Granada Spain Travel Guide
ANDALUCIA, CITY, FOOD / SEPTEMBER 26, 2016
BEST PLACES TO EAT, DRINK & PLAY IN GRANADA, SPAIN
My husband and I moved from San Francisco, California to the Albaicín of Granada, Spain for the year with our two children. Taking a break from life at home has given us time to explore Granada together and experience Andalucían culture. We have spent countless hours wandering the city’s streets and hiking trails and lounging in plazas, chatting over drinks and tapas with new friends. We love this vibrant city nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Here are some of our favorite places to eat, drink and play along with our suggestions to make the usual tourist stops more interesting. Enjoy!
1. The Alhambra: I like how Lonely Planet refers to the Alhambra as “Granada’s – and Europe’s – love letter to Moorish Culture.” It’s impossible not to be impressed by the setting of this red stone palace surrounded by leafy trees and backed by sometimes snowy mountains. It’s enchanting from sunrise to sunset and especially in full moonlight. Stepping inside the Nasrid Palace for the first time is mind-blowing. Of course you’ll get tickets and go. But for sure the most heart-pumping way (that no one will tell you about) to experience the Alhambra is late night, while dancing at El Camborio Discoteca in the Sacromonte. Camborio is a dance club full of international students and travelers in a charming, quiet location with drop dead views from the dance floor. The massive terrace is pretty cool too. (Camino del Sacromonte, 47). Bonus: You also get to experience the Sacromonte – Granada’s legendary Romani cave-town and nest of flamenco culture – when it’s less crowded.
2. The Albaicín: Just next to the Sacromonte, we lived in this medieval Moorish neighborhood that scales the hill opposite the Alhambra. The Albaicín was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1984 and maintains a steady flow of visitors who come for the history, architecture and the views. They stay for the barrio’s friendly, anything goes vibe. Wander up into this whitewashed maze of narrow lanes and you will undoubtedly get lost. (That’s the fun part.) Wear comfortable walking shoes to navigate jagged cobblestones and steep stair climbs. Hopefully you will stumble upon pretty Placeta de San Miguel Bajo (have a drink or some tapas here), Mirador de San Nicolas and Plaza Larga. Warning: the public toilet is a mythical object in the Albaicín, so use the facilities wherever you eat/drink.
3. Café 4 Gatos: It doesn’t take long to realize that this is the place to be in the Albaicín; all the cool kids are here. (And everyone else is welcome too.) Cuatro Gatos was an immediate favorite of ours, our go to spot for a perfect café con leche, pan con tomate or a caña. We feel at home here with the friendly owners and bar staff and the jazz that is always playing in the background. Grab an outdoor table in the almost square and become part of the scene. (Placeta Cruz Verde, 6). Note: there are no cats here, just great people (we love you Vale and Margalit!)
4. Taberna la Tana: La Tana is our favorite place in Granada for a quiet adult lunch; we sit at the cozy bar and chat with Jesus who owns the place with his sister. Jesus is a sommelier and enjoys sharing his knowledge of Spanish vino; he selects and pours wines for us to try. This is a wine lover’s haven but the very fresh tapas is excellent too. Tiny La Tana transforms at night when a lively local and international crowd fills the restaurant and pours out onto the lane. (Placeta del Agua, 3). Interesting tid-bit: at night, the foreigners come early, the Spaniards come late, so time your visit at the handover around 11 for a “great convergence”.
5. Realejo – San Matías: For centuries this was the city’s Jewish quarter. It was called Garnata al Yahud (Granada of the Jews) since the 8th century, when the Moors first arrived in Andalucía. When the Jews were expelled following the Christian conquest, the quarter was destroyed and renamed. Nowadays it is a hip neighborhood full of trendy bars and restaurants. When we go out with friends, we almost always walk to the Realejo, just beyond Plaza Nueva. After 9pm the streets come alive with families and groups of friends – all out enjoying Granada by night. Highlight: you can get a real flavor for the local scene (and let your kids use a great playground) by grabbing a table at the many restaurants at Campo del Principe. One of them had a great duck dish, but I don’t remember which one.
