Exploring the Albaycin district of Granada

Besides the fact that driving in the centre of Granada is a near-impossible feat - walking is so much nicer. You'll find something new to notice at every turn, and be able to look up and around as you go - definitely not recommended behind the wheel!  Granada is best seen broken down into the various districts, or barrios.  Decide on a daily plan of walking action - and sort out some thick soled shoes - those cobbles underfoot are a killer! But Granada is worth more than a quick glance at this time of year, whatever district you decide to fully explore, tired feet or not.


The Albaycin

Last week we set out to get to know the Albaycín  - or Albaicín - district a little better, and for an hour or two were happily lost in the labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets and alleys, the October sun still warming our backs, as we climbed this ancient area of Granada.

Where is the Albaycin?

The area known as the Albaycin starts in town, where you might enjoy lunch on Calle Elvira.  It's a bohemian part of town, and worth mentioning is that it's easy to find a vegetarian lunch spot - not always the simplest task in a Spanish city.  Pass under through the ancient Gate of Elvira, the largest gate that formed part of the ancient city walls, surrounding the old city in Moorish or Arabic times.  The Albaycin covers an area that stretches between the Hill of the Alhambra Palace and continues right up to Sacromonte.

Gate of Elvira

Then and now

At the height of Arab rule in Granada, the Albaycin was home to more than 40,000 inhabitants, and around 30 mosques, but even though it was left as a Muslim neighbourhood after the Catholic reconquest - the population soon dwindled as they were forced out of Spain by the Catholic monarchy.  Nowadays, the narrow streets and whitewashed houses are still the same, but the inhabitants are an eclectic mix, and wealthy Granada home-owners enjoy their highly prized (and pricey) Carmens, that come with priceless views of the Alhambra Palace.


Why visit the Albaycin?

It's said that no visit to Granada is complete without a walk around the Albaycin, and once you have glimpsed it from a peek over the walls of the Alhambra then your curiosity will be aroused enough to pull on your walking shoes.  If you find the uphill part a little too strenuous then jump on a C1 or C2 bus from Plaza Nueva and get off at the top. (The C2 bus goes all the way to Sacromonte if you wish, and costs £1.20).


What's there to see?

The Albaycin is a part of Granada to really explore, up close and personal.  It's full of atmosphere and feels quite different to any other part of this beautiful city.  The nicest advice is to simply get lost. Ensure it's a clear day when you go, as the viewpoints - Miradores - offer the most stunning photo opportunities, with far reaching vistas across Granada.  Besides the little bars and restaurants - most with outside terraces - there's lots to see.   From Churches, convents and Carmens to colourful flower-filled balconies, and swathes of Bougainvillea draping every wall.  Certainly, the strumming of a guitar - in fact, it's impossible NOT to hear one, and of course there are the street musicians plying their trade, hanging around the restaurant and café tables.  

Casa de porras

Highlights of the Albaycin

You might hear of the Albaycin referred to as the Open Air Museum of Granada, and indeed it's a fair description.  A chance to walk through the history of the city, and colourful that history is.  The Albaycin was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984.  Keep your eyes open for the highlights of the Albaycin, here are just a few of them:

  • Churches of El Salvador, San Gregorio, San Cristobal, Santa Ana, San Juan de Los Reyes, and San Miguel Bajo.
  • The 11th century Ziri Wall.
  • The Trillo Cistern and the Baths.
  • Casa de Porras - now belonging to the University of Granada - originally a 16th century Moorish house, you can walk right into the foyer to see it.
  • House of the Masks, on Calle Páges - 17th century.
  • The various viewpoints - all with perfectly framed views of the Alhambra high on the facing hill.
  • Calle Beso - the street of the kiss - where you might want a romantic 'selfie'!

calle besos

When to go 

The easiest answer is any time.  But if you don't like huge crowds then consider when to explore the area. Plan your Albaycin itinerary for when the crowds are at their lowest ebb.  Early morning will treat you to sunrise over the city, autumn and early winter afternoons are still warm in daylight hours, minus the heavy throng of summer tourism.  Time of day counts too.  A trip to the Albaycin at sunset promises unbeatable views of the Alhambra Palace turning shades of pink and red, as the sun slips down over the snow-capped Sierras in the distance. For those planning a romantic Granada city break in Andalucía - it's the perfect location!