Alicante is a chameleon of a city. Its colors change with every few hundred meters that you walk. Down by the port, it tows the line of the rest of the Spanish coast. The Playa del Postiguet is an expanse of soft biscuity sand that's topped with rentable loungers, parasols, cabana beds, beach volleyball courts and ocean-view bars. The Explanada de Espana, meanwhile, is a rule-straight street of waterside restaurants, sidewalk cafes and the odd craft stall.
To the north of the beach things change entirely. Here, the city's seams strain with history. There's the imposing Mount Benacantil, which towers 166 meters above Alicante, and is topped by the 16th-century castle of Santa Barbara. Then there's the Barrio Santa Cruz; a Baroque neighborhood that curls around the mountain's feet.
The west of Alicante looks different, again. Streets like Rambla de Mendez Nunez have all the hallmarks of a modern metropolis. Motorbike engines growl, traffic lights flash, and high-rise apartments define the skyline.
Alicante is also a springboard to the wider Costa Blanca and its surrounds. Here you'll find beaches with warm waters and mountains villages with timelines that tumble back thousands of years.
Alicante port is no shrinking violet. It's a significant commercial port and, as such, it sees scores of cargo ships, tugs, fishing boats, pleasure crafts and even tankers pull in and out every day in addition to its passenger vessels. The proximity that cruise ships get to the city center varies. If there is more than one ship visiting Alicante a day, some will dock right outside the terminal building and others will dock a few hundred meters away. The good news is that the port offers complimentary shuttle buses, which take cruise passengers from their ship to just outside the Volvo Ocean Race Museum, which is a minute's walk from the main Explanada de Espana. If you do want to walk, however, it will take you about 20 minutes.
Alicante cruise terminal has an information desk, Wi-Fi, taxi rank, a coffee bar and small shopping area where you can pick up souvenirs.
It's the same story in a lot of places popular with tourists, but in Alicante you get a lot of street musicians and freelance sales people trying to get you to pay for everything from an accordion performance to a pair of cheap sunglasses.
On Foot: Most of Alicante's tourist attractions are within walking distance of the port. If you take the complimentary shuttle buses to the stop outside Volvo Ocean Race Museum, the city's highlights are even more accessible. From here, you can get to the foot of the castle in 10 minutes.
By Tram: Tramlines run around Alicante city and beyond to the beaches of the Costa Blanca and up to Benidorm. One of the main stops is near the Central Market, and it's here that you can pick up a single or return ticket or a pass for multiple trips. The lines are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4 and 9. Line 2 weaves around the city center, while line 1 takes passengers on the hourlong journey to Benidorm.
By Taxi: There's a taxi station at the cruise terminal.
Spain's currency is the euro. Visit www.xe.com for current rates. ATMs are plentiful in Alicante. You'll find several on Explanada de Espana, right next to the port.
Spanish is the main language in Alicante. However, most people in the city can speak good English, too. If you want to show willing, ask for the bill in Spanish -- it's "La cuenta por favor."
The region around Alicante is known as The Land of Rice and it's estimated that somewhere around 100 different varieties are grown in the city's backyard. You won't have to go far to find a restaurant serving paella, but if you want to try something different go for the 'arroz con costra' -- a rice dish served with an egg crust. Tapas are also on tap in Alicante. Just be aware that the patatas bravas here is made with slices of potato -- cooked more like chips -- as opposed to chunks of new potatoes.
Alicante doesn't have a signature cocktail as such, although sangria is pretty much free flowing in the city. Most restaurants serve a shot of mistella after meals, though. It's a fortified wine that's the color of hay.
There are several pulse points as far as restaurants are concerned. Explanada de Espana features a parade of them, while Plaza de la Santisima Faz is penned in by them.
Nou Manolin: Dressed in neutral colors, this restaurant looks simple but it serves statement food. The tapas menu is a showcase of local ingredients including red Denia shrimp and Spanish meats. (Calle Villegas 3; +34 965 200 368; Monday to Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. to midnight)
Xiringuito: This tapas and cocktail bar tops Alicante's main beach. The menu features all the classic tapas dishes, from meats to slates of seafood, and it's all served up with a sea view (Playa de Postiguet; +34 670 377 033 Monday to Sunday 10 a.m. to late)
Taberna San Pascual: This restaurant has character, mainly thanks to its larger than life owner. The menu features paella and a long list of tapas dishes like patatas bravas, croquetas and meatballs. (Calle San Pascal 3; +34 645 398 595; Monday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
El Portal: There's a warehouse look to this restaurant. The menu showcases everything from salt baked fish to arroz negre -- a special rice dish made with squid ink. There's also a cocktail bar in the center where bartenders compete against each other. (Calle Bilbao 2; +34 965 143 269; Monday to Sunday, 1 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.)
--By Sarah Holt, Cruise Critic contributor
Spanish fans are a common keepsake from Alicante. There are a few market stalls along Explanada de Espana that sell them. Leather is another take home favored by tourists. Shops selling leather bags and jackets are easily found in the city.