One of the nice things about having a partner in academia is the opportunity for travel. Conference organisers are smart and tend to locate their events in cities people actually want to go to. Which is fantastic for us hangers on! Before the Little Anglophile came along, I got to spend just under a week in Amsterdam while the hubs was off getting even smarter. This time, we headed to southern Spain.
I think I should start by saying that July is NOT the best time to go there. It was bloody hot, let me tell you. Nearly 40 degrees hot. You basically couldn’t do anything between the hours of 2 and 5, which is why everyone takes a siesta (which means all the shops are closed). It’s probably great to go in October, or April. But, we managed.
And this is what we learned…
Turns out, Granada airport is tiny, and flying from Edinburgh to there was not an option, unless we fancied an 18 hour layover in Frankfurt (we didn’t). If you’re flying from London, you’ll probably be fine, but from smaller regional airports you’ll probably have to fly into Malaga. Our Jet2 flight direct to Malaga took a little more than three hours.
From Malaga, you can catch a bus that goes right to the bus depot in Granada. It takes about 90 minutes and you can purchase a ticket right outside the airport. One word of warning: buy your return ticket early. Those buses do book up, and you don’t want to end up like we did with no way to get back to Malaga at the end of your trip! If you do find yourself in this particular fix, there’s a train you can take (not a direct one–you have to change at one station, and in our case there would have been an hour-long wait for the connecting train) or you can hire a private taxi to take you. That’ll set you back about €140, but it’s better than missing your flight.
Granada’s pretty small, so you can walk most places. It can get a bit hilly in some areas, and some streets have stairs, which can be tricky if you’re hauling around a pram. Not too bad, though. There are buses that run through the city, and to the outlying areas, and it looks like Granada’s introducing some sort of tram system as well. Also, there are taxis and a little tourist bus that makes a circuit (more on that later).
We’re big Airbnb fans, and this trip was no exception. We found a fab two bedroom apartment in the Realejo area of the city that I’d highly recommend. It had pretty much everything we could need (there were even toys and colouring books!), was within easy walking distance of the old part of the city and the Alhambra, and had all the necessary amenities pretty much on our doorstep: mini supermarket, restaurants, butchers, greengrocers, and two fantastic little coffee shops (we were particularly fond of I Need, just around the corner. Aside from delicious coffee and a super friendly, patient staff, it had a nice array of gluten-free options for those who need that.). There’s also a square steps away with restaurants and a little play park that gets quite lively in the evenings. We settled in for dinner at the cafe nearest the playground our last night there, and enjoyed just kicking back while our kid ran around playing. There’s a roof terrace at the apartment building where you can get some glorious views of the city at sunset.
If you’re travelling with younger kids, chances are, you’re going to be spending some time in the city’s play parks. Good news! There are some great ones!
Small playparks are scattered all over the city, but the two biggest are in the Parque Garcia Lorca and the big park that hugs the Genil River, along the Paseo de la Bomba and Paseo del Salon. It’s anchored by a large fountain featuring four lions, so now it’s Lions Park to me.
The playpark is located at the far end of the park: if you head away from the fountain along the Paseo de la Bomba you’ll find it. It’s got two sections, one that seems geared towards the little ‘uns, and one that’s slightly more challenging.
My son had loads of fun climbing up and jumping off of the random lumps they have (presumably for just this purpose). It’s the little things, eh?
The park itself is really lovely: fully of orange trees (don’t eat the oranges–they’re the bitter kind best used for marmalade) and pomegranates (symbol of the city!). There’s a restaurant in the middle of it, but we didn’t eat there, so I can’t comment on the food. Beware of going to the park on a very windy day (I speak from experience!). The wind kicks up a lot of gritty dust and makes for a not-so-fun experience.
Parque Garcia Lorca is the city’s biggest park, and it’s a beautifully landscaped garden. At the far end, near Camino de Purchil, is the play area. It’s big, and comprehensive, with a merry-go-round, slides (including a HUGE twisty slide that’s accessed–bless them!–via a staircase instead of the usual heart-stopping ladders), a zipline, climbing frame, swings, and toy train. It’s shady, which is nice in the summertime, and there are benches, so bring a picnic and settle in for a bit.
(A word about bathrooms: There are bathrooms right next to the play area in Parque Garcia Lorca, but they were locked every time we visited. About a block beyond the park’s southernmost end is a large shopping mall, which I found super creepy, but it did have bathrooms. Not the cleanest, but when you’re desperate, you’ll take what you can get. I didn’t notice any bathrooms about in the Lions Park, but if you’re with a desperate kid, you could probably ask at the restaurant and see if they’ll let you use the loo there. People tend to be pretty nice about that sort of thing.)
