A GUIDE TO THE ALHAMBRA
The Alhambra was a place I’d heard a lot about, but couldn’t quite mentally picture unaided. Even with all the beautiful photos I’d seen, it was hard to get a feel for how the palace was truly laid out and what visiting it would be like.
So, despite the fact we’d prepped for a visit to The Alhambra by reading a few blogs and travel sites (in absence of having a live guide), we were still blown away by what we experienced.
Whatever expectations we may have had for our visit were completely shattered.
A Guide to the Alhambra: First Things First
Before getting into it, the most important thing you need to know about visiting The Alhambra: Buy your tickets weeks, potentially months, in advance. During the high season, tickets are known to sell out 2-3 months in advance.
We didn’t buy far enough ahead of our visit in mid-March, and ended up spending a lot more than we should have for tickets through a travel company to ensure we’d be able to visit the Alhambra on the day we wanted to go.
If your trip dates are flexible and you’re spending a few days in Granada, then you could risk entry by going first thing in the morning and hoping for one of the ‘day of’ tickets they reserve.
We had one day in Granada and wanted to spend most of it at The Alhambra, so having guaranteed entry was critical.
The reason we didn’t reserve as far enough in advance?
Our trip dates changed a few times, and it wasn’t until a few weeks prior that we were really able to firm up plans.
Once plans were set, it was about 3 weeks before our visit date to Granada. One of the first things we did in planning our route in Andalusia was check opening times / dates for the key gated attractions we wanted to see (namely, The Alhambra and the flower patios of Cordoba).
Checking The Alhambra’s site for tickets, I was puzzled- surely, there was no way weeks before our visit date, tickets were already sold out?
But, that was indeed the case.
The Alhambra only reserves a select amount of tickets each day for non-guided tours. These are the cheapest tickets, and although you won’t have a guide, you can opt to purchase an audio guide that does a great job of explaining each building and the significance of the Alhambra.
There were still a few options for guided tours on the Alhambra’s official site, but the price for them was hefty- £60-80+. And, the tours had rigid schedules we weren’t in favour of- we wanted to be on the road to Cordoba by early-mid afternoon.
Instead, I did a quick search on common travel providers (Get Your Guide, Viator, and Google to look at a few local Granada companies), and found an option for a non-guided tour via GYG that included a self-paced audio guide.
Was it the most affordable way to visit? No, but it meant we were guaranteed entry during our time spot (11 am) and didn’t need to worry about showing up for ‘day of’ tickets and getting turned away.
The lesson: If saving money is important to you, book as far in advance as you can / the Alhambra’s site allows.
If you’re firming things up last minute like we were, you can likely still find a ticket option to visit, but expect to pay a lot more. And, as I mentioned before, if you have a flexible itinerary, rocking up to see if you can snag ‘day of’ tickets may work for you.
A Guide to the Alhambra: Getting To The Alhambra
Tickets in tow, you should be prepared to drive to The Alhambra. I’ve heard there are a few local buses with connections and walking that can get you there, but since entry spots are timed, driving may be the most reliable option.
There’s plenty of parking at The Alhambra, we arrived early and snagged a spot in the second lot. For our 4+ hour visit, I believe we paid around €6-8.
A Guide to the Alhambra: Visiting The Alhambra
Once you’re parked, if you’re early, there are a few restaurants and shops you can check out, or you can head straight to The Alhambra.
Even if you’ve got time before your visit to Nasrid Palace (the only part of your ticket that is timed), the sprawling gardens and other buildings in the complex are worth exploring.
We really enjoyed having over an hour and a half to see Generalife, a place once used for leisure (think: beautiful, vast gardens), and a few other places, and go at our own pace with audio guide before heading to the palace.
A Guide to the Alhambra: History of The Alhambra
Standing as a reminder of Muslim rule and perched on top of the al-Sabika hill, the Alhambra dominates Granada’s skyline.
Parts of the palace were originally constructed in the 9th century. Kings from the Nasrid dynasty built a lot of the complex visitors see today.
The Islamic Moorish architecture and details present throughout the complex, are incredible.
The main attraction in the Alhambra is the Nasrid Palace. It’s made up of several buildings that feature truly breathtaking architectural details. Sprouting fountains, lush gardens, and rooms filled with Islamic calligraphy tiles, intricate mosaics and decorated archways.
It’s the kind of place you could sit in a corner, and just gaze at your surroundings for a while.
Back when the Alhambra was built, it was intended to be a fortress. Once the Nasrid Palace was complete, it also became the royal residence for the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar, and subsequently ‘famous’ in society.
The Alhambra remained under Moorish control until the late 15th century until Granada was conquered by the Catholics in 1492. Then, some parts of the palace were still used, but others were discarded. Eventually, most of the palace fell into disrepair. Parts were further destroyed in the 1800s from an earthquake and a battle with the French.
It wasn’t until the 1820s that European scholars ‘discovered’ The Alhambra and started a conservation effort. Still today, the Alhambra is undergoing restoration.
Without question, Nasrid Palace was our favourite part of the visit, but we also enjoyed seeing some of the other buildings in the complex. Many are less crowded than the palace and boast equally stunning views of the city below.
Visiting the Alhambra was one of our main motivations for planning a trip to Andalusia, and so, we were elated with actually visiting it exceeded every expectation we could have dreamed up.
Have you ever visited Andalusia or seen the Alhambra? What did you think of the palace, or your trip through sunny Spain?
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