Alhambra Palace – Tips for Enjoying Your Visit
In my last post Alison and I finished up our walk around Granada and I promised that the next one would take us to the Alhambra Palace. I’m going to renege a bit on that promise by first putting up this post on how to prepare for and get the most out of a visit to the Alhambra.
The Alhambra Palace is so famous and on so many people’s bucket list that there is little point in another post telling you why you must go there. The bottom line is that the Alhambra Palace is the best example of an Islamic palace in the world and by a stroke of lucky history it’s in a great and safe western city. No worries about going to Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo or even Morocco to see it. Because the Alhambra is as popular as Disney World in some ways it also means that you will be there with throngs of others no matter when you go. Here are my suggestions for making the most out of trip to the Alhambra Palace.
Getting Your Tickets to Alhambra Palace
1. You must reserve your ticket in advance. Unlike most attractions you can’t expect to just arrive at the Alhambra entrance and buy a ticket. While technically this is possible, you certainly will not get into the main attraction, the Nasrid Palace (what most people think of when they think of the Alhambra). Entries are strictly limited and you must pick a specific time for your entry.
Here’s how to do it. Go online and pick one of the sites offering tickets, like this one. Choose the day you want to go and then choose the exact half hour you will enter the Nasrid Palace. Pay online (quite reasonable) and you will get an email confirmation. However, this is not a ticket. You need to turn the reservation into a ticket.
Here’s how. There are only two places you can get your actual ticket. One is at the main entrance on the day of your visit. This is not the best option because you may stand in a long line of people waiting to do the same thing. The better option is to do it at the Tienda De La Alhambra (Alhambra Book Store) right in downtown Granada. It is only steps from the great statue of Isabella and Columbus at 38 Calle Reyes Catolicos. You must have the same credit card you used to buy the tickets. You just stick it into a machine and your tickets pop right out. Takes about 20 seconds.
How to get to Alhambra Palace
2. Take the C3 bus and leave your car behind. Granada has a great bus service aimed at getting people to and from downtown Granada to the Alhambra and everywhere else for that matter. For 1.2 euros you get a ride up the hill almost to the front entrance. You catch this right behind the statue of Isabella and Columbus.
If you take a car you will have to navigate the very narrow streets, chance getting lost and once you’re there, park a long way away and pay more for it than the bus.
When to Visit Alhambra Palace
3. Don’t book the first time for the Nasrid Palace. This is 8:30 and requires a 15 minute walk from the entrance and will probably be swamped with groups. When you are booking you can see how many places are available in any time slot. Choose the one with the most openings. 9:00 or later is better than 8:30.
Avoid a Guided Tour
4. This is probably the most controversial and important tip – don’t go on a guided tour. At least 90% of all visitors are on guided tours. They move at a brisk pace which is why they can predict the number of people in the Nasrid Palace at any given time. You simply will have no time to enjoy the beauty of the Alhambra in anything resembling peace and quiet which is ironic because this place is all about relaxation and contemplation in a quiet atmosphere.
The best choice would be to hire a private guide which gives you the history you need and the time to enjoy it, but failing that visiting on your own can be very satisfactory.
Up until quite recently you could rent an audio tour of the Alhambra on site, but that has been stopped for reasons I couldn’t find out. There is an alternative which is to rent the Granada audiotour at this link. At €30.90 it’s expensive, but since this is a once in a lifetime visit for most, it’s probably worth it.
5. Wait to take your pictures of Granada from the top of the Alcazaba. Probably the only thing better than the views of the Alhambra Palace from Granada are the views of Granada from the Alhambra. As tempting as it is to take pictures as you wait to enter the Nasrid Palace, the views get better the higher you go and culminate at the top of the Alcazaba. While wasting film is not a concern anymore, you won’t have to edit a lot of photos of Granada if you hold off until the Alcazaba.
6. Don’t bother with the Alhambra Museum. It’s got next to nothing of interest and you can spend your time better almost anywhere else in the Alhambra complex.
Don’t Overlook the Museum of Fine Arts
7. Don’t miss the Museum of Fine Arts. It is in the Charles V palace, the same place as the museum and is as good as the museum is not. It contains a great collection of Spanish art from the middle ages onward displayed in very spacious galleries. The wooden religious carvings are outstanding. The gallery dedicated to scenes of the Alhambra and Granada is well worth visiting as is the gallery dedicated to Cubism and in particular Juan Gris. It will perhaps change your mind about the artistic value of this period of modern art.
Another reason to visit the gallery is there is relatively nobody here compared to the rest of the Alhambra Palace. It’s quiet and on a cold day has heated rooms and on a hot day, air-conditioned ones. In other words it’s an oasis.
8. Duck into the church to see the very unusual modern crucifixion painting dedicated to President Kennedy. It’s at the back of the church and is jarring to say the least.
Visit the Parador de Granada
9. Have lunch at the cafeteria in the Parador. After visiting the main architectural sites of the Alhambra you will inevitably be tired and looking for a place to eat. There are very few places inside the Alhambra and most of these have very limited menus.
The exception is the Alhambra Parador which is a hotel right inside the Alhambra in an old monastery. It’s worthwhile ducking in just to see the place, but most of it is off limits to non-guests. However, you can eat here even if you are not staying. There is a more upscale dining room and the informal cafeteria. In Spain a cafeteria is not what we think of in North America. There is no buffet of stale looking food that you put on a tray and cart away. This place is just a simple restaurant with a decent menu with both Spanish and more typical tourist choices. We can vouch for the croquetes – you get a dozen for 7 euros and the fried aubergine (eggplant) which looks like fries, but is far better for you and tastier too.
After lunch you will be refreshed and not tempted to rush through the Generalife gardens.
10. Don’t miss the Generalife, which is not an insurance company, but a really great set of gardens where most visits to the Alhambra Palace end. There are a lot of places to get great shots of the Nasrid Palace and the Alcazaba and lots of places to simply enjoy the beautiful flowers, trees and fountains.
11. Don’t miss the gift shop which has a lot of items unique to the Alhambra Palace and buy your kids, young or adult, a nice Alhambra colouring book as a souvenir.
In the next post I promise to take you through the Nasrid Palace room by room. Won’t you join us?