History of Alhambra
The Royal Alhambra Palace was built in the 1200s by a Muslim king named Muhammed Al-Ahmar. He was the founder of the Nasrid Dynasty (the last Muslim dynasty in the Iberian penisula), and he ruled over the region of Granada for many years.
However, during the Reconquista (1492 in Granada), the Christians took back Spain from the Moors. The Alhambra Palace was also recaptured during this time, and, since then, has been ruled only by Christian kings. Despite this, the architecture of Alhambra has remained predominantly Islamic, making both the interior and exterior exceptional to look at.
Because of its fascinating story, it’s no surprise that Alhambra is one of Spain’s most visited historical sites! In fact, its history and beauty are so extensive that it’s been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, drawing visitors from all over the world.
We recommend visiting close to sunset, when you can wander among the grounds and watch the beautiful red stone change color.
Did you know? The name Alhambra comes from Arabic origins meaning ‘red’.
The palace of Alhambra is mammoth! The palaces and the grounds sit within a large area, so it takes a fairly long time to walk between the sites. For this reason, it’s recommended to allow 3-4 hours to visit the Royal Alhambra, Granada. During this time, you’ll get to see several different areas:
The Nasrid Palaces were the primary homes of the Moorish kings. Here you’ll discover typical Muslim architecture with beautiful baths, tilework, and extraordinary Moorish courtyards with stunning fountains.
Every detail is breathtaking: the stonework carved into the most beautiful patterns and even the heavy wooden tours carved with beautiful Islamic-style details. It’s hard to believe you’re in Spain and not in a Moroccan palace!
Tip: You will be given a specific timeslot on your Alhambra tickets to visit the Nasrid Palaces. The security guards will only let in a specific amount of people each hour, so if you miss your slot, you won’t be able to visit again.
Charles V Palace
Next to the Nasrid Palaces, you’ll find the palace of Charles V, which is a complete contrast. This palace is from the Christian time of the Royal Alhambra, so you can see the stark differences between the architectural styles. This palace was built in the newer Renaissance style, a far cry from Islamic architecture. However, it’s still extraordinarily beautiful with its expansive circular courtyard, massive columns, and circular ceiling opening where you can see the fantastic blue Granada sky.
The oldest part of Alhambra castle is the military fortress of Alcazaba. It looks out over the city, so it’s easy to see why this building was chosen as the best location for defense. There is also a tower here, which you can climb for incredible views over the city of Granada and the valley below.
Generalife houses the incredible gardens of Alhambra, with its lovely walkways, fountains, beautiful hedgerows, and giant ancient trees. In the spring/summer, the gardens really come to life when the flowers and rose gardens burst into bloom.
There’s something very romantic about walking through these gardens, under rose arches and tunnels of jasmine and creeping flowers—it almost feels like you could be in the Secret Garden!
Tip: The Generalife is also home to a small palace, which was the summer palace for the kings when they wanted to escape the politics of the principal residences and courts.
When buying your Alhambra tickets, remember that tickets allow for a 4-hour window of visiting time. During this time, you can wander among the different areas as you wish. The only exception is for the Nasrid Palaces, for which you have a specific 1-hour slot (you choose this slot when making your reservation online).
If you miss your slot time, you’ll sadly lose your entrance to the palaces. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the Royal Alhambra Palace, so make sure to keep an eye on the time.
Tickets cost 14 EUR (15 USD) for a self-guided tour and must be pre-booked online before arrival. As Alhambra is the most visited site in Spain, it’s best to book well in advance to avoid disappointment (Alhambra tickets are available up to 90 days before). An audio guide is included in the price, so you can learn about Alhambra as you go.
Alternatively, join a tour if you want insider knowledge about Alhambra Palace. This is also an easy way to buy your tickets and skip the line. However, be aware that the big group tours do move through the complex quite fast. For a more unique, intimate experience, we recommend a private tour.
Alhambra Opening Times
Alhambra is open every day apart from Christmas and the first of January.
April 01 – October 14
Opening times through the spring/summer are 8.30 AM – 8 PM. Alhambra closes at 8 PM, so make sure to enter at least a few hours before.
During these months, it’s also possible to do a night tour from Tuesday to Saturday.
October 15 – March 31
Opening times in the winter months are 8.30 AM – 6 PM. During this period, evening visits are limited to Friday and Saturday only.
Tips for Visiting Alhambra
Visiting Alhambra is a must on any Andalusia road trip and the top thing to do in Granada! Here are some top tips for your visit:
- Bring ID (you’ll need to show this on entry to Alhambra castle).
- Visit in the afternoon. Most people choose the morning to avoid the heat, but this means you’ll also be sharing the complex with large tour groups. The late afternoons are much quieter.
- Choose early evening for better light. The harsh light of midday can make taking photos of Alhambra a little harder.
- Visit outside of high season (summer) for fewer crowds. However, be aware that the gardens are at their most luscious during the spring/summer.
- Allow for 3-4 hours to see everything in Alhambra Palace.
- Bring plenty of water and sunscreen, especially in the high temperatures of the summer. Water is drinkable in Granada, so we recommend bringing a reusable water bottle to travel plastic free!
- Wear good shoes. The Alhambra Royal Palace is massive, so wear suitable footwear for walking around.
- Drones are prohibited in Alhambra. Additionally, in some areas, so are tripods and selfie sticks. See the best cameras for travel.
- Don’t bring big backpacks or suitcases; you’ll be asked to leave them in a locker by the entrance.
How to Get to Alhambra
Getting to Alhambra is really easy. You can take bus C30/32 from the city for 1.40 EUR (1.42 USD). It’s a 10-minute ride from the center.
Alternatively, you can walk to the palace if you prefer. However, be aware that it’s a 30-minute uphill walk, so bring plenty of water.
To get from Malaga Airport to Granada, hire a car and follow an Andalusia road trip itinerary!
Alternatively, you can take a direct train from Malaga city center to Granada. It takes around 1.5 hours and can cost between 15 – 20 EUR (15.30 – 20.35 USD).
Where to Stay in Granada
Albaicín is the best neighborhood to stay in if you want views of the Alhambra. This beautiful old part of the city is on a higher level than the city center and has many viewpoints where you can look out onto the palace. As it’s a local area, most accommodations here are self-catering apartments.
Alternatively, you can situate yourself in the old town, where you’ll find some beautiful boutique hotels by the cathedral. If you want something more modern with a pool, consider looking further out of town, where the more prominent hotels are situated.
Best Time to Visit Alhambra
Granada is exceptionally hot in the summer, and temperatures can reach upwards of 35°C (95°F). This can make walking around and seeing Alhambra a little bit more difficult. It’s also the busiest time, with many tour groups visiting Alhambra.
Spring or fall is the perfect time to visit as temperatures are lower and the days are still sunny and bright. Plus, in late spring/early summer, the gardens will be in full bloom.