Forget the Alhambra: This is Granada No Frills

Forget the Alhambra. This Trapdoor adventure is about to take you to the parts of Granada that tell its current story: the one of its people and their daily lives, overshadowed by a cumbersome red fortress reserved for outsiders. We’re here to explore those places that can’t be found in the guide books, those bars that can’t be found on pretty streets, and those fragments of history that haven’t been moved to a display cabinet but instead remain in situ for us all to see… if we know where to look.


Quite the opposite of Madrid, in Granada the more no-frills you go, the smaller and crapper the tapas get. For generous tapas, I realised it was best to stick to the medium-frills bars and restaurants. For a quick coffee or a beer, however, these beautiful bars are where you will find that no-frills charm…

Bar Manolo: Plaza de Gracia, 8, 18002 Granada

Bar Cebollas Palas: Plaza de la Merced, 11, 18010 Granada

Cafetería Goya: Calle Duquesa, 1, 18001 Granada


Step off the beaten path, where the grass begins to grow between cobblestones. It’s here, where people and nature live a little bit more in symbiosis, where the Granada you imagine exists.

All through the streets of Granada’s old town, in the foothills beneath the Alhambra, there are ghosts of ancient Moorish arches and the facades of long-disused churches…

Granada’s icon is, of course, a granada (pomegranate), which you can find everywhere, if you look closely enough…


There are stories that we might never know, but then there are ghosts that left traces of their stories behind…

Cast your eyes over three spectacular examples of ghost buildings: once still has bronze, hand-painted tiles on the walls, and another has its green shutters hanging on front of where windows used to be. The gaping hole that remains in the hillside provides a spectacular view over the rest of Granada – one you definitely wouldn’t find crowds of self-taking tourists swarming.

Taking a step back towards the present past is an abandoned merendero (open-air restaurant or picnic site) – a word I’d never seen used like this until stumbling across this truly no-frills former gem named ‘The Fly’…

And just around the corner from The Fly is another abandoned building: a traditional cave house typical of the area of Sacromonte.

And that brings us to a beautiful living museum.


The barrio of Sacromonte is where we’re heading to next. It’s an ancient dwelling originally inhabited by gitanes living in caves carved into the north side of the Genil river valley.

There are various street levels and, the higher you get, the newer and more humble the caves become – some without electricity or running water. The lower, basecamp level is where tourists and gitanes collide: giant cameras held by speechless visitors meet curly mullets and raspy-voiced locals.

Seeing the two worlds mingle so smoothly may feel a little strange. Gitano communities in Madrid are very wary of outsiders, having been marginalised for centuries. But here, tourism appears to help bridge the inequality gap.

It’s the gitanes themselves who bring curious explorers into the barrio. They own the flamenco clubs, the Spanish bars and restaurants, and the hotels, and don’t seem to have disneyfied their own culture at all, evoking the ancient spirits of flamenco late into the night, when all the tourists are tucked up in bed. But, despite the authenticity of their offerings, I wanted to get away from the beaten path so off I went, one level higher, where I found a man sanding wood on his terrace. He had a sign offering a tour of his house for a euro (nine less than one level below – let’s call it the no-frills living museum tour).

Mirador cueva Rincón el corazón: Calle Verea de Enmedio, 49, 18010 Granada

Then I spotted a road where the stone stairs turned to a carved dust track, and it was up there, surrounded by giant aloe vera plants and caves that looked more like shanty dwellings, that this spectacular view could be found…

Zoom out a little…

And across the river, on the other side of the valley, I spotted more cave houses…


Granada is known for its generous tapas, which gets better with each drink order. But, as the legend goes, you don’t choose the tapa, the tapa chooses you, and in Granada, meat dishes can end up choosing vegetarians, resulting in awkward conversations with horrified waiters.

So, opting to choose our own food, it led us to a Palestinian kebab house, where we had delicious minty tabbouleh salad and a packed falafel wrap…

Don Barbacoa: Calle Sta. Escolástica, 5, 18009 Granada


Here’s what the guidebooks don’t tell you: that the Alhambra at sunset is a profound people-watching spot…

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