A guide to my favourite Spanish coastal towns: Valencia, Alicante, Granada, and Nerja
EuropeSpain16 days / September 2017
Highs & Lows
Spain was one of the countries I explored on my solo backpacking trip across Europe. For the month of September, I began in Valencia, and followed the Mediterranean coast down to Malaga. September is such a beautiful month to be in Southern Spain. Every day was nothing but blue skies and sunshine - perfect beach weather! Although it was still technically high season, there weren’t as many tourists as there are in July and August, so it didn’t feel too crowded.
This trip I’m about to share is what really made me fall in love with Spain. The laid-back yet vibrant culture, simple whitewashed buildings, and stunning beaches, are just a few of the reasons it quickly became one of my favourite European countries.
I found Valencia to be the most “livable” Spanish city I visited. It’s quite modern and developed, but still maintains its historical city centre, which is full of character. There is so much to do and see in Valencia, and it’s also a very walkable city with a lot of green space! It actually has a huge urban park, Jardi del Turia, running through the entire city, so you can walk through the park from one side of the city to the other. Here, you’ll see people walking, jogging, biking, rollerblading, and even working-out at the outdoor gym sets.
Overhead of the park, there are some beautiful bridges to check out. One of them is called Puente de las Flores, which is filled with bright red and pink flowers from beginning to end. Another beautiful spot is the Puente del Mar, which has a really unique pond underneath which captures the reflection of the bridge and surrounding palm trees. On the Southern end of the city you’ll find one of my favourite city beaches, Malvarrosa beach. It’s super long and wide, and has a great boardwalk lined with palm trees and restaurants.
A must-see while you’re in Valencia is the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. It's so futuristic and incredible looking. I spent a full afternoon wandering around the grounds and taking pictures in awe. To learn more about the culture in Valencia, which is famous for its festival called Les Fallas, I’d recommend visiting the Museo Fallaro. If you are not able to be there in March when Les Fallas is taking place, the next best thing is to visit the Museo Fallaro, which is filled with the figurines that are created for the festival.
Valencia has so much history, and the old town is really beautiful and charming. Plaza de la Reina is the main square in the centre of old town, and from here you can visit the Grand Cathedral and bell tower. Another square to visit is the Plaza de la Virgen, with its gorgeous fountain and Cathedral of Santa Maria, a place that really comes to life when its all lit up at night. I would also highly recommend checking out El Mercat, the central market. It is located inside a stunning historic building and filled with dozens of fresh food and produce stalls.
Alicante is such a fun city with lots of young people and a great nightlife scene! It’s located on the Costa Blanca, with stunning beaches and breathtaking mountains. There is a city beach which I went to almost every day, Playa de Postiguet. It’s more of a smaller, urban beach, but it’s perfect for cooling off on hot days and it's close to everything. The biggest and most popular beach is Playa de San Juan, located only about 15 minutes drive from Alicante city centre, and it’s definitely worth a visit!
The old town of Alicante is called Barrio de la Santa Cruz, and it’s such a fun neighbourhood to explore. At night, the winding streets get filled with young people flooding the tapas bars. In the city centre you’ll find a long walking strip called the Explanada de España, which is lined with palm trees and goes from the old town all the way out to the marina. It’s beautiful for a walk at any time of the day, and there are market stalls all along the promenade to shop at.
Mercado central is a traditional Spanish market which is really fun to walk around. If you have a kitchen in your hostel, this is a great spot to get some fresh ingredients too cook with! They have everything from fresh meats and fish, to fruits and vegetables.
Castillo Santa Barbara is one of the most famous sights to see in Alicante. It is a castle set high up on the mountains and provides an incredible view of the city, surrounding mountains, and sea. Behind Playa de Postiguet, there is a lift you can take up, or you can opt to get some exercise and take the stairs.
Villajoyosa was the one of the happiest places I’ve ever seen. The brightly coloured fishing houses with plants hanging from every balcony were so beautiful, and made walking through the winding streets so much fun. The streets were pretty quiet when I was there, although it may have been because it was in the middle of the day, which is their siesta time. Nonetheless, I took so many great photos of the empty but vibrant streets. Villajoyosa also has a nice wide beach with white sand that stretches down for 3km, and lots of great restaurants along the seafront.
