Things to see and do in Granada and the Costa Tropical
There are so many interesting things to see in Granada and the Costa Tropical that it is difficult to know which ones to include in any list. Spain is not so much a country as a mini-continent, and the landscape is full of surprising contrasts - nowhere moreso than on the south coast.
The entire region of Andalusia is rich in ancient ruins, historic buildings, important monuments, spectacular natural and geological features and breathtaking views, in addition to having the most diverse flora and fauna in Europe, including rare and exotic species of plants, flowers, insects, birds and mammals (in fact more than two thirds of all Europe's wildlife is to be found in this region).
The geography and the climatic conditions here are also unique. There can be few other places in the world where it is possible to drive from the sub-zero temperatures and snow of winter (Granada city in December-January) to the "summer" warmth of the tropical coast in under an hour. And where else would you find a bonafide desert just an hour's drive from a lush tropical valley?
Rich and Colourful History
The history of the region is every bit as rich and colourful as its natural features. It was here, in Granada, that Christopher Columbus persuaded queen Isabel to finance his expedition to the Indies, which of course led to the discovery of America. And it was here that the two opposing forces of Christianity and Islam - East and West - had their final confrontation, in which Granada became the last independent Muslim city on the Iberian Peninsula.
The Iberio-Celts, the Moors, the Visigoths, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks and the Romans all had control of Granada at different periods in the area's history, and each of these occupiers had an influence on the culture, the literature, the music, the art, the food, the architecture and many other aspects of Andalusian life and society. For visitors who know something of the region's rich and varied history, therefore, there are interesting things to be seen in almost every direction one looks, and every landmark tells its own fascinating story.
For visitors with only a short time to explore Granada, we offer the following sightseeing and "things to do" suggestions.
The Alhambra & Generalife
The Alhambra - the most popular tourist attraction in Spain, and the second most visited site in all of Europe - is a palace and fortress complex of the Moorish monarchs of Granada, located on a hill on the south-eastern border of the city of Granada. The Alhambra - often referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World - and the surrounding area, including the gardens of the Generalife, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and museum exhibiting exquisite Islamic art and architecture.
Allow yourself at least one whole day to visit the Alhambra, and book your ticket in advance. You will find more information about the Alhambra, and the various tour options available, here.
Occupying a hill opposite the Alhambra, this ancient Moorish neighborhood is a mix of dilapidated white houses and immaculate carmenes (private villas in their own grounds, enclosed by high walls). It was founded in 1228 by Moors who fled Baeza after Ferdinand III captured the city. A stretch of the Moors' original city wall runs beside the Cuesta de la Alhacaba. Paved with intricately cobblestoned and mosaicked alleyways and full of secret corners concealing restaurants and art galleries, the Albaicín has become the fashionable and most desirable place to live in Granada in recent years, to the extent that property prices in the neighbourhood have skyrocketed, and are now on a par with those of the most exclusive areas of London and Dublin. Only residents are allowed to access the area by car, so the best way to get to the Albaicin is by bus (from the Plaza Nueva; if you come to Granada by car, leave it in the Generalife car park) or you can walk or cycle there via the Carrera del Darro - if you feel fit enough to take on the steep hill. One of the highest points in the quarter, the Mirador de San Nicolás, provides one of the finest views in all of Granada.
This is the gitano, or Gypsy quarter of Granada, and the home of flamenco in this province. There are a number of famous flamenco Tablaos here (places where flamenco is performed). The area is also famous for its cave dwellings. Many of these are Tardis-like in that they appear from the outside to be tiny - until you enter them and discover that they have numerous rooms, penetrating deep within the hillside. Cave dwellings are much in demand because they maintain a comfortable temperature throughout the year - they stay cool in the summer, and warm in the winter - and because they effectively block out external sounds, such as the noise of traffic, overhead aeroplanes and so on.
While many of the caves have now been taken over by foreigners - mostly by artists, writers, musicians and other creative types drawn to the bohemian character of the area - some are still owned by Gypsy families who have lived here for generations. As with nearby Albaicín, property prices in Sacromonte have risen substantially in recent years.
The most popular walk in the Sacromonte follows a cobbled path called Vereda de Enmedio, which affords magnificent views of the Alhambra and the Albaicin, in the shadow of Granada's 14th century city wall.
The Caves of Nerja are a rocky formation of crystalline dolomites dating back more than 250,000 years. Technically just outside the boundaries of Granada, the caves are located in the village of Maro, just a few kilometres from the town of Nerja. A narrow entrance to the caves was discovered in 1959 by five local boys hunting for bats, and a larger entrance was built in 1960 to allow easy access for tourists. Wall paintings found inside the caves date from the Palaeolithic and post-Palaeolithic periods while skeletal remains and other artefacts indicate that the caves were inhabited from about 25,000 BC up until the Bronze Age.
