Alicante: Off the Beaten Path in Spain

By Olivia Young.

You won’t find Alicante, Spain, in the guidebooks. At least, not unless you’re looking for it. Most publishers relegate it to a lone page or small corner of the “Costa Blanca” section, where it’s overshadowed by its more popular neighbors like colorful Valencia and ancient Murcia.

The Mediterranean Sea from the Castillo de Santa Bárbara in Alicante, Spain. Photo by Olivia Young.

The Mediterranean Sea from the Castillo de Santa Bárbara in Alicante, Spain. Photo by Olivia Young.

And after living there for six months, I can see why: Alicante is not for the power sight-seers. It’s not for museum-junkies or 5-meal-a-day foodies.

It’s for people who seek the authentic, day-to-day, not-so-bustling side of Spain — the side we always read about in novels and travel articles. In Alicante, nearly every store shutters its doors at 2 p.m., only to re-open at 5 p.m. Couples stroll arm-in-arm ­(slowly, of course) along the palm-tree-lined Explanada, and families and friends dine for hours at the restaurants on its quiet streets.

Its small size and welcoming atmosphere makes Alicante the perfect destination for budget travelers searching for an authentic corner of Spain.

And that’s why Alicante’s residents, the alicantinos, will tell you that their city has a little bit of everything — from the Mediterranean Sea and white-sand beaches to a towering medieval castle, traditional Spanish markets, and classic Valencian cuisine.

Visit

Classic Spanish architecture in Alicante’s Casco Antiguo. Photo by Olivia Young.

Classic Spanish architecture in Alicante’s Casco Antiguo. Photo by Olivia Young.

El Casco Antiguo (Old Town)

Start your trip to Alicante with a stroll through the Casco Antiguo, (Old Town), where you’ll find colorful Spanish architecture, hidden Mediterranean cathedrals, and small, echoing plazas. Stop to drink a café con leche at one of the many outdoor cafés, or peruse the handmade offerings at the weekly artisans’ market in Plaza de La Santa Faz.

El Castillo de Santa Bárbara

No visit to Alicante would be complete without a hike up the Castillo de Santa Bárbara. With its roots in ancient Rome and hints of Moorish influence, the hilltop fortress offers breathtaking views of Alicante from above. Curators have preserved and restored various rooms within the fortress, including the original Roman arches and high-ceilinged barracks.
The castle also serves as a cultural center, where you can view historical photos of the city and various rotating exhibits.

You can also take a guided tour for a small fee. Visits can be booked here.

Getting there:

On Foot: Access the old wall off of Calle Lieutenant Daoíz, or hike up through Ereta Park.

By Elevator: You can also take an elevator to the top, which can be accessed off Avenida Juan Bautista Lafora, across from la Playa del Postiguet. The ride costs €1,50 per person.

By Bus: The Alicante Turibús (Tourist Bus) also makes a stop at the castle. See the tourist bus website for more details.

Mercado Central

Like many other cities in Spain, the towering Mercado Central is the nerve center of Alicante. Inside, you’ll find all the makings of the infamous Mediterranean diet, from freshly caught fish and cured meats to ice cream and colorful fruit.

The market is at its best and busiest in the mornings, when you can buy a just-baked pastry and wander around the aisles. I always love visiting Spanish markets even if I’ve seen them before: It’s a great way to gain a better understanding of the country’s cuisine and discover new foods you’ve never seen before.

Playa del Postiguet

Walk down La Rambla Mendez Nuñez and you’ll find Alicante’s closest beach, la Playa del Postiguet. Entry is free, so all you need is your beach towel and a good book to enjoy the warm sand and sun.

Note: Pickpocketers in Spain often target unwary sunbathers, especially on densely populated beaches. Never leave your bags unattended, even if you’re just taking a quick nap stepping away for a swim.

La Playa de San Juan in Alicante, Spain. Photo by Olivia Young.

La Playa de San Juan in Alicante, Spain. Photo by Olivia Young.

Playa de San Juan

If you’re craving a less touristy beach, pack a picnic lunch and head to the Playa de San Juan. It’s a 20-minute tram ride from Alicante, but its gorgeous white-sand beaches and sweeping mountain views make it well worth the trip.

