If you’re looking for a wonderful yet budget-friendly place to add to your Spain trip, allocate at least 2 days in Granada. This beautiful city is one of my favorite places I visited in my 5 weeks of travel across Spain.
Gorgeous Granada is home to UNESCO darling and Seven Wonders of the New World finalist, the Alhambra. In fact, the Alhambra is Spain’s single most-visited attraction… yet the prices in the city don’t seem to match, with a lively free tapas tradition, affordable hotels, and well-priced things to do.
Yes, free tapas! In Granada, a drink typically costs anywhere from 2 euros to 2.50 euros, and it basically always comes with a tapa. A tapa can be anything from some fries and a bit of stew to a plate of fried anchovies to a small helping of Valencian paella to fried eggplant with honey and beyond.
Generally speaking, you don’t get to choose your tapa at most places, though some do. Also, if you stick to one establishment and order multiple rounds, the tapas are supposed to get bigger and better with each round, though I never really quite noticed a correlation. I could get full (and a bit buzzed!) for anywhere from 4 to 8 euros if I was really making a night of it, and I have a pretty nice-sized appetite.
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I needed a break after traveling at a fast pace for several months, so I took a longer than normal time in Granada.
Other people with less travel time than me would probably find 2 days to tour Granada to be suitable, so I’ve created this 2 day Granada itinerary with fast-paced travelers in mind.
While you can certainly stay in Granada for longer, this itinerary for 2 days in Granada will cover its highlights — such as the Alhambra, the Alcazar, the Albacin, and Sacromonte — with a few off the beaten path spots I discovered in my week in the city. Plus, at the end of the article I’ll include my bonus tips for saving money in Granada, as I visited Granada during my backpacking days and managed to stick to a $30 a day budget.
Day 1 of your Granada Itinerary
Start your day at the Alhambra (9 AM)
Most people come to Granada for one reason – to see the Alhambra, one of the most famous castles in Spain – so we might as well get started there!
One of the most common mistakes people make when visiting Granada is not booking their ticket with enough advance notice. When I was in Granada, tickets were sold out weeks in advance and I actually missed out on tickets. Luckily, I discovered the loophole that I could buy a Granada Card and get entry to the Alhambra that way.
I strongly suggest booking a tour of the Alhambra to both secure your ticket but also ensure you’ll get all the rich historical context that a building as beautiful and storied as the Alhambra deserves.
I didn’t go on a tour when I visited because I could only use the Granada Card loophole, and it was one of my biggest regrets about my time in Granada, especially since I enjoyed my other tours of the city so much.
This 3-hour tour includes your entrance ticket to the Alhambra, priority skip-the-line access, as well as visiting Nasrid Palaces and its stunning Patio de Los Leones courtyard, the Generalife Palace and Gardens, the Medina, and the Alcazaba: basically, everywhere you want to see in the Alhambra complex.
Book your skip-the-line ticket and tour today!
However, even tour tickets are extremely limited, as there is a finite amount of entries allowed per day.
For example, it’s the lowest of the low season as I write this in January. Still, when I look for tickets right now, tickets are still only available a week in advance, and some day’s tickets are sold out even a month in advance.
So for real – book it in advance and thank me later!
Marvel at the Granada Cathedral (12:30 PM)
The Granada Cathedral is one of the most important pieces of architecture in Granada’s center.
Construction started in 1518, after the Muslim Nasrid Kingdom fell into Spanish hands, and it would take nearly two hundred years to come to completion. It was built in the old Muslim medina in order to make a statement that Granada was now under Catholic rule.
Because the building took nearly two centuries and was taken over by several architects, the cathedral shows a unique blend of architectural styles, ranging from Gothic to Spanish Renaissance to Baroque.
Admission to the Granada Cathedral is 5 euros, but it is free with a Granada card.
Walk over to the Capilla Real (1 PM)
The Capilla Real is the final resting place of two of Spain’s most famous monarchs, Isabella and Fernando – the ones who financed Columbus’s (violent) voyage into the so-called ‘New World’. Their monumental tombs are shown on the ground floor of the Capilla Real [Royal Chapel]; their actual tombs are located in the basement level.
Their legacy is a bit complex to dig into in a mere blog post, as their reign was controversial. Having taken over Granada in the ‘Reconquista’ period, when Spain regained control over the Moorish-ruled parts of the country, they either forced conversion or exiled the Muslim and Jewish population which had until then been living there.
At the same time, they brought Spain out of debt and began a period of exploration that would eventually bring Spain to rule over a massive part of the globe, which would have disastrous consequences for the indigenous people of the Americas but was a period of huge economic growth for the Spanish.
It’s an interesting place to visit and an undeniably important piece of Spanish history, so in my mind, even though I may have my feelings about the Spanish empire and colonialism in general, it was an unmissable place to visit on my Granada itinerary.
Admission to the Capilla Real is 5 euros.
Visit the stunning Madraza (1:30 PM)
Located directly across from the Capilla Real and therefore an obvious next stop on this Granada Itinerary is the Granada Madraza.
‘Madrasa’ means Islamic school, and this historic building used to be the first Islamic university in Granada. Now, it’s home to a small museum which you can visit for a small entry fee.
It’s just two rooms, but the prayer room from the 14th century is so beautifully preserved that it alone is worth the 2 euro entry fee.
Stop for a leisurely lunch (2 PM)
Now’s about the time to stop for a long lunch — be sure to have lunch before siesta sets in, an institution that Granada takes quite seriously, as nearly every restaurant will be closed for several hours after lunch and won’t reopen until 8 PM!
For a nice place to eat near the Cathedral and Capilla Real, I recommend one of the following restaurants: El Mercader for Spanish fine dining (reservations recommended), Restaurante Arrayanes for Moroccan food, or Papas Elvira for budget food with vegetarian-friendly options.
End the day with an Albaicin and Sacromonte walking tour (5 PM)
The Albaicin is one of the coolest districts of Granada, and in my eyes, a walk through this historic quarter is an absolute must-do in Granada.
Most walking tours combine both the Albaicin (the historic Muslim district with stunning Moorish architecture) and Sacromonte (the cave district, where historically, Granada’s gitano / Roma community used to live).
The Albaicin is full of winding streets that are leftover from when Granada was part of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, a Muslim-ruled state. As a result, you’ll see the influence of Moorish architecture here which dates back to the medieval period. The streets weave and wind around, and the white houses are nearly indistinguishable from one another, so it’s ideal to go with a guide who can give you the historical context of this neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Sacromonte is a very hilly part of Granada (bring good walking shoes!) where the Roma community, who settled there in the 16th century after the Muslims were expelled during the Christian conquest of the city. They settled mostly in cave houses on the outskirts of Granada, outside of administrative control (as you may remember, a pesky little thing called the Spanish Inquisition was going on at the time…).
The history of this region is too long to go into in great detail here, and it’s best to get it from a local who can explain it to you while seeing the area with your own eyes. I strongly recommend going with a guided tour of both the Albaicin and Sacromonte districts; this is the tour I recommend.
Most tours start around 5 PM and last 2-3 hours, which is a great time of day to avoid the heat and also finish in time to find a great sunset spot in Granada!
A quick note on semantics: I’m purposely not using the word g*psy in English, as it is considered offensive by the Roma community. The word gitano/gitana is used in Spain to refer to people of Roma descent and is not usually considered offensive, though context matters. This is a complex issue that as someone living in a country with a large Roma minority (Bulgaria), I try to be sensitive of.
Language matters, so be careful with how you refer to people in the Roma community. However, also be aware that people who speak English as a second language may not be used this word being pejorative in English and use the word freely, so just be mindful that this is a thorny issue and that while individual opinions vary, most Roma prefer the word ‘Roma’ to refer to their community.
Day Two of Your Granada Itinerary
Take a day trip to La Alpujarra
While you certainly could indulge in a lot more sightseeing around Granada, La Alpujarra is one of my favorite parts in all of Spain and I truly think it would be a shame to end your time in Granada without seeing them — especially since they’re so close and such an easy day trip.
La Alpujarra is a collection of white-washed villages done in the Mozarabic architectural style such as Capileira and Bubion, which are absolutely stunning and look like something taken out of a fairytale.
