Nestled at the northwestern slope of the Sierra Nevada range is the city of Granada, Spain. While not nearly as well known as major Spanish Metropoli like Madrid or Barcelona, Granada is an absolutely breathtaking city in which European and Islamic architecture somehow seamlessly blend. You are just as likely to sit at a tapas bar and eat Jamón as you would cozy up into an Arab teahouse. It’s this mix of cultures that makes Granada irresistible to us.
Like most, we headed to Granada to see the impressive Alhambra, but we were caught off guard by just how much there was for families to do. Although we didn’t include it below, the mountain town of Sierra Nevada is only about an hour drive away, so if you are looking to extend your trip a few days heading into the mountains is a great option. Without further ado, here’s our top 5 favorite things to do while in Granada, particularly for families (like us) on a budget. Enjoy!
5. Tapas + Drinks (yes, and drinks…)
While the Alhambra may be the biggest draw for tourists, however, ask many Spaniards and one of the best reasons to visit Granada are the tapas. We have to admit that we didn’t quite understand the whole concept at first, but it’s actually really nice to be able to wander into a street side bar, find a table, order a few little plates and spend as much (or as little) time there as you would like. Tapas are particularly nice for kids because once they find something they like a “half racion” is just about the right size.
Spain in general is known for tapas, so why do we include it on a list specific to Granada? I’m glad you asked! Traditionally when you stopped and ordered a drink (of the alcoholic variety) at a bar in Spain, a plate of tapas would show up for free with your drink. The more drinks you ordered, the more tapas would come.
Over the years, the tradition has largely faded away, except for a few very special places like Granada. Here, it is still commonplace to find a free plate of tapas delivered with your drink…so much so that there are complete food tours dedicated to finding the best. While we don’t see ourselves going on a Spanish style pub crawl trying to get free dinner, it does work well if your crew is looking for a little respite from sightseeing.
4. Mirador de San Nicolas
Views for dayyysss. Mirador de San Nicolas is absolutely a viewpoint you won’t want to miss and if you can time your visit for sunset…well, that’s just golden (Ha! See what we did there?!). According to the city, former U.S. President, Bill Clinton, visited in 1997 and called this spot one of the best for sunsets. We can’t actually vouch for these words as we aren’t exactly bff with Bill and Hillary, however we can say that we do give this spot two thumbs up! I mean, how gorgeous does The Alhambra look with the beautiful Sierras in the backdrop? Classy? Exactly.
The unobstructed viewpoint itself can be found in the Albaicín neighborhood and next to the Church of San Nicolas. The Church itself is fascinating as well, as it was built on top of a mosque in 1525.
To access the views, there is a bus (take the C1 or C2 bus lines that cover the Albaicín quarter). However, if you’re up for putting in a bit of work before dinner we would advise to plug the Mirador into Google Maps and walk up the hill yourself (be warned there are a good number of stairs, so you’ll want to be in “decent shape” and perhaps without a stroller).
Additionally, we visited during the COVID era, so crowds weren’t really an issue, however we have heard (+ read) that the area can get fairly packed, so just be prepared.
Mirador de San Nicolas:
- Hours: 24/7
- Admission: Free
3. Calle Calderería Nueva
This narrow, pedestrian street connects both the upper and lower areas of the Albaicín and is a goldmine for “tetrías” (teahouses). We weren’t really sure what to expect, but as you turn onto the street it really does suddenly give you the feeling that you are exploring a North African souk rather than a back alley in Southern Spain. Fondly known as, “Calle de las Teterías,” it’s a fantastic place to stop and grab a bite. Pop into one of the small tea rooms and try a delicious Moroccan dessert or tea. Our crew ducked into Tetería Restaurant Kasbah Granada and had one of the best meals we’ve had since moving to Europe. In addition to the great food, the atmosphere was also nice as many tables are in little nooks. It made for somewhat more private dining experience, and we were able to give the kids a little more freedom.
After eating perhaps swing into some of the shops and check out the handicrafts, colorful lamps, leather goods, and slippers. We had our eyes on some Moroccan glass lanterns, but as we are planning a trip to Morocco later this year (COVID willing) we decided to hold off to see if we could get a better deal.
