A Stress-Free Alhambra Day
To many travellers, the name “Andalusίa” evokes exotic views of deep gorges, high bridges, winding streets, quaint structures, and a medieval culture that remains vibrant against the march of time. There is a certain grandness in being there. One place in which this grandness is most evident is within the famous Alhambra Palace, located in the Province of Granada. From a small Roman fortification in the olden times, the structure was expanded into a fortress by an Emir back in the 13th century. From there, it was conquered by the Spaniards and used to house the court of the nation’s royalty. New structures were annexed to the original one, leading to the UNESCO World Heritage site that tourists love today.
But Alhambra is notorious not only for its beauty, but also for its complexity. It is so easy to be lost within the structure, or at least to miss some of the good stuff. This guide will map out the best sites and route within the fortress, to make sure you get the best out of your visit!
The Many Alhambras, and How to Get In
Because of its history, the Alhambra is not just a single large building. It is a complex, and touring all the best parts will easily take three or four hours of your time. There are three major ticket points within this complex, where you need to show your ticket in order to proceed:
- Nasrid Palaces. A tourist favorite, this is one of the best parts of the complex. It lies after the Convent of San Francisco, from the Entrance Pavilion. Its entrance is highly restricted, and you have to plan your visit carefully to be there when the time of your reservation comes. This is why it is highly recommended to go here first. Pick up your tickets before your visit and head straight here, so you don’t go through the thick crowds at the Entrance Pavilion. Early morning visits are best because of the view. We picked a 9 am schedule. Luckily, we lived just across the entrance to the Nasrid. Don’t forget, it’s still about 15 minutes to walk to the Palace so go early. We had breakfast right after.
- This portion offers an unrivaled view of Granada and a good part of Andalucίa. It sits right next to the Nasrid Palaces.
- This includes a smaller palace and great gardens. It is actually the closest to the Entrance Pavilion among the three, but it lies on a different path from the Nasrid Palaces and Alcazaba.
Despite the sheer size of the complex, there is a limit of 6,600 visitors who can set foot in Alhambra each day. This may seem like a lot, but these tickets sell out very early. In fact, some visitors book up to 3 months in advance! It is advisable to do the same, especially if you will be going in the peak season. While it is possible to get last-minute tickets during winter, at other times of the year it is extremely difficult. We came in April, and by then the crowd is not yet the thickest. And yet, it was already impossible to get tickets on the spot!
To buy your ticket, you can go to Ticketmaster’s website and go to the section for the Alhambra. There are two good options:
- Alhambra General. Lets you access all the main highlights of the complex.
- Alhambra at Night – Palaces. Lets you take a night trip through the Palaces, but not the gardens.
The toughest part of buying tickets is choosing the time of your visit. You’re given a choice between morning and afternoon, then a separate, specific time for the Nasrid Palaces. Whichever window you choose, you can enter anytime within that window and pass through the final ticket point before the window is up. For Nasrid, only 300 people are allowed to enter every half hour. That means you must enter within the 30-minute window your ticket says. This is particularly tricky during the peak season! The peak comes around March to October, so it’s also best to schedule your trips away from these dates.
In case your preferred dates are already booked, and you absolutely have no alternative (I’m looking at all those who take their precious paid time-outs for a bit of travel), the next best thing is to join a tour group that still has a vacancy on your chosen date.
While the tickets can be purchased online, they still have to be picked up once you enter Granada. The tickets you bought are preferably redeemed at any La CaixaBank ATM once you get in Granada, or at the Tienda librería de la Alhambra office at Corral del Carbón. Of course, if you can’t do that, tickets can also be picked up in Alhambra itself.
Getting Around Alhambra
Here are the top spots you shouldn’t miss, in the ideal order of visit:
Puerta de las Granadas. This is best if you will walk up to Alhambra. The Gate of Pomegranates will lead you through the first step, and take you to the Gate of Justice entrance.
Puerta de la Justicia. This is the perfect place to enter Alhambra and skip the entrance line.
Palacios Nazaríes. On the way to the Nasrid Palaces, this is a great place to relax first. It’s especially good if there’s still some time before your appointed entrance time.
Nasrid Palaces. Enjoy the sights in one of Alhambra’s grandest sections.
Alcazaba. After the Nasrid, you just have to head back a little and check out the magnificent view. Best with coffee from the coffee shop within.
Palacio del Generalife. From the Alcazaba, pass the Palacios Nazaríes again to the Palacio del Generalife.
Of course, remember that not all the great sites are within the complex! Be sure to check out the Catedral De Granada and the Mirador de San Nicolas. The latter offers a breathtaking view of Alhambra in the late afternoon, and shows off the lights of the early evening.
And this is the way to enjoy the Alhambra experience, stress-free!