I’d read countless warnings that you need to book your tickets early. By the time we’d confirmed a date that we’d be in Granada (and after battling with the online ticketing system on a phone), there was no availability – and nothing for the next three weeks.
I had read that 1/3 of the tickets were sold online, 1/3 went to tour agencies, and the final 1/3 were available for purchase on the day. I read that they allowed some 6000 tourists in per day, so thinking that there were 2000 available for purchase in the morning, I went to bed feeling relaxed. Just to be sure, I woke up at 7AM, walking the short distance down to the ticket office by 7:30, ready for them to open for sales at 8AM.
It was about now that my confidence was starting to waive. There were hundreds of people in this queue (and there is another location selling tickets in town). I was even more concerned when there were very few people that joined the queue after me.
There are two choices to purchase tickets, either with a cash-only kiosk staffed by humans, or using the credit-card only machines. I chose the machines, as I thought it would be quicker – and there are several of them.
It hit 8AM, and as expected, the queue started to slowly trickle forwards. What was very much unexpected was the announcement at 8:15 that all the tickets for the palace had sold out. Fifteen minutes. We passed some people with sleeping bags near the ticket office last night, not thinking that they would actually spend the night there. It seems they knew it was going to sell out, and they knew how to guarantee a ticket.
The queue continued to move at a glacial pace. It was about now that I’d realised the scale of my mistake. There were several ATMs selling tickets, however, the ATM only sells one type of ticket. Now that the complete ticket had sold out, there was only a single ATM left selling entry to the remaining areas – whereas the humans at the cash-only kiosk were able to see any type of ticket.
By a stroke of sheer luck, the lady in front of me had her partner in the other line, hedging their bets. He arrived at the front of the queue, and she asked if I’d like him to get tickets for Risa and myself. And then, almost on cue, the announcement came that they’d sold out of all remaining general tickets. We were a little uncertain if he’d managed to get tickets or not, but a few moments later, he materialised with a folder of four tickets! We all couldn’t believe our luck that morning. Sadly, there was still a huge volume of tourists that weren’t so lucky, and will have to either wake up even earlier, or be content with only seeing the exterior public areas – which in hindsight are still quite decent. I thought that it was a quiet time of year, and could only imagine the chaos (and disappointment) during peak periods. So, reiterating what has been said dozens of times before, purchase online to avoid disappointment.
I returned to the van, had breakfast, and packed for the day. We started in the Generalife section, which was outside of the main fortress, and surrounded by some really lovely gardens. There were fountains, flowers, herbs, and fruits and vegetables. It gave us the opportunity to look out over the main walls, as well as the town below.
These buildings served a more domestic/informal purpose, and the gardens were the definition of serene – if you could channel the zen and tune out the constant stream of large tour groups, with their iPads held out in front like mindless zombie hordes.
The details here were fabulous, and it was surprising how similar it was to some of the amazing mosques we visited in Istanbul. It was hard to remind ourselves that we were still in Spain, and not in northern Africa.
It took us a solid hour to visit (and enjoy) all of the sites in the Generalife section. Once that was completed, we headed inside the walls. Standing beneath them, they appear even more rugged and imposing. Square, red, and very, very tall. Inside we found a small town, which we later learned is accessible without a ticket. It was still filled with pretty sights, but lacking the luxuries and details that we just saw in Generalife.
Carlos V Palace
Another free sight was the Carlos V Palace. From the outside, it’s an incongruous square building, far out of place from the rest of the interior. It actually looks quite dull, and I wasn’t that interested in entering. I realise now that I didn’t even photograph the exterior… only the giant bronze lion/eagle ‘door knockers’.
Once inside, we were amazed at the beautiful circular courtyard. It was such a surprise that something so beautiful, and circular, could be concealed in something so pedestrian and box-like. Also, we got incredibly lucky with timing of photos between tour groups.
It was a short walk to the Alcazar/fortress. The outer walls had felt imposing, and they were far, far shorter than these towers. There was something ancient, and indifferent about the ways these towers looked down on you.
These were the tallest towers in the complex, and views from the top were superb. Not only the views of the white houses of Granada, and the hills to the north, but also the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the south. It reached 34˚ during the day, and it still amazes me that you can see snow from somewhere as warm as this – though, it’s not too different to what we experienced in Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan.
We had one final section that was included in our tickets, however, we were struggling to find the entrance. We ended up entering via the exit, though no one was around to stop us (or tell us the correct way inside). We followed the outer wall, past a series of defensive towers, which are sadly only open to public on a very infrequent basis.
It was the least impressive of the three, but it still had some beautiful sights, with lovely ponds, serene patios, intricately carved prayer rooms and luscious green gardens.
It is an amazing complex, however, it’s hard for anything to top the luxury of the palaces in Istanbul.
Our parking was for a 24-hour period, and we still had a few hours left. We’d seen all of the sights that we were able to see with our ticket, and with our feet aching, it was time to leave La Alhambra and to see a little more of Granada.