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Did you know that the Alhambra in Granada is the most-visited site in all of Spain? Aside from the fact that it’s super old (from the 9th century), the fortress sits on a hill, overlooking the snowcapped mountains and city of Granada. It’s majestic. So expect Islamic architecture at its best, awe-inspiring views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the rolling hills of the Andalusian countryside.
If you’re planning a trip to the Alhambra, doing a road trip in Andalusia or simply looking for inspiration for your next trip, here are 10 essential tips for you.
Read next: 10 amazing things to do in Granada
Table of Contents
1. HOW TO BUY ALHAMBRA TICKETS
Price: 14.85 € for a General Daytime ticket
First off, you need to reserve your tickets in advance. Like, you really HAVE TO.
Unlike most attractions, you can’t just arrive at the Alhambra entrance and buy a ticket. Technically, it’s possible, but you won’t get into the main attraction, the Nasrid Palace. Only 300 people are allowed to visit this palace every half hour, so you have to pick a specific time for your entry.
Here’s how to do it:
- Go to the official Alhambra website.
- Choose the day you want to visit.
- Then choose the exact half hour you will enter the Nasrid Palace.
- Pay online (14.85 €) and you will get an email confirmation with your ticket.
- Print this and voila – you have your Alhambra ticket.
2. ALHAMBRA MAP
Here is a map of the Alhambra. You can print it here.
When you enter the Alhambra from the main entrance, you’ll get to this road ↓
The road parts in three directions. The left road leads to the palaces – the Alcazaba, Charles V and Nasrid. The middle and the right road leads to Generalife, which is a large garden area.
There are signs around the Alhambra so you won’t get lost. Also, you’ll see guards, especially in the Nasrid so just ask them if you need information. They seemed very helpful to me.
3. HOW MUCH TIME TO SPEND AT ALHAMBRA
Most people spend around 3 hours, and you’ll walk around 3.5 km in total. Let me break it down for you:
- Generalife: 15-30 minutes
- Alcazaba: 20-30 minutes
- Charles V Palace: 15 minutes (without visiting the two museums) or 45 minutes (visiting the two museums)
- Nasrid Palace: 1 hour
- Walking distance: 1-1,5 hours
- Waiting in line: 30-60 minutes
The thing is that Alhambra is quite big and the attractions are scattered around a large area. To give you an idea, it takes about 20 minutes to walk from the main entrance to Generalife. Then you have to walk back the same way to get to the other palaces – that’s another 30 minutes. Plus the time you spend walking around the palaces.
I spent 4 hours at the Alhambra and had a baby with me. We arrived at 4pm and left when it closed at 8pm. Looking back, this was the ideal time to visit.
4. WAITING IN LINE
Waiting in line (in general):
When I read up on the Alhambra I got the impression that I would spend A LOT of time standing in line.
I found this not to be the case!
At the main entrance, there were two people in front of me. I probably spent around 30 minutes in total standing in line, and I visited in June in the afternoon, which is said to be one of the busiest months and times of day.
Waiting in line for the Nasrid Palace:
When you walk up to the Nasrid palace, you’ll see a huge line. Don’t freak out. It goes away pretty quick. This is what you need to do: If you have an appointment at say 7pm (that’s what I had), you need to get in line at around 6.40. Although the line seems hopelessly long, don’t worry, you will get in for the time you have booked. As you will notice, guards are walking past the line asking people when their appointment is for. They do this to make sure you’ll get in, and that the line is only for people with this time slot and not the next.
5. ITINERARY FOR THE ALHAMBRA
You can see the attractions at Alhambra in whichever order you like. As long as you’re at Nasrid for your booking time! They’re very strict about it so don’t be late. Otherwise they won’t let you in.
CHARLES V PALACE (oval building)
Most people begin at the Generalife, because the other attractions are located next to each other. Generalife or The Palacio de Generalife was a summer palace for the kings of Granada when they wanted to get away from the official affairs of the palace. If you visit during the late spring and summer, you’ll see lots of beautiful and colourful flowers there.
