This semester abroad has fostered an intense amount of personal growth for me. I’ve become more relaxed, embrace change, and have managed to steer clear of the anxiety and sadness that often creep into my life this time of year. But the biggest source of growth over the past three months has been my independence. And in the spirit of independence, I decided to do something I had never done before: travel SOLO.
When I realized that nearly all of my friends were traveling outside Spain for the weekend, I decided to take myself to a city that I’ve been dying to explore: GRANADA! Famous for its lively bar/ tapas scene and the iconic Alhambra, Granada is one of Andalusia’s most famous destinations and a place I couldn’t leave Spain without visiting. I’m pretty sure I was the only one of my friends who hadn’t been there yet!
After a week of planning, it was suddenly 9 AM on Saturday morning and I was in a car full of six friendly strangers on a three-hour commute to Granada. In true budget-conscious style, I decided to try out BlaBlaCar, an online carpooling service where you catch a ride with other travelers going to the same place. After copious research of drivers and their reviews, I booked a spot for 12 euros and am SO glad I did – it was incredibly convenient and half the price of a normal bus ticket!
PRO TIP: If you’re traveling solo, try and book a spot in a car with more than one other person. It will feel safer with more people in the car!
My hostel ended up being a great budget-friendly choice as well. One night in a 4-person all-girl dorm (with breakfast included) was a mere 19 euros! The location was great too – less than 10 minutes from Plaza Nueva with a perfect view of the Alhambra. I couldn’t have been more pleased with White Nest Hostel and definitely recommend it for both solo and group travelers!
Saturday afternoon was spent exploring the Granada Cathedral and the Royal Chapel where Ferdinand and Isabella are buried. I loved being able to take my time in both places; listening to the audio guide and observing each individual mini chapel without worrying if anyone around me wanted to leave. I was on my own agenda!
PRO TIP: Always show your student ID (if you have one) wherever you go. I got discounts on both the Cathedral and Royal Chapel entrance fees with mine (3.50 euros instead of 5).
My plan for the evening was to hike up the massive hill to the Great Mosque of Granada and watch the sun set behind the Alhambra. But since it was only 4 PM, I decided to grab my book and sit at a cafe on the river for an hour or so beforehand. Naturally, life had other plans for me. Two minutes after I sat down, a man in his 70’s asked if he could join me. I was caught off guard but decided to be open-minded and look at the unexpected company as an opportunity to practice some Spanish (he spoke absolutely no English). We ended up conversing about politics, his wife, America, and life lessons for over an hour, AND he paid for my coffee at the end! It was such a sweet gesture and something that would never have happened if I was traveling with a group.
After a gorgeous sunset at the Mosque, I headed to my favorite part of the trip: a flamenco show in a cave. Yep, you heard that right. Granada is famous for their very own type of flamenco called “Zambra” that have its origins in the caves of Sacromonte. I booked a ticket for the 9 PM show at Cueva la Rocio for 20 euros which included the hour-long show and a drink.
The cave itself was breathtaking and quite small, providing a very intimate show – the dancers are practically on top of you! I’ve seen flamenco shows before, but I loved how you could really see their emotional expressions and passion while dancing. It was absolutely incredible!
I jumped out of bed bright and early the next morning to make it on time to the iconic Alhambra – a massive royal palace constructed by various Muslim and Christian rulers, eventually becoming the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella after the Christian Reconquista in 1492.
In order to see the Nasrid Palace, one of the most intricate and stunning parts of the Alhambra, you have to book a time slot at least a week in advance. My time was 9:30 AM, so I made sure to leave the hostel by 8:30 since I heard the trek to the Alhrambra was quite strenuous. And boy, was that the truth! 20 minutes after beginning my climb, I finally made it to the top of the hill completely and totally out of breath. But the rewarding views from the top are totally worth it, as are the endless sights on the massive Alhambra grounds. My personal favorites were the main watchtower (“Torre de la Vela”), the Hall of the Abencerrajes, and the Hall of Ambassadors in the Nasrid Palace. You will easily spend 2-4 hours here!
After two days filled with Granada’s famous sites, pleasant encounters with strangers, and 18 miles of walking through the mountains, it’s safe to say I was absolutely exhausted by the time I dragged myself onto the 3:30 bus ride back to Seville… exhausted but 100% fulfilled. This solo trip allowed me to explore a bucket-list city of mine and become a more independent and confident traveler. It was not always glamorous and I had my fair share of hiccups and challenges along the way (stay tuned for a blog post on this!), but I’m so glad I spent one of my last weekends in Spain on this adventure.
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