19 July 2016.
Granada’s Alhambra, perched on a hill overlooking the city, is the most visited site in Spain and one of the most popular monuments worldwide. So, it should come as no surprise that everyone wants a ticket in.
During high season tickets sell out months in advance, but for those who missed out and are still looking to take in the splendour of the ancient palace and the beauty of the gardens, there is a way.
After missing out on advance sales, queuing in the rain and dark – not once but TWICE – we think we know just about everything there is to know about locking down a last-minute Alhambra ticket. Plus, we have a little bonus tip for those who just don’t have time to wait in lines.
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SHORT ON TIME?
Six weeks out from our trip to Granada, Spain we did a little Googling only to find that there were no more Alhambra tickets available until 2 months later. Damn It!
And this was in low season.
After a few more hours of frantic searching, we managed to find some vague details about buying last-minute tickets to the Alhambra to get inside. When we arrived in Granada we were determined. We got some insider knowledge from our Airbnb host and asked probably a few too many questions of the Alhambra’s ticket attendants who suggested that we should arrive no later than 7 a.m. if we had any hope of getting any tickets.
At 6 o’clock the next morning we crawled out of bed, wrapped up in all of our clothes (who knew Spain could be so cold?). We power walked through the rain and darkness up cobblestoned alleys, up corridors of steps and a little more up hill to reach the ticket line. At 6:30 the line was already in full swing with about 40 people in front of us. By 7 o’clock the line was too long for the arranged zig-zag formation and was winding down the road.
We smiled to ourselves, a little too smugly. We were confident the tickets were ours for the taking.
After an hour of waiting in the cold, Freya doing an incessant wiggle dance hopping foot to foot to keep her legs from going numb, the screens above the queue sprang to life showing that there were 200 tickets up for grabs that day.
As 8 o’clock finally rolled around, the people in the queue shuffled closer together, as if making the line as short as possible would ensure we all got in. The excitement in the air was palpable. The moment was here. We were getting in…
… or so we thought.
The doors opened and the first customers were ushered to the counters. We stood there, 40 people back in the queue, cash at the ready. But, we soon realised the numbers on the screens were dropping quickly. Too quickly. Only 6 people had entered and left with tickets and we were already down to just 120 tickets left.
The line was moving painfully slowly and we stood there, getting more and more anxious. With just four people in front of us, the number had now dropped to 22. We were willing the line to move faster – hurry up and take our money – but as the man in front of us was ushered up to a counter the number on the screen dropped from seven to zero.
They were out of tickets.
And here we were, stuck at the front of the queue.
What had been a huddle of excitement now became a group of very frustrated tourists. Should we just get a different ticket that only allows partial admission? Do we have time to do this all again tomorrow? Do we even want to do this all again tomorrow?
But most importantly… where the hell did all those bloody tickets go?
After a bit of investigating we soon found the culprit. Hidden behind the gift shop, to the right of the main entrance, prettily draped in grape vines and surrounded by orange trees is a separate area for credit card sales.
While the cash line has just two counters selling tickets (the other two are for advanced sale collection) and moves at a frustrating snails pace, the credit card sales are through four machines specifically for General Admission tickets which means you are in and out in just a few seconds.
** UPDATE: These credit card machines are no longer in operation. All tickets are sold through the main ticket desk. **
So, the next morning, with full dress rehearsal under our belt, we queued up to do it all again. This time in the much shorter and oh-so-much-faster credit card line. Less than one minute after the doors opened, we walked out with relief, 2 tickets in our hands. Finally!
We went straight to the entrance to the Alhambra to wait for the doors to open at 8:30 and were the first people of the day to walk through those hedge lined walkways, between tall trees and palace walls.
We spent nearly the whole day in the complex, taking our time to smell the roses, literally. The Palace is the main attraction and it did not disappoint. Walking through the chambers with their colourful mosaics, intricate carvings and inscriptions and complex roof formations inspired by Muhammad’s cave were a pleasure to explore.
Seeing it in its current state only makes you imagine how grand it must have been when it was a functioning palace. The gardens are also incredible, overflowing with colourful flowers, the scent of roses heavy in the air, and the constant sound of flowing water echoing from the fountains and river passages that are a constant throughout the complex.
After spending nearly the whole day exploring every inch of the Alhambra grounds, the Alcazaba with its beautiful views of Granada, getting caught in the pouring rain in the stunning gardens of Generalife and weaving through the renaissance-style pillars of the Palace of Charles V, we stumbled through the old wooden gates back to modern day Granada.
1 | First up, if you are planning a trip to the south of Spain and intend on going to the Alhambra, the easiest option is obviously to book your tickets several months in advance, especially during high season. For the lucky ones who can get them, General Admission tickets for the Alhambra are €14.00. Check here to book your ticket.
2 | ** UPDATE: As I understand it, queues for same-day Alhambra ticket sales are no longer available. Instead, if there are still tickets available they will be listed for sale through the online ticketing platform here. From midnight, any cancelled tickets for that day will become available for resale so if you’ve missed out, it’s a good idea to check at this time.
3 | ** UPDATE: As of 1 October 2017, the credit card machines are no longer in operation and all tickets are sold through the main ticket desk. You also need to bring your passport in order to buy a ticket.
4 | Cards are now accepted in the main ticket line, though cash is the faster method of payment and not all cards are accepted. We met people who had problems using foreign debit cards. It is best to have a selection if you are concerned your card may not work. We had no problem using an overseas credit card.
5 | Doors to the Alhambra complex open at 8:30 a.m. You need to queue up to enter and have your ticket scanned. Don’t hang around after buying your ticket, go straight to this line to get in early.
6 | If you have purchased same-day tickets Alhambra tickets, you’ll most likely have an early entry time to the Nasrid Palaces. Do not miss this slot because you will not be allocated another one.
7 | A coffee shop next to the ticket office opens at 7 a.m. and sells hot drinks and snacks for the early birds.
8 | As a last resort, if you really don’t have time to waste standing in queues in the wee hours, a ‘Skip the Line‘ tour is an excellent alternative. Alhambra tickets can be purchased much closer to the day and you can visit the site as part of a guided tour to all or part of the complex depending on the package. Save time and search for available tours here.
These are some of the best-rated tours: