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Of all the castles and palaces I have ever wanted to visit (and there are a few!), none compares to the Alhambra in Granada Spain. There’s something mystical about the red fortress complex that fires your imagination.
Here are some of my favourite Alhambra photos and facts as well as information for planning your visit.
The Alhambra – Granada, Spain
Perched high on a hill overlooking the Spanish city of Granada, the Alhambra is a series of royal and military sites dating from the 13th century.
Though the area was first established as a strategic site by the Romans, it wasn’t until the final years of the Nasrid dynasty of Muslim emirs that the beautiful palaces we see today were constructed.
The name Alhambra comes from the Arabic Qalat Al-Hamra or Red Castle
The Moors (Arabs) invaded Europe in 711 and at the height of their influence controlled most of modern Spain and Portugal and areas of southern France. Al-Andalus was the name given to the Moorish territories.
Their influence waned over the centuries, never was it stronger than in Granada and the area we now know as Andalucia.
The Alhambra’s Nasrid Palaces, built by the last Muslim emirs are an enduring symbol of Al-Andalus that have inspired artists and intellectuals for centuries.
After defeating the Moors in 1492, monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella established the complex as a royal court and began Renaissance style additions and alterations.
This work was completed by later generations of the dynasty and included the Charles V (Carlos V) Palace that is now one of the site’s important buildings.
Six main buildings make up the Alhambra complex – the Nasrid Palaces, The Carlos V Palace, The Alcazabar, The Medina, Rauda – Royal Cemetery, Generalife Gardens and Palace.
It is possible to see them all when you visit the Alhambra. Below are some favourite spots from our recent visit.
Favourite Alhambra photos and facts
Nasrid Palaces – Palacios Nazaries
The highlight of any visit to the Alhambra are the incredible Nasrid Palaces. They are the featured in most Alhambra photos and rightly so.
Incredibly detailed carvings and tile work throughout the palaces contrast with the simple dimensions and design. Despite the crowds, this is a serene place full of wonder and beauty around every corner
Court of the Lions – Patio de los Leones
The marbled Court of Lions with its beautiful fountain is perhaps the enduring symbol of the Alhambra. The twelve lions supporting the fountain represent power and prestige.
Around the courtyard, colonnades paved with blue and yellow tiles support the ornate ceiling.
Court of the Myrtles – Patio de los Arrayanes
Providing a central focal point for the Palace, the beautiful Court of Myrtles follows traditional Moorish design. The pool full of goldfish was used to cool the palace and was seen as a symbol of power.
Unfortunately there was some scaffolding on the archways during our visit so we didn’t get to see the full reflection as pictured above
Hall of the Ambassadors – Salón de los Embajadores
The largest room in the complex, the Hall of the Ambassadors was the sultan’s grand reception and throne room.
You might be distracted by the stunning ‘mirador’ or view of the city glimspes but don’t forget to look up as the ceiling and upper walls are breathtaking.
Hall of the Two Sisters – Sala de las dos Hermanas
This stunning ceiling is from the Hall of Two Sisters – part of the sultana or Moorish queens rooms within the palaces. The room is named for the two marble slabs that form part of the floor.
Hall of the Abencerrages – Sala de los Abencerrajes
One of the more gruesome legends of the Alhambra is said to have taken place in this room. It is said to be named after the Abencerrajes knights who were beheaded under this spectacular star shaped dome.
I could have stared at this ceiling for hours with its intricate tile work and star pointed stalactites that seem to drop from above.
Court of the Lindaraja
The Emperor’s rooms including the bath house radiate out from this peaceful courtyard. A fountain made of stone from the Elvira Mountains babbles quietly in its centre.
The Partal Palace and Gardens
Overlooking a giant pond full of goldfish, lush gardens and the city of Granada below, the Partal Palace has one of the best positions in the Alhambra.
The Partal houses one of the oldest structures in the complex. This was only uncovered when the property was handed to the state in the late 19th century. It had been covered with vines and crude plasterwork.