La Calle de Las Teterías:
- Hours: Varies, but typically Monday – Sunday, 1200 – 2230
2. Parque de las Ciencias
Opened in 1995 the Parque de las Ciencias is a “Museum of Natural Science” type institution that has some pretty amazing exhibits for kids and adults alike. The exhibits were all very well done, and both kids were in awe from the moment we walked through the doors. In addition to exhibits on motion, space, and robotics they have an incredibly impressive “biosphere” exhibit that housed probably the best collection of rainforest birds, fish, and primates we’ve seen.
They additionally have a large outdoor portion with the unmistakable observation tower (unfortunately closed when we visited due to COVID), a space observatory, butterfly house, nature walks, and a great Birds of Prey in Flight demonstration (the presenter for the demonstration spoke fairly slowly and clearly which also made for a great opportunity to work on our Spanish listening skills!).
We’ve heard from some of our Spanish friends that the planetarium in particular is pretty incredible, but the shows are all in Spanish, so keep that in mind if you purchase tickets. Additionally, the hours of the planetarium are also more restrictive, as it is only open on Saturday and Sunday.
- Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 1000 – 1800; Sunday and Holidays, 1000 – 1500. Closed (most) Mondays.
- General: 7€ (Museum Only); 11€ (Museum + BioDome); 2.50€ (Planetarium); 6€(BioDome Only)
- Reduced (over 65yo, under 18yo): 6€ (Museum Only); 9€ (Museum + BioDome); 2€ (Planetarium); 5€ (BioDome Only)
- School Children: 5.50€ (Museum Only); 9€ (Museum + BioDome); 2€ (Planetarium); 5€ (BioDome Only)
- Free Admission on the following days: Andalusia Day (February 28) and on the Museum’s Anniversary (the first Saturday after May 8th)
1. The Alhambra
Being the most visited “attraction” in Granada by far, it’s hard not to rank the Alhambra as number one on the list. With its red walls towering over the city, the castle is aptly named, as Alhambra means “Red Castle” in Arabic. The whole complex is set up on a mountainside and is quite an imposing site above the city.
The castle has a fascinating (and long) history dating back to the 9th century. It was initially built as a walled citadel, but later became much more opulent under the Muslim control of the Nasrid emirs. It’s impossible not to be impressed with the extremely ornate hand carved moldings, wall coverings, and ceilings. It’s an architecture that we haven’t yet had the opportunity to see on our travels.
Understandably, the inner portions are roped off to keep visitors from touching the delicate walls and decorations, but the outer portions are fairly wide open and make it easy for kids to get some pent up energy out.
The Palacios Nazaries is the star of the show and will definitely be the most crowded when you visit. It is the only portion of your visit which will have a set time, so plan accordingly. During non-COVID times, tickets to the Alhambra will sell out MONTHS in advance (no, we are not kidding) so make sure you plan ahead. In an unexpected silver lining to the pandemic, there were so few visitors when we visited that we were able to stroll up to the window to purchase “general admission” tickets onsite.
We would suggest planning on spending the majority of your day at the Alhambra as, frankly, there is a lot to see.
- Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 0930 – 1700. Closed Mondays.
- Admission: There are several different options. We chose to purchase “General Admission” tickets as they include access to the following areas: Alcazaba, the Nasrid Palaces, as well as, the Generalife and Gardens.
- General Admission Tickets: 14€/Adult, 8.00€/Children (between 12 and 15 years old), Free for children under 12 years of age, 9€/Senior citizens (aged 65 years and over), 8€/People with disabilities (with more than 33% disability and upon presentation of valid document)
- Tips (published by the Alhambra):
- There is a limited number of tickets every day. Book in advance.
- Accessing the Nasrid Palaces is only permitted during the time slot indicated on your ticket. If you do not enter during the slotted time, you will not be granted entry.
- Plan for crowds. Build in some extra time.
- Before purchasing tickets, read the detailed information published by The Alhambra regarding Alhambra tickets.
- View the itinerary section of the Alhambra site to organize your visit.