A weekend in Alicante: The Mediterranean Sea and a quarter of a million palm trees
Text: Karl Batterbee
Situated at roughly the halfway point between Barcelona in the north and Gibraltar in the south of Spain, Alicante is the largest city located on the Costa Blanca stretch of the Spanish coastline. A historic Mediterranean port, the city has benefitted hugely from the boom of the tourism industry over the last 60 years, as well as from an influx of Spanish and Europeans seeking a second residence by the sea. This has since led to Alicante being able to offer visitors and locals an impressive range of restaurants and bars to sit in and while away the hours, and also a great variety of things to do in and around the city itself.
You could spend a fortnight based here and find a different day-trip to embark upon each day, be it a boat ride to the beautiful island of Tabarca, a 30-minute train journey to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the city of Elche, or a tram ride up the coast to the charming localities of El Campello, Calpe or Denia. That same tram will also take you to Benidorm, the infamous party town beloved by the Brits, the Irish and the Northern Europeans.
For our weekend in Alicante, however, we’re going to stay inside the city itself. There’s a lot to do and see, much to eat and drink, and plenty of opportunity to relax and unwind. Rumour has it that the city counts no less than 250,000 palm trees, giving the city a paradisical flair.
In and above town
We’ll start the day as we mean to go on – by indulging all of our senses at once. A visit to Mercado Central is a feast for each of them. Located where the busy street of Avenida de El Alfonso X el Sabio meets La Rambla, it is the city’s main source of top-quality, locally sourced food, drink and other goods typical of the region. There are just under 300 stalls on offer, most of them owned by families from Alicante and its surrounding towns that have been behind the same stalls since the market first opened almost a hundred years ago, with the stalls having been passed down generations. As you’re visiting, you probably won’t be here to shop for food, but a stop here is recommended as there are plenty of stalls offering sit-down extensions of their outlets where you can try some of the treats on offer, enjoy a coffee while watching the sellers at work, or sample your first local apéritif of the day.
Once your appetite has been appropriately whet by all of the sights and smells, it’s time to saunter down La Rambla to an exceptional lunch location that most locals and tourists don’t even realise they have access to. Stride confidently into TRYP Alicante Gran Sol Hotel, take the elevator to the 26th floor, and you’ll be welcomed into the criminally hidden gem that is Convistas Restaurants. Open for both lunch and dinner, the food, while delicious and surprisingly friendly on the wallet, plays second fiddle to the location. At an altitude of 90 metres and with an almost-360-degree view of the city, you’ll barely be able to even look down at what you’re eating. It goes without saying that this is an excellent introduction to Alicante, putting into clear focus just everything that the city has to offer.
With lunch settled, it’s time for a leisurely stroll to take in some of those sights up-close. Walk down to the bottom of La Rambla where you’ll arrive at Alicante’s most iconic stretch, La Explanada de España. It runs parallel to the port and is lined on both sides with rows of palm trees. The floor is decorated with six million tricolour marble tiles forming a design with a characteristic wave-effect mosaic. Walk northwards and you’ll arrive at Playa del Postiguet. Today’s not the day for a beach trip, however (we’ll be going to a much nicer, less crowded one tomorrow), so instead, you can continue your stroll along the promenade at the edge of the beach, taking in the views of the sea and sunbathers to your left, and of Alicante’s most prominent sight to your right, El Castell de Santa Bàrbara. Should you choose this moment to take your obligatory trip up to the castle, you can do so by taking the elevator located across the road from Postiguet beach. However, it’s much more rewarding to do it on foot, and particularly if you start your journey through the old town, which begins on the east side of La Rambla.
If you’re not going up, walk southwards along La Explanada de España and a little bit further on, and you’ll end up at Parque el Palmeral, facing the sea. It’s a stunning place to walk around, with various pathways meandering around lakes, waterfalls and an enormous variety of native vegetation typical of the region, including over 7,000 palm trees of many kinds.
End your day by walking back along the coastline until you get to the port of Alicante. All along the Marina, you’ll find various bars to watch the sunset from, and an array of restaurants offering up a great selection of cuisine – with fish and seafood, understandably, accounting for the largest proportion of food on offer. You can sit and chill at one or two spots, or you could walk from place to place, gazing out over the glistening waters with hundreds of yachts parked up for the night.
Siesta and fiesta
After yesterday’s meandering, today is a day of rest. We’re heading to Alicante’s most beautiful beach, San Juan. It’s a three-kilometre stretch of fine sand and calm waters. Because of its enormous length and the fact that it’s a little out of the way, it’s much less crowded than Alicante’s city-centre beach, Postiguet. You can get there via a 15-minute tram ride, or, if you fancy smashing your daily step goal, you can walk there from Alicante city centre, too. Time is on your side on a visit to San Juan beach, as due to the promenade full of bars, restaurants and cafes, you can stay around the beach for lunch, or indeed for dinner if you so wish.
As you’re only here for the weekend, though, it’s recommended that you head back into Alicante’s bustling city centre for the evening, to make the most of all that the city has to offer you. Commence your night with a pre-dinner drink in Soho Parc. Here, you can enjoy a relaxing sit-down in an outdoor, modernist kiosk bar surrounded by gigantic centennial ficus trees. Incidentally, Soho Parc is located right in the centre of Alicante, meaning it serves as a great place to start your evening of exploration around the city’s culinary gems and nightlife. To the bar’s east, you have the old town, to the west and north, you have plenty more (also quite old) town to tread upon, and to the south, you have all of the bars and restaurants that you will have clocked on yesterday wander along La Explanada de España.
As for what to eat, if it’s Spanish tapas you’re after, then it’s no exaggeration to say that every second bar or restaurant you stumble upon will be offering their own version of this, and it’s probably best to spread your meal out over four or five spots, sampling a light bite or two in each. If it’s a full plate you’re hankering for, then there are a few absolute highlights that never fail to deliver, offering cuisines ranging from Lebanese (Mish Mish); Mexican (La Tia Juana) and Indian (New Delhi) to Italian (Sale & Pepe) or vegetarian (Bodhi Green). Finish your evening with a final drink in the salubrious surroundings of Manero Bar, taking stock of all you’ve seen over the weekend, and all you plan to fit in to your next trip here.
Getting there Alicante Airport is located a mere 15-minute drive from the city. Upon arrival, the C6 bus leaves every 20 minutes (up until 10pm, after which it's once per hour, all through the night) from outside the departures terminal, and will take you right into the city for €3.80. Alicante Airport also serves Benidorm, meaning that most British airports and airlines offer direct flights there, and for not a lot of money. Getting around Alicante city is well served by a great bus and tram network, and there's also a well connected train station, taking you to and from many other destinations in Spain. If you're only around for the weekend though, you can spend the whole time on foot, and still see plenty. Alternatively, electric scooters are very popular with locals, and there are numerous rental outlets. The city is also great for cyclists, with most of the area having assigned bicycle routes. Shopping & culture As with most places in Spain, you can't assume that everything is going to be open on a Sunday. As such, it's best to get any shopping or museum-visiting you wish to do done on Saturday, leaving Sunday free for beach time and bar hopping!
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