The Alhambra in Granada is one of the most visited landmarks in Spain and is a top tourist destination for many good reasons. Attracting seemingly countless visitors from all over the world all year round, Granada’s Alhambra palace is an architectural masterpiece spanning centuries of history, culture and art. With that in mind, visiting the Alhambra does require some planning in advance as it is not an attraction you can just walk into.

This guide will explain all you need to know while planning your upcoming Alhambra visit; such as how to get tickets, as well as best tips and tricks to make the most of your visit. In other words, all you need to know before visiting the Alhambra.

lions fountain inside the nasrid palaces with decorative walls

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Perched high on top of the Sabika Hill, the Alhambra is one of the most stunning and beautiful places to visit in Spain. Overlooking the city of Granada with the magnificent Sierra Nevada mountains as a backdrop, the Alhambra is the most important remaining symbol of the period of Islamic rule in Spain. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.

The Alhambra is not just a mere single monument, but a 26 acre complex of palaces, fortresses and gardens. It was during the 13th century that Mohammed ben Al-Hamar, the founder of the Nasrid Dynasty started rebuilding the Alhambra from the remains of a small fortress that was constructed in the 9th century on top of Roman remains.

The construction of the Alhambra was for 3 reasons; as a residence for the rulers, as a fortress for protection and as a medina or city for the court officials to live and work in while covering the needs of the palace royals. This whole complex was walled with the different sections connected by paths and lush gardens which could be locked by individual gates. The Generalife was developed outside the walls and consisted of gardens, water fountains, residential buildings and land for cultivation and grazing.

After the Reconquista, the Spanish royals took over, and in 1492 it became the royal court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Additional buildings were added and modifications were made over the next years, like for example the construction of the Palace of Charles V which started mid 16th century.

The Alhambra is a perfect example of a well preserved palatine city of the Islamic period in Spain in addition to Spanish Renaissance architecture.

man and woman taking a selfie inside the generalife with view of the alhambra

Essential tips for your Alhambra visit

As already mentioned, the Alhambra is not a small random landmark you can just walk into. It is a huge complex divided into different sections for which you will need at least 3 to 4 hours of allocated time to cover the whole grounds.

In summary, here are the different sections of the Alhambra briefly explained:

  • Alcazaba: The oldest part of the Alhambra, a fortress that was used as a military base. It is built on the highest part of the hill offering strategic views of the surrounding areas. You can climb the watchtower to get a wonderful panoramic view of the city of Granada.
  • Medina: The residential area for the people working for the Nasrid Emirate. It included houses, markets, baths and administrative buildings. It was basically an urban area within the fortified walls of the complex.
  • Palace of Charles V: Commissioned by Emperor Charles V in the 16th century it now houses the Alhambra museum and the Fine Arts Museum of Granada.
  • Generalife: It was built as a retreat for the Nasrid rulers to be away from the palace grounds, a place for relaxation and leisure.
  • Nasrid Palaces: The main highlight of the Alhambra, a series of interconnected palaces and courtyards of which the most notable features are the Comares Palace, Palace of the Lions and the Partal Palace. Entrance to the Nasrid Palace is separate from the main entrance ticket. This palace complex is a really amazing piece of art and architecture that should definitely not be missed.

So read on for our top tips for making your Alhambra visit as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

lions fountain in the nasrid palaces of the alhambra
inside the nasrid palaces of the alhambra granada decorative walls

Buy Alhambra tickets well in advance

Being one of Spain’s main attractions, a visit to the Alhambra is on many people’s bucket lists. With that said, in order not to overcrowd the complex with visitors, only a limited number of tickets are available each day. This is currently set on 6000 visitors per day, although that number is unlikely to get any bigger as the complex isn’t. Any more people in there on any given day and it just won’t be enjoyable, for anyone.

So the first and most important tip for visiting the Alhambra palace is to secure an entrance ticket as far in advance as possible.

