12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Alicante
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This sunny seaside locale was named Lucentum ("Place of Light") by the ancient Romans who settled here. Today, tourists are still drawn to the area's pleasant climate and beautiful setting in an expansive bay.
With the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean lapping against its sandy shores, Alicante is understandably a popular summer and winter resort destination on the Costa Blanca.
Alicante offers the ideal combination of leisure activities and cultural attractions. Popular pastimes include sunbathing on the sandy beaches, strolling along the waterfront promenade, and admiring masterpieces of art at renowned museums.
Well-designed to welcome visitors, Alicante has many high-rise hotels near the harbor and the beach. Throughout the city, lush gardens and elegant palm-fringed boulevards break up the urban sprawl.
Learn about the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Alicante.
See also: Where to Stay in Alicante
1. Castillo de Santa Bárbara
In a commanding position above the town, the Castillo de Santa Bárbara seems to sprout from a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. The hilltop location on Mount Benacantil is a testament to the castle's military purpose and has been a strategic asset as far back as the Carthaginian era.
The original ninth-century Islamic Alcazar was captured from the Moors by the Christian Prince Alfonso of Castile. The victorious battle was on the feast day of Santa Barbara, explaining the castle's name. During the reign of Philip II, the castle was renovated in Renaissance style.
The castle is open to the public for self-guided visits, as well as guided tours. Visitors can see La Torreta, the old keep (tower); the splendid reception hall of Philip II; the Patio de Armas; and the Revellín del Bon Repós rampart. Temporary exhibitions are also held at the castle throughout the year.
Tourists are astounded by the castle's ancient halls, its fascinating history, and the stunning panoramic views of the coastline. From the vantage point of the rampart and the tower, the outlook stretches over the town, across the bay, and to the hills in the north.
An excellent three-hour walking tour of Alicante starts with a visit to the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, where a local guide points out the castle's most interesting features. The tour also takes participants to the Barrio Santa Cruz (Old Town), the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), and the Explanada de España, as well as a few other important historic monuments.
Location: Mount Benacantil
Official site: www.castillodesantabarbara.com/index_en.html
2. Museo Arqueológico de Alicante (MARQ)
This superb archaeological museum takes visitors on a journey through 100,000 years of history. The collection covers prehistory; the classical period of antiquity with Greek, Roman, and Iberian artifacts; and the Middle Ages.
Highlights of the collection include the assortment of ancient coins, a figure of the goddess Tanit, and the Iberian ceramics. The medieval exhibit is especially impressive, with an assortment of more than 300 objects. Another interesting feature of the museum is a display that recreates a scene of Roman daily life.
The museum also presents educational information about the archaeological sites of Lucentum and Illeta, as well as the Sanctuary of Pla de Petracos, where many of the artifacts were discovered.
In addition to the collections, the museum shows visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the ways that archaeologists do their jobs through galleries devoted to explaining the methods behind the specialties of underwater archaeology, urban archaeology, and field archaeology. Exhibits also show how researchers learn about the past from the objects that they find.
Address: Plaza del Doctor Gómez Ulla, Alicante
3. Explanada de España
The Explanada de España, also known as the Paseo de la Explanada or the Promenade Explanada, is a lovely palm-shaded pedestrian promenade that runs parallel to the yacht marina and the port. This seafront walkway is paved with over six and a half million marble tiles, which produce a stunning mosaic wave pattern.
A hub of social life in Alicante, the Explanada de España is the ideal place for a stroll any time of day. It's particularly refreshing in the summer evenings with the cool Mediterranean breeze that brushes in from the harbor.
Tourists will enjoy relaxing at one of the sidewalk cafés and shopping for souvenirs. One section of the Explanada de España features an outdoor market where local artists create paintings, and artisans sell traditional handmade crafts.
Almost always buzzing with energy, the Explanada de España often provides a stage for street performers. In addition, cultural events take place throughout the year at the promenade's outdoor auditorium, La Concha, which is named for its shell shape. Happenings include music concerts and summertime festivals.
There are also a wide variety of food vendors, and just off the promenade tourists have their pick of dozens of excellent seaside restaurants.
