The Alhambra is a former royal and military complex in Granada, Spain. Its stunning Moorish architecture, expansive gardens, and panoramic city views draw millions of visitors each year, booking tickets months in advance to experience the site’s rich history and intricate design.
While there are references to the Alhambra dating back to the 9th century, the site as it’s known today was largely built between the 13th and 15th centuries by members of the Nasrid dynasty, the last Muslim regime to rule in the Iberian Peninsula.
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In 1492, the Alhambra was taken over by King Fernando of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, Catholic leaders from nearby kingdoms who strategically married in an effort to bring an end to 800 years of Muslim rule in the region, forming the Spanish Empire in the process.
Some of the original structures were demolished as new ones were built, including the Charles V Palace, pictured below.
Despite being temporarily abandoned in the 1700s and then partially destroyed by the French during the Peninsular War in 1812, much of the Alhambra remains remarkably well preserved.
Today the site is celebrated for its concentration of stunning architectural elements, from intricate wood and stucco carvings and vibrant tile work to towering archways and innovative muqarnas, or stalactite ceilings.
The Alhambra is Spain’s number one most visited tourist attraction, with numbers even higher than the renowned Sagrada Família basilica in Barcelona. I was surprised to learn this because I honestly hadn’t even heard of it before we started planning our trip to Spain in more detail.
That said, after visiting the beautiful grounds, it’s not hard to see why the Alhambra tops the list.
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Tips for Visiting the Alhambra
- Plan on booking your ticket online in advance. As of 2020, tickets can be purchased up to a year before your trip. Click here for the official ticket site. Entrance numbers are capped and tickets will very likely sell out! I almost forgot to book ours in the lead-up to our trip in November of 2019. When I remembered, almost three months before we were due to arrive in Spain, they were already nearly gone for our dates.
- The three main areas of the Alhambra are the Alcazaba, a fortress and the oldest part of the site; the Nasrid Palaces, housing the former royal living quarters, courtyards and administrative spaces; and the Generalife, a villa with beautiful gardens.
- Your entrance to the Nasrid Palaces portion of the site will be set for a specific time, so plan your visit around that as it cannot be changed and if you miss your entrance window, you likely won’t be allowed in.
- Bring your passport with you as you will be asked for ID during your visit.
- Leave at least half a day for your Alhambra visit. It’s a huge complex with many points of interest, and you won’t want to feel rushed.
- In addition to leaving plenty of time, don’t overbook yourself with activities for the rest of the day, either. You’ll likely feel some “museum fatigue” after your visit because there is a lot of walking and so much to take in along the way.
- Near the entrance to the palaces and the Alcazaba, there’s a building with nice bathrooms and a place to get coffee. We took a break and refueled here between visiting the palaces and the Generalife. There are also bathrooms at three other locations – click here for a full site map.
- Don’t miss the Alcazaba – like we did! (Oops.) The former citadel is the least visually exciting part of the complex in and of itself, but it offers amazing views over Granada. We visited the palaces first followed by the Generalife, and since the Generalife is separated from the entrance to the palaces and the Alcazaba, we didn’t have the energy to walk all the way back to see the Alcazaba.
- You can visit the site in whichever order you prefer, but as there are multiple entrances, plan on arriving at the entrance closest to where you’re starting. Since we visited the palaces first, we entered at the Puerta de la Justicia.
- For an “efficient” route to conserve energy and not have to retrace your steps, here’s what I would recommend: Enter at the Puerta de la Justicia –> visit the Alcazaba –> use the bathrooms here if needed –> visit the Charles V Palace and site museum (optional – we stepped in here very briefly) –> enter the Nasrid palaces –> continue to the Generalife –> exit near the Entrance Pavilion and walk back down into the city. You could also follow the same route but enter and exit at the Entrance Pavilion to see even more of the site on your walk toward the Alcazaba.
Before or after your visit, head to the Mirador de San Nicolás for a beautiful, panoramic view of the Alhambra from afar.
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Click here for FAQs including full accessibility details and click here for the site’s Covid-19 guidelines. I also found this post by A Piece of Travel to be super comprehensive and helpful – as she points out, visiting a site as large and popular as the Alhambra comes with a lot of rules and details to keep in mind, but with just a little advance planning, you can easily make the most of your time there.
Have you visited the Alhambra before? If not, would you include it on your trip to Spain? Let me know in the Comments below!
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