Exploring Granada’s Most Brilliant Gem: Visit the Alhambra

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Is “visit Alhambra” on your travel bucket list? It’s a popular Mediterranean cruise excursion (although the journey makes for a long day). Even better is taking your time to explore on a land trip.

Our Spain expert, Nicole Jewell, shares her tips on how to make the most of your Alhambra visit.

One of the best parts about living in Spain is that the country has a seemingly endless amount of spectacular travel opportunities. From its major cities to some of the country’s long-forgotten pueblos like Chinchon, the country’s profound history, diverse landscape, and of course, culinary excellence can be found just about everywhere.

However, if forced to recommend one travel destination among the multitudes, I’d have to say visit Granada and The Alhambra. Ahora mismo!

The Alhambra sits on a hill above Granada. Photo by Nicole Jewell.

As the saying goes, one passes through Madrid before they head straight up to heaven. Personally, however, my idea of Spanish heaven is spending time exploring the beautiful city of Granada.

Set in the Iberian Peninsula’s famed Andalusia region, Granada has it all: stunning scenery, captivating history and an insatiable love for all things culinary.

Sprawling over a hillside, The Alhambra is an impressive site. Photo by Nicole Jewell.

In fact, it’s a well-known fact that anyone who has ever visited this beautiful Andualsian area is automatically overcome with a dewy-eyed look when they speak of it, or in some cases, write about it:

“Leave me in Granada in the middle of paradise where my soul wells with poetry;
Leave me until my time comes and I may intone a fitting song.
Yes, I want my memorial stone in this land.
Granada! Holy place of the glory of Spain,
Your mountains are the white tents of pavilions,
Your walls are the circle of a vase of flowers,
Your plain a Moorish shawl embroidered with colour,
Your towers are palm trees that imprison you”

― José Zorrilla

Sure, part of the city’s allure may be the abundant tapa culture. Granada does much more than many of its Spanish counterparts in this respect, often dolling out scrumptious plates of goodness that would put any sad Madrileño plate of squishy olives to shame.

Another reason may be the active culture. In just 30 minutes outside of the city, one can be skiing the day away in the adjacent Sierra Nevada or spending the day paragliding on a nearby beach.

But, really, for history, architecture and yes, even poetry buffs out there, there’s simply no place like the Alhambra.

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History of The Alhambra

Exploring the Alhambra
Once you’re inside, make sure to take notice of the beautiful views of Granada and the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range. Photo by Nicole Jewell.

The muslim fortress, which stands on top of the Al-Sabika hill overlooking the entire city of Granada, was originally built in 889. It was rebuilt by the Moorish emir, Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar, in the mid-11th century and was under muslim ownership until those fiesty Spanish royals, Isabel and Ferdinand, took it back by force in 1492.

Visit the Alhambra
Beautiful moorish designs are found everywhere in the Alhambra. Photo by Nicole Jewell.

Today, the “pearl set in emeralds,” is a tourist meca, complete with pre-reserved tickets, long lines and reverberating crowds. In fact, the Alhambra saw 2.4 million visitors in 2014, making it the Iberian Peninsula’s most visited landmark.

Golden Room at the Alhambra
The ornate arches leading into the Golden Room. Photo by Nicole Jewell.

So, yes, the Alhambra is nobody’s out of the beaten path paradise, but it is beyond spectacular all the same and certainly worth a visit.

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How to Visit The Alhambra

Patio de la Acequia
The Patio de la Acequia is one of the Alhambra’s most photogenic sites. Photo by Nicole Jewell.

First, to visit the Alhambra, you’ll need to make reservations beforehand and believe me: do not wait until the last moment. Here are some great tips on how to book tickets before they sell out.

And second, even if you think waking up early is overrated, believe me again: you’ll regret it if you arrive after 9. There are lines for everything, reservation or not.

Once you’re inside, however, take your time; you’ll want to pace yourself accordingly. This is no place to run around snapping photos while you try to see everything.

Wander and embrace your surroundings and just try to block out the people around you. And if you get a little overwhelmed, either by the crowds or the sheer beauty of the site, take a moment and wander slowly around the relaxing Generalife gardens enjoying the many pools, fountains and perfect-to-get-lost-on pathways that wind through exotic flowers and lush greenery.

The Patio of the Lions
The Patio of the Lions is perhaps the most famous site inside the Alhambra. Photo by Nicole Jewell.

If you can, I recommend taking a guided tour. There is so much history behind this incredible site that it really pays to have someone explaining the significance of everything there is to be seen. The last time I was there, I took a specific tour that revolved around the complex’s hydraulic system and it was fascinating!

However you decide to visit the Alhambra, you can be sure that, despite the crowds, it will be, without a doubt, one of the best things you’ll see on your Spanish itinerary. You’ll carry the memory with you wherever you go, because there is simply no place like Granada.

Scratch those itchy travel feet!

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