There are many things to do in Alicante as well as beautiful landmarks to see and interesting museums to visit. In this article, you can read more about some of the best activities and attractions that shouldn’t be missed.
Moreover, I recommend where to stay in Alicante and list some interesting facts about the city. Alicante, also known as Alacant is the capital of the province with the same name in the autonomous region of Valencia in Spain.
It’s one of the most popular destinations in Spain, especially among British, French, German, and Scandinavian tourists. Many international visitors also continue onwards to resorts in Benidorm, Torrevieja, and other popular destinations in Provincia de Alicante.
Below is a list of my favorite things to do in Alicante, including a short description of each attraction. Furthermore, I share my recommendations on what to do in Alicante as a first-time visitor and my favorite hotels in the city.
Exploring the Casco Antiguo (or Old Town) of Alicante is a wonderful way to while away an afternoon. The historic center of the city contains important landmarks, from churches to government buildings, as well as the Barrio de Santa Cruz, a neighborhood located in the Casco Antiguo that transports you to another world within the walls of Alicante. The Casco Antiguo also has a lively nightlife.
Castle of Santa Barbara
El Castillo de Santa Barbara sits overlooking Alicante from atop a dusty mountain, Mount Benacantil. Its origins date as far back as the 9th century when the Muslims built a fort on the site, which offers a strategic (and beautiful) view over the bay.
The castle, whose oldest parts date back to the 1200s, was in a state of abandonment until 1963 when it was opened to the public. To reach the castle, you can take the lifts or drive, but the most spectacular way is to hike up from Postiguet beach, following the signs for Parque de la Ereta. The entrance is free.
Postiguet Beach, or the platja del Postiguet, is an expansive, white-sanded beach that stretches along with the city of Alicante. It is a favorite with locals, thanks to its central location.
Stretching past a promenade, cafes, bars, and high-rise residential buildings, the lively scene is perfect for watching an afternoon go by. At over 900 meters long, Postiguet beach is spacious enough for strolling, playing with children, sunbathing, and swimming.
Explanada de España
The Explanada de España, also known as Paseo de la Explanada, is the most famous promenade in Alicante. With its tricolor pavement and wavy pattern, it has become a symbol of the city.
Originally built on top of the dyke in the early 1900s, the 500 meter-long walkway was repaved with the famous design in the 1950s. It runs parallel to the sea and is a wonderful place to take a stroll, under gigantic palm trees, which are surrounded by shops, artists, and fellow holiday-goers.
The Archaeological Museum of Alicante, known by locals as MARQ, is hardly your average sleepy collection of relics. Innovative in its exhibition design, the 2400-square meter museum was built in 2002.
In 2004, it won the European Museum of the Year Award 2004, thanks to the fascinating permanent collection of more than two thousand artifacts, which are exhibited in the context of daily life from the Prehistoric era to the Medieval period. It also educates visitors on the work of the archaeologist. The life-size scenes make this museum a favorite of all ages.
Basilica of Santa María
The oldest church in Alicante, the Basilica de Santa María, or the Saint Mary Basilica, was erected from the 1300s to the 1500s, over the city’s former mosque.
During the Spanish Civil War, it faced the same fate as most of Spain’s religious monuments—parts were destroyed and the building was used as a military warehouse. The beautiful altar is a golden rococo-style, built in the 1700s.
When visiting the basilica, pay special attention to the gorgeous entrance, which is one of the basilica’s most beautiful features, thanks to a large sculptor by Juan Bautista Borja.
The Mercado Central is the largest, most important farmer’s market in Alicante. The expansive building, with a rectangular layout and a striking modernist façade, holds nearly 300 stalls.
The perfect plan for a morning in Alicante is strolling the Mercado Central, its top floor stacked high with charcuterie, cheeses, and Spanish ham; and its underground level with piles of fresh produce.
You can also get fresh fish from the sea outside, or something sweet from the stalls with pastries, honey, and fresh-baked bread. Market hours are 7 am to 2:30 pm from Monday to Friday, and on Saturdays, the market stays open until 3 pm.
Las Hogueras de San Juan
The Bonfires of Saint John are celebrated on the summer solstice, June 23, across the Iberian Peninsula. The most famous celebration, however, is right in Alicante.
As in the rest of the peninsula, the origins of the celebration lie with the tradition of burning useless objects around the summer solstice. The Bonfires festival in Alicante took its current form nearly 100 years ago—a fiesta several days long, including fireworks, street parties, traditional dance, and parades.
The festival reaches its climax at midnight on June 24, the day of Saint John, with La Cremà, a gorgeous firework show culminating in a symbolic burning.
Alicante Museum of Contemporary Art (MACA)
MACA opened to great fanfare in 2011, an updated version of the former Museo de la Asegurada, a labor of the collector Eusebio Sempere. Its three permanent collections feature 20th-century art from Spain’s greats: Dali, Miró, and more.
If the impressive collection of contemporary Spanish art weren’t enough to draw visitors to MACA, the building that houses it is quite the destination in and of itself.
Known as La Asegurada, it is the oldest government-owned building in Alicante today. Originally built in 1685, it is an example of baroque Valencian architecture originally destined to be a granary.
Gravina Museum of Fine Arts (MUBAG)
This stately museum on the back streets of Alicante is dedicated to the city’s painting and sculpture movements throughout history. The nearly 500 works throughout the museum catalog the artistic development of Alicante from the 16th century to the 20th.
