Sydney or Melbourne, Amsterdam or Rotterdam, Brussels or Antwerp, Vancouver or Toronto, Barcelona or Madrid; a lot of countries have two cities who are ‘the best’. Some like one, others like the other. Nicaragua has the same issue. It’s either Leon or Granada. If you like one, you like the other less; or the other way around. Both cities are beautiful in their own way. Leon is the more relaxed, progressive, student city. Granada is more conservative, more touristic.
Where in Leon the tourist ‘gather’ around on the central square in front of the cathedral and then dissolve in to the rest of the city, they ‘all’ hang around in Granada on the central square and Calle la Calzada. It’s Granadas main stripe, full of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops with extremely expensive stuff. The good thing of one big, main tourist area is that the rest of the city is for the people who don’t like to be around tourist, but around locals. You don’t have to go far from the central square, because just behind it is Calle Altravesada, the main market street for the locals, full of inexpensive eateries, shops and the chocolate museum, where you can make your own chocolate: from bean to bar.
For those who are willing to leave the bars at Calle la Calzada behind them, Granada has a lot to offer: churches, beautiful houses, a nice waterfront and a beautiful cemetery. Okay, maybe a cemetery is not something you normally would visit if you go to a city, but the Granada Cementario is worth it. Six of Nicaragua’s presidents are buried here, alongside other famous and wealthy citizens. The main attraction is the Capilla de Animas (Chapel of Spirits), this neoclassical stone (1880) is a scale model of the French chapel.
If you don’t fancy going to the cemetery, you can always visit Fortaleza La Polvora of Fortaleza de Armas, as it was called when it was constructed in 1748. This fort looks out all the way to Lago de Nicaragua and was built to protect Granada to foreigners and to it’s bitter rival Leon. The tension between the two cities erupted in a civil war in the 1850’s. To win the fight, Leon hired William Walker, who conquered Granada but then decided to rule the whole of Nicaragua from Granada. He was kicked out in 1856, destroying the whole city on his way out.
The city had been rebuilt and is now full of cobblestone roads, churches, nice squares, big houses, beautiful, wide spread streets, dodgy back alleys and a beautiful waterfront to walk by. If it’s better than Leon, is up to you to decide.