Benidorm is a much-derided city. But it’s generally derided by people who haven’t been. The same people who need to be told what to like and slavishly follow popular opinion. British snobs in particular love to mock Benidorm. Who wants these people around anyway? Don’t fall for the petty-minded assumptions of these ultimate conformists. These people acquire the entirety of their persona and taste from the media. You’re better than that.
“The great masses, who have never been, in the history of mankind, more subject to hypnotic suggestion than they are right now, have become the puppets of _public opinion_.” - Ludwig Klages
In this article, we will explore what makes Benidorm so special and discover why it engenders fierce loyalty in the huge number of Europeans who return time and time again.
I love Benidorm, and I’m glad that it remains a destination for hard-working northern Europeans seeking a break in the sun. While the next-big-thing crowd may be put off, that leaves the city open to those of us who appreciate its unique character.
Benidorm, located in Valencia on the eastern coast of Spain, has abundant sunshine. You’re looking at 320 sunny days a year and an annual average of 8 hours of sun a day. If you want to escape the unpredictability of a British or Swedish summer, they make good odds.
“The sunshine pours like wine, and the heart is filled with song and laughter.” - A Sunbeam’s Kiss by John Muir
Benidorm was part of the Moorish Kingdom of Valencia for several centuries. During this time, the city was known as Medina Benidorm and was an important trading post.
In the 13th century, the Spanish reconquered the region from the Moors. Benidorm became part of the Kingdom of Valencia and was granted a charter by King James I of Aragon.
During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Benidorm was initially under Republican control. However, in 1938, the Nationalists captured the city and used it as a base for their operations.
After the Civil War, Benidorm remained a small fishing village until the 1950s, when it began to develop as a tourist destination under Franco. The city’s growth and development over the past several decades have been closely tied to its tourism industry.
Why go to Benidorm?
Is Benidorm a pretty destination? Not by the standards of Venice or Amsterdam. Its skyline of tower blocks and sandy beaches give it a Rio-like vibe. But with a frenzied nightlife and Mediterranean climate, Benidorm is undeniably thrilling.
The nearest airport to Benidorm is Alicante-Elche Airport, which is located about 60 kilometers (37 miles) to the south. The airport serves many airlines and has flights to and from destinations throughout Europe.
And it knocks a cocked hat off some of the vastly overrated cities that are constantly pushed as must see destinations. Take London – well, what can we say about London? Don’t be fooled when people refer to the “lively and energetic atmosphere” of such global cities. In reality, London is a sewer of a city with ratlike people scurrying around its filthy streets, hoping to acquire more than the other rats around them. Tired of London, tired of life? People who say that obviously haven’t been to Benidorm.
Benidorm offers a sense of freedom in its free-spirited, live-and-let-live culture. The diverse European nationalities who flock to its beaches can be themselves without fear of judgement. An Englishman can proudly embrace his identity without the scrutiny of the British media, and a Dutchman can show his pride by dressing head-to-toe in orange without social opprobrium. In Benidorm, people can relax without feeling like their governments are breathing down their necks.
Benidorm has an average temperature of 20°C during the summer months and mild winters, making it a perfect destination for sun worship.
Benidorm boasts two stunning Blue Flag beaches, Playa de Levante and Playa de Poniente, both offering clean sands and crystal clear waters.
The nightlife of Benidorm can be a blessing or a curse depending on your sensibilities. It can also be completely ignored if it’s not your thing. The town has a thriving nightlife scene with a wide range of bars, clubs, and entertainment options to suit all tastes. Many of the bars have an ethnic-themed look, beer, and food, catering to the preferences of German or British tourists, for example. I generally prefer to spend my time in the quieter, more upscale parts of the city. However, every once in a while, I like to let loose (and indulge in a bit of ‘se vautrer dans la boue’) by heading to a British bar or club for a wild night out.
Benidorm was once a quiet fishing village with just a few hundred inhabitants. However, it has since undergone an incredible transformation to become a thriving tourist destination, complete with towering high-rise buildings. Construction of these buildings began in the 1960s. The Gran Hotel Bali is the tallest hotel in the area, standing at 186 meters and boasting 52 floors. It is one of the tallest hotels in Europe and the tallest building in Spain outside of Madrid and Barcelona. Meanwhile, the Intempo building, with its striking twisted helicoidal shape and illuminated glass crown, is the tallest residential building at 188 meters and 44 floors. Despite the building losing a few meters from its original plan, it remains an impressive landmark. Its architects, Spanish firm A-Cero, have said that the shape was inspired by the female form. Isn’t everything!
Benidorm boasts two stunning Blue Flag beaches: Playa de Levante and Playa de Poniente. Both beaches offer clean sands and crystal clear waters. The local council takes the maintenance of the beaches very seriously. Men and machine are constantly at work keeping them pristine.
The beaches sit either side of the old town. Levante beach is populated more by Brits and other northern European tribes. Along the sea front, you will find their favoured pubs and bars. Pass one and you might hear a football chant in English. Pass another and you might hear a French chanson.
Poniente beach is quieter and favoured by an older crowd. Very old in the off-season. It’s also has more of a Spanish flavour. The promenade along Poniente is known for its striking design, featuring brightly colored geometric patterns in shades of blue, yellow, and red. The design was created by architect Carlos Ferrater, and is inspired by the colorful art of Spanish artist Joan Miró. The geometric shapes on the promenade are meant to evoke the waves of the sea and the sun, adding to the overall atmosphere of the beachfront.
Whereas hotels and bars line the Levante beach, Poniente gets increasingly residential the further you move along from the old town. Some of the best seafood restaurants and beach bars are found furthest out, past the Intempo building, when the multi-coloured promenade has ended.
Your Benidorm routine
I try to develop a routine if I'm to be at a particular place for some time. When in Benidorm, I like to walk along Poniente beach and spend the day there. At night, I like to walk along the Levante beach to watch the European working class at play. Some of the sights can be spectacular.
The Old Town
The Old Town is a bit of a mixed bag, parts tawdry and parts delightful. It doesn’t put on a show like more affluent city centres you might find in Spain. But it’s never dull.
A well-established gay village is located in the old town area of the city. The village is centered around Calle Santa Faz. At night, British drag bars lure in excitable middle-aged women with cheap pop music and off-colour jokes.
Close by is the Church of San Jaime and Santa Ana on the hill. The 18th century church is located on the Plaza de la Constitución in the heart of the old town. The church has a distinctive blue dome and is surrounded by old narrow streets, whitewashed houses, and numerous little bars and restaurants.
40 minute walking tour starting from the old town
If the weather isn’t good (unlikely) or you just fancy a stroll, you could try this walk from old to new Benidorm. It’s around 1.5 miles and takes around 40 minutes.
Church of San Jaime and Santa Ana: The church is located on Plaza de la Constitución, in the heart of Benidorm Old Town. To get there, you can take Calle Santo Domingo or Calle Mayor, both of which lead to the square. The church is hard to miss with its distinctive blue dome.
Balcón del Mediterráneo: From the Church of San Jaime and Santa Ana, head east on Calle Mayor towards the coast. Turn left onto Plaza de la Cruz and follow the street as it leads you to the Balcón del Mediterráneo lookout point. The Balcón is located on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea.
Intempo Building: From the Balcón del Mediterráneo, head south on Paseo de la Carretera past the port. After a few minutes, you will reach the Intempo Building, which is a tall skyscraper located on the beachfront.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that more than half of the restaurants in Benidorm have pictures of the fried food they serve on the menu. But you want to eat well, right? Benidorm is a city, so you can find really good places to eat, no problem. Don’t settle for anything, put some groundwork in. As mentioned earlier, I like to eat at the beachside restaurants at the far end of Poniente beach, but there are other places you can eat well.
Look for restaurants that serve the regional dishes mentioned here. Grilled meats, seafood and rice dishes dominate.
- Paella Valenciana is a traditional rice dish that originated in the Valencian region. It typically includes chicken, rabbit, green beans, and white beans, along with saffron and other spices.
- Arroz a banda is another rice dish that is popular in the region. It’s similar to paella but includes more seafood, such as shrimp, squid, and clams.
- Fideuà is a seafood dish that is similar to paella, but instead of rice, it’s made with noodles. The dish is typically made with seafood like shrimp, squid, and mussels.
- All i pebre is a stew made with eel, potatoes, garlic, and paprika. It’s a hearty and flavorful dish that is popular in the region. This one is hard to find.
- Coca de llanda is a traditional cake that is popular in the Valencian region. It’s made in a llanda, a clay baking dish.
I won’t recommend individual restaurants. Things change too much. Speak to the locals and mention the local dishes. They’ll be delighted you’re seeking out some authenticity.
I will, however, mention Tapas Alley. This is a popular area in Benidorm’s old town where visitors can find a wide variety of small plates (tapas). The alley is lined with tapas bars and restaurants, and is a great place to sample a range of traditional Spanish dishes.
Drinks-wise, why not take a seat outside a beachside bar and order an agua de Valencia, which is made with cava, orange juice, vodka, and gin, and is often served in a large pitcher with ice and sliced oranges.
Know more about your visit to Spain
To learn more about key events in Spanish history, I would recommend the following books on the Spanish reconquest of Spain:
- “The Story of the Moors in Spain” by Stanley Lane-Poole
- “The History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella” by William H. Prescott
For the Spanish civil war, these are the best books out there:
- “The Spanish Civil War” by Stanley G. Payne
- “Mine were of Trouble” by Peter Kemp
If you want to dip into great Spanish thinkers, I would highly recommend “The Dehumanization of Art and Other Essays on Art, Culture, and Literature” by Jose Ortega y Gasset. Great read, but maybe not one to reach for on the sunbed.
Benidorm status: thrilling city
Drop your preconceptions and immerse yourself in the bustling energy of Benidorm, one of Spain’s most underestimated cities.
Discover the endless possibilities of this distinctive destination. From lively nightlife to sun-drenched beaches, Benidorm promises countless experiences that are bound to captivate you in one way or another. You just need to let go of those preconceptions.