Tickets to the Alhambra in Granada are often booked up weeks in advance, so if you’re unorganised (like me), and you failed to secure yourself a ticket in time for your visit, what can you do? Well, there are several types of tickets available on the official Alhambra website…
- Alhambra General Ticket – 14 EUR
- Gardens, Generalife and Alcazaba – 7 EUR
- Night Visit to Nasrid Palaces – 8 EUR
- Night Visit to Gardens and Generalife – 5 EUR
- Doble de Oro General – 19.65 EUR
- Doble de Oro at Night – 14.65 EUR
- Alhambra Experiences – 14 EUR
- Alhambra and Rodriguez Acosta Foundation Combined Tour – 17 EUR
- Andalusi Monuments – 5 EUR
A Ticket to the Gardens, Generalife and Alcazaba – What does this consist of?
We opted for the 7 EUR ticket that granted us access to the extensive Alhambra gardens, the Generalife and the Alcazaba (which is a huge Moorish fortress). We were extremely pleased with what we were able to see for the price and thoroughly enjoyed the visit! So, if you haven’t managed to get an Alhambra ticket, I would definitely recommend getting this as an alternative option!
In total, we spent about three hours walking around the site, taking in the beauty of the gardens, photographing the city at various angles through the intricate arches of the Generalife and marvelling at the amazing views of the Granada valley from the top of the Alcazaba (Alcazaba de las Siete Torres).
Half way through the visit, just before we entered the Alcazaba fortress, we had a coffee in a small café in a plaza, which was super cheap considering we were in the grounds of possibly the most touristy building in Spain (€1.70!). At the cafe, you could also buy sandwiches, snacks and get a refreshing caña (beer!). It’s also possible to take your own food and drink into the grounds. Our bags were not searched upon entry.
All in all, this is a great way to spend a relaxed morning or afternoon in Granada. (If you’re visiting in the summer months of July and August, however, be sure to avoid the 40+ degree afternoon sun!) In early October, we visited around 11am and were ready in time for a late Spanish lunch around 2pm. Some say that late afternoon can also be a great time to visit as you get to see the setting sun over Granada from the Watch Tower of the Alcazaba. Whatever time of day you choose, you’re in for some spectacular views!
Getting your ticket – If you don’t want a guided tour (we opted to explore independently), you can buy your ticket online at the official Alhambra website here. Once you buy the ticket online, you will receive an email with a PDF which you must print out and take with you, along with your ID (identity card or passport), which you’ll have to show several times during your visit. With this ticket, you are free to enter any time of day from Monday to Sunday 8.30am to 8pm. (This is shortened to 8.30am to 6pm in the winter from October 15th to March 31st.)
COVID-19 Measures – My Mum and I visited the Alhambra Gardens at the beginning of October 2020. During this time all Alhambra and garden visits were happening as normal, but with extra measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The rules state that all visitors must wear a mask at all times (even outdoors), keep two metres away from other visitors and sanitise their hands upon entry. There are glass screens in place to separate the visitors from the staff who take the tickets and check ID. There is a restriction on the number of visitors that can be in the gardens and the buildings at the same time. Before climbing the stairs to the Alcazaba Tower we had to wait for around 5 minutes for everyone who was up the tower to come down. This meant that everyone was going in the same direction up the stairs and we did not pass anyone going the other way on the narrow staircase. There were about 20 visitors in total up the Watch Tower which felt very roomy and safe. All in all, we felt totally safe whilst visiting the Alhambra Gardens and surrounds and were very impressed by the measures that the local authorities had taken to prevent the spread of the dreaded virus.
What are the Alhambra Gardens?
It’s difficult to know where exactly the Alhambra Gardens begin and end as they sprawl out quite extensively across the landscape around the famous monument. There are certainly parts of the gardens, such as the path that leads up through La Puerta de Las Granadas that are free to enter. (These have also been called the Alhambra woods.) Other areas, such as the Gardens of the Generalife and the Garden of the Ramparts (that surround the Alcazaba) have restricted access.
