1. Climb up to Santa Barbara Castle
Santa Barbara Castle is a tenth century fortress which has played an important role in the history of Alicante. The imposing location is one of the main draws – from its position atop Mount Benacantil the castle provides unrivalled views of Alicante and the surrounding area, especially from ‘La Torreta’ or the upper keep. The Museum of the City of Alicante (MUSA) is located inside of the castle and has 10 exhibition halls covering the history of the city and the castle.
Opening times: (Oct to Mar) Daily, 10am – 8pm; (April, May, June and Sept) 10am – 10pm; (July & Aug) 10am – 12am.
Location: Mount Benacantil. Walk, drive or take a lift (€2.70 per person) to the top from Postiguet Beach.
2. Dig deeper at MARQ Provincial Archaeological Museum
A visit to MARQ Provincial Archaeological Museum goes hand in hand with a trip to the Santa Barbara Castle and Museum and the Guadalest Valley (see below). The award-winning MARQ Museum explores the journey Alicante has taken from the Roman era to more recent times, local geography and the nature behind the varied landscapes which surround the city through interactive exhibitions, artefacts and audio-visual displays.
Opening times: Tues to Fri 10am – 7pm, Sat 10am – 8.30pm, Sun & holidays 10am – 2pm.
Location: Plaza Dr. Gómez Ulla.
Price: €3, Concessions €1.50, under 8s are free.
3. Browse the Alicante Museum of Contemporary Art (MACA)
Art enthusiasts will enjoy the collection of twentieth century contemporary art at the Alicante Museum of Contemporary Art, hosted in a Baroque town house which also happens to be the oldest civil building in the Old Town of Alicante. There are over 800 pieces of art across three collections at the museum from greats such as Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris and Juana Frances, as well as local artist, Eusebio Sempere, who founded the collection.
Opening times: Tues to Sat 10am – 8pm (summer opening at 11am); Sun & holidays 10am – 2pm.
Location: Plaza de Santa Maria.
4. Go traditional at Gravina Museum of Fine Arts (MUBAG)
Continuing with the arts theme, the Gravina Museum of Fine Arts is little more traditional in its tastes, with a focus on paintings and sculptures of Alicante by regional artists from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century such as Antonio Gisbert, Francisco Salzillo and Joaquin Agrasot. Gravina Palace itself, or the Palacio Provincial, is worth a gander, too, its stone facade built from the mountain rock from the nearby Sierra de San Julián.
Opening times: Tues to Sat 10am – 8pm, Sun & holidays 10am – 2pm. (July & Aug only) Tues to Sat 11am – 9pm, sun & holidays 11am – 3pm.
Location: Gravina Palace, Carrer Gravina, Old Town.
5. Snorkel on Tabarca Island
Alicante isn’t traditionally thought of as a destination for snorkelling, yet an amazing place to do so is the islet of Tabarca, a few miles off the coast of Alicante. As a protected marine reserve, Tabarca is a haven for marine life and birds including loggerhead turtles, lobsters and a variety of fish. After snorkelling you can explore the small islet’s attractions which include beaches, quaint whitewashed streets, church, lighthouse and local restaurants serving Tabarca’s speciality dish; caldero, a rice and fish stew. There are three boats daily travelling between Tabarca Island and Alicante Port, taking around 45 minutes each way.
6. Descend into Canelobre Caves
Canelobre Caves are located in Busot, a scenic 24km drive from Alicante. Take a guided tour of the caves in the side of the mountain to see the jagged teeth of the stalacites and stalagmites, made all the more dramatic by the coloured lighting displays. Don’t miss the dramatic 70-metre high cave, one of the tallest in Spain, and resembling a vaulted cathedral ceiling. Tours are held throughout the day and take around 45 minutes.
Opening times: (Sept to June) Tues to Fri 10.30am – 4.50pm, Sat, Sun & holidays 10.30am – 5.50pm. (July & Aug/Holy Week) Daily 10.30am – 7.30pm.
Location: Busot, Alicante province.
Price: Adults €7.50, Children 5-14 €3.50.
7. Guadalest Valley
Guadalest Valley, 63km from Alicante, is one of the most visited attractions on the Costa Blanca. There are endless photo opportunities thanks to the stunning views, waterfalls and Guadalest Village situated on the mountain top, overlooking a reservoir. The village itself has a number of attractions such as the Guadalest Castle, shops selling local produce and crafts, and eight museums including the Miniatures of Manuel Ussa Museum and Doll’s Houses Museum. There are guided coach tours available from Alicante Marina to Guadalest Valley, or hire a car from Alicante to explore the area at your own pace (and make the most of those viewpoints!).
8. Basílica de Santa María
Although it’s not a particularly colourful building, both the exterior and interior of the Basílica de Santa María (Santa Maria Church) are impressive. Intricate stonework in a Baroque style outlines the door into the small church, which was built between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. Inside, watch out for the intricate Rococo altarpiece and seventeenth century organ.
Opening times: Mornings/religious services only – check with your hotel or tourist office for times.
Location: Old Town, Plaza de Santa Maria.
9. Join in with Hogueras de San Juan
Alicante has a calendar full of exciting events, yet none are more prominent than the Bonfires of Saint John, a summer solstice festival celebrated along the Spanish coast. It takes place between the 19th and 24th June, and events include an International Folklore Parade, Street Band Parade and a fireworks show culminating in the final event, the burning of the ninots, or wooden and papier maché figures; these days, they’re more often dressed up to look like contemporary politicians and celebrities. The Bonfires of Saint John are such an important part of Alicante culture that there is a Fogueres Festival Museum, documenting the traditions, costumes and wooden ninots from previous festivals who’ve managed to avoid a fiery demise. For visitors, it’s probably the best beach party you’re likely find in these parts.
10. Buy local
Shops in Alicante are a treasure trove for locally produced leather pieces such as handbags and purses, along with crafts and handmade jewellery. The main shopping street is the Rambla de Mendez Nunez, a leafy thoroughfare dotted with cafes and bars. To the north of here, the fascinating Mercado Central farmer’s market is a must. Housed in a grand 100-year-old building, you’ll find dozens of stalls selling local produce including fresh fruit, wines and spices.
11. Cocktails on Plaza Portal de Elche
One of Alicante’s favourite places to refuel is the fig-tree-festooned Plaza Portal de Elche, something of a hot spot as evening falls. It’s on the bottom half of the Rambla de Mendez Nunez, on the east side and is bristling with cafe bars with open-air tables spilling out into the street. Try 26 Cafe Lounge Bar for good-value cocktails with generous measures.
12. Taste fresh seafood at Pesca al Peso
For fresh unfussy seafood that speaks for itself, head to this local favourite. Its concept is simple – pick out the juicest-looking morsels from the market-style display, pay for what you eat by weight and collect when it’s ready and piping hot. Add sides like rice and salad and you’re done!
Opening times: 12pm – 5pm & 7pm – 1am.
Location: Calle Mayor 22.
Price: Mains €9-20.
13. Pick your Alicante beach
You may be looking for a culture-fuelled city break, but you are on the Costa Blanca after all, so set aside at least one day for sunning yourself on the toasty warm sands. The shores hereabouts are well known for their Blue Flag standards, and there are lots of them, from central Postiguet beach to the more unusual Playa de Agua Amarga, developed specially with dogs in mind, including umbrella lounge pads where your pooch can relax in the shade! Crowded resorts not your thing? To spread out your towel without fearing of bumping elbows, go for a quiet spot like La Almadraba, perfect for watching the sun go down.
14. Sample the local vines
Not many people know the region around Alicante is a wine-producing hotspot. Vinalopó is a rural area some 45 minutes from the city where you can spend a leisurely day tasting various vintages in the local bodegas (wine cellars), often paired with other regional specialties like olives and antipasti. Look out for the local rich and fruity red, Monastrell. Tramuntana offer day tours with experienced guides who will offer up a little wine-making history on the side of your tipples.
15. Head north
Explore the Alicante province to the north, and you might find that slice of authentic Spanish life you’ve been craving. Jávea is a historic port just over an hour’s drive from the city, where you can wander through low-rise sandstone buildings and feel the breeze from the marine in the unchanged fishing community of Pueblo. Alternatively, head for the hills, to villages like the little-heard-of Sax, a town with an intriguing mix of medieval and Moorish heritage, looked over by a dramatic hill-top castle. Half the fun of exploring this region is the journey, where citrus-scented trees line the hills and the silence in the lush valleys is broken only by occasional parish church bells.
How to get to Alicante
Like many other Spanish holiday destinations, you can get direct flights to Alicante from several regional UK airports like Newcastle and Belfast International, as well as London airports Luton, Stansted, Gatwick and Southend. With easyjet and Ryanair operating most of the routes, you’ll have no problem finding a budget fare.
The nearest airport to Alicante is Alicante Airport, located in Elche, around 9km outside the city and also the closest to other Costa Blanca resorts like Benidorm.
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Where to stay in Alicante
For the cheapest accommodation, try a city centre hostel like X Hostel Alicante, ideal for young travellers wanting to mix with the party crowd (but bring your earplugs if you want to sleep at the weekends!) Dorm beds cost from £14.
More peaceful rooms can be found at Hotel Castilla Alicante, further up the coast near Playa San Juan, though the area is still well-populated with supermarkets and other amenities (from £34). Looking for a luxury hotel? Get a surprising amount for your money (£60+ a night) at El Plantio Golf Resort. Views from the rooms look over the lovely gardens, backed by mountain scenery, and it’s handily located between the city and Alicante Airport.
*Published March 2017. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.
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