On paper, the Andalusian cities of Granada and Sevilla in Spain share many similarities. Both are known for their food and are home to famous buildings and a rich cultural past can still be found there today. However, if you look a little closer, you’ll find that they’re also very distinct. So distinct that you could say a sort of “rivalry” exists between the two. If you only have time to visit one of these cities, let the below information help you to figure out which one you should travel to.
Best for sports enthusiasts and nature lovers, name droppers, fans of Christopher Columbus’ most famous patrons, and individuals with copious amounts of time on their hands.
Sports enthusiasts and nature lovers: Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada is the perfect base for activities like hiking, skiing during the winter months, and animal spotting. The city itself is extremely hilly so if you don’t mind getting a workout as you go from attraction to attraction, it’s perfect. And when you need to escape the blistering heat of the summer (and trust me, you will), the Mediterranean coast is only an hour’s drive away.
|The Sierra Nevada are at your fingertips|
Name droppers: For most people, Granada’s biggest claim to fame is of course the Alhambra, a former Moorish citadel and palace. Although there is no shortage of incredible buildings in Spain, there is something to be said about this royal palace that was once home to the Sultan of Granada (yes, back when Spain was ruled by the Moors, there were sultans there, not just stodgy European kings and queens). The fact that the Alhambra is located high above the city is one of the things I loved most about visiting. It literally seems to rise from the trees, thus adding to its mystique.
|Patio de los Leones at the Alhambra|
Fans of Christopher Columbus’ most famous patrons: It wasn’t until I studied in Spain did I learn how truly despicable King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were (they were the ones responsible for allowing the Spanish Inquisition to happen as well as for the brutal explulsion of the country’s Jewish and Moorish populations). So I include this reason more out of sarcasm than anything else. But if you do admire this Spanish royal couple, they are actually buried in the city’s Royal Chapel. As a historical side note-they were originally supposed to be buried in Toledo (the tombs had long been built) but after they finally succeeded in regaining Granada back from the Moors, they wanted to be buried in the city that championed their ultimate success.
|Where the Catholic monarchs were supposed to be buried|
Individuals with copious amount of time on their hands: Here’s the thing about Granada. It’s somewhat out in “left field” as the American English idiom goes. While Madrid and Barcelona are almost on a parallel line from west to east, and Madrid and Sevilla the same (just going from north to south), Granada is just “out there” on its own. While you can certainly fly from one of the other cities, flying in actuality is never as quick an experience as it is in theory, not to mention the country’s high speed rail line AVE does not travel there. So if you go, make sure you have the time to actually “go” so as to not shortchange your time there or your time elsewhere. Or, you can be crazy like some have done and go for the day…a very long day.
|Patio de los Arayanes at the Alhambra|
Best for those wanting to experience the real Spain, individuals with more limited time, and travelers wanting everything within moderate walking distance.
Best for those wanting to experience the real Spain: I tell people that if you only have the time and money to visit one Spanish city, make sure it’s Sevilla. While the megacities of Barcelona and Madrid are great, nothing compares to this incredible place. When I say that history is literally bursting at the seams, it is, there are vestiges of the long forgotten Jewish civilization there and Catholic houses of worship built on top of former Muslim ones. The past is literally before your eyes. The fictional character of Bizet’s Carmen was supposed to have lived in Sevilla. Curvy medieval streets, flamenco, tapas, it’s all here in Sevilla.
|La Real Maestranza|
Individuals with more limited time: I like to avoid flying if I can so the fact that the country’s high speed train AVE puts you in Sevilla from the capital of Madrid in three hours time makes it an extremely attractive place to visit from a logistics perspective. So if you only have a week at your disposal, a trip combining Madrid and Sevilla is just about perfect since both cities also offer some incredible places to visit as day trips.
| Córdoba is roughly a 1 hour train ride from Sevilla (on the AVE)
Travelers wanting everything within moderate walking distance: Although by modern standards Sevilla is definitely sprawling, all of its famous tourist attractions are in the historic city center which is all walkable. If you stay in the famous Juderia (the former Jewish quarter), the Cathedral, Giralada (former minaret), Alcazar (former palace) and numerous other sights are at your disposal, all within minutes of each other. But for me, one of the best things about Sevilla was that the ambiance of the historic district was part of the allure as well. Even if you do want to travel across the Guadalquivir River into neighboring Triana, it is still only an easy 20 minute walk from the city center (provided you don’t get turned around).
|Sevilla’s historic city center is pretty compact|
My honest opinion: I’m not going to lie, I really didn’t care for the city of Granada too much. While the Alhambra was one of the most majestic places I have ever been to, outside of that, I found the city to be a much less worthy counterpart to Sevilla. For instance, the Albacin, a famous neighborhood in Granada that is supposed to be a terrific example of Moorish architecture houses a market that was highly touted. I was so looking to purchase authentic wares from neighboring North Africa but the majority of what I found for sale was made in China. Granted, I was only in Granada for a weekend versus four months in Sevilla, but if you ask which city you should visit, I would by all means say Sevilla. But that’s my opinion.