Cordoba, a city of surprises

White washed houses squeezed together, forming alleyways and secret pathways. Greenery and flowers draped over windows, all the colours spilling onto the street. Private patios, made for private conversations and public admiration. Blazing blue skies, golden-dusted streets, lush royal gardens. This was Cordoba, and it surprised the heck out of me.

The last leg on our Spanish journey, Mom and I had zero expectations of Cordoba. All we knew about the city was that it was famous for its Mezquita. But beyond this tourist site, we had no idea what else there was to do – seriously, our itinerary for here was just “Mezquita” and a giant bold question mark for the rest of our time.

The Alhambra, Eight Tips on Visiting Spain's Most Beautiful Palace

Visiting the Alhambra is like a strange hybrid between going to Disneyland and eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant. You have to prepare months in advance, buy your ticket, reserve your table. Everyone and anyone is there and wants to be there. You stand in lines, you fight the crowds. But by the end, you're rewarded with a magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

I messed up hard by not realizing that the online purchase only gives you a ticket confirmation. You have to pick up the actual tickets in person (so annoying! get with the online times, guys!). You can pick up the tickets at a tourist centre in Granada the day before, but since we didn't realize we had to do this, cue Mom and I waking up at before the crack of dawn. So, Tip #1, get your tickets (not just the confirmation!) in advance. 

Granada, a taste of North Africa in Europe

If Seville is the jewel of Southern Spain, then Granada is the black sheep of the family, decidedly more North African than European. Travelling a couple hours by bus, we were transported into a staggering and different world of dark, tiny alleys and fragrant, colourful storefronts.

The Moorish influence extends beyond the main tourist mecca that travelers pilgrimage here for – the Alhambra (a massive blog post photo dump that I’m saving for another post, another day). The food, souvenirs, and even the people, all bring a little taste of present-day Morocco to the city.

The Alhambra isn’t the only thing you can – or should – see while you’re in Granada. Mom and I packed in many other sights and activities during our time here, some of which were a let down (not-so-free tapas) and some which were a well-kept secret (a crowd-free Alhambra lookout point).