A Weekend in Granada

With the quaint city of Cordoba in our rear view mirror, Granada was our next destination. I was extremely excited to see what this city had to offer, especially since my sister, Abby, had told me I would love it after her visit four years ago.

We arrived Friday evening and were greeted with rain and chilly temperatures. We struggled to find a free parking spot on the street, so we settled for an expensive parking garage and found our hostel from there. We stayed at Oasis Backpackers hostel, which I would highly recommend to all young travelers. It had an open kitchen, a bar within the hostel and the rooms were very nice and clean. Also, the hostel organized many activities guests could sign up for such a city tours and cave hikes. Since the weather was so dreary we ate some tapas and called it an early night.

The next morning we woke up and headed towards the cathedral, the second largest in Spain after Sevilla’s. The architecture was from the Renaissance period, so it was different from many churches in Spain. It was bright, mostly white, and had extremely high ceilings similar to the cathedral within the Mezquita. The cathedral was nice, but there was nothing that differentiated it from other cathedrals. To our surprise we arrived to the cathedral and immediately saw an extremely long line formed at the entrance. After asking around what this line was all about we soon realized a festival was going on, the “Festival de los Virgenes”. Everyone was waiting to visit the cathedral because inside were all of the “Virgen” floats (from Semana Santa) from all of the churches in Granada. The floats were all extremely intricate and beautifully decorated. There were about 25 floats in the cathedral and they would all be carried through the streets later that day.
Float in the Cathedral
After grabbing some Mexican food for lunch, we headed back to the area of the cathedral to visit the Royal Chapel. The Royal Chapel is small chapel that is home to the tombs and coffins of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand along with Philip the Fair and Juana the Mad, Isabel and Ferdinand’s successors. Isabel and Ferdinand basically created Spain by bringing unification to the previous regional kingdoms and also funded the voyage for Christopher Columbus. Their tombs were carved in Italy in 1521 and are made entirely of marble. They were incredibly big, about the size of a king-sized bed with Isabel and Ferdinand resting on top. A stairway below the tombs led to a little window to view the coffins. Unfortunately I was not allowed to take pictures, but you can see what the inside looked like here.

Men are underneath carrying this float

Next we walked along the river that runs below the Alhambra. We took in some great scenery, enjoyed a glass of wine and witnessed a double rainbow before heading back towards the center to catch a peek at the parade. The parade drew a lot of people into the streets to see the “Virgens” all lit up with about 40 men carrying the sometimes 2000kg floats on their shoulders around the streets. This parade was rather short, but during Semana Santa these men would carry these for around eight hours. Rather than thinking of it as a tiring, monotonous task, carry a float is a privilege to them.

the river

The group with the rainbow in the background

The next morning we awoke early to make our entry time for 9:30 at the Alhambra, a UNESCO world heritage site. The fortress was built in 889 and converted to a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, the Saltan of Granada during the last centuries of Moorish rule. The Alhambra grounds and Charles’ V palace are free to visit, but for the Nazrid Palaces and other sites a ticket is necessary. To see everything encompassed within the Alhambra is 13 euros, and definitely worth the money.

Once 9:30 hit we entered the palaces and began our self-guided tour with the help of Rick Steve’s book. The little architectural details of this palace are what makes it amazing. Arabic words are inscribed all over the walls, and the phrase "only Allah is victorious" is inscribed 9,000 times throughout the entire palace. Water and gardens are present everywhere because according to the Quran, a lush garden is the symbol of heaven. When walking from room to room, I had to make sure I looked up to take in the amazing ceilings that looked like colorful honeycombs. Each room served a different purpose whether it be a throne room or a living room. I tried to imagine day to day life in this palace with the Sultan laying on pillows, smoking hookah, and relaxing in this astounding, colorful palace.

the honeycomb cielings

The next part of our tour took us to their Alcazaba constructed in the 13th century; however it is possible that a roman fort stood there before. This fortress was less exciting since it was mostly ruins, but it provided us with some amazing views of Granada. Retracing our steps through the Alcazaba we headed to the palace of Charles V. This building was nothing special, only a circular courtyard in the center with rooms and two museums on the outside. Our visit ended with the gardens and the Generalife, a summer palace. The gardens of the Alhambra were breathtaking, inviting me to just sit a while and not leave. The flowers were in full bloom and water pools and fountains were everywhere. These gardens are said to be the best in all of AndalucĂ­a, and I could not agree more. Not only were the gardens well manicured and picture perfect, they also looked out onto the city of Granada and the palaces and Alcazaba of La Alhambra.

Charles V palace

the view of Granada
The gardens looking onto the rest of La Alhambra

Inside the Generalife
The Generalife was constructed during the reign of Muhammad III in 1302 as a summer palace. It is a much smaller residence, but is full of water and beautiful flowers as well, a place I would love to spend my summers. In 1492 La Alhambra was overtaken by the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel and Ferdinand, ending the Moorish rule. A lot of Moorish influences are still seen throughout the city however, such as the little markets in the streets similar to what I found in Marrakech. There are also a lot of restaurants that have the Moroccan vibe as well.

La Alhambra at a distnace

Granada is a picturesque city, mostly due to La Alhambra. It has a very relaxed vibe and small city feel, but is different from many other Spanish cities due to its Moorish influence. It is a city to just wander through and visit all of the small shops and get lost in the small streets.

1.     Two days in Granada would be perfect because La Alhambra can take up a good half of the day to visit completely.
2.     Book the Nazrid Palace tickets ahead of time. I tried to book them online via Ticketmaster a week before our visit and they were already sold out. We then opted for the BonoTuristico card that got us in to everything in La Alhambra, the Royal Chapel, the Cathedral, monasteries and allowed us five free rides on the bus. I felt like this was a great deal, especially since all of the tickets were sold out online.
3.     Besides La Alhambra, Granada has few sites to see, but is more of a city to just wander around in and enjoy its culture.


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