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Wild and without borders: Where cultures fuse in Granada

Burning sunset over The Alhambra, Granada

It’s 2AM and we’re waiting for the bus to Granada. Today was our last day in Portugal. For the last few hours we’ve been hanging out in the hostel common room, preparing sandwiches for our journey and generally abusing our stay. We only paid for one night, and we were supposed to check out at least 12 hours earlier.

Anyway, here we are, waiting in the cold, completely unsure if this is the right location for the bus: of course there are no logos or signs for the bus company, nor are there any timetables. A crowd begins to form and that is enough to convince us that we are in the right place – surely there are not many busses going at 2AM in the sleepy city of Faro?

The bus doesn’t come on time, in fact it doesn’t come for a good 40 minutes past it’s scheduled departure time. This is not good news for us since we have another ride to catch and we don’t have much time to spare in between – we can’t afford to lose that money or convenience. We haul our luggage in to the under compartments and the driver scans our tickets without uttering anything close to an apology, or for that matter, a hello.

We are expecting to depart the bus in Seville where we will catch a BlaBlaCar to Granada at around 7AM. The journey is supposed to be around 4 hours, but since the bus is late it’s getting tighter. However, there’s room in the schedule for a few hiccups…

Another reason to hate buses…

We catch a few hours sleep. Well, we try. It seems whenever we decide to catch a late/early bus where we think we can sleep and save a night’s accommodation, someone else decides that they need to spill their life story to someone on the phone. And let’s be real, the type of people who think this is acceptable are usually the type of people who have no concept of regulating their motor mouth volume.

The bus driver announces the first of the Seville stops on the tannoy. We become alert, aggressively scanning Google maps for our destination: Santa Justa. Not the first, or the second. At each stop we watch people unload their luggage in a state of paranoia, hoping no one unloads our rucksacks and leaves them lying there in the cold dark November night. I try to guess the route the bus will take between stations but its path is erratic. It seems to go near our station but adjacent and past it, it must be taking a different route.

Then it dawns on us: the bus is not stopping at our stop – he’s driven straight past it and is heading for the motorway out of Seville. We’re in disbelief – the driver speaks no English. We start panicking. Caroline runs to the front of the bus trying to make sense of the situation. The bus driver doesn’t understand. She shows him our tickets that clearly state Santa Justa on them. He shrugs and continues driving. Caroline is demanding he take us to our stop. A Spanish woman is now shouting and in the midst I demand the driver stop. At first he refuses, aggressively retorting, insinuating it is our fault.

Eventually he stops the bus in the middle of the road, some kilometres from our pick-up spot, in the middle of nowhere. In the dark. It’s cold, we’re upset, angry and scared. It’s around 5AM and now we have to lug our rucksacks back to the centre of Seville, through an area which looks particularly uninviting in the dead of night.

Quick interjection: we complained to Alsa and there is an e-mail thread ongoing for about a year, where they show zero empathy and professionalism, refusing to refund our fares. I think it’s safe to say we do not recommend them.

Disaster after disaster!

View of the Dachstein ridge where we got stuck
Austria

Wild and without signal: Dachstein mountain nightmare

Fasten yourself in for a ride – this is a good one. The events of this post take place over one year ago. The 14th September 2017 to be precise. We had planned to take a cable car to the top of Dachstein (the second highest mountain in the Northern Limestone Alps) and maybe hike […]

December 14, 2018
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Mountain hut in Aigüestortes i Estany of Saint Maurici national park
Spain

Wild and without warmth: Overnighting at lake Trullo

On a previous hike in the Aigüestortes i Estany of Saint Maurici national park we decided that we absolutely had to do another hike here and stay in a mountain refuge. We were quite happy to stay in the same one that we found on the last hike but the excitement of seeing some more […]

January 26, 2020
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Stormy sunset at Black rock lake in Lagodekhi Protected Areas, Georgia
Georgia

Black Rock Lake: 3 Day hike from Lagodekhi

Our time in Georgia is coming to an end and while we’re sad, we’ve got big plans for the summer. We are going to drive through Central Asia on the Silk Road with a final destination of Kyrgyzstan. A country not many people have ever heard of. When the summer is over we will head […]

