Everything you need to know for a successful Alhambra visit

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A visit to the Alhambra Palace in Granada is a fantastic addition to any Spain trip. It is stunningly beautiful, set in a physically beautiful location, nestled between the Sierra Nevada mountains and overlooking the city itself, and is one of the best examples of Moorish, or Mudejar, architecture from the many centuries the Moors ruled Spain. Visiting the Alhambra is also great way to learn more about Spain’s history and how it influences the Spain of today.

The Alhambra is one of the most visited sites in all of Europe. It is crucial to plan your visit well. 

Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about the Alhambra and what you need to keep in mind in order to have a successful visit.

What’s actually inside the Alhambra

It’s helpful to know what exactly is inside the Alhambra when you think about planning your visit because there are several different options for the types of tickets you can reserve and how you can structure your visit.

The Alhambra Palace is a compound that includes several different buildings. It’s also larger than most people expect. The Alhambra has five main parts inside — the Nasrid Palaces, the Generalife Palace and Gardens, the Alcazaba, the Partal, and the Palace of Carlos V. There are other parts of the compound as well and gardens and ancient walls you pass between the different parts, but these are the five key sections. The real heart of the Alhambra is the Nasrid Palaces, the Generalife Palace and Gardens, and the Alcazaba.

Nasrid Palaces

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The Nasrid Palaces are what many people picture when they think of the Alhambra. The Palaces were the residence of the sultans of the Nasrid dynasty, the Moors that ruled Spain for several centuries and they reflect this majesty. The Palaces are filled with intricate, Arabic carving, beautiful tile work, and calming reflecting pools.

There are three Palaces that comprise the Nasrid Palaces — the Mexuar Palace, the Comares Palace, and the Palace of the Lions — and they were built at different times, beginning in the mid 1300s. Some of the most famous parts of the Alhambra, like the Lions’ Patio, the Throne Room, the Ambassador’s Room, are in the Nasrid Palaces.

Alcazaba

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The Alcazaba is the oldest part of the Alhambra and was the military area where the soldiers who guarded the compound lived. In the photo above, you can see the old internal walls from inside the Alcazaba. There are several towers in the Alcazaba that provide tremendous views of the city and of the Albaicin and Sacromonte neighborhoods.

Generalife Palace and Gardens

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The Generalife Palace and Gardens were built after the Nasrid Palace as a less formal residence for the sultans. They served as a weekend or summer home, so to speak, for the Nasrid sultans. The gardens are the real star of this part of the Alhambra and, along with the Nasrid Palace, probably the most famous and most photographed parts of the Palace. The Generalife is at the far end of the Alhambra complex.

Partal

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The Partal is located between the Nasrid Palace and the Generalife. The Partal offers excellent views of the Albaicin and Sacromonte neighborhoods that are on the hills on the other side of the city. You can see peaks of this view through the arches in the photo above.

Palace of Carlos V

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Palace of Carlos V in the Alhambra in Granada

King Carlos V of Spain decided to build this Palace after he visited the Alhambra complex in 1526. It’s an impressive building, but you’ll see immediately that the style is very different from the rest of the Alhambra. It houses a museum on the Alhambra. It’s worth stopping in to visit if you are interested in either seeing the exhibit or are planning to spend the whole day in the Alhambra and want to see the Palace itself.  Otherwise, my advice is to prioritize the other parts of the Alhambra and to spend your time there.

Types of Alhambra visits

There are several different ways to visit the Alhambra, all of which involve reserving tickets ahead of time (see below for more information on getting your Alhambra ticket).

You can visit the Alhambra during the day or at night and for each time of visit, there are several choices to make.

Options for daytime visits

  • General Daytime visit — this ticket lets you visit the Nasrid Palace, Generalife Palace and Gardens, and the Alcazaba. This is the most complete Alhambra visit ticket;
  • Daytime Gardens visit — this ticket lets you visit the Generalife Palace and Gardens, the Alcazaba, and other outside areas of the Alhambra, but does not let you visit the Nasrid Palace.

Options for nighttime visits

  • Nasrid Palace — this ticket lets you visit the Nasrid Palace at night and enjoy the lights of the Palace and city, but does not include the Generalife;
  • Generalife Palace and Gardens — this ticket lets you visit the Generalife at night, but not the Nasrid Palace.

For night visits, you have to choose if you want to see the Nasrid Palace or the Generalife. You can not see both on the same night.

Options for multi-day visits

If you know that you want to spend a lot of time in the Alhambra and are interesting in both daytime and nighttime visits, then the Blue Circle Pass ticket might be a good option for you. This ticket combines the General Daytime visit that lets you enter the Nasrid Palaces and the Generalife along with a Nightime visit that either lets you enter the Nasrid Palaces of the Generalife. This ticket allows access to the Alhambra over two consecutive days, so if you know you’ll want more time or a chance to the Palace at night, either the day after or before your day visit, this ticket is a good option.

My recommendation

For first time visitors to the Alhambra or any visitors who want a complete visit and don’t want to miss anything, the best option is the General Daytime visit. This is the most complete ticket to visit the Alhambra and lets you see every part of the Palace that is open to visitors with one ticket.

For second time visitors or travelers who are very interested in Moorish history and know they want to visit the Alhambra more than once, either one of the nighttime visits or the blue circle pass could be a good option, depending on your priorities, you group, and the rest of your itinerary.

A note on guides and tours

I do not recommend going on a guided group tour of the Alhambra. The tours are big, can be in multiple languages, and tend to move at a quick pace. If you want a guide, I highly recommend hiring a private guide who can cater the tour to your group’s interests and pace.

If hiring a private guide is not an option, I recommend doing a self-guided tour and learning at least a little about the Alhambra and it’s history before your visit. You can pick up an audio guide at the Entrance Pavilion and at the shop located in the Palace of Carlos V.

You do not want to spend your Alhambra visit being rushed and not being able to pause and take in your surroundings as you please, which is why I recommend against the guided group tour.

How to get your Alhambra ticket

You can book your ticket to the Alhambra online. You should aim to book your ticket at least 90 days in advance.  Once you have your dates for Granada booked, especially if you’re traveling during the busy season and with a more than two people, my advice is to book your tickets immediately.

If you want to visit the Nasrid Palace and choose the General Daytime ticket, you will have to reserve a time to enter the Nasrid Palaces.  The earlier you book your ticket, the more choices you’ll have in terms of entrance times to the Nasrid Palace. This time is very important and you must enter the Nasrid Palaces within 30 minutes of the time printed on your ticket or you will not be able to enter at all. You need to allow for sufficient time to actually enter the Alhambra compound and, from there, to get to the entrance to the Nasrid Palaces. From the Entrance Pavilion,

When you buy your Alhambra ticket online, you will get an email confirmation. This is not an actual ticket and you cannot get into the Alhambra just with this ticket. You will need to convert you email into a ticket with a scanable barcode. You can either do this at the Entrance Pavilion as you enter the Alhambra or you can go to La Tienda de la Alhambra, a bookstore, at Calle Reyes Católicos, 40 and use their kiosk to print out your ticket. If you get your ticket from the Entrance Pavilion, make sure to allow enough time as there will likely be a good number of people waiting in line to do the same thing. 

Here’s why this works this way

Although this hasn’t always been the case, the Alhambra is now very well monitored. Entries to the Palace compound are limited to 6,600 people per day.  This means that most people who wait until the last minute or until they actually get to Granada to book their tickets will NOT actually get tickets to see the Alhambra because they sell out.

Additionally, no more than 300 visitors are permitted to enter the Nasrid Palace during any 30 minute segment to prevent overcrowding and to protect the Palace. This is why the time at which you enter the Nasrid Palace is so important. You will need to plan your visits to other parts of the Alhambra, like the Alcazaba and the Generalife, around your Nasrid Palace entrance time. It’s important to reserve your entrance tickets as soon as you can so you can have as many options as possible for your Nasrid entrance time.

The best structure for your Alhambra visit

If you are going to visit the Nasrid Palaces, this is what will anchor you Alhambra visit.  The ideal visit to the Alhambra looks like this —

Nasrid Palaces — Alcazaba– Generalife

or

Nasrid Palaces — Generalife — Alcazaba

I strongly recommend seeing the Nasrid Palaces first thing in the morning, or as earlier as you possibly can. As mentioned above, this is the one part of your entrance to the Alhambra that is time specific. If you miss the 30 minute entry window around your Nasrid Palaces entry time, you will not be able to enter. There will certainly be many people, and maybe even crowds, waiting to enter early in the morning, but there will be fewer people inside the entire Palace compound as numbers won’t have built up over the day yet. If your Nasrid Palaces visit is the first part of your Alhambra day, after that, you can relax and move at your own pace. I personally prefer the first option above and ending with the Generalife instead of the Alcazaba, but this depends on your group’s preferences and pace.

