The Wonders of Alhambra

Our last day in Granada was to accomplish one main goal: To finally see Alhambra. The official website has been updated and is far more user-friendly now but when we were booking tickets in May of 2017, it was far more difficult due to the information and navigational structure of the site. Now they make it very clear and I have outlined the details below.

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TIP #1:
Alhambra General (includes Nasrid Palaces) Entrance Fee: €14
Gardens, Generalife, and Alcazaba Entrance Fee: €7
Night Visit to Nasrid Palaces Entrance Fee (Palace only): €8
Night Visit to Gardens and Generalife Entrance Fee: €5
You can purchase tickets online in advance (highly recommended) here

Because Granada wants to protect the integrity of Alhambra (too much foot traffic contributes to the degradation of the city structure), tickets are limited each day. The tickets that include entry to the Nasrid Palaces is even more limited as it requires a timed entrance and they tend to sell out the quickest.

IMPORTANT NOTICE:
If you schedule a timed entry for the Nasrid Palaces, please be prompt – if you miss your entrance time, you will not able to enter at all

One alternative if you are unable to get your hands on the Alhambra General ticket is to purchase the Gardens, Generalife, and Alcazaba ticket for the day and purchase a separate Night Visit to Nasrid Palaces ticket for the evening. You cannot leave Granada without seeing the palaces – it’s undoubtedly the highlight of this entire attraction.

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We ended up booking a private tour (at a much higher cost) for Alhambra. I thought I was being the smart planner by visiting in early May because tourist season isn’t usually until late May and all throughout the summer. Boy, was I wrong. I was booking our tickets in advance and realised that all the tickets that allowed a timed entry for the Nasrid palace were sold out. For the entire first week of May. Tickets without entry to the palaces were available but the whole point was to see the Nasrid architecture!

PRIVATE TOUR OF ALHAMBRA:
Granavision Private Tour: $423.36 (for 3 people)
Total per person: $141.12
You can book the private tour online through Viator here

Fortunately, I did manage to find a tour that still had spots available and while it was far more expensive to do so, it was our final, exhausted option to be able to see the palaces. It allowed us to skip the entrance line and while the tour is 2.5 hours long, you are more than welcome to stay inside and explore Alhambra until 14:00.

We met our guide at 8:45am to start our tour at 9am. She explained to us that Granada actually means “pomegranate” in Spanish, which is the official symbol of the city. When you enter Alhambra, there is a male pomegranate tree greeting you.

FUN FACT:
Male pomegranate trees only grow flowers – only the female trees bear the fruit!

 

We started our visit in the Gardens because our timed entry to the Nasrid Palaces was at 10:30am. You would think that after all the gardens we’ve visited and all the flowers we’ve seen that we would be tired of going into another garden but the Gardens in Alhambra are pretty special. Our guide told us that there was a logic to the layout of Islamic gardens as traditionally they were constructed to be a cool place of rest and reflection (a reminder of paradise) – in contrast to Western-style gardens that were designed for walking. As such, there are three levels to an Islamic garden: garden, fountain, and pavilion. They are structured in a way that you can appreciate the symmetry in designs and the geometrical patterns while seated on the chairs that normally surround a garden such as this. The symmetry reflects order and authority, which probably allows more room for thought-provoking contemplation.

 

Once we finished with the gardens, it was time to enter the palaces. No matter what happens, it is imperative that you purchase a ticket that includes entry to the palaces because it’s one of the highlights of Alhambra! The way the palaces were constructed, the intricate carvings and detailing of the ceilings and the walls – are so fascinating. One example is the large carved doors that are left open in the summer months to keep the palaces cool, but they have smaller doors built in so that in the winter, the large doors can be closed and the servants can go in and out of the palaces using the smaller doors. You can also get great views of the city from the various balconies throughout the palace. Honestly, Alhambra is not worth the visit without the palaces.

TIP #2:
If you purchase the day ticket, you are allowed to stay inside Alhambra until 14:00, no matter what – even if you book a private/group tour and the tour is over early

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VIEW OF THE CITY ON OUR WAY TO THE PALACES
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GARDENS
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WELCOME TO THE NASRID PALACES
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THE INTRICATE CARVINGS ON THE WALLS ARE INCREDIBLE

Did you know that there are 10,000 inscriptions along the walls of the palace? Some are poetry, some provide information on construction dates, and according to our guide, one sultan wanted his conquests immortalized onto the walls of the palace. The Arabic scripts can be found everywhere throughout – and while I cannot read Arabic, seeing the carved strokes, I cannot help but admire the artistry and beauty of the writings.