October 31, 2021
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A swam on the canal in front of cute houses
France

Annecy: lakes, bikes, canals and catastrophes

It’s late and dark, we arrive at our Couchsurfing host’s place hours later than expected. Our journey to Annecy was a bit of a disaster. We’ve kept them updated but we still feel really uncomfortable for keeping them up so late. Yann and Cecile are super friendly though and make us a tea as soon […]

June 27, 2019
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Waiting for a ride in McDonalds

All is well in the end and we make it safely to the McDonalds where we will wait for our BlaBlaCar to Granada. We’ve got to wait another hour so we grab a coffee and stare at the walls completely exhausted. The only thing on our minds is getting into the backseat of a comfy car and falling asleep while being whisked away to Granada, to our palace (cheap hostel).

Andddd that’s not gonna happen. When the guy pulls up (late), the car is already full. We’re not the only passengers even though the Blabla car app said we were. Sleep will have to wait as we engage in uninteresting small talk. The dark begins to fade and the sun rises. Endless motorway penetrates the Sierra Nevadas. I maybe dozed off for an hour before we arrive in Granada at around 7AM, we’re tired and can’t think properly. We’ve barely slept all night and now we have to trudge through the streets of Granada to find our hostel.

Exhausted Exploring in Granada

After settling in to our new hostel and having a little rest, we decide to get our bearings and do a little bit of exploring. I think we manage about 30 minutes before getting hungry. Well, Granada is a great place for food and we head to the Arab quarter and grab a falafel plate at a very cool and tasty Syrian restaurant called Puerta de Syria.

Now we’re full of beans we can properly explore. And there’s a lot of it to explore. The city is absolutely beautiful. Classic European charm, winding cobbled streets. Narrow passageways and steep neighbourhoods, castles and churches on every corner. There is more to Granada though, it’s not just European.

From 711 to 1492 Muslims ruled much of the Iberian peninsula. Initially Led by Tariq ibn Ziyad and further ruled by the Nasrid Dynasty, at its height the empire had over 5 million Muslim inhabitants. During the Christian Reconquista, Granda was the last remaining stronghold of the Muslim empire. Much of the wonderful architecture in Andalusia including Seville, Cordoba, Ronda and of course Granada is the work of this once flourishing medieval civilisation.

Although it’s November, Autumn is in peak display. Vibrant colours bring the streets to life, especially against the backdrop of the whitewashed buildings. Reds, yellows, pinks, every tree is a different colour. It’s really beautiful and the best bit – there’s barely anybody around. Autumn and November in particular seem like a great time to visit Granada. Well maybe except for the rain, which we get plenty of the next day.

For our first explore, we naturally just head upwards, looking for views, getting our bearings. We’re in the Realejo neighbourhood which is the old Jewish quarter of the city, where the population lived in relative peace with the Muslim Moors. That changed during the Christian conquest; the Jewish people were expelled and the quarter destroyed. It was then when it is was renamed from Barrio to El Realejo.

Through the narrow alleyways we see distant neighbourhoods and settlements hanging onto the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains which we hope we will get the opportunity to explore in the next days. Orange trees compliment the cobbled alleyways as we reach the orange facade of the Hotel Alhambra Palace towering over old Granada. It’s a slightly tacky rendition of the classic Moorish architecture found closeby in the Alhambra.

Our first views over Realejo

From the Hotel Alhambra Palace magnificent views can be had over Granada and the flat plains beyond. We hop on a short wall, sit and enjoy the view for a little while. The city is vast and we look upon it enthusiastically, wondering how we will spend our next days and the treats that it will bestow upon us.

If you’re anything like us, when exploring a new city, we naturally gravitate to the highest point. This time, we must resist, for what lies at the top of the city is the Alhambra, and we must hold off, since we have tickets booked to visit tomorrow. The sprawling complex of the Alhambra is so massive it’s hard to tell what is part of it and what is not. We continue up the hill and pass the museum house of Manuel de Falla and then follow the road to the end. Finally, we find ourselves in some gardens which appear to be a smaller, emptier, free version of the Alhambra.

