Top 10 Places to Visit in and Around Denia, Spain
Why Visit Denia?
Visitors to Spain are spoilt for choice with a vast number of interesting locations to visit, so what made us choose Denia as a winter holiday location? The clue partly lies in the question. Denia is located on the Costa Blanca, roughly translated as the White Coast. It has one of the mildest climates on the Spanish mainland, with temperatures in the mid-50s Fahrenheit and often higher in the winter. The above photo was taken in January.
Denia lies halfway between Valencia and Alicante. Both have airports, which increases the chance of finding a good flight deal.
There are many hotels on the Costa Blanca. Keen to fill their rooms in the quieter months, these hotels often offer good deals to out of season travelers.
This article draws on our experience of a January holiday in Denia, as well as other holidays we have taken in the surrounding area over the winter months.
Our Top 10 Things to See in and Around Denia
Here's our list of places to visit around Denia. The first 6 are reasonably local and the last 4 are further afield.
- The center of Denia
- The port of Denia
- Denia castle
- A walk along the coast
- Cap de Sant Antoni
1. The Center of Denia
When we arrive in a new place, we start off by exploring the area nearby and gradually move further afield. First stop is usually hotel reception for a map of the local area and a few pointers as to where they recommend us heading. The second stop is the local Tourist Information Office, although opening times can be a little variable.
Suitably equipped with maps and information we headed into the center of town. Denia is a working town with a port, so it differs slightly from other more tourist-orientated towns along the Costa Blanca. We actually found this quite refreshing. It's good to be in a place where the locals outnumber the visitors (at least in the winter months).
We started our tour by heading to Plaza Constitucion, the heart of the older part of town. The square is bordered by the Gothic style town hall with its Baroque facade. On another side stands Iglesia de la Asuncion. The church dates from the mid-18th-century. It was so damaged in the War of Independence, that it had to be rebuilt and rededicated in 1816. It suffered further in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 when many movable items were taken. Overlooked by the castle walls, Plaza Constitucion made a pleasant stopping place especially as we were pleased to find a favorite Spanish eating place here, '100 Montaditos' offering drinks and snacks at very reasonable prices.
On our way back towards the coast, we came across Iglesia San Antonio de Padua, set in the Plaza Convento with cafes on the square outside. Dating from the late 16th-century, the church was built to go with a Franciscan convent complex. This church had to be remodeled over several decades in the mid 18th century after suffering damage in the War of Succession. It too had many items removed during the Spanish Civil War.
To complete our walk around the town we headed to the Museo del Juguete. The entrance was free. It doesn't take long to look around (15-20 minutes), but it gives an insight into the toy manufacturing industry in Denia in the past and takes everyone on a trip down memory lane.
2. The Port of Denia
Denia's working relationship with the sea goes way back. The Romans first established a naval base here in the 1st century BC. Denia's working port is adjacent to the city and within easy walking distance of the center. It is multifunctional, incorporating a fishing port, two marinas, a superyacht shipyard and a ferry terminal with sailings to Mallorca, Ibiza, and Formentera.
It's a pleasant walk to head out along the quay, separating the port from the beach to a stretch of cafes, bars, and shops selling sailing supplies. Sitting outside a bar in the warm winter sun and gazing back across the water towards the city and the castle is a great way to relax.
In the summer there are boat trips along the coast from the port of Denia.
3. Denia Castle
Evidence of human habitation in the area near Denia has been found from prehistoric times. In the 4th century BC, it was a Greek colony and later became part of the Roman empire, named Dianum after the Roman goddess Diana. The castle, perched on a large rocky crag, overlooking the sea and the city, was originally built by Moorish Arabs in the 11th–12th centuries. The Arab name for the city, Daniyah means 'lowland'.
The castle area has been partially restored and the Governor's Palace is now an archaeological museum, displaying artifacts from the surrounding area. Those who make their way up to the castle from the center of the city are rewarded with stunning views over the surrounding area. For a nominal entrance fee, a visit to this high point of Denia is highly recommended.
4. A Walk Along the Coast
As our hotel was located on the south-western edge of Denia, near the port, we started our coastal exploration by walking away from the city in this direction. Looking from the boulders marking the edge of the port, we could see the sweeping curve of a bay, bordered by a beach. This was Marineta Cassiana. There was a wide walkway running by it and from the other side of the bay, we had a good view back towards Denia across the water.
As we headed further on into an area called Les Rotes, the coastline became more rugged and scenic. This is part of the marine reserve of Cabo San Antonio, a rocky promontory further along the coast. The path varied, it became a quiet coastal road for a while and we came across the odd restaurant and bar along the way. The coastal path returned as we walked around rocky coves. Although it was January we came across several hardy swimmers, clambering over the rocks into the sea for a refreshing dip.
This was a very pleasant walk, with an ever-changing vista. If you prefer long sweeps of sandy beaches, it's best to head in the opposite direction, as there are long sandy stretches, popular with families especially in the summer months to the other side of the port, northwest of Denia.
5. Cap de Sant Antoni
A visit to Cap de Sant Antoni, a sight of great natural beauty, was recommended to us by the Tourist Information in Denia. It's over 11km from Denia to Cap de Sant Antoni, so we opted to take a taxi, agreeing with the driver that he would wait for us and then take us on to Xabia, the next coastal town.
This area was declared a nature reserve in 1993. The cliffs reach heights of 175 meters. The area around the base of the cape is a marine park. There has been a lighthouse here since 1855. To the north lies Denia and the Gulf of Valencia, to the south the bay of Xabia.
Our taxi driver took us to a viewpoint from where we could look down towards the port of Xabia and across the bay. The views did not disappoint and I would recommend a visit here.
We had been told that Xabia was an interesting place to visit, but no one had mentioned how spread out it was. So, when our taxi driver asked where we wanted to be dropped off, we assumed that landing up down by the beach would be fine and within easy reach of the rest of the town. Our driver suggested Playa del Arenal. It certainly was a very pleasant beach, with a wide expanse of sand and a few palm trees backed by a selection of bars and small tourist shops. The water was clear and we saw a swimmer in January. It was a pleasant location for coffee.
Arenal turned out to be over 3 kilometers south of the port. As we walked towards Xabia port, the sandy beach at Arenal was replaced by a much rockier, shingle coastline. We found a pleasant seafront promenade along Av. Mediterraneo, which was lined with shops and bars, another great location for a drink. Beyond the port, we could see the headland of Cap Sant Antoni.
Realizing that the historical center was inland, we headed away from the coast uphill to try and find it, making a few wrong turns along the way. The center of old Xabia is over 2 kilometers from the port. Our walk in the heat of the day was made the more pleasant by the sights around us. We could see the buildings becoming older and more traditional as we came away from the coast and we could see a line of old windmills up on the hill above the town.
Mid-afternoon in January, the old town of Xabia was surprisingly quiet. We headed for the town hall square and, in need of refreshment after the uphill walk in the sun, found a bar nearby. It was good to view the medieval buildings from the outside, but none were open in the afternoon. The town was built with walls around to keep out pirates. The Iglesia Fortaleza de San Bartolome dates from the early 16th century. when it performed a dual defense and religious role.
After wandering around the old town, we found the bus station down the hill, where we discovered that there was quite a wait for a bus to Denia. Luckily we had spotted a supermarket, so we used the time to stock up on a few provisions.
Tip: When planning trips, try to gather as much information as possible. A map of the area, before arriving, would have been useful for us to plan our visit more efficiently, as well as details of places of interest and opening times. Likewise, a bus timetable would have helped us plan our return trip.
Xabia is around 10.9 kilometers southeast of Denia. It takes 22 minutes to get here by car, around half the time it takes using public transport.
Xabia or Javea?
Why two spellings? The first is in the Valencian language (similar to Catalan) and the second is in Spanish.
Valencia, Spain's third-largest city after Madrid and Barcelona and the region's capital, is well worth a visit. We spent a week here with two teenagers several years ago and I would be hard-pressed to think of anywhere else on our travels that ticks so many boxes. It is around 105 kilometers northwest of Denia and can be reached in 1 hour, 15 minutes by car.
Having thoroughly tested it out, I would say that it's a city that has something for everyone. Beware though, with the historic center located around 5 kilometers inland from the coast, the sites are spread out.
We were impressed with the wide, sandy beach to the north of the port and the pleasant pedestrian promenade running along it with great bars and restaurants. This is the place to come for paella Valenciana, the local fish-free version of the traditional Spanish dish. The port itself is interesting and we took a pleasant cruise around it.
The City of Arts and Sciences
The modern landmark that most people associate with Valencia is the City of Arts and Sciences, located to the west of the port. Apart from the stunning modern architecture to feast your eyes on, the activities available here can fill a day. We visited the hands-on science museum, the oceanographic complex and the hemispheric (Laserium, planetarium and Imax cinema).
You can purchase combined tickets for the combinations that interest you. Valencia opera house is also located here. The whole complex, which opened in 2004, is set in the dried-up river bed of the River Turia, which was diverted after a significant flood in 1957.
The Historic Center of Valencia
If you have the time, a pleasant route into the historic center of Valencia is to follow the old course of the River Turia, which has been transformed into a picturesque sunken park. The old river bed loops around the city center.
Once in the center, you can choose to take a sedate tour around the sights in a horse and carriage or walk. Don't miss the cathedral with views over the city from the tower and what's claimed to be the holy grail, the Plaza de la Reina, Plaza de la Virgen, the silk exchange, central market, and the ancient town gate, to name but a few.
Our explorations were slightly limited by time, having spent longer than expected enjoying the gardens of La Turia on the way in and by having two teenagers with us. It's definitely a historic center that we could re-visit.
Bio Parc Valencia
It took some getting to on public transport, but our family enjoyed the Bio Parc, located over 2.5 kilometers northwest of the center of the city, at the end of the old Turia river bed. In this 21st Century zoo, the animals live in as natural a habitat as possible and we were impressed by the areas designed for them to roam in.
Our two teenage daughters enjoyed the experience, which is a great accolade for this innovative take on a zoo.
Calpe (Calp in Valenciana) is around 35 kilometers south of Denia and can be reached in under 40 minutes by car. Evidence of civilization in this location has been traced back to the Bronze Age. The town is dominated by the Penon de Ifach, a huge 332-meter high rock joined to the mainland by a narrow strip of land. It is one of the smallest nature reserves in Europe. For the more adventurous, there is a route to walk up the rock and it is also a favored spot for climbers. Before embarking on such an excursion it is best to take advice locally, wear suitable footwear and avoid the hottest part of the day.
Once a village, Calpe expanded towards the west in the 19th Century and the fishing industry also took off along the coast. Salt was produced from the salt flats, which were cleaned up early in the 20th century. But it is now tourism, which brings the biggest boost to the town's economy. Starting with the Ifach Parador (Spanish luxury hotel) in 1935, villas and small hotels were built 1945-1950. The second half of the 1960s saw a dramatic increase in construction work along the Costa Blanca.
The old town of Calpe lies behind Playa Arenal on the bay of Calpe to the southern side of Penon d'Ifach. Just inland from Penon d'Ifach and within easy walking distance of Calpe are Las Salinas, the salt flats, now a nature reserve.
We visited Calpe as the final stop on an afternoon tour of the area from Benidorm. Dropping down towards the coast, we were enchanted by the sweep of the bay and the great rocky outcrop towering over it. We landed up near the fishing port, where fish restaurants showcased their menu, which had been freshly caught. Grilled sardines were served up for our party, but my lingering memory was of the great rock looming over us in the dusk of a late afternoon in February.
Our all too brief visit was enough to whet our appetite to see more of Calpe and we hope someday to return.
Nowhere on the Costa Blanca showcases the effects of mass tourism more than Benidorm. The skyline is dominated by high rise hotels and holiday apartments, which were built to accommodate the booming tourist industry, along with an array of bars, restaurants and amusement outlets. The edge of the sprawling resort is bordered by Mundomar (described as a marine animal park), Terra Natura (an animal park), Terra Mitica (a theme park) and various water parks. I'm told that in the height of the summer season, with accommodation full, there is hardly a space to be had on the beaches. For many, the above description is enough to put them off visiting.
I was one of those. When a Christmas school vacation stretched into January one year, it gave us the option of taking an out of season break. As my husband headed off to the travel agent's to make some inquiries, my parting words were: "Anywhere but Benidorm". He came back with good and bad news. The good news was that he had found a very reasonable all-inclusive deal for a family of six. The bad news (or so I thought) was that it was Benidorm.
