A Perfect 3 Day Granada Itinerary
Granada oozes Andalusian charm, a huge dose of vibrant, Moorish culture, and an artistic hippie vibe. Come see why we think you should spend 3 days in Granada so you can really uncover its secrets.
How to Spend 3 Days in Granada, Spain
Granada is a cultural hub with a generous spirit, from the size of the tapas servings that come free with your drinks to the music that fills the miradors at sunset, the city offers visitors so much. Striking Moorish architecture and world-class street art combine to make this our favorite city in southern Spain.
Granada has embraced its past and resisted change, spending some time here will allow you to appreciate all of its gems.
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Everything you need to know about Visiting Granada
As one of the most visited cities in Spain, your Granada itinerary is one that needs to be a little pre-planned.
How long should you stay in Granada?
While it’s possible to visit Granada’s major attraction, the Alhambra, as a day trip or even a quick whistle-stop, this city was our favorite place in all of our five weeks in southern Spain. With this in mind, I highly recommend you consider spending two nights and three days in this magical spot. Longer if you can! This will allow you to see all the sights at your own pace.
When is the best time to visit Granada?
The best times to visit Granada are in spring and fall (autumn) when the weather is comfortable and the gardens are at their prettiest. Summer is uncomfortably hot, it is the 3rd hottest spot in Spain in August. Winters are cold with snow on the mountains.
We visited in early October with temperatures in the low 30s Celsius. Crowds swell from May to September, making pre-booking essential. Christmas here while cold is magical with the added attraction of ski fields just a short trip away.
The main areas in Granada
Five main areas make up central Granada:
- Plaza Nueva and Calle Reyes Catolicos–This is the modern center of the city with shops, bars, restaurants, and, of course, the Granada Cathedral.
- The Albaicín or Arabic Quarter–cobblestone streets and whitewash houses, the Spain of your imagination.
- Realejo–The old Jewish quarter is now mainly residential
- La Cruz–if you want to eat like a local, this is the place to head.
- Sacromonte–home of the gypsies, cave houses, and flamenco culture
Things to do in Granada
This is a very small list of the delights of the city. Once you have covered these, then find a bar and sit back and watch the world go by, oh and eat the tapas, all the tapas!
- The Alhambra – it’s been a draw card for centuries
- The Albaicín – step back into the past in these narrow streets
- The Miradors – sunset from a lookout is where it’s at in Granada – they are all worth visiting.
- The Cave houses – discover the lives of the gypsies who made their homes here to avoid the Spanish Inquisition
- Explore the Tapas bars – head to the residential areas and try a popular tapas bar
- The Granada Cathedral – the second largest in Spain
- The Street Art – hit the Jewish quarter for the best work
- A flamenco show – watch or learn flamenco while you are here
Planning your visit to the Alhambra
While we are big advocates for not over-planning our travels, visiting the Alhambra UNESCO World Heritage Site (1984) is an exception. If you don’t plan well ahead, your visit will be more expensive and less enjoyable. You may even miss out altogether.
The Alhambra is THE most visited attraction in all of Spain, with a limit of 6600 visitors per day. It’s a spot you build your Spain itinerary around. Tickets sell out weeks, and in high season, up to 3 months in advance.
Booking your Alhambra tickets
If you don’t want to book a private tour, then the best place to book your tickets is the Official website. These tickets sell out up to 90 days in advance in the peak period from early June.
When you book your tickets, you will need to choose a specific time slot for your visit. This time slot is for entry to the Nasrid Palaces, the most impressive of the property. If you miss your time, you will be denied entry, so it’s important to choose a time carefully.
So that you do not spend your time watching the clock, I suggest you try to book the very first or second entry of the day. Starting your day here means you can relax and enjoy your time in the gardens after you have visited the palace.
An added benefit of this strategy is that you will have fewer people in your photographs if you manage to stay in front of the pack. Serious photographers may want to investigate special photography tours.
Another magical experience is to tour the Alhambra at night – this tour is only available in summer and starts at 10 pm. With fewer people and an excellent guide, this 1.5hr tour is a great way to really soak up the atmosphere of this very special place.
Tip: We had many challenges booking using Australian credit cards on the official site and in the end bought a Guided tour because we really wanted to get tickets for the Palace and these were running out.
What to see at the Alhambra Palace
The Alhambra is not one building, but a complex made up of four main areas:
- The Nasrid Palace – this is the part you see in most of the photos of the interiors of the Alhambra – is easily the most stunning building here. The big draw card is the Court of the Lions.
- The Alcazaba – the 9th- century fortress with its 2000m long wall, towers, and views over Granada.
