Small it may be, but lively Granada boasts more than enough to pack into 24 hours. Its mix of Iberian and Arab heritage offers a gloriously diverse medley of attractions, from historic eateries and hidden locals’ bars to bustling souk-like markets and traditional Moorish baths. Darren Loucaides takes in the city’s iconic landmarks and unearths its hidden delights.
Start exploring Granada early, while it’s quiet and cool. While the city’s 300 days of sun a year certainly seem like something to celebrate, the heat can get exhausting later in the day. Head first to the pleasant, bar-filled Plaza Nueva, which lies at the foot of the hill that leads up to the palatial Alhambra. Take a typical breakfast of a savoury pastry with a cortado (strong coffee topped with frothy milk) or really get your day going by opting for a carajillo (coffee with brandy) at one of the terrace bars. For something more secluded, head off the main square to nearby La Trastienda (Calle Cuchilleros 11), a local legend that’s been going since 1836; you’ll find cured hams hanging against old-tiled walls, with a host of specialist cheeses and pâtés to choose from.
From Plaza Nueva, walk along the pretty Rio Darro babbling beneath medieval stone bridges, with the Alhambra starting to loom up formidably above you (Real de la Alhambra, 958 027 971). The fabled citadel is one of Europe’s most essential attractions, commanding a majestic view of the Sierra Nevada mountain range from atop a lofty hill. Apart from avoiding the daily cap on visitors, it’s worth getting there early to enjoy wandering the 14th-century fortress built under the Nasrid dynasty before the midday sun hits. You won’t be disappointed: the Alhambra is the most iconic treasure left behind by the Moors, who ruled Spain for four centuries, containing painted tiles, incredibly intricate arabesques and stilted arches. Almost as breathtaking as the fortress itself are the palace gardens, which are a joy to stray amongst whispering cypress trees, dreamy pavilions, reflecting pools and tinkling fountains.
After the Alhambra, the surrounding neighbourhood of Albaicín awaits: this is the ancient Moorish quarter of the city. Granada was the last Moorish city to fall to the Catholic Reconquista in 1492, and the well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage Site gives an accurate idea of what it would have been like to live amidst its traditional whitewashed architecture. Before heading back down to the centre, be sure to visit Sacromonte, the unique hillside neighbourhood that was historically populated by gitano (gypsy) families who lived (and in some cases, still live) in cave homes. You can refuel at El Chiringuito (Calle Verea de Enmedio), a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nook of a bar serving up local beers along with unbeatable views. You might even catch an impromptu performance of traditional gitano music there.
By now, you’ll be tired from all the climbing steep hills; fortunately, it’s lunchtime. The Spanish tend to stop for comida between 2pm and 3pm, but if you arrive at any of the most popular local restaurants that late, it’ll be standing room only. El Claustro (Calle Gran Vía de Colón, 958 805 740), on the other hand, blends local flair with high gastronomy. The brainchild of Andalusian chef and El Bulli graduate Juan Andrés Morilla, ‘the cloister’ offers southern-inspired food elevated to fine-dining standards, all with local produce and in the sumptuous setting of a 16th-century convent.
Granada is a great place for shopping, in part because it combines typical Spanish boutiques and brands with North African-style bazaars. Towards the south of the Albaicín district, there are little souk-like streets with spots to partake of mint tea and shisha. The highlight is probably the Alcaiceria (Plaza Bib-Rambla), the old Moorish silk market, an authentic Middle-Eastern shopping experience of stalls and shops selling traditional Moroccan wares such as rugs, lanterns and clothing. For high-quality handmade products, visit Al Aire Artesania (Plaza Aliatar 16, 622 364 651), a shop in the heart of this district, with ceramics, paintings and jewellery. Over on the streets leading off Plaza Bib-Rambla, you’ll find several fashion boutiques and high-street names such as Massimo Dutti and Zara.
After the noise and bustle of shopping in the souks, recovering in luxurious Moorish baths is a must. Hammam Al-Andalus (Santa Ana 16, 902 333 334) is a sumptuous setting for an afternoon of pampering in a stylish spa which masquerades under the guise of a traditional North African bath. For the real deal, head to Banuelo (Carrera del Darro 31). It’s no longer a functioning bathing option, but this well-preserved 11th-century hammam of golden stone arches will give you a taste for what bathing was like during Granada’s Moorish era.
Andalusians tend to dine late, but if you’re too hungry to wait for night to settle, head to the old Jewish quarter of Realejo. The tricky-to-find Damasqueros (Damasqueros 3, 958 210 550) offers Andalusian cuisine and more adventurous options such as Iberian pork with couscous, yoghurt and apricots, all in a romantic wood-panelled setting. With a view to turning dinner into an all-night session, locals favour tapas bars. A more international option favoured by both locals and guiris (foreigners) is Casa Lopez Correa (Calle de los Molinos 5, 958 223 775) also in Realejo. The style is Spanish tapas bar meets English pub, but don’t let the comfortable environs put you off guard – the cocktails are potent.
At this hour locals are still finishing their dinner, but you can get a head start on the nightlife by heading over to Soma (Calle Pedro Antonio de Alarcón 61). This dive bar is a firm favourite with Granada’s hippest young things. Although its walls of peeling paint and gig posters have recently been given a facelift, the grunge-rock blares as loud as ever. Granada is home to a huge student population, and there are plenty of other hip bars and huge music clubs to continue the party. If you fancy something a little more sophisticated, try La Azotea (Calle Recogidas 16, Hotel Universal Sexta Planta, 958 260 037). The laid-back cocktail bar is a refreshing change from the typically chaotic Granada locale, with a sultry, low-lit interior, eclectic drinks list and pleasant garden terrace.
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