The Castle of Santa Barbara is the premier Alicante attraction, found in the centre of the city and standing 166 metres high as one of the largest mediaeval fortresses in the country. It stands on Mount Benacantil, providing excellent views of the city from afar. For the most unique and surreal view, view the castle from El Postiguet Beach where you will see a projected part of the castle in the unsettling shape of a human face. They call this the “Moor’s Head”. Inside the castle waits the Museum of the City of Alicante, showcasing Spanish history as well as various artistic works from ages ago. There is an elevator in Mount Benacantil for the “sore of foot”, and the castle is actually accessible by car. Entry is free though the elevator does cost €2.40.
The Castle of de San Fernando complements the Castle of Santa Barbara nicely, located in the northern centre of Alicante and placed on Tossal Hill. Originally constructed as a defence against the French army, the castle eventually became obsolete, but to this day retains much of its 1800s grandeur.
The beaches of Alicante, or more specifically parts of Costa Blanca, are the second half of the city’s “character”, and surely among the most beautiful in all the world. Costa Blanca beaches encompass 200 kilometres of Mediterranean coastline spread over the Alicante Province. Popular beaches include La Playa de San Juan, which has earned the Blue Flag of the European Union for its beauty and upkeep. Other beaches of interest include Postiguet Beach, and particularly at night, as well as beaches just outside the city like Playa de la Albufereta and Playa del Saladar. Along with crashing blue waves and sandy beaches, expect plenty of commercial attractions and water sports set on the beach.
The marina is set up to accommodate tourists and travellers, and includes a variety of shopping centres, first class restaurants and even some nautical water sports. Since the beaches are Blue-Flag European Union recognised for its top-notch quality, expect some of the most captivating coastal scenery in the world. The Marina also has its own growing art colony, with dozens of sculptures, fountains, and monuments spread throughout the area and some dating back to the 1700s.
Tabarca Island is a throwback to the old country, with no modern buildings or even any ATM machines. The island town contains a church, a small colony of residences, but mostly wilderness land. You can visit the island via a boat tour from Kontiki, between the hours of 11 am to 3 pm.
Museums are oftentimes ignored by restless tourists, but the museums of Alicante are truly unique. Besides the castle-hosted Museum of the City of Alicante, the Archaeological Museum of Alicante features avant-garde design as well as state of the art audio and visual equipment for presenting Alicante history, from literally the beginning of times and through Iberian and Roman eras, to mediaeval times, and the present. The Gravina Museum of Fine Arts is devoted to Spanish artists of the region and a wonderful opportunity to take in culture as well as education. The Asegurada Museum of Modern Art features more traditional artistic pieces by internationally renowned artists of past and present.
It’s hard to imagine a museum more fascinating than the Valor Chocolate Museum, featuring a history of chocolate in Spain, and showcasing old world tools, modern or pre-modern machinery, and antiquated documents showing the process of making chocolate. Since Valor Chocolates is major chocolate producer, rest assured that you can buy and eat the subject at hand from the onsite store, though the exhibits themselves are certainly not edible!
Town Hall, or Ayuntamiento, is also an existing work of art, having been designed in 1700s baroque style and with barley-sugar columns. Its twin towers stand 35 metres in height, and contains a plenary room, chapel and blue room. The statue of Dali is highlight inside.
The Iglesia de Santa Maria or St. Mary's Church was built in approximately the fifteenth century and in traditional Gothic style. Times of conquest defined the construction of the church and thus it was built over the ruins of a Moorish mosque. Highlights inside include sculptures by Juan Bautista Borja and the Rococo main altar. The Concatedral de San Nicolas was built in the 17th century and was made according to renaissance and baroque architecture. Its blue dome and large garden remain the highlights.
What you see in terms of culture and celebration may well depend on the season you travel. In June, Las Hogueras de San Juan takes place and sees the construction of large monuments and fireworks on the beach. Carnival in February and March sees a costume parade and open-air concerts, while Holy Week is just as festive with its own parade of iconic Christian figures. In January, another religious-themed festival takes place, that of the Three Wise Men called “Epiphany”, which is a child-friendly festival. Another costumed parade happens in October, that of Moros y Cristianos, and sees parade marchers dressed as Mediaeval Moors and Christian knights. Oftentimes, large animals like camels and elephants are used in the parades, and mock-battles are put on for show.
June sees the Bonfires of San Juan, which shows the custom of burning useless old objects, which coincides with the summer solstice. This festival celebration featured fireworks, cardboard figures, fire and uniquely devised monuments. Semana Santa and Easter are a big spectacle in Alicante, as there are 27 associations marching in parade, and carrying 47 pasos, which are carefully sculpted scenes of the Passion Play.
The Santa Faz Pilgrimage is a mass procession involving 200,000 pilgrims bearing canes and “blusones huertanos” shirts and walking to the Santa Faz monastery to honour the local Peregrina shrine. Fiestas de Verano or Summer Celebrations happens in July and August and sees musical shows take place on the streets. The International Music, Theatre and Dance Festival begin here and the Alborada tradition happens August 3rd, as the Alicante Municipal Symphony Band plays classical music all night until the morning hours.
The Parks of Alicante are not only splendid to look at but also quite fun when parks host activities for children and families. Canalejas Park has some great antique stone sculptures including a map of Spain and wild animals, along with a playing area for children. It was first established in 1886.
El Palmeral entertains visitors with waterfalls, lakes and lovely palm trees and is opened at all hours of the day. For hiking and rock climbing enthusiasts, the Mount Tossal Theme Park offers wonderful landscapes and wilderness and provides a nice lookout post that lets you see the city and coastline. One of its best features is the playable giant chessboard.
Parque Lo Morant is the friendliest park in terms of shows, with its open-air auditorium put to good use with live shows. There are also plenty of flat shady walkways to enjoy a bit of exercise, all the while taking in great scenic views of plants, water features and sculptures. The Parque de la Ereta is a nature-contemplative park with French architecture and a nice long walkway from the Santa Barbara Castle to the Old Town. Enjoy pine and eucalyptus trees upon Benacantil hill.
The Terra Natura Park (Benidorm) is something you might expect from a UK or American water park. There is over 40,000 square metres of water park space, with an open visual field allowing parents to oversee their children even from a good distance. There are five water attractions: the wave pool, the chutes, a children’s pool, a lighthouse breakwater, and a Spa and sundeck. In addition to its attractions, there is also a zoo containing 1,500 animals and 200 species of marine life.
The Mundomar Marine Park is has plenty of walking paths made of plants, but they are merely the habitat for an aviary full of tropical and exotic birds, as well as the backdrop for a marine park. You can see everything from sea otters to penguins to meerkats and more. Better yet, you can interact with most animals, whether you want to take care of a sea lion for a day, encounter a dolphin, hold a meerkat or take a photo with a parrot. There is also an onsite store, restaurant and cafeteria serving American style snacks or native fish entrees, and even kiosks selling chocolate bars, chips and drinks. Many visitors opt to bring their own food to the park, and provided you avoid cans and glass when you pack, you are welcomed to it.
Bullfighting is revered sport in Spain, a part of its culture and an art. Bullfighters here are just as well liked as football starts or Olympian athletes. The Plaza de Toros Museum has information on bullfighting history. Horseback riding is also an enjoyable pastime, as you can enjoy the beautiful scenery while taking an adventurous stroll through pine forests and even Costa Blanca’s mountains.
For adventurous travellers, the Caves of Canelobre (just a short drive from Alicante’s central district) feature amazing limestone formations found in caves that were formed millions of years ago. The caves also provide illustrious views of the sun setting.
The park gives you a unique African Safari-like experience by car, letting you see exotic and fearsome animals like lions, leopards, tigers and zebras. The jungle is very close to Alicante and the ambiance is strong. The park itself covers 1000 metres of altitude and an area of 1,500,000 m2. While not a natural habitat like in Africa, you actually get to see more animals from five very different continents. Animals roam freely here, simulating a natural habitat. There is also an onsite restaurant and an interactive experience where you can help take care of the animal.
Common beach sports of Alicante include kite sand boarding, dinghy sailing, and scuba diving. The Scuba Moraira is an experience all its own, as it lets you get much closer to marine life in its natural state, under the sea, by way of deep sea scuba diving. Scuba Moraira has a dive centre, several dive sites and padi courses for beginners.
Paintball is a beloved sport in Spain and Alicante actually has some of the largest paintball arenas in the whole country. Paintball Arena is one such arena and admittance to the arena includes full material, such as paintball markers, protective masks, neck protector, and 100-200 balls.