Discover Elche: Spain’s Enchanting City of Palm Trees

Are you thinking about visiting Elche—or Elx in Valencian—and wondering what the best activities are in this must-see destination in Eastern Spain? Renowned for its expansive palm groves, which are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Elche is famously dubbed the city of palm trees. This city is steeped in history and culture, particularly influenced by the Moorish period, which is evident from the very palm trees that characterize the landscape.

Elche is undoubtedly a destination you must consider visiting. Before our holiday in this region of Spain, we hadn’t even heard of Elche. It’s surprising that this city isn’t more prominent on the tourist map because its sprawling palm gardens provide a truly unique experience. Throw in a scenic waterfall hike, and you’ll understand why we’re so taken with this destination. In this blog post, we’ll explore the palm tree city of Spain, offering practical tips and highlighting the top attractions in Elche.

Palmeral Elche Elx

Where is Elche Located in Spain?

Elche, also known as Elx in Valencian, enjoys a strategic position in the southeast of Spain, within the vibrant Valencia region. Remembering both names might be helpful when you’re navigating local maps or following road signs.

Located in the province of Alicante, Elche offers the best of two worlds: it marries the rich cultural backdrop of the Spanish interior with the proximity to the Mediterranean coast. For travelers from the Netherlands, Elche is conveniently accessible. The international airport in Alicante, which is merely a 20-minute drive away, provides direct flights to many European cities. Alternatively, you can fly into Murcia airport, about an hour’s drive, which also offers direct flights to the Netherlands.

The area around Elche is brimming with tourist spots that are well worth a visit, including the beautiful beaches of the Costa Blanca and nearby cities like Alicante and Murcia. This combination makes Elche a perfect spot for both culture buffs and beach lovers.

Elche Bridge

What Elche is Famous For

Elche distinguishes itself from other picturesque Spanish cities with two standout features: the expansive Palmeral and the impressive Misteri d’Elx. It’s also famous among Spaniards for the iconic sculpture, The Lady of Elche.

The Palmeral of Elche, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the largest palm groves in Europe. This verdant heritage from the tenth century, created by the Moors, now contains over 200,000 date palms. This palm grove stands as a beautiful testament to the enduring impact of historical Arabic agricultural practices on contemporary European destinations.

The Mystery Play of Elche, or Misteri d’Elx, an event that takes place every August, is emblematic of the city. This ancient religious drama is performed in the Basilica of Santa María and is recognized by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage. The play beautifully portrays the Assumption of the Virgin Mary with aerial scenes featuring angels who dramatically descend and ascend, all set to the backdrop of a choir that delivers classical melodies from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque periods.

Among Spaniards and cultural aficionados, the Dama de Elche is also well regarded. This renowned Iberian limestone bust, dating back to the fourth century BC, was unearthed in 1897 near Elche. The bust depicts a woman adorned with an intricate hairstyle and jewelry, suggesting her high social or religious standing. The unique spiral rolls next to her face and the elaborate necklaces are distinctive features of this sculpture. Currently, the bust is housed in the National Archaeological Museum of Madrid and is not on display in Elche itself.

Where to Stay in Elche

When you visit Elche, choosing accommodation in or near the old town or just outside it in the surrounding palm groves is highly recommended. Imagine waking up surrounded by exotic palm trees—it’s like being in a fairy tale. During our planning for our trip to Elche, we discovered several fantastic places to stay in Elche and we’re excited to share these recommendations with you.

The most beautiful hotels in Elche:

#1 Hotel Boutique Hort de Nal is a beautifully designed boutique hotel in the charming town of Elche. Ideally located among the city’s iconic palm trees, this hotel offers a perfect blend of luxury and tranquility. Guests love the outdoor pool with its sun loungers, the stylish decor, the picturesque garden, spacious rooms, and the exceptionally friendly staff, all of which are frequently praised in reviews.

#2 Hotel Elche Centro is a trendy boutique hotel that was fully renovated in 2022. Its modern and chic decor and its central location make it especially appealing. Being right in the heart of the city, it’s a top choice for those looking to explore Elche on foot and has consistently high ratings in reviews for its prime location and excellent service.

#3 Huerto del Cura offers a unique experience, located within a palm garden in the Palmeral de Elche. This hotel is enveloped by lush gardens and includes amenities such as an outdoor swimming pool and a sauna. It’s one of Elche’s most popular hotels, beloved for its serene setting and the enthusiastic reviews it continuously receives from guests.

#4 Jardín Milenio is a stunning boutique hotel located just on the edge of Elche’s city center. Nestled within the beautiful Palmeral de Elche, this hotel features a swimming pool, a sauna, and is enveloped by enchanting gardens. Guests rave about its spacious rooms, stylish interior, magical setting, delicious restaurant, and the overall unique atmosphere of the hotel.