Architectural marvels

The ancient medieval village of Shatili, Khevsureti at sunset
Georgia

Wild, dramatic, mystical: A trip to age-old Khevsureti

We’ve seen the pictures, we’ve heard the stories. Now we want to go to Khevsureti. Does our car want to though? Sometimes I’m glad I can’t personally ask Vlad, our trusty Opel Astra. Khevsureti looks like a fascinating place. Medieval tower villages, pagan rituals and lots of myths, folktales and history, all perched away in […]

October 11, 2021
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Woman smoking in window of Villa Sousa, Lisbon
Portugal

Tracing trams to find Lisbon’s liveliest lookouts

It’s dark outside as our train shuffles into Lisbon. We attempted to hitchhike here from Aveiro but failed miserably so opted for the train. In a sense quite fitting since for the last few weeks I’ve been reading The night train to Lisbon. A romantic account of a Swiss professor leaving behind his life for […]

December 6, 2020
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Vintage boat house at Drei Weieren in St. Gallen
Switzerland

St. Gallen: Sneaky shots and vintage vibes

Wahoo, we have crossed our first border as hitchhikers! It’s been an eventful journey to St. Gallen that started early in our beloved Innsbruck. We love Innsbruck so much, we wrote not one but two posts about it! We splurged on a room there last night. When I say splurged, I mean a room without […]

April 17, 2019
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Moustiers-Sainte-Marie with mountains behind
France

Wild and without the French Riviera: Hitching to Verdon and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

We can’t wait to leave the Ibis hotel this morning. Yesterday was not a good day. Overnight we’ve scrapped our plans to visit the French Riviera and instead decided to head a little bit further north again and spend some days in the Verdon area which seems to be stunningly beautiful. That is, if we […]

September 23, 2019
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Carmen de los Mártires: The critter garden of Granada

We are in Carmen de los Mártires, a vast 19th century palace and gardens, incorporating styles from France, North Africa & the UK. The Islamic architecture is incredible and is our first real glimpse of a Moorish interior. The mathematical carvings, the repetition and symmetry, the bold and complimentary colours, it’s truly awe-inspiring. The entrance leads us to the first courtyard where rectangle pool forms the centrepiece. The still water reflects the intricately designed columns and arches. Autumn leaves gently fall from the trees beside, and float gracefully in the waters.

We stroll through the garden and are pleasantly surprised to be met with an ostentation of peacocks, which are loud, over the top, extravagant and above all incredibly beautiful. It’s magical to watch them flaunt around, without a care in the world, well, maybe one, the annoying guy repeatedly pointing his camera at them. The gardens are full of critters it seems, peacocks, squirrels and ducks. The cutest damn ducks we’ve ever seen. It’s like being in a Beatrix Potter fairy tale. Jemima Puddle Duck even lets me pet her. Best. Day. Ever.

Aside from the many critters the garden features magnificent views over the Alhambra, especially in the autumn. Just look at those colours! You will also find a beautiful pond with a Disney tower in the middle from which you can climb and watch the surroundings (basically ducks). There is a myriad of gardens, an arched aqueduct, fountains, sculptures and of course all of the plants and flowers. You can easily lose a few hours in these gardens.

The last critters of Carmen de los Mártires – just look at that duck! Is it not the most beautiful duck that ever existed? It’s to be an award winner!

Hostel from hell?!

Exhausted from the lack of sleep, but happy about being in such a wonderful place, we head back to our hostel and check into our dorm. The first reality check hits us. The six bed room is about ten square metres “big” and has an ensuite bathroom which is pretty terrible when you have to wait for 5 people to get ready before you in the morning. Caroline’s the only woman in there, all the other people are old men.

While chilling on the bed, we’re already introduced to one of them through the bathroom walls where he takes an incredibly loud poo and groans all the while doing it. Cheers. It doesn’t really get better during the next days either, there’s constant four tone snoring during the night making it impossible to sleep, grunts, coughs, groans and one guy watching porn on his phone loudly in the bunk above Caroline, to the point where she refuses to be in the room except for bed time because she’s so uncomfortable. Just lovely.

Sunset over Granada at Saint Michael Viewpoint

Grabbing a beer or a bottle of wine and watching the sunset over a beautiful city is a great, budget-friendly way to spend an evening and it’s something we love to do. There is a ridiculous amount of steps, platforms and towers to watch Granada from above but we decide on Saint Michael viewpoint.