These spectacular caves are used as a natural theatre where pageants concerts and ballets are staged during the summer months. There is a visitors centre, a restaurant, a bar, a gift shop and a car park. There is also a childrens' play area. Opening times: July and August 09.30 - 8pm. Rest of year 09.30 - 6.30pm. Admission is just €5.
Nerja Caves website (in Spanish)
Guided tour of Nerja Caves and Frigiliana
Guided Nerja walks
Alhama de Granada Hot Springs
For hundreds of years the mineral-rich thermal springs at Alhama have been credited with possessing revitalizing and therapeutic properties, and in particular are believed to relieve rheumatism, arthritis, sciatica, myalgic pain, certain skin problems and many respiratory conditions. The springs have been channelled into baths since Roman times.
Alhama de Granada is a picturesque little town just half-an-hour's drive from Granada city. The town is perched at the top of a ravine through which the river Alhama flows. The hot springs are located in a poplar grove by the banks of the river, just a short distance from the town centre.
The springs are one of Andalusia's best-kept secrets, rarely mentioned in tourist guides and frequented almost exclusively by locals. By day, the springs are used by families living nearby, and by night they are a popular apres-nightclub "chill out" rendezvous for early morning revellers. To find the springs, take the turn-off beside the modern bridge over the Rio Alham and keep going for approximately 1 kilometer, through a dramatic gorge.
The town of Alhamar is itself well worth a visit. You can read one visitor's review here, or click here to see a slideshow of photographs taken in and around Alhamar. For further information, phone the tourist office on 958360686.
Aquatropic is situated right on Velilla Beach, just a short stroll from Almuñecar town centre, on the Costa Tropical. The park is quite large (18,000 square metres) and offers a range of water features, including slides ("ring-rapids" and, for the more adventurous, "kamikaze"). There are also a number of swimming pools catering for people of all ages. There is a wave machine, a waterfall, revolving current and a "black hole". Aquatropic also offers other events and activities, including beach volleyball, massage, and, in the evenings, a disco. There are green areas throughout the park where visitors can relax beneath the shade of palm trees. The park has its own bar and restaurant in addition to a number of outlets serving pizzas, hamburgers, snacks, cold drinks and, of course, ice-cream. A picnic area has been provided for those who would prefer to bring their own lunch. Aquapark is open from mid July to mid September.
For further details, tel +34 958 633316
The Loro Sexi bird park ("Sexi" was the original name of Almuñecar!) has a fascinating collection of tropical birds on display, including peacocks, parrots, tucans, cockatoos, swans, ducks, ostriches and many other weird and wonderful species. In summer the park holds regular parrot shows for children. The park also has a cactus garden.
Entrance to the Loro Sexi park is, rather appropriately, in the Calle Bikini, just off the Plaza de Abderramín on the beachfront below the castle, a short walk from the centre of Almuñecar town. Opening Times are: 11am - 2pm and 6pm - 9pm (summer) and 11am - 2pm and 4pm - 6pm (winter).
The Aquaola Water Park is situated in the town of Cenes de la Vega just outside Granada city (see map). The attractions include a children's pool complete with pirate ship, gentle slides, wave pools, toboggan rides, rapids, pipe slides and kamikaze shoots. There are sunbathing areas, changing rooms, picnic areas, snack kiosks, shops and a self-service restaurant. The park is open every day, including Sunday, from June to September. Visit the Aquaola website for further information, or telephone: (+34) 958486189.
No visit to Granada would be complete without a trip to this beautiful spot in the Albaicin with its stunning panoramic view of the Alhambra, the Sierra Nevada mountains, the city, and the Vega. You can sit on the wall and look at the historic city below and the Alhambra nestled in the hillside. There are often Gypsies playing Spanish guitar or castanets, and in the summer there are usually impromptu markets with people selling jewellery or homemade cakes. The Mirador de San Nicholás is a favourite retreat of former US president Bill Clinton, who described the view of the sunset from here as "the best in the world". Click here to watch a slideshow of San Nicholás images.
This Arab bathhouse, known as En Banuelo, is older than the Alhambra. The baths were built in the 11th century beside the Bridge of Cadi, on the picturesque Carrera del Darro. The bathhouse contains a vestibule, refreshment and relaxation room, warm and hot rooms and a heating area. The floors are of marble and above the columns is a dome pierced by tiny stars. The baths are accessed via acourtyard with numerous potted plants surrounding a small pool. Click here to watch video. The baths are open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am - 2pm. Phone: +34 (0)95 802 7800.
