Granada‘s Alhambra is one of Spain‘s most popular tourist attractions, and is definitely worth a visit. This hilltop complex of palaces, fortresses, other buildings and gardens is intricately beautiful and packed with history.
However, its popularity means that you’ll need to plan your visit a little, especially if you’re there in summer.
Get your ticket
First of all, you’ll need to get your ticket. In winter you’ll probably be fine just going to the ticket office at the Alhambra itself, but in high season you’ll need to get it in advance. You can do this online at ticketmaster, on the computer in the tourist office, or at the Alhambra bookshop in Granada city. You’ll have to choose between a morning or afternoon entry, and I’d recommend the morning: in summer the heat will be worse in the afternoon than the morning, and in winter a morning ticket gives you more time in the complex.
You’ll be given an entrance time for the Nasrid Palaces, and you must enter at that time. Unfortunately you should be prepared to wait in line to get in despite this traffic-control measure: we had tickets for 11 and noticed people lined up already at 10.45. We joined the line at 11 and finally entered at around 11.20 — the guard was personally staggering entrances.
If you’re on a particularly restrictive budget, or want to visit over two days, you can see a lot of the Alhambra complex for free: the convent of San Francisco, the Mosque Baths, the Church of Santa Maria de la Alhambra and the Palace of Charles V (which includes two museums) can all be accessed without a ticket. When you’re planning what to visit when, take this into account: you must enter the four ticketed areas between the hours of validity of your ticket (before 2pm for a morning ticket, after 2pm for an afternoon one), but you can then spend as long as you like inside. If you’re running out of time, leave the free areas till last, or visit them first (before 2pm) if you have an afternoon ticket.
The Alhambra is an immense complex, and although the average visit is apparently three hours long, it would be easy to spend a lot longer there — we were there for four hours and while we saw everything we wanted to, we could have spent longer in the museums. We also didn’t have an audio guide, and I’m sure we would have needed a lot more time if we’d listened to all the commentaries.Since you’ll be there for some time, you need to be prepared. Walking shoes are a must, even if you catch the bus up the hill — there are a lot of stairs to go up and down, and some floors are quite slippery. A hat or sunglasses are a good idea any time of year, and in summer make sure to wear sunscreen — you’ll spend quite a lot of time outside. For the same reason, if it looks like rain, pack an umbrella.
A small water bottle and a few snacks are also a good idea, but the many water fountains in the Alhambra will keep you hydrated. There are also several cafés and snack bars, but as you can expect, they charge tourist prices — they aren’t terribly overpriced, but it’s certainly the upper end of normal.
However, avoid taking too much with you: in some areas you have to wear your backpacks on your front if they are too big, which can be uncomfortable.
Although the Alhambra is on a hill, it’s a pleasant walk from the city centre. It took us about 15 minutes from the cathedral to the Alhambra ticket office; if you already have your ticket you can enter at the lower entrance at the Puerta de la Justicia, which will save you a good five minutes — and place you right where you need to be for the free areas of the complex.
You can also catch bus 30 from the city centre. It costs €1.20 each way and tickets can be purchased from the driver. The drivers give change, but no more than €10 worth, and it’s always a good idea to have the right change anyway. The easiest place to get on is at Plaza Isabel la Católica.
So now you’re prepared — go! Pick up a map at the entrance or in the Alhambra bookshop to guide you through, and if you have a Windows phone visit Alhambra Patronato for information — it didn’t work for us on our Apple devices, though. You can get audio guides for €6.50 either at the ticket office or in the Palace of Charles V, and they’re probably worth the price. We didn’t get them and found that there really wasn’t a lot of printed information around, except in the museums, and the map didn’t go into detail.
Make sure to put your ticket into an accessible pocket and don’t lose it — guards at the entrance to the four ticketed areas will scan the barcode as you enter. Also be aware that of the four ticketed areas, you can only leave and re-enter one: the Partal. The Alcazaba (fortress area) and the Generalife Palace can both only be entered once, and you must enter the Nasrid Palaces at the time stated on your ticket.
However you choose to visit the Alhambra, have a great time — and let us know what you thought of it.