Granada: Visiting the Alhambra, Generalife, & the Nasrid Palace
I read a couple books about the Alhambra to learn it’s history prior to visiting so that I could skip the guided tours (and the cost) and do the self-guided option allowing me to focus on photography. If you opt for self-guided, you can go at your own pace and stay in the Alhambra, or gardens, or Nasrid Palace until closing time – buy tickets with an early entry time. This allows you time to stand around while large tour groups flow past you, and then take photos with substantially fewer people in the way between these groups.
You need to buy “General Alhambra” tickets (visit everything including the Nasrid Palace) online about three months in advance because they sell out. I bought tickets for two days, just because one day didn’t seem like enough time to soak up the place. I should have also bought “Gardens, Generalife and Alcazaba” tickets (everything except Nasrid Palace) for the days before and after. Tickets are reasonably priced. At the entry to the Nasrid Palace, of the two days I entered, one of those days everybody was required to show passports in addition to their entry ticket. The other day nothing but the ticket. So be prepared.
The Alhambra is fairly large, somewhat sprawling, and daunting when you first consider a visit. To alleviate this, if you are able, you should plan to walk up and down the hill, and around the Alhambra to see it from the outside. This allows you to understand it as a fortress. Walking up the hill is not as miserable as it looks on the map. It is a nice walk, reasonable length, and relaxing. Beware of strangers approaching you, trying to hand you stuff. Don’t take anything they offer because they will demand money from you if you do.
Then with “Gardens, Generalife and Alcazaba” tickets (no Nasrid Palace), you can enter the Alhambra and walk around inside the walls. A limited area inside the walls is open to the public for free, which includes toilets. Walking around inside gives you an understanding of how the fort functioned as a city. It also gives you time to peruse the multiple smaller gardens, assorted other buildings, and the gift shops. Keep in mind that the gift shops are closed on Sundays. There is a fantastic Alhambra bookstore in Granada at the bottom of the hill on Calle Reyes Catolicos.
The alcazaba is worth going through mainly because it provides splendid views of Granada. Lots of stairs, but not scary stairs. Roof parapets are substantial, so no worries of falling off the roof or being blown off. Various levels and views are provided.
And visit Generalife – the spectacular garden outside of the Alhambra to the east. I wasn’t excited about Generalife prior to touring Generalife. I first went through it in the late afternoon on my first day, and it was quite crowded. I toured it again early in the morning on my second day at the Alhambra. Much better. Few people and better light. To my surprise, I really enjoyed the gardens.
You can buy bottled water and snacks at the gift shops, but it is better to pack your own. I typically pack nuts, apples, and chocolate. Carrying water is a must in Granada as it is hot. There are potable water fountains for refilling bottles if you keep your eyes peeled. There are a few hot food stands, and a restaurant. And the rule prohibiting lying down is enforced (sitting is ok). If you carry snacks, you can munch whenever you want during the day. Then opt for a big dinner down in Granada in the evening with way more food choices.
If you are thinking just doing a day trip to Granada for the Alhambra, you should really consider staying in Granada for at least a few days – I stayed a whole week. There is a lot to see and do there besides the Alhambra. And the Alhambra really merits more than a one day dash through it. Granada offers a city pass that you can buy in advance, which includes entrance to about a dozen museums and bus fare.