One of the most stunning feats of architecture in the world, Granada’s famous Alhambra is not only a beautiful place, but a window into Spain’s distant past.
Not merely a single building but a complex of palaces, gardens, views, and of course a fortress, the Alhambra was the last stronghold of Al-Andalus, the Islamic society that dominated much of the Iberian peninsula for 700 years.
Today, visiting the Alhambra offers a window into a time, pre-1492, when Andalucia was part of the Islamic World.
With palaces that are mesmerizing in their detail, views that overlook all of Granada, and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, anyone who has a chance to tour the Alhambra will not regret taking the opportunity to step foot in the most-visited attraction in Spain.
If you’re planning an Alhambra visit soon and are curious about what to see, how to book tickets, whether or not a tour is worth it, and more, this guide to visiting the Alhambra is for you!
We curated this guide after our personal experience with an Alhambra tour, and let me say: we are so, so glad that we finally visited this fantastic place.
Here are our best tips for visiting the Alhambra, plus the answers to the most frequently asked questions about Granada’s most iconic monument!
Table of Contents
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Why Visit the Alhambra: A (Very) Brief History
Sure you’ve heard of it, but perhaps you’re wondering exactly what’s special about the Alhambra.
While there has been some kind of fortification overlooking Granada from this spot since at least the 800s, the Alhambra as we know it today really rose in prominence starting in 1238, when the founder of the Nasrid dynasty, Muhammed Al-Ahmar, started reconstructing and expanding the fort.
For the next few hundered years–up until 1492, to be exact–the Nasrid dynasty’s court could be found at the Alhambra, in an ever-evolving mix of palaces, military structures, gardens, mosques, a medina, and more.
The Alhambra was more than a building, it was an entire whole city within a city.
In 1492, the Reconquista (the centuries-long effort by the Catholics to force the Islamic rulers out of the Iberian peninsula and back into North Africa) was completed, and the Alhambra became the seat of a Catholic court headed by King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castille.
Eventually, the complex fell out of favor with succeeding monarchs, and was more or less abandoned for quite some time.
The 19th century started out rough for the Alhambra (it was damanged by French forces in the Peninsular War), but things took a turn when the complex started being restored.
In the 19th century the Alhambra caught the attention of the romantics, including the American writer Washington Irving, who brought the complex to life with his Tales of Alhambra.
In 1984, the Alhambra, Generalife, and Albayzin (Granada’s medieval quarter) were together declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Essential Tips for Planning Your Alhambra Visit
Given its extreme popularity, it’s no surprise that there are a few more quirks to visiting the Alhambra than for visiting most attractions in Spain!
Before you book your Alhambra tickets or tour, here’s what to know.
There are several ticketed sections of the Alhambra.
In its heyday, the Alhambra wasn’t merely a palace or even a series of palaces–it was a city-within-a-city, home to a wide variety of structures and people.
Here are the major places you can see on an Alhambra visit today!
Generalife Palace and Gardens
Located uphill from and set apart from the main part of the Alhambra, Generalife is technically a different structure altogether (that’s why you’ll see some places discussing “visiting the Alhambra and Generalife”).
Constructed in either the late 13th or early 14th century as a summer retreat for the Nasrid rulers, Generalife feels like a paradise–and it’s meant to.
The gardens have been constructed so many times by now that it’s said that no one is really sure what they originally looked like, but they sure are beautiful today.
The water features are particularly notable, both in Generalife and throughout the Alhambra: water is a symbol of life, and in much of the Islamic world, a very scarce resource–so of course the rulers wanted to show it off as much as possible!
Located at the western tip of the complex, the Alcabaza is the oldest part of the Alhambra.
Built in the 13th century (on the site of an earlier fort), this fortress made up the defensive part of the Alhambra and housed a residential area, stables, an armory, baths, and more.
Today, the Alcabaza is primarily known for its fantastic views of Granada.
The Nasrid Palaces make up several buildings that were the residences, meeting rooms, and more of the various members of the Nasrid Dynasty that ruled Granada up until 1492.
They are, by far and away, the star of the show at the Alhambra, and some of the most fantastic pieces of Islamic architecture that we have seen anywhere.
El Mexuar, the Palace of Comares, the Palace of the Lions (including the iconic Court of the Lions, one of the most photographed spots in the Alhambra), and the Partal Palace are all incredible.
