Although it may be the Alhambra that attracts millions of visitors to Granada every year, I have to argue that the most amazing facet of Granada is not the sumptuous Nasrid palace sitting above the city. The real selling point of Granada is the tapas, small dishes of food that come free with every drink. Yes, I said free. A sign on the wall in tapas bar Los Diamantes proclaims, “Your tapas is a gift.” And what could be better than getting a gift every time you get a drink?
The tradition of tapas leads to a culture where food is appreciated and enjoyed, but the focus is on conversation instead of the meal. On a Saturday afternoon in Granada it seems as if the entire city is out getting drinks and enjoying tapas with their friends and family, tables spilling out into the sidewalks even into December.
The word tapas comes from the verb tapar meaning to cover. The story goes that tapas originated when bartenders would use a slice of bread or meat to cover glasses of wine in order to prevent flies from getting to the sweet beverage. Granada is one of the very last places in Spain to continue this tradition of free tapas, and therefore the city is full of small bars and cafeterias where you can sit down for a glass of wine and small plate of food.
The type of tapas varies by establishment, at certain places you get to choose your tapas, and at others you are presented with whatever they decide to give you. Typical dishes include carne en salsa (chopped meat in a sauce), croquetas, patatas bravas (potatos in a spicy sauce), berenjenas (aubergines, sometimes fried, usually with honey), and lots of olives. Many places also serve a variety of mariscos, seafood dishes.
There are hundreds of tapas bars in Granada; it's almost guaranteed that you will find one on any street. Specific areas where you are sure to find great places are Plaza Nueva, Paseo de los Tristes, Calle Navas, and the area around the Cathedral. It’s entirely possible to spend days wandering the streets and exploring new places, an activity one might refer to as “tapas hopping.” After a good deal of tapas hopping, I often found myself at the same few places, unable to resist their delicious small plates.
I spent more nights at Poë (c/Veronica de la Magdalena, 40) than I can count. Ana and Matt Poe fell in love with Granada while visiting the city, and came back to start the bar. Ana cooks all the tapas herself, each inspired by a different culture from Portugese piri-piri to Thai spicy chicken. Unlike some places, you can choose your tapas with every drink. Po also offers a wide range of drinks from local to breweries around the world, and even legitimate absinthe shots if you’re daring enough to try them.
Right across the street from Po is Lax (c/Veronica de la Magdalena, 31) tucked further back from the street with a small outdoor sitting area for the summer months. Primarily serving tapas infused with seafood, some of Lax's best are the calamares fritos and any of the salmon dishes. Also nearby is Om Khalsum (c/Jardines, 6), an Arabic themed tapas bar named after the famous Egyptian singer. The tapas are Arabic cuisine and do not disappoint. One can chose anything from falafel to a mini kebab.
Bella y Bestia has two locations in Granada (Carcel Baja, 10 and Carrera del Darro, 37) and although you cannot choose your tapas, the portions they serve are varied and sizable. Los Diamantes (c/ Navas, 28) may look like a small hole in the wall bar, but it is famous for its seafood tapas.
If looking for somewhere to have dinner in Granada, trek up to the Mirador San Nicholas overlooking the Alhambra. At restaurant Estrellas de San Nicholas (c/ Atarazana Vieja, 1) not only is the food fantastic, but the windows offer an amazing view of the Alhambra, lit up at night. Restaurant Cunini (Plaza de Pescaderia, 14) is known for its fish, and also boasts a long stand-up bar where specialty tapas are served.
Granada has a clear Moorish influence, mainly concentrated in the Albaycin district. Wander the streets before heading into a teteria, or tea house, for an assortment of teas and a variety of Arabic sweets. Another popular snack in Granada is chocolate con churros. Head to any of the cafes around Plaza Bib Rambla where they serve them as a morning or afternoon treat.