The poor, sad caliph

There’s a cool legend about how Alicante, Spain got its name. Once upon a Moorish time, there was a pair of star-crossed lovers named Ali and Cántara. They were madly in love, but Ali was poor – and Cántara’s father, the wealthy caliph who ruled the city, refused to give her hand in marriage. Rather than live without each other, they threw themselves off the castle atop Mount Benacantil. The caliph died of grief over the loss of his beautiful daughter, and to this day you can see his somber profile etched into the cliff – La Cara del Moro. There’s “moro” to the story, but you get the Shakespearean gist.

The truth is a little less glamorous, but still totally descriptive of this luminous city: Alicante is derived from an Arabic word that means “city of light.”

From Valencia, Alicante was the second stop on our month-long journey down Spain’s Costa Blanca region on the Mediterranean coast. And this city captured our hearts – so much so that Alicante is our likely next home base once we relocate to Spain, sometime within the next couple of years.

Here are 8 reasons we are in love with Alicante, Spain – with a few visitor tips thrown in. As usual, many of the photos are in galleries – just click through to see larger versions.

1. Alicante is approachable, compact, and walkable – with scores of “pocket parks.” 

As a smaller city with only 350,000 people, Alicante felt immediately comfortable to us. From our centrally located apartment, we had an easy walk to the train station, waterfront, beaches, fantastic restaurants, museums, and the historic neighborhoods. The city seems tailored to pedestrians, and motorized traffic is never too heavy.

One of the things we loved the most about walking around in Alicante is its numerous small parks, each with its own interesting array of bars, shops and restaurants. One of the largest is Plaza Luceros, encircled by a huge traffic roundabout and located a mere two blocks from the train station. it’s a great place to sit, have a glass of wine and a couple of tapas, and people-watch. The broad Avenida Federico Soto spokes off from Plaza Luceros and offers a leafy pedestrian thoroughfare down to the waterfront.


2. El Castillo de Santa Barbara

It’s hard to miss Santa Barbara Castle, looming over Alicante from its 166-meter perch on Mount Benacantil. The castle’s origins date back to Ali and Cántara’s time, when the Moors began their reign in the 8th century. The fortress remained a Muslim stronghold well into the 13th century and even after the Christian conquest in 1248. In the ensuing centuries, Santa Barbara Castle was continually expanded and fortified – and it played an important military role into the 1800s. The 360-degree view from the top is not only breathtaking, but shows how strategic this location was for defending Alicante from the enemies of every era – Visigoths, Moors, Christians, Berber pirates, Turks, and various European invaders during the War of Spanish Succession.

TIP: The walk up to the castle is easy and incredibly scenic. There are several different approaches, but we chose to walk through the Casco Antiguo neighborhood to the switchbacking path on the southeast side of the mountain. It’s a good idea to start your walk early in the morning to avoid the crowds. And if you’re not up for the walk, there’s a high-speed lift located on the beach side of the hill. The castle opens at 10 a.m. and offers guided tours and an interesting museum.

3. The Casco Antiguo-Santa Cruz District

Alicante’s historic center starts with the Santa Cruz barrio on the slopes of Mount Benacantil and reaches down to the waterfront. We loved wandering the narrow streets of Santa Cruz, an old fishermen’s quarter that is the city’s most traditional and authentic neighborhood. As you head further down the hill, you’ll encounter numerous museums, bars, pubs, and restaurants alongside some of Alicante’s oldest landmarks – such as the baroque town hall and Alicante’s oldest active church, the Basilica of Santa Maria.

4. The Central Market

Alicante’s beautiful Mercado Central, completed in 1911, is a must-visit for foodies. The compact market offers more than 200 stalls on two levels, most of which have been owned and operated by the same families for generations. It’s the place frequented by locals for the best prices and freshest produce, meats, cheeses, and gourmet items.

TIP: Go early – the market closes at 2:30 p.m. most days and is closed on Sunday.

5. The Alicante Waterfront 

One of Alicante’s signature attractions is its stunning waterfront promenade. Bordered by rows of tall palms, the promenade is paved with more than 6 million marble tiles to create a wave mosaic. The promenade fronts some of Alicante’s prettiest buildings and is lined with scores of restaurants and cafes.