The promenade begins at the Plaza Puerta del Mar and winds up at the Parque de Canalejas, a lush seaside park. Several of the city's top historic attractions can be seen while ambling along the promenade, including the Casa Carbonell, a splendid example of modernist architecture, and the Plaza Gabriel Miró, a delightful public square shaded by leafy hundred-year-old trees.
Families with younger children will want to visit El Mundo de los Niños (The World of Children) amusement park (near the Parque de Canalejas), which features carnival-type rides and games.
4. Basilica de Santa María
In the Barrio Santa Cruz historic quarter (Old Town), the Basilica de Santa María is the oldest church in Alicante and replaced Alicante's main mosque of the Moorish era. The church dates to the 14th century and was rebuilt by the Catholic Monarchs in the 15th century.
Originally Gothic in style, the basilica was remodeled in the 18th century with a Baroque facade and interior. On the main front of the exterior, the Virgin sculpture by Juan Bautista Borja stands out as a stunning specimen of detailed stone carving.
Another unique feature of the building is the pair of bell towers, which, although positioned on each side of the entrance, do not match — one was built in the 14th century and the other not until the 18th century.
The Santa Maria Basilica is open to the public. Visitors can admire the richly decorated sanctuary and the 18th-century Rococo high altar. The chapter house contains a 16th-century baptismal font crafted from Carrara marble. Entry to the basilica is free; tower access requires an admission fee. Guided tours are available.
Address: Plaza de Santa María, Alicante
5. Playa del Postiguet: A Beautiful City Beach
The Playa del Postiguet is found at the center of Alicante, tucked beneath the Castillo de Santa Barbara. This picturesque wide beach offers the serenity of gentle waves and calm turquoise waters that are ideal for swimming. Signposts indicate water safety on a daily basis.
Crowds flock here during summertime because of its fine golden sand and excellent facilities, including restaurants, public toilets, showers, beach volleyball areas, as well as sun parasols and lounge chairs for rent. Families will appreciate the children's play area designed for little kids.
The Playa del Postiguet is next to Alicante's lovely and spacious marina, where many yachts and private boats are docked. The Marina Deportiva del Puerto de Alicante is an enjoyable area for tourists to explore, with its stylish restaurants and inviting shops.
Address: Muelle 8 Zona de Levante, Alicante
6. Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Alicante
The Alicante Museum of Contemporary Art presents a superb collection of avant-garde 20th-century art, housed within a 17th-century Baroque building that stands opposite the Basilica de Santa María.
Opened in 2011, the museum features a permanent collection of contemporary art with 177 works of art: paintings, sculptures, and drawings. The collection includes masterpieces by prominent artists like Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Juan Gris, and Julio González.
The museum also displays works by two major Alicante artists. The Juana Francés collection celebrates the career of this pioneering female artist. The Eusebio Sempere collection comprises over 500 works by this Alicante artist best known for his geometric designs and optical illusions.
Address: 3 Plaza de Santa María, Alicante
7. Mercado Central de Alicante
Completed in 1912, the Central Market of Alicante is a landmark building that reveals an interesting mix of styles, incorporating various modernist elements into the façade.
Inside is a vibrant market where farmers, fishermen, and vendors make sure that the city is well-fed. The first floor is almost entirely dedicated to household items, dairy, and butcher stalls selling meat, while the second floor houses vegetable farmers and the fish market.
The market is open Monday through Saturday from 7am to 2:30pm (until 3pm on Saturdays). Local restaurants use this market as their source for daily ingredients, and residents of the city also come here to shop for specialty items and fresh produce.
Visiting this market immerses tourists in the sensory delights of a traditional European food market. The bustling atmosphere makes it a fun place to wander around.
Address: 10 Avenida Alfonso X El Sabio, 03004, Alicante
8. Playa de San Juan
This gorgeous sandy beach lies less than 10 kilometers (about a 15-minute drive) from the Alicante city center. With its expansive shoreline, the Playa de San Juan is ideal for sunbathing and relaxation.
The Playa de San Juan has been awarded a Blue Flag for water safety, and the calm waters are suitable for swimming and water sports. A wide variety of cafés, restaurants, and shops along the beach make it convenient for tourists to plan a full day here.
9. Concatedral San Nicolás de Bari
In the heart of the city, near the Town Hall, is the 17th-century church of San Nicolás de Bari (also known as the Concatedral or Co-Cathedral). Built between 1613 and 1662, the church was constructed on the site of a former mosque. It was dedicated to the town's patron saint, and the Catholic Church designated it as a cathedral in 1959.
While the exterior is plain, the interior is an impressive and awe-inspiring spiritual space. The sanctuary features notable retablos and a fine cloister.
This unique church exemplifies Herrerian style, an architectural school of 16th- and 17th-century Spain. Herrerian buildings are distinguished by austere facades and precise geometrical lines.
10. Ayuntamiento (Town Hall)
Just behind the park of the Explanada de España and near the Plaza Puerta del Mar, the Town Hall of Alicante makes a striking impression. This grand Baroque building has an ornate Churrigueresque facade and two imposing towers, which soar to 35 meters.
On the staircase leading up to the building is an instrument used in Spain as a reference point to measure the height above sea level.
The building is listed as a Historic Monument and is open to the public. Visitors should be sure to see the Salón Azul (Blue Room), which is decorated with furnishings from the epoch of Queen Isabel and the Capilla del Oratorio (chapel) where Mass is held.
Address: Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Alicante
11. Plaza de Gabriel Miró
Pleasantly shaded by leafy ficus trees, this charming square is a tribute to the renowned author of Alicante, Gabriel Miró. A fountain with classically inspired statues adorns the center, and a bust of Gabriel Miró stands at one end of the square.
Close to Alicante's Old Town, the Plaza de Gabriel Miró offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Visitors can relax on the terrace to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere or take an unhurried stroll through the beautiful grounds.
12. Cabo de las Huertas
Several small coves are just outside Alicante on the Cabo de las Huertas, between San Juan and Albufereta. The Cala Cantalars are small rocky coves found in a quiet residential area two kilometers from the Alicante city center. The Cala dels Jueus coves are both rocky and sandy. Both of these areas have calm waters and are great for scuba diving.
Where to Stay in Alicante for Sightseeing
The main tourist areas of Alicante are the Barrio Santa Cruz (Old Town), the nearby port and marina, and the beach. The most charming place to stay is the Old Town, but beach lovers will prefer being near the Playa del Postiguet in Alicante or by the Playa de San Juan, which is about a 15-minute drive from the city center. Here are some highly rated hotels in Alicante:
- A renovated historic convent in the Old Town was converted to the 5-star Hospes Amerigo. Close to restaurants, shops, and the port, this stylish modern hotel delights guests with its spacious, bright guest rooms and rooftop terrace overlooking the Santa Barbara Castle. Amenities include a fine-dining restaurant, rooftop swimming pool, indoor pool, fitness center, spa, sauna, concierge, and 24-hour front desk.
- The 4-star Meliá Alicante is a resort hotel with a pool at the marina, overlooking the beach. The hotel is ideally located within easy walking distance to many tourist attractions in the Barrio Santa Cruz.
- Also at the marina and an easy walk to the Barrio Santa Cruz, the 4-star Hotel Spa Porta Maris by Melia has outdoor and indoor pools, a fitness center, spa, Jacuzzi, and a restaurant that serves Mediterranean cuisine. This seaside hotel is located right next to the Playa del Postiguet beach.
- Eurostars Centrum Alicante is conveniently located on a residential street close to the Old Town and waterfront. This 4-star hotel has excellent amenities, including a fitness center, sauna, Turkish baths, spa treatments, and a Mediterranean restaurant.
- Near the lively market at the northern side of the Old Town and a 10-minute walk to the harbor, the 4-star Eurostars Lucentum is opposite an airport bus stop. The hotel has a fitness center and nightclub.
- The 4-star AC Hotel Alicante is opposite an airport bus stop and about a 15-minute walk from the Old Town and harbor. Amenities include a fitness center, a rooftop terrace with swimming pool, and room service. Some of the guest rooms have wonderful sea views.
- The 3-star Hotel Ciudad de Alicante is right by the beach and an airport bus stop, and just a short walk to the Old Town. Guest rooms feature balconies with views of the Castillo de Santa Bárbara. The hotel offers a 24-hour front reception desk and laundry service.
