In between transport times and the flu I didn’t see a great deal of any of these places. However I felt I saw the highlights, enough to appreciate these cities. Also they aren’t very big places, so hitting the highlights in the span of a day was generally possible.
Granada is definitely a city on the popular tourist trail, it was ridiculously busy with people everywhere. Not to mention we were there across a Sunday and Spain’s National Day.
While it is true to its history, I really felt that Granada was having an identity crisis. The majority of the city was ‘standard’ Spanish design, some wider avenues for the main streets and narrow winding cobblestones for the other streets. Then as you head into the old town the streets gets windier and narrower and then you randomly pass through entire streets which make you feel like you are in a turkish bazaar – the street sellers yelling for you to buy their wares and I saw the exact same products as I did in Istanbul. There were also loads of little bars selling mint tea like in Morocco and bars with the hookah pipes like Istanbul. It was interesting but bizarre.
Exploring the old town is wonderful and it’s worth walk up to the Mirador de San Miguel, apparently the setting sun lights up the Alhambra on the opposite hill is really beautifully, but I didn’t stay for the sunset to find out. The Mirador (lookout) is crazy busy into the evening!
The Cathedral is one of the main sites to see, but after having seen so many cathedrals, and with a cost of something like 8€ this was one cathedral I skipped, though it did look lovely from the outside.
The main attraction of Granada is The Alhambra, word of warning if you want to go you need to book weeks preferably more than a month in advance as it is insanely popular, if you can’t get a standard ticket then try to book a guided tour as they sell out slightly less quickly.
The Alhambra is a fort and palace strategically placed on a hill. The name is a variation on Al Hamra which means The Red One. There are loads of theories about why it had that name, but of course, they are all just theories. The grounds of the Alhambra are quite extensive but the real highlight is the interior of the castle.
The moors believed, and this can be seen throughout Spain, that the exterior of all buildings should be equal. You should be unable to determine the wealth of a home owner based on the outside of their house. Once you put over the threshold of the palace at the Alhambra you are quickly astounded at the amazing designs. The colours, the carvings, the intricate wood and mosaic work. The archways that lead you from room to room are each individually designed and created. Each room has a different design in the floors, walls and ceilings. The palace is an extensive collection of rooms and patios. The crowds of people can be a little frustrating but it is otherwise simple magnificent to wander the spaces in the palace.
Visiting the arab baths (hammam) is a very popular activity and the most popular baths were booked out, so I went to Aljibe de San Miguel Arab Baths and paid for the 55€ for 1.5hours access to the baths, an exfoliating scrub and oil massage. It was a thoroughly pleasant way to wind down at the end of the day and relax my legs and feet after so much walking.
Malaga is a cute coastal town. It was brilliantly sunny when we visited, which was a pleasant surprise after cold, rainy Granada.
We started the day with the aim of heading straight to the Picasso Museum. On our way there, we popped into the tourist information office and stumbled across a flyer for a free walking tour starting 20 minutes from the current time. So we put the Picasso plans on hold and headed to the meeting point.
We met our guide Shelby, from South Tours at Plaza Constitucion. With a small group of us we explored some of the main buildings in town including a visit to the local market and a wine cellar, to try the local sweet wine, Moscatel. It was a bit too sickly sweet and syrupy for me (and I have a sweet tooth). We learned some of the city’s history, saw the roman amphitheatre and Alcazaba on the hill. We walked through the famous restaurant El Pimpi where Antonio Banderas signed a wine barrel and finished the tour at the birthplace of Picasso, where we took a picture with his statue.
After the tour we decided to visit the Alcazaba rather than the Picasso museum, because as the guide pointed out, all his most famous works were sold and are therefore not to be found in the museum of his hometown.
So we headed off to the Alcazaba, entry was only a few euros (though I forget the exact price). After the Alhambra in Granada, this castle was beautiful but in a more rugged, unfinished way. It was still stunning to explore and I throughly enjoyed wandering the grounds. The added bonus was that it wasn’t excessively busy, quite uncommon at this time of year for any major site in Spain!
We finished our day watching the sunset from the rooftop terrazza of the AC Hotel Malaga Palacio. It is a crazy fancy restaurant where they open the doors for you and even push the elevator button for you. Don’t be daunted, stroll on through the lobby to the elevators and head up to the terrazza, you won’t be the only tourist in jeans and sneakers!! The view is beautiful, so I recommend finishing your day there with a drink!
The main highlight in Cordoba is the Mezquita. It was originally built as a mosque. Later it was converted to a Cathedral, rather than destroy the existing structure, they simply knocked down 63 columns in the interior and constructed the chapel internally. Needless to say the combination of traditional muslim architecture and the Catholic architecture is thoroughly fascinating. While it is a little bit of a bizarre combination of religions, it is simply stunning!
Entry to the Mezquita is around 8€ after 10am. However, if you turn up at 8:30am you can have free entry to the majority of the cathedral until 9:20am when you are asked to leave.
I also did a free walking tour of the city. The guide Susanna was passionate and knowledgable about her city and spoke really good English. We explored a portion of the old town, learning the history and seeing several old sites, including the Roman Temple, the old bridge, Jewish Quarter, the Mezquita (from the outside) and the Alcazar.
Cordoba is a beautiful city, easy to navigate and with such a cheery atmosphere.
General Tip for Eating Out in Spain
At lunch or dinner they will often place a bread basket, or sometimes a plate of olives on your table. These are generally at your own expense, so it is worth checking if it is free. If you don’t want to pay, then simply refuse it or check your bill carefully at the end and refuse to pay that portion.
While often some of these things cost money, it is also important to be aware that you often get one tapas free when you buy a drink.