The Generalife Gardens include the Jardín de la Sultana (Sultana’s Garden or Courtyard of the Cypress), and the Patio de la Acequia (Water-Garden Courtyard), which has a long pool framed by flowerbeds, fountains and pavilions.
Alcazaba is a fortress and the oldest part of the Alhambra. It dates back to the 9th century, but the current complex was built by Mohammed I, who lived in the fortress along with his successor Muhammed II. Once the palaces were finished, the Alcazaba was only used as a fortress for military purposes.
What to see at the Alcazaba:
- The Armas Square
- The Adarves Garden
- The Vela Tower
- The view of Granada (especially from the tower)
Charles V Palace
Charles V, king and elected emperor, decided to build his palace in the Alhambra, because it was a Muslim citadel conquered by his grandparents, the Catholic Monarchs. The construction of Charles V Palace began in 1527 and were totally finished in 1957 – the building was sometimes neglected to such an extent that the ceilings collapsed. It’s the most important Renaissance building in Spain.
And now to the Nasrid Palace – the main attraction at the Alhambra. There are three buildings inside the Nasrid:
- The Mexuar is the oldest hall. It was employed for meetings between the ministers of the king and as a courtroom.
- The Palace of Comares is where the king lived. Inside is the Courtyard of the Myrtles (with a bright green pond) and the Hall of Ambassadors (where the throne was) and the Hall of the Boat.
- The Palace of the Lions (the main courtyard).
5. WHY IS ALHAMBRA IMPORTANT?
Well, aside from the fact that it’s regarded as one of the finest palaces from its era and therefore declared a UNESCO site, the Alhambra is quite impressive on its own. It was once home to royalty and the surrounding gardens are just stunning. Plus, it’s the most visited monument in Spain.
6. WHEN TO VISIT (SEASON AND TIME OF DAY)
Best season? You’ll get the most out of your visit by going in late spring or summer. That way you’ll see the full extent of the beautiful gardens. However, this is also the high season, so there will be more people there.
Morning or afternoon? A lot of tours go in the morning, so people try to avoid the crowds by going in the afternoon. I went at 4pm and booked the Nasrid for 7pm. I think this was ideal because people were starting to leave around 6.
7. HOW TO GET THERE
You have several options for getting to Alhambra from Granada:
Taxi: 6 Euro (each way). This is the easiest and most convenient way to visit.
Bus: Take the C3 bus behind the statue of Isabella and Columbus. For 1.2 euros you get a ride up the hill almost to the front entrance.
Car: Parking is 5.45 euros for 3 hours, 7.00 euros for 4 hours. It takes about 15 minutes from Granada by car. When you enter the parking lot, you get a ticket. Remember to pay at the machine in the parking lot before you leave.
Walk: Start at Plaza Nueva and follow Cuesta de Gomerez. When you reach the Gate of the Pomegranates, turn left and continue until you reach the Puerta de la Justica (Gate of Justice) entrance at the Alhambra. It’s a steep walk, but you can make it there in 15-20 minutes.
8. CAN YOU BRING CHILDREN TO ALHAMBRA?
Yes. That said, you should know that you can’t bring a stroller into the Nasrid Palace or Generalife. There are special areas to keep the strollers while you’re visiting the Nasrid, but that, of course, doesn’t help you with managing your child. There are free baby carriers where you can store the stroller. The staff will help you adjust it.
9. DON’T TAKE A GUIDED TOUR
At least 90% of all visitors are on guided tours. They move fast and simply have no time to enjoy the beauty of the Alhambra. Your best option is to either go on your own or to hire a private guide, which gives you the history you need and the time to enjoy it.
10. WHERE TO EAT
After spending 2-3 hours visiting the sites of the Alhambra, you’ll probably be tired and hungry. You won’t have many options, though. The best bet is to visit the Alhambra Parador which is a hotel right inside the Alhambra in an old monastery. It’s a simple restaurant with a decent menu with Spanish and more typical tourist choices.
There’s also a kiosk and a small vendor next to the Alcazaba, but that’s more for snacking and water.
And there you have it, a guide to visiting the Alhambra, Granada. I hope you enjoyed reading, and do let me know in the comments if you have any questions.