I actually spent 3 days in Capileira and every day was like waking up in a dream: it’s that magical of a village. But Capileira and the other white-washed villages of Alpujarra are so small and quaint that you can easily get acquainted with their magic on a day trip from Granada.
You’ll also get to visit the highest village in Spain, Trevélez, which is known for its tasty Iberian ham, some of the best in the country.
Be sure to book the lunch option which allows you to try a tasty regional lunch in the Alpujarreño style — it’s very unique to this part of Spain, and it’s not something you’d get elsewhere.
End the evening with dinner and a flamenco show
After a busy day exploring La Alpujarra, you’ll likely want to return to your hotel and relax for a bit before getting back out there and seeing a bit more of Granada by night.
One of the absolute can’t-miss activities in Granada is seeing a flamenco show! Flamenco is a traditional Andalucian (and Murcian) art form combining dance and music.
However, that’s a bit of a simplification: the art of flamenco also uses also vivid facial expressions, significant hand gestures and percussion using castanets, and a specific style of guitar tapping called ‘golpe’ which contributes to the stirring rhythm of flamenco.
You will be bombarded with people passing out flyers and trying to invite you to their flamenco show while visiting the city, but frankly, a lot of these shows are too short and not the best. I recommend researching a show before you to go to avoid disappointment or following my recommendation here.
My personal suggestion (and where I went when I was in Granada) is a flamenco show at Cuevas Los Tarantos, which is in a traditional cave dwelling in Sacromonte.
The flamenco performance itself lasts about 45 minutes, but allow some time for seating, ordering food, and waiting for the show to begin, so expect 1.5 hours total in the venue).
The show is affordably priced and highly reviewed, and it includes one free welcome drink. You have the option to add on dinner and drinks for a fairly reasonable price given the venue. I appreciated that it didn’t feel like a tourist trap and that dinner wasn’t too expensive here.
Tips for Saving Money in Granada
1. Drink your dinner
Granada is the only place in the world that rewards my drunken antics, which is probably why I’m convinced it’s my destiny to live there one day.
You will save quite a bit of cash if you tapa wisely rather than paying for raciones (plates). At certain locales, 4 euros will get you two drinks and a reasonable dinner (6 euros if you’re hungry, and 8 if you’re making a night of it).
The two most popular and most affordable drinks are the caña (small) or tubo (large) of beer or tinto de verano, a delicious drink of red wine, soda water, and lemon. You may have your doubts, but trust me, it’s what you want in an Andalusian summer.
These drinks will set you back about 2 euros to 2.20 euros a pop – if you go for mojitos, sangria, cocktails, or glasses of wine you will still get your tapa but you’ll end up paying more.
2. Follow the business cards
Granada has an odd system of advertising places to drink, where people working for bars will walk by – or even into – your restaurant where you’re eating and drinking to advertise their establishments.
They’ll leave a business card with hand-written details of drink prices, and they’re usually quite cheap – I’m talking 1 euro for a beer or 2 euros for a mojito!
These usually don’t come with tapas as these are bars, not bar/restaurants. However, if you’re full but want to keep the night going, this is the way to do it!
3. Walk everywhere
Granada is so tiny that everything is walkable within about 30 minutes.
The only exception is if you want to do a day trip, such as Güéjar Sierra or Monachil; then you’ll pay a paltry 1.20 euros each way. The bus station is also quite far out of town as well, so you’ll probably want to bus that too.
4. Enjoy the fresh mountain tap water!
Granada has some of the freshest, purest tap water on the planet – so why waste money on bottles of water?
I carry a reusable water bottle and refill it in taps and public water fountains around the city. Note that a few are non-potable, but they will be very clearly marked if you’re not supposed to drink out of them!
5. Buy your Alhambra ticket in advance
If you know when you’ll be in Granada, buy your tickets online at least one week in advance.
Admission into Palacios Nazaries are valid for a 30 minute entry window as marked on your ticket, so make sure you’re there on time!
If you don’t book on time, you have to show up around 6:30 in the morning to try for a same-day ticket.
Alternately, you can buy the pricy Granada Card (33.50 euros) for guaranteed access to the Alhambra.