If you get an afternoon time for the Nasrid Palaces because that is all that is available for the date that you wish to visit the Alhambra, don’t panic, you can still have a successful visit. It will be very important for you to plan your day well. Depending on your entrance time for the Nasrid Palaces, you’ll likely want to see at least one other main part of the Alhambra, eithre the Generalife or the Alcazaba, before you visit the Nasrid Palaces. If your Palaces entrance time is quite late in the day, you’ll probably want to visit both beforehand to make sure you have time to see them.

You’ll also have to watch the clock carefully to make sure that you’re at the entrance to the Nasrid Palaces at least 30 minutes before the entrance time on your ticket. There is a 30 minute window for entrance, but there will likely be lines and you don’t want to miss your entrance time waiting in line. As the Alhambra is quite big, you’ll need to allow sufficient time to walk from wherever you might be in the complex to the entrance of the Nasrid Palaces.

(Since the Partal is relatively small compared to all each of the other three parts of the Alhambra and can be seen on your way from the Nasrid Palace to the Generalife, I didn’t include it as its own separate part. The Palace of Carlos V is a nice extra to see if you have time, but not a must-see like the rest of the Palace.)

Additional things to know for a successful Alhambra visit

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Views of the Albaicin neighborhood from the Alhambra

Since the Alhambra is such a popular site for travelers to visit, rules are strictly enforced throughout the Palace compound. Here are few important things to know in advance of your visit:

  • Every member of you group needs a ticket with a barcode, including kids under 12.
  • Bags and backpacks over 35 cm will need to be stored, for free, in a check area called consigna.
  • Small backpacks have to be worn in front, and not on your back, to avoid accidentally bumping into things.
  •  Strollers and baby carriages are not allowed inside the Alhambra. You can check your stroller for free in the consigna and you can also borrow a baby carrier free of charge for your visit.
  • There are several restaurants and vending machines inside of the Alhambra. If you want to eat a restaurant, you’ll need to plan accordingly.
  • You are only allowed to eat in designed areas.
  • You can bring water inside the Alhambra.
  •  Once you’re in the Alhambra, you can spend the day there. You won’t be asked to leave until closing time at the end of the day.

Things you’ll need to think about to plan your Alhambra visit

You’ll want to keep the following questions in mind as you plan your Alhambra visit to make sure you get the most out of it.

  • How big is your group?
  • Does your group have any specific requirements? Are you traveling with young children, a multi-generational group, or people who might have difficulty walking or being on their feet for long periods of time?
  • At what pace does your group move and how will you adapt your visit accordingly?
  • How long are you planning to spend in the Alhambra? The average visit is about 3-4 hours, but you could spend all day there. It’s helpful to have a rough idea of approximately how long you’d like to spend in the Alhambra to plan your day well.
  • What are you going to do about food and drink? This depends on how long you’re planning to spend in the Palace, your group, and your entrance time for the Nasrid Palaces.
  • How are you going to see the Alhambra, with a private guide or a with self-guided?
  • Will you need to check items in the consigna check area? If so, you’ll need to adjust your timing accordingly.

Top tips for visiting the Alhambra

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Here are my top tips, in one list, for visiting the Alhambra, because you want to get the most out of your visit to this amazing site:

  • Book your ticket as far in advance as you can, especially if you’re traveling with a group.
  • Reserve an early morning entrance to the Nasrid Palace so that you have flexibility in your schedule of the rest of your visit.
  • Pick up your ticket at least an hour before your Nasrid Palace entrance time. Remember, you will likely have to wait inline at the Entrance Pavilion to get your ticket and from there, it’s about a 20 minute walk to the Nasrid Palace.
  • Do not take a group guided tour; decide if you’ll hire a private guide or do a self guided tour.
  • Have a general sense of how long you plan to spend in the Alhambra.
  • Figure out your plan for food during your visit.
  • Wear comfortable shoes as you will be on your feet all day.
  • Dress appropriately; in the summer, you’ll want sunblock, a hat, and cool clothing; in the winter, you’ll want to dress in layers as the weather can be quite cold in the mornings and warm up with the sun.
  • There are water fountains for drinking throughout, but it’s a good idea to bring your own water bottle, especially during hot weather

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