Don’t miss the incredible wooden ceiling in the Hall of the Ambassadors!
Entrance to the Nasrid Palaces is run on a tightly controlled timetable–we’ll cover more on this below, but if you’re visiting the Alhambra independently, getting in line for the Nasrid Palaces before your reservation time can and should dictate the schedule of your visit.
Charles V Palace
Construction started in the Charles V Palace in 1527, and its Renaissance architecture makes it immediately apparent that by this time, the Alhambra was now in the hands of Catholic monarchs.
Charles V never lived in the palace, though, and neither did any other monarch–between delays, wars, lack of interest, and more, the palace wasn’t completed until the 20th century.
Today, it houses the Alhambra Museum (which is free to visit) and the Fine Arts Museum of Granada, but you can step inside the palace without visiting either.
… and a few free-to-visit sections, as well.
In addition to the Palace of Charles V, which is free to visit, there are a few other areas of the Alhambra that you can see without a ticket.
These include the Santa Maria Church, the Parador de Granada Hotel (they have a restaurant on-site and the hotel is housed in 15th-century Saint Francis Convent), and the Fountain of Charles V.
Several of the historic gates, including the the Gate of Justice, The Pomegranates Gate, and the Gate of Wine are also free to visit, as well as the Alhambra Forest and the Plaza de Los Aljibes.
That being said, we’d highly recommend paying to enter the Alhambra, including the Nasrid Palaces–if you’re visiting Spain on a budget, we’d suggesting trimming just about anything else before skipping the Alhambra.
You’ll need to have your ticket checked to enter each section.
Generalife, Alcabaza, and the Nasrid Palaces all have separate ticket entry checks, so if you’re visiting the Alhambra independently, be sure to keep your tickets handy as you move throughout the complex!
(If you’re taking an Alhambra tour, your guide will generally help you keep track of this.)
Not all tickets include the Nasrid Palaces–but they’re the best part.
You can book Alhambra tickets and tours that only include Generalife and the Alcabaza, and not the Nasrid Palaces… but to me, that’s like buying a pricey plane ticket to Rome and then deciding “you know what, paying to visit the Colosseum isn’t worth the splurge.”
Really, the Nasrid Palaces are the crown jewel of the Alhambra, and without them, it’s a beautiful complex, but one that you can arguably see a similar version of in various other corners of Andalucia.
If you’re the type to research a trip to Andalucia in detail (which you clearly are, since you’re reading this blog post!), you will not regret seeing the Nasrid Places during your Alhambra visit.
Visits to the Nasrid Palaces are highly restricted, and you’ll need to reserve a time slot.
While you need to choose a morning, afternoon, or evening entrance for visiting Generalife and the Alcazaba, for the Nasrid Palaces, it goes further: you’ll be assigned a timed entry slot, and it’s critical that you get in line to enter them before your entry time.
(This is one of the benefits of taking a tour like us–no need to worry about time management!)
You must bring your ID when visiting the Alhambra in Spain.
This needs to be an official government ID, too, so for non-EU residents, it’s best to bring your passport along!
The Alhambra has multiple entrances.
Most visitors, including those meeting a tour group, will likely start at the main entrance.
From the main entrance, you’ll be closest to Generalife and located uphill from the rest of the monument.
If you have booked an independent ticket and have it in hand, you can also enter through the Gate of Justice, which will put you close to the Alcabaza, Charles V Palace, and Nasrid Palaces.
If you want to visit independently, official tickets often sell out well in advance.
Granada limits the number of tickets that can be sold for the Alhambra each day, as well as capping the number of visitors to the Nasrid Palaces by the half hour.
This is clearly necessary, given how intensely popular the monument is, but it does making getting Alhambra tickets a bit competitive!
For the best prices and most flexibility, it’s best to plan ahead, especially during the high season.
However, even last-minute travelers can visit the complex–and we’ll cover that in the next section of this Alhambra blog post.
How to Get Alhambra Tickets (Or a Tour)
Ready to buy your Alhambra tickets, or to book a guided Alhambra tour as we did?
Here are the different options for visiting, plus the pros and cons of each.
Option 1: Book Independent Alhambra Tickets
If you’d rather not visit with a tour, you can of course visit the monument independently!
The Alhambra’s official website lists tickets well in advance, however, they have a tendency to sell out.
Third-party sellers like Get Your Guide (who we use for most of our tickets and guided tours when traveling in Europe), often have more last-minute stock than the official website and very similar prices.
For your general visit, you’ll have access to a morning, afternoon, or evening entrance, but for the Nasrid Palaces, the schedule is even more exacting.
An Important Note on the Nasrid Palaces
Not all Alhambra tickets include the Nasrid Palaces, but they are the star of the show!
Double-check that you’re purchasing a ticket that includes them if you hope to explore the site independently.
The main advantage of booking tickets through the official website as opposed to a third party is the ability to choose your own entrance time to the Nasrid Palaces.
If you don’t get to choose one, a time slot will be assigned to you–and whichever option you go with, your entry time to the Nasrid Palaces will dictate your schedule for the day!
Option 2: Taking an Alhambra Tour
With a monument as large, complex, and fascinating (not to mention slightly overwhelming) as the famous Alhambra, we knew we wanted the help of a knowledgeable guide on our visit!
We booked this Alhambra tour which showed us Generalife and the Gardens (admittedly the gardens weren’t at their best during our February visit), the Alcazaba, and the Nasrid Palaces.
The tour was incredibly memorable, and our guide was thorough and passionate about the building.
It did feel a bit long in a couple of spots–which was not helped by the fact that we visited the Nasrid Palaces last and we were chomping at the bit to see them–but I’m glad we opted to visit this way.
We finished the day with a deeper understanding of Granada’s history, both during the time of Al-Andalus and after the Reconquista, and left with sore feet but happy minds (and hundreds of photos).
And, as a bonus, not having to manage our own schedule or worry about getting to the Nasrid Palaces on time made our time spent visiting the Alhambra much more relaxing than it would have been otherwise!
While it’s certainly very doable to visit the Alhambra independently, we’re very glad we opted for this guided tour and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.
Option 4: Visiting the Alhambra at Night
For an alternative visit to the Alhambra, you can skip the daytime crowds entirely and opt to visit at night.
We haven’t done this ourselves, and the consensus we’ve heard from friends and colleagues is essentially that while the atmosphere is lovely, it is very dark, and losing access to the views you get during the day (of the palaces, the gardens, and even Granada itself) isn’t worth it for a first visit.
I can see it being appealing on a brutally hot summer day or for a second visit to the complex, though!
How to Get to the Alhambra From Central Granada
The Alhambra is located on the steep Sabika Hill overlooking Granada, and there are a few different ways to get there!
Assuming you’re staying in Granada, the best way to head to the Alhambra is likely by minibus.
You can pick up bus C30 or C32 from Isabel Católica Square (by the Colombus Monument).
This is how we visited and it worked out perfectly.
You can also walk up to the Alhambra, but it takes about 20 minutes of fairly steep climbing to get there, so be prepared.
If you’re driving to the Alhambra from outside Granada, there is also parking outside the complex.
However, if you’re already staying in Granada, we don’t recommend driving up there–more trouble than it’s worth when you’re already in town.
In a pinch, you can order a taxi as well, though taxis aren’t as common in Granada as in some cities.
FAQ For Visiting the Alhambra, Granada
Do I need a tour to visit the Alhambra, Spain?
While we were happy to visit with a tour, you certainly don’t need a tour for visiting the Alhambra–with one caveat.
So, if you’re booking at the last minute, a tour may be your best option.
If you’re torn between visiting on a tour or skipping the Alhambra and wondering if the increased expense is worth it: to us, it absolutely would be worth the splurge.
What should I wear to visit the Alhambra?
There’s no dress code for visiting the Alhambra in Spain, but you’ll absolutely want to dress for comfort!
This means comfortable shoes, due to all the walking (I wore my favorite boots for travel), and dressing with the weather in mind.
Granada typically has a very hot climate, and while we didn’t have to worry much about that during our February visit, we’ve spent most of our lives living in places with similar climates and strongly recommend keeping the heat in mind.
Light, loose clothing and sun protection are important when visiting the Alhambra in the summer (and frankly, parts of the spring and fall too).
The complex includes lots of time spent under the beating Spanish sun, and no air conditioning.