Granada is a region on the Costa Tropical, and although it’s city centre is not directly on the coast, you can reach the coastal villages of Granada in about 60km (an hour drive). A fun fact about Granada is that, due to its location, it's one of the few places in the world that you can go swimming at the beach and go skiing in the mountains on the same day!
What makes Granada one of the most unique Spanish cities, is its Islamic architecture and Moorish influence. This is especially true if you visit the Moorish quarter of Albayzín. You’ll feel like you’re in the middle of a market in Marrakech as you make your way down the narrow alleys, finding people offering to do henna outside their shops with beautifully coloured rugs and lanterns. Plaza Neuva is the main old city square in Granada and it is filled with lots shops, restaurants, and cafes.
Visiting Alhambra Palace is a must while in Granada - it is so impressive. You do not have to pay to walk the grounds, but you do have to book in advance and pay to enter the palace. The views from Alhambra Palace are really amazing, so even if you don’t plan to go inside the palace, it's worth a walk around the area. Be sure to make your way across to the Mirador San Nicolas, as it has an incredible view of the palace, perfect for sunset.
Another cool area to visit is Granada’s Sacromonte district, which can be reached by foot or by bus from the city centre. This is a neighbourhood in the hillside referred to as the gypsy quarter, where you can hike around and explore the caves. Some of these caves have actually been turned into venues for flamenco performances!
I had not heard of Nerja until someone I met in Granada told me about it. It’s a charming little beach town located between Granada and Malaga, and can actually be done as a day trip from either, as it’s about an hour away from both cities. It’s located on the Costa del Sun, named this because it's always sunny and warm there. This was the perfect place to just lay on the beach, swim in the sea, and relax! It’s smaller and less-known than some of the other coastal towns, so it’s a bit more quiet.
The most famous spot in Nerja is the Balcón de Europa translating to the “Balcony of Europe”. This is where everyone gathers around to take in the beautiful views of the beach and surrounding mountains. Strolling around the charming streets of Nerja, you will find many cute outdoor tapas bars and restaurants. There aren’t many big hotels in Nerja, which gives it more of an authentic feel.
The beaches in Nerja were absolutely incredible, and there are dozens to choose from. There were two main beaches in the centre of town, accessible from the Balcón de Europa. The one on the right side, El Salon Beach, is pretty wide so it never felt crowded at all. On the left side, you’ll find Playa de Calahonda, which is a bit smaller and more enclaved by the surrounding cliffs, but very popular.
Frigiliana is a town located a 15 minute bus ride from Nerja. It is the most picturesque quiet little village, high in the mountains, surrounded by stunning views. Frigiliana is one of my favourite villages to get lost in, with its whitewashed buildings and winding cobblestone streets scattered with bright pink bougainvilleas. You’ll find yourself in the main square when you come across the quaint Plaza de la Fuente Vieja, with the Old Fountain. I would recommend visiting the Santa Fiora Botanical Garden. Frigiliana is very popular for hiking, as there are many trails that take you through the mountains, providing incredible views of the landscape.
Q & A
Restaurant recommendations?Tapas bars are great so that you can try a variety of authentic Spanish foods. Best to go with a group of people so that you can all share. Pro tip: in Granada, there are bars that will give you free tapas with each drink you order - it'll be the cheapest dinner you ever have!
Tips you would give a friend?Don't miss out on seeing a flamenco show while you're in Spain.
Packing tips?Bring lots of swimsuits and cover-ups, the coast of Spain is all about its beautiful beaches, and that's probably where you'll be spending most of your time!
Transportation Tips?I travelled by GoEuro Bus from one city to the next, which was super affordable, comfortable, and easy. You can download the GoEuro App to book your bus.
Booking details?I used HostelWorld to book my accommodations for the most part, and didn't have any issues booking the hostels only a few days in advance.