Granada may be the most dangerous city in Spain. No where else on the Spanish mainland is there city so capable of clutching you firmly in its grip and taking you under its spell. In fact, so exotic and incredibly alluring is Granada that you’ll kick yourself for not dedicating more time to this Andalusian jewel of a city in southern Spain. But resign yourself to at least a few days here and what you’ll find is a city alive with magic and wander, where the tapas are free and the smiles given freely, a dynamic university city with long-cherished links to the past that knows how to break with tradition and embrace the new. Here, the sound of flamenco echoes off the cobblestone streets and through the narrow lanes of the historic Albayzín district, and the 11th century former Islamic palace, the Alhambra, throws its shadows over the city’s compact centre, a constant reminder of Granada’s multicultural heritage.
Here’s a local’s guide to experiencing the seductive allure of Granada.
Where’s the best Alhambra lookout?
No visit to Granada would be complete without an appreciative squiz inside the Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and former residence of Muslim royalty. But you certainly don’t need to buy a ticket to appreciate this 11th century palace form the outside. For the best views of the Alhambra, bypass the tourist groups at the Mirador de San Nicolas lookout point and instead hike to the top of Sacromonte to the Mirador de San Miguel Alto lookout point. Surrounded by locals, the cave-dwelling hippies of Sacromonte and the odd intrepid tourist, up here you’ll be treated to unobstructed views of the red-tinged palace. The best time to make the short hike through town is a half hour before sunset. Don’t forget your camera.
Where to watch free flamenco?
Before heading to Granada’s infamous Calle Elvira for drinks and tapas, drop in for a bebida or three and some free flamenco at local institution Tacon Flamenco. Cozy, authentic, and with just enough room to stand during a live flamenco show, the owners that work behind the bar here treat you not as a tourist but as a respectable patron – hard to find in a city that swells with tourists during most months of the year. If you’re lucky, you may even bear witness to a Granada flamenco legend, guitarist David El Marques, who regularly plies his trade here.
Where to taste the best ice cream?
Time your visit to Granada during the summer months of June to August, and soon enough you’ll be scouring the compact city centre on the look out for some icy relief. As in pretty much every other Spanish city, you won’t struggle to find a heladería (ice cream parlour). But for the best ice cream in town, drag your sweaty body along to Calle Gran Via de Colon to Los Italianos – without a doubt the best ice cream dispensary in town. Family run for over 80 years, Los Italianos has been churning its cream into icy goodness since 1936. So good is the ice cream here in fact, that even Michelle Obama ducked in for a couple of scoops on her visit to Granada in 2010. And if it’s good enough for the First Lady of the United States of America, it’s good enough for the rest of us.
Where to drink and eat tapas?
For the highest concentration of tapas haunts in Granada, young and old flock to Calle Elvira, a street colonised with bars and pubs. But those in the know – the cool kids – make a beeline straight for Babel World Fusion for their tapas fix. Looking a little rough around the edges from the outside, Babel absolutely oozes charm once inside, and the portions are huge and the beer frosty cold – could you ask for anything else? Another notable bar at which it’s worth sitting down for a few rounds of drinks is Bar Los Naranjos on Calle Capilla San Andrés, an unpretentious establishment with tasty food and generous portions.
Where to boogie?
Once the sun goes down in Granada, the office jockeys and students spill out onto the streets and breath a collective sigh of relief – it’s time to socialise, party and play! The Booga Club on Calle Santa Bárbara holds regular live musical performances (mostly reggae and ska) and a d-floor big enough for a small audience. Entry usually costs around €6 and includes a free drink. Also worth checking out is Granada’s most popular reggae club, Pato Palo on Calle Naranjos. True, it’s dark and a little dingy here, but Pato Palo regularly pulls in the crowds – shots are €1 at the bar. For a little RnB, head to Entresuelo in Plaza de San Agustín, a lively club that’s liable to get hot and sweaty inside. Check out the locally printed Yuzin publication (aka, the Granada Bible) for the latest gigs in town.
Where to drink the best hot chocolate?
When locals crave a heart-warming cup of hot chocolate away from the tourists, only one place comes to mind: Abaco Té. Hidden away along hilly Calle Álamo del Marqués, this amazingly hard to find café is a gem worth searching for. Once inside, friendly staff lead you up a flight of stairs to an open space littered with comfy cushions overlooking the ever majestic Alhambra and amber rooftop sprawl of Granada. It’s a quiet retreat away from the crowds and merchants, and full of mostly locals plus the resident cat: a lazy little fluff ball that’s open to unsolicited pats.
Feature image c/o Cristobal Poyato, Flickr. Written by Shaun Busuttil – follow more of his adventure at shaunbusuttil.com.