- Surprisingly affordable for a 3-star hotel, the Occidental Alicante is ideally located in the Old Town near many restaurants and shops and close to the Mercado Central. This recently remodeled hotel features modern guest rooms and a casual restaurant. The beach is about a 20-minute walk away.
- The Hotel Cervantes is in the city center near many shops and restaurants and a 15-minute walk to the port. This 2-star hotel offers basic guest rooms with air-conditioning and complimentary breakfast. Amenities include a 24-hour front reception desk and concierge.
Day Trips from Alicante
Playa de Los Saladares
Another excellent beach is Playa de Los Saladares, located seven kilometers from Alicante. The pristine golden-sand shoreline extends for nearly two kilometers and features sand dunes at one end. This beach offers a welcome escape to nature, along with public facilities.
The Playa de Los Saladares has public restrooms, showers, shops, restaurants, a beachfront promenade, and a children's play area. Beach umbrellas and lounge chairs are available for rent.
This beach is a great place for sunbathing and leisurely seaside strolls. The moderate waves make the water safe for wading or swimming.
Las Cuevas del Canelobre
Las Cuevas del Canelobre are a stunning natural cave system 24 kilometers from Alicante, located within the slopes of the Sierra del Cabeçó d'Or mountains, an area with breathtaking views of the coastline.
One of the caverns has been compared to a cathedral with its awesome 150-meter-long hall filled with a profusion of stalactites and stalagmites. Tourists will enjoy visiting this unique nature site.
Guided tours include colored lighting to illuminate the caves and music for ambience. The caves are sometimes used as a venue for concerts because they offer exceptional acoustics and a truly special ambience.
Travelers can escape to a small island off the coast of Alicante and enjoy being surrounded by the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Tabarca Island is the only inhabited island of the region, and the area around the archipelago has been designated a Mediterranean Marine Reserve.
The landscape boasts an incredible biodiversity of flora and fauna, and the island itself is rich in history having been a former pirate hideout, an 18th-century fortified town, and isolated fishing village prior to becoming a premier tourist destination.
There are plenty of things to do on the island, from simply enjoying the breathtaking views and idyllic Mediterranean ambience to visiting the island's museum, relaxing on the beach, and dining at one of the many excellent restaurants.
Tourists can reach the island for a nice day trip via an hour-long boat ride from the port of Alicante, or choose to spend the night in one of several small hotels.
From a distance, the historic village of Altea appears as a small group of buildings nestled on a hilltop. This medieval perched town, located about 45 minutes by car from Alicante, overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and offers sensational panoramic views.
The town is dominated by the Church of Virgin of Consuelo with its striking blue-and-white tiled dome. Characteristic whitewashed houses and atmospheric cobblestone streets lend old-world charm.
Many areas of the town have shaded terraces and viewpoints for taking in the picturesque scenery. Some of the narrow lanes turn into pedestrian staircases that lead down to the sea.
Altea is also renowned for its artisan craft workshops and art studios, as well as its summertime festivals.
In August on the Saturday closest to the feast day of Saint Lorenzo, the Castell de l'Olla puts on a spectacular festival with dancing, musical entertainment, and a dazzling fireworks show.
In late September, a festival celebrates the old traditions of the Christians and Moors of the region.
The town of Albacete is in the Castilla-La Mancha region, about 160 kilometers from Alicante, and is most quickly reached via train in around an hour.
In the old upper town (el Alto de la Villa) is the 16th-century Cathedral of San Juan Bautista. The building was originally designed by Diego de Siloé in Gothic style and was continued in Renaissance style. It has a fine Churrigueresque high altar, and the sacristy features five grisaille wall paintings of biblical scenes.
In the newer lower part of the town in the Parque Abelardo Sánchez is the Albacete Museum with three departments: archeology, fine arts, and ethnology. Among the treasures of the archeology collection are the Iberian sculptures from Cerro de los Santos, ancient Roman dolls made of ivory, ancient Roman mosaics from Balazote, and Gothic religious objects.
The Albacete province of the Castilla-La Mancha region boasts a well-preserved medieval town, Chinchilla de Montearagón, which is noteworthy for its monumental fortified hilltop castle. The town is famous for its traditional Easter celebrations and also hosts a renowned theater festival every year in July.
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