Moorish palaces, snowy mountains and the Nasrids

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

The splendid Moorish capital of Granada, backdropped by the Sierra Nevada, provides one of the best settings for football in Spain. 

It’s one that followers of Manchester United, Napoli and Molde would have enjoyed in 2021, had hosts Granada Club de Fútbol been able to accommodate spectators during their first, and perhaps only, European run. As fate would have it, the most successful Granada team in history, led by mercurial manager Diego Martínez, had flourished at the same time as the pandemic.

Within a few months, Martínez, then the youngest coach in La Liga, had decided against staying at Granada, and the Rojiblancos would be relegated by the end of the following season. 

Granada’s stadium is the Estadio Nuevo Los Cármenes, a new-build south of town. It replaced the original Los Cármenes by the bullring that the cash-strapped club were forced to sell.

The story then gets complicated, involving lesser-known local clubs and shady arrangements for higher league status.

Granada CF, formerly Club Recreativo Granada, have been in operation since 1931. Unable to gain promotion to the Segunda at their new stadium inaugurated in 1995, Granada fell into so much debt their unpaid players complained to the FA. In 2002, Granada were forcibly relegated to the fourth-flight Tercera, where they found local rivals CP Granada 74 and Arenas Armilla.

It took four seasons, but Granada clambered up to the Segunda B. The CP Granada 74 team they met there were a different operation. Today, CP Granada 74 still exist, and play at the Club Polideportivo in La Chana, north of town – but are the youth side of the original club. The Granada 74 CF created in 2007 have gone out of business. 

Founder and president Carlos Marsá Valdovinos bought the club Ciudad de Murcia, or rather their rights to play in the Segunda. All the players, including Argentine centre-back Cristian Díaz, a U-20 World Cup winner in 1995, were moved to Granada.

But… after one season in the Segunda, and one in the Segunda B, Granada 74 CF were too broke to carry on. As two clubs, the Granada CF of 1931 heritage and the newly created Granada Atlético CF, had been groundsharing the Estadio Nuevo Los Cármenes, Granada 74 CF were forced to play in front of meagre crowds at Motril, an hour’s drive away. The arrangement, and the budget, lasted two seasons.

So who were these groundsharers of Los Cármenes, Granada Atlético CF? In 2005, investors from Granada had struck a Murcia/Granada 74 type arrangement with Guadix, near Granada. (Another club from Granada Province, Íllora, then moved over to Guadix.) Five years on and with no fan base, Granada Atlético were dissolved too, despite proposals to recreate them as the reserve side for Granada CF.

Granada CF were, in effect, already a reserve side, due to a partnership arrangement with Udinese. In 2009, Udinese owner Gino Pozzo bought Granada. He agreed to take on many of indebted Granada’s players, in return for the Andalucians being able to give valuable match practice to reserves and youngsters from Friuli. Granada duly gained promotion to the Primera in 2011. Pozzo then bought Watford in 2012.

As for Arenas de Armilla, founded the same year as Granada CF, they can point to a proud history of serving the community, and several recent seasons in the Tercera. Based at the municipal stadium in the district of the same name, in south-west Granada, Arenas are now in the Primera Andaluza (Grupa 4), the fifth flight. The accent, though, is on youth, not artificially connived league status for quick profit.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

Granada’s Federico García Lorca Airport is 18km (11 miles) west of town. Hourly bus 0245 (€3.05, journey time 40mins) runs to the city centre. A taxi (34 622 35 47 56) to town costs €27-€29 depending on time of day.

Malaga Airport is the nearest major international hub, 135km (84 miles) away. Several buses a day run directly to Granada (€12-€13, 2hrs 15mins).

Granada’s new metro line calls at the city’s bus station (Estación de Autobuses), train station (Estación Ferrocarril) and stadium, Nuevo Los Cármenes, south of town. The service runs every 11-15mins, with more trains laid on around matches. Tickets (€1.35) are available from machines at stops or there’s also a tarjeta charge card (minimum fee €5) that deducts €0.82 per journey. The stadium is too far to walk from town.

City transport otherwise consists of two types of buses, red ones and little Alhambra ones. Pay the driver €1.40 or CrediBus cards are available at many stops, minimum fee €5, €0.87 deducted for each journey. Tickets and passes for the metro line and bus network are not interchangeable.

A local taxi can be contacted on +34 958 28 00 00.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Granada prides itself on its bar life and its tapas, traditionally (but not always) free. For a later-opening bar hub, try Calle Pedro Antonio de Alarcón in the student quarter. The local beer is Alhambra.

Most concur that the best and most expat-friendly pub to watch the game is Daly’s, formerly Paddy’s Pub (Calle Santa Escolástica 15), in the shadow of the Alhambra. The TVs are strategically placed and the Guinness is decent. 

By the Cathedral, Hannigan & Sons is another pub choice, with Murphy’s and Paulaner to complement the Guinness and TV sports. As you’re close by, you could also pop into the legendary Bodegas Castañeda, a local institution for beer and tapas, though it doesn’t do football. Nor does nearby Siloé, right beside the Cathedral, but its terrace is a convivial spot for a drink and a bite.

On the other side of the Cathedral, the Bar Trinidad has a nice local feel, as does the nearby Café Pub Liberia on Calle Duquesa, which makes a very strong case for being the best bar in town. Regular live music, table football and pool provide the entertainment, the crowd a nice mix of regulars and tourists happy to find somewhere non-touristy. 

Just off Duquesa, the Cinema Plaza café spreads out over Plaza Universidad – take a look inside for some classic old photos of Granada.

Between the university area and the train station, the Bistro del Mundo serves global beers on tap, decent food and has the good grace to screen TV football on the terrace The other side of the train station, the atmospheric Restaurant Ramírez is a great football-watching spot by the bullring. Close by, Martin’s also shows matches, in trendier, more contemporary surroundings.

Around Plaza Campo del Príncipe, you’ll find popular beer hall Capitán Amargo and, nearby, the Café Fútbol, purveyors of fine coffee, cakes and ice cream since 1903.

Away from the tourist sights, the nightlifey Calle Pedro Antonio de Alarcón still retains its traditional spots, such as the Café Bar La Esquina (No.59), with wine and beer labelled in honour of Granada CF, generous tapas and TV football. The larger Pub Babel (No.52) keeps rocking until 3am, 4am at weekends. One block over, the huge Continental Café Pub has enough room for 33 TVs and two big screens tuned to sport, as well as nearly 200 board games.

Towards the river, the Taberna Britannia on Calle de Mulhacén makes little effort at pub authenticity but shows games and serves cerveza. Távora on nearby Pintor Zuloaga is more like it, a great place for beer, chat and pinball.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadium and city centre

The Granada Tourist Office has details of local hotels. Granada is a popular, year-round tourist destination, with a huge influx of visitors during Semana Santa in Easter week.

Nearest the stadium, the Hotel Abades Nevada Palace is a treat-yourself four-star with pools indoor and out, spa, gym and starlit terrace. Two business-friendly hotels surround the Conference Centre by the river, a 15-minute walk from the stadium. The Saray echoes Granada’s Nasrid past with its pool and water feature while the luxurious spa hotel Senator offers attractive discounts for direct booking.

Nearer the centre, just over the river, the high-end Barceló Granada Congress, the former MA Nazaríes, is where the Spanish national team and the better Spanish club sides stay when they’re in town, taking advantage of the panoramic pool. The nearby old-school Hotel Reino de Granada has a mix of rooms, some capacious, some cramped.

In the shadow of the Alhambra and by the tapas bars of Plaza Campo del Príncipe, the Hostal La Ninfa provides comfortable, affordable rooms behind a striking façade. 

Around the Cathedral, the Hostal Pensión Antares is extremely cheap if you don’t need private facilities, and the Anacapri fills an 18th-century house with comfortable rooms in the mid-range category, one with a sun-catching terrace.

By the square of the same name, the Hotel Plaza Nueva offers views of Granada from its affordable, three-star rooms, as does the Hotel Macià Plaza alongside, recently revamped to gain boutique status. 

At lively Plaza Universidad, handy for the train station, La Perla provides a clean, comfortable room with a view without breaking the bank.