Tickets are often sold out weeks and even months in advance, especially during peak season, and even though tickets can only be booked online, obtaining an admission ticket isn’t always that straightforward. This is why we decided to write about the process in the hope to make it a lot clearer.

When looking to buy just a ticket you can go through the official website. But what makes it challenging is that there are in fact various entrance tickets to choose from for the separate areas of the Alhambra. There are the general day tickets including the Nasrid Palaces and without the Nasrid Palaces, as well as special night tours.

Good to know: We have also compiled a complete guide on how to buy tickets for the Alhambra well in advance, but also how you may still be able get tickets when they appear to be sold out, along with insider tips on how we managed to get tickets just the day before our visit. Read this guide on how to obtain tickets here!

Book a guided tour

The whole Alhambra complex with the Alcazaba, Nasrid Palaces, Generalife and the Medina is not only huge, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is also important in many other ways; cultural, architectural, historical and artistic. Spanning over various centuries, it is an important symbol of the Moorish legacy in Spain under the Nasrid dynasty and afterwards under rule of the Catholic Monarchs following the Reconquista in the 15th century.

The whole complex just breaths information that should not only be seen but also heard. We generally love the freedom of walking around any historical site by ourselves, but in the case of the Alhambra in particular, and especially if it is your first (and maybe only) visit we highly recommend going on a guided tour. So much more information can be obtained from the immense beauty of the place in this way.

Furthermore, booking a tour is also a great opportunity to obtain a ticket when the general entry tickets are sold out as many tour operators pre-book tickets and might still have availability for your preferred dates. It is definitely worthwhile checking this option out. Another advantage of a guided tour is that you’ll visit the Alhambra in a more structured way, which isn’t that easy in such a big place on your own, and you don’t have to pay attention to the time slot of the Nasrid Palaces as your guide will make sure you’ll get there in time .

Some recommended tours to choose from:

generalife house with gardens in granada

Discover the alhambra with an audioguide

But don’t worry, visiting the Alhambra by yourself without an organised guided tour is certainly also possible. So in order to enjoy an informative self-guided tour there are audioguides available which you can access using your own internet connected mobile device of choice. They provide a brief description about certain points of interest. What makes them interesting is they’ll provide you a certain level of structure while walking around the complex as the points of interest are numbered.

Audioguides can also be booked and purchased in advance through the official Alhambra website, although we didn’t use this service but instead used the free audioguide that comes with the purchase of the ticket.

When booking your ticket you will receive a QR code that will take you to the website using the browser of your mobile device and from there you can select your language and type of tour. Then you just select the area you are in and follow the numbers on the website in accordance with the signage in the Alhambra complex. This is quite easy to use and will provide you with some basic information. Using headphones is recommended.

On the other hand, for a more advanced and in-depth knowledge of the Alhambra we still highly recommend an organised guided tour.

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el partal in the Alhambra with palmtrees and water with granada in the background

Be punctual – Why time is important

Depending on the time of year, the general opening hours of the Alhambra will vary. You can find all the opening times information here. But do bear in mind that timing is very important when your ticket includes a visit to the Nasrid Palaces. The Alhambra complex as a whole can be visited anytime during the official opening hours, or after hours if you have purchased a night visit.

However, the visit to the Nasrid Palaces is highly restricted with time slots to make sure it doesn’t get overcrowded, so you’ll need to reserve a time slot to enter the Nasrid Palaces.

Good to know: It is important to point out that you will have to be at the entrance of the Nasrid Palaces at the assigned time slot, which is not at the outer entrance of the Alhambra complex itself. As the entrance of the Nasrid Palace is located inside the Alhambra, you must make sure you plan your visit to arrive there in time. You don’t get any grace, being late means you will NOT be allowed in. They are very strict. Be sure to not find ourself on the other end of the complex when you are due at the Nasrid Palaces.

