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Sightseeing

Compact, yet cosmopolitan - attractions abound in Alicante
For such a compact Spanish city, Alicante has everything on offer. The Mediterranean Sea and its beautiful beaches are looking you straight in the eye, just a short step from the city centre. The sands of Saladar and Postiguet beaches have even been award the prestigious Blue Flag designation.

The city itself is no less special, with a series of historic buildings and interesting museums (one of which was recently nominated for European museum of the year) lurking in Alicante's crooked old lanes - the El Barrio (Old Quarter) is fantastically atmospheric. Watching over it all from the summit of Monte Benacantil, whose rocky precipices tower over town, is the medieval Castillo de Santa Bárbara.

Castillo de Santa Bárbara
This medieval fortress looms large over Alicante, its golden walls hovering in the blue Spanish heavens, some 550 feet above El Barrio (town's historic old quarter). At night, floodlit and almost glowing in contrast to the black sky, the sight of Castillo de Santa Bárbara stops most people in their tracks.

No matter how beautiful you think it is to look up at the fortress, the view down is always more profound. Wander through the well-preserved structure, which dates back to the 9th century, and discover spectacular vistas overlooking the Mediterranean. Remnants dating back as far as the Bronze Age have been found here, along with evidence of fortifications from the Iberian and Roman periods.

In a stark but stunning contrast, the weathered ramparts play host to a brilliant exhibit of Spanish contemporary sculpture. The Colección Capa, which is the largest exhibit of its kind in the world, displays hundreds of works from Spain’s most talented sculptors of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Dalí’s magnificent Newton is the collection’s signature piece.

If you don't feel like huffing it up to the top, there's an elevator accessed through a 205m-tunnel near Postiguet beach.

Castillo de Santa Bárbara

MARQ (Museo Arqueológico Provincial de Alicante)
Although located in the ancient hospital of San Juan de Dios, this is one of the most modern museums in the region and was recently nominated for European museum of the year. Inside you'll find Islamic treasures, Iberian ceramics and Roman artefacts magically displayed with lights, shadows, sounds and interactive images - you'll be spellbound. Bus Nos 2, 6, 9, 20 and 23 all have a stop out front.

MUBAG (Museo de Bellas Artes Gravina)
Hosted in the 18th-century palace of Earl of Lumiares, this splendid fine arts museum's walls are adorned with an astounding collection of 16th to 20th century works. Thanks to it hosting celebrated travelling exhibitions (a large Picasso exhibition was here recently), there's always reason to come back over and over again.

Museu de Fogueres
This museum recently opened in El Barrio and does a fabulous job of depicting the importance of the Fiesta de Sant Joan in Alicante.

Museo de la Asegurada
Opposite the gorgeous Iglesia de Santa María, whose ostentatious 18th-century façade conceals a gorgeous baroque portal and golden rococo alter, this museum beautifully houses works from 114 artists, including Dalí, Gris, Chillada, Picasso and Miró. The 177 works, most of which were donated to the city by the Alicante painter and sculptor Eusebio Sempere, are divided into geometric, abstract and figurative realms and are shown on a rotation basis. It remains one of Spain's most important contemporary art collections.

Ayuntamiento
If Iglesia de Santa María's baroque portal wet your appetite for amazing architecture, you'll love the Ayuntamiento (City Hall). Designed in the late 17th century by the Lorenzo Chápuli, it took almost 80 years to construct and boasts a brilliant baroque façade. Two spiralling solomonic columns bracket the main entrance and two of the building's famed doors (they were the cover photo of Lonely Planet's Spain guidebook - edition 4). Inside, at the foot of the main stairs, is the cota cero. What is cota cero? It's the reference point to measure the height above sea level in all Spanish towns. You'll also find one of Alicante's wonderfully helpful tourist information offices inside.

Plaza de Toros
Constructed in 1849, this is one of the oldest bullrings still in use. If you're not up for witness what must be one of the most beautiful and ugly spectacles of Spain (the bullfight), you can slide in and simply see the Bullfighting Museum.

Puerto (The Harbour)
What is there to say about Alicante's grand harbour? It is oozing with bars, restaurants and cafés, and is just a great place to while away the day doing lots of nothing (with a small smile on your tanned face).

