Planning a visit to Alicante and wondering what to expect and what to see in the city? In this guide we cover all the things to do in Alicante, the must-sees, the highlights and more for first time visitors.
Alicante is a vibrant coastal city in the heart of the Costa Blanca region. Known for its rich cultural heritage, beautiful beaches, warm climate and natural charm, a visit to Alicante is a highlight of any trip to the Costa Blanca. Famous for its microclimate, Alicante boasts more than 300 days of sunshine, making it a wonderful year-round holiday destination.
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With an international airport right on its doorstep, Alicante is easily reachable from a lot of European destinations and beyond. Whether you’re going to Alicante to relax on the beach, to savour the local cuisine, to discover the city’s treasures, to go on a sailing tour or you just want to explore the region around Alicante, the city promises a diverse and enriching experience for every traveller.
Alicante is a very walkable city on your own, but depending on the time you plan to spend there, or if you’re keen on exploring further up or down the coast, you may want to organise a tour or explore with a local guide.
What you can expect in this guide is a highlight of all the best things to do in Alicante and some of the day trips and excursions you can book and do.
Visit Santa Barbara castle
Perched high on top of Mount Benacantil, the castle of Santa Barbara is one of the most iconic landmarks of Alicante. The Castillo de Santa Bárbara is also the first sighting most people will see when arriving in Alicante or when walking on the beach, around the harbour or in the city. The origins of the castle date back to the 9th century. Over the centuries, it has been bombarded various times, was used as a fortress as well as a prison, was abandoned for a while and finally opened to the general public in 1963.
A visit to the castle will not only take you back in history, but also offers wide 360° panoramic views of the entire city, beaches and the surrounding mountains making it one of the main attractions in Alicante to visit.
It’s quite a steep climb to get there but it’s worth the effort. So we definitely recommend walking up to the castle if you have no mobility issues. There are various routes to take to get to the Santa Bárbara castle which gives you the opportunity to also visit other areas of the city.
Rates: A visit to the castle is free of charge. Allow around one hour to make the most of the visit. Certain sections like the Old Dungeons, Cisterns and Hospital can only be visited when taking an official castle guided tour. The rest of the castle is open for a free visit.
Tip: Apart from hiking up, and if you have mobility issues, the castle can also be reached by car, taxi, minibus and even by elevator, for a small price. Check on the official website for more detailed information about the various means of transport as well as the opening times.
Stroll along the Explanada de España
The Paseo de la Explanada de España is a charming promenade lined with palm trees running parallel to the port and waterfront at the one side and historical houses at the other side. Its most distinct feature is the mosaic paving, made of over 6 million marble mosaic tiles in red, blue and ivory white interpreting the waves of the sea.
It’s a popular place for a leisurely stroll in the shade provided by the palm trees to enjoy the pleasant and lively atmosphere, to watch the street performers or to find a local souvenir at the small vendor stalls. The outdoor seating of the various cafés and restaurants invites you to have a coffee or something to eat while leisurely watching the world go by.
All-in-all, it’s a vibrant and inviting area where both tourists and locals come to enjoy, relax, socialise and enjoy the beautiful views of the waterfront.
Explore Alicante old town
The Old Town or Casco Antiguo is one of the worthwhile things to see in Alicante. It’s a historic and charming part of the city that has managed to maintain the city’s rich cultural heritage. It’s so nice to explore the little alleys and to lose oneself in the maze of narrow streets while admiring the colourful facades and historical buildings.
Don’t miss the opportunity to also explore the traditional markets and the beautiful squares.
I was amazed by the abundance of bars, restaurants and cafés to explore in the Old Town, each offering cozy outdoor seating areas to try the local cuisine or to simply relax with a coffee. Besides indulging in the local delicacies there are also plenty of shops and boutiques to discover.
Alicante is a very walkable city on your own, especially the city centre. But, don’t miss out on the opportunity to also get to know Alicante from a local’s point of view.
Mercado central or central market
A visit to the Alicante central market or ‘Mercal Central d’Alacant’ is a wonderful opportunity to indulge in a genuine food shopping experience. It’s a bustling marketplace offering a wide array of fresh and local produce like seafood, fish, meats, cheeses and other regional delicacies.
The Alicante Central Market is located on the Avenida Alfonso el Sabio in the heart of the city centre making it easily accessible for both locals and tourists alike. It consists of 2 floors connected by an escalator with nearly 300 stalls. The meat and cheese section is upstairs and the fruit, veggie, fish and seafood section is downstairs. In between you’ll find stalls selling coffees, oils, pastries and other gourmet products. There is also a beautiful flower market at the back of the building.
Don’t forget to also admire the modernist style architecture of the building which was constructed in the beginning of the 20th century.
Tip: Learn more about the food and drinks culture of Alicante by taking a guided food tour in the central market while savouring some of the delicious foods from the market along with the knowledge of a local guide.
Explore the Barrio de Santa Cruz
‘Barrio de Santa Cruz’ or the Santa Cruz neighbourhood is located on the hillside of Mount Benacantil in the shadow of the Santa Barbara castle.
A maze of narrow streets, white washed houses with colourful features, lots of plants and decorative flowers, Santa Cruz is a charming and picturesque neighbourhood and a must visit in Alicante. It reflects the traditional architecture of old Spanish neighbourhoods.
The houses are built in the area where the Moors first populated the town of Alicante, then known as Al-Laqant, making it the oldest part of the city. It is a pedestrian only area with narrow winding streets built in a maze-like way with lots of stairs and some excellent viewpoints. It is unfortunately a rather difficult place to visit for people with reduced mobility.
Be sure to take your time to explore this vibrant neighbourhood because behind every corner or new alley you take you’ll want to enjoy yet another view of the castle Santa Bárbara or panoramic city view.
Tip: As the streets are winding uphill, be sure to wear suitable and comfortable shoes and take plenty of water, especially during the warmer summer months.
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Go on a food tour in alicante
With countless restaurants, tapas bars and eateries, Alicante offers plenty of choices to indulge in local cuisine. This can include a visit to the central market or one of the smaller local markets in order to explore all the delicacies the city has to offer.
But the best way to experience the local food is to go on a food tour with a local guide. We can highly recommend this tour along with lots of sampling of food, tapas and wines. Or join this food walking tour to discover even more traditional cuisine.
You can also discover the best food and tapas in Alicante by bike with this tour.
But if you want to get to know even more of the city while discovering the best local food, then this seven secrets tour is what you’re looking for. It combines all you want for visiting and tasting the highlights of Alicante with a local guide.
Participate in a cooking workshop
Now that you’ve been on a food tour, you can also learn how to make traditional food and drinks yourself. So, why not participate in a local workshop and learn how to cook your own traditional paella and mix your own sangria after you return home?
With a local chef you can learn to source ingredients to make authentic paella along with some very useful tips and tricks. Don’t miss out and secure your place, book this tour now here or with this company still today!
Visit the Basilica of Santa Maria
Dating back to the 14th century, the basilica of Santa Maria is the oldest church in Alicante. Built on top of the ruins of a mosque, the church was constructed in different architectural styles. The 2 towers at the entrance which were built in different centuries are its main focal point.
The St. Mary basilica is located in the Santa Cruz area right opposite the MACA museum.
Tip: The basilica is open to the public to visit for a small entrance fee.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MACA)
The Museum of Contemporary Art or ‘Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Alicante’ opened its doors in 2011. It actually re-opened in 2011 following a major renovation of the original museum which was created in 1976. It is set in the oldest civil construction in the city.
Spread over 3 floors, the museum is well laid out and filled with beautiful pieces of 20th century contemporary artwork from the likes of Dalí, Miró and Picasso.
Tip: The entrance of the museum is free of charge.
Stroll through Mushroom street (Calle de las Setas)
Calle de las Setas, or Mushroom street as it’s locally known is located in the Calle San Francisco in the old town of Alicante. Giant mushroom sculptures with funny faces and toadstool houses in different shapes and sizes are dotted along a yellow brick alley.
The construction of the mushrooms was an initiative by the local government in 2013 to rehabilitate the city center of Alicante and boost tourism and the economy. And it did boost the local economy as many tourists and locals have (re)discovered the alley and its many restaurants, bars and cafés.
Archeological Museum of Alicante
The ‘Museo Archeologico de Alicante’, or MARQ takes you on a journey through history from the Palaeolithic period right up to modern history. Apart from the permanent exhibitions they also have temporary exhibitions.
Tip: For updated information about their temporary exhibitions, opening times and rates, visit their website.
Relax on the Plaza de Gabriel Miró
‘Plaza de Gabriel Miró’ is a beautiful small oasis in the heart of the city with a fountain, huge fig trees and waving palms. The square is dedicated to the Spanish modernist writer Gabriel Miró who was born in Alicante.
The square is also known as ‘Plaza de Correos’ or ‘Post Office Square’ as the postal service headquarters is located in a beautiful building right on the square.
Alicante Marina (Puerto Deportivo)
The Alicante Marina or ‘Puerto Deportivo’ is a waterfront area providing stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea along with the best view of the Santa Barbara castle towering over the city. With just over 740 mooring places for small and large vessels, it’s a great area to stroll around while admiring the yachts and to stop for a meal, tapa or drink in one of the many restaurants along the quayside.
It’s a relaxing place to sit on a bench, watch people, observe boat life and to enjoy the vibrant but chilled atmosphere of the marina with the city of Alicante and the castle as a backdrop.
Tip: Are you keen on hitting the water yourself? You can now rent a boat (with or without skipper) at the marina to discover the Alicante and Costa Blanca coastline yourself. Make sure to book in time to secure a boat here.
Tip: Visit the Ocean Race Museum, a small interactive museum dedicated to everything about ‘The Ocean Race’ which is an around the world sailing yacht competition taking place every 3 to 4 years, the 2023 edition having started in Alicante. The entrance of the museum is free, except when you book a guided tour. Check the opening times on their website.
Relax on Postiguet beach
Alicante is home to various golden sandy beaches. For a visit to the main beach, El Postiguet beach, you don’t have far to go as it’s centrally located right next to the city centre and waterfront area.
Playa El Postiguet is a wide sandy beach which is 900-metres long. It’s great for relaxing, sunbathing and taking a stroll. It’s also a very inviting place to swim in the clear, calm waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
It’s a popular beach where locals come to relax and tourists come to soak up the lovely Mediterranean sun. There are plenty of amenities available such as renting umbrellas and lounge chairs, to free children’s playgrounds, as well as multiple bars and restaurants along the beach promenade.
Have water fun at Postiguet beach
The beach isn’t only a place to relax but also to have some fun. At the Postiguet beach and waterfront area lots of fun water based activities are on offer:
- Banana boat ride: The best and most fun way to experience the waves is on top of a banana boat. Book your ride here.
- Crazy sofa ride: Lots of fun and adrenaline going over the waves in the crazy sofa ride. Book your adventure here.
- Flyboarding: Have you always wanted to fly over the waves? Book your ultimate thrill here.
- Parasailing: Go on a thrill experience above the water. Find your tour here.
Admire the city views from the Ereta Park
The Ereta Park or the ‘Parc de l’Ereta’ is set on the hillslope between the Santa Barbara castle and the old town on the one side and opposite the Postiguet beach. The park occupies an area of nearly 7 hectares with terraced walkways and various viewpoints offering incredible views over the city skyline, the beaches and the marina. A lovely place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city center.
Apart from a green lung to rest and relax, this urban park makes a wonderful stopover when walking from the city or the beach all the way up to the castle and back. The park has been constructed to maintain a natural landscape with indigenous vegetation like olive trees. There are plenty of benches to relax and enjoy the views, a fountain, walkways and a restaurant at its highest point.
Useful info: Access to the park is either from the old town via Calle Mayor, through the Santa Cruz neighbourhood or via the car park at the castle. The park is open every day from 08h00 to 21h00.
Tip: It’s one of the best places to watch the sunset. So try to time your visit to the castle so you end your visit on one of the benches or lookout points.
Visit the water museum
The Water Museum or ‘Museo de Aguas de Alicante’ is a space for promoting knowledge, respect and the importance of water in Alicante’s daily life. It’s a small museum spread over 3 floors of which part of the museum is a visit to the old wells of Garrigós.
Tip: The entrance of the museum can be found in the Ereta park and is free of charge.
Explore Tabarca island
An absolute highlight of a visit to Alicante is a boat trip out to Tabarca Island. Officially called ‘Nueva Tabarca’ or ‘Nova Tabarca’, it is the largest island in the Valencian community and the smallest permanently inhabited islet in Spain. Located about 22 kilometres south of Alicante, it is famous for its marine reserve and biodiversity.
The main attractions when visiting Tabarca are the local marine reserve, the village with its white washed houses, the historical San Pablo church, swimming at the beach and enjoying the local cuisine.
A day trip to the island is easy to organise as there are daily ferries that run from the harbour to the island. Another way to get to the island is sailing on a catamaran, which is admittedly much more fun than a ferry. This 6-hour round trip catamaran cruise to Tabarca island doesn’t only give you the opportunity to enjoy the coastline while sailing but also to snorkel in the marine reserve. Book the snorkel tour here.
Excursions and day trips from Alicante
Alicante is a great base to explore the Costa Blanca as there is so much to see and do in the area. If you have a car, you can go visit the stunning beaches, picturesque villages, rugged mountains and other beachside resorts in the region. The calm and warm Mediterranean sea also invites to explore with countless water based activities.
When you are looking for a more vibrant and lively visit, go and explore the bustling seaside resort town of Benidorm. There are so many things to see and do in Benidorm, you won’t get bored. See our guide to the best things to do in Benidorm for more information.
These towns north of Alicante can easily be reached by car or by train/tram. You may also want to book an excursion from Alicante and go on a charming villages tour or to explore the picturesque Guadalest and Algar waterfalls,
More inland, the town of Xixona is famous for its turrón and nougat. The ride there is beautiful through the hills more inland, passing the Canelobre caves and the town of Busot. Visit Xixona with a private guide or the Canelobre caves with a group tour.
Some other popular (half) day tours and excursions you can book that are worth looking at are: