It would be easy to visit Granada and never see the Albaicín quarter.
There’s just so much going on in the Spanish city of Granada’s city centre. Flamenco shows with melodious guitar solos and dancers clicking their heels like hoof beats. Vibrant tapas bars where you buy a glass of vino tinto (red wine) or a cervezas (beer) for two euros and you get a small meal for free. The ancient Alhambra palace overlooking it from a hill and the ornate renaissance architecture of Granada Cathedral pointing up to the city’s clear blue skies.
But, in my opinion, the true heart of Granada doesn’t lie here but on the hill that overlooks it all, called the Albaicín. Its scrubby face peaks over the city and up the bottom half of it lies the Albaicín quarter, a mesh of winding cobbled streets so narrow that cars can’t drive through most of them.
From here, and the Albaicín quarter’s neighbouring district, Sacromonte, you can see the most spectacular views of Granada.
Mirador de San Cristobal
Our rented Airbnb apartment is just south of the Carthusian Monastery (Monasterio de Cartuja) below Granada University.
Just south of there, roads, alleys and staircases veer off to the left and up into the Albaicín. We opted to follow Calle Barrichuello de Cartuja into the Albaicín quarter, as recommended by Google Maps.
It wasn’t long until we reached our first stairway. Graffiti painted on the front face of the steps with song lyrics and inspirational quotes and Indian fig plants looking at us from the dry soil beyond the bannisters.
Being early November, the nights were cold but the sun was strong in the sky and we’d started to shed layers through the exertion of climbing. From here, it was only a short walk along the road to Mirador de San Cristobal.
Mirador is the Spanish word for viewpoint and Mirador San Cristobal is perhaps the easiest of them to reach in Granada. Shaped like bastion with a raised cross at its centre, it offers impressive views of the Alhambra and the old Moorish fortifications, with the Sierra Nevada (snow-capped at this time of year) stretching out behind.
A few whitewashed carmen (traditional local houses) stand around this mirador with the windows and tilework decorated in characteristic Moorish mosaic.
Mirador San Cristobal is one of the quietest places to see views of Granada. But to see the city in all its glory you need to get higher.
Mirador San Nicolas
From Mirador San Cristobal, we wound northwards through the narrow streets. In the Albaicín quarter, you can go in only two directions: up and down, and we had a climb ahead of us. It wasn’t baking hot, but the air was getting warmer by the hour and so I found myself sweating as we walked.
Mirador San Nicolas is one of the most popular sites as it offers spectacular views of the Albaicín quarter. It’s a large rectangular plaza, and a gathering place for tourists and local street market sellers with wares stretched out across their blankets.
When we arrived one local strummed flamenco on his guitar while another two clapped and sung in sonorous flamenco tones, which always reminded me of a Muslim call to prayer.
Meanwhile, couples and families perched themselves on the low wall and leaned forwards their selfie sticks to get their holiday snaps. Behind us, the Church of Saint Nicolas towered high, covered in green construction netting.
Many say Mirador San Nicolas is the best place to get snapshots of the Alhambra. From here you can take postcard perfect pictures of the Alcazaba, the Nazrid Palaces and the Generalife.
Allegedly, former U.S. president Bill Clinton said that it offered “the most breath-taking sunset in the world.” Clearly, he had never climbed up to Mirador San Miguel Alto.
Much higher than we thought
From Mirador San Nicolas, we continued to climb through the Albaicín, the heat picking up even further. We’d only brought a little water with us and so we’d begun to get a bit thirsty.
From what I’d read on the internet, I’d come to believe Mirador San Nicolas to be the highest point in Granada before heading into the hills.
I thought therefore Mirador San Miguel Alto would be below, not above us.
But still, we continued to climb.
We reached Plaza del Salvador and we looked up to see another hill looming above us with a sandstone brick and white monastery perched on the top. The Moorish buildings stopped here and instead a steep and long staircase cut through the hill to the building. A dirt path also zigzagged up the side of the hill.
We almost turned around then, thought ourselves too tired to make the climb. But we’d come this far and we weren’t going to let the highest point in Granada defeat us. So we went into a local shop, bought some water, and pushed on.
Mirador San Miguel Alto
We took the staircase instead of the dirt path. I personally hadn’t been exercising much, so I had to rest often on the way up. But motivational graffiti on the sides of the steps: “Keep walking”, “Almost there”, kept me soldiering on.
Occasionally the stairs would lead onto a path and we’d pass stray dogs staring at us lazily. Then we’d join the stairs again, to look up at comfortable armchairs just sitting there in twos on the edges of the terraces.
Again, we met the dirt path, and we walked past little caves set into the rock with wooden verandas outside. Reggae music blared out of them and kept us going. The smell of cannabis hung headily in the air.
Eventually, we reached the top and we looked out at the view with the monastery behind us. From here, we could not only see the Alhambra and the snowy Sierra Nevada behind, but the entire expanse of the Albaicín quarter and the ancient fortifications that flanked either side. To the right and left we saw further mountains and all the sites of Granada below us, as well as the entire valley beyond.
We walked over to the wall that overlooked this all and hung our legs over the edge — a five metre or so drop below us. Some had come to take photos, but a large majority wanted to just sit here in spiritual silence and gaze out at the immenseness of the land.
While Mirador de San Cristobal had felt quaint and Mirador San Nicolas a little touristy, here people seemed to want to connect to their inner selves. I imagined the history of the land around me, as the reggae music pulsed faintly beneath and the sun began to wane in the sky.
Thank you for reading my account of our walk through the Albaicín Granada at Being a Nomad.
Have you ever visited the Albaicin? A flamenco show perhaps, or wined and dined in one of its many tapas bars? If so, leave a comment below. We’d love to hear your stories.