Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the charming Andalusian city of Granada is one of Spain’s most coveted travel destinations. From marveling at views of the majestic Alhambra to walking the cobblestone streets of the Albayzín or Sacramonte, experience all the fun things to do in Granada, Spain, with this complete attractions guide for first-time travelers!
What to do in Granada
Explore the historic Alhambra
Ready to dive into the heart of Granada? Dash straight for the Alhambra. Whether you’re spending one day in Granada or a leisurely week, this UNESCO World Heritage Site promises to mesmerize and is a must-see while roaming through Andalusia.
Once a mighty fortress, the Alhambra was transformed into a magnificent royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. Within these very walls, the Spanish king and queen—Ferdinard and Isabella—gave Christopher Columbus the nod to embark on his legendary expedition.
While it’s no longer used as a palace, the Alhambra still beckons you to wander its grand halls, scale its imposing towers, and lose yourself in its enchanting courtyards. Bring your camera to snap plenty of photos of its fine architectural details, archways, and stunning tilework.
A heads-up, though—with its allure among tourists, there might be a long wait if you’re planning on visiting The Alhambra. For the most hassle-free experience, I’d recommend getting there as early as possible or picking up a skip-the-line ticket before your journey.
Stroll through the beautiful gardens at the Generalife
Dive beyond the famed Alhambra to explore the nearby Generalife. A former summer palace for the Nasrid rulers, the Generalife was once connected to the Alhambra via a covered walkway. Today, only a quaint ravine stands between the two palaces.
Stroll through Jardines del Generalife. The meticulously manicured gardens are set with vibrant flowers and aromatic plants. Follow the paths to the Patio de la Acequia to admire the reflecting pools that were once an oasis for Nasrid rulers.
End your visit to the Generalife by climbing the steps to the Palacio del Generalife to marvel at the intricate Moorish tilework, stucco reliefs, and arched windows. Pause a moment to take in the sweeping views of Granada from the palace’s elegant balconies.
Travel back in history with a trip through Albaicin
Take a step back in time in the Albaicin (Albayzin), Granada’s old Arab quarter. Located on a hill north of the Darro River and above the Centro, this ancient neighborhood showcases the city’s rich Moorish history.
Start exploring the Albaicin at the Mirador de San Nicolás. At this famed lookout point, a mesmerizing view of the Alhambra awaits, perfectly framed against the Sierra Nevada mountains. Join the tourist crowds to snap the perfect photo as the sun paints golden hues on the palace walls.
After capturing a stunning city view, stroll through Plaza Larga, the neighborhood’s bustling heart. Indulge in local treats at the vibrant markets or sip on traditional Andalusian tea at a nearby café. There’s also a handful of great local restaurants nearby to tackle all your food cravings.
Dive into history at the El Bañuelo. Also known as Aammim Alyawza (Baños del Nogal), these ancient Arab baths date back to the 11th century. Enter to marvel at the beautiful Arab-style arcades & arches and star-shaped skylights.
TIP: I’d highly recommend visiting the Mirador de San Nicolás at sunset to capture its most stunning views. Judging by the crowds when I visited, this isn’t much of a “hidden gem,” but it’s a worthy one to add to your travel plans :)
Visit the royal tombs and view historic artwork at the Royal Chapel (Capilla Real)
If you’re a history and architecture buff, don’t miss the chance to step inside the Royal Chapel (Capilla Real). Resting in the heart of Granada’s vibrant Centro, this historic chapel is an architectural gem. The Capilla Real de Granada dates back to the early 1500s and features the late Gothic style architecture that was popular at the time. It stands as the final resting place of Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella.
Before you enter the Royal Chapel, marvel at its beautiful exterior. Spot the intricate carvings, especially along the upper floors. Step inside to marvel at its intricate Gothic architecture and soaring ceilings. As you wander, trace the delicate carvings, frescoes, and large stained-glass windows painted in the 16th century.
Immerse yourself in the chapel’s impressive art collection, showcasing masterpieces from the Spanish Renaissance. Browse artwork from Queen Isabella’s personal art collection, including paintings by the legendary Botticelli.
Explore the Capilla Real crypt, where the tombs of Spanish monarchs (including Ferdinand and Isabella) lie, along with the sarcophagi of other Spanish nobles.
If you need a pause, find a moment of peace in the intimate prayer rooms. Let the serenity envelop you as the delicate stained-glass windows cast colorful shadows.
Marvel at the beauty of Granada Cathedral
After admiring the Royal Chapel, walk around the corner to experience the grandeur of the Granada Cathedral. As soon as you lay eyes on this massive church, its majestic Renaissance façade beckons you to explore.
Take a moment to admire the Renaissance-style architecture at the exterior. Its rounded archways and circular windows provide a stark contrast to the Gothic architecture of the neighboring chapel.
Step inside Granada Cathedral to be awed by massive pillars stretching skyward, culminating in a striking dome. Saunter down the central nave lined by chapels adorned with ornate altars, gold and silver artifacts, and paintings. As you move about, stop to appreciate the intricate stained glass windows. Each pane paints a vibrant picture and casts multicolored hues onto the sacred space.
The Granada Cathedral is open seven days a week, with hours varying on Sundays and Mondays. Admission to the church is €5. (You can book your tickets in advance here.)
Catch authentic flamenco dances in the Gypsy Quarter (Sacromonte)
Venture into Sacromonte, Granada’s vibrant gypsy quarter, to feel the beat of Spain’s most authentic flamenco rhythms. Nestled upon rugged hills, this neighborhood promises an experience like none other in Europe.