It’s a bit of a trek but that’s the best bit, we get wander through dozens of beautiful neighbourhoods and cobbled streets. We take random lefts and rights through the Albaicín neighbourhood, heading in the general direction. After an hour or so of getting lost we finally arrive on the hill leading to Mirador San Miguel Alto. It’s the highest viewpoint in all of Granada and offers sweeping panoramic views of Granada, the Alhambra and the distant mountains of the Sierra Nevadas. There’s even a pony nearby which Caroline of course pets.

It gets quite busy up here so you should come a little early if you want a spot to sit in front of the church, otherwise, there is plenty of space around the area. As usual, if you’re coming for sunset, aim to get there around one hour before the sun is actually due to set – that’s the golden hour, the most beautiful time of the day when the sun is low and brilliant warm light is cast across the landscape.

Other great sunset locations in Granada:

Streets of colour

Granada is a real gem. If there’s one thing we’d like to convince you of how to explore Granada: just go. Just walk the streets, get lost, take every tiny side street. You will be rewarded with scenes like these. Just look at those colours and that car. I would have given anything in that instance to hop into that mini and wind on mountain roads through the Sierra Nevadas.

The Alhambra – Centre piece of Granada

There is no visit to Granada without a visit to the Alhambra. A Unesco World Heritage Site, it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the whole of Spain. It’s not something that we want to miss, not because it’s popular, but because it’s magnificent. For the unacquainted, being able to marvel at Islamic architecture in Europe might likely seem bizarre, but much of Spain, and Portugal for that matter, was ruled by Muslims or the Moors.

Visiting the Alhambra is a complicated affair and requires a specific booking on a specific day. You get an allotted time to visit the Nasrid Palace, the main architectural spectacle. The level of organisation required does not bode well with our method of travelling: hitchhiking. We’re trying to keep our plans free so we can pivot and live in the moment but the popularity of the Alhambra proves complicated. It seems it’s necessary to book tickets in advance in order to secure a spot. We’ve done quite a lot of research and lots of people have, in the past, tried to chance it, by getting a ticket on the day. Only to be disappointed when there are none left.

Due to this, we booked our tickets two weeks prior to our Arrival in Granada. We don’t want to risk missing this masterpiece.

How to book your ticket

To book your ticket, head over to this website. Pick which ticket type you would like. We took the Alhambra General which includes everything and costs €14.85 per adult as of writing. When you buy the ticket you have to provide lots of information including identification as each ticket is bound to the information and ID presented. Finally, you will select a time slot. You must visit the Nasrid Palace at this time, and trust us, you don’t want to miss it.

The rest of the Alhambra is open from 08:30 to 18:00 (winter) or from 08:30 to 20:00 (summer). You can find a map of the sections here. The rest of the sections can be visited as you please, however, some sections can only be visited once, for example, the Alcazaba.

Getting to the Alhambra

We booked our visit to Nasrid Palace on one of the earliest slots, hoping that most other tourists would be less inclined to arrive so early. Well, that was a massive mistake. As we step out of the hostel in the early morning, the cold wet Granada is sobering. Rain is falling, heavily. We stumble around stuffing our electronics away and sealing our pockets from the elements. There’s no way we are walking so we decide to take the bus, so that we’re not soaked before the day has even begun.

Normally, we would have just walked, and we recommend you do too as there are lots more things to discover through the gates and gardens leading to the entrance. Check this site for more information on how to use the buses and how to walk to the Alhambra.

The Cats of the Alhambra

It’s not the reason we came, but it’s the reason we stayed. Just kidding. Well, kind of. As we arrive in the Alhambra, we are a little early for our allotted slot to visit the Nasrid Palace, so we decide to check out the Alcazaba, with sweeping views over Granada. Then we get distracted by cats and kittens. Yes, the Alhambra has its own fairly sizeable population of cats, another selling point if it ever needed one.

Nasrid Palace

Remember, the Alhambra is very busy, and when in the Nasrid Palace, you will be guided from room to room with a swarm of other people. It’s not the best way to experience the striking beauty, but if you take your time and look around, you can escape the people and relish in the tranquility of the exquisite architecture. I was certain it would be impossible to take pictures without people in them, but in fact, I was quite happy with the results. A few times I was able to stay in rooms in between groups switching and snap some quick pictures. People tend to follow each other and huddle together, so just go where the others don’t!

We won’t bore you with micro descriptions of the architecture, we’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

A woman looking over Granada through a rain covered window, The Alhrambra
Granada from Nasrid Palace
The view over Granada through arched windows in the Alhambra

Get that nature fix!

A blurred long exposure photo of a train going across the Landwasser Viaduct on the Glacier Express
Switzerland

Filisur: On the path of the Glacier Express

We’re on the Glacier express, but only for approximately one hour, that’s all we can afford. A small section of the much longer complete journey from Zermatt to St. Moritz. It may be short, but it is spectacular nonetheless. This section of the journey is particularly impressive. The train is wizzing along by the river, […]

April 29, 2019
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Caroline jumping in the water on the beach
France

Wild and without the Alps: Camargue

We are finally on the coast. The French Mediterranean of all places, and it is bliss. The Camargue. We’ve spent the majority of our travels in the mountains so it’s a welcome change to be able to soak up some sun and relax on the beautiful empty beaches. After all, it is almost winter time. […]

October 17, 2019
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Caroline sitting on a rock enjoying the view of Balda canyon
Nature

The ultimate guide to canyons and swimming spots in Georgia

It seems you guys loved our guide to waterfalls in Georgia so we’re rolling out the next one to help you escape Sakartvelo’s summer heat! Canyon dig it?! Spending a summer in Georgia, we realised just how many beautiful canyons there are. And while Martvili and Okatse are undoubtedly beautiful, they frustrate you at the […]

August 25, 2021
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Magical winter sunset framed with snowy trees on a hiking trail near Zell Pfarre, Carinthia
Austria

The most beautiful winter hiking trails in Carinthia: Part 1

We spent a whole winter in Carinthia during lockdown and what better way to alleviate the stresses of the pandemic and world in general than enjoying the beautiful outdoors? Carinthia has a great deal to offer when it comes to landscapes, hiking opportunities, skiing and in general all adventure sports including winter walking. Winter 2020 […]

November 23, 2021
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A little Alhambra history lesson

Spain, and Portugal, were conquered by the Moors in 711 and ruled until 1492 in what is known as the Golden Age of Spain where Muslims, Jews & Christians lived in relative peace. Libraries, colleges and public baths were established. The arts blossomed, in particular, literature, poetry and architecture.

Granada in Andalusia was the beating heart of the the Moorish empire, attesting to the magnificence of the Alhambra, which translated to “The Red One”, referring to the colour of the bricks on the perimeter walls. The Alhambra has been updated, added to and modified over the years. It now incorporates a number of different styles, including Renaissance era architecture which was added after the fall of the Emirate of Granada, also known as the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada during the Christian Reconquista (reconquest) of the Iberian peninsula, the events which returned the rule of Spain to the Christians. The Alhambra suffered many other atrocities including dynamite explosions from Napoleon’s armies and earthquakes later on.

From 1828 onward, restoration works slowly began. Around the same time an American writer, Washington Irving wrote tales of the Alhambra which bought international attention to it. The government were soon forced to act as its state was an embarrassment. It was soon after declared a national monument, and shortly after that fire struck and destroyed even more of the precious interior.

Restoration works continued throughout the 19th century until the present.

Sections of the Alhambra

As mentioned on the map linked above, there are a few areas in the Alhambra you will want to pay special attention to, plan your visit around these sections, and if you have the full ticket, make sure to visit them all.

  • Palace of Charles V
  • Alcazaba (Military fortification/castle)
  • Nasrid Palace
  • The Medina
  • Generalife Garden
  • Generalife Palace

We visited in the order of the above list. Generalife is a walk through the complex via the Medina so it makes sense to group those two together and explore the Medina on the way.

The Medina – The Alhambra Gardens

As we are guided through the Nasrid Palace, the rain begins to relent. The sun never does come out, but for now we relish in the fact we might stay somewhat dry. On a positive note, the rain and wet drab conditions accentuate the deep colours of autumn, and due to the rain, it appears the gardens are mostly devoid of other people.

