Situated at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalucia, Granada is a smallish city of fewer than half a million. Yet there are more things to see and do here than in some cities ten times its size. Once part of the kingdom of Castile, it is now one of Spain’s best tourist meccas.
Not least of the attractions is The Alhambra, one of the most often visited sites in all Europe.
Built chiefly from 1338 to 1390, it served as the royal residence for many generations afterward. From the 740 meter (2400 feet) high terrace one gains a view of Granada which is matched only by the Mirador de San Nicolas at the other end of the city.
One of the most outstanding sights, a difficult choice among so many, is the Court of the Lions. A fountain supported by lions – a practically unknown element in Islamic architecture – is at the center of a large courtyard. Around the rim are dozens of medium height classic Moorish arches supported by highly decorative columns.
Not far from Alhambra are the renowned Generalife Gardens of Granada, a must-see for anyone looking for an oasis in what can be a very hot city at times. Originally begun in the 13th century, they continued to evolve long after. There is also an annual festival held here at The Patio de la Acequia, a particularly beautiful section based on an Oriental garden design.
One of the best views of the Alhambra is available from the aforementioned Mirador de San Nicolas in the Albaicin district. This high hill offers several fine cafes from which to sit and enjoy not only the palace but equally stunning views of the Peinador de la Reina, the Torres Bermejas and other outstanding features of Granada.
Here you can sip a glass of wine and enjoy the soft clicking of castanets and the low thump of bongos as you enjoy an unparalleled sunset.
Down in the valley below is the impressive Granada Cathedral. Constructed at a time when the architectural style of Spain was transitioning from Gothic to Renaissance, it is a stellar mix of the two. The Capilla Mayor is one of the highlights of any tour of the church. But there are also illuminated manuscripts, paintings by Botticelli and van der Weyden, and much more.
Stroll through the Capilla Real, the royal chapel, and sit on the very spot once occupied by Isabella of Spain before she met with Christopher Columbus. Then go visit the tomb containing the crypt of Isabella and her husband, Ferdinand.
Begun in 1523 at the height of the Queen’s reign, it wasn’t completed until the 18th century, taking just over 180 years to complete the work. The latter date is evident in the massive organs housed inside the cathedral.