Just returned from an amazing trip of Southern Spain, with Granada being my favorite city. I traveled to Granada to visit my daughter who is spending a year studying at the university so from the outset I had the advantage of being with a local who could speak Spanish, but don't let lack of Spanish deter you - Granada embraces everyone, most people are multi-lingual - a little English, French, German - and it is an easy city to navigate on your own.
After landing in Malaga we caught the bus to Granada, a simple trip of around 2 hours. The bus station is slightly out of town, but with good connections by local city buses to the centre of Granada. I stayed in La Casa de la Trinidad on Plaza de la Trinidad, in the old part of the city close to the cathedral (see hotel reviews for my review on this establishment - but overall excellent choice).
On our first evening we climbed the narrow, winding, cobblestone streets of the Albyzin (not sure of the spelling - there seem to be a few depending on whether you use the Arab or Spanish version). We ended up at an amazing lookout & watched the sun set on the Alhambra. This was crowded with others, but the view is just incredible. My tip here is to immediately go & buy thick soled sandals. Those cobblestones are killers, as are all of the hard surfaces of Granada streets - don't think I saw a blade of grass the entire time I was there!
We spent our first day touring the Alhambra, Generalife & gardens. My daughter was able to pick up tickets locally a few days before I arrived and we caught the Alhambra bus up the hill from the stop next to the cathedral. The Alhambra is not the only reason you should visit Granada, but it definitely a must do while you are there. I was a little confused about all of the entry exits, having to show tickets a few different times, not being able to return to some areas once visited & the timed entry to the palace but she had been before so just guided me through. After a wonderful few hours, we then walked back down to town again taking in some of the lower streets of the Albyzin. I loved the Arabic feel of this area with the shops, teahouses and Morrocan restaurants. I found myself wandering through the area to explore quite a lot while I was there. Yes I got lost but the tip is, just head down hill you will eventually get back to the city then use the cathedral to navigate home.
Another day we passed through Plaza Nueva, following the river along, before heading up the Sacremonte to visit the gypsy caves. Such a huge climb on a hot day, again wearing the wrong shoes, but interesting cave museum at the top and spectacular views. On our way down we heading back towards the university, taking in some street art along the way.
The cathedral and surrounding streets in the old part of the city where I stayed and my daughter lives, are a hive of activity day and night. I love how you never know what's going to happen next in Granada - a religious procession lead by bands and drums with statues held aloft, older couples dancing salsa in the plaza near the cathedral, mobile drumming groups dancing & swinging their dreadlocks, Gypsy King style buskers, old men with accordions, reminiscent of Paris and even a full band with drum set contained within a sort of moving ferris wheel structure which I saw from my balcony one evening, rolling down the cobblestone streets with a huge crowd following. Expect the unexpected here.
After all of the walking we did - also visiting the cathedral, city park along the river, Jewish quarter plus lots of shopping because this is also spectacular - we needed some R&R and found just the place at the Hamman Arab bathhouse. Loved this and would highly recommend the experience. My tip is definitely go for the massage, make sure you ask for the massage pressure you desire and time your visit for the 10pm session so after 2 hours you fall into bed totally relaxed. They only let about a dozen people into each 2 hour session so it doesn't ever feel crowded - although my daughter & I were the only non-couple so this was a little awkward at times. Spaniards can be passionate people!
The free tapas in Granada is another reason to visit. As we usually ate in a Spanish way, with our main meal at 2 or 3pm just before Siesta, we would then eat lightly at 9 or 10pm but often found that a couple of the free tapas dishes offered with drinks (including soft drinks or sparkling water) were enough to satisfy our hunger.
In total I spent 9 nights in Granada, split over two visits at the beginning & end of my Spanish trip as we traveled to Cordoba, Seville & Ronda as well. I then caught the bus to Madrid for my final 3 nights before flying home.
The bus system in Southern Spain, while efficient, has a ticket purchasing system which is really difficult to master. The website often rejects credit card purchases, including those made with European cards, requiring you to either arrive very early & hope for a seat or to take a local bus out to the bus station in person a day or so before your trip to buy from the ticket machines there. This happens in all of the cities - Granada, Seville & Madrid - and is complicated when there is more than one bus station (Seville) and you have to know which bus lines operate from which stations as they service different destinations. The websites will help & all have the choice to change to English (although this is hard to find even on the Renfe site), but don't count on being able to successfully purchase online.
But help is on hand in Granada at the yellow Caixa ATM machines where you can purchase your bus tickets in English successfully. (This didn't help in Madrid as the ATM's did not sell tickets for the route we needed). The Granada yellow ATM's, which also print out Alhambra tickets I believe, are conveniently located on the main street close to the cathedral (sorry - not sure of the name of this but I'm sure someone else here knows).
The train system is also a good option for travel in this area, far more comfortable than the buses but on some routes using the high speed train is as expensive as a plane flight. We caught a train from Ronda back to Granada, (no buses on this route) and it was very comfortable and efficient. The train station in Granada is also a lot closer to the centre of town. Note this was not a high speed train, and we did not need to book in advance - just turned up 15 minutes before departure to buy tickets. Some passengers on this trip changed trains midway through the journey as there is a junction where this train meets up with the fast train to Madrid or Barcelona (or both). Check the Renfe website for details. My tip is to opt for the train where finances allow it. Stations are much closer to the centre of town, saving travel costs to get to an airport or out of town bus station for example, & you don't need to arrive hours earlier. On the fast trains travel time can be comparable to a plane flight.
Now this has become ridiculously long so I need to finish up. I've posted separate hotel, restaurant & attraction reviews if you are interested. Overall I loved the fusion of Arabic, Spanish & even hippie culture in Granada, the spontaneity of events, the food, wine, people and definitely the climate (June is cold where I live) and look forward to visiting again.