City Discovery: History is Alive in Granada, Spain

Granada is one of the last places in Spain where the bars offer free tapas (small plates of food) with each drink ordered.  (Check out the ISA Student Blog titled ‘Tapa the Food Chain’ written by alum Julia Chernicky!) Fun fact about the origin of tapas – customers were given a plate of food to cover their drink from flies!

Through architecture, food, and language, students are able to see the mix of Jewish, Christian and Moorish influences throughout the city of Granada. From the Cathedral of Granada and the Capilla, to the Real Jewish district of El Realejo, to the Alhambra and Arab baths– history and culture come to life in Granada.



Intercultural experiences highlight exposure with the local culture, promoting a multilateral exchange of ideas, language and opinions.

ISA organizes frequent opportunities to participate in language exchanges at local teterias (tea houses) around Granada. It’s through these ‘intercambios’ that our students are able to make personal connections and relationships with local Spaniards, all while perfecting their Spanish language skills.  In day-to-day life, ISA students living with host families or in a residencia will find themselves interacting constantly with local Spaniards, offering a truly immersive experience, both culturally and linguistically.

ISA semester students have the opportunity to participate in an optional excursion to Morocco. On this excursion, students will get a taste of Moroccan culture and will witness the origins of the Moorish roots that would eventually influence and still resonate in the culture and architecture of present-day Granada.  On this optional ISA excursion, students will visit the markets of Fez where they can interact with local vendors and artisans, take camel rides through the Sahara, and then camp out in the desert with local Berber guides, while learning about the intricacies of their culture in an interactive way that traditional tourists to Morocco may not have the opportunity to experience.



ISA excursions and cultural activities highlight historical parts of the local culture to help students better understand their new environment.

ISA’s included cultural excursions are designed to ensure that students discover the abundance of history located in the neighborhoods and landmarks of Granada.  ISA students will go on guided visits to the UNESCO Recognized World Heritage sites of Alhambra, and El Palacio de Generalife which are teeming with cultural and historical significance both to the Andalusia region of Spain as well as to the country as a whole. The Alhambra is the largest and best-preserved Moorish palace in Spain, and the most visited monument in Granada. Students will also visit the Cathedral of Granada, the first Renaissance church built in Spain, and the Royal Chapel, the burial place of the Catholic monarchs Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand.  Visiting these monuments will give students a visual timeline of the diverse history of Andalusia, as they see the styles and themes that prevailed under Moorish rule give way to the art and architecture brought on by the Reconquista and subsequent monarchy. To supplement this historical aspect, students will also regularly find themselves discovering how this rich history has influenced today’s culture.  ISA staff will lead a guided tour of the Albaicín, Granada’s old Muslim quarter, considered one of the city’s richest cultural treasures, and students will often find themselves exploring the Albaicin’s steep and narrow streets. They will later attend a flamenco show at Las Cuevas Los Tarantos in the Sacromonte neighborhood of Granada. This neighborhood has a reputation as a major center of flamenco song and dance, including the Zambra Gitana, an Andalusian dance originating in the Middle East.

Spring students will be able to experience one of the most important traditional events in Spanish and Catholic culture – Semana Santa. ISA staff will provide students with information on the history of Semana Santa, as well as inform them of events to attend throughout the city. Semana Santa features processions of pasos, floats of lifelike wooden sculptures often depicting Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, along with other saints and biblical figures. Some of the sculptures date back to the Baroque period and are considered artistic masterpieces, in addition to being culturally and spiritually important to the local Catholic population.  During Holy Week, the streets of Granada swell with residents and visitors, drawn to the spectacle and atmosphere.




Sociopolitical discovery highlights social and political activities or experiences.


In the recent past, Spain was ruled by a dictatorship, from which some sociopolitical implications remain. Students at the high advanced level of Spanish can enroll in the Hispanic Studies program at the Universidad de Granada and take courses such as Current Socio-political Topics in Spain and The Transition: from Franco’s Dictatorship to the Democracy of Today’s Spain to learn how Spain was and still is affected by this dictatorship.

The ISA Granada staff encourages students to get involved and volunteer in the community. Past ISA students have volunteered their time with the elderly, young children, and immigrants. They have also spent a day planting trees to reforest parklands near the Alhambra, cleared litter from the Cahorros Gorge hiking trails, organized a charity benefit concert and cooperated on projects involving animal refuge in the Sierra Nevada.

ISA semester and summer students interested in  Arabic and Islamic cultures can take Islamic Culture in Spain, The Arab World and the West: Past and Future, and even Arabic language courses in conjunction with their Spanish courses! Through these courses, students can gain a better understanding of the roots of Moorish influence in Spain and around the world, and also take a look at the biggest challenges facing the relationship between the Arab World and the West.  A city like Granada, which demonstrates a fascinating balance between its Moorish and Western influences, makes for an ideal setting in which to study this relationship.



Professional experiences provide exposure to professional development opportunities during an ISA program.

Through the Centro de Lenguas Modernas, internships in the field of education and at local NGO’s are available to students who have at least a high intermediate level of Spanish. Those students with a high advanced level of Spanish are able to participate in a Business internship placement. These internships are structured as a 3-credit course, and involve a classroom component, as well as an outside placement. Majors in education, social work and business can take advantage of these internship opportunities to help develop their professional experience.

For those students interested in becoming translators or Spanish teachers, the Hispanic Studies program gives students the opportunity to take classes such as Applied Linguistics in Teaching SpanishTeaching Spanish in Bilingual Schools, and Translation: English to Spanish. In the translation course, students are able to prepare news pieces for the Centro de Lenguas Modernas magazine, as well as translating audiovisual material for Spanish speakers. Business students in the Spanish Language, Culture and Electives program have the opportunity to take the Introduction to Business Spanish course, and students in the Hispanic Studies program can take a Business Spanish course. These courses are an excellent way for students to prepare themselves for a potential business career in a Spanish-speaking country!



Environmental experiences expose students to different environmental aspects of the host country.

ISA is committed to doing our part to lessen our carbon footprint and improve the world around us.  In addition to the initiatives we have in place back home at our offices in Austin, Denver, and Boston, we also maintain this commitment at our ISA offices abroad .  In Granada, the staff and students contribute to ISA’s green initiative by implementing a reuse and recycle system in the office, as well as encouraging students to donate old books and clothing to a local shelter in Granada

ISA students will visit the town of Las Alpujarras and Nerja on a weekend excursion. In Las Aplujarras, students will escape to nature with a hike through the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and visit some of the quaint villages in this area. Then, students will travel south to the beach town of Nerja. In just one weekend, ISA students are able to experience the beautiful contrasting landscapes of the Andalusia region. Granada truly offers the best of both worlds!

Explore Granada for yourself


Get more information

The 2015 City Discovery Series aims to showcase one of ISA’s program locations each week. Facts about each location and several Discovery Compass activity examples are given, however they are not a comprehensive list. These activities highlight the areas of Intercultural, Historical, Sociopolitical, Professional and Environmental discovery. The Discovery Compass aims to help students have the best possible study abroad experience by helping them to gain a better understanding of the local environment, customs and people through a variety of experiences.

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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