Travelers seeking a touchstone to history will find ancient artifacts dating back to the Bronze Age, as well as items from the Iberian and Roman empires at the Castle of Santa Barbara. This towering structure is tucked atop a rocky overlook and dates back to the 9th century. Like much of the region, it was once ruled by Muslims before being captured by Castillians in the mid-1200s.
The castle grounds, which stand high above Alicante, are worth exploring, and visitors say the epic views contribute to a greater understanding of the city’s layout. A tiny souvenir shop and quaint coffee shop serving up strong brews offer the perfect place to relax after wandering through the historic site, which does not disappoint.
The castle stands atop Mount Benacantil at the center of Alicante, Spain. It is open daily from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. It is possible to reach the castle by foot—though travelers agree the climb is a bit steep—or by lift or taxi.
Running along the seafront from Alicante Port in the east to Canalejas Park in the west, the magnificent Explanada de España offers a scenic introduction to Alicante, looking out over the yachts and fishing boats of the marina.
Laid out in the early 20th-century by architect Jose Guardiola Picó and restored in the 1990s, the grand promenade is among the most famous in Spain and runs for over 500 meters. The wide walkway is adorned with some 6.5 million marble tiles, creating a dramatic wave-like mosaic of red, white and blue, hemmed in by rows of towering palm trees and elegant streetlamps. As well as being home to city landmarks like the Casa Carbonell, the Royal Casino de Alicante and the Hotel Gran Sol, the Explanada is lined with lively cafes, bars and restaurants, and hosts an eclectic mix of artists, street entertainers and crafts stalls during the summer season.
Explanada de España is located along the waterfront of Alicante, opposite Alicante Port.
Some 300,000 protected date palms rustle above ancient Elche (Elx), the legacy of 6th-century Phoenician gardeners, though the city is older still. They line the banks of the Vinalopó River, along with Elche's most magnificent buildings.
This is an exotic spot of archaeological treasures, fine museums, Moorish domes, and beautiful churches. Meaningful places, such as the soft-lit stone arches of the Arab Baths (which probably date to Roman times), artistic gardens of the Huerto del Cura, and evocative ruins of La Alcudia are the attractions, rather different from those of the rest of the coast.
Still, just 15 minutes from the city proper, pale beaches await sun lovers, and there are certainly fine dining and nightlife options aplenty. This is also, by the way, the self-proclaimed "Footwear Capital of the World," or at least Spain, producing half of the nation's shoes.
Elche is an inland town, 23km (14mi) from the region's major city, Alicante. Though a museum dedicated to the city's Mystery Play of Elx, in which the Virgin Mary is carried to heaven on a song, offers virtual performances year-round, the UNESCO-recognized drama is staged at the Basilica of Santa María de Elche ever August, the very best time to visit. Most visitors fly into busy Alicante Airport (ALC), where you can catch private taxis direct to Elche. Buses connect Elche to Alicante, Murcia, and throughout Spain, while a high-speed rail line being constructed between Alicante and Madrid will also stop in Elche.
As one of Spain’s most popular Mediterranean resorts and the gateway to the famous Costa Blanca, Alicante has long been an important cruise destination, with an average 88,000 cruise passengers passing through its port each year.
Built around a natural harbor, Alicante Port is ideally situated for visitors, linked to the city by the scenic Esplanada de Espana and just minutes’ walk from top attractions like the Castillo de Santa Barbara, the Santa Maria Basilica and El Postiguet Beach.
Alicante Port is located 2km south of downtown Alicante.
Some 66,000 people call the rocky hillsides of the municipality known as Alcoy home. Its deep historic roots which date back more than 60,000 years draw travelers in search of connecting to an earlier time. Ancient rock paintings near la Sarga and Iberian settlement ruins are part of what makes Alcoy a unique destination.
In addition to shadowy caves and plains dotted with Greco-Roman pottery fragments, the city is home to a number of significant architectural structures. The Barchell Castle, hermitage of St. Anthony the Abbot, the Archeological Museum and the convent of Sant Agusti are all popular stops on a tour of the past in scenic Alcoy.
While there’s plenty to see in Alcoy any time of year, the Moros y Cristianos festival in April proves the most interesting and unique time to visit. Festivities include an impressive parade, Medieval costumes and several days’ worth of events.
The historical highlight of the palm-fringed city of Elche, just a short hop from Alicante, the Basilica of Saint Mary is best known for hosting the annual Mystery of Elche play, a theatric interpretation of the death of the Virgin Mary and her assumption to heaven. The traditional play, which features around 300 performers and draws huge crowds, has been performed in the basilica since the 13th-century, and it’s the only Catholic church in the world permitted to host such an event. The play, typically held in two acts each August, is also inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list.
Built on the site of an ancient mosque, the Basilica of Saint Mary is also notable for its ornate Baroque facade and striking dome, which date back to the 17th century, and the bell tower, which offers panoramic views over the city.
The Basilica of Saint Mary is located on Placa de les Flors in Elche, around 25km southwest of Alicante, and is open daily 7am-9pm.
This iconic castle known as the Watchtower in English has a long history of strength and resistance, since Muslim residents held off three different sieges by James I or Aragon. It wasn’t until 1240 that defeat was admitted and the picture-perfect castle was taken by the Kingdom of Castile.
Today, travelers can visit this historic site and wander the interior courtyard framed by sky-high walls and wander the second floor where a reproduction of a khamsa—a well-known Muslim and North African image of an open hand—is on display.
The castle is located in the north-western part of Alicante between Castile and the former Kingdom or Aragon.
Visitors will likely hear the iconic bells of Alicante Town Hall chime every 15 minutes while wandering throughout the town. This famous baroque-style building holds court in the center of one of the city’s many squares is a destination all its own, thanks to ornate architecture and displays of ancient ruins.
A replica of a well-known Dali sculpture greets travelers as they enter the first floor of Town Hall and several rooms on the second floor showcase historical exhibits about the building and city history. Dozens of cafes are within easy walking distance of the square and make for a perfect place to grab coffee, a drink or a scoop of ice cream and settle into the local scene to watch as people wander by.
Alicante Town Hall is located in Plaza del Ayuntamiento. It is open daily from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Entrance is free.
Built between 1614 and 1662, this towering cathedral was designed by Agustin Bernardino and erected on the same site as a historic mosque. An impressive nave and six side chapels surround the sky-high blue dome at the center of the altar. Travelers say the chapel of the Holy Communion is one of the cathedral’s most beautiful and a striking example of Spanish Baroque architecture and design.
Despite its unassuming (and rather bare) exterior, the interior of San Nicolas is something to behold. In addition to the quiet chapels, visitors will find a raised pipe organ and quiet cloisters with well-tended gardens.
The cathedral is located in Plaza de Abad Penalva in Alicante. The main façade is on the east side of the church. Masses take place in Spanish every hour on Sunday mornings.
Built in the 1920s under the orders of wealthy textile manufacturers, the striking white façade and towering blue domes of Casa Carbonell has become an iconic landmark in the Alicante skyline.
According to an old legend, Enrique Carbonell, a well-to-do businessman, arrived at a swanky local hotel after WWI and was turned away because of his shoddy dress. In an act of revenge he vowed to build an even better structure—what is now Casa Carbonell—right next door. While most locals deny the validity of this tale today, the impressive iron, glass and marble work of this classic building is irrefutable. Travelers will love to wander the grounds and capture images of Casa Carbonell against the striking backdrop of modern Alicante.
Casa Carbonell is located at Number 1 Explanada de Espana esplanade not far from Playa del Postiguet.
Address: Number 1 Explanada de Espana, Alicante, Spain