HomeTravelForget Seville — this is southern Spain’s most spirited city

Forget Seville — this is southern Spain’s most spirited city

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Seemingly rising out of the hazy Sierra Nevada mountain range with a backdrop of snow-dusted peaks, the Alhambra — the red 13th-century Moorish fortress with Unesco world heritage status — is not just the jewel in Granada’s crown, it may also be Spain’s most impressive landmark.

Granada, in the south of Spain, gets slightly overshadowed by the neighbouring Andalusian city of Seville, which is a bit more polished, certainly more photogenic and, crucially, blessed with direct flights from the UK. You have to work a little harder for Granada, but unlike Seville it has kept its spirit intact. Granada still has grit, which you’ll find in the backstreet tapas bars heaving with Andalusians and in the winding streets of Sacromonte, about which the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca waxed lyrical, and where people even now live in cave houses.

Granada seems purpose-built for a city break too, with everything within walking distance and no shortage of things to do. The big hitters are just about all doable in two days and will leave you wanting more.

The Partal Palace in the Alhambra

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48 hours in Granada — at a glance

Day one

Morning: Alhambra
Eat at: La Cocina de San Agustin
Afternoon: Huerta de San Vicente
Drink at: Teteria Nazari
Evening: Catedral de Granada
Eat at: Los Diamantes, Bodegas Castaneda, Aliatar

Day two

Morning: Cave Museum and Abadia del Sacromonte
Eat at: Café Futbol
Afternoon: Hammam Al Andalus
Drink at: Javi Del Kiki
Evening: See flamenco at Pena La Plateria or Cueva de la Rocio
Eat at: Carmen Mirador De Aixa

Granada Cathedral

What to do

• You’re here for the Alhambra, so start early and get a bus up the hill to the entrance and save your legs for later. You’ll need to book weeks in advance for the cheapest tickets, but if you leave it too late, more tickets are always available at a premium (often including a guide). Make sure your ticket includes the Nasrid Palaces — with their peaceful reflecting pools and intricately carved domes. Don’t skip the tranquil Generalife, the sultans’ gardens and summer residence — it’s higher and 6C cooler up here (from £16; tickets.alhambra-patronato.es).

• Buy some gooey, honeyed baklava from Estambul Dulceria for a sugar boost (£2; @estambul.baklava), then it’s on to Huerta de San Vicente, the summer house of Lorca, where he used to meet artists in the 1930s (he was assassinated at the start of the Spanish Civil War). The museum in the middle of the park has a small display of letters, poetry and posters relating to the poet (£2; huertadesanvicente.com).

• The Catedral de Granada is a frenzy of marble with an impressive collection of sacred art and vestments. There used to be a mosque on the same spot, and the surrounding area was the medina during the Moorish empire (£5; ticketsgranadacristiana.com).

• There’ll be a queue outside Panaderia Geni — a cutesy kiosk selling bread and cakes on the Plaza de Mariana Pineda — so grab something to go, and take the C30 bus up to Sacromonte. Life is more tranquil up here away from the city, with residents tending their allotments. Here you’ll find the wonderful open-air Cave Museum with exhibitions on life in the caves as well as a detailed history of flamenco and possibly the best view of the Alhambra (£3; sacromontegranada.com). It’s a short walk to the 17th-century Abadia del Sacromonte (£5; abadiasacromonte.org).

• It’s time to treat your body to some rest at the candlelit Hammam Al Andalus, with kaleidoscopic Moorish tiled baths you can hop between, plus hot stones and a steam room (hammam). There’s free mint tea, and each two-hour visit ends with a massage (from £60; hammamandalus.com).

• If you’re not here on a Thursday night, when Pena La Plateria social club is open, don’t worry. Yes, it’s the most authentic flamenco experience in town, but there are still dozens of other worthy options. Try Cueva de la Rocio — it was good enough for Anthony Bourdain when he was in town — and while it is touristy, you’re guaranteed a front-row seat at a heart-pounding show (£24 including a drink; cuevalarocio.es).

A flamenco dancer performs a “Zambra” dance in the Cueva de la Rocio

A flamenco dancer performs a “Zambra” dance in the Cueva de la Rocio

JORGE GUERRERO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Where to eat and drink

Mercado San Agustin

Grab a stool at La Picateria for a glass of vermouth and some ham and cheese croquetas, then tapas-hop to La Cocina de San Agustin opposite for plates of grilled calamari. The market is heaving at midday — hectic but a lot of fun (plates from £4; lapicateria.es).

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Teteria Nazari

Do as the Moorish did and replenish your energy with a traditional north African afternoon tea — there are dozens of teahouses peppered round Granada. Teteria Nazari ticks all the boxes: geometric tiles, sink-into embroidered futons, silver tea sets and a choice of brews ranging from tongue-tingling mint to aromatic rose and warming cinnamon (teas from £3; teterianazarigranada.simdif.com).

Iberian ham tapa

Iberian ham tapa

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Bohemia Jazz Café

Granada is one of the last remaining places in Spain where every drink comes with a free plate of tapas, so bar-crawling will easily amount to a substantial meal. But you can always order more if there’s something specific you want to try: go to the stalwarts Los Diamantes (opt for an extra dish of crispy battered prawns, £13), Bodegas Castaneda (go for a plate of jamon, £14) and Aliatar (ask for a delicious chorizo sandwich, £2). Finish off with a cocktail in a cosy nook at the quirky Bohemia Jazz Café (from £4; @bohemiajazzcafe).

Café Futbol

This kitsch café sells heaps of churros and hot chocolate so thick you can stand your spoon up in it (from £2; cafefutbol.com).

Churros and chocolate

Churros and chocolate

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Javi Del Kiki

Not far from the Mirador de San Nicholas — the city’s most famous lookout on to the Alhambra — this slightly touristy spot is close enough to hear the guitar player plucking intricate flamenco music while you sip on a beer in the sunset (£2). Afterwards wander up to Albaicin to Plaza Aliatar, a picturesque square with a fountain and and more good tapas options.

Carmen Mirador de Aixa

Round off your trip in style at this upmarket but unfussy spot, facing the Alhambra, which serves an Asian fusion menu that includes tuna sashimi and duck risotto (mains from £17; carmenmiradordeaixa.com). Afterwards, stroll along the Paseo de los Tristes and call in at the atmospheric wine bar La Tabernilla del Darro, in a cave tucked under the Alhambra (wines from £3; latabernilladeldarro.com).

48 hours in hours in Granada

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Where to stay

Aurea Catedral

Sleek, modern and central

You’re staying in the old town in a 16th-century townhouse near the cathedral. The 94 rooms — some of which have wooden beams intact and a minimalist vibe — have been completely revamped to a contemporary style and are graced with verse by Lorca, the city’s most famous former resident. There’s also a gym and Turkish bath (room-only doubles from £97; eurostarshotels.co.uk).

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Hotel Palacio Gran Via

Grande dame in the making

This newly opened hotel in a former bank has a sexy rooftop bar that’s already the talk of the town, but you’ll want to check in for the high-ceilinged, modern rooms (expect pillow menus, Japanese lavatories and teas inspired by the Alhambra gardens) and the candlelit hammam in the basement. Original features from the bank have been retained and restored, including vault doors, wooden bank-teller windows and intricately carved marble fireplaces (room-only doubles from £226; barcelo.com).

Parador de Granada

Chic historic spot

This is the only hotel within the grounds of the Alhambra. The parador occupies a historic monastery forming part of the palace, and staying on site means you can have the landmark to yourself after hours and be first in line to beat the tour groups in the morning. There are shady terraces and a restaurant; rooms are simple with comfy beds, wooden shutters and a view of the gardens (B&B doubles from £284; paradores.es).

Getting there

Flights from London to Malaga take two and a half hours. Buses on to Granada take 90 minutes from the airport (from £11; alsa.es).

Getting around

There are buses and trams in Granada city centre. Each trip is £1.20

Katie Gatens was a guest of Hotel Palacio Gran Via

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