All you need to know about visiting the Alhambra in Granada

Towering over the old town of Granada on the hilltop is this majestic 9th-century fortress complex which is an architectural marvel. Although there is evidence that the complex dates as far back as that and was built to protect the city of Granada from invaders, it seems that the current structure was established as a royal residence only during the rule of the Nasrid dynasty during the 13th and 14th centuries. The intricately carved walls and colourful Mosaics with Arabic inscriptions are awe-inspiring, making the Alhambra one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture. If you're planning on visiting the Alhambra in Granada, you have to prepare for it in advance, it is one of the most visited historical sites in Spain, meaning that tickets are likely to sell out way in advance.

Granada, the city, lies in the South of Spain and is culturally very different from the cities you might visit before you get here, such as Barcelona. Living in the Arab world (Dubai), I instantly felt at home with the Middle Eastern influences that are easily noticeable in this city. That, perhaps, is the most intriguing thing about Granada - an eclectic mix of its historical Muslim rule and the modern Spanish culture which followed the Catholic monarchs in the 15th century.

Although most of the ruins remain from the 14th-century Muslim rule, parts of the palace complex were destroyed and reconstructed by the Catholic emperors. The difference in the Islamic architecture and the Renaissance architecture is quite obvious and one can say without reasonable doubt that the finesse and magnificence of the Islamic architecture surpass that of the construction taken on by the Catholic emperors.

Visiting the Alhambra in Granada

The famous palace complex was uninhabited and neglected during the 18th and 19th centuries when it became home to beggars, thieves and the homeless. It was only in the 19th century that it was converted into a national monument and begun to be maintained by the government as a souvenir of the rich history and tough time that it had seen and survived. Today, Alhambra in Granada is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that accommodates up to 6,000 visitors on a daily basis.

How to buy the tickets for Alhambra in Granada

On the official website of Alhambra

Although this is the best and the cheapest way to secure your tickets to visit the Alhambra, it is also the toughest because the tickets sell out very fast here. During summer, the tickets get sold out even 3 months in advance and that is exactly what happened with me, there were absolutely no tickets available for my dates of visit, even though I checked 45 days before my travel dates.

The best type of ticket to buy is Alhambra General for €14 which includes access to everything during the day. Alternatively, if you wish to visit the gardens or the Nasrid Palaces during the night (I would ideally not recommend this unless the day tickets for the Nasrid Palaces are sold out and it is the only option available), you could buy the Gardens, Generalife & Alcazaba Ticket for €7 and the night visit to Nasrid Palaces for €8.

Advantages: Cheap tickets, anytime access to all sites except Nasrid Palaces which have a fixed access time

Disadvantages: Sell out in advance, include only visit but not guided tour

Visiting the Alhambra in Granada

Third-party websites/ guided tours

If you're unable to find the tickets of your choice on the official website, you can buy guided tours from third-party websites such as Headout or GetYourGuide which cost anywhere between €45 - €60 for a small group guided tour.

Once again, if you're unable to find the day access to the Nasrid Palaces, you may book the guided tour to the Generalife Palaces & Gardens + Alcazaba separately and the night visit to Nasrid Palaces separately.

Advantages: Fixed timing, a guided tour which provides a lot of information

Disadvantages: Higher price, no flexibility of exploring by yourself

Nasrid Palaces at night

On-site purchase

If you're not willing to spend the extra money to buy a guided tour, want to have the flexibility to explore by yourself, and are unable to find tickets for your date of visit online, then you can buy the tickets on-site when you're in Granada. Although this might be a little bit of a risk, there are some tickets available at the last minute based on the turnout. However, you might have to wait in a queue to secure your tickets or reach really early to ensure that you're able to get one. This, without a doubt, should be the last resort.

Advantages: Cheap tickets, best for last-minute plans

Disadvantages: High risk of unavailability, huge queues and long waiting times

Granada City Pass

If you're planning to explore other monuments in Granada, you can get a city pass which gives discounts on public transportation and includes a visit to several other sites in the city. The Granada City Pass also includes a visit to Alhambra Palaces, with the same conditions of booking a fixed time for Nasrid Palaces. The pass only includes a visit though, not a guided tour.