It turned out to be one of the best family holidays we had. The weather in January exceeded all expectations. We discovered the old town of Benidorm, with a whitewashed, balustraded promontory, Balcon del Mediterraneo, jutting out into the sea. From here you can see the sweep of the 5 kilometers of white, sandy beaches, Playa Levante and Playa Poniente either side of the promontory. Out of season, it's a pleasant stroll along the promenade behind the beach, with plenty of bars to choose from for refreshments. Benidorm Island lies 3.5 kilometers offshore and there are boat trips from the port in the old town. We took a glass-bottomed boat out here for a look at the sea life. The view from this unspoiled island gives a different perspective on Benidorm.
If you are looking for a very reasonably priced off-season break, Benidorm is the place to go. We actually returned the following year, which is a glowing accolade as we tend to avoid revisiting places. We also have friends who have done similar. Benidorm has a split personality. In the busy summer season, it is the haunt of the young party-going set, but out of season, it assumes a quieter, more sedate atmosphere as the older generation moves in to take advantage of the favorable climate.
If you fancy a change of scene from the more sedate pace of Denia, Benidorm, at just over 51 kilometers to the southwest, can be reached in around 39 minutes by car via the toll motorway.
Tip: If you are planning a trip to Benidorm to visit one of the parks, it's best to check opening times out of season, as there are sometimes temporary closures in the winter months for refurbishment.
Alicante, the region's second-largest town, lies 91.5 kilometers southwest of Denia and can be reached in around 1 hour 6 minutes via the toll motorway. For many, Alicante is the gateway to the Costa Blanca as they fly into the airport here, bypassing the town on their way to Benidorm and other coastal resorts. We were in this group until we spent a week here early in November.
Alicante is a working town with plenty to offer visitors. The coast is dominated by its large port, but running behind it, the palm-tree shaded Paseo Esplanada de Espana is a pleasant place to walk or stop for a drink in the many bars and cafes along its stretch.
The town beach, Playa Postiguet, northeast of the port is a sandy expanse, lined with sun loungers and we spent many hours there relaxing and swimming in the sea. Given that it was November and the hotel pool had closed this was a real bonus for us.
El Barrio, the old quarter of the town, is well worth exploring with its maze of streets, bars, and restaurants, making it the perfect location for an evening meal.
The highlight of our time in Alicante was a visit to Santa Barbara castle. It towers over the town from its perch high up to the northeast. There is a lift from near Postiguet Playa up through the rock, but this was out of order when we visited. We took the scenic route, approaching it from the northeastern location of our hotel. The effort was rewarded by the stunning views from the top over the coastline and the town below. The partially restored castle had plenty of interesting exhibitions and we easily spent 3 hours up there, getting good value for the moderate admission charge and eventually walking down towards the old town.
Alicante ticks a lot of boxes as a destination in its own right. The only downside of an out of season visit was that boat trips were not running.
Costa Blanca, Spain
As we prefer to avoid hire cars if possible, all of our trips to this region relied on public transport. This worked well when airport transfers were included to Benidorm and also when based in Alicante or Valencia, which have good public transport links to their respective airports.
Our trip to Denia was a little more problematic. After flying into Valencia, the metro into the city was fine, but there was a wait for a coach, which then took over two hours to reach Denia, making it a day of travel. With the benefit of hindsight, a hire car might have been a better option on this occasion.
Friends hired a car from Alicante airport to drive to Denia in the evening. Thinking of everything, they brought a sat-nav from home. As their journey dragged on into the night, they could not understand why it was taking so long to reach their villa. Admittedly the sound was not working on their sat-nav. Eventually, late into the night, they arrived. The following day they realized that the previous user of the sat-nav had not only turned off the voice because it irritated him but had also set it to avoid toll roads! The quickest way to move around the area is to use the toll motorway. Their journey back to the airport was much quicker!
Have Your Say
Which is your favorite?
You might be wondering why all of the above sights are on or very near the coast. This is because all our breaks in this area were taken between late October and February, as we tried to escape the cold and damp of winter in the UK. We tend to stick to the coastal areas where it's warmer. The mountainous inland areas of this region of Spain look beautiful, but a little cool for us.
There is much to recommend the area of Costa Blanca to visitors. It has a favored climate, a little hot for some in the summer, but mild and even warm in the winter. This article touches on a few places of interest, but there is much more for us still to explore in the region.
What greater recommendation can there be than in writing this article, my interest in the area has been reignited and we are considering it again as a future holiday destination. Maybe, after reading this, you will too!
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Liz Westwood