The Gardens of the Alhambra and Generalife, Granada, Spain – Part one The Nasrid Palaces

We have wanted to visit Granada for a very long time and last week, finally flew out from London City Airport for a short break. Taking a bus from the airport and then a second short mini bus ride which dropped us at our hotel in the Albaycin area all made for an easy journey. We dumped our bags and wandered up to the square to catch our first view before the day’s forecast rain.


Alhambra viewed from Mirador St. Nicholas in the Albaycin area

The literal translation of Alhambra is “the red one”, constructed from clay, the buildings glow in the sunset, even on a cloudy evening. Only the Generalife, the Sultans summer palace, a short walk from the Nasrid Palaces is white. Behind, the Sierra Nevada mountains were still partly snow capped – the melt provides Granada’s water.

The Generalife the summer palace - a short walk from the Nasrid Palaces

The Generalife – Sultans Summer palace -white building on left – a short walk from the Nasrid Palaces on right – view from Sacromonte

There are records showing occupied buildings in the Alhambra area from 880, although it was not until the 12th and 13th centuries that gardens were built there for the Nasrid rulers, an Arab dynasty. In 1492 Granada fell to Ferdinand and Isabella and the last Muslim territory in Spain was surrendered to the Christians. In 1526 Charles V of Spain occupied the area and built his palace. A period of neglect followed and it was not until the 19th century when Washington Irvin, the American novelist and other romantic travellers rediscovered the Alhambra that the restoration began.


The Court of the Myrtles

The temperatures were soaring into the mid 30s as we queued for the first of our two visits to Nasrid Palaces, which include The Court of the Myrtles and The Court of the Lions. 300 people are allowed to visit per hour but with patience, there are brief moments of almost no-one there. The central pool is 34 metres long and 7. 10 meters wide. The pool divides the patio and receives its water from two fountains (one at each end of the pool).

The Nasrid Palaces comprise of three independent areas – the Mexuar, which corresponds to the semipublic part of the palace for justice administration and State affairs; the Comares Palace which was the official residence of the king; and the Palace of the Lions which was the private area of the palace. The Comares Palace surrounds The Court of the Myrtles which was built for Yusuf I (1333-54) and the Palace of the Lions surrounds the Court of the Lions built for his son Muhammad V. Most of what is seen today has been reconstructed.

Beautifully clipped Myrtle Hedges

Beautifully clipped Myrtle Hedges

The Myrtle Hedges are beautifully clipped, the only signs ask visitors not to touch plants! But it was virtually irresistible to press a myrtle leaf between my fingers to release the fragrance. Our second visit at nighttime, the following evening shows the Stucco arches reflected in the water and the fountains at either end of the pool.

Court of Myrtles at Nightime

Court of Myrtles at Night time

The Myrtles were planted in the 19th century and were not included as a hedge in the original garden design. Throughout time there have been other names for this court, its current name is due to the Myrtles. It was also called the Patio of the Pond or the Reservoir because of its central pool. Leading from the Court of the Mrytles we walked through the Comares or throne room to the Court of the Lions.

Comares Room

Arch detail in the Harem – above the entrance to the Sala de dos Hermanas – Hall of the Two Sisters

Surrounding the Court is the Palace of the Lions and is probably the most famous part of the Alhambra. This patio was built for Mohammed V. The style is of a Christian cloister rather than the typical Muslim Andalusian style of the Court of the Myrtles.

Palace of the Lions

Palace of the Lions

It is so called because of the twelve lions that throw jets of water and which are part of the fountain in the middle of the patio.

12 Lions

12 Lions

Our visit during the day time was busy but the following evening we managed by chance to be first in the queue and for a exhilarating brief minute or so we were alone in the Court of Lions.

The Court of the Lions at night time

The Court of the Lions at night time

The gallery is supported by 124 white marble columns with fine shafts, which are intricately decorated.


One of two Pavillions – Palace of the Lions, simply planted with four Orange trees

The evening visit to the Nasrid Palaces includes only these two gardens but during the day the route leads on though the Court of Lindaraja and finally into the Palace of the Partal and the restored Partal gardens.

Balcony overlooking the Court of Lindaraja

Balcony overlooking the Court of Lindaraja

I have so much to share with you, I thought its best to divide this trip up into 2 posts and later will post one on the Partal Gardens and the Generalife, although the places open for public visiting are divided into four areas. Alcazaba, seen on the far right in the first photo, essentially a fortress. The Nasrid Palaces on the left in my first photo. (The later added Charles 5th Palace can be seen sitting behind the Nasrid Palaces). The Partal gardens, essentially the area linking everything up and Generalife.


