Travel tips and advice for Spain: The best time to book tickets to see the Alhambra

The hotel attendant leans forward, lowering his voice: "If you don't mind me asking, exactly how is it that you got these tickets?"

He is staring at my passes to the Alhambra, Spain's most visited tourist attraction which overlooks his beautiful city of Granada.

"I have a couple who are here from Melbourne just to see it, but they cannot get any tickets," our hotelier persists. "So how is it that you have some?"

Demand for the World Heritage site is high and access is limited, but I explain that we are fortunate that friends told us to book our tickets online, well ahead of our Spanish holiday. What I did not appreciate until our visit was that our booked tickets were gold.

Established as a royal residence by the Muslim Nasrid dynasty in the 13th century, then nurtured by Spain's Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella after they seized it in 1492, the exquisite Alhambra features three distinct areas: the Alcazaba military zone, with towers offering superb views over the city, the beautiful Generalife recreational estates of the Nasrid sultans, and the jewel in the crown, the breathtaking royal houses of the sultans known as the Nasrid Palaces.

While there are many guided tours that can be booked in advance with private companies, the simplest and cheapest way to see all that the Alhambra offers is with a general admission ticket bought for €14 up to three months in advance of your visit via the Alhambra website.

This ticket covers all three Alhambra areas. But while you can enter the Alcazaba and Generalife at any time on the day of your visit, you must select a specific entry time for the Nasrid Palaces when you book, with access restricted to 300 visitors per half hour. Miss your slot, miss your visit.

Choosing to visit the palaces at 8.30am, when the Alhambra opens, was one of the best decisions we made in a month in Spain.

Starting your Alhambra visit at the palaces means you can enter the site via the Gates of Justice, avoiding the crowds that gather at the general admission entry point on the other side of the fortified hilltop.

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There is no need to rush across the Alhambra to make your time slot for the palaces, plus an early start means you can avoid  the heat and the crowds which descend as the day advances.

When we arrive at the Gates of Justice at 8.20am, there are no other tourists in sight. After a short walk up a steep path, we turn a corner to see the famed red-walled fortress sitting, in all its magnificence, above the still slumbering city and only a few visitors in the queue for palace entry.

For the first hour of our visit, there are just a handful of people in each room and we are able to stroll at a relaxed pace as we fall under the Alhambra's spell, mesmerised by the shafts of light that illuminate the intricate tiles and carvings in each chamber.

When we reach the reflective waters of the Court of the Myrtles and the symmetrical courtyard of the Court of the Lions, we are able to take photos without a person in sight – no mean feat.

As the morning temperature rises, the crowds thicken. Tour groups arrive and as we near the end of our time in the palaces, we find ourselves weaving past visitors clustered around their guides. It is 10.30am when we emerge into the terraced gardens beside the palaces, blinking in the full sunlight.

We happily join the hordes roaming the tower tops of the Alcazaba and the green spaces of the Generalife, still clutching our tickets and basking in the serenity of our early morning start.

TRIP NOTES

Libby Moffet travelled at her own expense.

MORE

traveller.com.au/spain

andalucia.org

FLY

Singapore Airlines operates more than 130 flights a week to Singapore from six Australian cities including Sydney and Melbourne, with five flights a week connecting onwards to Barcelona. Vueling has regular flights from Barcelona to Granada. See singaporeair.comvueling.com

SEE

The Alhambra is open from 8.30am to 6pm (8pm, April to October) every day of the year except December 31 and January 1. See alhambradegranada.org

TOUR

General admission tickets can be purchased online and printed in advance of your visit for €14. An excellent English audio guide can be rented at the Alhambra for €6. See tickets.alhambra-patronato.es

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