Granada has a special place in my heart. I studied abroad there in 2011. Yep, I lived with a family, spoke Spanish, and lived that tapas life. Then, last year I visited again. I guess I just can’t get enough of it. Here are a few things you need to know about the Granada, Spain, the way of life, the can’t-miss restaurants, historical sites and best neighborhoods to stay.
Way of Life:
- Tapas are free with any drink purchase at a bar. More on this later.
- Servers are NOT in a rush. This is the South of Spain. The most traditionally Spanish. Don’t feel bad waving to get the server’s attention for each course, or even to get the menu. Or to order. Yeah, you have to be prepared to sit for a while, and have some nice conversation.
- There’s no “To-Go.” Sit down and drink your coffee, damnit.
- Stores close in the afternoon. Don’t expect much to be open from 2-4. Siesta is real! Beware of Sundays as well – most stores and sites aren’t open.
- Going out at night? The party doesn’t start till 11pm, even 12 or 1. The party ends when the sun comes up, around 7am.
Did you know tapas are free in Granada? YEP. If you’re at a bar, ordering alcohol or a bottled water or soft drink, you get a free bite of food (it does not apply to restaurants, or if you’re ordering food). The idea is that you should be eating while drinking (SMART). My favorite thing to do in Granada was tapas-hopping. Different bars have different offerings. Sometimes you’ll get a small plate of olives, and sometimes you’ll make out with a plate of pasta, or Jamón.
I’ll let college Mary tell you more about this beautiful thing called Tapas. Here is the vintage edition of my blog I had while in Granada.
My top Tapas places:
Espadafor – with barrels of vermouth behind the bar, you can’t NOT get one. It’s weird for Americans to just order vermouth, but it’s delicious and worth it. Tapas here were chorizo, patatas bravas and other traditional Spanish cuisine.
Café Bar la Esquina – This is my favorite area for going out – the age group seems to be late 20’s – 30’s. A little faster paced, the food comes out steaming hot and with your tapas of choice. Normally you can’t choose, but sometimes they do – look for “para eligir.”
Om Kalsoum– Moroccan themed, you can actually get falafel tapas!
Poe-owned by a British guy and his Portuguese wife. They came to Granada on vacation and never left. This is the best tasting food in all of Granada. So unique and spicy and gourmet.
Nonsolo Pasta-they have tapas “para eligir,” or to choose. You can actually get dessert tapas with your drink here. This one is near the Bull Ring, so you can check out both at once.
Bodegas Castañeda-Very traditional spot where you stand up and eat. They have about 5 different rounds of tapas. This is right in the tourist area, but don’t be fooled, the locals crowd this place during the weekends.
Monasterio de Santa Isabel la Real
This is a monastery of cloistered nuns who BAKE. Find the secret door, ring the bell, and get the pastry of the day. You slide your money into the door, and the door spins around to reveal your treats. I must say, this is WICKED cool and James-Bond-y.
Dishes and Drinks to Try
- Drink: Vermouth, Sangria or Alhambra beer
- Caracoles: Snails! Try Bar Aliatar de Caracoles
- Jamón Ibérico and Jamón Serrano: Dry-cured ham from acorn-fed pigs, on the Iberian peninsula. You’ll see it literally everywhere, even hanging from the ceilings. This is the reason I got fat in Spain. You can get this everywhere.
- Tortilla Española: A thick egg and potato frittata. You’ll see this eaten at all time a day and sometimes inside a bocadillo. This is an item you can find at most cafes.
- Pan con Tomate: the classic midmorning snack. You can get this at any cafe you find open! Know that most places don’t open super early in Granada.
- Bocadillo: You might call it a sandwich, but it’s technically a baguette with jamon or cheese inside. Crispy, crunchy and a convenient bite. Aliatar in the Plaza Bib Rambla has the best and cheapest bocadillo. Its an old school cafeteria counter where you can get your bocadillo to go, or stay, grab a beer and chat with the locals. Super casual, good for lunch.
- Churros con Chocolate: dip churros into molten hot creamy chocolate. You can get this at many restaurants, but I suggest going old school. Gran Cafe Bib Rambla is the spot. Careful, the chocolate is uber creamy. This is where I learned the harsh truth about my lactose issue… (A story for another time).
- Pasteles-pastries! There are so many kinds. I recommend going to Pasteleria Confiteria del Sol and eating everything you see. Piononos are the pastry of Granada: a little buttery cake with bruleed custard on top. I did a pastry crawl while I was there and wrote about it – check it out.
What to do
The Alhambra: I literally spent days at the Alhambra. I had an Islamic architecture class, and we studied every inch of this place. It’s an ABSOLUTE MUST when visiting Granada. So much so, that it is the biggest tourist attraction in the country of Spain. What is it? A Moorish palace and fortress that changed hands through history but stayed impenetrable. It became the royal court of our fave monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella (and yes it’s the site of where our A-hole friend, Christopher Columbus, received funding for his expedition to the West Indies). The architecture and design is unbelievable-look it up, read about it, be amazed. Don’t go without seeing the grounds, or the Generalife – it’s where the sultans would walk around to chill out, and it’s magical.
HOT TIP: Get tickets in advance. You won’t have to stand in line, and you’re guaranteed to get in. Make sure it allows entrance into La Alhambra and Generalife (the gardens.) Take the bus up the hill if it’s super early in the morning. Otherwise the walk is steep but scenic.
Catedrál de Granada: Where Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand are actually buried. Note how their marble statues portray Isabella’s head sinking further into the pillow; showing how she was the brains of the operation. Their bodies are buried in a crypt below the statue.
Calle Elvira: The door to the original walled city of Granada as a Moorish city.
Baños Arabes: Some of the oldest preserved Arab Baths in the world. A short but worthwhile peek.
Shopping at the Moroccan section: Téterias (tea shops) and shops full of Moroccan goods. You can barter. Keep in mind that these are some of the best shopping market prices in Spain. I always wish I got more earrings here. The street is called Calle Calderería Nueva.
Plaza-hopping: Go for a walk, stopping at every plaza along the way. There’s always something going on from street entertainment to bustling outdoor cafes.
Mirador de San Nicolas: Best photo opp ever. Hang out for a bit and you might hear some Flamenco guitar, and even see some dancing. Get to it on the bus or walk up the winding streets of the Albaicín.
Plaza de los Toros: The Bull Ring. See here for my bull fight experience.
Parque Garcia Lorca: The famous poet’s home, amidst an expansive garden of roses.
Chupiteria 69: This literally translates to “Shot place.” The solely have shots of different kinds, and give out drink tickets. If you get enough tickets you can pool them for some Chupiteria swag.
Boogaclub – Jazz club, live music
Boom Boom Room & Mae West – Dance Clubs
Plaza Albert Einstein has a bunch of bars for the 20/30s crowd.
Bar Emilio: Serves mixed drinks out of Porrones. It’s a special carafe where the spout it very narrow, so you hold up the jug and pour it into your mouth from afar.
Where to Stay
Casa del Pilar: An extremely convenient hotel in the main plaza. Ask for a room with a balcony so you can people watch all day. The hotel has an open courtyard in the middle that houses a cafe – a great spot to grab a cafe con leche and pan con tomate before heading out for the day.
This is the old Jewish neighborhood. Now you’ll see it’s kind of the artsy part of town, with masterful wall art and a general bohemian vibe. Check out Carmen de los Martires on a hill above the neighborhood, and the Mirador de Melisendra. What a view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Head to Hotel Alhambra Palace for a fancy drink on the deck.
My dream neighborhood. I stayed here in an Airbnb on my trip last year. It has the best views of the Alhambra, and is the most peaceful at night. This is the old Islamic quarter. The only drawback? It’s a steep climb. It’s on a hill and there are cobblestones everywhere. It will take a while to walk home each night, but it’s worth it. At the end of the summer, there’s festivals in the plazas, with adults drinking and kids playing till the weekend hours of the night.
Granada is my all-time favorite city – obviously other than New York. I spent about six months there in college, and another week last year. I hope you can take the time to see it for yourself!