- The Generalife – two main areas, the Jardín de la Sultana and the Patio de la Acequia or water garden
- The Palace of Charles V. – home to the Alhambra Museum and the Fine Art Museum
Tip: Food and drinks at the Alhambra are expensive and we did not think they were very interesting, so I suggest you eat before or after your visit.
How long to spend at the Alhambra
Allow yourself at least 3 hours in the Alhambra. We started in the palace where we spent 1 hour looking at the detail of the Islamic architecture and enjoying the ambiance of the spaces. Those on a guided tour were treated to stories of the lives of the Royal family.
We then moved to the Alcazaba which is much less intact, and we were only here for about 30 minutes here mainly taking in the district views.
Next stop was the Generalife, which was amazing. We spent another hour here and if you have an interest in gardens or photography, you will probably want to as well.
We only made a really quick visit to the Palace of Charles V, so if you want to see the museums, you will need longer than we did.
How to get to the Alhambra
The Alhambra sits on Sabika hill, 100 meters above Granada city. If you are staying in the center, then the bus is your cheapest option at under €1.50
There is also the local Tren Turistico (Hop on hop off bus) which runs every 25 minutes during the day. A day pass costs A$12 and is a good option for a short visit because once you have done your visit to the Alhambra, you will have transport up to the miradors for sunset.
If you are staying in Alcaibin, there is a 15 minutes, rather steep walk from the river to the Alhambra via Cuesta del Rey Chico. We did this walk in the dawn light and while it was very pretty, it is certainly a heart starter!
Want to learn more about life in Granada in the 1850s? Check out Tales of the Alhambra – a collection of essays, verbal sketches, and stories by Washington Irving.
It was originally published in May 1832 and you can read it online for free
What to do if Alhambra tickets are booked out?
If you have missed the window to buy official tickets and they are sold out, then your best bet is to book a skip-the-line tour. While these are more expensive, they are worth it if you would otherwise miss out.
Alhambra Day tours from other cities in Spain
If you don’t have time to stay a few days in Granada, it is possible to visit on a day trip.
If you are staying in Seville then this 12-hour tour includes a guided tour of the Alhambra complex and the Albaicín.
If you are staying in Malaga you can join this 10-hour tour that offers a guided tour and some free time to explore the city.
Other things to do in Granada
Check out Granada’s Street Art
The most prolific local artist Raúl Ruiz, AKA El Niño de las Pinturas (the boy with the paintings) lives in the Jewish Quarter. This is most certainly the best area for finding his large-scale work. You can find out more about him on his website.
Find the best places to watch the sunset
We chase sunsets wherever we go and we have to admit beach ones are often our favorites, but the sunsets here in Granada are way up there. The golden hour here throws such beautiful light across the city and the Sierra Nevada Mountains make a glorious backdrop. I suggest you head to a different viewpoint each night you are here.
Mirador de San Nicolás
Mirador San Nicolas is the best-known and most popular sunset view in Granada. You can either get a good dose of exercise by walking up through the streets of the Alcaibin or take one of the minibusses (C31 or C32) that stops nearby.
We walked up and it was lovely, with so many pretty views and glimpses of daily life along the way. We climbed the bell tower of the church opposite the square below and had the view all to ourselves for just 2 euros.
Mirador de San Miguel
If you prefer your views a little less crowded, then the San Miguel viewpoint is a good choice. It’s quite a challenging walk up to the abandoned San Miguel Church, so consider the bus (N9 bus from the city) but the walk down is lovely. This view is much higher than San Nicolas and worth all the effort. If you don’t fancy walking down in the dark, it’s still a great daytime view.
Plaza Mirador de San Cristóbal
One of the best viewpoints of the city for wheelchair accessibility is Mirador de San Cristobal, but be aware that you can not really see the Alhambra because of the number of trees in the way. However, it is still a glorious spot to sit and relax for a bit before dinner in one of the nearby tapas restaurants.
Visit the Catedral de Granada
The 4th largest cathedral in the world is an excellent example of Spanish Renaissance architecture. This masterpiece was built in the 16th century. It is open daily but with much shorter hours on Sundays.
The Cathedral, the second-largest in Spain, has significance because the Catholic Monarchs, Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II are buried in the adjoining Royal chapel. The chapel attracts a separate entry fee. You will find the cathedral in the city center. Check the official website for details.
Visit the shops and markets
One of the best markets in Granada takes place at Plaza Larga on Saturday mornings from 10 am until 3 pm. The market is small but lively and a lovely slice of local life, just perfect for people watching.