Generalife Palace and Gardens
Once the site of the summer palace of the Nasrid dynasty, the gardens of the Generalife were established in 1931 as part of the ongoing restoration of the Alhambra site.
Today’s gardens draw from traditional local techniques and are considered to be an authentic example of Moorish garden design.
Generalife translates to Architect’s Garden
The highlight of the Generalife is the Patio de la Acequia or Water-Garden Courtyard (pictured above) with its long channel of water bounded by myrtle hedges, pomegranate trees and playful fountains.
Even at the end of autumn there were colourful flowers in bloom.
The lush Generalife gardens and fountains are fed by an ingenious irrigation system built by the Moors. It sources water from the from the Darro river 3.5 miles upstream.
No wonder the Alhambra has inspired writers and artists for centuries. Most famously, Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra inspired the romantic notions we now hold of the site. It tells of pilgrims and princesses, and wizards and warriors.
More recently, one of my favourite author’s – Salman Rushdie, built on the story of Boabdil, the last Moorish king, in The Moor’s Last Sigh.
Perhaps there never was a monument more characteristic of an age and people than the Alhambra; a rugged fortress without, a voluptuous palace within; war frowning from its battlements; poetry breathing throughout the fairy architecture of its halls.
Alhambra visitor guide
Some attractions around the world require minimal planning. The Alhambra is not one of these. The main thing you need to know is that you MUST PRE-BOOK tickets and plan when you will enter the Nasrid Palaces.
There are several other things to consider before booking your tickets.
Alhambra opening times
Alhambra day time opening
15 March – 14 October: 8:30–20:00 daily. Ticket office hours: 8:00–19:00
15 October – 14 March: 8:30–18:00 daily. Ticket office hours: 8:00–17:00
Closed – 25th December and 1st January
There are 2 sessions to choose from in the morning and afternoon. Morning tickets are valid from 8:30–14:00 and afternoon tickets from 14:00–18:00 (20:00 in summer).
You must enter the ticketed areas (Nasrid Palace, Generalife Palace and Charles V palace) of the site within these times.
Timed entry slots are in place for the most popular site, the Nasrid Palaces. Entry is timed to restrict the flow of people through these incredible buildings. You will appreciate that when you are there.
Most visitors spend around 3 hours at the Alhambra but you could easily use the allocated 5.5 hours
Ticket prices – €14 for General admission including the gardens – more info
Alhambra night opening times
Imagine seeing this incredible citadel lit up in the dark. You can visit the Alhambra at night throughout the year however you must choose between a tour of the Nasrid Palaces or another to the Generalife – you can’t do both on the same night.
15 March – 14 October: 22:00–23:30 Tuesday – Saturday. Ticket office hours: 21:00–22:45
15 October – 14 March: 20:00–21:30 Friday and Saturday. Ticket office hours: 19:00–20:45
Ticket prices – €8 [Nasrid Palaces] €5 [Generalife and Gardens]
Best time to visit the Alhambra
The most popular months to visit the Alhambra are from April to June and this is when the site is most crowded. We visited in mid November and while still very busy we did not experience a crush of people.
July and August can be unbearably hot in this region with temperatures soaring to 104˚F or 40˚C
Over summer, the most popular session is the morning session and in winter the Alhambra is busier in the afternoon.
Saturdays and public holidays are the busiest days in any season.
I recommend visiting the Nasrid Palaces in the first sessions of the day – 08:30 or 09:00am – before large tour groups arrive.
That way you can spend your time exploring the rest of the complex at leisure.
Alhambra ticket booking process
Only 6,600 visitors are able to enter the Alhambra site daily and these need to be pre-booked online or purchased as part of a guided tour or the Granada City Card
To be honest I found the process of buying Alhambra tickets quite confusing so I have laid it out for you:
1 | Visit the official Alhambra ticketing site
2 | Choose your preferred ticket option – the Alhambra General gives you access to all sites including the gardens
3 | Select the tickets you need. Note – you need a ticket for children under 12 even though there is no charge
4 | Select the date and time you wish to enter the Nasrid Palace – you can only enter at this time
5 | Enter visitor details including ID (for EU Nationals) or Passport for others
6 | Make payment
7 | Print your tickets at home or collect from the ticket office or the
Ticket bookings open 90 days in advance and sell out quickly for peak periods. We were restricted for choice in mid November booking 6 weeks out and ended up planning much of our trip to southern Spain around our Alhambra visit. You can book tickets online up to 2 hours before your visit.
