A guide to Alicante, Spain

Alicante is an absolute gem on Spain’s southern coast, or Costa Blanca. With beautiful beaches, Spanish culture, amazing food, a hilltop castle, and several great museums, it’s the perfect base for all Southern Spain has to offer. We flew direct into Alicante and made it our home for a 2 week summer beach holiday. We did venture outside of the city center a few times, as there is decent public transportation, but you don’t have to because there’s plenty to do within Alicante.

If you’re headed to Alicante in the late spring, summer, or early fall, you’re likely wanting a beach trip! There are plenty of beautiful beaches near Alicante to soak up the sun, and splash in the waves. We spent several days on the beach, even buying an umbrella to use during the trip because the July sun is HOT! The closest beach to the city center is Playa del Postiguet. It’s not as pretty as the others, but there are plenty of waves, as well as beach bars to stop for a drink. It’s walking distance to the city center. We took the tram to San Juan Playa, which has miles of sand and waves. There is no shortage of restaurants and bars on this strip. This was our favorite beach. The tram is easy and cheap in Alicante. Line 4 and Line 5 go to the San Juan Playa strip, or you can take Line 3 and get off at Costa Blanca and walk down the boardwalk to the perfect beach spot. A single ticket is less than 1.50. If the beach isn’t your thing, or you’re heading to Alicante off-season, there is still a plethora of things to do!

As far as accommodations in Alicante, there are a variety to choose from, including beachfront and some in the city center. We opted for a one bedroom apartment with a kitchen in the city center, that we found on booking.com. Cisneros Apartments was the perfect stay for us, with good A/C (something we don’t have at all in England) and a great location. We were staying for two weeks, so wanted access to a kitchen so we didn’t have to eat out every night. We hit up the market for fresh meat, olives, and produce, and also stopped at a nearby Supercor.

FOODS TO TRY IN ALICANTE

Coca de Mollita con chocolate

Coca de mollita con chocolate was recommended to us by our tour guide, and I never argue with a food recommendation that includes chocolate. I quickly became obsessed with this pastry – it’s dry and crumbly and crunchy and chocolately all at once, and unlike anything I’ve had. It’s a regional recipe from Alicante, and can be found at local bakeries such as La Masa de Tomassa. This is a must try if you like your desserts to have a mix of salty and sweet!

A must try when in Alicante!

Berenjenas con miel

This translates to fried eggplant with honey, and it’s a very popular Andalusian dish, found all over Alicante with some variations. Many places serve the eggplant with honey AND goat cheese, which we found to be a delightful combination. We ordered this dish almost every time we went out to eat and it’s truly delicious (even if you aren’t a big fan of eggplant or find it too bitter). It’s a must try in Alicante, and our favorite place to have it is at La Barrita de Santa Maria.

Patatas Bravas

Patatas Bravas is a Spanish dish that means “spicy potatoes”. The potatoes are cut into cubes, pan fried and topped with a spicy, creamy sauce. They may look simple, but don’t be fooled they are delicious, and you’ll see them on menus everywhere. Make sure to try some, especially if you are a carb lover like I am!

Arroz Con…

Alicante’s version of paella is slightly different from what you’d expect in Valencia. The name is Arroz con pesce, or Arroz con carne, etc. (Basically Rice with fish, rish with chicken, rice with meat…) Each restaurant has their own version of it, and the rice used is different from the rice used in traditional paella, though I couldn’t tell you how. To the outsider, it looks very much like paella and is often a meal for two people. However, in Alicante, they have their own way of making it and it’s slightly different. We had Arroz con pollo and enjoyed it. I’m always up for trying something unique to the area.

Empanadas

If you’ve never had an empanada, you are missing out! These fried dough pastries are filled with meats, cheeses, fish, and veggies. There are many little empanada shops in Alicante to try. We really enjoyed Ona Empanada in Albufereta, but also tried the different shops in the city.

RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATIONS

La Barrita de Santa Maria – a small, local place serving regional cuisine. Some dishes are tapas sized, others are entree. We ordered a bunch and shared and it was all delicious. This is the best place for berenjenas (in our opinion). The location is great too – it’s in the square outside of the Cathedral by the same name. It’s the perfect spot for outdoor dining.

In Bocca Al Lupo – you can’t go wrong with Italian food and this place had great pizzas. We ate here twice.

Bodeguita 1999 – serves authentic Spanish food, with traditional meats and seafood. Another great place for berenjenas con miel.

Mish Mish – a Mediterranean/Lebanese restaurant with delicious food and unique flavors. Mediterranean food is one of my favorites, so I really enjoyed this place and thought everything had excellent flavor. You can dine inside or outside.

Madness Coffee – this place is the BEST! They have amazing coffees, fraps, lattes. You can eat/drink in or takeaway. We went here more than I’d like to admit. We kept saying we would come back for breakfast because the menu looked good, but we never made it. Try the nutella frap!

THINGS TO DO IN ALICANTE

Visit Castillo De Santa Barbara

This 16th century castle is an icon of the city. Located on the top of Mount Benacantil, it’s visible throughout the city. There are multiple routes up the castle, with the option to take a taxi part or almost the whole way. We walked up the mountain, as there are paths the whole way. Our route up the hill started in the Santa Cruz neighborhood of Alicante. It’s a hot, steep hike in the summer, so wear comfortable shoes and bring water! We took a different route down, starting near the castle walls and coming back through the city behind the castle. No matter how you get up there, you will be treated to gorgeous views along the way. When we arrived, we weren’t expecting a party atmosphere, but that’s what we got! A “pirate” made us the best mojitos we had in Spain, so worth the sweaty hike up. There were many food vendors as well. The castle doesn’t have much to see like a traditional castle, but the views are incredible! Go for the views; stay for the drinks! Plus, if you’re walking up there, you’re burning off some of those calories.

Explore the neighborhood of Santa Cruz

Barrio Santa Cruz is a beautiful neighborhood in Alicante on the slope of Benacantil Mountain. It’s a lively neighborhood with picturesque white houses with colorful flowers, and one path up to Castillo De Santa Barbara. If you like photography, this charming neighborhood is a must visit! If you’re short on time you can walk this route up to the castle, and combine the two trips! There are a lot of steps to climb, so wear comfortable shoes. Along the way, you can visit the Stations of the Cross if you are religious. During Holy Week, floats are carried up through the neighborhood.

Volvo Ocean Race Museum

One of Alicante’s free attractions, the Volvo Ocean Race Museum is really well done and worth a visit! The museum is dedicated to telling the history and stories behind the most grueling sailing race in the world. The stories and details are incredible and we were sucked in quickly, reading every detail and sitting down to watch the videos and interviews. The journey these athletes undertake is incredible, full of danger, insane weather, and challenges. You will be mesmerized by their tales and I was shocked this museum was free. We spent almost two hours in there and it’s a must visit when in Alicante! If you’re reading this and you’ve never heard of this race – google it, these athletes are insane!!

Mercado

For me, a city market is a must see attraction in every city we’ve been! Spanish markets definitely do not disappoint. The two story indoor mercardo in Alicante is a great place to visit; as we had access to cooking facilities, we purchased our meat and produce there regularly. The market is huge, and houses many meat stalls, seafood, olives, produce, bakeries, and sweets. Many of the vendors speak some English, between that and google translate, we were able to shop their easily. Outside the back of the market is a plaque in memory of an Italian Air attack on the Alicante Market during the the Spanish Civil War on May 25,1938. Over 300 people were killed, and 1,000 injuries. It was deadliest single attack in the Spanish Civil War, and made headlines all around Europe as this was an attack on civilians. The area behind the market is named Plaza 25 de Mayo, in memory of the attack.

Spend an afternoon in Villajoyosa

Villajoyosa is a colorful seaside village on Costa Blanca, about an hour from Alicante via the tram. It’s easy to take Line 1 towards Benidorm to get there. The village is small, but has a beautiful beach if you’re looking for a change of scenery. The colorful buildings along the water are what attracted us to Villajoyosa. We wandered and shopped, explored the colorful streets and walked along the beach. We found a fun beach bar for a few rounds of drinks before heading back to Alicante.

Bullfighting Ring and Museum

Bullfighting is something I knew very little about, though I did associate it with Spanish culture and knew of it’s prominence. I thought visiting would be a unique perspective to a sport I know little about, but I left upset and surprised. I naively had no clue the bull ALWAYS DIES. My exposure to this tradition has been extremely limited until visiting Alicante, when we saw the ring, and signs advertising fights. I don’t know if I had envisioned some giant game of “keep away” that just ends when everyone is tired, but I wasn’t prepared for the gore! The idea is for the matador to stab the bull through the heart, killing it, but rarely do they get a clean shot and often they miss and puncture the bull’s lungs. It’s an excruciating and painful fight for the bull. If the bull ends up killing the matador, winning the fight, it is killed along with the bull’s mother (to finish off the bloodline). I was disgusted by gory and bloody pictures in the museum, and wasn’t expecting so many bull heads mounted on the wall. I’m not here to judge another country’s culture and traditions, but since I do love animals, I will not be attending a bullfight in my lifetime.

