Why Granada? Well, I wanted to tick off a sight that’s been sat on my ‘must visit places’ – The Alhambra. I admit that was my sole reason for choosing Granada, but this quirky city surprised me. It’s a unique mix of cultures with a hippy vibe. The food is great, the architecture stunning, and it’s got a great energy going on – I even got flashed at walking down a street – and yep, I’ve popped that in the memory box bank as a moment I’ll never forget about the city!
So, did the Alhambra live up to expectations? Yes, it did. I did a little research, and pre-booked my tickets. I wanted to see this gem as empty as I possibly could, given its popularity, so I booked early morning tickets. Unless you’re happy with getting up an ungodly hour to join the queues without being guaranteed entry, book ahead. If you do miss out, you can still experience parts like the Generalife Gardens, Palace of Carlos V, Central plaza, but the exterior is no match for what you’ll see inside the Palace and it's courtyard. Every corner will leave you in awe. There are few places left in Europe quite like The Alhambra, it really is architecturally beautiful, and it sure is worth having and ticking off your bucket-list.
After being dazzled by the Palace, I wandered through the Generalife gardens – no longer as peaceful as when I first arrived. I felt carefree as I slowly made my way through the gardens; sun on my face and a winter breeze. It has a tranquil feel with perfectly symmetrical pools, calm trickles of water , maze-like hedges and wild flowers and they give a feeling of walking through a secret garden.
My favourite area of the city to wander taking photos and people watching are the narrow streets of Albaicin. These quirky streets really make you feel like you’ve stepped into a completely different city. It’s a safe little area, perfect to get lost in. I found the afternoon light here gorgeous for taking photos. I remember stopping every now to look down an unassuming alleyway. The views were always impressive view; be it a view of the Alhambra, the distant mountains or the pretty tiled rooftops of the city.
I recommend that you enter Albaicin via Calle Caldereria Nueva – just off Calle Elvira. Head uphill and make your way through the lantern shops, Arabic tea rooms, little souk and restaurants. The whole city is heavily influenced by its Moorish roots; you’ll smell tagines, cous cous, hookahs and incense pretty much everywhere, which is what I loved. You were in Spain, but at times, it felt like you’d stepped into Morocco.
You can’t come to Granada without checking out a viewpoint of the city, I’d be disappointed if you did. Head to Mirador de san Nicolas from where you can view the Alhambra at any time of the day. Once I’d checked out this spot mid-morning, I knew I had to return here for sunset. Together with quite a few other visitors, a spirited busker – who set the tone for the evening – and a selfie-stick wielding throng of visitors, we all watched the sun slip behind the Sierra Nevada mountains. I recommend you get here early to claim a good spot on the wall – it’s the best seat!
One of the best things I enjoy about exploring a new place is randomly stumbling into a celebration or a local fiesta – I seem to do it quite a bit and unknowingly too which makes it even more special. Watching locals gather to walk through the cobbled streets of the city chanting prayers and lighting candles to celebrate the festival of Jesu Cristo really was a beautiful moment.
I love to wander a lot when I’m away, take my time and not overly schedule things. I enjoy the feeling of excitement when I’ve stumbled upon hidden streets and little pockets of light. There’s also that feeling of not getting over hyped up and then being disappointed if a place or building doesn’t live up to expectation.
Winter sunshine is my favourite, and the clouds parted quite a bit for me during my days in Granada and I was treated to plenty of warm golden light before it scampered behind the clouds. Making my way to the Carrera del Darro each day had to be a highlight. As I tiptoed along the cobblestones passing the two bridges and century old houses, I felt completely charmed. It’s like wandering around a piece of history. And, even though it’s a popular street, it hasn’t lost any of its romantic appeal.
Now I love people watching, and Plaza Bib Ramla is a perfect rest spot for it. It has a somewhat Parisian style feel to it, and it’s the perfect opportunity for an ice-cream – yes, even in March. I met a lovely local guy here. I have no idea what his name was. I speak hardly any Spanish, and even though he knew this, he carried on speaking animatedly with me for a good ten minutes. Funnily enough on my last day – when I thought I was being inconspicuous taking some photos – he popped up right in front of me. He gave me a huge smile and a ‘hola’ and then continued on his way. I’m glad I got this photo of him (below) as a reminder.
Before visiting Granada, I was curiously intrigued to read about the “free food” – yes, you read right. With every drink you buy, you’ll get a free tapa on the side. It might be something like a toasted sandwich to a poached quails egg – whatever it is, it’s a little surprise and rather tasty.
As you’d expect in a city, there are many cafés and bars, but if you love coffee – cocktails – or milkshakes, and you have to choose one place, please make a visit to Bohemia Jazz Café. You may think this place looks shut from the outside. You may even walk past, but trust me head inside is like stepping back in time to another era. There are old books, gramophones, a typewriter, black and white photos everywhere and movie posters – it’s a trip down nostalgia lane. I have a feeling, if you make a visit here on your first night, it’s pretty likely that you’ll fall in love with the interior and atmosphere of the place so much that you’ll return for another visit during your stay!
Here's a secret to Granada - well, it's not so much a secret, more a tip! If you go for a walk about early morning, there will be nobody around. 8am in Spain is like 6am in the rest of Europe. It's beautifully quiet from tourists and locals, and you'll have the city streets to yourself.