Essential Tips for Booking Alhambra Tickets
Information Updated as of February 9th, 2017
The Alhambra is the essential sight in Southern Spain. You know, the one on every guidebook cover, the one all your friends rave about, the one Rick Steve recommends… well you get the point.
What you might not realize is that the attraction is so popular that visitors are limited to just 6,600 per day. (Yes I thought that was an odd number as well.) “Ok, sounds straightforward, I’ll just buy a ticket” you’re thinking. Well unfortunately, 6,600 tickets sounds like a lot but the Alhambra is such an iconic sight that tickets sell out fast and the recommended guideline is to buy them 90 days in advance. Plus, even though they allot that many per day, tickets are further restricted down so that no more than 300 people can enter the Palace section every 30 minutes. I first searched for tickets 60 days out from my trip and only had 1 morning option of Alhambra palace tour tickets online left to me. I’d recommend planning 3 days in Granada and looking at Alhambra tickets first before you confirm hotel dates and trains/flights. It’d be very disappointing to visit Granada without seeing the Alhambra!
Another thing to note is that tickets are sold in time slots. This was a new concept to me, but if you’ve already been to Barcelona and seen the Gaudi sights, you’re probably familiar with this process. When you buy a ticket for a time, you’re committing to that specific time window. Show up early? Feel free to wait. Show up late? You’re out of luck.
I found the whole process a bit confusing especially since it wasn’t super clearly outlined in guidebooks, so I thought I’d write a post on what I learned in a tips and tricks guide to visiting the Alhambra!
First, what is the Alhambra:
The Alhambra is Spain’s most popular attraction clocking in over 2.3 million visitors per year. The site is a fortress-palace complex with 3 main parts:
palatial forticiation aka ruins
the Palacios Nazaries
the Nasrid Palace, the main attraction
the architect’s gardens
Buying Tickets Online for the Alhambra
The official website to buy Alhambra tickets online in advance is Ticketmaster. This is the direct method to buy individual online tickets for the Nasrid Palaces and discounts are available for youth, senior citizens, etc with valid identification. Anyone outside of Spain can use their own country’s credit card to buy through the Ticketmaster site, so I found it quite easy to buy from.
There are many different ticket options. The two most popular are the Alhambra General ticket, which gives you access to all the main highlights or an Alhambra at Night – Palaces ticket, which allows you to visit the Palaces lit up at night (the gardens at night are a separate ticket). Most people buy the General ticket which includes the entire complex during the daytime. Serious photographers or Alhambra lovers can consider the night option as an add on. I chose to buy just the General daytime Alhambra ticket which cost about $15 USD per person.
Update February 2017: Ticket prices seem to have gone up and are now 21.05 euros per person.
Reserving Alhambra Tickets
You can buy tickets for the Alhambra on Ticketmaster Spain here.
First select the day you want to visit and then click continue to head to the next screen. Tickets are sold up to 90 days in advance.
There are two general time options to see the Alhambra: Morning 8:30am – 2pm or Afternoon 2pm-6pm (Oct 15 – Mar 14), until 8pm (Mar 15 – Oct 14). Previously you had to first select an official session, morning or afternoon. As of February 2017, you no longer have to pick an official session on the Ticketmaster website.
Thirdly, book a specific 30 minute window when you plan to enter the Nasrid Palaces.
Purchase your tickets with a credit card.
My Notes on the Process
You can enter any ticketed area of the complex within your designated time window, but you must exit before the end of the window. For example: you pick a morning time from 8:30-2, you must finish by 2pm as the ticket won’t scan in any longer.
The Nasrid Palaces are enclosed, with only 300 people are allowed to enter every 30 minutes for crowd control reasons. You must enter within the 30 minute window printed on your ticket, otherwise they will not let you in. In spring and summer, there’s typically a wait, so I would arrive 30 min – 1 hour ahead of your designated window to prepare for long lines. I found that time slots were strictly adhered to in Spain.
Ideally, this credit card of yours has a chip, will not expire until after your trip to Spain and carries no foreign transaction fees. You’ll need to bring the credit card you paid with to Spain.
Where to Stay in Granada
I stayed at the Anacapri Granada, which was a charming boutique hotel with complimentary breakfast and wifi. The best part was its location right on the old town and <5 minutes from the old bazaar and pathway to the Alhambra. If you want an affordable and centrally located hotel, the Anacapari is a great choice!
Check the latest prices on Booking.com or read more reviews on TripAdvisor
For those who pre-purchase their Alhambra tickets and are walking to the Palace entrance, the Anacapri is a straight shot walk – about 5ish minutes to the start of the climb and then the 15 min uphill walk.
For those who want to take the bus, the Anacapri hotel is about a 6 min walk to the bus stop – either way very convenient for a sightseeing base.
We stayed at the hotel for 2 nights and 3 days. You can read more about my Granada itinerary here for the best things to do and recommendations on what to eat!
Alhambra Tickets: Morning or Afternoon?