6. Verdi Coctelería Gin Club: Verdi has many charms. The serene vintage room is adorned with dramatic paintings and dimly lit and Albert, the owner and barman, joins you at the table, speaking in hushed tones as if including you in a plot to overthrow the establishment, to discuss individual preferences before he mixes you a proper gintonic (yes, it’s one word in Spain). The search for this bar, in a quiet labyrinth of Realejo side streets, is always tricky (and charming) and your arrival feels like discovering a little known secret. (Calle San Rafael, 8). Suggestion: don’t just experiment with the many different flavors of gin. There is also quite a range of tonics that are revelatory.
7. Taberna de Jam: Sample jamon iberico (especially pata negra) and order salmorejo here; many would agree that Taberna de Jam serves the best in Granada. The croquetas, vegetarian dishes, local cheese, wine and desert all go down easy too. Modern Taberna de Jam is a bit short on ambience (although it depends on how much wine is being consumed by the clientele at any given moment), but it’s high on taste. Request a table outside. (Plaza de los Campos, 1). Fun fact: the best acorn-fed jamon actually lowers your cholesterol. Also, if you want more wine, a short walk away is Ajo Blanco, a hole-in-the-wall vinoteca.
8. Puerta del Carmen: For a touch of glamour, sit at the sparkling bar of Puerta del Carmen and order cava (usually they have a deal that includes oysters) or gintonic (actually, cold draught beer tastes especially good here too.) I love the old school feel of the place and it provides a window into Granada’s conservative set: men are likely to be wearing well tailored suits while the boys and girls, assembled for family meals, are in preppy button downs and dresses and have colorful bows in their hair. (Plaza del Carmen, 1)
9. Alameda: When going out with friends at night, we often take over the long farm table near the open kitchen at modern Alameda. This is a great spot to have an afternoon family meal too, especially if some members of your group want a break from bread, cheese and jamon. Everyone, including the kids, loves the mini oxtail burgers but they also have delicious tuna tataki, pulpo (octopus), pork, mojitos and warm chocolate cake. (Calle Rector Morata, 3). Who knew: we saw Alameda in the San Francisco bay every day, and only bothered to find out in Granada that it means “poplar grove”.
10. Bohemia Jazz Café: Take an evening walk to Los Lobos square in central Granada and into this hidden gem. Bohemia Jazz Café is an atmospheric jazz bar full of vintage items and decor. If you time it right, you can enjoy live jazz but if not, it’s still fun to order a cocktail and enjoy the recordings. (Plaza de los Lobos, 11)
11. Bar Los Diamantes: Everyone I know loves Los Diamantes, especially seafood lovers. There are favorites, which my friends talk about endlessly and our visiting guests insist on returning for: garlicky shrimp, (gambas al ajillo), razor calms (navajas) and sautéed mushrooms (champiñón con ajos.) The Plaza Nueva location of Los Diamantes is at the base of the hill leading up to- and down from- the Alhambra. It may work out perfectly that you finish your morning palace tour just in time for lunch here, followed by a siesta. (Plaza Nueva, 13). Back-up: a few seconds away is Casa Julio. Not as flash, but great/similar food.
12. Mirador de San Nicolás: You’ll find it, somehow, by winding up the steep cobblestoned lanes of Granada’s Albaicín. Join other tourists being misguided by smartphones, huddled on corners trying to orientate themselves with a map and asking locals for help in broken Spanish; it’s all part of the experience. Arriving at the Mirador is worth the effort, for you will be rewarded with spectacular straight on views of the Alhambra. In the morning, have the place to yourself. In the afternoon, join musicians and street sellers hawking jewelry and artwork. At night, sit along the stone wall with others and dangle your feet in the moonlight. Rest stops: Bar Kiki is the local favorite. I prefer Huerto de Juan Ranas.
13. Llevaté Café: On long narrow Calle Agua, just up from Plaza Larga in the upper Albaicín, is the teeny, tiny Llevaté, a true neighborhood gathering place with great teas, strong coffee and homemade tarts. The proprietor Penelope is usually there with a warm smile. If it’s a nice day, sit outside (if you can get one of the two tables) or venture upstairs to a little used and cozy room, which usually has work hanging from local artists. Llevaté is a great place to refuel if you’re checking out many little known gems- the fascinating Center of Water Interpretation (where the King’s Cistern, or Aljibe del Rey is located and you can learn about the history of water works in the old town) or the former home of Queen Fatima after she was banished from the Alhambra. (Calle Agua del Albaicín, 16).