So make sure you arrive at least 30 minutes before your assigned time at the entrance. You will likely see a long queue, but no worries, this queue will eventually move fast. Just get in line about 15-20 minutes before your time slot and you’ll be fine. If you arrive earlier, there are places to sit and wait. There is also a bathroom and a vending machines with coffee and other drinks.

But once inside you can spend as much time as you like admiring the amazing and stunning beauty of the Nasrid Palaces.

alcazaba inside with generalife in the background and people walking inside

Take the correct entrance

There are two main entrances that will give you access to the Alhambra complex; the Pavilion Main Entrance and the Gate of Justice.

  • Pavilion Main Entrance or Pabellón de Acceso: As the name already indicates, this is the main entrance to Alhambra. Located between the entrance of the Generalife and the Medina, here is where you can collect pre-booked tickets or QR codes. This entrance is also close to the main parking area. As this is the main entrance, more people will use this gate so the waiting time to get in can be long.
  • Gate of Justice or Puerta de la Justicia: A smaller entrance close to the Alcazaba and the Palace of Charles V which can be used if you already have your entrance ticket. The waiting time to get in here is remarkably shorter than the main entrance.

Depending on where you’d like to start your tour inside you can choose one entrance over the other. The advantage of using the smaller Gate of Justice is you could start your tour in the Alcazaba and from there make your way to the Palace of Charles V and the Palacio Nazaries, or the Nasrid Palaces.

On the other hand, if your timed palace visit is much later in the day you can consider first visiting the Generlife.

inside view nasrid palace with water feature in the front
pomegranate fruit in the alhambra gardens

Plan your visit around The Nasrid Palaces

If you have booked a ticket including the Nasrid Palaces, try to plan your visit around this time slot. An advice that we got from a local guide is to start in the Alcazaba as this is the closest to the entrance of the palaces. The exit will be at the other side, entering the Medina. So if you first enter the Nasrid Palaces and have not yet visited the Alcazaba you will need to return.

You will need about 30 minutes to visit the Alcazaba and 15 minutes for the Palace of Charles V. First visit the Alcazaba and then make your way to your time slot to enter the Nasrid Palaces, about 30 minutes before your allocated time. The rest of the Alhambra can then be visited at leisure until the outer gates closes. This of course will not work if your allocated time for the Nasrid Palaces is at the end of the day.

Download this map on your phone or have a printed version available as the Alhambra is really huge and some advance planning is required to make the most of your visit.

How much time to spend at The Alhambra

One piece of advice we can also give is to allocate enough time to visit the whole complex. A general rule of thumb that you’ll read everywhere is that a whole tour will take around 3 hours. However, we spent much more time there. We took our time to marvel over the decorations, the architecture and the history. We also took time to relax in the gardens of both the Medina and the Generalife.

From inside you have amazing views over the surrounding area like the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background as well as the Granada city centre and the Albaícin neighbourhood with its white-washed houses right below. So, we can say, count at least 3 hours, but if you have more time, use it. For most people, a visit to the Alhambra is a once in a a lifetime experience, so try not to rush through it.

Don’t forget your ID and tickets

The Alhambra complex is comprised of different separate sections of which certain areas you can access for free and other places you’ll need an entrance ticket. During your visit you’ll need to show your ticket multiple times as well as your official ID with which you booked your ticket. So keep your ticket and ID handy at all times, either on your phone or have a print out available.

Be prepared for lots of walking

The whole Alhambra complex is 26 acres, which is quite big. So be prepared for lots of walking, as well as going up and down lots of steps. Good walking shoes are highly recommended. Also don’t forget a hat and sunscreen when visiting during the warmer months as it can get really hot with a fair amount of time spent out in the open.