One of two Pavillions – Court of the Lions

Booking tickets to visit is a complicated business. Our hotel gave us the heads up that tickets are released 6 weeks in advance and sell out very quickly, so for a June 1st visit they were released on April 20th. There are lots of options including guided tours on the Alhambra official website and bookings were through ticket master.

NB To read Part two The Gardens of the Alhambra and Generalife, Granada, Spain – Part two Partal and Generalife

46 thoughts on “The Gardens of the Alhambra and Generalife, Granada, Spain – Part one The Nasrid Palaces

  1. It looks like a lovely visit – I never got to spain when I lived in the uk, but it was always on my wish list. The photo of the court of myrtles at night is really stunning – I love the quality of the fading light

  2. Hi Julie,
    I have never heard of these beautiful courts and palaces, but, oddly, I fell in love with a song about Grenada as a child and I occasionally sing it to myself to this day! How magical the moment that you were in the Court of the Lions By Yourselves! Excellent!
    Looking forward to Post II.
    🙂 m & jb who thinks it’s Doubly Excellent to have a Court Featuring Cats!

    • The moment by our selves, I could feel my heart beating so loudly, it was really exhilarating. I can report the cats were very noble indeed! 🙂

    • The first time I had considered Myrtle (Myrtus communis) for a formal hedge, I see its hardy down to H4 and generally pest free, in a harsh winter we would lose that here but I would like to grow some even in a pot the fragrance was lovely.

    • The gardens were something else Clare, the heat was challenging though, we were told a couple of weeks prior temperatures were in the 40’s. We were getting up at 6, when it was cooler, by 10 it was too hot, so not a restful break but very glad we went.

    • The Alhambra and Albaycin area are now a UNESCO world heritage site, so a great deal of care is going in to its preservation and restoration. It does make for an impressive visit, glad you like it Cynthia.

  3. This is my favourite place, although I haven’t been there with all the need for queueing and weeks-in-advance tickets. I love the water rills everywhere and that pervasive sweet coconut scent from the Oleanders. Thanks for reminding me and hope that you loved it.

    • We really did love it, I read Robert Irwin’s book “The Alhambra” before we went, to try and understand at least the layout some more. A friend told me they queued for 3 hours in heat to buy a ticket on the day but with the advance tickets we just got in the line 15 mins before for a timed entrance to the Nasrid Palaces at 2.00p.m in the day and at night we were there at 9 just sitting and enjoying the view of the Albaycin before our timed entry at 10.00p.m. We could of turned up at 10, far fewer folk go in at night and they were all through very quickly. There were pricey private tours that did not queue at all but we are not in that market!

  4. Granada is on my wish list for a trip, too! Nice insights that you provide us with, thank you so much. Additionally, I am warned not to go last minute, as I won’t get tickets to the Alhambra.

    • Hi Felix, the link on my blog to the Alhambra site gives all of the details of advance tickets, that you collect from the Ticketmaster office in Granada on the main square. That saves going to the far end of the Alhambra complex to collect tickets then walk a long way back to the other entrance, depending on which part you want to see first.

  5. We visited the gardens many years ago and it’s lovely to see them again. It was winter so the gardens were deserted, but so beautiful in the clear winter sunshine. I hope this visit will encourage you explore more of Spain, away from the costas it is very beautiful, stunning architecture and great wild flowers.

    • Our regret was not making time to at least spend one day in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Only one bus a day from Granada, which we could not make work for us on a four day visit. But on the up side it means we have to go again! It does encourage me and so do your words. Thanks.

    • Thanks very much Tina, the light was very fierce in June, so made taking photos tricky, we enjoyed our trip but next time would go earlier in the year.

  6. Thanks for the preview, we too have been talking about visiting Alhambra and now it looks as if you have made our life easier. I’ll be showing the posts to my husband for further discussion! Amelia

    • We found Granada really easy to visit as its very compact. The bus from the airport was a couple of euros each a taxi about £33 euros. – we took the bus. In Granada itself there are little mini buses which run frequently – each journey is 1.20 or you can buy a Bonus Bus card on the mini bus itself for around 8 euros which gave around 7 journeys so no need to find change each time. Its hilly and hot and normally we would walk but the little buses were welcome and easy to jump on. The key is booking your tickets to visit the Alhambra in advance. The website link on my first post is a bit tricky to navigate at first but it does make sense in the end! We did not hire a car as the streets are really narrow and hard to navigate and as a UNESCO site a lot is protected. But we really wish we had made time to visit the Sierra Nevada mountains, apparently 60 mins on the bus, but they only ran once a day in June. We stayed in the Albaycin area, one of the oldest parts and quite pretty. We did a segway tour for the first time ever and our guide said the coast was not up to much there. Hope thats of some help, we would highly recommend a trip but not in July or August!