If you are looking for a shopping center experience, or need to replace some runners or travel gear, there is a very modern shopping center, Centro Comerical Nevada.
Charles disappeared into Miroc, a hat shop in the historic center that has been trading for over 50 years, with a vast range of hats at very good prices. It was hard to get him to stop at one!
The streets around the Cathedral also are worth a wander with lots of teas, spices, and souvenirs to be found. We loved the spice market near the wall of La Catedral de Granada.
Go on a tapas crawl
Exploring the tapas scene with a local guide is a brilliant choice on your first night in town. It will allow you to build a list of places to head back to over the next nights.
We booked a tapas tasting tour for our first afternoon in Granada. If we are going to take a food tour, we usually try to do it on the first day.
Our Spain Food Sherpas walking tour was a fantastic introduction to the food culture of Granada. We visited a bunch of local small businesses, including an amazing deli, where we learned the difference between the various types of Jamon Iberico putting us in good stead for the rest of our time in Spain.
Tip: If you don’t have time for a food tour, make sure you visit Iberica: the ham shop at Carrera de la Virgen, 27, it’s open from 10 am-10 pm daily and you will not be disappointed.
Explore the streets aimlessly
There are some helpful self-guided walking maps from the local tourist office if you prefer to have a plan.
Take a guided walking tour – with a difference
Sometimes booking a guided walking tour is well worth the expense, particularly when you have limited time. These tours introduce the historical context of the city and give you a chance to learn more about Spanish history. You can choose one focused on the city center or a specialized one set in the Old Muslim Quarter.
I highly recommend these two options as great additions to your Granada itinerary. They offer value for money and time well spent.
This 2.5-hour walking tour of the Albaicin & Sacromonte is a great way to learn about the Islamic and Gypsy cultures in Spain
The 2.5-hour Granada Sunset walk is perfect for solo travelers or anyone who would prefer not to have to figure out where they are going after the sun goes down in Granada. This tour covers several lookouts and the Albaicín & Sacromonte neighborhoods.
Enjoy an authentic flamenco show
A flamenco performance is a lovely way to spend an evening in Granada. There is a number to choose from, some include meals, some are held in cave houses, others offer dance classes in the earlier part of the evening and some restaurants have a dance floor to give you a workout during the show. Cueva de la Rocio is one of the most popular.
Choosing where to stay in Granada
Apartments in the Albaicin
The old Arabic district, the Albaicin is home to narrow cobblestone streets. We stayed just one block back from the stream on Carrera Del Darro with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the backdrop and a lovely view of the Alhambra from our bedroom. The river Darro and the cobblestone streets that line it are alive with people in the early evening and a lovely spot for a drink.
I cannot recommend this area highly enough. It’s a relatively short walk to the sunset viewpoints above and close to the Plaza San Nicolás with its view up to the Alhambra at night.
Most Spanish streets are narrow, but the streets here in the oldest part of the city are impossibly so. We saw so many cars reversing back down our street because they just could not fit. Pedestrians regularly squeeze into the buildings or step into doorways as cars pass. This is one spot I was glad we had not rented a car. If you do, I suggest you park it outside the Albaicin.
These excellent Bibo Suite Apartments are right on Plaza Nueva. They are spacious and are great value for money in a perfect location with tapas bars and restaurants just outside your door.
Casa Morisica Hotel
Just a block away from our apartment, this lovely boutique hotel, owned by an architect who has made sure the restoration has been completed beautifully, features the traditional architecture of the 15th century. Book a room with a view and you won’t be disappointed. The service here is excellent.
Spoil yourself at Parador de Granada
If you are honeymooning or looking for something extraordinary, then Parador de Granada, a stunning luxury hotel, located on the grounds of the Alhambra in the old Convent of San Francisco of the XV century, is the most popular Parador in Spain. Being on-site and surrounded by the stunning Generalife Gardens you can imagine.
While the building itself is decorated with a mix of Catholic and Moorish styles, the rooms are modern and well designed. There are only 40 rooms here, so it is important to book as early as you can. Being on the grounds of one of the most visited attractions in the country, surrounded by Moorish history, is perfect!
There is an onsite restaurant that has excellent reviews and it’s an easy downhill walk to the historic center, take a bus or taxi back.
Alhambra Palace Hotel
This hotel is located outside the walls of the Alhambra, about halfway up the hill from the city. It offers fantastic views of Granada, particularly at sunset.
From the gorgeous single rooms or large luxurious suites, this is a property you will remember for many years.
We loved our stay in Granada, and it is possibly my favorite Spanish city and one I hope to return to. If you are planning on exploring more of Andalusia, check out our guides to Cordoba and Seville.