Just across from the promenade is the Marina Deportiva del Puerto de Alicante, the city’s enormous marina. As former cruising sailors, we saw lots of floating eye candy in that marina and got to thinking, “Hmmm – maybe another boat is in our future!” The marina is bordered by a long pier of seafood restaurants and the Ocean Race Museum, celebrating one of the world’s longest and most challenging around-the-world races.

6. Las Playas 

Another large plus for Alicante is its proximity to two gorgeous beaches. Just up from the promenade in the heart of the city is Playa del Postiguet, a beautiful white sand beach in the shadow of Santa Barbara Castle.  A little further up the coast is Playa de San Juan, a stunning stretch of sand that goes on for 7 kilometers. Playa de San Juan is about 13 kilometers from the Alicante historic district, but is easily reachable on the TRAM light rail system. We were especially taken with Playa de San Juan, which is a recognized Blue Flag beach for its top water quality and high beach standards.

7. The Gastro Scene

Food and wine lovers that we are, we were in culinary heaven in Alicante. Here were our favorite dining experiences:

  • Plaza Canalla, on the Plaza Gabriel Miró. Their creative take on tapas is worth a visit.
  • Infragrante Pizza Bar, also near the Plaza Gabriel Miró. Fantastic wood-fired pies and yummy sangria.
  • La Casa de Leo, a charming little place run by a French couple and billed as “French-Spanish fusion.” Memorable food and cocktails. We went twice!
  • Thai Corner. On our last night in Alicante, we were hungry for something different, and Thai Corner fit the bill. Great Thai food and hip atmosphere.
  • El Cantó, a small but highly popular tapas bar where we had a memorable lunch with our new Alicante friend, Andres. This is a truly local place that we never would have found on our own. Thank you, Andres!
8. Getting There by Train

Our new motto: Why fly when you can take the train?? We fell in love with train travel on our 2018 visit to Peru, when we treated ourselves to a fantastic PeruRail ride to Lake Titicaca after our trek on the Inca Trail. On this trip to Spain, rather than flying round-trip from Madrid to Valencia, we took the RENFE high-speed train – zooming along at speeds that sometimes topped 300 km/hour. From Valencia to Alicante and back, we took RENFE’s Euromed line, somewhat slower but no less scenic and relaxing.

Train travel is just so darn easy: Turn up at the station a half hour before your departure, go through a quick x-ray of your belongings, and get on your car with all your luggage at hand. Contrast that with the stressed-out cattle call that air travel has become. And it’s inexpensive – the round trip on the Euromed was only about €80 for both of us.

TIPS: The RENFE website wasn’t working while we were in Spain, so we ended up buying our tickets at the train stations. The further in advance you buy your tickets, the cheaper they are. The basic tourist-class ticket doesn’t allow you to make changes, so spend a few more Euros and get a Flexible ticket (we learned this the hard way!).

Other tips
  • ALICANTE TOURIST INFO: Here’s a nice site for visitors.
  • BIKE TOUR: We took an enjoyable tour with BlueBike, which also offers bike rentals. Over the 2.5-hour tour, we learned plenty of tidbits about Alicante’s vibrant history and got some exercise in the bargain!
  • PUBLIC TRANSIT: Alicante has a fantastic light rail system, the Alicante Metropolitan TRAM. The TRAM offers both a partially underground, modern tramway through the center and a train route to Benidorm, a luxury resort area north of Alicante. We enjoyed taking the TRAM out to visit our new friends Andres, Teresa, and baby Mario – it was fast and easy.
  • OUR LODGING. We loved our roomy apartment at Alicante Center Apart so much that we stayed there twice: on our first visit to Alicante and for two more nights after our car travels along the coast. The apartment is huge, with a well-appointed kitchen, a separate sleeping alcove in addition to the master bedroom, and two bathrooms. We even asked if it could be rented longer-term, as it would make a perfect landing pad once we move to Alicante (sadly, no).
Kicking back in our roomy apartment right in the heart of Alicante
Summary: Alicante, Spain ticks all of our boxes!

Alicante has everything (and then some) that we look for in a home city: Affordability, walkability, abundant sunshine and great weather, great public transportation, an international airport that links to every major city in Europe, outstanding train connections, a 2,000-year-old culture, a hot culinary scene, easy beach access, a huge marina and sailing scene, and stunning beauty at every turn. Alicante fits us like a glove. Guess we’ll be apartment-hunting before too long!

Have you been to Alicante? What are your favorites?

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  1. This was such a fabulous write-up!! Pictures fantastic! Thank you for such an effort!!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks for reading, Janis! Good to hear from you 🙂

  2. What a joy to view this! Your perceptive prose and eye for composition make it a pleasure to see your posts in my Inbox
    But, this one’s special. I’d move there too, in a heartbeat, if I could. So much beauty in such a small space. Bueno! NjW

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Nigel! Alicante really is a magical place, and you’re right, it’s very compact. Just our kind of city 🙂

  3. I can see why Alicante ticks all your boxes.So excited to read that you are thinking of relocating to Europe and to a place that’s within easy travel proximity to Portugal. Enjoy the rest of your time in Spain!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Anita – so great to hear from you! Yes, our plan is to be in Europe, possibly within the next year and a half. And Portugal is high on our list to visit! Looking forward to finally meeting you one of these days.

  4. I love your tour of this cute city. You had me hooked at the picture of the historic downtown with a cafe on the sidewalk. All of that a castle and a beach! Maggie

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Maggie! The culinary scene with the many outdoor dining opportunities is a huge draw for us. Not to mention the castle and beaches! Hope you two are well.

  5. Alicante will be a fabulous new home for you two, and dare I say there may be a ‘Compania’ in your future? We’re happy for you!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You never know with us! Probably not a “Compania” but maybe a “stinkpotter” (what we sailors used to sneeringly call power boats). Seeing so many beautiful marinas and boats really got us yearning for the good old cruising days. Hope you and Mariah are well – I enjoy your Facebook videos!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Rebecca! Oh, don’t worry – our blog readers are going to get a blow-by-blow – ha! Hope you and your family are well.

    • Really enjoyed your post – you had me at the romantic but sad tale of the star-crossed lovers. We toured Spain for a month but never made it to the Costa Brava area to discover the beauty of Alicante. If we ever make a return trip, Alicante would definitely merit a long stop based on your post! Happy you found your new port of call.

      • John and Susan Pazera Reply

        Thank you, Annie! Hope you can make it to Alicante someday and visit us (after our move). Have a great day!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Pam – it does feel right on so many levels 🙂

  6. Hola! We were in Alicante last November as part of a 36-day Mediterranean cruise. It is indeed a lovely city. Your photos brought back memories and one of them, the ‘wavy’ promenade is identical to one I took…minus your body! We were seriously considering relocating to Medellin but now we’ve changed our minds and will be going back to Cuenca, Ecuador again…permanently. We do love Spain however!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Ahh – I hope you can get back to Alicante someday and spend more time! Our one experience with a big cruise was that the shore visits were way too short to get the essence of a place. Ecuador is beautiful – we did a trip to Quito and the Galapagos a few years ago but never visited Cuenca. We also want to get to Monticristi and have some “real” Panama hats made for us! Just wondering why you chose it over Medellin?

  7. Jere in Algarve Portugal Reply

    Enjoyed reading your adventures in Alicante. Sounds great! I really like Spain as well, especially the Tapa scene, so many different varieties to try out and enjoy. Glad you found your fit in Spain. Hugs!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, dear Jere! We ate ourselves silly in Spain – the tapas and especially the seafood were to die for! And the WINE . . . We’re looking forward to being based there soon so we can finally come and visit you and Remi, and see Portugal. Big hugs from los dos!

  8. what an incredible tour of this city! My husband and I are planning a trip to Spain next year so I’ll be sure to put this city with our plans! 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Meg! That whole section of coast (called the Costa Blanca) from Valencia to Cartagena really is spectacular. Just one quaint (well, some are not so quaint) seaside town after another. We targeted that area with this trip because we know we want to be based there someday, but there’s so much more of Spain to explore. Let us know how your plans progress!

