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. 

Holy moly was there already a lot people at the front gate. This is my experience on how they herded us through: 

  • The first line. Right before getting in, there was a line for people who had their tickets and/or ticket confirmations, and one for people who were hoping to get last minute tickets for that day. 
  • The second line. Picking up our actual tickets because we only had a confirmation. If you already had them, you could go skip to ...
  • The third line. Once we had our tickets, we waited to get into the general grounds. 
  • The mad dash/rush to get to ...
  • The fourth line. Our entry time for the Nasrid Palaces was at 8:30 am, not 8, so the security wouldn't let me line up until later... but many people were already loitering around because you only have a designated 30-minute window of time to enter.

Madness, I tell you. Tip #2, get there early. And get ready to stand in lines on lines on lines. 

Tip #3, book the earliest Nasrid Palace time. Don't cringe cause it's at 8 am. Just do it. The longer you wait, the more insane the crowds are.  

Tip #4, learn Photoshop. There's almost no way to avoid the crowds and people and tour groups in very popular places, like the infamous Court of the Myrtles. Set up your camera in one spot, take a succession of photos, and photomerge in Photoshop for a people-free landscape shot. In less popular areas though...

Tip #5, stay in each room/area as long as you can. As annoying as the hordes are, you've got something they don't – time. As they're quickly shepherded from one room to the next, snapping their photos and selfies in rapid quickfire, you can find a safe, peaceful corner, and just wait for their exit. Mom and I enjoyed nearly-empty areas, a peace and calm, and the opportunity to not have to use that photoshop tip up above. 

Tip #6, stop and stare at the details. They're insane. The colours, the handiwork, the carvings... it's crazy to believe this was all handmade centuries and centuries ago. But it was. And it's stunningly been conserved and protected and restored to perfection. 

Tip #7, take in the bigger picture, too. It's easy to get angry with the stress of millions of other people. The lines. But slow down. Listen to the water bubbling. The leaves on the palm trees playing against one another. Take in the sky. Run your hands over the carvings. Feel it. Enjoy it. Transport yourself to the 13th century when the highest of royalty lived here. And now, the unimaginable, you're able to see it even though you're (probably) not royalty yourself. 

Tip #8, don't underestimate the rest of the Alhambra. People go gaga over the Nasrid palaces (obviously, I mean, just look at the fairytale in the previous photos). But the Palacio, Alcazaba, and Generalife are worth a good, long look too. 

The Palace of Charles V is either a sore thumb or a Renaissance masterpiece. Built hundreds of years after the original complex, it never housed any monarchs, and didn't even have a roof until recently. 

On the west-most part of the Alhambra complex is the ancient fort, the oldest part, known as the Alcazaba, built in 800. From the top of its towers, you get a sweeping view of the grounds and a look out onto the city. 

Waaaaay on the opposite side of the Alhambra is the "summer palace", the Generalife, built by the same Nasrid emirs responsible for the Palaces. Because you know, palace life is so hard, you need a retreat a few minutes away. 

Even though it was late summer/fall in Southern Spain, the gardens were bursting with smells, colours, and strangely beautiful flora. Walking through the relaxing bubbling sounds and greenery really did feel like a "de-stress" from the crowds of the Nasrid Complex. 

Everything looks so close on the map, but it really wasn't, haha! It's about 1 km from one end to the other, and almost as much from the entrance to the Nasrid Palaces. Plus, Mom and I walked all the way uphill to get there in the first place, and all the way back down! In total, we walked 12 km this day... but it was worth it!

Hope these tips help you through your crazy, hectic, beautiful, time at The Alhambra!