Granada: The North Africa of Spain

Granada: The North Africa of Spain

Granada, Spain has been on my list for 16 years. In 2007, I backpacked through Europe with stops in four Spanish cities: Madrid, Barcelona, Cordoba, and Sevilla. Unfortunately, due to finances and time, Granada was skipped. Fast forward 16 years, and I finally am able to scratch Granada off of my bucket list.


Granada was the last city to fall to Christian re-conquest in 1492. Muslims (Moors) had ruled the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) for 780 years, and the area ruled by the Moors was called Al-Andalus. The Moorish legacy in Spain includes:

  • Architecture
  • Agriculture and irrigation: The Moors expanded irrigation systems built by the Romans and introduced new crops such as oranges, apricots, lemons, and pomegranates.
  • Arts and culture
  • Language: 4,000 Spanish words have Arabic origins.
  • Math and science: The concept of zero, chess, and the use of numerals came from the Moorish influence in Spain.
  • Education: In the 8th century, 99% of Christian Europe was illiterate. The Moors built 17 top-notch universities in Al-Andalus while Christian Europe only had two universities.
  • Music: Flamenco and Spanish guitar have structural elements that are similar to North African music.

What fascinated me the most during my visits to Cordoba and Seville in 2007 was the merging of Christian and Muslim architecture. However, there are still many buildings that remain purely Moorish in Southern Spain. One such building complex is The Alhambra.

The Alhambra

The Alhambra is a 13th century fortress and palace complex that was built by the Nasrid Kings and is a must see. It is one of the best preserved historic Islamic palaces. I recommend that you purchase tickets well in advance. I bought tickets in the low season, and it was fully booked one week out. If you plan to visit The Alhambra in the high season, you should buy tickets at least one month in advance. I recommend "The Alhambra General" ticket, which includes the Nasrid Palaces, Generalife (summer palace), Alcazaba, and complex grounds. The extra sites included in the "Dobla de Oro General" ticket are free on Sundays. Also, you must choose a time to visit the Nasrid Palaces and you must arrive 10 minutes before your pre-booked time. Note that the Nasrid Palaces are a 10-minute walk from the entrance of the Alhambra. You will need to show your passport and entry ticket. Since I am a resident of Spain, they scanned my NIE card, which had my ticket information. Also, you can purchase a downloadable audio guide for €4 between the Nasrid Palace entrance and Carlos V Palace. If you prefer to use a headset, it is a little more expensive.

The Alhambra is located on top of a steep hill. It is walking distance from Granada city center, but you will want to conserve your energy for the expansive grounds of The Alhambra. There are frequent public buses that will take you to The Alhambra.


Public Transportation

As in most European cities, public transportation in Granada is good. It is recommended that you get the Alsa card, which will save a lot of money. If you use the Alsa card, each ride is €0.45. However, if you don´t have the card and need to pay the driver, the cost is €1.40. The card itself is €2 and then you can add money to the card. You cannot buy this card from the driver; you must buy it from machines located at bus stops throughout the city. I used the machines located on Gran Via Street. The machines have signs that say "credit cards accepted", but the credit card machine did not work on both of the machines that I used to load money.

Machine to buy the Alsa card


Unlike other parts of Spain, namely Madrid, Granada has a proper tapas culture. You will get one proper tapa per drink order, including sparkling water. I would order two tinto de veranos (red wine mixed with lemon Fanta) and one sparkling water, and would get three tapas. The cost was €7.50-€8.50 and that was my dinner. 


Final Thoughts

Overall, I really liked Granada. Prices are very reasonable and there are a lot of things to do. However, a lot of the sites had no explanations. For example, El Bañuelo, which is a 10th century Moorish bathhouse, had no information for visitors. It was literally just the site. I was in and out in five minutes. This was the case with a lot of historic sites in Granada, just a building with no information whatsoever. However, Granada is still a fascinating place to visit. Its history, culture, and cuisine are a must for travelers.

Things To Do

  • The Alhambra
  • Aljibe Del Rey (visitors with no appointment must do a 12:00pm tour)
  • La Cartuja Monastery
  • The Moors Chair (the building is only open on weekends, hours are unknown, great views of The Alhambra)
  • Carmen de los Mártires
  • Casa-Museo Federico Garcia Lorca
  • Basilica de San Juan de Dios
  • Camarin de Nuestra Señora del Rosario Coronada (visitors must do a 12:00pm tour, only in Spanish)
  • Granada Cathedral
  • Royal Chapel of Granada (final resting place of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand).
  • Flamenco show
  • Alcaicería Market
  • Mariana Pineda House Museum
  • Cave Museum of Sacromonte
  • Hammam Al Andalus (AMAZING!)

Bring both cash and credit cards. Some sites only accept cash and others only accept card.



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