Visiting the Alhambra in Granada: Spain’s historic gem

Inside the Alhambra in Granada
Image by Sharon Mollerus via Flickr

Ah the Alhambra! Located in the beautiful city of Granada, Spain, this stunning architectural masterpiece reflects the rich history of Andalusia. With its awe-inspiring palaces, lush gardens, and mesmerizing tileworks, the Alhambra is a must-see destination for travelers who want to see the best of Moorish architecture. In this article, I’ll guide you through the wonders of the Alhambra, helping you make the best of your visit to this incredible UNESCO World Heritage site.

key takeaways

  • The best way to visit the Alhambra is to see the Alcazaba first, then head to the Nasrid Palaces and end the visit with the Generalife Gardens.
  • You need between 3 and 5 hours to fully enjoy the Alhambra. Expect to spend about 1,5 hours just for the Nasrid Palaces.
  • The best way to get to the Alhambra is either use the public bus or walking there. If you choose to walk expect a rather steep uphill climb.
Visiting the Alhambra in Granada: Spain's historic gem

Let’s get this out of the way first. You can visit the Alhambra on your own, with a group tour, a small group tour or a private guide.

A Glimpse into History

Exploring the Nasrid Palaces

Exploring the Nasrid Palaces within the Alhambra complex is an enchanting journey into the heart of Moorish opulence. It is the best-preserved medieval Islamic palace in the world, and it comes as no surprise that it is the country’s most popular attraction. (Who wouldn’t want to feel like Jasmine in her palace?)

As you venture through the complex, you step through a doorway and witness a burst of light before your eyes. Suddenly, you find yourself in a courtyard adorned with beautifully decorated, multicolored tiles. Once again, you feel the warmth of the sunlight on your skin and the gentle breeze brushing against your ears.

Mexuar Alhambra
The Mexuar, Image by Kent Wang via Flickr
Mexuar in the Alhambra
The Mexuar, Image by Kent Wang via Flickr

It’s tempting to rush to the next room in excitement, but taking your time allows you to truly appreciate the stunning geometry of the building.

Get ready to be transported to a world of intricate beauty

The Mexuar is the first hall you’ll encounter. The room impresses with its ornate ceilings and delicate arches, although the low ceiling may feel a bit oppressive.

As you move further, everything opens up in the Comares Palace. Inside its Court of the Myrtles, you’ll be surprised by its grandeur, with the large pool in the middle becoming one of the most famous images of the Alhambra.

However, the true gem lies within the Court of the Lions. The rich colonnades surrounding the beautiful feline fountain leave you wondering how such lavish decorations were crafted on such delicate structures.

On average, people typically spend around 1 to 1.5 hours to explore the Nasrid Palaces.

Court of the Myrtles, Alhambra
Court of the Myrtles, Image by Sharon Mollerus via Flickr
Court of the Lions
Court of the Lions, Image by Sharon Mollerus via Flickr

The Generalife Gardens

Situated on the eastern side of the complex, the Generalife Gardens serve as a tranquil oasis amidst the grandeur of the Alhambra. These gardens are an absolute highlight of the complex, showcasing the essence of Moorish landscaping.

The gardens are divided into three main sections: the Lower Gardens, Upper Gardens, and the Courtyard of the Water Channel.

  • The Lower Gardens captivate visitors with their stunning flower beds and graceful fountains.
  • On the other hand, the Upper Gardens offer panoramic views of the Alhambra complex and the picturesque surrounding landscape.
  • And then there is the forever favorite, the Courtyard of the Water Channel, which enchants travelers with its elegant design and abundance of blooming flowers.

Depending on your pace, exploring the gardens can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.

Visiting the Alhambra in Granada: Spain's historic gem

Buy your ticket for the Alhambra Palace (Includes Alcazaba, Nasrid Palaces and Generalife). They really do sell out, don’t wait!

Courtyard of the Water Channel
Courtyard of the Water Channel, Image by Kent Wang via Flickr
Lower Gardens of the Generalife
Lower Gardens, Image by Kent Wang via Flickr

The Alcazaba

Occupying a prominent position on the western side, the Alcazaba is a large fortress within the Alhambra complex.

Its distinct architectural style and robust structures stand in stark contrast to the delicate elegance of the Nasrid Palaces. Stepping into the Alcazaba transports you back in time, as you find yourself surrounded by remnants of towers, walls, and military structures. It’s easy to imagine being in a different era altogether.

A visit of the remarkable fortress typically takes approximately 30 to 45 minutes.

Alcazaba, Malaga
Alcazaba, Image by Kent Wang via Flickr
Alcazaba, Alhambra
Alcazaba, Image by Kent Wang via Flickr

Architectural Details and Artistic Features

The Alhambra is known for its beautiful architectural details that never fails to impress travelers. It may be tempting to touch the delicate stucco, but the museum has put up a special presentation where visitors can appreciate (and touch!) the intricate work of the tiles, wood carvings, and stucco without wearing out the art of the complex.

While traditional Western Art may not have regarded garden art as a distinct form, it held great reverence in the Islamic world. This is why the meticulously manicured hedges, vibrant flowers, and serene water features take center stage within the Alhambra.

Lions in the Alhambra
Court of the Lions, Image by Niss Rajapakse via Flickr
View of Granada from the Alhambra
Image by Kent Wang via Flickr

Practical Tips for Visiting

Lastly, make sure to wear comfy shoes when you visit the Alhambra. The complex is quite extensive and you’ll be doing a lot of walking. It’s important to have shoes that won’t hurt your feet. This way, you can have a pleasant visit without any discomfort.

In what order should you visit the different parts of the Alhambra?

There is in fact a recommended order in which to explore the different sections of the Alhambra Complex.

