Ever fancied a trip to Morocco but weren’t quite sure how you’d cope with the hustle and bustle? Then a trip to Spain’s Granada could be your perfect test run. This city feels like the illegitimate child of Spain and Morocco.
Just wander the hilly, cobbled streets that snake through the souk-like shops in the Albaicín (old Moorish quarter) — it’s like a bumpy, hassle-free Marrakech without the dust.
Yet, head to the cathedral and sit in a sunny plaza with a frosty bottle of Alhambra Reserva (local beer), and you couldn’t be anywhere else but Andalusia.
Spain’s Granada feels like the ‘illegitimate child of Spain and Morocco’
Where to stay
Room Mate Leo
Part of a group of swish design hotels, Room Mate Leo is possibly the funkiest hotel in Granada — think giant abstract paintings, elaborate gold, leaf-shaped lamps, and geometric wallpaper. Less than 500 metres from the cathedral, it comes with 33 hip, spacious rooms, a sun-drenched terrace, and free pocket wi-fi devices you can carry around the city. Doubles from £52, room-matehotels.com.
Hotel Palacio de Los Navas
On a quiet street close to Granada’s former Jewish quarter, Realejo, sits this 16th-century palace, now an adorable, three-star boutique hotel, with 19 bright rooms, decorated with nature prints and terracotta floors. B&B doubles from £52, hotelpalaciodelosnavas.com.
This 16th-century mansion sits opposite the slow-flowing Darro river, which divides the Alhambra and the Albaicín neighbourhood. All 12 well-finished rooms have tasteful modernist decor (creams, whites and greys). Request one looking out to the Alhambra — you won’t be disappointed. Doubles from £69, shinealbayzin.com.
Once a shelter for pilgrims, now a pretty, three-star boutique hotel with 15 rooms wrapped around a courtyard in a gorgeous 17th-century building. Doubles from £55 (room-only), hotelgaranat.com.
What to see and do
Sign up to a free Walk in Granada (walkingranada.com) to get your bearings before tackling the maze-like streets on your own.
There are three tours, but first-time visitors will benefit most from the Essential Granada tour. On this 2½-hour outing, you’ll saunter around the areas surrounding the cathedral while passionate guides reel off facts, Moorish history and anecdotes that’ll bring Granada to life.
Wear comfortable shoes and carry water, sun cream, and small notes for a tip.
The Alhambra, Spain’s most-visited tourist attraction, sees more than two million visitors a year
The Alhambra, Spain’s most-visited tourist attraction, sees more than two million visitors a year, but don’t let that put you off. This enormous, pink-tinged 13th-century castle, set against the Sierra Nevada mountains, sits on a hill surrounded by broccoli-green trees.
Inside there are ornate Moorish bathhouses, serene Arabian gardens and rooms clad in colourful azulejos tiles.
Tickets are hard to get; book online (£12, tickets.alhambra-patronato.es/en) months in advance. If you’re not a planner, check the website at midnight the day before you want to go, and you might get lucky.
Shop in the Albaicín
Like a lot of ancient cities, Granada was strategically built on higher ground to protect itself from attack. Therefore the city’s old Muslim quarter, the Albaicín, threads its way helter-skelter-like over hills and is well worth a visit.
Here, wafts of sweet incense and fresh herbal tea float through the slender streets as vendors peddle everything from multi-coloured Turkish lanterns and ceramic bowls to Arab clothing and leather bags.
Dip into a tetería (teashop) and treat yourself to a Moroccan mint tea (about £3 a cup) to get the full experience.
The Botanical Gardens of Granada University don’t rival the Alcázar in Seville. However, if you’re looking for a shaded, quiet spot, then this small green space in the city centre is just the ticket. Perch yourself on a bench beside baby lemon trees, cacti and lofty ginkgo biloba trees and take a well-earned breather.
Hammam Al Ándalus
You’re going to want to give your sore legs a break after climbing Granada’s many flights of stairs. What better way to do it than by visiting Hammam Ál Andalus (from £30, granada.hammamalandalus.com/en).
This silent, shadowy Arab bathhouse is housed in an ornate 13th-century building at the foot of the Alhambra Palace. Inside, you’ll find four baths (one ice-cold, one medium and two hot) surrounded by teeny passageways, intricate Moorish ceilings, colourful azulejos tiles, and tranquil rest areas with silver mint tea decanters. The massages are certainly worth the small extra fee.
Observing a flamenco show in Granada is a rite of passage. For a fun but touristy experience, head to La Zambra de María La Canastera to watch flamenco inside one of the hollowed-out caves of Sacromonte (from £20, flamencotickets.com/).
If you want a more authentic experience, call +34 958 227 712 and book a place at Granada’s oldest flamenco theatre, Peña La Platería (about £9, laplateria.org.es), which runs shows at 10pm every Thursday.
Observing a flamenco show in Granada is a rite of passage (stock image)
Where to eat
You’re going to need a good breakfast to tackle Granada’s extreme gradients, so pull up a chair at La Fontana. This tapas/ flamenco bar-come-cafe, blessed with an idyllic sunny terrace, is just a few steps from the pretty Darro river and has Alhambra views (just about). The local breakfast choice is a simple tostada with tomato (from £1)(barlafontana.com).
Don’t expect silver service at this small, tatty tapas bar on Calle Navas. It’s loud, messy and busy, but you don’t come here for a relaxing, sit-down meal. Famous for traditional fried fish, so share a half racion of lightly battered prawns (from £9) or calamari (from £7) for lunch. If you can’t get a table, sit at the bar and bark your order (beers £1.70) at frantic bartenders and see what tapas turn up. Don’t be politely British about it or you’ll be waiting all night, (barlosdiamantes.com).
Hidden away amid the tourist-heavy trail of underwhelming tapas restaurants on the wrong side of Calle Navas, sits a cosy, cavernous bar. Bartenders won’t greet you with open arms, but it’s a place to enjoy no-nonsense tapas, such as grilled pork, rice and fried fish, free alongside a frosty bottle of Alhambra Reserva (£2.60). Calle Navas, 27, 18009.
A typical mid-level Spanish restaurant with marble bar tops, classic, neutral decor, and waiters in black-tie. Tables outside and meaty raciones aplenty (big plates from about £9). But if you want to make the most of the free tapas, pull up a stool at the bar and watch small plates (mini-burgers, local olives etc) appear with every new glass of wine (from £2.40) or beer (from £2), (labotilleria.es).
EasyJet (easyjet.com) London to Granada from £56 return.