Even if you have no interest in science, you'll thoroughly enjoy a visit to the Granada Science Museum. In fact it is more of a technological funfair than a museum, with interactive exhibits and experiments involving electricity, light, sound, gravity. astronomy, meteorology and various other natural phenomena, presented to entertaining and educational effect. There are 270 interactive features, including a 50m observation tower (overlooking Granada city), a planetarium, a house of tropical butterflies, a maze, water gardens, an astronomy garden, a distorted house, a giant chess board, and a 12-meter Foucault pendulum. There is a separate Exploration Hall for children from 3 to 7 years old. Opening times: Tuesdays-Saturdays from 10am - 7pm. Sundays from 10am to 3pm. There is a free car park. Entrance fee: €5 (discounts for children and adults over 65 years). Tel: +34 958 131 900 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Granada Science Park
The location of filming of many of the 1960's Spaghetti Western movies, including A Fistful of Dollars, The Magnificent Seven and The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, is now a Wild West theme park just a stagecoach ride from the Costa Tropical, in the Desierto de Tabernas (Europe's only desert), Almeria. Attractions include a twice daily simulation of a spectacular gunfight when bandits ride into town to hold up the bank (shootouts are at 12am - high noon! - and 5pm), a carriage museum, a film museum, a cactus garden, Indian tepees, a stockaded fort, a western style saloon and a zoo featuring giraffes, bears, hippo, elephants, kangaroos, iguanas and many other species of animals. There is also a bar, a restaurant, a swimming pool and a children's playground. Admission is €17 for adults and €9 for children. The park is open from 12am - 6pm. Tel. 950 365 236 for further information. A similar Western film set, Texas Hollywood, is located in the same area. Movies are still being made here, but visitors can come in and have a look around.
"Spain's Spaghetti Western Town" - Epoch Times article
Also known as Las Alpujarras. This area of mountain villages, located between the highest mountains in Spain and the Mediterranean Sea, is famous for its unique mini-ecology. Its terraced farmlands are continuously irrigated by the melting snow from above, resulting in a high-altitude oasis of vegetation which stands in dramatic contrast to the barren foothills below. The valleys of the western Alpujarras are among the most fertile in Spain, and there is an abundance of fruit trees, especially grape vines, oranges, lemons, cherries, persimmons, figs and almonds. The wildlife includes mountain goats, wild boar, foxes, eagles, goshawks and partridges. Sheep graze the hillsides, and the rivers teem with trout. The area is one of outstanding natural beauty, and to the Spanish, the very name "Las Alpujarras" has connotations of magic, mystery and supernatural power; and, whether real or imaginary, many people who visit the Alpujarra describe it as having a strange, inexplicable energy. Chris Stewart's best-seller, "Driving Over Lemons", was set here.
Swimming with Dolphins
Dolphins abound in the waters of the Costa Tropical and seem to enjoy putting on impromptu acrobatic displays for people on the shore. They frequently swim alongside small boats, leaping out of the water and zig-zagging in front of the prow (watch video clip), and are happy to play with swimmers and divers. Dolphin boat trips are available all along the coast.
Up, up and away...
The flying is good almost all year round on the Costa Tropical, thanks to the prevailing sunshine, calm weather, clear skies and virtual non-existence of rain. In fact the area is now one of the most popular European destinations for balloonists and paragliding enthusiasts.
There can be few better ways to appreciate the spectacular scenery of the Granada coast - with the mountains of North Africa to the south, and the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada range to the north - than from a hot air balloon.
A number of local operators offer regular flights.
Glovento Sur, Granada-based hot-air balloon operator.
Paint Your Own Ceramics
Granada is famous for its distinctive blue and green ceramics; and now you can try your own hand at this ancient craft when you visit the city. Several studios offer one-day and half-day workshops at which participants are given the opportunity to create and paint their own ceramic pieces under the expert guidance of local artists. It's almost therapeutic as you daub away with richly coloured glazes; and whatever you make is yours to take home with you - a unique memento of your time in Granada. But you'll have to wait to find out whether your creation is a masterpiece: your handiwork, fired and finished, will be delivered to your hotel a day or so later. The cost per person is around €100.
AllwaysSpain.com - Activity holidays in and around Granada.
AdventureBug.com - Adventure and cultural holidays in Andalucia
Granada's Best-Kept Secret Mirador
Hundreds of visitors flock to the Mirador San Nicolas every day for the spectacular panoramic view if offers of the Alhambra, Granada city, and the Sierra Nevada mountains. But there is another mirador (viewing location) that is rarely if ever mentioned in the tourist guidebooks. It doesn't overlook the Alhambra, but the view it offers is nontheless impressive - especially at sunset - and there are usually only a few local people there. It is just beyond the Alixares Hotel, near the main entrance of the Alhambra. How to find it: click here.