  9. Scott Thompson Reply

    Thanks for the pics and tips! God willing, we plan to start traveling next year starting with Panama and Colombia. Spain probably the following year.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Good luck with your travel plans, and let us know if you have any questions about Panama or Colombia!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Christie! I really enjoyed your post about Vlad the Impaler as well. It’s the legends, true or not, that can really bring a place to life. Have a great day!

  10. Nancy Klein Reply

    Glad to know you love Alicante. We look to seeing you both when you move over here!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Same here, Nancy! So glad we got to meet you and Rick, and it’s great to know that we already have friends there 🙂

  11. Looks fabulous and, if it’s not a silly thing to say, very Spanish! Of all the many Spanish cities I’ve visited, I haven’t yet been to Alicante, looks like I’ve got to add it to the list.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Ha, I know what you mean! Alicante is certainly a very traditional Spanish city, but with all the modern conveniences that travelers need. Hope you two can make it there one day – maybe after we’re living there 🙂

  12. I can see why this city is so enjoyable! I’d never heard of it before, thanks for sharing.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You are so welcome, and thanks for reading!

  13. Your pictures are beautiful, and I can see why you liked it. I’ve never been, and that story about the name is interesting; I’d never heard it before 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you for reading, Hannah! Have a great day 🙂

  14. Great photos and commentary. I couldnt agree more about the ease of train travel in Europe. Such a civilized way to move around.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Henry! Hope you’re doing well. Fancy coming back to Colombia for a visit?

  15. Unfortunately I’ve never been to Spain. Your post and photos are fantastic and I, again, go along with you. The town looks lovely. Do you think you’ll be moving there? If so, good luck. I’m sure you two will fit in wherever you go. Cheers, Muriel

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Muriel! Yes, our long-term plan has been to relocate to Spain so we can travel Europe more easily. Alicante makes sense to us on so many levels! Hope you have a great day.

  16. I can see why you felt at home in Alicante. It has an impressive castle with equally (if not more) impressive views of the city from it. It boasts a beautiful promenade with those handsome buildings and palm trees. It offers interesting alleys and pocket parks to explore. And it has great food. What’s not to love?

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Bama – thanks much! Yes, Alicante has so much to offer. It probably won’t be the last place we live in, but it will be a great home base for Europe. Hope you and your family are well!

  17. That looks like an amazing new home. I can’t wait to hear more about it when you eventually make the move. I love how Spain (and Portugal) have all these wonderful plazas and communal spaces. We do that so badly in Aus. Mel

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Mel – I know what you mean; the states aren’t so good at creating community spaces either. We noticed that people really live outdoors in Spain, and not just because of the pandemic. The amazing weather there makes it possible!

  18. Oh wow, Alicante sounds/looks just perfect! Love the story about the name 💕 I’ve seen so little of Spain but this sure makes me want to see more.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Alison! We feel the same about Spain – we’ve just cracked the surface of everything to see there. Hope you two are well!

  19. I remember reading this post, but having not made a comment. We are just about to visit Alicate next, currently in Javea and I remember how much you enjoyed it.
    Lots of great information in this post 😀 thank you.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Gilda! You’re probably in Alicante by now. I know you’ll have as great a time as we did. We really want to see more of Javea – we got there just at dusk and it had a kind of magical quality. We remember seeing lots of motor homes parked in the little towns north of Alicante, so it must be a great place to go motor-roaming. So much more to explore in Spain!

  20. One of my favorite parts of Alicante was their history against Franco’s Spain. They were the first city in Spain to be allowed to have people wear bikinis on the beach during the Franco times.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Interesting – we did not know about that bikini breakthrough. We did hear an awful story of Franco’s colluding with the Nazis to bomb Alicante, which ended up destroying a lot of old, historic structures on the waterfront (the Casa Carbonell is one of of the few left) – not to mention killing a lot of people. War is hell. Anyway, thank you for your comment!

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