Advantages: Access to several other tourist sights in Granada

Disadvantages: Not a guided tour, only access

What to see in Alhambra in Granada

The Alhambra is about 20-min away from the historical centre of the city by car, and there is a huge parking lot available right outside the complex. One may also choose to walk the steep uphill route which takes about 10 minutes from Plaza Nueva or you can take the bus from Isabel Catolica Square which takes slightly longer (about 35 min).

Keep aside about 3.5 hours from your visit and wear comfortable shoes as you will be walking quite a bit. There are four main areas to visit in the Alhambra Palace in Granada.

The Generalife Gardens and Summer Palaces

The Generalife Gardens and Summer Palaces are the best place to start as they're a bit further away from the rest of the sites in the complex. As you walk through the perfectly manicured rectangular gardens, with colourful flowers, towering trees, an amphitheatre that is sometimes used for concerts, charming covered walkways and small fountains, you're able to view the Alcazaba Fortress on the other side of the hill from the Sultan's summer home. A walk through the gardens can be quite relaxing before you visit the palace itself. The highlight, however, is the interior courtyard which is quite magnificently lined with a water canal, making for a great photo opportunity.

The Generalife Gardens and Summer Palaces, Alhambra

The Generalife Gardens and Summer Palaces, Alhambra

The Generalife Gardens and Summer Palaces, Alhambra

The Alcazaba Fortress

Used mostly for military purposes, not a lot remains of this fortress but the views from the watchtower are definitely worth a visit. With the Sierra Nevada in the backdrop (snow-covered, if you're lucky) and the city of Granada below, climbing the few steps to the top makes for some magnificent vistas.

Views from The Alcazaba Fortress

Views from The Alcazaba Fortress

Palacio de Carlos V (Palace of Charles V)

As you walk towards the Palace of Charles V, you're likely to cross a few other religious buildings such as the church that was built on the site of a mosque, when the Catholic emperors invaded and occupied the Alhambra. The Palace of Charles V itself was built in a quintessentially Renaissance style, with the two-tiered circular courtyard being one of its key highlights, almost reminding one of the Colosseum in Rome. The Palace houses two museums, Museo de la Alhambra and Museo de Bellas Artes. Apart from the museums, there isn't much to see in the palace itself.

The Palace of Charles V

Palacios Nazaríes (or Nasrid Palaces)

These are the most impressive part of the Alhambra in Granada and a visit to this palace complex is incomplete without exploring the stunning Nasrid Palaces. Due to the unavailability of a day time entrance ticket, I had to buy the night visit and the palaces were strikingly lit up at night, adding to the charm of the glorious interiors. To be honest, I was disappointed with my visit to the Alhambra until I stepped into the spectacular Nasrid Palaces and I can easily say, even if you skip everything else, this should be the highlight of your visit to Alhambra in Granada.

The Nasrid Palaces are divided into three key areas - the entrance through Mexuar, a 14th-century hall that acted as the chamber for public and administrative business, the Palacio de Comares, the emir's official and private residence; and the Palacio de Los Leones, a private area for the royal family and harem. As you walk through these awe-inspiring pieces of architecture, do not forget to look up at the finely-carved wooden ceilings, elegant patios and beautiful facades with complex Islamic geometric designs. You require at least an hour to admire the beauty of these interconnected areas.

The magnificent Nasrid Palaces at night

The magnificent Nasrid Palaces at night

The magnificent Nasrid Palaces at night

The magnificent Nasrid Palaces at night

What (else) to do in Granada in a day

Although visiting the Alhambra in Granada is probably the main reason why you'll head there in the first place, you're likely to still have the evening to explore the Andalusian city. Here are some things you can do while you're here:

  • Visit the Royal Chapel of Granada
  • Visit the Granada Cathedral
  • Shop at the Arabesque Alcaiceria, a street market that will transport you into a Middle Eastern souk atmosphere
  • Explore the narrow maze-like streets of the Albayzín neighbourhood
  • Watch traditional flamenco in Sacromonte
  • Watch the sunset over the Alhambra from San Nicolas Mirador
  • Take a leisurely stroll on the Carrera del Darro 

