No matter what your tastes are, there are some ‘must see’ attractions in Alicante.
Castillo de Santa Bárbara / Castle of Santa Barbara
The most famous attraction is the Castillo de Santa Bárbara. The castle sits high on Mount Benacantil, over 160m above the city. The fortification dates back to the ninth century and was originally a Moorish fortification. At various times it has been held by the Valencians, the Aragonese, and even the English for three years. The French tried to hold the castle, too but were less successful.
The Castle has been opened for visitors since 1963, and there’s no charge for entry. The walk to the top can be challenging, so lifts have been installed. There is a small fee for using the lifts. When you reach the top of the ancient fortifications, you’ll see how the army that controlled the hilltop could control the region.
Bear in mind that Castillo de Santa Barbara is just one of the 100 castles scattered through the region.
El Barrio Antiguo (generally known as El Barrio) is the Old District of Alicante. Nestled between the port, the beach and the mountain, it is home to a wide range of bars, clubs, cafes and restaurants. It is the home narrow streets, classic architecture, and colourful buildings. The Co-Cathedral of St Nicholas provides a mix of architectural styles, incorporating a 15th-century cloister in Valencian Gothic style, while the external facades are in Doric and Ionic styles.
During the day, El Barrio is a great place to wander the streets and explore the old city. At night, El Barrio becomes a home to nightlife. The quarter is full of taverns, clubs and bars, restaurants and discotheques.
This tiny village, set in the heartland of Alicante, is home to just 200 people. It is a hidden wonder, and well worth the drive up from the city. The village is surrounded by mountains… literally.
The village is home to two castles, San Jose and Alcoziba. San Jose suffered attacks at various times in history and was largely destroyed in an earthquake in 1644. The tower has been restored, and can only be entered through a small tunnel cut through the rock. Alcoziba dates back to the 11th century and was built by the Moors.
The town provides you with great views, and the chance to look through the ancient fortress and dungeons. El Arrabal, the village, includes several museums, including the ‘Torture Museum’, providing details of torture devices from the Middle Ages through to the 20th century; the Ribera Girona Museum, a museum of contemporary art; the Micro-Gigantic museum, and the Dolls Museum. Finally, there is a Vehicle Museum, with a collection of over 100 motorbikes and cars dating from the 1920s to the 1970s, all in mint condition.
A range of craft shops, cafes and restaurants will make sure that you enjoy your time in the village.
Explanada de Espana
Many cities in the world have waterfront esplanades. No other esplanade quite matches up to the Explanada de Espana. The walkway stretches around the marina and incorporates 6.6 million marble tiles, coloured in red, cream and black. The tiles are laid to make a continuous wave pattern. The walkway is sheltered by palm trees – four rows of them! Most people would think that such an example of urban design would be a recent feature, but the esplanade was created in the 1860s. The esplanade is lined with stalls that sell local handicrafts and cafes. There is a music pavilion that hosts many of the events and festivals of the city and provides free concerts during summer.
The Central Market is located in the market (Mercardo) neighbourhood. It was built in the early 1920s, and reflects the architectural design of Juan Vidal Ramos while incorporating an older (18th century) wall. The market mimics the architecture of a basilica, with a semispherical dome (La Rotunda), and a rectangular shape. Inside, the building has two floors filled with decorative features.
Leaving the architecture aside, the market is a functioning market, filled with stalls. The range of food reflects the local fare and provides a wealth of opportunities to experience different flavours. If you’re looking for a quick snack or a gastronomic experience you won’t be disappointed. One visitor has suggested that there are so many seafood choices available that fish stocks in the Mediterranean may well be wiped out!
Isla de Tabarca
Located 22Km south of Alicante, Tabarca Island has a rich history of its own. While the island is only a few kilometres from the shore, it hasn’t always been Spanish territory. Until 1741 it was part of the republic of Genoa. It was then conquered by Tunis. During the 18th century; the island was home to Barbary pirates until it was re-conquered by King Charles III of Spain. He then fortified the island. The fortified walls surrounding the town are now registered as an official site of historical, artistic and cultural interest.
The history of Tabarca and the local fishing economy are celebrated in the annual Virgen del Carmen, a parade held in July each year.
The area around Tabarca is now a protected marine reserve and a Zone of Special Protection for Birds. The reserve was the first such protected area declared by Spain, in 1986. The waters are clear and unpolluted. While the regeneration of the natural ecology has been effective, it has been augmented by the development of an artificial reef.
A ferry service runs from Alicante to Tabarca. The frequency varies based on the time of year, and it takes less than an hour. There is limited accommodation on the island, so most people visit as a day trip.
For those visitors who are looking for something to make the adrenaline flow, Terra Mitica is a great day trip. It is a theme park, about 50Km north of Alicante. The park has a historical focus, with three thematic areas – Egypt, Rome and Greece. The Egypt theme area recreates the day of the Pharaohs, including replica ships, statues and the famous Alexandria lighthouse. In Rome, you’ll experience the time of the Caesars, while Greece brings you into a land of myths and legends, Olympics and democracy.
There are rides based on each of the three themes, as well as daily reacted historical spectacles. There are also restaurants and cafes presenting tastes from each of the regions. For the kids, it’s an exciting day out. For the adults, it’s an experience of culture and history.
Museo Volvo Ocean Race
The first round-the-world ocean race was held in 1973, and known as the ‘Whitbread’ Ocean Race. Volvo took over sponsorship of the race in 2001. Alicante has been the start point of the race in since 2008. The city is now home to the Museo Volvo Ocean Race, a fantastic museum of ocean-going endeavours. The museum is only a five-minute walk from the Esplanade. The museum is free to visit and includes details of the last 43 years of the great race, including interactive elements, games, examples of boats and details of sailors that have competed in this classic event. And if you’d like to see a bit of ingenuity, you can see the 100,000 Lego piece replica of one of the boats!
Barrio Santa Cruz
El Barrio de la Santa Cruz is in the south-west of Santa Bárbara castle. Walking through the Barrio is a step back in time. It is worthwhile taking your time walking through the narrow streets that climb the hill up to the walls of the castle. The streets are lined with tubs of colourful flowers and flags. Experience walking through the narrow streets, enjoy the sights and flavours, and talk with the locals. While you’re there, imagine living in this world of vibrant colour.
Santa Maria Church
The Basilica of St Mary is the oldest church in Alicante. It dates back to the 13th century. As with many historic churches, Santa Maria has been added to at various stages and was promoted to the status of a basilica in 2007. If you want to be amazed at the intricacies and sheer size of a church, make the time to wander through Santa Maria. The decorations are spectacular. Possibly, the best time to visit is during the Easter period, when the local community and church work to keep the Spanish traditional celebrations alive with the Semana Santa celebrations.
Entry to the basilica is free, but it isn’t always open, so plan your trip.
MARQ Provincial Archaeological Museum
MARQ is the Architectural Museum of Alicante. The curator has a focus on displaying collections in a traditional way. The museum has an educational focus, but also seeks to provide a spectacular and entertaining experience. It provides a journey through history to depict the techniques used at various stages of human ingenuity to build in various styles, dating right back to Palaeolithic times. This historical path is traced using local examples, and depictions are provided of Iberian, Roman, Medieval, Modern and Contemporary styles.
There are three galleries, dedicated to Field, Urban and Underwater archaeology. Each gallery includes interactive displays and dioramas.