If you’re after a little sightseeing or just need to relax a bit in the midday, the little tourist train that goes around the city is pretty worth it. It’s hop-on, hop-off and winds through the cathedral district, through Realejo, up past the Alhambra, through the Albaicin and Sacromonte, and back to the Cathedral again. My three-year-old was free, and a ticket for me cost €8. There are audio guides included in the price. We rode that thing three times in one day, so I felt that was worth it.
Older kids might get a kick out of the science museum, which sounds pretty neat, or the Aquaola Water Park, which is just outside the city (the SN1 bus goes pretty much right to it. You can catch it from a stop near the Lions Park.)
Granada also has a beautiful cathedral, which I hear is well worth a look (though I didn’t get to go inside this trip).
The area around it is pretty great too: the nearby Calle Reyes Catolicos is basically the main shopping drag. You’ll find all the usual high-street shops there. Branching off of that, however, is a warren of narrow streets and lanes leading to busy cafes, shops, and places selling a variety of teas and spices. The teas are delicious, and remarkably inexpensive–grab some to take home!
We spent one day exploring the Albaicin (or Albayzin) area of the city. This is one of the oldest parts of Granada, dating back to its medieval Moorish past, and it still retains the traditional Moorish architecture. The sea of white buildings, overflowing with clambering vines, is stunning. The roads can be quite narrow, and steep, and there are stairs (though many are fairly low and shallow), so getting around with a pram is a challenge unless you’re quite fit. If you’re travelling with a child young enough, a carrier might be best. Or you can take a bus or the little hop-on-hop-off bus up there.
In the Albaicin, you can see one of the city’s ancient gates and part of the original wall, as well as some incredible views of the Alhambra and panoramics of the city. There are also some excellent churches, as well as the old Arab baths to explore up there, from what I hear.
And, of course, there is the Alhambra: the main reason most people come to Granada. And I will say this: it’s totally worth it. The place is fantastic and you could easily spend days there. But, for some reason, whomever it is who decides these things makes it VERY difficult to get tickets.
Option 1: Buy tickets from a Caixa Bank cashpoint. A good option, if it lets you. We tried doing this first and the thing timed out on us, so we weren’t able to get our tickets.
Option 2: Go to the Alhambra ticket office and get them in person. Not a bad idea, if you happen to be up there. Apparently it’s NOT the best idea to try and buy tickets on the day you plan to go (especially if you want to see the Nasrid Palace, and trust me, you DO), because they tend to sell out. But yeah, if you’re in the neighbourhood, go for it!
Option 3: Ticketmaster. I hope you understand Spanish, though, because it’s Spanish Ticketmaster and the pages don’t translate. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for the fact there are several different types of ticket, so figuring out which one you want in a language you don’t speak is…challenging, to say the least.
We wound up having to go for option 3, and we managed, with some help from Google Translate. We chose the Alhambra General ticket, which lets you see everything, including the Nasrid Palace. Whether or not you have the energy or time to see everything is another matter, but definitely go see that. It’s an architectural marvel.
When you book your tickets, you’ll have to choose either a morning (10-2) or an afternoon (2-6) slot. You’ll also reserve a time to go into the Nasrid Palace. It’s delicate, so they stagger entries. Everywhere else you can pretty much go in whenever. Just be aware: for the Nasrid Palace, you have to queue outside, in the sun, to wait for your appointed time. People often queue up quite early, so if it’s your time, you might be able to jump the queue (since many people in front of you may have reserved a later time and are just waiting). If you’re travelling with very young children, I’d highly recommend going in the morning if you can, since it gets so hot, even up at the Alhambra. Also, bring bottles of water and snacks. It’s going to be a long day, and you’ll need them.
Adult tickets run about €14. Children under 12 are free, but you still have to book them a ticket (confusing, I know!) and when you check out, you’ll be asked if there are any concessions. That’s where you choose ‘child 12 and under’, at which point their ticket should show up as costing nothing. When you go to the Alhambra, you’ll have to collect your tickets, either at the ticket window or at the ticket machines near the entrance. Make sure you bring along the card you used to book the tickets, otherwise you won’t be able to collect them.
To get there, you can take the bus (there are several little buses that run up to the Alhambra), or climb up Cuesta de Gomerez, which branches off the Calle Reyes Catolicos. We chose to keep going past the turn to Cuesta de Gomerez, following the Plaza Nueva as it curved alongside a river (well, creek, really), past Paseo de los tristes, then turning up the Cuesta del Rey Chico. This is a slightly less steep ascent to the Alhambra (plus, the walk along Plaza Nueva takes you past some really lovely areas, and the Perfume Museum, which is well worth a quick visit!), but, as with the Albaicin, it’s not for the fainthearted, if you’re pushing a pram.