Carrera del Darro romantic river walk, Granada

Streets of Granada - Albayzín neighbourhood

The Arabesque souq-like market in Granada city centre- La Alcaiceria

Recommended hotel to stay in Granada City Centre: Hotel Inglaterra 

41 thoughts on “All you need to know about visiting the Alhambra in Granada”

  1. We visited Alhambra many years ago but it remains one spot that we always recommend to people visiting Spain. We did not have trouble getting tickets when we visited off season. So good to know that you can get them online. We loved all the stone work that looked like lace. It was lovely to get a view of Alhambra from all over Granada. Thanks for taking me back.

  2. Thanks for this amazing travel guide.. I was planning to visit this place next month.. Now this guide will definitely help me a lot..

  3. I heard a lot about Granada from my friend. But reading this post I am eagerly waiting to visit this mesmerizing place

  4. Loveddd the Alhambra! It was so grand and the Moorish architecture took my breath away 🙂 Love the way you have mentioned about the tickets and third party tours. I wish the ticket included a guided tour. The complex is HUGEE! 🙂

    1. Guided tours are expensive, as compared to the general ticket which is quite cheap. But I have to say, the guided tour is worth it, the guides have so much knowledge, it helps to know the history behind the whole complex.

  5. Wow, the Middle Eastern influence is undeniable. It is hard to believe that Alhambra was once in disrepair, and it’s a good thing the government decided to revive it before it was too late to salvage. That’s crazy that tickets were sold out 45 days in advance, but I can see why! The Nasrid Palaces are simply stunning with all their details and geometric designs.

  6. Oh Spain is also one of my dream destination! Aside from the fact that Spain used to be our motherland 300-years ago, we shared so many cultures and traditions. Granada will be in my list, thanks to your recommendations.

  7. Granada in general looks beautiful! The Alhambra looks like such a beautiful, peaceful place to explore. I wasn’t familiar with it until now, so thank you for bringing it to my attention. I would love to visit.

  8. Lots of good advice here. Honestly, it’s great a post like this exists because it’s important to have a plan of attack to get the most out of your visit. It’s definitely a place you’ll never forget once you’ve visited.

  9. Granada is one of my favourite Spanish cities. Second time lucky visiting and getting tickets to the Alhambra, the first time we left it to late and could not get in. My favourite areas are the Generalife Gardens, the views and of course the Palace. I could have stayed all day just wandering around the complex. Thanks for bringing back great memories of my visit.

  10. Lots of good advice, particularly to purchase tickets for Alhambra Palace a few months in advance online so as not to miss out. I really need to see it, as I’ve heard much about it.

  11. Alhambra has always intrigued me. Such a magnificent fusion of architecture here. I am totally in love with the details with the Nasrid palaces. And those are some lovely and rare shots of the interiors – have not seen many around. Thanks for this lovely virtual tour

  12. You’ve brought the memories of this gorgeous place right back to me! I visited Granada when I was 16 with my mum and we came here, I was blown away. Nothing beats beautiful, intricate Islamic design. I would say this trip inspired my want to travel. The city itself is also amazing.

    1. Wow, that’s really cool. I can imagine the impact it must’ve had when you were so young that it awakened your wanderlust!

  13. I loved Alambra and your post took me back to this beautiful memories. Last year I went to Algeria and they also have palaces like that, as they were built in the same time under Ottoman Empire, unfortunately not as well preserved.

  14. It’s such an incredible place to visit. I was there a few years ago but I’d love to go back, I just haven’t been organised enough. You really do need to book in advance theres days, there’s no turning up on the day!

  15. Me encanta Granada! It’s one of my favorite places to visit when I’m back in Spain and reading your post just brought back many great memories! I love the Palacio de Carlos V, and I also forgot the intricate detail of the Nasrid Palace! It’s great that you listed the types of different tours to do too. I always opt for the guided tour 🙂

    1. Guided Tours are good because you get so much valuable information from the guides who’ve studied about the place extensively.

