Granada is one of my favorite cities in Spain and the place I go every time I need a few days off. I have been to this city so many times that I have learned all about the non-touristy things to do in Granada. Besides getting lost on purpose on the cobbled streets of the old Albayzin and getting free tapas with each glass of drink I order, I also like to dig deeper into its history and discover the Granada off the beaten path. For me, Granada is special!
How to get to Granada
Reaching Granada from the United Kingdom couldn’t be easier, with daily direct flights to either Federico García Lorca Granada Airport or to Malaga Costa del Sol Airport. Granada Airport is the most convenient one to fly into, but the airfare costs are much higher than flying to Malaga. From Costa del Sol Airport there are many direct buses to Granada which will take you there for only 10 euros. It’s important to book in advance though, as at peak times the seats can sell out quickly.
There are many cheap flights that you can book through JustFly, that will take you from London to sunny Malaga Airport, usually for prices than range around the £50 mark for a return.
Where to park in Granada
If you choose to hire a car and drive to Granada, keep in mind that parking is very costly. You are not allowed to enter the historical centre with your car unless you live there, or your hotel is located in that particular area. Hotels are charging anything between 13 to 20 euros a night extra for parking.
There are a few public parking garages outside the city centre, but they are costly as well. If you are planning to stay only in Granada, then you shouldn’t worry about driving here. Public transport is very reliable, and the city centre is walkable.
Where to stay in Granada
You would be surprised how cheap it is to stay in Granada, even at four stars hotels. I have checked out quite a few on my many trips to Granada, so here are my hotel recommendations, split on budgets.
For a luxury experience, Barcelo Carmen Hotel is a perfect choice of where to stay in Granada. The four stars hotel is located on one of the main avenues of the city, opposite the Corte Ingles mall. The rooms are spacious, modern and…. Very affordable! I paid 60 euros a night to stay here in July. The hotel has a beautiful rooftop bar with views over the entire city and the Alhambra. There is a pool on the roof as well but it’s very small.
For a mid-budget I recommend Hotel Saray, a beautiful decorated hotel just outside the main touristy area of Granada, near Palacio de Congresos. The rooms are very beautiful, some with views over the Sierra Nevada mountains, with large flat screen TVs and plenty of space to move around. The hotel is decorated in an Arabic style, with an outdoors pool and a spa at the ground floor. This hotel has the best deals for room + parking when you book the package through Booking.com. I paid 60 euros for a night here, including parking, at the beginning of December. You can read the reviews of the hotel on TripAdvisor.
If you are on a budget, I recommend one of the many apartments in town. When you travel with your friends or family, it makes sense to book an entire apartment rather than separate hotel rooms. When I travelled with friends in Granada and we booked such an apartment, we paid 80 euros each for a four nights stay.
Where to eat in Granada
For a delicious and very cheap breakfast, head over to Mummo, where you will find the best tostadas in Granada. Mummo is a very small café with a few tables outside, a couple inside, and plenty of space at the bar.
Whenever I go to Granada, I never book breakfast with my hotel because I know I will end up having tostada with jamon and cheese at Mummo. I am actually looking forward to it every time I book another trip to Granada. Italian coffee and the best tostada I ever had in Spain, what more to ask for? Oh, and did I mention that I never pay more than 5 euros for breakfast here?
I stopped by this place to have some tapas before attending a flamenco show and I kept going back over and over after. As I was there to eat and not drink and have free tapas, I ordered from the menu, which is very cheap. Plus, they bring extra food when you order drinks anyway, even if you have ordered food as well.
The tapas were delicious, full of flavour and great ingredient combinations. You can actually see how they make the tapas in the kitchen behind the bar, so you know that they are always fresh. I highly recommend the tropical avocado with prawns, the artichoke hearts with garlic and the fresh cheese with sundried tomatoes.
Located just above Santa Ana Square, this modest restaurant is great for people watching whilst resting from a long walk. El Rinconcillo is very small, with only a few tables outside (there might be more on the inside, but I never went in, I always had my tapas outside), and sells very cheap drinks, which all come accompanied by free food.