Much of the Medina was destroyed in the 1807 War of Independence; it is beautiful nonetheless, especially the ponds and waterways. For want of a better comparison, the Medina reminds us of the wonderful iOS game, Monument Valley, which is no doubt inspired by Islamic architecture itself.

Generalife Palace & Gardens

Through the Medina we are led to the Generalife gardens. Generalife is thought to be the summer palace and estate of the Nasrid rulers. It is not categorically known what the name refers to but some educated guesses point to, amongst others, Garden of the Architect, Garden of the Artist or House of the Felicitous Kingdom.

The Generalife is one of the oldest Moorish Gardens in the world, although its current design is very different to its origins, incorporating elements of Italian influence. The palace is thought to have been initially constructed either in the 13th or 14th century.

The palace consists of ponds, fountains, a rose labyrinth, stunning flowers and trees, marvellous arches, towers and interiors, and once again, incredible panoramic views over Granada, and as a bonus, stunning views of the Nasrid Palace and the Alcazaba walls and fortifications.

A pond and fountains in the garden of Generalife, The Alhambra, Granada

Glorious views from the Alhambra over Granada

The Alhambra complex is situated on the Sabika hill and as such, possesses wonderful views of Granada and the Sierra Nevada mountains from every building, window, terrace and tower. As you can see the weather was not so great when we visited, but striking views, nonetheless!

Alhambra tips

A few final tips for your visit to the Alhambra

  • Book online – Get your tickets early, don’t risk turning up on the day and missing out.
  • Visit early – Visiting early is always the best way to avoid crowds. People don’t like getting up early, especially when they’re on holiday!
  • Bring your own food – There is a cafe inside. You need around 3-4 hours to explore the Alhambra, so bring some snacks and eat before or after you visit.
  • Walk up – There is much more wonderful views and architecture to be seen, don’t skip it!

Vegetarian & Vegan Food in Granada

There is some great food in Granada, including vegetarian & vegan options. We had a blast with food and probably ate out a bit too much, considering our budget. Now we’re sure you’ve all heard about tapas. But have you heard about the Granada tradition where a free tapas dish is served with each round of drinks? What!? Yes, you heard correct, it’s a thing here. We did a bit of research and found a place serving vegan tapas – for free – with your drinks, incredible. We sat at the bar getting pissed, eating delicious free food!

  • El Ojú – Vegan Tapas (Free tapas with drinks – make sure to tip!)
  • Puerta de Syria – Syrian cuisine with vegetarian and vegan options

There are plenty of other vegan & vegetarian restaurants in Granada – hit up Happy Cow to explore your options. Wild Food looks particularly great.

A few final impressions of Granada

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get there

The closest international airport to Granada is Málaga Airport. There is also an airport in Granada which is served by domestic flights mostly from Barcelona & Madrid. Check Skyscanner. For info about getting to Granada from the airport check this page. It seems the best option is to get the direct bus from the airport to Granada for around €12 and takes about two and a half hours.

If you’re coming from a different city in Spain we’d recommend travelling by train and definitely not Alsa busses, due to aforementioned troubles!

Things to do

  • Visit the Alhambra – It’s not to be missed.
  • Go hiking in the Sierra Nevada – It’s something we didn’t get time to do but would have loved to. Research a hike on treksierranevada.com – they have easy to hard routes, with pictures and maps and GPX trails. There are also trails starting directly in Granada.
  • Eat Tapas – It goes without saying.
  • Explore incredible architecture: Granada Cathedral, The Bañuelo (Hammam), Granada Charterhouse, Palacio de Dar al-Horra, The Royal Convent of Saint Isabel, Abadia del Sacromonte.
  • There is also some pretty cool modern architecture.
  • As always: wander the streets and get lost in the old Jewish & Arabic quarters.

Accommodation

We stayed at Oh! My Hostel, which would have been nice if it hadn’t been for the weird room mates. We’d go back in a private room as the owner was really nice and there were cool people hanging out in the common room.

Pro Tips

  • Book your tickets for the Alhambra.
  • Go hiking in the Sierra Nevadas.
  • Maybe book a private room in a hostel!
  • Watch all the sunsets you can.

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