Add crowds and summer heat to some of the smaller palaces, and it will undoubtedly be a bit uncomfortable.
What do I need to bring to the Alhambra?
Large bags or backpacks are not allowed in the Alhambra Complex, though there is a coatroom where you can check them at the main entrance.
However, it’s best to bring as little as possible with you on your visit.
There are a few places inside the complex to purchase drinks, souvenirs, etc., if you either don’t bring water or run out along the way.
How long does it take to visit the Alhambra, Granada?
The average visit to the Alhambra lasts about 3 hours–it takes a long time to see everything!
Our visit lasted a bit over 3 hours in total, and while we were very tired by the end, we were glad we didn’t skip anything.
How much does it cost to visit Spain’s Alhambra?
The cost of visiting the Alhambra can vary dramatically, based on how you choose to visit.
Variations can include whether you visit the Nasrid Palaces (you should), whether you take a tour, whether you visit at night, etc.
Technically, you can set foot inside the Alhambra for free, but the vast majority of the attractions are ticketed and we wouldn’t recommend this option.
Standard tickets to the Alhambra that include a visit to the Nasrid Palaces start at 14 Euro as of the time of writing.
Can I take a day trip to the Alhambra from Malaga?
Yes, you definitely can!
While we would highly recommend making time for a couple of days in Granada and seeing the Alhambra that way if possible, if it doesn’t fit into your schedule, well… the Alhambra is one of those sites that is worth going out of your way for.
You can take a train between Malaga and Granada, and then take a bus up to the Alhambra, but it would make for a long day.
Alternatively, you could rent a car and drive, though be sure to carefully note the parking in advance!
There is paid parking close (ish) to the Alhambra but be prepared for a climb.
If you would rather not navigate transportation between the Alhambra and Malaga, this well-reviewed tour is a great option and includes both your transportation and a guided tour of the complex!
Can I take a day trip to the Alhambra from Seville?
Taking a day trip from Seville to the Alhambra is a bit more challenging than from Malaga, simply because the distances involved are longer, but it is doable.
However, the Alhambra is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of place, so if this is your best chance to visit and you’re determined to go, I completely understand!
(I will say, though, that while Seville’s Alcazar doesn’t entirely stack up against the Alhambra, it is also stunning and similar in many ways. You don’t necessarily need to see both complexes in one trip!)
A well-reviewed guided tour is the best option for taking a day trip to the Alhambra from Seville.
Having someone else take the lead on transportation, not having to worry about parking or dealing with lines, etc, is an enormous benefit when dealing with long travel times like these.
What is there to do in Granada other than the Alhambra?
While the Alhambra is an incredible place, if you can, it’s well worth making time for some of the other fun things to do in Granada, too!
Soaking in the views from Mirador de San Nicolas, wandering the streets of the Albayzin, visiting the Granada Cathedral (built shortly after the Reconquista), cozying up at a bar for tapas y tinto verano, and exploring the Sacramonte District are just a few of the many other memorable Granada attractions.
We also loved our experience soaking in Arab-style baths at Hammam Al-Andalus, and consider it the perfect way to wind down after spending hours sightseeing at the Alhambra.
When is the best time of year to tour the Alhambra?
Granada is located in Spain’s southern Andalucia region, known for its blistering hot summers.
While the higher elevation in Granada means that it doesn’t get quite as hot as places like Seville and Cordoba, it’s still best to avoid visiting during the summer if you can, especially in July and August.
If you have a choice of months when choosing your trip, we’d recommend visiting the Alhambra in the spring or fall, when the weather will be cooler and crowds (somewhat) less overwhelming than during the peak summer season.
We visited the Alhambra during February, and while we loved our winter visit, our trip would have been enhanced by having a few more things blooming–the gardens, naturally, were not at their best (though the dampened crowds were a nice consolation).
Is visiting the Alhambra worth it?
Yes, it absolutely is!
There’s a reason that the Alhambra is the most-visited tourist attraction in all of Spain, drawing in millions of visitors a year.
With its stunning Islamic architecture and unique look into Spain’s complex history, the Alhambra is an incredibly special place and not to be missed.
The beautiful views of Granada don’t hurt, either!
We absolutely loved our Alhambra tour and would highly recommend visiting the Alhambra to anyone planning a trip to southern Spain.