  16. Great pictures Medha! I like the Palace of Carlos V, it seems to be very beautiful, also The Alcazaba Fortress looks to be a very cool place to go and take pictures! Granada looks to be a very cool place!

  17. I didn’t realise Granada has Middle Eastern influence. That is quite interesting. I have not been to Spain properly and looking at this makes me want to especially the fact I love Dubai. Each of the palaces look so beautiful and the prices for the tour seem reasonable- is that a private one?

  18. I am enthralled by fascinating architecture, so the ornate carvings and style of buildings in Granada draws me to visit! And those views over the city are just stunning! Thank you for helpfully laying out all of the different options for visiting. I am tempted to book a plane ticket now!

  19. This is one of the places in my wishlist that I’ve been wanting to see ever since I studied about it in Art History. Its an architectural, sculptural, art masterpiece. Its so gorgeous and I’m yet to see it with my own eyes!
    I didn’t know it was left negleted for almost 2 centuries. Its amazing that it in a good shape even after that.
    Thanks for the explanation about various ticket types. In Spain, I’m not risking on-site ticket anywhere. The queues are way too long! Thanks for the tip about Granada Pass. That’s the best I guess.
    OMG! The night lighting is impeccable. I should plan to visit it in the night, instead of day!

  20. Even though it seems expensive, I would buy a guided tour ticket to visit Alhambra. The monuments and structures at Alhambra remind me of palaces of Jaipur and Hyderabad in India. Nasrid Palace will surely be my favourite and I will make it a point to visit it during evening time so that I see it all illuminated. Thanks for this amazing guide to Granada.

    1. I agree, it does help to have someone with immense knowledge to take you through a historical place like this.

  21. Another beautiful place in Spain that I need to explore. It has been a while since my last visit to Spain, but I am hoping to be able to visit soon again. Granada seems lovely, and the Nasrid Palaces truly look amazing! I love the photos of it!

    1. Nasrid Palaces were the highlight of Alhambra in my opinion. Loved the intricate carvings and the architecture.

    1. I loved the blend of Arab influences and Spanish culture. Sangrias, tapas and flamenco on one side, and traditional medinas, Islamic architecture and tea houses on the other.

  22. I have been lucky enough to visit Alhambra Palace few years ago and this brought back some good memories so thanks. It is indeed a marvel and one which should be visited if you are around this area in Granada. We were there in peak summer and yes it can be very hot so would suggest to go when its cooler and you can enjoy the place more. I would have loved to visit it at night as the views of the majestic 9th-century fortress lit up is a treat truly. Book tickets in advance that’s for sure especially if you are going in the summer.

    1. I was there right before the hottest months but it was quite warm nevertheless. I tried booking tickets 2 months before and couldn’t get so had to look at alternatives- ended up with a guided tour and paid more than I would’ve liked to!

  23. Great guide for Alhambra, Medha! I wish I would have written about Granada before you, hahaha. We visited this place about 15 years ago and absolutely loved it, but at the time I wasn’t blogging. Your beautiful pictures reminded me of our visit. The orange trees were in bloom and there was such an aroma in the air!

    1. Unfortunately, it wasn’t orange blossom season when I travelled! I guess I was a bit too late for it, in June.

  24. I missed Granada during my Spain tour due to lack of time but it really looks very beautiful. Good to know that we have to book online tickets in advance as they sell out quite fast. The Generalife Gardens and Summer Palaces in Alhambra are very photogenic and it has both natural and historic beauty. Living in Dubai, I too feel the close connection of Islamic art here in Alhambra through your photos. Thanks for all useful advice and tips.

    1. South of Spain has a lot of Islamic influences, you can almost feel like you’re in the Middle East!

  25. Alhambra in Granada is just so beautiful. We have been planning to get there for a long time now but the trip has never materialized. Very recently, we were thinking of doing a last minute trip to Spain but alas! Tickets to Alhambra were not available. And we did not want to risk it by going to the ticket counter last minute. Any trip to Spain is incomplete without Alhambra. So, hopefully next time we will get there.

    1. There’s always the option of doing a guided tour, Soumya. If the tickets are sold out, you’re still likely to find some 3rd party websites selling guided tours or even entrance tickets.

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