The historic city of Granada is the perfect gateway to the Sierra Nevada. Home to the magical Alhambra palace, the old Moorish quarter with its maze of streets and whitewashed houses and some of the best tapas bars in Spain, it continues to fascinate and enchant visitors from around the world.
Many of Granada’s finest monuments date back to its time under Moorish rule, which lasted from the early 8th century until 1492. By far the most famous of these is the spectacular Alhambra, or “red palace”, which served as a fortified citadel and palace for the Nasrid dynasty from the 13th to 15th centuries. Set on a hill that dominates the modern city, its intricately ornate decoration, peaceful patios and delightful gardens are a must-see for any visitor.
On the hill opposite the Alhambra, and separated from it by the River Darro, lies the Albaicín, site of the original Moorish settlement. Enjoy losing your way amongst its charming, narrow alleyways and cobbled streets. At the top of the hill lies the Mirador de San Nicolás, which offers fantastic views of the Alhambra, Generalife and the Sierra Nevada.
Other places of interest include the Royal Chapel, the burial place of Ferdinand and Isabella, the King and Queen who united Spain and reconquered Granada from the Moors. It is attached to the vast Renaissance cathedral, which in spite of its size is not one of the most interesting sights of Granada.
One of the other attractions of Granada is its lively tapas scene, with almost all bars serving a free tapa with every drink. These range from typical Spanish dishes to Japanese, Moroccan and even Thai cuisine. The old Jewish quarter of Realejo offers a particularly eclectic mix of bars, but the areas around Plaza Nueva, the cathedral and Reyes Católicos are all popular with visitors and locals alike.
With many of the hikes described on this website starting or finishing close to, or even in, Granada, it is perfectly possible to base yourself in the city for the duration of your stay. Alternatively, why not spend a night in Granada at the start or end of your visit to the Sierra Nevada? Book early if you plan to come at peak times such as Easter, New Year and the May bank holidays.
If you’re planning to self-cater in Granada, we recommend Casita del Realejo in Calle Solares. It’s a small, beautifully decorated house on three floors. It has a great location in Realejo – quiet and with nice views, but close to all of the restaurants, bars and sights, including the Alhambra.
Within a short distance of Granada, there are a number of villages nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada that make good bases for exploring the mountains. Their locations allow you to head up high into the mountains in summer and autumn, but when the higher peaks are covered in snow, there are also lots of pleasant walks at lower altitudes.
The white village of Güéjar Sierra is perched on the hill above the Canales reservoir. Window boxes overflowing with bougainvillea, geraniums and petunias decorate the narrow winding streets. Although popular with tourists, the village retains a very traditional, Spanish feel. Some of the very best hikes in the Sierra Nevada start near Güéjar, and accommodation includes hotels, self-catering apartments and a campsite.
Monachil, which shares its name with the fast-flowing river that runs through the village, has become rather overbuilt in recent years, but is remains a convenient base for trekkers and skiers. The local tourist office also has helpful leaflets with information about walks in the lush countryside surrounding the village.
The white villages of the Alpujarras are a destination in their own right, and even if you decide to stay elsewhere they make a good day trip from Granada. Dotted amongst the southern foothills of the Sierra Nevada, many of these villages were until recently very isolated from modern life. As a result they developed highly distinctive styles of architecture, pottery and weaving, all of which are deeply indebted to the strong Moorish heritage. Modern-day villagers have successfully built on these traditions, and the area is now home to a variety of markets selling artisan products of varying degrees of authenticity.
Some of the most popular places to stay are the three villages of the Poquiera gorge: Pampaneira, Bubión and Capileira. Many of the apartments here have spectacular views up towards the high mountains, as well as down into the gorge below. Capileira makes the perfect base if you want to climb Mulhacén, as it is the departure point for the small bus that takes hikers up to an altitude of 2,700 metres. Both Pampaneira and Capileira also have information centres.
The other main hiking base in the Alpujarras is Trevélez, famous for its cured hams. At 1,476 metres above sea level it is the highest village in Andalucía, but even then you will need to ascend 2,000 metres if you want to attempt the demanding climb up to Mulhacén.
There are many nice country houses available for holiday lets in the Órgiva area, which can be a good option if you are in a group. Many recently refurbished country houses are also available in the Lecrín valley, on the opposite side of the A-44 motorway from the Alpujarras.
- For guide book recommendations, see our recommended reading page.