Hogueras de San Juan, or The Bonfires of Saint John, is a huge festival celebrated around the world on the 23rd of June each year. Alicante in Spain hosts the largest instance, with tens of thousands of people flocking to the picturesque seaside city. It’s a wild week of celebrations with revellers focusing primarily on explosions, massive bonfires, drinking, eating and dancing throughout the night. It’s actually chaos.
When we made plans to visit Alicante we had no idea about any of this, it was just the next idyllic stop on our trip. We were informed of the festivities a day before we arrived but were ill-prepared for the fervour with which the Spanish party. We tried, oh how we tried, but simply failed to match the Spanish celebration ethic over three nights.
We arrived to Alicante in a ride-share from Barcelona with BlaBlaCar. We were collected from Trinitat Nova Station in Barcelona and delivered nearly six hours later, close to our accommodation in Alicante, for €36 each. This is definitely not the cheapest way to travel from Barcelona to Alicante, but we left it too late to book reasonably priced train tickets.
Ridesharing in Spain is generally quite good, the method is used widely and can be a great option for getting around the country on a low budget. All our rides were pleasant enough, some people like to chat and some don’t, but make sure to confirm there is air conditioning before you book. Spain is hot.
Barcelona to Alicante buses can be booked with ALSA. Tickets for this route can be purchased for €22.50, but be aware that the journey on bus will take at least 7.5 hours.
Trains on this route are provided by Renfe, tickets booked in advance can be as low as €16.50 and the journey is between four and five hours. It’s a no-brainer really and hindsight offers no consolation in our case.
If you are arriving to Alicante by plane, you will arrive at Alicante Airport. The airport is only about 5.5 miles from the city and is serviced by buses and taxis. A bus to the city costs between €1 and €2.70 depending on which service you use, and can take up to 40 minutes. Here’s a really good guide to the services available. Taxis will cost somewhere between €14 and €18 for the journey and will be much faster.
Alicante itself isn’t huge, so we walked everywhere, but there is a local bus service if you need. If you are staying outside of the city in another town, there is a tram that runs along the coast.
Hint – If you get dropped in the centre of town you can walk almost anywhere quite easily
We chose a room in a local’s apartment using Airbnb. Our room cost €28 per night and included a private balcony and a huge roof terrace. We were one block back from the beach, under the Castle and right in the centre of town. You really can’t underestimate the value of a good roof terrace, we ate our meals up there, drank wine and watched all the action around us. Without the terrace our apartment wouldn’t have been half as good.
Hostels in Alicante seem to be a relatively new addition. You can find dorm rooms in the city from around €13 per bed per night depending on where you want to stay and the season you visit. X Hostel, Olé Hostel and Old Centre Hostel all look to be good options.
Alicante bnb’s have double rooms going from €16 per night but if you’re sharing a bed you might want to stretch to something above €25 per night to ensure you get somewhere decent. You can rent whole apartments on sites like Airbnb from €40 per night.
Hotel rooms start from around €35 per night for a double, and if you go to €50 per night you are going to be staying somewhere fairly nice. Anything even close to €100 per night and you’re somewhere fancy.
Make sure to stay within the ‘ring’ road as that’s where all the action is. I would recommend staying close to the beach, since you will want to spend a lot of time there. One thing to be wary of when booking accommodation is that there are a lot of resorts along the coast to either side of Alicante. Double-check you are booking a bed where you want to be.
It was a strange time to visit Alicante. On one hand we got to see the city in full festival mode, with thousands of visitors all enjoying the biggest party of the year, and on the other we missed out on getting any real sense of Alicante itself. There was so much happening that we spent our time just witnessing the madness and soaking up the atmosphere, forgoing our usual efforts to explore deeper. Then again, perhaps we managed to see local culture and tradition distilled to it’s fiercest.
Hogueras de San Juan in Alicante is the summer solstice festival and week-long party. As an outsider it appears to be quaint family oriented tradition, with a focus on local competitions. We arrived to preparations for the parade and enormous ‘Fogueras’ in every square in the central city; giant cartoonish monuments made of wood, cardboard, cork and polyurethane that can be three or four stories high. There is a parade of music and beauty, with the young woman of surrounding villages presented in traditional dress while waving from decorated floats. There’s huge fireworks displays, and if you’ve never experienced how the Spanish do fireworks you are in for a treat. Then it gets serious.
‘Fogueras’ means bonfires. At midnight the day after the parade a countdown resounds from the castle above the city. People gather on the beach to watch an enormous explosion from the castle and then every Foguera in the city is set alight. Flames dominate the squares and streets all through the city, barely controlled by firefighters who begin to turn their hoses on the gathered masses. Expect to get hot, then wet. They will hunt you. Afterwards everyone gathers at the beach to light bonfires of their own, eat, drink and dance until sunrise.
If you visit Alicante between the 19th and the 25th of June, don’t expect to sleep unless you have earplugs (maybe not even then). You wont have a choice in this matter.
The city beach; Postiguet (or Playa del Postiguet), is a classic Spanish mix of bars, beautiful people, golden sand and warm water. In June getting in the water is like getting into a bath, the refreshing part is getting out and having the slight breeze dry you before you get back to your towel. You can take food and drink to the beach, or get it when you are there, but since our room was so close we just walked down for a dip when we felt like it. If you have the time and inclination there are some stunning, less populated beaches in the Alicante region. Check out this site for the best of them.
For cheap food you have to visit D’Tablas (warning, link has auto-play sound) for cañas and tapas at least once. It will be crowded, loud and frantic, the waiters might not smile and you might have to stand, but this place is awesome. Waiters walk around with huge trays of cañas (tiny beers), you grab one and they will give you a ticket. Each additional beer you grab will be marked down on the ticket and added up at the end. The same goes for tapas, except you collect wooden trays to indicate the quantity you’ve had. The tapas will be different depending on if you are standing or seated, so if you want more of a meal it’s best to ask/wait for a seat. Here’s the thing; cañas are €0.60 and tapas are €0.90 each. We spent about an hour eating and drinking freely and owed €10.80 between us both. We went twice.
Another good place to eat is Totoro Tapas. They obviously do tapas but if you go when it’s quiet (so you can think), you can order larger plates which can be quite good. We feasted for lunch with a large jug of sangria and paid €28.20 for both of us.
Santa Barbara Castle can be seen sitting atop Mount Benacantil, overlooking the city and region. There’s a lift opposite Postiguet beach that operates from 10:00 until 19:20 and costs €2.70, but if you miss it like we did then its a nice, if confusing, walk up the hill to the castle. Entry to outdoor areas is free, which is remarkable considering how cool it is up there and the incredible views on offer. The Santa Barbara Castle is open until 22:00 in the summer, so you can tick ‘watch a sunset from a castle’ off your list.
There’s a huge ship in the harbour that doubles as a restaurant called the Santísima Trinidad. At one point this ship was the heaviest armed sail ship in the world. Now it just sits there and people eat on it, but it’s worth a look.
If we were to return to Alicante I would still say three nights is sufficient time to see the city. Longer would mean you could dig a little deeper, but would really just have more time to spend on the beach.
Hint – It’s worth walking around the old town underneath the castle as soon as you arrive. We left it until our last day and found lots of bars & shops we would have loved to have visited earlier.
Alicante for three nights;
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