Top things to do in Granada Spain: insider Spain travel planning tips to explore this beautiful city

Top things to do in Granada Spain: insider Spain travel planning tips to explore this beautiful city

Granada vistas from the Alcazaba of the Alhambra (Photo by Karen Rosenblum)

There is so much history in Granada and coupled with its natural setting, it is so visually enticing. Full of friendly people, great food, and a bohemian vibe, it’s no wonder why Granada wins so many hearts.

Though not “less traveled,” Granada is such a special destination that has so much more to see than the Alhambra. In fact, it is the one city that Spain Less Traveled founder Karen takes all of her personal visitors to Granada during their first trip to Spain.

It is truly one of the highlights of Andalucía Spain. (and highlights of Spain in general!)

Here are some of our top things to do in Granada Spain, both on and off the beaten path. Spend a few days in this historical and beautiful city in Andalucía to truly get to know it.

And don’t make a big Spain travel mistake which is simply visiting Granada as a day trip, or just overnight to only see the Alhambra. Spend a few days there to explore Granada’s bounty. You’ll thank us later!

(Here at Spain Less Traveled, we have a passion for Granada Spain. We can help you plan the perfect trip to Spain, by creating a Spain travel itinerary customized just for you, including a full Alhambra strategy. Learn more about our professional Spain travel services or get started by booking a personal Spain Travel Consultation today.)

Where is Granada Spain?


Granada Province is part is part of the South of Spain’s Andalucía region. Centrally located, it borders the Mediterranean sea, as well as the provinces of Málaga, Córdoba, Jaén, Almería, all in Andalucía too. To the far northeast of the province, it shares a border with two of Spain’s other autonomous communities, Murcia and Castilla-La Mancha.

Top things to do in Granada Spain

Alhambra: the highlight of things to do in Granada

Interior of the Alhambra (Photo by Karen Rosenblum)

No Spain travel itinerary is complete without visiting the Alhambra.

Located in Granada, this cornerstone of Moorish architecture always appears on every list of best Islamic architecture in the world along with monuments such as the Taj Mahal and Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Mosque.

The name “Alhambra” comes from the Arabic for red palace (al-qala’a al-hamra), and you will soon see why. This impressive red fortified palace, watching over the city of Granada, was constructed by the Moors in the 13th century. It was where Spain’s very last Moorish sultans lived and ruled.

The center of it all is the Nazrid Palace which will truly take your breath away. This is one of the best preserved Moorish masterpieces in the world. Intricate stucco carvings, colorful tilework, with so much attention paid to detail, light, and shadows, you will want to have plenty of time to meander slowly through the beautiful maze of corridors and patios to truly take it all in. Don’t forget to look up!

You will definitely want to make the trek to the Generalife, the Sultan’s summer palace, and adjourning gardens. This maze of greenery is one of the best examples of how the Moors used water and vegetation to create sustainable irrigation systems.

The Alcazaba, the remnants of the old wall, city (where the common people lived) and fortresses can also be visited. Make sure to climb all the towers and maze of staircases for the amazing views of Granada and the rest of the Alhambra complex.

The complex also houses a Renaissance palace, with a small museum, the Palacio de Carlos V. Constructed by the Catholic monarchy after the fall of Granada, the last Moorish stronghold on the Iberian peninsula.

Knowing the ins and outs of planning your day is very important. That is why we have a comprehensive guide on how to visit the Alhambra in Granada Spain!

And for those who want to spend the night on these magnificent grounds, the Parador of Granada offers that experience!

One of Spain’s most culturally and historically important sites, the Alhambra is one of the 48 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain.

The cafe at the parador, located between the Nazrid palace and gardens, is a great place to take a break with a drink and a view.

(We also regularly share Alhambra tips and tricks to the Travel Spain! community. Make sure you’ve joined us over there so you don’t miss anything).

(Because it is such a large complex, a day at the Alhambra requires a lot of planning to make sure you see it all and can beat the crowds. But don’t worry! We got your back. Book a call with us so we can help you strategize, plan and personalize your perfect visit to the Alhambra!)