Around the gardens and the Medina you’ll find plenty of benches to sit and relax on. Certain areas are designated for eating and drinking so feel free to bring something small for an extra boost of energy or buy something from the shop or vending machines inside. You are not allowed to bring in a larger backpack, but a small daypack with a few supplies and drinks is allowed inside. When inside the Nasrid Palaces you’ll be required to wear your daypack or any bag in front of you.

palace of charles v inside courtyard

Best time to visit Alhambra

While any time of year is great to visit the Alhambra, the best time of year however is spring and fall / autumn. During this time of year the weather is generally pleasant with only mildly warm temperature that are not too high. Spring will offer beautiful colours, especially in the gardens and Generalife from the vibrant colours of the flowers. Same for autumn and fall when the colours are turning and the oranges and other fruits are in full season.

In winter the temperatures will drop and snow will adorn the nearby peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains, whereas during summer you can surely expect very high temperatures which can make a visit to the Alhambra more of a challenge. There are a few free drinking water fountains inside.

The busiest time of year is spring and autumn, so be sure to book your tickets even further in advance.

The best time of day to visit the Alhambra is early morning and late afternoon, not only for the more pleasant temperatures but also to avoid the larger crowds.

How to get to the Alhambra palace

The Alhambra Palace complex is located high up on the Sabika Hill of Granada. While walking up from the city below is an option to get to the entrance, you might want to save your time and energy for the visit itself.

There are various way to make your way to the entrance but what we do recommend is to at least walk down via Cuesta del Rey Chico.

Walking: From the Plaza Nueva, walk straight up via the Calle Cuesta de Gomérez to the ticket office. Another beautiful walk is via de Paseo de los Tristes and up via the Cuesta del Rey Chico. Either way, it is a steep climb all the way up. You could also take a public bus up and walk back down to the city centre. This is what we did.

By Bus: From Plaza Isabel la Católica, catch the red mini bus C30 or C32 to get to the Alhambra ticket office. These are small busses designed to drive through the narrow streets of the city center leading up to the Alhambra.

From the Palacio de los Congresos, catch the municipal bus 13 which will drop you at the Alhambra parking area / cemetery.

By Car: From the road N-323 / A-44 follow the ring road Ronda Sur and the signs towards the Alhambra. There is a large guarded parking area very close to the ticket office, making a visit by car pretty convenient, especially if not staying in Granada.

By Taxi: A taxi is another good option to get to the Alhambra. It might be more expensive but it is very convenient and they can take you from your hotel straight to the Alhambra entrance of your choice.

5 decorative windows inside the alhambra with tiled floor

Best viewpoint of the Alhambra

After having marvelled over the inside of the Alhambra you’ll definitely want to enjoy this amazing Spanish landmark from the outside. A view of the Alhambra with the snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains as a backdrop is possibly one of the most typical images of Spain. It is almost impossible not to see this amazing construction from anywhere in Granada, but as it is perched high up on a hill, the best way to enjoy the full view is to look for one of the many viewpoints higher up. There are quite a few possibilities to have a good look, of which we have listed just a few of the more spectacular ones:

  • Mirador San Nicolas: The Mirador San Nicolas or the San Nicolas viewpoint is undoubtly the most famous viewpoint to see the Alhambra. From the centre of the Albaícin neighbourhood you’ll get a fantastic panoramic view of the whole Alhambra complex complete with the snowy mountain tops of the Sierra Nevada in the background, if you’re there in the winter. You can either walk up to the mirador via the narrow uphill alleys or catch bus number C31 from Plaza Nueva.
  • Mirador San Cristobal: Located in the upper part of the Albaícin neighbourhood, this viewpoint in front of the San Cristobal church not only overlooks the Alhambra but also offers breathtaking view of the city of Granada.
  • Mirador Sacramonte: Great views of the Alhambra and a lovely walk through the Sacromonte neighbourhood. It is also much quieter than the other more popular viewpoints.
  • Mirador de San Miguel Alto: For us this was the best viewpoint to see the Alhambra as well as the city of Granada from high above. It’s a steep walk, partly with stairs, to climb all the way to the small church of San Miguel. It is well worth the climb as there there will be much less people around. As there is no shade, we recommend not to climb during the heat of the day, or take a hat and lots of water.
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