This is up to your personal preference. A lot of tour groups will go in the morning so people try to avoid the crowds by going in the afternoon. I bought a morning pass with an 8am Nasrid Palace time window. I ended up being first in line and had the palace to myself for a blissful 30 minutes before the crowds swarmed (and I mean swarmed).
Personally, I think a morning option is best because it gives you ample time to explore the complex without having to constantly check the time. If you see the Nasrid Palaces first thing, you’ll have free time to wander the gardens and fortification ruins without having to constantly check the time to make sure you don’t miss your Nasrid Palace reservation window. The entire complex takes about 3 hours to see, with the gardens being most extensive. I did see on ticketmaster that they sold tickets for 30 minutes before closing which would be a bummer for anyone who bought those..
Getting Alhambra Tickets
Ticketmaster is an online purchase only. You still need to print and pick up tickets in person once you arrive in Granada. I really wish they would get on board with scanable pdfs or e-tickets or let you print it at home, but unfortunately those are not options.
There are two main ways to print out your physical tickets. The first involves a partnership with La Caixa, a Spanish bank with ATMs all over the country. The La Caixa branches in Granada (and i’ve heard in other spanish cities) have an option for you to print your Alhambra tickets. I did see and go to an ATM branch on Calle Gran Vía de Colón and found instructions in English pasted to the wall above the machine. The instructions didn’t really correspond with what I was seeing on the ATM machine window though and I wasn’t able to figure it out. I think the line that built up behind me was annoyed I was taking so long. They probably sighed a collective relief when I decided to give up.
Of course, I panicked that I wasn’t able to print out my tickets. There were signs posted all over my hotel in the lobby and elevators saying something to the effect of “if you’re seeing this sign and haven’t bought your Alhambra tickets already, you’re SOL”.
Luckily, there’s a Ticketmaster printing machine in the Tourist office. This machine used to (aka prior to May 2016) be located in the Alhambra bookstore. It is no longer there. Save yourself a trip. Instead, it was moved to the tourism office inside the caravanserai at the Corral del Carbon, where merchants on the Silk Road rested their camels and spent the night in historic times. There are two machines and a tourism office staff member inside, so I found it easy and straightforward to print the tickets there!
Sher’s Tip: print your tickets using the Ticketmaster machine inside the Granada Tourism office. The location is at the Corral del Carbon Calle Mariana Pineda, 8, 18009 Granada, Spain
Visiting the Alhambra
The massive complex sits on a hill overlooking the town of Granada and can be accessed from two main gates. Both approaches start from the main square at Plaza Nueva. Here is a map of the complex if you’d like to take a look in advance. It’s also helpful to print the Alhambra map before your trip if you have time. I found that they seemed to be a bit stingy about giving out maps and guides in Spain – in the Alhambra, guides are inside the luggage storage room.
The first option is to walk on foot. Start at Plaza Nueva and climb Cuesta de Gomerez on a secluded, shady path lined with green elms. When you reach the Puerta de las Granada (Gate of the Pomegranates) turn left and climb farther until you reach the Puerta de la Justica (Gate of Justice) entrance. This is a beautiful walk but quite steep. The Justice Gate is the recommended Alhambra entrance if you buy an early morning ticket as it’s closest to the Nasrid Palaces and will save you a walk within the complex.
tl;dr: walking on foot is convenient if you’ve pre-bought an 8am time slot but a steep 15 min uphill
The second option is to take a minibus from Plaza Nueva. Either bus no. 30 or 32 is fine, they run every few minutes and cost €1.20 upon boarding. The minibus goes along the main road and instead of turning left, heads farther up to drop you off at the Main Entrance. This entrance is for those who haven’t pre-purchased tickets and is physically closest to the Generalife gardens. If you have a ticket for an afternoon or late morning Nasrid Palace time slot, you can plan to visit the gardens first.
tl;dr: if you have an afternoon time slot, take the minibus and enjoy a leisurely ride
If You’re in Granada and Forgot to Buy Alhambra Tickets in Advance
Well.. I wish you had read my blog post earlier. Feel free to sign up for my newsletter to the right and get first access to all my new posts! *self promotion plug over* haha!
If you forgot to buy tickets in advance and are in Granada, there are a couple last minute options to get Alhambra tickets the same day. First check with your hotel to see if they have any. Some hotels buy a limited quantity for their guests. You could also book a night tour which covers the Nasrid Palace in full, but excludes the gardens. Or, you can book a tour option through a company like Viator. They have a 2.5 hour tour of the Alhambra and Generalife gardens that includes free hotel pick up and drop off. While the guided tour is obviously more expensive than paying the direct $15 ticket, being part of the tour group allows the company to skip the general line and extended wait, so you might prefer it. You can find more details about the tour here.
And there you have it, my recommendations for seeing the Alhambra in the easiest way possible!
For the actual visit itself, I recommend picking up a copy of Rick Steves 2016 Spain Guide. He has an excellent couple of pages walking you through the various rooms and points out specific details and noteworthy fountains. I chose to skip purchasing the audio guide since he did such a comprehensive job explaining!
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