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SOME INSCRIPTIONS CONTAIN PHRASES LIKE “THERE IS NO VICTOR BUT ALLAH”, WHICH APPEARS FREQUENTLY
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I JUST LOVE THE SYMMETRY OF THE CARVINGS
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SOME OF THESE INSCRIPTIONS WERE THOUGHT TO PROTECT THE MONARCH HONOURED IN EACH COURTYARD
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THE NASRID PALACES
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THE COURT OF THE LIONS
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INTRICACIES OF THE WALLS AND CEILINGS
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THIS PHOTO REALLY DOES NOT DO THIS CEILING ANY JUSTICE
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REFLECTION OF LIGHT THROUGH THE STAINED GLASS WINDOW
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ROOM LOOKING OUT INTO THE COURTYARD
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“I DO NOT KNOW WHAT TO CALL THIS LAND UPON WHICH I STAND. IF WHAT IS BENEATH MY FEET IS PARADISE, THEN WHAT IS THE ALHAMBRA? HEAVEN?” – LOPE DE VEGA
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VIEWS OF THE CITY FROM THE PALACE BALCONY
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DOESN’T THE VIEW REMIND YOU OF GAME OF THRONES?
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FISH PONDS THAT CAN BE FOUND THROUGHOUT THE GARDENS
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IF ONLY I COULD WAKE UP TO VIEWS LIKE THIS EVERY DAY…
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GRANADA MAY NOT BE THE MOST COLORFUL CITY BUT IT IS DEFINITELY ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING ONES…
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THE VIEWS ARE ALMOST SURREAL…
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ALCAZABA
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THROUGH THE FOREST AND THE TREES
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ALHAMBRA IS SURROUNDED BY A FOREST WHICH MAKES FOR AN INTERESTING LANDSCAPE
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CAN YOU SEE THE WINDING STREETS OF THE ALBAICÍN?
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I LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU AGAIN SOME DAY…

After spending the day in Alhambra, we went back to the main plaza to grab lunch. Bar Los Diamantes is a fun and casual tapas bar where everything is made to order. We completely forgot about the free tapas that come with the purchase of every drink so we did end up with a little too much food. Some of the items we ordered were: chipirones fritos (fried baby squid), pulpo a la Gallega (Galician-style octopus), calamares fritos (fried calamari), tomate (seasoned tomato), boquerones (anchovies), chuletas de cordero (lamb chops), and gambas fritas (fried shrimp). And because we still had some time to kill before our visit to the Arab baths, we grabbed some helado on the way!

 

TIP #3:
Midra – 30 Experience: €211,56 (for 3 people)
Total per person: €70,52
You can book the services online here

You cannot visit Granada without a visit to one of the Arab baths. We had reservations to Hammam Al Ándalus Granada, one of the best traditional Arab baths in the city. There are various options at this hammam but we opted for the “Midra – 30”, which is a “Water Journey” accompanied by an exclusive 15-minutes massage and a full 15-minutes ritual with purification on a hot stone bed. While you are waiting for the masseuse, they let you lie down on a hot stone fountain and look at the ceiling – it is so unbelievably relaxing. Once it is time for you to receive the massage, if you prefer a strong massage, be sure to let your masseuse know. Otherwise, it might end up being a soft massage (which unfortunately happened to one of my friends and she was very unsatisfied). After the massage, there is a steam room and three pools as various temperatures (one cold, one medium, and one very hot) that you can spend the rest of your visit enjoying. Guests are allotted 90 minutes for their visit so with our Midra – 30 package, we were able to spend an hour in the pools and the steam room. There’s also a tray with refreshing tea that you are welcome to drink.

IMPORTANT:
Swimsuits are required for the visit to the hammam. If you do not own one, they also sell them at the front desk for €12

Once we finished our Arab baths experience, it was time to head back to our Airbnb and take a cab (which cost us about €34) to the airport for our flight to Barcelona. I couldn’t resist grabbing one more helado for the road. I think this is a city definitely worth visiting – just from the free tapas alone! I shall miss you Granada – some day I will be back!

FLIGHT:
GDX (Granada) to BCN (Barcelona)
Cost: €39,99 one-way
Direct Flight

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