Visit local Cathedrals

Visiting cathedrals is something I always do when travelling, even if it’s just to pop inside quickly. Being Spain, religion is very prevalent and there are several gorgeous churches you can visit. We visited the Basilica de Santa Maria and Co-Cathedral de San Nicolas de Bari. The Basilica de Santa Maria was a stop on our walking tour. The guide spoke about the competition between this church in Alicante, and the one in a neighboring town of Elche. The Basilica de Santa Maria was built in gothic style between the 14th and 16th centuries. It’s also right across from one of our favorite restaurants in Alicante! The Co-Cathedral is a much larger cathedral, right in the center of town. It was built in 1616 on top of a Medieval Temple. It’s hard to miss this cathedral, as you’ll likely pass it while wandering the town looking for a restaurant.

Rent a bike and head to Parc El Palmeral

There are a couple bike rental shops in Alicante, and renting bikes for the full day, or part of the day is reasonable. It was fun (and faster) way to explore the city. We road towards Albufereta and were treated with beautiful views of the sea. We headed the other direction to Parc El Palmeral, which as the name suggests, has many palm trees. We explored the park which was beautiful, before exploring more of Alicante on our bikes.

Roman ruins

In the neighborhood of Albufereta, juxtaposed between the city life and apartment buildings, lie roman ruins called Lucentum. This ancient settlement is amazing to walk around, seeing the remnants of the Roman city. It’s basically an outdoor museum and also an active archaeological site. You see the ruins of Roman homes, bath houses, and cisterns. We easily spent an hour here walking around and exploring. It was easy to get to from the city center as well, via the tram. Take line 1,3, of 4, to Lucentum and the walk is less than half a mile to the site. Admission was a few euros, and very reasonable.

Take a walking tour

Something I frequently do when traveling is use the freetour app, to look for tip based walking tours in the city I’m visiting. We found one in Alicante, and our tour guide was kind and knowledge. She also spoke excellent English, as my Spanish is limited to reading menus. This tour taught us about the history of the city, as well as Spain’s history, touching on the Spanish Civil War and the stricter rules that were enforced in Spain years ago. We stopped by the port, some prominent Cathedrals, and finished at the Mercado.

Take the ferry to Tabarca Island

*For the love of all that is holy, don’t get on this ferry without dramamine if you get nauseous easily*

Tabarca Island is the only inhabited island off the coast of Alicante, and the ferry crossing took about an hour each way. As noted in the disclaimer above, it was a choppy crossing, and the staff came around with “barf bags”. Once on land, you’re greeted to a small and rugged island, with beautiful beaches and white washed buildings. It’s a fun way to get out of Alicante and spend a few hours exploring, but you don’t need more than half a day unless you’re planning on making it a beach day. There are few shops to visit, and some restaurants. We had a delicious meal of paella at Don Jeronimo for lunch. The restaurant was bright and colorful, the food was good, and so was the service. We also visited the local church, and walked the rugged coastline. There are some beautiful swimming spots on Tabarca Island, but much of the coastline is rocky, so bring water shoes if you have them.

Alicante City Hall

Our tour guide recommended we visit the Alicante City Hall. It is free to visit and the building is beautiful and historic. Perhaps the most impressive part are the antique doors in the front that make the perfect photo opportunity. It’s likely you’ll pass by the city hall while walking around Alicante, so take a peek inside if you have time! It’s a stunning example of baroque architecture. The visit will not take long.

View from Castillo de Sant Fernando

This fort built lies in the city center of Alicante. Built between 1808 and 1812 it provides an alternative view to Castillo de Santa Barbara. It was named in honor of Ferdinand VII of Spain. The remaining fort isn’t spectacular, but allows you to capture Castillo de Santa Barbara in your city photographs. The morning we went, many locals were running or walking on the path to the fort and back. Unfortunately the area is run down and the surrounding park has a lot of graffiti, but worth a walk up for the view if you aren’t short on time in Alicante.

Archaeological Museum of Alicante

The Archaeological Museum, or the MARQ is an extensive indoor museum (with AC!) in Alicante. The museum displays the history of Alicante and Spain highlighting the Iberians, Romans, Medieval Period, and more. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday from 10-7 and Sundays with shortened hours. Admission was 5 euros and well worth it. We spent two hours in the museum and didn’t see half of it.

Visit the Mushroom Street

More specifically, this street is named Calle de las Setas, and was a unique find when strolling through Alicante. This eclectic little street has the most unique and random mushroom statues throughout the street. It felt like we were in a Mario Brothers game circa 1991 with all the colorful mushrooms! This street also has a plethora of unique shops and boutiques, so it’s worth a stroll. Kids will love this part of town for the mushroom statues! There are also a few ice cream and sweet shops.

Alicante is a must visit city in the south of Spain if you’re looking for a mix of beach and cultural sites; I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

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