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Visiting Alhambra: The Ultimate Guide

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If you’re in Spain, you simply must visit Alhambra, a sprawling hilltop fortress and palace complex in Granada. Ancient fortifications, decadent palaces, breathtaking gardens, intricately constructed fountains and historic churches can all be found within the walls here — one of Spain’s most visited tourist attractions.

Every year, millions of visitors flock to this hugely significant site to wander around the seemingly endless grounds. Join the masses and see what the fuss is all about!

Quick facts

Here’s a quick breakdown of the most important information for your first visit to Alhambra:

Province: Andalusia
Visitors per day: Ticket sales are limited to 6,600 per day. That may sound like a lot of people, but they do sell out!
Visit duration: Approximately 3 hours to see everything.
Ticket price: Ticket price depends on what kind of visit you want. Alhambra guided tours and individual ticket sales are both available.
  • Guided tours of the Nasrid Palaces, Alcazaba and Generalife typically range between USD 37 – 74*. It’s recommended that you book guided tours one month in advance.
  • Individual tickets (no guide) are USD 17*. Children under 12 are admitted free of charge, but you must indicate that they will be entering with you during the online ticketing process.

Main attractions

A visit to the Alhambra doesn’t mean there’s just one sight to see — there are many attractions and different aspects of the complex to see inside and in the immediate vicinity. The three most significant are:

  • Nasrid Palaces
Nasrid Palaces in the Alhambra
Court of the Myrtles in Nasrid Palace

Constructed in the 13th century, the Nasrid Palaces are composed of three areas; the semi-public area used for state affairs and government administrations (Mexuar), the king’s official residence (Palacio de Comares), and the more private, family-only section (Palacio de los Leones). Elaborately decorated, the palaces are an interesting mix of Muslim and Christian architecture.

  • Alcazaba
Alcazaba in the Alhambra
The Alcazaba was used as a fortress for military purposes

One of the oldest parts inside the Alhambra, the Alcazaba is thought to have been built in the 9th century. The fortress served mostly as a military headquarter and was built upon by several reigning kings, specifically Muhammed I. Due to its high security, the Alcazaba temporary served as the royal residence until the palaces were finished. Later, the fortress served as a state prison. The Alcazaba’s defining features are three towers: the Broken Tower (Torre Quebrada), the Keep (Torre del Homenaje), and the Watch Tower (Torre de la Vela).

  • Generalife
Generalife in Alhambra
Generalife is adjacent to the Alhambra, it’s considered to be outside its boundaries

Best described as a palace of gardens, Generalife was an oasis created for the royal family’s rest and relaxation needs. In other words, it served as an escape — a place the royals could come to find peace. Built between the 12th and 14th century, the rural villa was composed of decorative flower gardens, fruits and vegetable patches, a spacious courtyard, sculptures, statues, and fountains. The entrance to this exclusive paradise was slightly secretive and included passing through various courtyards on different levels. Although Generalife is adjacent to the Alhambra, it’s considered to be outside its boundaries.

Plan the visit

It’s imperative that you plan your visit to Alhambra in advance. There are rules and regulations in terms of number of visitors admitted and at what time. To avoid disappointment, we suggest you follow the advice below:

  • While you can buy tickets the same day at the ticket office or from the cashpoint machine next to the office at the Alhambra, the chances of getting one is very slim. Remember, this is an extremely popular tourist attraction so we recommend you reserve or buy your ticket in advance. In fact, you’re able to reserve tickets up to 3 months in advance when you book online. You can snag a ticket online as little as two hours prior, but that’s only if they aren’t already sold out.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by phone, in an authorized travel agency, or via the Granada Card (a tourist pass allowing visits to multiple monuments and museums in Granada, including the Alhambra).
  • There are several types of tickets available for purchase:
    • General entrance ticket: USD 17. It allows access to the Nasrid Palaces, Alcazaba, and Generalife. There are three, 30-minute time schedules per day when visitors can enter the Nasrid Palaces. Be sure to note the time on your ticket as you will only be admitted during this 30-minute period. This is for crowd control purposes.
    • Generalife and Alcazaba: USD 9. It is a daytime ticket, good between 8:00 – 20:30 (1st April to 14th October) and 8:00 – 18:00 (From 15th October to 31st March).
    • Night visit to Nasrid Palaces: USD 10, 22:00 – 23:30
    • Night visit to Generalife: USD 6, 22:00 – 23:30
    • Combined visit — full Alhambra plus Rodriguez-Acosta Foundation: USD 2*. Rodriguez-Acosta Foundation is a smaller complex connected to Alhambra via underground tunnel. It displays the work of local painter, Jose Maria Rodriguez Acosta. There are also many other statues and frescos housed inside.
  • It’s very important to visit the Nasrid Palace at the specified time indicated on your ticket; you won’t be allowed inside the palace at any other time. This helps limit the number of people inside at any one time. 

It can be overwhelming to plan an efficient visit to the Alhambra solely because it’s such a massive complex and controlled with a slightly complicated schedule.

If done properly, you won’t have to waste time doubling back on yourself or taking longer than necessary routes. Here are our route suggestions.

If you haven’t reserved a ticket already

  • Start at the ticket office at the entrance pavilion and see what tickets are available.
  • Enter through the main visitor entrance (pavilion).
  • First stop, Alcazaba, is at the far end of the complex, a 20-minute walk from the entrance.
  • Nasrid Palaces, the second stop, is just a few minutes from Alcazaba.
  • Generalife is the third stop. From Nasrid Palaces it is just 10 minutes away.

If you have reserved a ticket already

  • Enter through the Justice Gate (Puerta de la Justicia).
  • If you made a phone reservation, get your reserved ticket printed by showing your ID at this gate. If you purchased online, get the QR code scanned straight from your phone.
  • From here, depending on your time schedule, you can choose to visit the Nasrid Palaces or the
  • Alcazaba first. Both sites are equidistant from this entrance and just a few minutes away.

Remember it’s important to time your visit properly to ensure you arrive at the Nasrid Palaces at your scheduled time!

Rules for visiting the Alhambra

Other than the above-mentioned rules on ticket purchases and timing, there are a few additional things to be aware of.

  • Collect your ticket at least one hour before your scheduled Nasrid Palaces visit time.
  • Big bags and baby strollers need to be left at the coat check. However, the board of the Alhambra and Generalife will loan baby carriers free of charge to those who need them.
  • There are three ticket schedules: morning, afternoon, and night. If your ticket corresponds to the night schedule then your entrance to Nasrid Palace is schedule for one hour before closing. This means you should visit Generalife and Alcazaba prior to touring the palaces.

Good to know

If you didn’t plan ahead and tickets for Alhambra are sold out, there are still a few ways to get inside!

  • Mix and match the night visit and Generalife and Alcazaba tickets over the course of a few days and you’ll still see all the highlights.
  • Purchase a Granada Card, which grants full access to the Alhambra and Generalife (1 day only) as well as transportation around the city for a specified number of days. The price ranges between USD 40 – 50* depending on the card type you select.
  • Book a guided tour, like this one, with one of the official agencies. This will get you inside with a tour guide who will tell you all sorts of interesting Alhambra facts.

No matter how or when you visit Alhambra, there’s really no way to be disappointed. The sprawling grounds, enchanting palaces and gardens, and incredible history impress visitors time and time again. To get the most out of the Alhambra tour, it may be wise to consider a guided tour. Yes, you’ll pay a little bit more, but you’ll be getting an experienced and passionate local guide who knows the history and stories behind the Alhambra like no one else.

*Note: Prices are as of April 2018.

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