Granada’s city centre has been based, above all, on a human scale, it is this intimacy that invites a casual stroll through its streets and squares. Indeed, but for the urban sprawl of bars and discos to be found on Pedro Antonio de Alarcón street, it would seem that Granada’s relaxed atmosphere is compatible with everybody’s tastes. In this way, the visitor wandering through the centre can choose from a variety of alternatives depending on the season and the time of day.
Moving on a little further into the city centre, we commence another essential route for the visitor; starting off at the Plaza de las Pasiegas or from Plaza Bibarrambla, in the surroundings of the Cathedral. You will soon come across San Jerónimo street, and from here walk down to the Plaza de la Universidad. However, it is also possible to arrive here via the Plaza de la Trinidad and the Botanical Gardens. Once in the plaza, the Law Faculty and the church of Santos Justo and Pastor form the ancient centre built by the Society of Jesus in the seventeenth century. The San Jerónimo street, which continues until the hospital of San Juan de Dios, boasts a number of noble cloistered patios such as that of San Bartolomé and Santiago, the Conservatory or the college of Notaries. Walking down San Jerónimo, to its left we leave behind the old neighbourhood of La Duquesa, named after the wife of the Gran Capitán who lived there. In fact, it was the duchess who ordered the convent of San Jerónimo to be built in the first place, as a humble sepulchre for her husband. Like a number of other monuments in Granada, the convent combines Gothic and Renaissance elements; its magnificent cloisters and chapel make an extended visit worthwhile.
Of the group of buildings formed by the hospital and church of San Juan de Dios, virtually adjacent to the convent of San Jerónimo, the most outstanding features are the hospital’s patios and, above all, the staircase that leads to the upper floor and separates both patios. On visiting the building, bear in mind that it continues to function as a hospital and there is only limited access to the public. To end off this route, walk up San Juan de Dios street until you reach the gardens of Triunfo, behind which you will be able to make out one of the most significant monuments in Granada built by the Catholic Monarchs, the Hospital Real. Its construction was positioned outside the city and close to the Puerta de Elvira, to aid the numerous soldiers wounded in the War of Granada. It now serves a double function as rectory and central library of the University of Granada, the latter can be found on the upper floor. From here, a further route leads towards the Cartuja.
Having finished this last tour, the visitor may have become a little weary of churches, cloisters and Gothic, Baroque or Mannerist facades. It is time, therefore, to wander around Granada’s streets and mingle with its people as we approach the Plaza de Isabel la Católica, from the streets Alcaicería or Zacatín, or from the Madraza, if we are still walking around the cathedral.
From here, the route becomes a little more easy–going, simply stroll down Reyes Católicos street —where the Darro river once flowed— until reaching Puerta Real. In this short stretch, and to the left hand side of the street, the visitor will come across the ancient barrio of San Matías and the Corral del Carbón, an essential stopping–off point, next to which a small square is adorned by the magnificent facade of the Palacio de Abrantes.
The name Corral del Carbón is somewhat deceptive, since in reality this monument is not, nor has ever been, a corral (a patio of neighbourhood dwellings) like many others found in Granada or throughout Spain. As a matter of fact, it started life as a caravanserai, a building commonly found in the Islamic world, and which served as both lodging for the merchant caravans that arrived in the city and, at the same time, where the tax on this market produce was controlled. After such an extended tour, a welcome break is what is now in order and the perfect place to start is Puerta Real, considered to be the centre of Granada. This square, which has been recently restored to its former glory, is ideal for shopping, for the best establishments walk around the pedestrianized streets in the vicinity. For refreshment, do not forget the countless tapas bars and restaurants that fill Plaza Nueva, Plaza de la Pescadería, Plaza Bibarrambla, or Navas street adjacent to the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall).
If, by this time, you still wish for more sightseeing, the more determined visitor will find some notable places to visit and two exquisite routes at only a stone’s throw away. The first leads down from Puerta Real, past the fuente de las Batallas (an enormous public fountain) and from here, down the carrera de la Virgen de las Angustias, to the paths that follow the banks of the river Genil. The boulevards Violón, Salón and Bomba are French–inspired walkways that once represented the outer limits of the city. It is here that the rivers Genil and Darro meet in their journey towards the Guadalquivir.
For the second route from Puerta Real, take Recogidas street that dips down towards the vega (Granada’s plain). At the bottom, you will come across the Federico García Lorca park, a new development in the grounds of the Huerta de San Vicente, the house in which the poet lived out his years in Granada and which has now been restored as a museum. Both the house and gardens symbolize the city’s tribute to the memory of one of Granada’s most celebrated figures.