Alhambra is the crowning glory of Granada and in a lot of cases the sole reason why people venture to this Andalusian city.
If you’re planning a trip to this UNESCO World Heritage Site, in this article, you will find everything you need to plan your visit and avoid some common mistakes.
Visiting the Alhambra
Alhambra is one of the most popular monuments in Andalusia (and Spain), and as a result, is predictably crowded.
In the summer months, over 6000 people visit this monument each day, so a bit of planning will save you a lot of time and frustration. Nobody likes standing in the summer heat and hoping to get the tickets.
The whole Alhambra complex consists of a few major landmarks – Palacio Nazaries, Palacio de Carlos V, Generalife Gardens and Alcazaba.
As you start your trip, the best place to begin is the Palacio Nazaries as that is the main attraction and gets busy the fastest. That’s also the only part of Alhambra where you need time-specific tickets to enter.
Tickets to Alhambra
If you can, book your tickets to Alhambra in the quiet months outside of the main season (the main season being June – September).
If not, book well in advance to get the earliest tickets available, to avoid the summer heat and the crowds at the same time.
There are 6600 tickets available each day, a portion of these is sold on the spot by the gate and the rest online.
Online you can book in advance up to three months, and it’s highly recommended that you do so. The tickets need to be printed and validated by the entrance (important: you need to bring your ID too!).
If you were out of luck and can’t get tickets to Alhambra, in most cases you can still get a separate ticket to Generalife, or the night visit to Alhambra.
Bonus tip: The general areas of the complex can be accessed free of charge at any point, by entering through the Puerta de la Justicia (but you can’t get inside the buildings, just take a walk around).
Access to Alhambra
There are a few ways to get to Alhambra, and I would not recommend repeating the mistake that I did – glancing on the map and deciding to navigate the winding forest roads leading up to the entrance.
By small tourist bus: These small red buses are available on several routes and provide easy access to Alhambra, I took one from Plaza Nueva. The tickets cost 1.40 euros one way, and you can find more information about them here. The bus number connections are C30 (Alhambra – Centro), C31 (Albaycin – Centro), C32 (Alhambra – Albaycin), C34 (Sacromonte – Centro).
On foot: Walk up the Cuesta de Gomerez from Plaza Nueva (a small hidden alleyway just off the main square), which will lead you to Puerta de la Justicia. You can enter from here if you already have a ticket, otherwise, you need to locate the ticket office.
By taxi: The taxi journey is pretty short and it won’t cost a fortune. I think we paid around 7-8 euros to get to the main entrance in Alhambra (I returned for an afternoon visit of Generalife after seeing Palacio Nazaries & Alcazaba in the morning).
By car: You can access the complex via Av. Santa Maria de Alhambra which leads to a roundabout and parking access. You can also drive up from the other side, via P. del Generalife.
Parking: There is a dedicated parking lot a bit further out from the Alhambra complex marked on the map below.
Entrance to Palacio Nazaries
As you enter the complex, it’s not very clear where to get inside the palace or even to start exploring.
There are very limited sign displays. Luckily there are helpful guides that will navigate you to the correct spot.
The tickets are checked on the courtyards between Alcazaba and Palacio Nazaries, and you can enter the palace from there.
In there you will also find a small kiosk where you can buy coffee, drinks and small refreshment. It’s a great place to stop halfway through your visit and enjoy some gorgeous views with a cold drink.
Short History of Alhambra
Alhambra takes its name from an Arabic word that translates as ‘the Red Castle’ (because of the outer walls of Alhambra).
The first traces of a palace on this site date back to the 11th century. Between the 13th and 14th centuries, Nasrid emirs transformed this palace into a fortress complex which was adjoining the village next to it (now only ruins remain).
In the 15th century, after the Christian conquest, a church is built on the grounds. They also added the Convento de San Franciso, which has been transformed into the hotel Parador de Granada.
During the Napoleon occupation, the grounds of Alhambra have been used as barracks and much of the complex was nearly destroyed, but now beautifully restored to its original glory.
In 1829 Alhambra was discovered by an American writer Washington Irving during his stay in Granada. He wrote ‘Tales of Alhambra’ and described Granada as ‘a most picturesque and beautiful city, situated in one of the loveliest landscapes that I have ever seen’.
Tour of Alhambra
Let’s start with the tour, shall we?
Patio de Los Arrayanes (Court of the Myrtles)
This is one of the first outside courtyards you will see as you start exploring the palace.
It was built in mid 14 century, with rooms placed around the courtyard overlooking the rectangular pool in the middle.
Patio de los Leones (Courtyard of the Lions)
The patio was built in the second half of the 14th century with the lion fountain taking the center stage. The fountain features 12 marble lions and dates back to the 11th century.
The courtyard is a prime example of the complexity of Islamic geometric design – the column and architectural designs are placed around the courtyard in a way that they are perfectly symmetrical from multiple angles.
The walls of the courtyard feature intricate work and beautiful designs.
If you’re visiting early in the morning, it’s absolutely tranquil – all you see is the sun just peeking from behind the building, hear the sound of the trickling water from the fountains and birds gathering above the building.
Sala de Los Hermanas
This breathtaking room is crowned by a dome ceiling with 5000 small moulded stalactites.
Arabic calligraphy is displayed on the intricately decorated walls.
Mirador de Lindaraja
Through the passage, you will enter this lookout facing one of the inner courtyard gardens and a long balcony with stunning views of Granada.
The viewing then continues to lower floors and eventually out to the gardens.
The Palace Gardens
I have first mistakenly thought these are the Generalife gardens, when in fact those lie at the far end of the Alhambra complex (quite a bit of a walk away).
The gardens next to Nazaries are part of the Jardines del Partal complex, featuring a big pond with a few smaller ones and immaculately planted roses and other shrubs.
Continue Your Visit of Alhambra
I have added sections on Alcazaba and Generalife Gardens as a separate post due to the sheer size of them, and admittedly, too many photos!
Check them out here: