Granada’s Alhambra needs no introduction – this fascinating testament to the legacy of the Moors in Spain is famous the world over. It’s open both at night and during the day, but when is best to visit the Alhambra? Well give you the inside scoop so that you can make up your own mind.
Fly into Malaga airport and it’s a short hour and a half drive on a motorway to Granada. We’d booked a Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 Z for our road trip with Auto Europe which had ample storage space for our luggage. It handled the road in style and made for a really comfortable ride. Picking it up was an easy process and soon we were on our way.
We’d reserved the Hotel Alhambra Palace via Keytel, the knowledgeable Spain specialists who also look after the Paradors. where we’d be staying for the next part of our trip. We chose it partly for its location a few minutes walk from the Alcazar and partly for its stunning Moorish inspired decor. Most of the hotels are located down the hill in town, but it’s a great time and energy saver to be so close. Then we headed into town to pick up our tickets to the Alhambra.
The view from our bedroom towards the town and over the valley was impressive. As for the room itself, it was comfortable and well appointed with a flat screen TV.
The bathroom tiles really fitted with the Moorish atmosphere of the hotel.
And the lobby was magnificent – little wonder that the hotel’s panoramic lounges have actually been landmarked by UNESCO.
The Alhambra itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its name means Red Castle in Arabic. A palace was built on the site in the 11th century and in the 13th and 14th centuries, Nasrid emirs created the fortress-palace that we know today. After the Christian reconquest, the mosque was replaced with a church. To make sure that you obtain tickets to the Alhambra, which are in high demand, make sure to book at least several weeks in advance. There are actually a few hundred tickets available each day for those who queue first thing, but you wouldn’t want to take that chance, would you? You can of course pick your tickets up from the main Alhambra entrance but if you happen to be in town anyway then you have two options for collection:
1) Alhambra Bookshop at Calle Reyes Católicos nº 40, open 09.30 to 20.30, where there’s a collection machine – it was broken on the day we visited so we went to the next option:
2) Caixa Bank branches and cash machines if you have pre-paid online. We found one near the Cathedral and picking up the tickets here also meant that we could head straight in via the Justice Gate in the evening and skip any queues.
Whilst in town, we admired the old bridge over the Rio Darro…
And the local sense of style – they learn how to good from a young age here!
We then walked back up the hill…where I spotted this mural that matched my outfit rather well!
To Carmen Aben Humeya restaurant, where we feasted on tapas whilst admiring the incredible view of the Alhambra.
We then met up with the lovely Molly of Piccavey for a cocktail at our hotel before our evening Alhambra visit. She’s originally from the UK but has lived in Andalusia for many years and her blog is a mine of information on the area.
Our Alhambra evening tickets were booked for 10 pm so we first headed to the nearby Parador hotel for tapas, where we had a prime view of the Generalife during the mythical golden hour…it was literally glowing. Wrap up warm if not visiting in Summer as most of the palace is exposed to the elements.
It was indeed a cold evening and there was nowhere to wait inside close to the Alhambra and no toilet facilities. They do open those up eventually, but only at 15 minutes to ten, so I’d either recommend taking a taxi up just before your visit or having a late dinner close by…although that’s actually quite early by Spanish standards! The palace itself does look spectacular by night, from the Alcazaba military fort, the oldest part of the Alhambra…
…to the Palacio de Carlos V, the most important Renaissance style building in Spain. The emperor Carlos had a wing of the palaces destroyed in order to construct this palace.
Once you’re inside the Nasrid Palace itself, there’s no time limit on how long you can stay so it’s worth letting the crowds go first and hanging back a little. The intricate medieval wood and stucco carvings display phenomenal attention to detail.
And of course, the colourful tiles are great photo opportunities 😉
The next day, after a hearty breakfast in the magnificent dining room, we returned to the Alhambra for our 10 am slot.
The selection of food at our hotel was fantastic – salmon, meat, cheese, cereals, bread, cake and healthy salad.
The advantage of a day time visit is that it’s considerably warmer, though likely to be more crowded. There is courtyard after courtyard to explore, including the Court of the Myrtles, the focal point of the Comares Palace, one of the Alhambra’s three palaces – the other two being the Palace of the Lions and the Partal Palace.
It’s easier to see the detail of the carvings during the day too.
Plus you’ll get to see parts of the gardens that are closed at night time.
And in the daytime, you can also book entrance to the Generalife. This palace was used as a retreat by the occupants of the Alhambra.
Whilst the interior is considerably smaller than the Alhambra, the gardens are gorgeous and irises were out in force at the time of our visit.
Although we enjoyed both visits, I personally preferred the day time visit and if short on time I’d go for that one again. Have you visited Granada and when do you think is best to visit the Alhambra? Now it’s time to move on to the next destinations on our road trip – Jaen, Ubeda, Carmona, Cordoba and Seville for our DSLR photo tour!