We had an exciting excursion planned today for our final full day in Spain; a visit to the Alhambra in Granada. We first visited the Alhambra in 2014 and it was the highlight of our trip to Spain. We had a bit of a trek to get there that time though, taking a bus for several hours from Cordoba and walking miles through the city of Granada before we reached our destination. This time, with a hire car, the journey was going to be considerably easier, although it was still a trip of around 200km from where we're staying.
After a reasonably earlier start, we arrived at the Alhambra around 11am and parked in what seemed like quite an empty carpark. I had no illusions that the Alhambra was going to be quiet today, though. This is the second most popular visitor attraction in the whole of Spain, out-visited only by the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and while tickets don't sell out quite as quickly as for the Caminito del Rey, you still have to book them several weeks in advance. At least, I had booked these tickets a couple of weeks in advance and only just about managed to get them for the date I wanted. Considering a Wednesday in November is not exactly high season, I'm guessing that they must sell out quite quickly at peak times.
You can buy the tickets online and print them at home to bring with you, but what seems like a bit of a hassle is that you need to enter an ID number for each visitor you buy a ticket for, and then everyone has to show that ID when they arrive. I wasn't sure how rigorously this was going to be checked in practice, but it turned out the answer was "very rigorously"! We had to show our passports to enter the general Alhambra area and then again to enter each of the individual attractions which we visited within it. There were more checks of our documentation at the Alhambra than at Malaga airport or the Gibraltar border
Never mind, it was worth it to visit such a beautiful place
There are three main areas to visit within the Alhambra complex: the Alcazaba, the Generalife gardens and the Nasrid palaces.
Entry to the Nasrid palaces is via a timed slot which you have to book in advance. Entry to the Alcazaba and the Generalife is allowed at any time on the day for which you've purchased a ticket (but you can only visit each area once). We were booked in for the Nasrid palace at 3pm, so decided to start with a walk around the Generalife.
The Palacio de Generalife was the summer palace of the Nasrid dynasty, who ruled Granada from around 1230 to 1492.
It consists of a series of formal gardens, as well as a palace with courtyards.
I didn't know how impressive the gardens would be in November, but there were still a surprising amount of flowers and greenery.
There were also some amazing views across towards the Alcazaba and the Nasrid palaces.
We explored the gardens for a while...
...then moved on to the courtyards of the palace.
It looks quite peaceful in the pictures but we actually got stuck behind a large Turkish tour group at this point which was a bit annoying
We managed to overtake them as we moved on to the palace. The patterns were really beautiful...
...and the views weren't bad either
I absolutely loved the little fountains and water features in the gardens.
The whole complex is really beautiful.
We reached the top of the Generalife and enjoyed the views once again.
It's always nice when you come back to somewhere you really enjoyed visiting first time around and find it's just as amazing as you remember
Leaving the Generalife, we strolled through a smaller area of gardens on our way towards the Alcazaba.
These gardens were really pretty too, and a lot quieter than the main Generalife.
There were flowers...
...and hedges pruned in the shape of crenellations
As we left the gardens, we passed this church...
...plus a couple of hotels which looked like they might be promising spots to get lunch.
Then we reached the outskirts of the Alcazaba.
This is the fortress and the oldest part of the Alhambra.
We passed through this very ornate gate...
...and then we were within the high walls of the castle.
The Alcazaba has one very high tower - the Torre de la Vela - at its far end.
The rest of the castle is made up of these huge ramparts.
We came to a big terrace, from where we had views back down towards Granada.
It's clear from here that it's a very large city.
We weren't planning to go down into it today, but I did recognise the large cathedral which we saw when we visited in 2014.
There were some great views of the Alcazaba itself from here too.
My absolute favourite view was in this direction, though.
You might have to zoom in a bit, but if you do you should just be able to make out a few tiny spots of snow on the mountains in the distance. There's allegedly a ski resort in the mountains behind Granada, but I'm guessing it doesn't have the most reliable snowfall!
We climbed to the top of the high watchtower, which was a bit of an interesting experience as it was quite a narrow staircase with people climbing in both directions.
The views weren't noticeable better from up here than they had been from lower down.
Visit to the Alcazaba completed, we climbed back down in search of lunch. We got a table on the terrace of one of the hotel restaurants with a really lovely view
We both had burgers (mine was without all the leaves!)...
...followed by desserts (not 100% sure what these were called, but they were very nice!).
Not the cheapest meal of the holiday, but it successfully enabled us to kill the time until we were allowed to enter the Nasrid palaces at 15.00
We had to queue up, have our passports scanned again, then finally we were inside
These were the main royal palaces, inhabited by the rulers of Granada.
The tour leads you through a succession of rooms, each with more elaborate patterns and decorations than the last.
This is definitely the highlight of a visit to the Alhambra, but because of its popularity and the timed entry system, there are always hordes of people in any given room.
That's why most of our pictures are taken above the level of other people's heads
There were some cool details if you looked down too, though. I loved the tiles on this floor...
...and was particularly impressed to find what looked like ducks on some of them
There were some amazing patterns on the walls too.
The windows were pretty incredible too.
And the archways!
Sometimes it was impossible not to get other people in the photos.
The main irritation was guided tours, which caused large groups of people to stand in a given room and make it difficult for other people to get around them.
It was mandatory to wear masks though and everyone seemed to be complying with that, which was good.
Periodically we emerged from the inner rooms into courtyards.
There were some beautiful details here too.
Back inside, there were some more incredible ceilings like this one...
...and this one.
Last time we came here we were using digital cameras and we ended up taking so many photos that Tim filled the memory card on his and started having to delete things.
I think the battery on the camera might then ultimately have died
It's hard not to constantly take photos when you're somewhere as spectacular as this.
We passed through some archways into a courtyard once again.
You can see it was quite busy!
This is the Courtyard of the Lions, with this fountain as its centrepiece.
From here we moved into what seemed to be one of the most elaborate rooms in the palaces.
Another absolutely stunning ceiling!
We were getting towards the end of the tour now.
We walked through this archway...
...and out into the final gardens.
Then it was back out into the open sunshine
One final view to admire before we needed to head back to the car
It's been a lot of travelling to get to the Alhambra and back today, but 100% worth it The tickets were only €14 (which feels good value compared to €11 for the Mezquita in Cordoba) and the parking was an additional €10. It feels like a small price to have paid to visit somewhere so unique.