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Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada

By Marco Sison

What is Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada?

The Alhambra UNESCO complex is actually three historical sites made up of the Alhambra Palace and Fortress, the Generalife gardens, and the historical town of Albayzín. Located next to modern-day Granada in the Andalusia region of Spain, the Alhambra Unesco Complex has been dubbed the finest example of Islamic architecture in the world.

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Text: Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada, Spain.
Images: Top, view from within a neat walled garden over the wider city, and an old stone fortress on an opposite hill. Bottom, closeup of an archway completely covered in detailed swirls and decorations plus some arabic writing.

Ibn al-Aḥmar, the 13th century Moorish Ruler of Granada, started the construction of the Alhambra Fortress and Palace in 1283. In 1984, UNESCO declared the Alhambra a World Heritage Site. The fortress is one of the oldest surviving Islamic fortresses in Europe.

The Generalife Summer Palace and Gardens actually predate the more popular Alhambra Fortress. Moorish kings retreated to this country estate starting in the 8th century as a place to escape and relax. 

Perched on the hillside across from the Alhambra fortress site, Albayzín (also written as Albaicín) is Granada’s oldest Muslim residential district in Spain.

Inside looking outside through three arched windows, open to the outside with no glass. The wall to about halfway up is plain white plaster, but above that the wall and the arches are ornately carved. Through the windows the view is mostly trees.

Why is Alhambra Complex a UNESCO World Heritage site?

The nearly 800 years of Islamic rule over Spain’s Iberian peninsula is considered a critical historical period of Spain’s history. Even after several restorations and a major fire that burned most of the Generalife buildings, the Islamic palaces are the best-preserved examples of Moorish architecture in Europe. According to UNESCO, the materials and artistic techniques used are prime examples of a mix of Muslim and Western traditions.

Is it worth visiting the Alhambra Complex?

The Alhambra Complex is worth visiting for anyone who loves art, history, architecture, or nature. The Moorish sites are one of the most awe-inspiring destinations in Spain. You will want at least two days to see all three parts of the UNESCO designation.

A view over, in the foreground, a vineyard. Beyond that, on the left a series of walls with crenellations and assorted towers and on the right, a view over the lower city.

Visitors can spend one day touring Alhambra and Generalife’s magnificent gardens, studying the Muslim architecture, and marveling at the Moorish palace’s characteristic feature arabesques. Visitors can spend the next day strolling Albayzín’s winding, narrow streets and touring the medieval plazas, shops, and churches. 

Book your accommodations near Alhambra Complex by clicking on the map below:

Even if you are not a history buff, there is something stirring about walking along the same palace walkways that Muslim kings once did 12 centuries ago. Standing atop the stone outer walls, which now stand as silent witnesses to the past glory of this magnificent place, you can imagine ruling the land as far as the eye can see. 

A building seen from the back of its walled garden, which is formal with neat hedges and a few trees. The building at the end is white and has several stories, but it's hard to tell how big it is. In the distance on the left is a bit of the old stone fortress, and beyond that is a view over the city.

Tips for visiting the Alhambra Complex

Get your walking shoes on. Depending on how much curious exploring you do, the circuit around the fortress, palace, and Islamic gardens is about 4 km of hills and cobblestone streets. An average tour is roughly 3.5 to 4 hours of walking.

I recommend the circuit starting at the Alcazaba Fortress to the Nasrid Palaces, leaving the relaxing Generalife to the end. 

Take the time to admire the panoramic views of Andalusia from the square tower Torre de la Vela, where you can catch the views of Albayzín’s streets and Andalusian architecture with the imposing Sierra Nevada mountains in the background.

Alternatively, book a guided tour!

Closeup of the top of an archway and the wall above it. Every inch is carved with extremely detailed decorations : swirls and complicated shapes, along with some Arabic writing.

 Where is the Alhambra Complex?

The Alhambra UNESCO complex is in the city of Granada. Alhambra is less than 4 km from Granada’s Central Rail Station. For international tourists, the closest international airport is technically Federico García Lorca Granada Airport, but this airport only has direct flights to France. However, Granada is only a 1.5-hour flight to Barcelona or a 75-minute flight to Madrid for people living in Spain

Hours vary depending on the season. Night visits are available on certain evenings to see the palace from a completely different perspective.

Book your fast-track tickets here.

See the complex’s official website for details of hours and entry fees.

Text and photos provided by Marco Sison of Nomadic FIRE. As a Retirement Coach, Marco is a trusted source for living abroad and personal finance. He has been featured in USA Today, US News and World Reports, MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Huffington Post, and many others. He has traveled the last six years to over 40 countries to show the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries for 70% less cost than the US. 

Have you been to the Alhambra Complex? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!


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