Tip – Read the ticket rules carefully as there are many restrictions. Eg Selfie sticks, tripods and large backpacks are not allowed
What to do if you did not pre book tickets in advance
The Granada Tourist board offers the Bono Turístico Granada Card which guarantees access to the Alhambra. At €37 it is a lot more expensive than the standard entry price of €14.85 but allows access to several other attractions in Granada.
Lastly, you could join a guided tour of the Alhambra as tour tickets are guaranteed entry.
Note – as of 1st November 2017 you can no longer buy last minute tickets at the booking office
How to plan your Alhambra itinerary
Firstly, download the official map of the Alhambra that can help you visualise the site.
If you start at the Nasrid Palaces allow ample time to collect your tickets if required and walk 10-15 minutes from the main entrance. There are some wonderful views along the way
After visiting the Nasrid Palaces and Partal, go on to the Carlos V Palace and the Alcazabar before finishing at the Generalife gardens.
Remember to hold on to your ticket as this will be scanned at the major sites.
What to bring and wear for your Alhambra visit
As I mentioned, during the summer months, Granada becomes very hot. Wear light, loose clothing to help keep cool and protect your skin from the sun. Bring a hat and sunscreen too.
In winter you need to plan for much cooler temperatures. When we arrived at the site at 08:00am in mid November the temperature was 2˚C or 35˚F. As the sun rose, it became warmer but in the shade was still very cool. We had jackets and scarves and were warm enough but I imagine it is much colder during winter.
For all seasons wear comfortable walking shoes as you will cover a lot of ground exploring the sites. Bring water and snacks too as the catering on site is minimal.
You cannot take buggies, strollers or large backpacks into the Nasrid Palaces or Generalife. There are special places to keep them while you explore.
Getting to the Alhambra
While many people stay in Granada overnight, you can easily do a self drive day trip or organised tour to the Alhambra from Seville or Malaga.
It’s a steep uphill walk of around 1 kilometre from the city centre to the entrance at Puerta de la Justicia (Justice Gate) – you need to have your tickets with you if you enter here.
You can also catch the green line tourist train that stops at many of Granada’s sights. The cost is €8 for one day or it is included in the Granada city pass.
Driving to the Alhambra from Malaga or Seville
We did the easy 90 minute drive from Malaga to the Alhambra. The trip from Seville is just under 3 hours each way.
Parking is onsite near the main entrance at Camino Viejo del Cementerio, 2A, 18009 Granada and fills up quickly.
Allow plenty of time to collect your tickets and walk 10-15 minutes to the Nasrid Palaces from the main gate.
Other useful Alhambra resources
The Alhambra official visitor guide
This guide is also available as an app on Apple and Android
A handy map of the Alhambra
Visiting the Alhambra with children
Honestly, the Alhambra is not the most child friendly place and it would be even less so at the height of summer.
Exploring the outdoor areas is fun but the intricate details of the Nasrid Palaces and formal gardens are a bit too tempting for little fingers.
Visiting the Alhambra was my dream though so we stretched our visit to 3 hours with bribes and cajoling towards the end. We took lots of snacks and had many breaks along the way.
Family friendly tips for the Alhambra
There are decent bathroom facilities between the Alcazar and Nasrid Palaces but these are few and far between. Also, note that apart from a couple of snack bars and the Parador hotel restaurant where you must book, catering options are minimal.
Ideally I would have hired a family tour guide with expertise in bringing the site alive for children but could not find anything suitable.
If you are travelling with older children I would recommend hiring a private guide who can help tell the stories of this beautiful place.
I would love to return to the Alhambra one day to do a night visit and stay on site at the ridiculously romantic Parador Hotel.
Have you visited the Alhambra? What site was your favourite?
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