14. Restaurante Estrellas de San Nicolas: For a proper meal in the Mirador de San Nicolas with a view of the Alhambra you may want to book a table at Estrellas. It’s a bit touristy and pricier than other restaurants in Granada but the food is great, some dishes are amazing, and the view is spectacular. (Callejón Atarazana Vieja, 1) Alternatively, enjoy the same view across the street on the stylish terrace at Huerto de Juan Ranas. Here you can relax on a comfortable sofa with a vino tinto or two. (Callejón Atarazana Vieja, 6)
15. Dine in a carmen: Dine in a pretty carmen, a traditional Andalucían walled garden house. There are two lovely carmen restaurants in the Albaicin, both with delicious food. I love El Restaurante Trillo, set back from a quiet lane in the lower Albaicin; Everything here is tranquilo including the trickling water fountain. (Calle Algibe de Trillo, 3). Mirador de Morayma, in the Mirador de San Nicolas with views of the Alhambra, is beautiful inside and out; try the sea bass with caramelized onions and goat cheese. (Calle Pianista García Carrillo, 2)
16. Bar Casa Julio: This is a traditional taberna on a narrow side street off Plaza Nueva with one standing small room and a few outdoor tables. The old tile covered walls are stunning if not a little heavy, but Casa Julio continues to do exceptionally well what it has has been doing for years: tasty seafood tapas and cold beer. You will be offered free boquerónes all over town, but Julio’s may be the best. (Calle Hermosa, 6)
17. Churros con chocolate: I have been known to hunt down churros con chocolate in every Spanish city I visit, searching for the best. I’m a fan of the freshly made donuts sticks dipped in hot chocolate pudding. (What’s not to love?) My favorite can be found in Granada, in the festive Plaza de Bib-Rambla at Alhambra Cafeteria. Inside you will see donuts being poured in circles and deep fried. The friendly waitstaff will seat you, ask how many you’d like and quickly deliver platters and bowls. (Plaza de Bib-Rambla, 27). Hint: one chocolate for two people is usually a good bet. If you don’t like grease, make an exception. And be sure to ask for water.
18. Flamenco: I imagine that we will wonder up to the Sacromonte some late night and stumble upon a spontaneous cave performance, but it hasn’t happened yet. (Although maybe you can pull it off.) We almost always have children in our group. We want an early show in a relaxed venue. We want good seats with minimal hassle, and often, at the last minute. We want to be walking distance to a favorite restaurant and for those who may get tired early: bed. For all of this – and more- we go to the small cave of Le Chien Andalou, along the Daro River near Plaza Nueva (Carrera del Darro, 7). Simply stop by around 4pm for same day or next day tickets and reserve front row seats from a paper map. There are two shows each night; I like the one hour performance beginning at 9:00pm. You must take your seat by 8:30pm, which gives you time to order drinks and tapas and soak up the atmosphere. Another good, and more elaborate, option is to reserve a table in advance for an early dinner performance on the patio of Jardines de Zoraya near the Mirador de San Nicolas, in the Albaicín. (Calle Panaderos, 32)
19. La Oliva: For a delicious, and edifying, 18 course Andalucían culinary tour make your way to La Oliva. In the evenings the owner, Francisco, turns his small Realejo shop into a candlelit dining room in which he shares his passion for local gastronomy through stories, plates of food and glasses of wine. This is a perfect opportunity to get broad exposure to Spanish food or go deeper into olive oil, chorizo and chocolate. To book one or more of 12 seats, you must email the owner in advance here. (Calle del Rosario, 9)
20. Take a walk in the hills: Some of our best afternoons in Granada have been spent wandering the hills behind the Alhambra. They are easy to get to; from the main ticket office of the Alhambra, just walk up the road two minutes to a traffic circle, head to the left, and at the next circle go left again. This takes you to a trailheads at the Silla del Moro, where you can peer down into the Alhambra palace complex, across the city and surrounding valley. From there continue walking. You can drop down to the left, cross the river Daro and return to town through the Sacromonte, or keep going up into the Llano de la Perdiz area, where there are great views of the Sierra Nevada. Learn more here.
Take this list with you. Launch in google maps. Have fun!
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