San Juan stretches from the edges to Alicante to a smaller town called El Campello. Because it’s a larger beach, it’s also less crowded, making it the perfect place to relax and enjoy the Mediterranean sun.

Getting there: Take the L3 tram from either of Alicante’s main tram stations, Luceros or Mercado. Get off at any stop between Costa Blanca and Fabraquer. Check the Alicante Tram website for departure times and a trip planner,

Cost: A one-way tram ticket (Billete Sencillo) costs €1,35; entry to the beach is free.

La Explanada

La Explanada is Alicante’s picturesque seaside promenade. It’s lined with enormous palm trees, making it the perfect spot for an afternoon walk (or an afternoon ice cream cone, depending on your mood. No judgement here). If you’d like to shop without breaking the bank, the white kiosks set up along the walkway sell everything from leather handbags to Spain-themed souvenirs, almost always at affordable prices.

Maisonnave

Whether you’re in the mood for window shopping or some serious retail therapy, you’ll find what you’re looking for on Alicante’s busiest shopping street, Maisonnave. With varied brands, including H&M, Zara, Springfield, and El Corte Inglés, there’s a shop here for every budget.

A snapshot of Altea, Alicante’s whitewashed neighbor to the north. Photo by Olivia Young.

A snapshot of Altea, Alicante’s whitewashed neighbor to the north. Photo by Olivia Young.

Altea

If you need a break from the beach, catch the tram up to Altea, a goregeous white city that channels the famous villages of coastal Greece. It boasts breathtaking ocean views paired with winding, stone-paved streets and classic Valencian cuisine. Because the trip takes about 1 1/2 hours, Altea makes a great day trip.

Getting There: Take the L1 tram from either of Alicante’s main tram stations, Luceros or Mercado. Transfer to the L9 tram at Benidorm. Check the Alicante Tram website for departure times and a trip planner.

Cost: A round-trip ticket costs about €12.

Eat & Drink

Tasca el Coscorrón

For live sevillanas music and some of the best mojitos in Spain, duck in (literally) to Tasca el Coscorrón in the Casco Antiguo. “Tasca el Coscorrón” translates loosely to “Bump your head,” a name which comes from the bar’s tiny, 4-foot-tall doorway.

The exertion is well worth it: The bartenders “brew” homemade mojitos in brass teapots with plenty of fresh mint, and they’re a bargain at 4 euros apiece. To sweeten the deal, they often have live music on the weekends.

Getting there: Calle Tarifa 3.

Tapa y Caña: La Bodeguita de Triana

This hole-in-the-wall tapas bar is a budget traveler’s dream. Servers offer platters of tapas to each table, and each tapa is served on a wooden block or in a small dish. Enjoy whichever you’d like, but hang on to those blocks: The waiters tally them up to determine your bill at the end.

Each tapa costs €0,90, and each caña (draft beer) costs €0,60.

And they sweeten the deal on the weekends. After 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, all cañas (draft beers) are €0,30. While the cañas are admittedly smaller than you might find at other bars, there’s no beating the price.

Getting There: Calle Eduardo Aunos, 4.

Hours: From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., then from 7 p.m. to close. Tuesday-Sunday.

El Barrio

At nightfall, the Casco Antiguo transforms from a quiet, beautiful neighborhood into Alicante’s packed and noisy nightlife hub. Dubbed “El Barrio” by locals, you’ll find everything from casual beer joints to multi-floor clubs. Drinks and shots range from €1 to €10, depending on the locale. For a truly authentic evening, start at any place that serves cubalitros, or mixed drinks in huge cups, which usually cost around €3.

Fresas y Chocolate

This shop-turned-restaurant off the Rambla Mendez Nuñez is the perfect spot for a glass of Spanish wine (2-4 euros) or a warm cup of coffee. With cozy, vintage-style décor and delicious desserts, it’s easy to spend the afternoon here chatting with friends or reading a book.

Getting There: Calle Tomás López Torregrosa, 13, off Rambla Mendez Nuñez.

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