Lucentum
If the MARQ museum peaked your archaeological interest, you must make take in the vestiges of the ancient city of Lucentum. Although the city reached its peak during the first century of Christianity, materials on the site have been found dating back to the 5th century BC. Amazingly, only 6500 square metres of the 30,000 square metre Ibero-Roman archeological site have been excavated to date. Wandering through the remains of its ancient streets (1.3km worth!), thermal baths, homes and pavoirs, while dodging shadows cast by modern high-rise buildings is rather surreal indeed. Lucentum is 6km north of Alicante and is easily reached by bus Nos 9 or 21.

The Island of Tabarca
Although you'd be forgiven for never having heard of this island before, it has been talked about for millennia, even being mentioned by the Greek historians Strabo and Ptolemy. The island was a refuge for Berber pirates in the Middle Ages before King Carlos III instructed the construction of a fort here in 1760. Eight years later it was settled by 600 Genoans who'd been released from the Tunisian port of Tabarka (near Algeria), thanks to a settlement made by Carlos III. While exploring the island, you can't help but notice the Italian influence... most people still carry the old surnames of the original 600 settlers!

There are some decent beaches and numerous buildings to check out, including the fortified enclosure (a National Historic Artistic Complex), 18th-century Church of St Peter and St Paul and St Joseph's Tower. One thing you won't find on the island is the automobile - how refreshing! The company Kontiki operates daily boat trips to Tabarca from Alicante's port.

Beaches
Soft sands and superior services - a beach at your beckon
There is one big problem in saying that the Blue Flag beach of Playa del Postiguet is only a stone's throw from Alicante's city centre: These fine white sands are lovely and gently arc northward for almost 1km from Alicante's vibrant port. With an average width of 45m, there will be no trouble finding a spot to drop the towel after a refreshing dip in the Mediterranean. There's a great promenade backing the beach and plenty of restaurants.

Tiny trips - terrific tracks of sand
There are a few other great beaches within a few kilometres of Alicante's city centre. Playa de San Juan, just north of Alicante and Cabo de las Huertas, is perhaps the areas best beach. Its sun-bleached golden sands stretch an impressive 3km in length and average an astounding 90m in width. There are plenty of facilities and it's all too easy to get here from town. Hop on bus Nos 21 or 22, or ride the Ferrocarriles de la Generalitat Valenciana tram that trundles along the coast from Alicante's port to El Campello.

Playa del Saladar is another Blue Flag option and sits just south of the city. It's golden sands aren't as nice Playa de San Juan, but it's not backed by a big urban environment. There are some rather nice dunes nearby, and it's usually less busy too! It's easily reach in a few minutes by car or by public bus from town.

Between Alicante and Cabo de las Huertas is Playa de la Albufereta. Set in a residential area, it's backed by palms, flowers and cacti... easily the nicest setting of all Alicante's beaches. Its only downfall is it lacks the abundance of services seen at the other beaches. It's also accessed by local bus.

Brilliant beaches for kids
Although all the beaches mentioned so far have lifeguards, playgrounds and gentle seas, Playa de San Juan and Playa de la Albufereta are the only two with floating swimming platforms (always good fun for kids!).

Sunbathing missing from your vocabulary? - beaches for sports
Playa de San Juan, Playa del Postiguet and Playa del Saladar are all perfect places to dig into some beach volleyball action, while windsurfing and sailing are possible at all the beaches (except Playa del Postiguet - sailing only).

Full access - beaches for those with reduced mobility
Although all of Alicante's beaches offer safe access to the beach and sea for people with reduced mobility, the Blue Flag beaches of Playa del Postiguet and Playa del Saladar have the best facilities. Facilities include special walkways to the seashore, amphibian chairs, rest areas with sunshades and special furnishings, and showers with bathing chairs.

Forgot your swimming kit? - nudist beaches
Cala Palmera, Cala Cantalares and Cala los Judíos are three secluded sandy coves on the south side of Cabo de las Huertas that offer a safe place to sun the areas where the sun doesn't usually shine. They are harder to access, but this just means you'll have less company.

The healthy, laid back Spanish lifestyle and wonderful climate continues to attract people to this part of Spain.

 

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