From Madrid you can take the Alsa Bus to Granada for around €30.00 it takes about 5 hours. The bus company owns a rest stop at the halfway mark so you get about a 30 min break to split up the ride.
From the Granada bus station you can catch the 3 or 33 bus line to the city center. Don’t buy a map from the tourist table at the bus station because you can get a better one for free from the tourist office in the center. They always have helpful suggestions at the tourist offices but Granada is one city in which you should get lost in. It was raining the day we arrived but we took to the streets anyway.
First stop, the Albayzín; it is a mass of winding maze like streets with many secret vistas, nooks and alleys. As you wind your way uphill you should veer toward the Mirador de San Nicolas where many stop to admire the Alhambra and watch the sunset over the city.
When your legs grow weary from wandering the stone streets head toward Calle Elvira and the surrounding streets, hop into one of the many teterias for some tea or opt for a bar and some free tapas.
If you are there when we were, then check out the Christmas Market @ the Plaza de Bib-Rambla (with the fountain of trolls) and stop in one of the many churrerías in the square for some hot chocolate and churros (great on a rainy night).
We started out early and walked along el Paseo de los Tristes ( Carrera del Darro) which had the feel of being in a fairytale as you walk along the river under the impressive Alhambra. Don’t head up the side roads to the Alhambra just yet instead keep walking until you reach Sacromonte.
Sacromonte is a must see on my list because well, how could you pass up seeing a gypsy district where many live in cave homes? And the views of the city and the Alhambra just get better and better the higher up you climb. We headed to the Museo Cuevas Sacromonte to see if it was worth an entrance fee. When we got there we were more interested in hiking the hills above the museo but they said we couldn’t access them. So we left and luckily ran into an old gitano and his fierce looking scroungy dog. They were super friendly so we got to talking and he told us how to climb above the museo. There are paths you can access but they are above people’s cave homes so tread carefully. His home guards the entrance so it is probably wise to get permission before walking over his roof. Never hold back in using the little Spanish that you know because this was the best part of our trip. The views were amazing and the cave homes were fascinating.
Next stop, the Alhambra. Definitely book your tickets in advance and when you pick them up just use the ticket machines don’t wait in line to claim them from a teller. Plan your trip to the Alhambra in advance because the tickets can be a little confusing. To save yourself from any worry, plan to have a full day at the Alhambra. We had reservations to catch a bus back to Madrid at 17h so we were gambling with time. When you make reservations you base the time on when you want entrance into the Palacios Nazaries (a must see). Our entrance was for 14h but this meant that our hours of visitation to the rest of the Alhambra were from 14h-18h. So we had to rush the rest after we saw the Palacios. We thought you could see the whole of the Alhambra any time and that the timed ticket was just for the Palacios. The truth is this: There are two options for viewing the entire Alhambra (8:30-14hour, or 14h-18hour) if you buy the 14h-18hr like we did then you can’t view the rest of the Alhambra like the towers until after 14h. So keep that in mind when you schedule the time to see the Palacios. And remember you only have a 30 min slot to enter the Palacios Nazaries from the time stamped on your ticket. You have to wait in line for the Palacios but the line moves fast and you’ll only need to line up maybe 10 min in advance.
There is a lot more to see and experience in Granada and the outskirts but that’s for another trip!