Wandering the Albayzín

Maze of the Albayzín’s quaint streets (Photo by Karen Rosenblum)

The Albayzín is Granada’s old Moorish quarter, and one of the top things to do in Granada Spain for travelers.

As you explore this tangled maze of cobblestone streets built on a hill, you can imagine you are strolling through a Moroccan medina. Keep walking up and you will find the Mirador San Nicolas, though we recommend the view from Granada’s mezquita mayor (mosque), right next door.

Small plazas, beautiful views, and quaint street scenes are what the Albayzín is made of.

You can also visit the Arab bathouses as well as some smaller Moorish palaces such as Palacio de Dar a Horra. Take some time to get lost in the Albayzín.

Cafe 4 Gatos has a more local feel and is a great place to stop for a coffee or drink in the area.

Centro Historico

View of Granada’s massive cathedral (Photo by Karen Rosenblum)

Granada’s historic center is where you will find the cathedral. Like many cities in Spain, the small alleys leading to the cathedral are filled with lively bars.

The cathedral itself is a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture.

Attached to the cathedral, but visitors must pay a separate entrance fee is the Capilla Real (royal chapel) is where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella rest for all eternity. Those who are interested in Spain’s most famous monarch will want to add the Capilla Real to their list of things to do in Granada.

The Alcaicería (old silk market) is also in Granada’s historic center. Today it is mainly a market for tourists, selling some of the same old touristy junk, but if you look hard, there are plenty of local treasures to be found too. The streets are very narrow, and mornings are the best time to go.

For some of Granada’s best chocolate with churros, head to Cafetería Alhambra ight on Plaza de Bib Rambla, one of Granada’s main squares.

El Realejo

Barrio El Realejo, Granada’s Judería (historic Jewish neighborhood) (Photo by Karen Rosenblum)

Barrio El Realejo is Granada’s old Jewish quarter (judería). And although there was a large Jewish population in Granada up until 1492, very little hints of this remain in the judería today. There is very small Sephardi Museum of Granada (hours vary and are sporadic). From time to time, they host special events pertaining to Granada’s Sephardic heritage.

Still wandering the streets of Barrio El Realejo is one of the things to do in Granada that those interested in Sephardic heritage should not miss.

(For more Sephardic Spain recommendations for travelers, see our article about Spain’s Jewish heritage).

The El Realejo area is also famous for its street art. You will a lot of work by local street artist Raul Ruiz, giving this area a cool, hip, and edgy feel.

(For more cities to see the street art of Spain, we’ve got you covered!)

For Granada’s best vegan food, make reservations at Hicuri Art Vegan restaurant. Even non-vegans rave about it.

Free Tapas

Example of some of the free tapas in Granada (Photo: Canva Pro)

Speaking of food, but in this case not as vegetarian friendly, Granada was the place where the free tapa was born. And to this day, Granada continues to do that well, making a tapas crawl one of the most popular things to do in Granada Spain.

For the price of a few drinks, you can have a complete meal thanks to all of the free tapas. And we aren’t talking small portions, we are talking piles of jamón, plates full of small fried fish, and just about anything in between.

Picky eaters won’t enjoy this as much as you don’t get to choose or specify. But for adventurous eaters without dietary restrictions, one of the top things to do in Granada is partake in the free tapas scene.

The bars on Calle Navas are where the locals go. And a tapas tour is a great idea to get oriented to the scene.

Flamenco in Caves/Barrio de Sacromonte

Above the Albayzín, further afield, you will find Barrio Sacromonte, the traditional Romani neighborhood of Granada.

The whitewashed houses, often carved out of rocks in the caves, are where you will find impromptu flamenco performances. Skip the shows for tourists in the Albayzín and historic center – Barrio Sacromonte is the place to see flamenco! The venues are often tiny, hot, and stuffy, but the passion of Spain’s signature music and dance shines through, making it well worth it.

During the day, this homey and unrefined area has some pretty vistas and makes for a good walk more off the beaten path.

Further up, you can also visit the Sacromonte Abbey, with stunning architecture and even better views. Not always travelers’ lists of things to do in Granada, the trip to the abbey is worth it.