Begin your visit to Sacromonte by wandering the winding alleys, where whitewashed cave houses merge seamlessly with the rocky landscape. Wander past homes, restaurants, cafes, bars, and even art studios carved straight into the hillside.
Hungry for history? Explore the Museo Cuevas del Sacromonte. Unearth tales of the gypsies who have called these caves home for centuries and get a glimpse into their unique way of life.
As the sun dips, the real magic begins in Sacromonte. Follow the sounds of flamenco guitar and passionate claps to intimate tablaos. Catch a fiery flamenco performance to witness the passionate tradition firsthand! Popular options in the area include Cueva La Rocio and Venta El Gallo.
Wrap up your day by gazing at the Alhambra, beautifully lit against the night sky, from one of Sacromonte’s many vantage points, including the Mirador de Sacromonte.
TIP: Although the views from here aren’t quite as spectacular as from the Albayzin, I’d still recommend snapping a few photos from here for your Instagram. Peering up at the winding streets among the white-washed buildings is still magical in its own way :)
Study science with the family at the Parque de las Ciencias
Traveling to Granada with kids? Embark on a voyage through time, space, and science at the Parque de las Ciencias! Located in the Figares neighborhood, this massive complex is one of the top family-friendly destinations in Granada. It’s a pleasant 20- to 30-minute walk from the heart of the city.
Stride into the Parque de las Ciencias to bring your inner scientist to life. Tinker with interactive exhibits designed to make kids and adults alike question, ponder, and marvel at the world around them.
Discover the mysteries of the universe in the Planetarium as 7,000 stars project onto the ceiling. Explore the planet’s biodiversity in the BioDomo, a tropical oasis teeming with exotic flora and animals from around the world. Wander through the butterfly pavilion to watch these delicate insects flutter above your head.
For tech enthusiasts, dive into the world of tomorrow with cutting-edge robotics and innovation zones at the Techno-Forum Pavilion. And if you’re traveling with kiddos, the children’s workshops are a treasure trove of fun-filled learning.
To finish your visit, climb up to the top of the 50-meter-high Astronomical Observation Tower for a spectacular bird’s eye view of Granada.
Hike in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
The city of Granada lies at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. If you’re in the area and looking for fun outdoor activities, one of the most popular things to do in Granada is to go hiking in this mountain range. Take a day out of the city and enjoy filling your lungs with the fresh mountain air while getting a solid workout.
If you’ve only got time for one hike in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, make it the Vereda de la Estrella. Located just 24 kilometers east of Granada, the Verede de la Estrella dips into a valley, showing beautiful views of the Mulhacén, Alcazaba, and Veleta mountain peaks. The hike is about 18 kilometres out-and-back and takes about six hours. You can find the trailhead near the Barranco de San Juan parking area just outside the village of Güéjar Sierra.
Don’t feel tempted to exercise? There are also off-road tours of the mountains in four-wheel-drive vehicles. While you get to rest your feet, be prepared to bounce around as you ride over the rugged terrain.
Make sure that you set aside enough time for your trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These trips vary from short excursions in 4WD vehicles to full-day hikes through the mountainous terrain.
End your trip with a tapas-hopping tour in the Centro
Spain is known for tapas, which are small appetizers that are typically served with beer or wine at local bars. Depending on which region you’re focusing on during your Spain travel itinerary, you’ll find a wide variety of fried foods, cold treats, and spicy snacks.
In Granada, many of the local taverns and bars serve free tapas when you order a drink. Toward the end of your stay, spend an afternoon touring the city, hopping from tavern after tavern while tasting tapas. Keep an eye out for favorites like Iberico ham, manchego cheese, patatas bravas, and baby squid.
You can start your tapas-tasting tour in the Albaicin and work your way through the rest of Granada. You can also find some interesting appetizers in the Gypsy Quarter at the top of the hill.
If you’re tight on time, the streets east of Calle Gran Vía de Colón and Plaza Nueva in the Centro are home to a multitude of cool traditional tapas bars. Among my favorite spots in the area were the rustic-chic Bar La Riviera (Calle Cetti Meriem 7) and seafood-focused Bar los Diamantes (Plaza Nueva 13).
Where to stay in Granada for sightseeing
Unlike other larger Spanish cities, choosing where to stay in Granada doesn’t need to be a massive chore. For travelers intent on checking out the city’s top destinations, I’d recommend sticking to central areas like the Centro and the old Arab quarter in the Albayzin. Here are a few excellent hotels to start your search…
- Catalonia Granada: A value-laden choice sitting in a prime location in the city center. The rooms here are spotless and modern, with select rooms offering a relaxing private terrace for guests.
- Hotel Santa Isabel La Real: A charming hotel situated in a historical building within Granada Old Town. The rooms offer a glimpse into typical Andalusian home design with their rich wooden finishes and tiled floors.
- Eurostars Catedral: This fantastic mid-range hotel ups the style game in Granada with its ultra-modern furnishings and wealth of guest amenities, including a gym, spa, and Turkish bath. Granada Cathedral is just minutes away by foot.
- Hospes Palacio de los Patos: Occupying a former 19th-century palace, this luxury hotel is among the top picks in Granada for anyone looking to add a dash of sophistication to their stay in the city. Luxurious extras here include a sauna, Turkish bath, indoor pool, and massage service.