Did you know that the Alhambra Palace in Granada is the number one attraction in all of Spain? Over 8,000 people per day visit this amazing city (within the city of Granada).
Basically, anyone in the area will visit here. However, one of the main questions I had pop up over and over again – is it really necessary to take a tour?
The main reason for the hesitation is when traveling with kids they don’t handle tours so well. They get bored quickly, restless if the tour is boring and not geared towards stimulating them, and also when they get agitated they can affect the entire group.
After lots of back and forth, I decided to go for it.
Things to know before going
1. You need to buy a ticket in advance – If you’re coming during the busy season, you need to get those tickets way, way in advance. In other words, don’t even think of arriving the day of the tour without a ticket in hand. It’s almost 90% guarantee you will not be able to get in.
2. “It’s easier to get out of prison than get into the Alhambra!” – This is how important it is to not only purchase a ticket in advance but to make sure it’s practically stapled to your body during the tour (or visit) because you are in and out of many areas which are monitored for time.
3. Time permits – getting a ticket isn’t the only thing you need to think about, but the time you want to visit. The tickets only give you permission to visit certain areas up to a scheduled time. This must be put into play if you want to stay longer in certain parts of it.
Why Touring Granada Alhambra Palace Is a Must-Do
With all my time on the fence about doing a tour or not, I realized I might miss the window of getting in at all. This actually helped me make up my mind to do the tour.
The thought of 8,000 people piled into on spot was not exciting for me. Reading about all the different tours available, I finally decided on Viator’s Skip the Line: Alhambra and Generalife Gardens Half Day Tour.
First of all, I love the ‘Skip the Line’ advantage. When buying the tour, you automatically get tickets for any day you chose. Plus, they only permit a certain number of people per tour up to 30 people. A large number but not as daunting as 8000.
The tour itself is only about 2.5 hours, which can be long for kids. However, I figured with gardens and outdoor touring they can keep themselves busy if they get bored. They never did.
Granada Alhambra Tour – What To Expect and What You Get
We got picked up at our hotel in a cozy van and brought to the main office of the Alhambra.
With so many visitors and countries represented in the office alone, we were all split up into our designated groups by language.
My concerns about being with way-too-many people were instantly eased when we got to be in the second English-speaking group that day. Our guide, Gustavo who resembled a young John Lennon (and I found out later he is a huge Beatles fan), told us that his tour groups are usually up to 30 people, we had SEVEN. He said in all of his years of working there, this is a first. So from the start, I was super grateful.
Within five minutes of the tour I knew that arriving here without a guide is the same as arriving to a library and just looking at the titles of the books, rather than diving into any of them. Yes, you can do the audio tour, but that is totally impossible with kids since they need to be stimulated and entertained. Audio tours would never do that.
The Alhambra is not only huge, but it is extremely regulated. You need to present your ticket at least six times in different places or you won’t get in. Thus the famous saying – “It’s easier to escape from prison then to enter the Alhambra without a ticket.” Also, there is a method to explore it fully to get the full timeline of the place. Without a tour you would kind of be aimlessly walking around. I actually saw a ton of people doing that and even more asking our guide where to go next and what he recommends.
Gustavo’s commentary was fun and easy to follow even for my five year old. Not once did my kids get bored or start saying that they want to go home.
Everywhere we went Gustavo gave us a great story bringing the place more to life and giving us plenty of time to explore on our own before moving on.
Don’t get me wrong, our tour might have had only seven people, but the palace and gardens was packed with people. Yet the flow of the Alhambra, after many years of perfecting it, moved smoothly and you never felt like you were surrounded by tons of people.
Even though we had tickets for the full morning, and some parts allowed you to stay all day, we decided to head home after the tour. You also have the choice to take the bus back down to Granada center or walk it. We walked. Everything in Granada is about ten minutes walk. The Alhambra is located on a high hilltop so taking the bus up there makes a lot of sense. But take my advice, going down is fun and you can get lost in one of the windy streets which, to me, is one of the best things about Granada.
If you’re still on the fence about the tour – let me put your mind to rest – there is absolutely no point in doing it without a guide if you are traveling with kids, or without. You will basically be looking at pretty gardens and intricate Arab palaces. Get the tour, it’s worth every penny and more.
Fun Facts About Alhambra and Generalife Gardens
- The Alhambra is actually a city inside the main city of Granada.
- Sacromonte and Albaicin were the original muslim and Arab quarters that were there before the Palace was built.
- The Alhambra is inside a fortress city and one the most grandeur palaces left of the Islamic take overs which had most of Spain for well over eight centuries.
- The Christian take over was one of the easiest, no blood shed at all.
- The take over happened on January 2, 1942.
- No one ever attached the Alhambra.
- It was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889 and then got abandoned.
- Its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Nasrid dynasty.
- It was converted into a royal palace in 1333.
- The Nasrid Kingdom became the last Islamic sultanate on the Iberian Peninsula, and its capital Granada progressively received Muslim populations forced to retreat from the Christians.
- After the conquest of Granada by the “Catholic Monarchs” in 1492, some portions were used by Christian rulers.
- The Palace of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor was built in 1527 within the within the Nasrid fortifications.
- It later fell into disrepair until the 19th century.
- Squatters took over the area and all the Islamic furniture and Christian furniture was either squandered off or burnt as firewood during the cold winters. Nowadays nothing remains from back then.
- In the 1800’s many ‘starving’ artists made it their home. One of them was Washington Irving.
- Irving fell in love with the Alhambra and returned here many years, eventually writing in detail the famous book of essays- ‘Tales of the Alhambra‘
- After the book was published Spain realized they had a gem on their hands and took control over it.
- By order of the Regency of the Kingdom (Regencia del Reino), 10 February 1870 the Alcazar of the Alhambra of Granada, as well as their gardens and accessory structures, are declared national-artistic monuments.
- In the twentieth century, by Royal Decree on 27 July 1943 the gardens of the Alhambra and the Generalife are declared Historical Gardens.
- It is currently an artistic-historical monumental group with four clearly distinguishable zones: the Palaces, the military zone or Alcazaba, the city or Medina, and the villa of the Generalife.
- Then at the UNESCO Convention, held in Buenos Aires between 29 October and 2 November 1984, the World Heritage Committee proceeded to officially include the Alhambra and the Generalife of Granada on the World Heritage List.
- Today it is Spain’s most visited attraction
- Generalife can be translated into “the garden of the architect”
- It dates from the 14th century.
- The palace was used by the Muslim royalty as a place of rest.
- Generalife palace was outside the fortress and used as the Sultan’s fortress, but he never slept there since there was no protection.
- There are four main vegetable gardens separated by thick walls, the remains of which can still be seen. They are called Colorada (Red), Grande (Large), Fuentepeña (Crag Spring) and Mercería (Haberdashery).
- After the conquest in 1492, the Catholic Monarchs assigned a keeper to watch over the area and make improvements.
- In 1631 the keeper’s charge was given to the Granada-Venegas family, until 1921, when the state, after a long drawn out legal battle, was finally awarded custody of the premises.
- The official tour commences at point where a line of cypress trees were planted in honor of a visit by Isabel II in 1862.