  7. beautiful photos Julie of a beautiful place, I am pleased you got to see it by night, it is magical by night, reading your post I feel fortunate to have visited in 1992 before the multitudes and restrictions, it was in March and you could stay as long as you wanted and wander from from palace to garden and back again, going at night with the palaces and garden lit up was wonderful, I had booked the holiday for the week walking around Ronda, then the second week was in 3 cities which I thought would be nice, however the cities especially Cordoba and Granada turned out to be the unexpected best part of the holiday, back then they were talking of having to start restricting the number of visitors, it was interesting reading your info on how things now are, sad but necessary to preserve such wonderful heritage, do go back and visit Cordoba and walk the mountains, maybe even Mulhacén, you can get there 2 ways via the traditional route from the village of Trevélez or almost all the way by road and just walk a short distance, thanks for sharing, Frances

    • Thank you so much for this, we have just looked up Mulhacen and Trevelez, places we had not heard of before. We would like to go back and visit the wilder parts, As much as we enjoyed Granada, after 5 days I wanted to walk and stride out, we did not hire a car on this trip but realise we really do need one to explore further. Cordoba looks beautiful too, apart from Barcelona, we had not visited Spain before. I wonder if you visited Seville, with Cordoba and Granada, looking at the map, that would seem to make a good trip or do you think thats too much driving. Being able to wander freely in the Alhambra really does sound wonderful. Just looked up Ronda too, I see we have much more to discover. Thanks for your reply Frances, you have opened our eyes today. 🙂

      • after reading your post yesterday and wandering down memory lane I spent the rest of the day floating between Scotland and Andalucia, I also realised the first trip was 91, I had a couple of weeks off work over Easter and wanted to go walking but with I bit of warmth, I found this holiday in southern Spain, the 3 cities included Seville, however it was Semana Santa, Good Friday when we were in Seville so I don’t feel I can comment on the city as I didn’t really see it, however the celebrations were fantastic, a complete surprise to me as I had not even heard of Semana Santa, because it was an organised holiday everything was prearranged, we traveled on public transport, so I cannot comment on driving, I took the second holiday September 1998, a few days in Granada and walking the Sierra Nevada for the rest, we had a free day in Trevélez, I chose to walk the traditional route to the top of Mulhacén, the next day the whole group was taken to the top via a hired bus and short walk, this holiday used hire vehicles, I would like to visit Barcelona and northern Spain, looking forward to your second post, Frances

      • Thanks Frances, we have been looking over the weekend at maps of Spain and the possibilities of walking here – something we had never considered before. Your trips both sound wonderful.

  8. Oh how I wish I could go too! But lovely to share it in your superb photos. And thanks for the tip about booking tickets in advance. It would be wonderful to be so confident of growing myrtle that you could make hedges out of it!

    • Can you grow them into hedges where you are Cathy, I looked this up actually thinking of Christina, and see they are hardy to zone 4, how cold does it get where you are?

      • Down to -15 (and more sometimes). I used to grow them in England and Ireland. Might dip a toe in the water here against a wall!

  9. stunning place. I love all the details in the buildings + the views!! Jaw dropping, I might add:-) Great photos that make me want to put that on my list when we go visit my daughter in Sweden….shoot, I can just skip over-right?:-)

      • I figured it was a “big skip”, but a girl can dream…that place is beautiful. I just need a two year vacation! I can see it all:-) I love your pictures when you visit places-it brings it to life!

  10. There’s something very cool and peaceful about these gardens. My favourite feature was the water staircase where the water runs along the railings. Bet you had a wonderful time!

    • Yes! The water rail is on the route leading from the Generalife towards the building above, it was so hot I dragged my hands through the water. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit too.

    • Thanks, it was our first visit and was something of a revelation, especially visiting the Generalife. I felt I had seen so many ideas taken from here and used in lots of modern designs.

  11. Wow. Thanks so much for the vicarious journey. These images are magnificent and your myrtle-touching secret is safe with me.

  12. Pingback: The Gardens of the Alhambra and Generalife, Granada, Spain – Part two Partal and Generalife | Gardening Jules

  13. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge – Ornate – Hall of the Two Sisters, Alhambra, Spain. | Gardening Jules

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