Madrid is rich with European art and famous for destinations like the Buen Retiro Park, Royal Palace, and Plaza Mayor. The Spanish capital attracts about 6 million tourists per year and many of them use the metropolis as a starting point for broader travels. They'll jet off to Barcelona to the northeast and Andalusia to the south. Granada, part of the Andalusia region, is a picture-perfect city perched in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, making it a pretty popular side trip from Madrid, which is 420 kilometers (261 miles) away.
Home to medieval architecture, royal palaces, and the elaborate Generalife gardens, Granada is best known for the sprawling complex of fortresses known as the Alhambra. This city is a destination of its own, but it can easily be worked into a trip to the greater Andalusia region, famous for its hills, rivers, and Roman ruins. If that's the case, you might be better off coming from Seville, the region's capital.
The route from Madrid to Seville is served by a high-speed train service that connects the two cities in around two and a half hours. It costs about the same by either bus or train, so you can take whichever puts you nearest to your accommodations. Along the way, travelers can stop by Ronda, Antequera, and Cordoba. Day tours from Seville are available, too.
Wherever you're coming from, know that tickets to Granada often sell out a month in advance due to its UNESCO World Heritage site, so it is suggested to make arrangements for transportation and accommodation well before your trip.
How to Get from Madrid to Granada
- By Train: 3 hours, 20 minutes, starting at $65
- By Bus: 4 hours, 30 minutes, starting at $35 (cheapest)
- By Car: 4 hours, 30 minutes, 420 kilometers (261 miles)
- By Flight: 1 hour, starting at $63 (fastest)
Getting to Granada from Madrid is quick and easy by train. Spain's high-speed AVE service connects the two in less than three and a half hours with its 310-kilometer-per-hour (193-mile-per-hour) train. The train departs from Atocha station several times per day between 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. and makes only limited stops before arriving in Granada.
The cost of taking the train is comparable to flying, but although the flight from Madrid to Granada is only an hour long, there's the hassle of getting to and from airports and checking bags (which can be both time consuming and expensive) that put off many from traveling by plane. Train tickets cost between $65 and $125 and can be obtained online via Rail Europe.
The bus is a cheaper option for the budget-conscious traveler who doesn't mind taking their time. It takes about an hour longer than the AVE train takes, so you'll be in Granada about four and half hours after leaving Madrid Estacion Sur bus station.
ALSA offers services regularly throughout the day, so you can board the bus that best fits your schedule. It costs between $35 and $52 and can be booked online (which, again, should be done well in advance).
Granada is a bit far for a day trip from Madrid, but there are several multi-day coach tours that pass through the city, too. The most popular one is the Viator's four-day tour of Seville, Cordoba, and Granada that begins in Madrid.
By car, the 430-kilometer (261-mile) journey from Madrid to Granada should take about four and a half hours. The route isn't too difficult, seeing as it sticks mainly to the major R-4 and A-44 roads. While driving does take just as long as the bus, it can be a lot more fun to be in charge. You can stop off at the ancient, hilltop city of Toledo (home to medieval Arab, Jewish, and Christian monuments) or Jaén for olive oil tasting and a visit to its 11th-century bathhouse along the way. Those who are willing to brave the traffic in Madrid will not regret road tripping through the region's many medieval landmarks, cathedrals, castles, Renaissance buildings, lush plains, and more.
Flying is the fastest mode of transportation and tickets can be found for almost as cheap as the train if booked far enough in advance. However, when you factor in transportation to and from airports, going through security, and waiting for your luggage—if necessary—flying can turn out to be just as time consuming as ground travel anyway.
According to Skyscanner, there are 34 direct flights from Madrid to Granada per week. A return ticket can cost as little as $63 during the low season (March through June) and about $85 during all other times of the year. Nonstop flights take about an hour and arrive at Granada's only airport (domestic), which is about a 20-minute taxi ride from the city center.
What to See in Granada
With the Sierra Nevada mountain range acting as its backdrop, Granada is a picturesque city of medieval fortresses, grand palaces, and tree-covered hills. The most famous thing to do in this city (and in the country) is to visit the Alhambra, a Moorish palace that was built sometime in the 13th or 14th century, although a smaller palace was originally constructed there on the remains of Roman fortifications much earlier. Be sure to secure a ticket well in advance because the Alhambra can receive up to 6,000 visitors daily.
Generalife—the former summer palace of Alhambra rulers—is another Granada hot spot. The surrounding gardens are so vibrant and ornate that they're now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. You'll also want to visit the Granada Cathedral, the Royal Chapel of Granada (a burial site for Catholic kings), and the Palace of Charles V.
Once you've gotten your fill of history, dig into the local tapas. In Granada, you can snag snacks (sardines, burger sliders, carne con salsa, and the like) for free with a round of drinks at most bars.