experience living in the city among the locals and save a pretty penny while doing it.

City Life

The city is small, but full of life. Similar to Cairo, there are always people in the streets – which means that if you’re a people watcher like me, it’s a people-watching goldmine. You can often find stories painted on garages, or local musicians playing to a crowd of 20-40 people (yes, free concerts). If you like to shop in Khan-el-Khalili, then the local bazaar is exactly where you need to go…mainly because you will feel like you walked into Khan-el-Khalili by mistake. The Alcaiceria is home to the Great Bazaar of Granada, and is home to hundreds of vendor selling Arabic silks, spices, leather goods, sundries and other spectacular finds. The bazaar begins at Calle Alcaiceria, just off Calle Reyes Catolicos, and extends as far back as the Cathedral. The entire area is rich with history and local culture, still packed with interesting, unusual things to buy. If you’re feeling like you need to take a break from all the walking, you can grab a seat in any of the coffee shops and order yourself a Moroccan tea and a shisha (my preference is orange mint). The service at any of these cafes is fantastic – because they are all competing with each other so they want you to come back.

If you walk through the Alcaiceria all the way to the back, and follow the signs through the Albaicin area, and if you don’t mind a steep hike, you will reach The Church of San Nicolas. I was hesitant about such a long, steep hike, but once I got up there, I knew I would have regretted not going up there. The plaza at San Nicolas is well worth it – although it is small, you can marvel at the view of the Alhambra and the Generalife with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background; truly a breathtaking experience. The good part about San Nicolas is that it’s free – you can enjoy the scenery without having to pay to get in.

 Activities & Things To Do

Granada is known for its grand examples of breathtaking architecture from the Moorish era – in particular, the Alhambra. The Alhambra is no ordinary fortress – no, this massive, elaborate, exquisite, historical storybook monument encompasses not only royal palaces and patios that fill you with an overwhelming feeling of serendipity, but most notable, within the Alhambra lies the remarkable fountains and orchards of the Generalife gardens. One walk through the gardens and you will feel…small. There are no words to properly describe the scenery. A word to the wise – buy your tickets to Alhambra way in advance (like a day, to be safe). Otherwise, you may arrive to the ticket counter only to be turned away – especially if you’re there in the summer, when it’s really busy. Every ticket has an allocated entry time for the Nasrid Palaces. The staff limit the number of admissions per day and hour in order to protect the monument, and tickets usually sell out before the day. If you want to risk it and go the day of your visit, then it would be best to arrive before 8:00 AM, when the ticket counter opens. There are guided tours, or you can grab a map of the palace and gardens and walk. You’re likely to run into a tour that’s already in progress, so you might be able to pick up some facts from the guides while you are walking around.

Take a lot of pictures. You will never feel like you’ve taken enough, but take as many as possible, from any angle. Each picture will tell a different story. Be prepared to be in awe while in the Nasrid Palaces – walking through history is truly a privilege.

Hungry? You don’t have to spend a lot of money in Granada to eat. There are several walk-up and carry-out places with different kinds of food that you can choose from. Or if you prefer taking a seat and having more of a sit-down experience, you will find a variety of places as well. Many of the restaurants hold on to the history of the Moorish hands, with influences taken from Arabic dishes. Fun fact: many tapas bars that you go to will bring you FREE tapas, as long as you order something to drink! FYI: Restaurants in the city center are usually a bit more expensive due to their exclusive locations. But fear not; there are also many restaurants in the Albaicín neighborhood, often coming with breathtaking terraces and unrivalled views to the Alhambra while you eat. Talk about dinner with a view.

People from all over the globe come to Granada for its rich history, charming streets, kind people, and warm atmosphere. There are entire websites dedicated to Granada or the Andalucia region, so hopefully that explains that I could be here for days telling you where to go and what to see. My best advice is this: when you visit Granada, hit the spots I’ve mentioned here, but spend time exploring the city – you will surely find things that you did not expect- a treasure can be found around every corner. Granada is not a fast-paced city, so visitors need not be in a rush. You have to take your time to really enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the city. Just don’t forget your camera.

 

   Amal Abdallah

I’m a social media and pop culture junkie, and a marketer by profession, with an interest in journalism, travel, blogging, photography and the fine arts. When I’m not working, I spend time studying to finish my MBA, writing to feed my soul, and planning my next vacation to cure my wanderlust.

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