12 Top-Rated Attractions in Alicante & Easy Day Trips
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. The sunny locale was named Lucentum (the "place of light") by the ancient Romans who settled here. Visitors are still drawn by the pleasant climate and seaside setting. From every angle, the coastal views are sensational, especially from the hilltop Castillo that presides over the city.
Tourists visit Alicante for a combination of leisure activities and cultural attractions. Popular pastimes include sunbathing on the sandy beaches, strolling along the waterfront promenades, and visiting historic monuments and fascinating museums with renowned archaeology and fine arts collections.
Alicante has many high-rise buildings and hotels for tourists to choose from, and lush gardens and elegant palm-fringed boulevards break up the urban sprawl. Find the best places to visit in this popular seaside town with our list of the top attractions in and around 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. Tourists are astounded by the castle's ancient halls, its fascinating history, and the stunning panoramic views. From this vantage point, the outlook stretches over the town, along the coastline, and to the hills in the north. Visitors can see La Torreta, the old keep; the splendid reception hall of Philip II; and the Revellín del Bon Repós rampart. Temporary exhibitions are also held at the castle throughout the year.
An excellent three-hour walking tour of Alicante starts with a guided tour of the Castillo de Santa Bárbara and an overview of its history. The tour also visits the Old Town, Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), and the Explanada de España, among other top tourist attractions.
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. Themed galleries include those dedicated to Iberian culture, Roman civilization, and the medieval period. 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 the ways in which researchers can learn more about the past from the objects they find, as well as the rest of the scientific process.
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 beautiful pedestrian street that runs parallel to the marina, starting in the Old Town. Lined with palm trees, the Explanada is paved with over six and a half million marble tiles, which produce a stunning mosaic wave pattern. This is the ideal place for a stroll any time of day, and it's particularly refreshing in the summer evenings with the cool Mediterranean breeze that brushes in from the harbor.
In addition to being the perfect place for a sightseeing walk, the esplanade is an excellent place to find unique souvenirs, tasty treats, and other things to do. A permanent outdoor market lines sections of the walk where local artisans sell traditional crafts and products, and you will also find artists along the path, always happy to sell their renditions of the idyllic scene.
You will also find plenty of entertainment along the way, from street performers to festivals and cultural events, and families with younger children will want to visit el Mundo de los Niños (The World of Children) amusement park, where there are carnival-type rides and games. There are also a wide variety of food vendors, and just off the promenade tourists have their pick of dozens of excellent seaside restaurants. Several of the city's top historic attractions are also along the route, including the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), Casa Carbonell, and Plaza Gabriel Miró.
4. Basilica de Santa María
In the historic Santa Cruz quarter, the Basilica de Santa María is the oldest church in Alicante. The church was built by the Catholic monarchs in the 13th century on the site of a former mosque. Originally Gothic in style, the church 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. Step inside the church to admire the richly decorated sanctuary and the 18th-century Rococo high altar. It is also home to a 16th-century baptismal font and a Baroque-style Valencian organ, which was built in 1653.
Address: Plaza de Santa María, Alicante
5. Playa del Postiguet: A Beautiful City Beach
In the center of Alicante at the foot of the Castillo de Santa Barbara, this beautiful, expansive beach offers the serenity of gentle waves and deep turquoise waters. It is popular for its fine golden sand and excellent facilities, including public toilets, showers, and water sports rentals, as well as sun parasols and lounge chairs for rent. The calm waters are ideal for swimming, and all potential safety hazards are signposted on a daily basis. Families will appreciate the children's play area designed for little kids.
The Playa del Postiguet is next to Alicante's lovely and spacious harbor, where many yachts and private boats are docked and the yacht club (Club Náutico Alicante) is a hub of activity. The marina 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 Contemporaneo (Museum of Contemporary Art / MACA)
The Alicante Museum of Contemporary Art presents a superb collection of 20th-century Spanish art, housed within a 17th-century Baroque building that stands opposite the Basilica of Santa Maria. Opened in 2011, the museum features permanent collections devoted to the 20th century, Mediterranean art, and two major Alicante artists, as well as a space for traveling exhibits and works on loan.
The museum's largest portion is the twentieth century art collection, which features over 175 works of art by prominent artists like Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Juan Gris, and Julio González. The Juana Francés collection celebrates the life work of this pioneering female artist with more than a hundred works in a diverse variety of media. The Eusebio Sempere collection focuses on this Alicante artist whose work was best known for its geometric and optical illusions, with nearly 600 total works on display.
Address: 3 Plaza de Santa María, Alicante
7. Mercado Central de Alicante
Completed in 1912, the Central Market of Alicante is a landmark building built in an interesting mix of styles, incorporating Art Nouveaux elements into the impressive façade. Inside, you will find a lively 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.
Local restaurants use this market as their source for daily ingredients, as well as families who live all over the city. The bustling atmosphere and old-world reminiscence make this a fun place to stroll through. The market is open Monday through Saturday from 7am to early afternoon.
Address: Av d ' Alfons X El Sabi,8. 03004, Alicante
8. Playa de San Juan
This gorgeous sandy beach lies less than five kilometers from the Alicante city center. With its expansive shoreline, the Playa de San Juan is ideal for sunbathing and relaxation. The beach 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.
Another excellent beach is Playa de Los Saladares, located seven kilometers from Alicante in a pristine wetland area. The large, sandy beach offers a welcome escape to nature, along with public facilities. The beach is equipped with toilets, showers, and a children's play area. Beach umbrellas and lounge chairs are available for rent. Los Saladares Beach is a great place for sunbathing and nature walks, and the moderate waves make the water safe for wading or swimming.
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 historic monument 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 Espana and near the Plaza Puerta del Mar, the town hall of Alicante makes a striking impression. This grand Baroque building has a beautiful 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 open to the public, and visitors should be sure to see the Salón Azul (Blue Room), which is particularly dazzling. The building also displays some interesting Dalí art works.
Address: Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Alicante
11. Plaza de Gabriel Miró
Pleasantly shaded by leafy trees, this charming and romantic square is a tribute to the renowned author of Alicante, Gabriel Miró. A gorgeous fountain with classically inspired statues adorns the center, and a bust of Gabriel Miró is at one end of the square. Lining the borders of the square are magnificent Art Nouveau and other monumental buildings.
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 just outside Alicante between San Juan and Albufereta are popular among scuba divers. 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 in Cabo de las Huertas; some are rocky and others are sandy coves. Both of these areas have calm waters and are great for scuba diving.
This is an excellent beach for those looking to avoid crowds, however it is recommended for adults only, as it is a preferred spot for those who prefer to shed their swimsuits, thanks to its secluded location.
Where to Stay in Alicante for Sightseeing
Most of the tourist attractions and things to do in Alicante are in or close to the old town and the adjoining harbor and marina. Catch the lift to hilltop Castillo de Santa Bárbara from beautiful Postiguet beach, an easy walk from anywhere in the old town. Here are some highly rated hotels in Alicante:
- Luxury Hotels: Occupying a former convent in the old town, close to restaurants, shops, and the port, Hospes Amerigo has smartly decorated rooms and a rooftop pool with a stunning view of the Santa Barbara Castle. Melia Alicante is a resort hotel with a pool at the marina, overlooking the beach and Mediterranean and an easy walk to old town attractions. Also at the marina and beach and five minutes from the old town restaurants, Hotel Spa Porta Maris & Suites del Mar has outdoor and indoor pools, saunas, and whirlpools.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Eurostars Centrum Alicante has a rooftop terrace, sauna, and steam room, on a residential street within an easy walk of the old town area and waterfront. Near the lively market at the northern side of the old town, 10 minutes from the harbor, Eurostars Lucentum is opposite an airport bus stop and has free, fast Wi-Fi. Almost opposite the bus station, which is also an airport bus stop, and about a 15-minute walk from the old town and harbor, the green AC Hotel Alicante has a small pool.
- Budget Hotels: Right by the beach and an airport bus stop, and a short walk from the old town, Tryp Ciudad de Alicante has views of the castle from guest room balconies. NH Rambla de Alicante is in the old town near the bustling market, a 10-minute walk from the beach. Also a short walk to the beach and attractions, and surrounded by shops and restaurants, Hotel Cervantes has basic air-conditioned rooms, free breakfast, and free Wi-Fi.
Day Trips from Alicante
Cuevas de Canelobre
The Cuevas de Canelobre are a stunning natural cave system 24 kilometers from Alicante, located within the slopes of the Sierra de Cabeza de Oro mountains, an area with wonderful 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.
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. 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.
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 the Castell de L'Olla puts on a fireworks show, and in late September, a festival celebrates the old traditions of the Christians and Moors of the region.
The town of Albacete is in 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 objects from archeological sites in the province, including Iberian sculptures from Cerro de los Santos, ancient Roman dolls made of ivory, ancient Roman mosaics from Balazote, and Gothic religious objects.
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