Top 10 Alicante attractions

Shimmering in the sun on Spain’s Costa Blanca, Alicante is a jewel often overlooked in favour of its busier neighbours. Its airport is perhaps best known as the gateway to popular nearby resorts such as Benidorm. But those in the know stay put in Alicante, wandering through its old town, strolling and dining on the marina, touring the grand castle and tasting the tantalizing tapas as the sun sets over the sand.

There are plenty of things to do in Alicante, whether your taste is for relaxation, culture, food, history or a lively mixture of them all. Apply your sunscreen and get out there – this is a city to be savoured.

Cream of Iberian art

One of the great things about Spain is discovering its modern museums tucked away inside centuries-old buildings. Casa de la Asegurada - a former prison – is filled with wonderful 20th-century art, all housed within a building that’s over 300 years older.

The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Alicante – the Contemporary Art Museum – is the premier gallery in town and the place to head for if you’re seeking out work from some of the most famous and celebrated artists of all time. Boasting pieces from Picasso, Dali, Miro and other Spanish art icons, this huge collection occupies a whole block. Set aside a few hours to explore it.

Basilica de Santa Maria 

Like much of Spain, Alicante has been prone to invasion over the centuries. This has led to a rich tapestry of culture, with many influences washing over the city throughout its storied past. Witness the results first-hand in the city’s arresting architecture – as well as in the echoes of what stood before. You’ll see signs of the city’s mixed past down every street in Alicante. The Mosques prominent during the Moorish reign were replaced by churches and cathedrals as part of the Reconquista. 

Alicante’s Basilica de Santa Maria is built over the site of a former place of Islamic worship. It's a simple Gothic building, standing since the 14th century, but with an updated façade. Make sure you check out the wonderfully intricate altarpiece inside to get a flavour for how important religion is in Alicante.

Castillo de Santa Barbara

Looming large over Alicante is Mount Benacantil, which, as well as being one of the area’s most stunning sights, is home to what is perhaps its biggest attraction – Castillo de Santa Barbara.

This vast fortress dates from the 9th century, back when the peninsula was under Moorish rule – and the influence of that empire is clear to see. The current name, Castle of Santa Barbara, comes from the 13th century, when the Moorish rulers were ousted by the Spanish, who recaptured the fortress. 

That wasn’t the end of the story, however – it was subsequently held by the Aragonese, French and English, before becoming a prison and eventually falling into disuse. When it was opened to the public, lifts were installed inside the mountain, whisking you up to the top to explore the fascinating museum and see the stunning views across the city.

Bask on the beach

While Alicante has much to offer away from the beach, it would be a shame not to spend some time relaxing in the sun. There are plenty of urban beaches to choose from throughout the city, including Albufereta and Postiguet. But the best of the bunch might just be Playa de San Juan. The short drive out of the city means it doesn’t get as busy as the city centre beaches. There are 2 miles of sand available, so you’ll always be able to find a great spot to relax for the day. Rent a sunbed or park your towels on the sand – you’ll also find bars and restaurants aplenty, plus pedal boats.

Festival of fire

In June, be swept up in the wild festivities of Les Fogueres de Sant Joan – the bonfires of Saint John. A celebration of John the Baptist, the city comes alive with fireworks and bonfires, while elaborate papier-mâché monuments are built and then left to perish in the raging fires.

It’s one of Spain’s liveliest and most vibrant festivals, and you can explore its history at the Museu de Fogueres. A vote each year saves a single effigy from the bonfires. The museum showcases the winners from throughout the years. The exact date changes every year, so check ahead.

Concatedral de San Nicolás de Bari 

Head into the lively Barrio de Santa Cruz to discover Concatedral de San Nicolás de Bari – the awe-inspiring co-cathedral of Saint Nicholas of Bari. 

The 17th-century Roman Catholic church was built from local sandstone on the sight of a former mosque, and is dedicated to the city’s patron saint. You can still see trace elements of the mosque in the cloister area, but chances are you’ll be transfixed by the huge 15th-century organ, the Baroque interior and vivid altarpiece. 

The old town

If you’ve no agenda beyond ‘wandering’, then El Barrio is the place to be. Alicante’s old town is the kind of place in which you’ll want to get lost. Cobbled streets, tight alleys, pretty plazas and local homes bedecked with scented and colourful flowers - it feels like a different planet to the beach and marina. Mix with visitors and locals alike, while enjoying the calm during the day. Return at night to hit tapas bars that don’t close until the next morning. 

Market forces

The city’s central market – Mercado Central – was damaged by bombs during the Spanish Civil War, but has managed to retain some of its early 20th-century modernist elements. It was finished in 1912 and was clearly influenced by the ‘Modernista’ art and architecture movement, then popular throughout Spanish cities. Today it remains a thriving, bustling place to stock up on fresh local produce, or just to witness the theatre of the market.

Park of palms

There are plenty of urban parks here - little patches of greenery providing welcome relief from the sun-parched rocks. Best of all is the tranquil Parque el Palmeral on the city’s outskirts. Among the myriad of palm trees, you’ll stumble upon waterfalls and pretty bridges - a cool oasis of relaxation. Head for Mercado Central to stock up on some superb Spanish delicacies for a blissful picnic here.

The promenade

One of the most visually arresting elements of Alicante is La Explanada de Espana - the city’s iconic promenade. Constructed in the 19th century, its tri-coloured pattern is made up of millions of tiles, creating a captivating wave pattern that mimics the nearby sea. Go for a stroll and take in the fresh air as you peruse the market stalls – packed with handmade gifts – and the irresistible cafes and stalls offering sumptuous chocolate con churros.

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