The tapas they serve are mostly comfort food, so expect taste over looks.
Posada del Duende
This restaurant is not at all one of the best places to eat in Granada, but it is for sure one of the quirkiest you will encounter. I ended up eating here after a late night out in the city, when most of the other restaurants closed already. Just around the corner from my hotel I stumbled upon this place and upon enquiring if it’s still open, a jolly old waiter welcomed me in. Upon research I found out that this small restaurant has been operating for over 40 years. I might be wrong, but it seemed family run, with very welcoming staff who looked like they’ve been working there since the beginning!
Stepping into this restaurant is like going back in time, when bullfighting was still an important Spanish tradition. The walls are covered with photos and memorabilia from the old days, rustic barrels and entire shelves filled with bottles of wine, candlesticks and cow bells. Pots of different sizes are hanging from the ceiling. There is even an antique cash register in a corner.
Posada del Duende serves typical Andalusian tapas and specialises in Rabo de Toro (Ox’s tail). As it was quite late, I ordered just some tapas and wine. As I mentioned before, the food wasn’t exceptional, but the experience surely was.
For a drink with a view, go to B Heaven, the rooftop terrace of Barcelo Carmen Hotel. The drinks are cheap and the views over the city superb, especially at sunset. Unfortunately, – or maybe I visited on the wrong day -, the food disappointed. From the menu I can only recommend the tropical salmorejo, with mango, avocado and cherry tomatoes, which tasted divine. The rest of the dishes I ordered are not worth mentioning, as they were overcooked.
The deconstructed pina colada dessert and the cocktails were nice, so you can’t go wrong there.
Non touristy things to do in Granada:
Explore Granada on a free walking tour
The best way to learn about what things to do in Granada is through a free walking tour. I was surprised to see that most of the travellers who joined the free walking tour of Granada were very young, mostly backpackers.
A free walking tour is not only for people who travel on a budget, on the contrary. The people who run the free walking tours are certified guides, often have studied history in university, and are working hard to make everyone in the tour happy. The tours are based on tips, so their goal is to receive as much income as possible at the end, by offering a high-quality product. Plus, they are locals so if you have any questions, they will be able to give you answers and many tips such as where the locals eat or what secret places you should visit.
The first thing that I did when I arrived in the city for the first time was to join the free walking tour, so that I can map the best things to do in Granada in my mind and follow through with them the next days.
I have taken the free walking tour of Albayzin with Walk in Granada, a company practicing responsible tourism through respecting the people of the neighbourhoods visited, protecting the environment and promoting local consumption. They run accessible tours and also paid experiences such as cooking classes, hiking trips and a unique olfactory tour around Granada. Walk in Granada also supports local development projects with part of their earnings, and I think that’s pretty cool!
Discover the Sacromonte neighbourhood and visit a house in a cave
Sacromonte is the highest part of Granada, famous for the touristy flamenco shows that happen here after dark. Sacromonte is however worth discovering by day as well, when some of the caves open their doors to visitors in exchange for a modest fee of 1 euro.
Sacromonte is a merely 20 to 30 minutes’ walk from the centre of Granada, uphill, so most tourists don’t really reach this point. When I explored the area, I barely encountered other people besides the locals.
Sacromonte is part of Granada off the beaten path, special because all the houses here are build in caves dug inside the hills. The origin of the caves is not really clear, but what is known is that sometimes during the 16th century the locals expelled from their homes by the Spanish Inquisition were forced outside the city walls. Here they adapted and created homes by carving inside the hills.
Today many people live inside the caves from Sacromonte, which they have adapted and brought electricity to. An interesting thing to know about these caves is that the temperature inside remains constant, winter or summer, so there is no need for air conditioning or heating.
Go on a food tour
I always say that one of the best ways to learn about a country’s culture its though its food. Granada is a very interesting city because it blends in so well four different cultures that have influenced the local gastronomy a lot by introducing spices and oriental flavours.
