Beyond The airport: Discover the Rhythm of Alicante

Alicante is not a beautiful city. It doesn’t have breath-taking architecture, it doesn’t have fabulous museums and it doesn’t have wonderful art galleries.  It is a dusty, hot, hard-working city.

And I love it.  What it has is character, vibrancy, colour and life.  It’s a busy, bustling whirl of a city with charm, charisma and excitement.

Alicante is situated on the Costa Blanca in Spain (about half way down the right hand side if your geography’s a bit rusty).  It’s a city with a busy port and an airport that’s grown to become one of the most important outside of Madrid.  Visitors arriving at the airport usually board coaches to an onward destination.  But Alicante is more than an airport.

Castle of Santa Barbara

The 9th century castle, of Saint Barbara sits majestically above the city. A lift inside the mountain makes for easy access and at the top are fabulous views that wrap around the coastline.  It stands as a reminder of Alicante’s Muslim heritage and has held firm during a stream of battles and sieges.

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Alicante has an interesting heritage.

Esplanada de España

Spaniards love to stroll.  They can do it for hours and when you see the places they’ve constructed for their walks, you can understand why it’s such an enjoyable pastime.  It’s not really about exercise.  It’s about experiencing the cool breeze after a sweltering day; it’s about meeting friends; it’s a place to push a pram, or take a trike.  It’s about people-watching.  It’s about all of these things and the Esplanada de España in Alicante is perfect for it.  Constructed from over 6.5 million tiles arranged in a hypnotic wavy design, it’s a delightful shady promenade in the middle of the city.  In the summer, it’s also lined with pretty market stalls and there’s even a small dome for outdoor music concerts.  It’s wonderful.

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Spaniards enjoy strolling leisurely in Alicante.

Mercado Central

The central market is a must on a list of places to visit.  It’s situated in a lovely art-deco building and, with all markets, the best time to go is early in the morning, It’s a vibrant, noisy place, with vendors shouting out their best prices, vying for business from the locals.  The stalls are incredible, with traditional hams and cured meats filling the spaces above the counter-tops. There’s seafood, fruit, vegetables and fresh flowers.  It’s a place for browsing and breathing in deeply.

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The mercado is not a place to be missed in Alicante.

Food is such a vital part of Spanish culture.   Alicante has its share of air-conditioned, elegant and pricey restaurants, but it is also crammed with family-run bars and cafes, which offer a menu of the day, a very reasonably priced three-course meal, often with a beer included.  It’s the best way to eat fresh, local, in-season produce and it’s what local people do all the time.

The Old Town

The older part of the city is a maze of narrow roads with crumbling buildings.  Away from more touristy attractions and smart restaurants, there are bars for locals, streets to meander and tall blocks of apartments with washing swinging from wrought-iron balconies.  However, at night, this area springs to life.  The little previously-unassuming bars pulsate with music into the early hours of the morning.  Locals come armed with bottles of soda to mix with the free shots that bars hand out.  It’s a hectic, throbbing experience!

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Alicante is a bustling, busy, wonderful place.

Yes, there are a few lovely beaches and a leafy, palm park (El Palmeral Park) proving welcome shade on a sunny day, and some stylish shops for browsing, but, for me, Alicante offers something more enticing: the chance to experience real Spain, a modern Spanish city that holds firmly on to its heritage.  It lures in tourists during summer months and then settles again to an atmosphere of content.  Don’t visit during the summer, save your trip for September when the tourists have gone and you can wander the cool, sultry back streets, drinking in Spanish charm, pausing for tapas and then people-watching on the shady esplanada.

About the author: Heather Foley is a consultant at ETSplc, (a 360 degree feedback provider) and lover of all things Spanish.

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Have you ever been to Alicante, or is it a placed you’d like to experience? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

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Feature images courtesy of Heather Foley.