Sign Up for Our Monthly Europe Newsletter
When it comes to cultural fusion, it’s tough to top Granada, Spain. The city is a cross section of time and history that dates back more than 1,000 years. Today it is a thriving center of culture, history, architecture, food and wine as well as a must-visit destination in Spain.
What strikes travelers most about Granada is its undeniable Moorish soul. In fact, it was the last city to be taken back by Catholics in 1492. Everything in the city — from the food, city planning and design — has been influenced by the Moors, and Albaycin, the city’s old town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Travelers also flock to Granada for its main tourist attraction: the Alhambra, a centuries-old castle known for its intricate detail and grandeur. The Alhambra was a palace and fortress for the Nasrid sultans in the 13th and 14th centuries, before becoming the permanent residence for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. But the Alhambra is just one link in what makes Granada a rising destination in Spain.
“One of my favorite activities to recommend in Granada is a walking tour through Albaycin and Sacromonte,” said Daniela Harrison, a travel consultant for Avenues of the World Travel. “The history, architecture and landscape make a visit to Albaycin a must-do. Sacromonte was the original gypsy settlement in the region, where you can find some of the best flamenco performances today. Both are beautiful; offer great history and architecture; and lend themselves to amazing photography.”
Food and WineFor the past few years, local winemakers have been working to make Granada one of the premier winegrowing regions in Spain. With the adoption of new winemaking techniques and the recovery of native varieties of grapes such as the Vigiriega grape, wines in Granada are rising in popularity. In fact, Granada achieved DOP status (Protected Denomination of Origin) in 2009. This label is given to wines that follow certain standards of production, aging and bottling.
“Wine tourism around Granada is not to be overlooked,” said Katrin Naelapaa, director of Wines From Spain, a trade group. “The temperate climate makes winery visits enjoyable year-round, and wineries are producing unique wines. In a city such as Granada, wine is woven into the roots of the city and has been a form of storytelling for centuries.”
There are more than 60 wine producers in the province farming about 21 square miles of vines. Some wineries to note are Bodega Antonio Vilchez Valenzuela, Bodega Cuatro Vientos and Bodega Barranco Oscuro.
Granada is popular for its large number of bars, cellars, restaurants and tea shops, and the cuisine here has a distinctive touch. Its best-selling food items tend to be seafood, fresh tropical fruit and produce.
Consider exploring restaurants around Granada Cathedral, such as in the Plaza del Campillo, for typical dishes including migas (fried breadcrumbs with meat and peppers), gazpacho (soup served cold), Spanish omelets and Trevelez ham and asparagus. Desserts are also widely popular in Granada, and many are made in monasteries or convents such as San Anton, Zafra, Las Tomasas and La Encarnacion, where they sell products made by cloistered nuns.
“For dining, there are plenty of amazing choices, from traditional restaurants to tapas bars,” Harrison said. “I always recommend a tea house, which brings a bit of Arabic flavor into your daily explorations.”
Modern AttractionsWhile the bulk of Granada’s charm and allure comes from its history, the city very much lives in the modern world.
Be sure to explore Granada Science Park Museum, a roughly 750,000-square-foot interactive museum that breaks down environmental phenomena such as inertia, gravity and Archimedes’ principle (physical law of buoyancy). There are seven permanent exhibition halls, as well as a digital planetarium, a cultural gallery, a library, movie theaters, an auditorium and more that fuse together and highlight Andalusian culture, architecture, literature and the sciences. There is also an outdoor museum with an observation tower, botanical gardens, a butterfly house and a maze.
Outdoor ActivitiesOutside the city of Granada is Sierra Nevada National Park, declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in the 1980s. It sits at the southeast of Granada and extends to the edge of Almeria, Spain, home to the highest peaks in Spain. Fifteen of its peaks reach more than 9,000 feet. The park also has several mineral hot springs.
“Due to its location, Granada allows for easy access to some beautiful beaches as well as the ski slopes of the Sierra Nevada — which means if you visit in the springtime, you can ski the mountains and swim in the ocean on the same day,” Harrison said. “Sierra Nevada Ski and Mountain Resort, the most southern ski resort community in Europe, is just 20 miles from the city center. The ski resort offers 65 miles of runs for all ski levels, as well as a cross-country circuit, a Snow Park and a recreational area for nonskiers.”