The most interesting works in the museum include paintings from Antonio Gisbert, Vicente López Portaña, Fernando Cabrero Cantó, and more. Sculptures by Francisco Salzillo also dot the museum, which is housed in the Gravina Palace, an 18th-century nobleman’s home.
The Islote de La Cantera is an archipelago off of Alicante’s coast, and Tabarca is the only populated island in the collection. At 1750 meters long, the island makes a great day trip exploration.
It is a protected marine reserve, so grab your scuba gear and paddle around to marvel at the marine wildlife. A perfect day on Tabarca includes a stroll around the island, a trip to see the lighthouse, a snorkel or a swim, and a lunch of fresh seafood in the sun.
Maybe you’ll even meet one of the island’s 50 inhabitants (it is the smallest populated island in Spain). The island is easy to reach, with ferries departing 4 to 5 times a day each way.
Just 24 kilometers outside Alicante, the Canelobre caves are otherworldly examples of karstic period rock formations. They are filled with stalagmites and other rock formations, formed over the course of seven million years by water eroding limestone.
The caves’ entrance is the highest elevated in all of Spain at 700 meters. It’s a fab place to cool off in summer, and you can even visit the Sagrada Familia, a formation that bears a striking resemblance to Gaudi’s church in Barcelona.
The Guadalest Valley is a gorgeous spot about an hour inland from Alicante. Formerly an Islamic country, it’s now home to El Castell de Guadalest, one of Spain’s most famous villages. The area is striking, quaint, and holds fabulous ruins to check out, all at less than an hour from Alicante.
Playa de San Juan
San Juan Beach is beloved by all for its fine, white sandy beaches and calm, clear water. It’s also large enough for everyone, at 3 kilometers long. As the principal beach of Alicante, it offers everything from sports to boat rides to drinks at beach bars. Pull up, roll out your towel, and lunch on a Valencia-style paella.
Santa Faz Monastery
Built between the 15th and 18th centuries, the Santa Faz monastery purportedly holds an important religious relic—a veil with the blood of Jesus. It is the site of a traditional festival around Easter Sunday when locals make a pilgrimage to the domed, baroque-style building.
Where to stay in Alicante
El Centro, also known as Historical Downtown City Center, is one of the best places to stay in Alicante. From there, you can enjoy walking distances to the majority of attractions and beaches.
Additionally, it’s very easy to get to El Centro from the airport as well as the bus terminal, from which you can travel onwards to other neighborhoods and nearby towns. This area has a great range of hotels, from budget to more luxurious options as well as mid-range hotels.
If you plan to spend a lot of time on the beach, it’s also nice to book a hotel or apartment that is situated near San Juan Beach, which is located east of El Centro.
Famous landmarks in Alicante (Spain)
Here’s a list of the most popular attractions in Alicante, in case you want to see the city’s most important buildings and monuments:
- Castillo de Santa Barbara
- Basilica Santa Maria
- The Santa Faz Monastery
- Cathedral of St. Nicholas of Bari
- Iglesia Clarisas Capuchinas
- Castillo de San Fernando
- Alicante town hall (Ayuntamiento)
- Monumento de Canalejas
- Tossal de Manises (Lucentum)
- Parroquia Nuestra Señora de Gracia
Museums in Alicante
For those interested in culture, arts, and history, here’s a list of the museums in Alicante:
- Archeological Museum of Alicante
- Museo de Hogueras
- Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Alicante (MACA)
- Museo de Belenes (Nativity Scene Museum)
- Museo de Bellas Artes Gravina (MUBAG)
- Sala de exposiciones la Lonja del Pescado
- Miguel Hernández House Museum
What to do in Alicante as a first-time visitor?
Depending on your personal preference, I suggest mixing it up with some time spent on the beaches as well as strolling through Casco Antiguo. Making your way to the top of Mount Benecantil and the famous Castle of Santa Barbara is definitely something that I recommend to everyone. It features several centuries of history and offers a stunning view over Alicante.
If you have a couple of days extra or spend a week in Alicante, there are several day trips that shouldn’t be missed, including the Guadalest Valley and Tabarca Island. There are many fun things to do in Alicante province, but for those who only have 2-3 days, I recommend spending those days in the city.
I also suggest visiting 1-2 museums, such as the Archeological Museum or Museo de Hogueras. If you’re interested in art, make sure to visit MACA, also known as the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Moreover, some of the most impressive attractions in Alicante include the Santa Faz Monastery, Basilica Santa Maria, and Iglesia Clarisas Capuchinas in addition to the Santa Barbara Castle.
Additionally, strolling the Explanada de España and the old town is something that I recommend as well. Sit down at some local restaurants and bars, have something nice to eat. Go for a glass of wine and people watch. Relax at the beaches and simply enjoy the nice weather.
Interesting facts about Alicante
- The Romans actually named the city “Lucentum” which can be translated as the City of Light.
- The city area has been inhabited for at least 7000 years
- The locals are called Alicantinos
- Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans have all been here as well as the Moors.
- Explanada de España has a total of 400 palm trees, but perhaps more impressive, the promenade has a total of 6,6 million marble tiles in red, black, and cream color.
- Alicante is one of the largest cities in Spain by population (11th)
- It is estimated that more than 100,000 foreigners are living in Alicante, and every year, the province sees over 3 million tourists.
- The city is located on Costa Blanca and enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and warm summers.
Want more recommendations on things to do in Alicante, Spain? Leave a comment below!