A Guide to Visiting the Alhambra, Granada
The History Behind the Alhambra
Translated from Arabic for ‘red castle’ the Alhambra gets its name from the iconic stone that can be seen from all points of Granada. As something that began life as a small fortress in just 889, The Alhambra has come a long way since then. In the 13th century the Alhambra first became a royal residence to it’s first king, Mohammed ben Al-Hamar. Under the rule of Charles V (Charles I of Spain) in 1527, it was reimagined to become an imperial residence. Similar to the Mezquita in Cordoba, the Alhambra bares a mix of Islamic and Christian influence on the design and structure.
How to Visit the Alhambra
Gaining a UNESCO world heritage title in 1984, visiting the Alhambra is now more popular than ever. With admission limited to just over 6,000 tickets daily, demand often exceeds supply. Forward-planning is definitely advisable here! We booked online two months in advance and tickets were already in high demand. There are some tickets available on the day but you can expect to wait hours before being granted access. The best option is to book online and print off your own tickets ahead of the visit. Even if you have bought passes online or over the phone and choose to collect the tickets in person, there are long queues to gain them.
Admission is €14 for adults and €8 for children aged 12-15. Although children under the age of 12 can access for free, they will still need a ticket. The tickets are split into two times, either morning or afternoon, with 2pm being the dividing hour. We visited in the morning at the first opening for 8:30am to give ourselves time to explore without needing to rush. Queues were already very large to get in even this early, so although you’ll never be without fellow tourists for the photographs, it is definitely quieter.
There are also special night visits you can book for a reduced entry fee, however this will only grant you access to the evening session. Be sure not to miss your allocated entry slot for any ticket as you won’t be allowed access at a later time, or a refund.
What to Expect from the Alhambra
As an ancient fortress of Islamic kings, the Alhambra, as you might expect, certainly has an impressive grandeur about it. Today it’s considered to represent the greatest masterpiece of Moorish architecture and decorative art in the world. The Alhambra is also the most popular tourist attraction in Andalusia and it’s easy to see why.
There are three main areas to the Alhambra, all of which are ticketed. The Alcazaba fort has the most amazing views over Granada, be sure to take a break at the top and admire the vista. The Nasrid Palaces are the most beautiful part of the Alhambra and where you’ll find the most ornate features and impressive architecture. For a moment of calm head to the Generalife, a smaller summer palace with gardens. All areas are strictly enforced time controlled zones. Although it’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of the Alhambra, make sure you keep an eye on the time and don’t miss your slot.
The Best Places to See the Alhambra
With the Alhambra being located on top of a hill, with a view across the whole city, it’s no surprise that the best views are equally as high. Be prepared to walk and take good shoes, Granada wasn’t built for heels!
Pass beneath the Alhambra, down the Cuesta de los Chinos, a cobblestone path that descends into the main city. From here head back up into the hills towards to Sacromonte neighbourhood. An area filled with winding roads and cave-homes that were once inhabited by gypsies, these offer impressive views across to the Alhambra.
From Sacromonte, take a walk through the winding labyrinth of the Albaicin; home to narrow alleyways, cobbled streets and small plazas. Walking through here is almost like being back in ancient Moorish times as you wind to the top. The steps here are also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, just like the Alhambra.
Working your way up to the top you’ll reach San Nicolas Square, the best views of the Alhambra face on. Take a seat on the ledge over the edge as you catch your breath and soak in the impressive scale of the Alhambra overlooking the city. Here you’ll quite often find musicians playing traditional Spanish guitar whilst locals join in dancing, the perfect backdrop to ancient Granada.