Okay, so how do I know that this is the perfect trip for people who are penniless, in desperate need of a holiday, and need to be in cities where they are surrounded by green? Because if I can do it on the tightest budget ever, then you can do it too!
The last time Mama and I were on a plane together was when I was 2 years old. I am now 25. That is how little money we had to go on holiday. It was, in fact, such a momentous occasion that we asked a stranger to take pictures of us in our seats. Incidentally – I can guarantee that the flights to and from Granada (we paid £140 return in June 2016) will be the most expensive part. Read on if you want to know all the reasons why Granada is the best place to visit if you’re a bit strapped for cash!
1. The Writing is on the Wall
No need for a map in this city – all the directions you’ll need are painted on the walls. Keep your eyes peeled for these colourful murals – they often tell you what’s in the area through pictures; a university if there are women reading, or a patisserie for a baker. The graffiti in Granada is a work of art in itself – this wall mural of learned women led us to the University of Granada…
And we nicknamed these ‘The Sunset Rowers’ on the Calle Elvira, who pointed us in the direction of the River Darro, Granada’s only river and my favourite peaceful place in the city. Incidentally, this wall mural is by the famous El Niño de las pinturas, who you can read more about here.
And the best patisserie we found was down an alleyway on the very top of the Sacromonte in the Albaicín – we would never have known it was there if it wasn’t for this painting enticing us in!
Handy tip: if you buy enough bread and cakes, they throw a few baby ones in for free!
2. All Those Open Doorways? You Can Wander Inside for Your Own Private Tour
You don’t need to pay a tour guide. As you walk around the city, you’ll notice that many courtyard doors are often open. I’m not advocating breaking and entering, but most of the time it’s completely fine to wander inside – we found a secret shrine leading to a stunning restaurant, some of the oldest Carminas in the city, and the Modern Languages department of a university. Because what looks like this:
Is actually this:
Noticeboards offered everything from walk-in flamenco lessons to free rides to festivals. It’s actually a really great place to pick up some free literature on what might be going on in the city that day!
This open courtyard door gave us a glimpse into a peaceful shrine, which in turn led to one of the most beautiful, secluded restaurants in the city – the Mirador de Morayma, which can be found here.
Finally, having wandered around many corners and up secret alleyways, we stumbled across the private balconies of some of the oldest carminas in the Albaicin, dating back to 13th century. You can basically enjoy their gardens and views from their balconies for free!
3. You Can Have Your Own Piece of Paradise for Practically Nothing
Granada is a very green, colourful city and it is bursting with thousands of plants and flowers that I could only marvel at. For an inland city, there is also a lot of fresh running water and fountains which comes as a welcome surprise to the thirsty traveller on a hot day.
The Alhambra palace gardens are many people’s first port of call when going in search of Granada’s famous gardens, which are stunning and date back to 13th century (the pictures above are all from there), but I would recommend starting off with something a little closer to home.
Choose somewhere to stay that has a private courtyard so that you always have access to your own little garden like the one above. Many apartments on Air BnB offer these inclusive of foliage and fountains right outside your window – we chose one in the Albaicin, which I would thoroughly recommend as this puts you right in the heart of the Old City and the Sacromonte. The peace gained by waking up to the sound of birds outside your window and enjoying your first morning coffee among lime trees in the early morning sun is worth the few extra euros you’ll spend.
My sister, enjoying the sun in our courtyard. And fresh limes just outside the window!
4. If You Know Where To Go and You’re Nice to The Doorman, You’ll See A Traditional Flamenco Show For Free .. In a Cave
How many people can say that they’ve watched a flamenco show in the very cave it would have been performed in centuries ago? That’s what you get at Las Taraglos – a converted cave-cum-bar-cum-performance space for flamenco dancers and their patrons. Before you enter the tunnel where the dance is performed make sure you check out all the instruments and pictures of dark-eyed beauties and fiery partisans that line the bar’s walls. The ambiance was electric.
The ‘cave’ where you watch the show is where the gypsies that created this type of flamenco would have lived, loved and danced many hundreds of years ago. It was so intimate that I didn’t want to take any pictures once the dancers were up on stage in case it spoiled the atmosphere – you might feel the same.
One tip: don’t clap along to the music, even if you think you are keeping up – the accompanists on stage know what they are doing and they won’t take kindly if you put the dancer off!
5. Eat Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner for the Price of a Glass of Sangria…! No, seriously – You Can.
Tapas is an amazing thing in Granada. You order a round of drinks and ‘poof!’ there it is – a selection of yummy foods that you didn’t order, but definitely want… This is one of the best things about Spanish culture in Granada – you can actually eat for free in certain places because the more rounds of drinks you order, the more tapas you get! Avoid the touristy bits of the city when searching for a place to have a pinta because they usually won’t give you tapas. Some places you can pick from a list, but most of the time it’s a bit of a lucky dip – it could be olives, melon, ham, bruschetta, goat curry (it was delicious) or salmon ceviche. It’s a good gamble, and if you’re a penniless student you could find yourself eating for free – breakfast, lunch and dinner!
The tapas below is at a fish restaurant I really recommend – Noray Pulpería. There’s a guy known in the area who will let you hold his pet parrot whilst you’re having your meal… If you’re into that kind of thing.
Look out for the miniature street gardens where restaurants advertise tea or particularly green-fingered locals have set up their own mini food farms!