Hurrah! You’ve finally made it! If you’re planning to visit the Nasrid Palace and your entry time is soon, head that way now. You can kill time wandering through the gardens (spot frogs in the ponds!) or check out Charles V’s Renaissance palace or the Alcazaba–one of the oldest, most militaristic parts of the complex. We, unfortunately, did not have the time or the energy to see either of these places, but I’m sure they’re well worth it.
We focussed on the Nasrid Palaces and the Generalife, along with the gardens in between. So. Worth. It. Seriously, this place is amazingly beautiful. Go ahead and drink it in.
Welcome to the Land of Tapas! At most restaurants and cafes, when you order a drink, you get a snack with it. It’s fun, because you never really know what you’re going to get. Could be some olives, could be some risotto, could be a plate of Iberian ham. I just hope you don’t have too much in the way of dietary restrictions, because that could make things challenging.
If you’re after something more substantial, you’re covered. Those same cafes will have regular menus too, obviously. It’s a good idea to give the menu del dia (menu of the day) a look. It’s typically a two to three-course set menu, with a few choices each course. Or you can just order an assortment of small plates to share, which is a nice way to while away an evening. Be aware that restaurants tend to stay open for a long time during lunch (when a lot of people take a siesta and have time for a leisurely meal) and open pretty late for dinner. Don’t expect to be able to eat in most places before half past seven, at the earliest.
If you’re like me and yearn for a market, there’s a really nice one right next to the cathedral: San Agustin Market. Lots of fish stalls, places you can stop and have a glass or two of wine, and a few fruit and veg stalls. (There’s also a really nice public bathroom here, if you find yourself out with a little one in need).
Definitely have some fish while you’re there–it’s fresh and delicious. I picked up a handful of tiny sardines for next to nothing, dipped them in flour and fried them whole in olive oil for dinner. Served up with salad, crusty bread, and a squeeze of lemon, it was heaven.
Another thing to get while you’re here: jamon iberico, one of the finest cured meats on the planet. It’s the sort of meat that makes vegetarians reconsider their life choices. Salty and luscious, melt-in-your-mouth soft… Oh, man, do I miss it now. There are places at the market that sell it, as well as numerous shops throughout the city. We found one place on Calle Reyes Catolicos that sold paper cones filled with the end cuts, which was a fantastic snack as we were walking around.
Wine: CHEAP and delicious. Just go ahead and ask for a glass of the house red or white at any cafe. It’ll probably run you about €3 for a big glass, and it’ll be great. Or you can pick up a bottle for under €4 at any grocery store that’ll be just fine too. Sangria is also readily available and immensely refreshing on a hot day. Beer is popular, and pretty much everywhere offers non-alcoholic (sin alcohol) beer as well.
I can’t say we had much luck with pastry while we were there–it doesn’t seem to be a specialty, from what I could tell. But we did extensive ice cream sampling. I was particularly fond of Eco De-leite on Calle Sta. Escolástica. Interesting flavours, all organic ingredients, and plenty of options for those going vegan or dairy free. Also, the Helados San Nicholas, right near the Mirador San Nicholas outlook in the Albaicin had some DELICIOUS ice cream in flavours that ranged from chocolate to lavender. Yes, I had the lavender, and it was amazing.
It looks like there’s some great shopping to be had, but alas, I didn’t get to partake of much. For those looking for souvenirs, colourful fans are plentiful (and useful on hot summer days!), along with brightly painted pottery and beautiful marquetry boxes, trinkets, and chess sets. I’ve already mentioned the teas and spices (easier to transport back than the pottery, if I’m honest). If you know anyone having a baby, there are an incredible number of shops in the city peddling exquisite baby clothes almost too beautiful to actually be used. And if you’re after something quite special, the aforementioned Perfume Museum has some splendid scents, or you can even create your own!
Granada is beautiful, and well worth a visit. If you go, definitely put the visit to the Alhambra at the top of your list. The city is small, so a few days will do you, unless you plan to visit some of the outlying towns and villages (which I hear are great!)
Going home, be aware: once you’ve checked in and gone through security, you’ll have to go through passport control just before you can access your gate. Nobody tells you that, so most people end up hanging around in the concourse area of the airport, getting snacks or last-minute souvenirs, and then their flight starts boarding, so they head towards the gate, only to find themselves faced with an immense line. You don’t want to end your holiday by sweating and panicking that you’re going to miss your flight. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the gate area.
Thoughts on Granada, anyone? Anything I missed? Add it in the comments!