Exploring Malaga: 72 Hours in Granada and the Sierra Nevada
Hire a car at Malaga airport and visit a Moorish-built city ...
... you'll find it sprawled at the foot of a dramatic National Park, just an hour-and-a-half’s drive away.
Granada’s storied past rises from its narrow, winding streets. It’s etched in the columns and porticoes of its Moorish palaces and houses, and it’s painted on its patterned tiles and mosaics.
As the last Andalusian city conquered by Catholic monarchs (in 1492), the legacy of seven centuries of Arabic rule can still be seen in its eclectic architecture, and tasted in its food.
With Sierra Nevada National Park a short drive away, it all adds up to the perfect weekend break. Here’s how to spend three flawless days in Granada and beyond.
Albaicín is one of Granada’s oldest neighbourhoods, with narrow medieval streets weaving up the hillside, passing traditional cármenes (homes with gardens) and revealing glimpses of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The squares of San Nicolás and San Cristóbal offer particularly spectacular views. For lunch, grab bite-sized bocadillos (sandwiches) filled with Spanish tortilla or chorizo at Cien Montaditos. Then, shop for traditional marquetry at Artesanías González; the patterned, veneered wooden boxes and handcrafted chess sets make lovely souvenirs. Browse castanets and flamenco guitars at Gil de Avalle. In Alcaicería, stroll along steep streets filled with bazaars selling Moroccan-style embroidered slippers, textured rugs and scarves.
It’s a short walk from there to Granada Cathedral, a grand example of Baroque and Gothic architecture in centuries-old Jewish quarter, Realejo. The area’s lively square, Campo del Príncipe, is crammed with tapas bars—the perfect place to begin a bite-by-bite dinner crawl.
From there, head out in search of Andalusian sausage and octopus salad at Restaurante Bar León in Albaicín, before perching at the counter of Bar Avila to sip a small beer or wine with your patatas bravas and jamón serrano.
This compact became an unlikely live music hub in the 1950s, and today it attracts rock ‘n’ roll pilgrims, jazz cats and flamenco fans. Experience the eclectic scene at Sala El Tren music hall, or watch local musicians at the intimate Boogaclub.
Escape the city with a half-hour drive into Sierra Nevada National Park, dominated by the craggy mountain range visible from many points of the city. Pack a thick winter coat and you’ll be ready to get out on the slopes for some skiing or snowboarding.
In summer, it’s a picturesque playground of meadows, rivers, glacial lakes and mountain peaks. Stroll around native plants in Hoya de Pedraza Botanical Garden, and cross the hanging bridges of Los Cahorros gorge to reach waterfalls and swimming holes. Alternatively, hike the Camino Real de las Hoyas, a nature trail shaded by centuries-old oak trees, looking out for ibex and wild boar.
Stay for sunset at Mirador Ahi De Cara, lingering at the viewpoint to watch the sky deepen with shades of orange and pink.
Back in Granada, get a taste of the city’s Arab heritage at Tajine Elvira. This no-frills local hangout serves classic Moroccan dishes like couscous with sticky, honeyed lamb followed by sweet, flaky pastries.
Sticking with the theme, Calle Caldereria Nueva has been dubbed “The Street of the Tea Rooms”. It’s lined with Moroccan teahouses serving refreshing mint tea amid flickering candlelight and a sea of scatter cushions.
One of Spain’s most visited monuments, the Alhambra can get pretty crowded. In this case, do believe the hype. The hilltop complex is dominated by 13th-century Moorish palaces. Further grand structures were added after Christians conquered the Arabic dynasty, while remnants of Roman structures have also been discovered here. It adds up to an intricate, layered map of the area’s history, and every inch is breath-taking.
Arrive when the doors open at 8.30am to improve your chances of enjoying a solitary moment among the soft apricot walls of the Alcazaba citadel, or pausing by the lion fountain in a marble courtyard edged by intricate cloisters. Climb to the terrace of the Watchtower, or “Tower of the Candle”, for sweeping views that give a better sense of the grandeur of the place.
Spend the afternoon strolling around the Generalife Gardens, included in your Alhambra ticket price. The sprawling green space was designed for relaxation, and the landscaped gardens, trails and cypress woods still draw people looking to rest and regroup.
Round off your trip in true Andalusian style—with a flamenco show in a cave. Zambra María la Canastera has nightly performances. Dine on classic dishes like gazpacho and platters of jamón before the main event. In a narrow, dome-ceilinged room, dancers strut and spin—their ruffled skirts slicing through the air—as they have done for centuries.
Then, with a car packed full of Andalusian produce, take the winding road back to Malaga airport and return your hire car.