The best way to experience and learn about the local cuisine is through a food tour. I have taken the Spanish Sherpa’s Food Tour back in December and wrote about my experience with them here, which I recommend as a good way of tasting a lot of local delicacies but also learn about Granada and its history.
Visit the local market
The local San Augustin market has changed so much from my first visit to Granada. Now there are restaurants and tapas bars inside, you can even order your food at a stall and get it cooked and delivered to you whilst you sit at a table, outside.
The market has a great selection of foods to buy for home as well, such as fish and olives kebabs, manchego cheese or jamon iberico. I do recommend visiting the market to buy your dinner from here one day, especially if your hotel has a balcony where you can enjoy it in the open air.
Explore the secret gardens of Granada
The beautiful Moorish district of Albayzin is filled with beautiful secret gardens that offer stunning views over the Alhambra. They are usually called “Carmen”, which is a word derived from the Arabic language meaning garden covered with vines. Carmen is often used in Granada to describe a villa with a hidden garden.
Because in the carmens of Granada you won’t hear any other sounds but the ones of birds singing and the water flowing, they are pure oasis of relaxations. They have ponds where peacocks and ducks come to bathe, landscaped gardens, statues and fountains with fresh water. Some of the most impressive hidden gardens of Granada are Carmen de los Martires, Carmen de la Victoria and La Fundación Rodríguez-Acosta.
Go for tapas like a local
Tapas in Granada is not just a free plate of food that you get when you order a drink but a proper way of life. Locals like to gather around and socialise over tapas, often skipping dinner. The beauty of tapas is that you always share with your friends the little plates that are brought to you.
Tapas can be literally everything, from little pieces of bread topped with jamon to slabs of Spanish tortilla, from slices of Manchego cheese dripped with olive oil to boquerones (anchovies marinated in vinegar), from croquettes filled with ham or shrimps to plates or black quid ink rice.
The more drinks you order in the same place, the better the tapas that come out are. And don’t imagine that drinks are experience, usually a pint of beer will be around 2.5 euros, and a glass of wine around 2 euros.
Head down to Arco de las Pesas
Most tourists don’t adventure besides Mirador San Nicolas. If you walk further and go down the hill on the opposite side of the viewpoint, you will reach Albayzin Bajo, a lovely area to walk around, with plenty of inviting local terraces and restaurants.
Plaza Larga, the main square of this area, is dominated on one side by the Arco de la Pesas, which once used to be one of the gates of the city. One of the first examples of Hispanic-Muslim architecture, built in the 8th century, the gate was part of a defence wall that is still standing today.
Visit a perfume cellar
I am not sure what drawn me inside this small perfume shop from Carrera del Darro, but I am so glad I discovered it. Located in an old 16th century Renaissance palace, Patio de Los Perfumes has an underground museum where you can learn about the history of fragrances and how they used to be made in the Nazari times.
They run guided tours inside the museum, but I visited it on my own, just pass through the shop and go downstairs to the cellar. If you are interested in natural perfumes, you might want to join one of their masterclasses in which a French thought perfumer will guide you into making the perfect fragrance that suits your taste.
The beautiful patio of the palace has been transformed into a botanical garden which includes a large collection of herbs, aromatic plants and flowers, which you can enjoy over a cup of tea.
Smoke shisha and enjoy a Moroccan mint tea in the Arab neighbourhood
Browsing through the shops from the Arab Quarter is one of the must things to do in Granada. Here you will find plenty of Moroccan lamps, leather shoes, colourful bags and beautifully patterned rugs. Among them, there are also plenty of tiny teterias, which are practically Moorish tea rooms serving shisha, mint tea and Arabic sweets.
Teterias in Granada usually have an exotic décor, with dimmed lights, pillows to sit on, low tables and opulent colourful decorations. They are great places to relax whilst puffing from a shisha and sipping from an exotic tea blend.
I recommend finding a teteria that is outside of the main touristic streets, for an authentic experience.
