Oh, the Alhambra. What a gem. No visit to Andalucia is quite complete without strolling the grounds of this magical palace, the last Moorish stand against Christian Spain. I’ve raved about the Moors and their architectural prowess in this post about the Royal Alcazar of Seville, and I don’t feel I need to say more. In this case, the pictures are worth a thousand words.
Before I share the snapshots from our magnificent pilgrimage, however, here are a few tips for your visit. I found the official Alhambra website a bit tricky to navigate, and I hope to answer some of my own questions here.
When to visit
The Alhambra is located in Granada, Spain– a beautiful little town in Andalucia. Because southern Spain is scorching in the summer, it’s better to plan this for winter break. The temperatures are mild and perfect for wandering outside.
The most important aspect of booking your Alhambra tickets is purchasing a time slot for entering the Nasrid Palaces. Don’t skip out on this extra entrance fee; the Nasrid Palaces (of the Nasrid Dynasty) contain many of the Alhambra’s iconic features. Here are a few things to consider as you book your tickets:
- Visit early: the 8:30AM slot is the earliest in the winter, which means you and your other “slot mates” will be the only people in the palace.
- They tell you that you only have half an hour for the whole visit, but no one enforces this rule. So, if you enter at 9AM or later, people from the 8:30AM slot will still be there.
- The sun rises at around 8AM in Granada in the winter, which is actually the best light for photographing the palace. The soft light allows the details to come through.
- The other perk of an early start is that the Alhambra only gets busier as the day goes on. With your tickets purchased in advance, you can enter the park as soon as it opens and enjoy the uncrowded morning experience.
- Arrive in Granada the afternoon before your morning visit so that you can pick up your tickets and get an early start the next day.
How to pick up your tickets and get there
Upon arrival in Granada, head over to the Alhambra bookstore in downtown Granada to pick up your tickets ahead of time. You need to bring the credit card with which you purchased the tickets, and you will not be able to get your tickets at the main entrance on the day of your visit! This is another reason to arrive the afternoon beforehand. You don’t want to be stuck outside the bookstore trying to get your tickets as your Nasrid Palaces slot slips away!
To actually enter the Alhambra, I suggest grabbing a taxi from downtown Granada. It took us only about 5 euros and about 5 minutes to get to the main entrance (tell the driver to take you to las taquillas de la Alhambra). Since this fortress sits atop the hills, it’s quite the hike just to get up there– and you’ll be walking a lot during the visit. At the entrance, show your pre-purchased tickets and you’re in! If you got the early Nasrid Palace slot, head straight there and line up.
What to bring
Since you’re hopefully planning to spend half your day there, be prepared!
- Your printed tickets (ahem…)
- Comfortable walking shoes (not flats or heels– real shoes!)
- Snacks and water (there are only vending machines on site)
- Warm clothes (the palaces are not heated and they’re made of stone)
- Purse (large backpacks are not allowed in the Nasrid Palaces)
- Camera (but leave your selfie stick at home, please)
Other tips for your visit
You don’t need to take a group tour of the Alhambra, unless you really enjoy that. Instead, you can read about the Moors ahead of time and enjoy the fortress at your own pace.
Also, there are many buildings within the Alhambra; it’s almost like a small village. Be sure to grab a free map at the entrance to ensure that you have seen everything before you leave.
Other than the Nasrid Palaces, there are gardens, watch towers, a church, and the Generalife– the summer palace. Plan to see all of them, before or after your Nasrid Palaces slot.
The walk back down the hill from the Alhambra to downtown Granada is really beautiful. There is a waterfall and lots of greenery, so take the opportunity to enjoy a little nature as you exit.
Alhambra Photo Diary
It was love at first sight. I had already seen photographs of the intricate tiling, breathtaking fractals and elegant grandeur of the fortress, but being in that space makes it come to life. It’s hard to know where one pattern ends and another begins, as everything swirls outwardly in an expanding pursuit of the divine.
The Nasrid Palaces: tranquility and grandeur
The Moors didn’t need paintings for bare walls, because they had no bare walls. Every corner, from floor to ceiling, is dripping with detail. The ceilings are skies full of stars. The walls are gardens that bloom all year.
I knew that one of my favorite scenes would be the Court of the Lions. It’s difficult to see it in the photograph, but small streams of water run from four perfectly symmetrical points of the lion-guarded fountain. The Moors loved adding water features to their architecture, and many small steps were carved with canals of bubbling streams that would pool at a center. A word to the wise– watch your step as you’re admiring those ceilings…
Alcazaba and Partal
What surprised me most about the Alhambra was how beautiful the exterior architecture and gardens were. No effort has been spared in maintaining the entire property the way it would have looked back when it was inhabited. The photograph above was taken right outside the exit of the Nasrid Palaces. This lovely pool, known as the Palacio del Partal, is often missed by those rushing out of the Nasrid Palaces and on to their next stop. Don’t miss it. It’s probably the most beautiful snapshot in the entire fortress.
The Alcazaba, though not glamorous, is a worthwhile sight in itself. It is one of the oldest parts of the Alhambra and the military area of the complex. The best part? Views of the Albaicin, Granada’s charming neighborhood of whitewashed houses.
This summer palace rings with rushing water and splashing fountains. Magical hedges form arches that lead up to the main courtyard. A water stairway boasts a stream of water rushing down a staircase-like fountain, next to real stairs. The Moors’ brilliance in using water both as an aesthetic and to irrigate their crops is a testament to just how sophisticated they were.
Visiting the Alhambra is a bit like drinking from a fire hydrant. There is overwhelming detail, beauty and history, and even a full day is hardly enough to enjoy the space, corner by corner.
Even as I look back on the photos now, I find my words paling in comparison to the experience of this magical place. On the one hand, such splendor is hardly imaginable even for the most powerful ruler today. And yet on the other, I know we chase our own standards of grandeur now– not unlike the Moors back then.