Federico García Lorca Museum

Huerta de Vicente (photo by Carlos Casuso)

Famous Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca was born in Fuente Vaqueros, a small town near Granada. When he was a child, his family moved to (what was then) the outskirts of Granada city, where he spent much of his life.

It was at Huerta de Vicente, that García Lorca penned some of his most famous works such as Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding). Right up until his assassination by Francoist forces, García Lorca spent time at Huerta de Vicente.

Today Huerta de Vicente houses a small García Lorca museum. Visitors can tour the home he lived in as well as learn more about his life and works. Hours vary, so call ahead before planning a visit.

If you are interested in the life of Federico García Lorca, a visit to Huerta de Vicente is one of the top things to do in Granada for you!

Carmen de los Mártires

Carmen de los Mártires (Photo by Karen Rosenblum)

Not far from the Alhambra, but a world away from all of the visitors, peaceful Carmen de los Mártires is a beautiful small palace with expansive gardens. Keep an eye out for the peacocks!

Some say that it is a mini Alhambra.

Few visitors make it up here, but it’s worth it.

Some of the best panoramas of Granada’s nearby Sierra Nevada can be seen here. Often snowcapped and looming over the city, this is a great place to truly appreciate the views Granada’s natural surroundings.

Make sure to take some time for Carmen de los Mártire and add it to your list of things to do in Granada Spain.

Natural Granada, right from the city!

Views of stunning Granada. (Photo by Karen Rosenblum)

Speaking of those (sometimes) snow capped mountains, Granada is surrounded by beautiful nature. Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the tallest mountains on mainland Spain, the natural setting offers visitors many things to do in Granada that are outdoor focused.

Hiking is really popular here. Some of Granada’s best hikes start right in the city, while you can take a bus to the starting point for others.

Pick up a guide at the tourist information center to some of Granada’s best hiking routes, and choose one that suits your timeframe and fitness level. No matter what you decide, the views and beauty of nature will not disappoint.

Granada is also the perfect place to rent a bike to explore some of the trails around town.

Best day trips from Granada Spain

Finally, no things to do in Granada Spain list would be complete without mentioning a few day trips from Granada.

Beach lovers rejoice, Granada’s small Costa Tropical is just a few hours away from the city center. Some of Spain’s nicest Mediterranean beaches are on this coastline.

The Alpujarra region sits on the slopes of the other side of the Sierra Nevada range (headed toward Málaga and the coast). Once a Moorish stronghold, the Alpujarra area offers some great hiking, and some of the most charming towns in Southern Spain.

A few towns in the Alpujarra Granadina worth noting are Órgiva, the main town as well as a convenient base for the area. Head to Lanjarón, where Spain’s famous bottled water comes from. Pampaneira is considered by many to be the most beautiful of the villages in this region. Trevélez is famous for its local jamón serrano. Cáñar is has a strong Arabic influence. And Válor is a great town to try some of the Alpujarra’s best food.

(And if you want to head further afield, here is some information about Almería Spain, including the towns of the Alpujarra Almeriense. )

Going the other way, Montefrío is one of Spain’s most beautiful villages, (so beautiful that we used an image from it for the Spain Less Traveled landing page). The Iglesia de la Encarnación is the only round church constructed in Spain after 1492. Across town, facing it is the Iglesia de la Villa is perched on a hill above town om the ruins of the old castle making Montefrío truly a pueblo with a skyline! You can visit both the circular church and castle ruins.

During the late Spring, this area is perfect for seeing Spain’s red poppy bloom! Drive the backroads to really take it in.

And of course, Granada has beaches. In fact, the Costa Tropical (Granada’s coastline) is one of the most beautiful in all of Andalucía.

One of our top picks for things to do in Granada province is to visit the coastal town of Salobreña. Salobreña is our favorite beach town because it beautifully accessible beaches. But additionally, there is a lovely historic center with an old Moorish quarter (a smaller Albayzín) leading up to a castle!

Just a bit further down the coast, you will find the area of La Herradura. With long beaches, this area is a favorite of Granada locals.

(For more information about both of these areas as well as other off the beaten path spots near Granada, check out our Hidden Southern Spain: Ultimate Travel Guide to Andalucía off the Beaten Path)