Enjoy an authentic flamenco show in Granada
Everyone knows that when you visit Granada you have to go to see a flamenco show. And there are so many choices, some including transport, some including dinner. If you haven’t seen a flamenco show before you will enjoy it, but my recommendation is to go to an authentic performance, not to a touristy one.
The flamenco show from the Palacio de Los Olvidados is pure art and passion, without any distractions. Museum by day, the 16th century old Palacio de Los Olvidados becomes and intimate performance space by night, with only a handful of tickets available for each show, so everyone gets a close view, close to the stage.
The artists on stage are so passionate, living every moment of the flamenco art. I have seen other flamenco shows before, but this one has blown me away with how much emotion the dancers and singers managed to transmit to me.
After the show I went for a glass of wine and not long after, the performers came to the same place as well. Call that a coincidence! 😊
If you want to see an authentic flamenco show in Granada, Palacio de Los Olvidados is the place to go to. You can check availability and buy tickets for the show here.
Relax at Hammam Al Andalus
Relaxing at Hammam Al Andalus is one of the top things to do in Granada. As I mentioned before, Granada is a very walkable city, with plenty of going up and down the hills. Only visiting the Alhambra will take all the energy out of you, so a visit to the Hammam in the evening is required.
I experienced the Arab baths from Hammam al Andalus after a long hiking trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains, when a relaxation session was more than required. The hammam is built on the ruins of what seemed to be an old Arab bath which, destroyed in the 13th century.
The hammam session that I experienced and about which you can read here included a kessa massage and two hours of using the pools, which all have different temperatures. You can book a session at Hammam Al Andalus by clicking here.
Watch the sunset from Mirador San Miguel
Most of the tourists go to see the sunset from Mirador San Nicolas, the famous square from where you can see the Alhambra right in front of you. For a more majestic view, head over to Mirador San Miguel, which is in front of the little church with the same name, up the hill.
The problem with Mirador San Nicolas is that it gets so crowded that you can barely take a photo or see anything. There are tourists, street performers and it’s just not that nice. To reach Mirador San Miguel you have to walk uphill for a bit, but the road is so beautiful, passing along white houses decorated with blue flowerpots out of which red geraniums pop their heads out.
Only locals gather here in the evening, to watch the sunset whilst sipping from a home brought beer. It is a very peaceful and romantic place and the view is so much better than from Mirador San Nicolas. Click here for a map with the location, which you can save in your phone and see directions to, when you are in Granada.
Go hiking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
If you have more than three days in Granada, I suggest going on a day trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Los Cahorros trail, which starts in Monachil, is a wonderful way to experience different spectacular landscapes that the highest mountain range of Spain offers. The beauty of this hike is that you can either take the more harder circular route or stop half way, which is mostly flat.
The hike starts in the village of Monachil and follows the river with the same name into a deep canyon with fantastic views. Many people follow the trail and stop along the way to have a picnic or to bathe in the river.
If you want to do the circular path, keep in mind that the uphill part can seem impossible on a hot day (been there, done that, learned my lesson). Even if you carry plenty of water and your head is covered, it will still feel difficult to reach the top. On a cloudy day, however, is perfectly manageable.
Tickets to the Alhambra are getting sold out four months in advance and if you didn’t book one, the chances of getting one of the few released daily at midnight, are slim (check here though, you might be lucky). However, don’t get discouraged and not get up the hill to the Alhambra. You only need a ticket to visit the inside of the Moorish fortress, the outside is free.
Tickets for Generalife are usually available on the day and I highly recommend you visit these beautiful landscaped Narid Gardens. In the 13th century, when it was built, Generalife was an oasis where kings of Granada used to come to relax and get away from the official matters.
Generalife is one of the oldest examples of Moorish gardens, in which you can spend hours without getting bored.
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Have you been to Granada? Would you like to go and explore these non touristy things to do in Granada I mentioned above? Do you have other suggestions on how to visit Granada off the beaten path? I’d love to know your opinions in the comments below.
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