Granada, like other modern cities, continues to grow and change with the times. Yet, one thing remains the same: the Alhambra and the four districts around it are still the center of attention for locals and tourists alike. Each of the districts has something different to offer. The Realejo is a friendly, easy-going district where neighbors gather in the street to chat. Parts of the Albayzín have the sleepy, timeless feel of a Moroccan hill town. Gypsy families still live in caves in the primitive hillside Sacromonte. The old town district is full of massive churches and cathedrals, quaint little squares and hundreds of independent small stores selling everything under the sun. Another district...
Granada, like other modern cities, continues to grow and change with the times. Yet, one thing remains the same: the Alhambra and the four districts around it are still the center of attention for locals and tourists alike. Each of the districts has something different to offer. The Realejo is a friendly, easy-going district where neighbors gather in the street to chat. Parts of the Albayzín have the sleepy, timeless feel of a Moroccan hill town. Gypsy families still live in caves in the primitive hillside Sacromonte. The old town district is full of massive churches and cathedrals, quaint little squares and hundreds of independent small stores selling everything under the sun. Another district worth visiting is the modern commercial center where you'll find large department stores and shopping centers as well as student bars and clubs.
This is the most relaxed, friendly and welcoming district. The official language school is here so you see lots of young foreign students on their exchange programs taking time out in the bars and internet cafés, mixing freely with the locals. The residents like to hang around in their doorways, the shops and the squares, passing the time and gossiping.
You can sit outside to eat and drink in peace in any of the restaurants in Campo del Príncipe Square. This district was the city's Jewish quarter for centuries before the Inquisition's reign of terror and persecution. The Christian rulers who conquered Granada in 1492, and their successors, systematically expelled all Jews and Muslims from Spain during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The area around this square then became royal gardens for a while. Now the narrow winding streets and pretty whitewashed houses are nice to wander around without any specific purpose.
There's an atmospheric new Arabic quarter at the foot of the Albayzín where Calle Elvira meets Plaza Nueva. This triangle of streets, bordered by the Calderería Nueva and the Calderería Vieja is now home to many colorful Arabic and New Age craft shops, authentic Middle Eastern restaurants, take-away kebab houses and relaxing Moroccan tearooms like Alfaguara.
The rest of the district, further up the hill, is a warren of alleys and cobbled streets running between whitewashed houses and villas with orchard or gardens called cármenes. The wealthy Arabs living here between the 12th and 15th centuries wanted privacy and sought to hide their prosperity in case they became the targets of envy and hostility. So they built high walls around their houses to keep out prying eyes. Look through the gates and grilles and you'll still see the geometrically designed gardens and patios with their fountains, irrigation systems, fruit trees, plants and flowers.
There are lots of pretty little squares up here too. The Plaza San Miguel Bajo, for example, fills up on sunny days with people sitting outside on the bar and restaurant terraces. The square's huge church, like most other churches in this area, was built on the site of a mosque after Christians took control of the city from the Moors in 1492. The Plaza Larga was once an Arab souk (market) and is still the venue for a market on Saturday mornings. You get the best views in the city from nearby San Nicolás Square. By day, look over the Alhambra complex and see the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background; by night you see the Alhambra's palaces and fortress spectacularly illuminated by floodlights.
On your way back to the center you'll pass the historic buildings on Carrera del Darro. The nuns in San Bernardo Convent next door to the Archaeological Museum make delicious cakes and biscuits. To buy them you have to go to the first door on the side street to the left (Calle Gloria, 2) and speak into an intercom. You don't get to see the nuns because it's a closed order. Instead, your delivery arrives on a revolving wooden contraption. If you prefer something savory, stop in at Casa de Todos, one of the busy tapas bars en route. The trendy music bars along this street open late and close late. Try Al Pie de la vela or Rey Momo.
Sacromonte district is where you'll still find gypsies living in caves that have been excavated from the hillside. The front of one might look like the entrance to an ordinary house, but once inside you'll notice the difference. Many of these cave-dwellings have been converted into entertainment venues where gypsies perform their traditional flamenco music and dance. Try the show at Los Tarantos, for example. While you're here, it's also worth visiting the 17th-century Sacromonte Abbey and Museum and the Museo de la Zambra (Museum of Gypsy Traditions). The best time to come up here is during Semana Santa when religious statues are paraded through the streets all night long. The mix of incense, candles, bonfires and singing creates a highly charged atmosphere. There's a cheerful pilgrimage up to the abbey on St. Cecil's Day, February 1st, and an open air picnic in the countryside afterwards.
THE OLD QUARTER
This area has been the city's main religious and commercial center since the 14th century and still offers great shopping for arts, crafts and souvenirs in the narrow little alleys of the Alcaicería. The nearby Cathedral dominates this flat ground below the Alhambra and Albayzín hills. One block south is the pretty Bib-Rambla Square, full of florist's stalls and restaurants, like Manolo. If you're interested in looking good, you'll find loads of fashionable clothing retailers around here, including Los Muñecos, Mango, and many more.
SHOPPING CENTRES AND NIGHTLIFE
Head for the lower, southern part of the city for large department stores like Corte Inglés (El), indoor shopping centers like Centro Comercial Neptuno and the greatest concentration of nightlife in the bars and clubs lining Calle Pedro Antonio de Alarcón. You can choose from an endless number of bars with different themes and atmospheres.
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Granada's Alhambra, the hilltop fortress palace of the Nasrid kings, the last Muslim rulers of Spain, is one of the world's fabled landmarks. This monumental edifice is arguably Spain's greatest attraction. (Castilians claim that the Prado in Madrid is número uno.)
Washington Irving (Tales of the Alhambra) used the symbol of this city, the pomegranate (granada), to conjure a spirit of romance. In fact, the name probably derives from the Moorish word karnattah. Some historians have suggested that it comes...
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