(You can visit both of these gardens on a general Alhambra ticket, or with the 7 EUR ticket that we bought, to the Gardens, Generalife and Alcazaba.)
For the purpose of this article, when we say Alhambra Gardens, we are referring generally to all of the gardens that surround the Alhambra Palace, Generalife Mansion and Alcazaba Fort.
As you walk up towards the Alhambra Entranceway along the treelined Cuesta de Gomérez and water trickles down on each side, you can already get a feel of the relaxing ambience of the famous landmark.
Alhambra Gardens – Points of Interest
Water – A key architectural aspect of the Alhambra and its gardens is flowing water. Even today, modern architects are amazed at how ancient garden designers were able to use such little water to create such an immersive effect. As you wander around the gardens of the Alhambra, the soothing trickling sound of water from channels and fountains is never far away. (The water actually comes from the nearby Río Darro and is channelled into the gardens using a complicated network of channels.)
Shade – In the summer, temperatures in Granada frequently rise to over 40 degrees making shade an essential (even life-saving!) aspect of any garden design. As the gardens around the Alhambra and Generalife were designed as places for the sultans to relax, it was important to have cool shady areas to sit and contemplate. Islamic garden design focuses on tranquility and serenity.
Fruit and vegetables – The plants in the Alhambra Gardens are not just for looking at, but for eating too! In fact, as you stroll around the city itself, you’ll see an abundance of edible fruit trees and local people growing vegetables in their back garden or on their terrace. The Andalusians are extremely resourceful people.
Most commonly grown are pomegranate (known locally as ‘Granada’, the fruit from which the city gets its name), peaches, oranges, mandarins, figs, blackberries, almonds and loquat. There are also ancient vineyards within the grounds of the Alhambra as well as perennial vegetables that are planted seasonally; such as garlic, beans, squash and kale. A vegetable patch is known as a ‘huerto’ in Spanish.
Aromatic and medicinal plants – You’ll breathe in lots of heavenly smells as you walk round the gardens of the Alhambra. Rosemary, Thyme, Sage and Lavender have been grown in this area of Southern Spain for their use in cooking and for their healing properties for centuries. Muslim herbalists of Al Andalus would use such aromatic plants to create medicines and syrups designed to treat a number of ailments.
Rose Gardens – In Islam, the rose is a spiritual flower symbolising divine beauty. Roses are even believed to represent Prophet Muhammad himself and are known as the ‘flower of heaven’. In ancient times, the roses in the gardens at the Alhambra will have been used to make rose oil used to perfume rooms and rugs and in relaxation treatments such as those given at the Arabic Baths in Granada.
Waterlily ponds – Always a soothing sight, the waterlilies give off a fragrant scent and also attract friendly creatures such as frogs, dragon flies and butterflies. The waterlilies absorb nutrients in the water that prevent algae from growing and therefore acts as a natural filter keeping the ponds clean and fresh-looking.
What is the Generalife?
The Generalife consists of a country house and gardens that lie to the East of the Alhambra occupying the slopes of the Cerro del Sol (Hill of the Sun).
What does Generalife Mean? – Literally Generalife means ‘Garden of the Architect’ or ‘Garden of the Governor’ and there are different interpretations as to what exactly this means and what the Generalife was used for. Some suggest that it was the main residence of the architect who built the Alhambra Palace and Generalife that was later passed on to the royal family.
The consensus is that the house was mainly used as a retreat for the Nasrid Sultans when they wanted to get away from palace affairs. The extensive gardens were a place for the sultans to relax and also a place to grow fruit and vegetables that were used in the palace.
The original building and gardens date back to the 13th century, but they have been renovated and remodelled many times since, most significantly during the Christian period which began in the 15th century. It is not known exactly what the Generalife would have looked like in its original state.
Generalife – Points of Interest
El Patio de la Acequia – An important aspect of the Generalife is ‘El Patio de la Acequia’ (or less romantically ‘The Patio of the Irrigation Ditch’), a stunning patio divided by a channel of water with a fountain at each end. From here, you can see intricate Arabic carving on the arches that look out over the city. (See header photo).
Compared to the Alhambra palace itself, however, the architecture of the Generalife is a lot simpler and less detailed. Some have suggested that this reflects a desire for the Kings to have simplicity and peace during their retreat time.
Escalera de Agua – Meaning ‘water staircase’ in Spanish, La Escalera de Agua was designed to keep visitors to the garden cool and calm as they walked up the steps towards a prayer hall that, in Nasrid times, was located at the top of the steps. The stairway consists of three separate sets of stairs with platforms at each end. Once you’ve climbed up, you can enjoy views of the city at the top.
Generalife Theatre – Located in a picturesque spot in the gardens, the open-air Generalife Theatre (Teatro del Generalife) was officially opened in 1954. Today, it hosts performances such as ballets, plays and operas and is home to the International Music Dance Festival in Granada.
What is the Alcazaba?
The Alcazaba (meaning castle or fort in Arabic) is a huge and imposing moorish fortress that is actually one of the oldest parts of the Alhambra, believed to date back to the 9th century. The fortress was built to protect the Kings who lived in the Alhambra Palace. Over time, however, the fortress has been home to moorish kings including Mohammed I and Mohammed II and has also been used as a prison, during a brief period of French occupation. For hundreds of years the Alcazaba, like the Alhambra itself, lay abandoned until renovation work began in the late 19th century.
Alcazaba – Points of Interest
The Seven Towers – Seven towers in total make up the Alcazaba fortress. Three of the most prominent towers were built during the reign of Mohammad I, who also built the ramparts around the fortress. These are called the Watch Tower (Torre de la Vela), the Keep (Torre del Homenaje) and the Broken Tower (Torre Quebrada). There is also the Arms Tower (Torre de las Armas) and the Justice Tower (Torre de la Justicia) and finally, the two Vermillion Towers (Torres Bermejas).
The Watch Tower – Standing at almost 27 metres tall, the Watch Tower can be seen from many places in the city and always has four flags that blow in the wind representing Europe, Spain, Andalusia and the city of Granada. Possibly the highlight of the entire visit, a walk up the staircase to the Torre de la Vela offers the most incredible views of Granada that you can find anywhere in the city.
From the top of the tower you can see right out over the entire Albaicín, Paseo de los Tristes and Plaza Nueva in one direction and towards the gardens of the Generalife and beyond that the Sierra Nevada in the other direction. You can see small villages around Granada that spread out across the vega (the valley).
The Watch Tower has a large bell dating back to 1773, which in old times was used to remind farmers in the valley to water the fields. It was also used to alert the population of Granada in case of danger or invasion. In modern times, the bell is only used once a year on 2nd January, the anniversary of the date in 1492 when the Reyes Católicos took over the city from the Muslim King Boabdil. In old times, the bell was rung by young single women with the superstition that ringing the bell meant they would get married by the end of the year!
Plaza de Armas – The ‘Arms Square’ was the original entrance to the Alcazaba. In the centre of the square you can see the remains of several houses which were homes for the workers, civil servants and military servicemen who were employed in the Alcazaba. The plaza functioned like a small city for the local residents. There is also a deep dungeon near to the Torre Quebrada which is now closed, but you can poke your head down for a look.
Jardines de los Adarves – Translating to ‘Garden of the Ramparts’, this pretty garden is close to the entrance of the Alcazaba and has great views over the city. On the wall that leads to the Vermillion Towers, you will find the following famous poem by Mexican poet, Fransisco A. de Acaza, who spent most of his life in Spain. His words seemed to sum up the day superbly.
- Dale limosna, mujer, que no hay en la vida nada como la pena de ser ciego en Granada.
- Give him alms, woman, for there is nothing in this life, like the grief of being blind in Granada.
Nikki Scott is the founder & editor of a series of websites focused on independent travel; South East Asia, South America and Europe Backpacker. She spent her early 20s wearing flip flops and backpacking around Asia, then swapped them for hiking boots as she trod the Gringo Trail of Latin America. She is currently based in Granada, in the South of Spain with her life and business partner, Dave.