It is recommended to follow one of these “itineraries”:

  • Alcazaba – Nasrid Palaces – Generalife
  • Nasrid Palaces – Alcazaba – Generalife
  • Generalife – Alcazaba – Nasrid Palaces

This order is recommended because the entrance to the Nasrid Palaces is located right beside the Alcazaba, and it wouldn’t make sense to separate the two. By following one of these itineraries, you can efficiently explore the famous Andalusian Complex.

I personally think it is a better idea to save the gardens for last. There is no better way to conclude a visit to the Alhambra than by strolling through the Generalife Gardens, with the sweet scent of flowers filling the air.

Granada Gate
Image by Sharon Mollerus via Flickr
Inside the Alhambra
Image by Güldem Üstün via Flickr

Best pictures spots in the Alhambra

Photography lovers visiting the Alhambra can find two amazing spots to capture beautiful pictures.

  • The first one is the Partal Palace, which is located north of the Generalife Gardens. This spot offers a captivating view with its lush greenery, detailed architecture, and a peaceful pool reflecting the palace. It’s a scene that photographers will surely appreciate.
  • The second spot is the Court of the Lions, found within the Nasrid Palaces. This courtyard is famous for its intricate design. The interplay of light and shadow, the detailed tilework, and the majestic lion sculptures all add a touch of enchantment to the photos. It’s a great spot to capture the magical atmosphere of the Alhambra.

Alhambra Tickets and Guided Tours

To visit the Alhambra, you can buy tickets either online beforehand or at the ticket office on the day of your visit. It’s a good idea to book online, especially during high season, to make sure you get the date and time you want. People even go as far as to suggest you buy the ticket as soon as you know when you’ll be staying in Granada.

Remember, you can only enter the Nasrid Palaces during the specific time slot mentioned on your ticket.

While a slight delay might not be an issue, arriving more than a few minutes late could result in denied entry.

Taking a guided tour of the Alhambra can make your visit even better by giving you more information about the complex’s history. The guides are passionate about their job. They love to explain small details, and give you a better understanding of the different parts of the complex. They will help you understand the meaning behind the buildings, gardens, and artwork. Tours can also help you manage your time. That’s a good way to make sure you see the most important parts of the Alhambra.

Visiting the Alhambra in Granada: Spain's historic gem

Guided tours are available in English, Spanish, French, Italian and German

Alhambra Night Visit and Evening Tours

The Alhambra becomes even more magical under the moonlight.

The illuminated palace and gardens become truly magical, with the soft glow of the lights highlighting the intricate details of the walls and creating a romantic atmosphere. The evening visit allows for a peaceful and intimate experience as there are fewer people around. Another highlight of the night visit is the breathtaking views of Granada from this vantage point.

However, it’s important to note that it’s best to visit the Alhambra during the day to fully appreciate the architecture and details before it gets dark. Indeed, some areas are restricted during the night visit.

I suggest you do the night visit only if you’ve been to the Alhambra before.

Night Visits

Nasrid Palaces Night Visit

  • From 1st April to 14th October
    • Tuesday to Saturday: 10 p.m. to 11.30 p.m.
  • From 15th October to 31st March
    • Friday and Saturday: 8 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.

Gardens Night Visit

  • From 1st April to 31st May
    • Tuesday to Saturday: 10 p.m. to 11.30 p.m.
  • From 1st September to 14th October
    • Tuesday to Saturday: 10 p.m. to 11.30 p.m.
  • From 15th October to 14th November
    • Friday and Saturday: 8 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.
The Alhambra in the evening
Image by Kent Wang via Flickr
Visit the Alhambra by night
Image by Kent Wang via Flickr

Combining Alhambra Visit with Other Attractions in Granada

Combining your visit to the Alhambra with other attractions in Granada can be a great idea to make the most of your time in the city. One nearby attraction to consider is the Albaicin. The neighborhood is known known for its narrow winding streets, quaint architecture, and stunning views of the palatial complex.

Another popular place is the Cathedral of Granada, a beautiful building displaying a stunning mix of Renaissance and Spanish Baroque architecture. Go up the bell tower is great for nice views of this romantic city.

If you want to make things easier, you can buy the Granada Card. This card gives you access to many attractions, like the Cathedral, Capilla Real, Carthusian Monastery, and more. (A full list can be found here.) With the Card, you can enjoy 48 or 72 hours of access, letting visit the main sights at your own pace.

Remember that when you buy the Granada Card, you need to choose a start date and a specific time to visit the Alhambra.

Alhambra Opening Hours and Entrance Fees

General Admission to the Alhambra complex costs 19 EUR. This includes access to the Nasrid Palaces, the Generalife, and the Alcazaba. You can buy ticket here.

The opening hours of the Alhambra change depending on the time of year:

  • From 1st April to 14th October
    • Monday to Sunday: 8.30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • From 15th October to 31st March
    • Monday to Sunday: 8.30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Updated June 13th 2023

Visiting the Alhambra in Granada: Spain's historic gem

Buy your ticket for the Alhambra Palace (Includes Alcazaba, Nasrid Palaces and Generalife). They really do sell out, don’t wait!

Visiting the Alhambra in Granada: Spain's historic gem
Image by anellagrange via Instagram
Visiting the Alhambra in Granada: Spain's historic gem
Image by anellagrange via Instagram

Best Time to Visit the Alhambra

To have a better experience, it’s usually a good idea to visit the Alhambra early in the morning or in the late afternoon. That way, you can avoid the big crowds and the heat of the day.

It’s also worth considering going on a weekday or during the spring or autumn seasons when there are usually also fewer people around. Doing this, you can have a more relaxed and pleasant time exploring the Alhambra.