6. You Can Treat the River Like the Most Reasonably Priced Meditation Retreat Ever Invented
Granada is definitely the place to go down to the river to pray (or do yoga – your choice) and I have to say that this is where I felt most at peace. It looks like many locals feel the same – it really is an oasis in the centre of the city. Some sat cross-legged, meditating in the shade, whilst others lay back and watched their dogs and children paddling in the shallows. The buildings that line the River Darro’s banks are covered with binding foliage and chipped paintwork, flower pots sprawling with soil and colour, picturesque stone bridges curving its waters trickling down below and birds singing in the trees. You can cross them and climb down to the shore (as you will see many of the locals doing) – no one will stop you and it is the perfect place to zen-out and watch the world go by.
The cobbled streets are warm and so is the wall as you sit and dangle your legs over its sides… There is also a great bar there that does good beer and has tapas that is fresh (the salmon and salad roll above was from there). You can sit in the shade and listen to the lull of Spanish voices and the sound of the river around you.
7. The Everyman Membership To Granada’s Amazing Outdoor Gyms – Al Fresco Exercise for All! Comes Complete with Breathtaking Views
If you’re anything like my sister (and my mother, strangely – I don’t know where I missed out in this gene pool), then you probably can’t be dealing with not doing any exercise for the entire trip. And if you’re anything like me then you’ll need to work off a hangover… Never fear! These outdoor gyms can be used by anybody and everybody – no gates or passes needed, and they have the most stunning views of the Sierra Nevada and down over the city. You don’t need trainers and actually you don’t even need to worry about where you’re going to have a shower because there were massive fountains that people were paddling in nearby. No one was using them so obviously we jumped on to have a go!
With views like this, who wouldn’t?
This is really close to the Mirador de San Nicolás, which, incidentally, is one of the best viewpoints in the city to see the Alhambra.
8. Buy the Best Boho Glam Without Breaking the Bank
The men and women here have STYLE – dreadlocks, harem pants, loads of jangly jewellery and bare feet – and they do it all with a hint of un no sé qué, the ‘je ne sais quoi’ of Spanish. The shopping here includes loads of independent boutiques that reflect the bohemian vibe of the city, and at affordable prices. Check out the many, many shops that sell Spanish dress for a little traditional addition to your wardrobe.
My sister and I really revelled in the bold floral patterns that went so well with the general hipster feel… even though that term literally makes me want to punch myself in the face.
However, as well as the independent Spanish boutiques, some of the cheapest and best places to go shopping to replenish your bohemian wardrobe are the Arabic bazaars that line the cobbled alleyways and appear as if by magic set well back from the street. The Calle Elvira and the streets leading up from this are definitely the best places for this. You can usually always spot them by the racks of handmade jewellery or clothes hanging outside. Don’t be afraid to barter – the first price quoted will usually be extortionately high. It helps if you have a Spanish speaker with you to assist! I would highly recommend starting your shopping trip in the Albaicin on Calle Elvira before heading down to the Plaza Bib-Rambla to start on the more modern shops that lead off from there.
The traditional Arabic markets stay open much later than the high street stores so if you’re lazy or get drunk early like me, you can shop to your heart’s content in the cool evening air.
9. If You Get Up Early You Can Eat More For Less – At the Fresh Food Markets
You have to check out the fresh food markets in Granada. I couldn’t believe how cheap and GOOD all the food was. My two favourite times in Granada were the early morning and late evening. Mama and I would venture up the hill to the bakeries and morning markets that filled the square with students, artists, and musicians, and where you could pick up your daily bread, pastries, and vegetables from one of the delis or food stalls, which made eating a lot more affordable (and enjoyable). Then we took it back home to the family in our Air BnB apartment and cooked it there. Scrumptious.
10. Creativity and Local Talent Is Open To All – Make The Streets, Walls and Tradesmen Your Living Museum
If you hadn’t already noticed, Granada is a hot-house for creativity, artistry, craftsmanship, and general bohemian vibes. Poetry especially can be found all over the city if you look carefully – on the walls of local houses…
And even free to pick up on the street! We found this in a market square in the Albacin one morning along with a young lady playing her violin in the early morning sun.
This box contained folded sheets of paper, each with a poem written on them. The pot beside them offered a voluntary donation. But if you were strapped for cash and just wanted an uplifting read, you could take one for free.
I still have mine, but I haven’t had a chance to translate it yet. I should probably get round to doing that at some point…
Granada’s greenery is also intentionally beautiful and the balconies are a work of art in themselves – every year, Granada holds a competition for its residents who compete for the prize of the most impressive balcony display. I think we found the winner from last year on top of the Sacromonte!
11. Finally… Life is Slow and You Will Go To Bed Late… For Some Reason This Makes Your Money Last Longer
In the late evening when you are full of the wonderful tapas you have been eating and you have talked broken Spanish (or Italian in our case as Candido, Mama’s boyfriend, is Sardinian) with numerous waiters, strangers and shopkeepers, you can wander the streets in the warm stillness of the night and sit for a long while outside your favourite bar mulling over a glass of brandy or wine. A lot of other people are doing it too and the night air is filled with the sounds of people drinking, laughing, and winding down for the day.
Most bars stay open until 2 AM on the week nights and much much later on Fridays and weekends. Music is on the streets and surrounding you all the time, and you’ll often be treated to an impromptu busking session by guitarists and travelling players – as we did in the picture above. As you can imagine, it was pretty magical.
We will definitely be coming back here again. Until next time, Granada!