The palace complex of Alhambra is magnificent. We expected as much and we weren’t disappointed. But we didn’t know how hard it was to get the tickets. We should have been better prepared. Here’s what the visit to Alhambra with kids taught us and how you can avoid our mistakes.
Alhambra with kids and no tickets?
I broke in cold sweat. My heart thumped faster, harder as if it wanted to jump out of my chest. I couldn’t blame it. Silently, I wished I could turn back the time, as I never wished before. Maybe I was exaggerating. I wished the birth of my daughter would be over, as I never wished before. But this was starting to look as daunting.
It was around noon, when we left the sun bleached beaches of the Southern Spain behind and drove to Granada. The stress the sea managed to expunge, slowly found its way back. I caught myself bitting my nails while scrolling down my phone. Laughter filled the back of the car, where the girls were playing. However I was too preoccupied to enjoy the respite in the constant bickering.
Slowly, I put down the phone. Baffled. I was trying to convince myself I just didn’t understand. How else could I have explained that there were no tickets available to enter the Alhambra palace.
I didn’t care how incredibly beautiful the city itself was. We would not have chosen the longer route back to Madrid, had I known you were supposed to buy tickets weeks, preferably months in advance.
I had a hard time swallowing, as I picked the phone up again. Staring at the same page explaining the procedure of buying tickets, I felt stupid. How didn’t I check this before? I was dreadfully unprepared. But could it be, that there were no tickets? No tickets? It sounded foreign. Was it possible? And what if it was?
Maybe it wasn’t, I tried consoling myself. I dreaded to bring it up with my husband, who was humming a song, oblivious to my distress, while navigating our rented car down the busy Spanish highway.
When might be the right time to tell him, I wondered. And how in the world should I break the news?
Should I go for: ‘Shit, look what they’ve done while we’ve been driving.’ As if it just happened. But then the tips on booking tickets in advance are all over TripAdvisor.
Maybe I could play dumb. Not hard, right. Since, I am. I tried: ‘Hm, this page must not be working. There are no tickets for May available.’ (We were there in May not in June when there were availabilities.)
I wished I could turn back time and be home in March buying tickets for Alhambra.
He looked at me with mild interest. ‘What do you mean?’
I shrugged my shoulders and mumbled something. We proceeded in silence, while the sweat slowly trickled down my back. It had nothing to do with the scorching heat.
Finally, I gathered my courage: ‘Look. It’s hard to get tickets for this place. So, we might not get them for today. Tomorrow. That will work, right. We’ll visit in the morning.’ I said it with as much conviction as I could muster, while I knew I was only postponing the inevitable.
Just a little bit of luck
We parked the car and changed clothes due to the unbelievable heat that enveloped us the minute we opened car doors. It was 35 degrees outside. With my wallet and mobile phone in hand, we headed from the parking lot in the shade of trees to face the sunshine and the ticket office crawling with people.
We stood in the only queue we spotted, all other counters were closed at 3 pm. But above them, up on the wall, I noticed a screen informing us what I didn’t want to face. Sold out.
‘Tomorrow,’ I chanted, grabbed on to the thought. A drowning man will clutch at a straw. And remained in line, while many gave up.
A couple in front of us moved to the counter. A women cut the line and barged in. I was seconds from complaining – in my head, because I never have the nerve to complain for real. But suddenly there was a commotion and she started explaining that there are 6 tickets available.
‘How many do you need?’ she asked the couple in front of us.
We held our breath and I wished like I never wished before (almost) they didn’t say 6. It was like watching a show where they announce a winner. The suspension seemed to last for hours. Then I heard them say 2.
Our relief was palpable. We swept in. I couldn’t get the money out fast enough. I never bothered to check the time on the tickets – you can only enter the Nasrid palace at a certain time, indicated on the ticket.
The lady who cut in smiled benevolently: ‘You are so lucky I had 6 people cancel. People sleep here to get the tickets. Very lucky.’
I grabbed the tickets and stared at them. Almost like winning the lottery. I let my breath out and my heart beat slowed down. I finally checked the time on the tickets. We had to enter in 15 minutes and it takes a while to get to the palace! I broke in sweat again.
‘Run, get the camera!’ I yelled at my husband. ‘We have 10 minutes to get in!’
What you need to know about Alhambra?
It is a palace and fortress complex. Its reddish walls gave it the name Alhambra, since in Arabic «qa’lat al-Hamra’» means Red Castle. It is located on top of the hill al-Sabika, on the left bank of the river Darro in Granada, Andalusia, Spain.
How to get here?
We took the car, which is probably the most convenient way. There are enough parking space, most in a welcome shade since it can get pretty hot here. But the prices are steep.
You could walk, but since its mostly up hill, it might not be the best option, especially if you are travelling with kids. You’ll need lots of strength to explore the vast complex, so save your energy for that.
There’s also local transport – line C3 or taxi.
What to see?
This is a unique place and so incredibly beautiful, that’s hard to do it justice with words. I catch myself resorting to clichés with words like stunning and mesmerizing. They are all true when it comes to Alhambra, but I want to take them back now for so many other places. They pale in comparison with this complex.
These are the places you want to see: Charles V Palace and surrounding areas, towers and higher Alhambra, Alcazaba.
These two places stand out in our opinion:
Nasrid Palaces – our favorite. It left us gawking at the intricate design of the palace, its sheer splendor. And despite the crowds it is still a peaceful and cool place, the sweltering heat not penetrating past its walls. We gained a new appreciation for the master architects of the past and their knowledge. Take the time to enjoy the serenity of the Daraxa’s Garden.
Generalife – we loved the gardens and the water fountains – how well they created the balance and we found the water very hard to resist.
Our best tips:
The most important one: don’t rely on luck, book tickets in advance, because you don’t want to risk not seeing this if you get here.
It’s worth every penny, cent, etc.
We didn’t have anything with us, but be smarter get a bottle of water. Luckily for us, there was plenty of drinking fountains so we weren’t thirsty. You can easily refill your bottle.
Buy ice cream and rest on a bench in the shade. You’ll need a break, because this place is huge and everything is worth seeing.
Take your time, don’t schedule anything but this. Enjoy it all without checking your watch.
Visit Granada too, it really is beautiful as well.