If you’re traveling with a camper and looking for a place to wild camp in Elche, we recommend the expansive parking lot at the hike to the El Pantano de Elche waterfall (Park4Night #170605). We enjoyed two wonderfully quiet and pleasant nights there in our camper.

Tourist Map of Elche

10 Best Things To Do In Elche

#1 The Palmeral de Elche

The Palmeral de Elche is an expansive oasis of over 200,000 date palms that envelops the city, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. This spectacular palm grove is a direct legacy of the Moorish era, although it’s possible that the initial planting was started by the Phoenicians or Romans. The date palms, originally from the Middle East and North Africa, have played a pivotal role in Elche’s agricultural history thanks to the innovative irrigation techniques introduced by the Moors.

These ancient techniques developed a lush green labyrinth that continues to thrive due to an ingenious irrigation system, efficiently distributing water throughout the area. This system allows the palm trees and other vegetation to flourish despite the region’s typically dry climate. It’s a testament to the engineering skills of the Moors that the system still functions effectively, maintaining this unique palm forest in Spain.

Elche’s Palmeral has also been integral to city life and local culture over the centuries. The palm trees provide shade and a cool retreat during the hot summer months. They have also been a source of dates and materials for traditional crafts for centuries. Additionally, the white palms prepared for Palm Sunday are an important export and cultural symbol of Elche, recognized throughout Spain.

Admission to the vast Palmeral itself is free. Those interested in the historical and cultural significance of the Palmeral should definitely visit the Museo del Palmeral. If you’re traveling with children, like we were, you’ll be pleased to know there’s an excellent playground within the palm garden that caters to all ages.

Palmeral de Elche

#2 Basílica de Santa María

The Basílica de Santa María stands out as one of Elche’s most prominent landmarks, renowned for its lavish baroque architecture.

Originally built in the 13th century on the site of a former mosque, the present church, dating from the 17th century, replaced an earlier Gothic church. The basilica is notable for its elaborately decorated main entrance and the San Agatángelo door, both adorned with sculptures by Nicolás de Bussi. Its interior is dominated by a large dome, externally covered in blue tiles, which plays a crucial role during the annual Misteri d’Elx—a historical play that has been held in the church for centuries, attracting global audiences.

Entrance to the basilica is free, though there is a small fee to climb the tower, which offers spectacular views over the city and the Palmeral. The basilica also houses the Museo de la Virgen.

Basilica Elche

#3 Palau d’Altamira

The Palau d’Altamira, also known as the Alcázar de la Señoría, is a historic monument in Elche. Originally established in the Middle Ages as a significant fort during Moorish rule, it was rebuilt in the 15th century by a Castilian nobleman. What you see today is this 15th-century castle.

The Palacio de Altamira is striking with its large square tower and round corner towers, located right next to the Palmeral on a large square with floor fountains—a delight for our children during a hot day. During renovations, remnants of the original fort were uncovered in the square.

Over the years, the castle has served various roles, from a noble residence to a prison and even a textile factory. Today, it houses the Museo Arqueológico e Histórico de Elche (MAHE), where you can delve into the city’s history. You can also see a replica of the Lady of Elche, a famous bust found near Elche but housed in a museum in Madrid.

Palau d'Altamira Elche

#4 Baños Árabes—The Arab Baths

The Baños Árabes in Elche are a remnant of the Moorish period. Located strategically near the main mosque and the La Lucentina city gate, they served as a place where travelers could cleanse and refresh before entering the walled city.

Today, these baths are hidden in the basement of the 13th-century Convento de la Merced. While we didn’t find the baths particularly impressive, the entry fee is only one euro. For this small amount, you can explore the different baths—hot, cold, and lukewarm—and afterwards, visit the old convent courtyard now built over the baths.

Baños Árabes Elche

#5 Huerto del Cura

Tucked away in the vast Palmeral palm grove, you’ll find the serene botanical space of Huerto del Cura. The standout feature here is the “Imperial Palm” (La Palmera Imperial), a unique tree with several trunks sprouting from a single root system. The name “imperial” commemorates the visit of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, also known as Sissi, who was truly taken by the tree’s regal aura. This majestic palm is the centerpiece of the garden, encircled by a diverse array of exotic plant life including cacti and subtropical fruit trees like pomegranates and oranges.

Additionally, Huerto del Cura offers an array of sculptures, including a replica of the famed Iberian statue of the Lady of Elche and a bust of James I the Conqueror. The garden is also adorned with scenic ponds and fountains. While access to the broader Palmeral is free, entrance to Huerto del Cura is priced at €6.50.

Elche Huerto del Cura

#6 Torre de la Calahorra

Adjacent to the Basílica de Santa María stands the historical Torre de la Calahorra, a monument steeped in the Moorish past of Elche. This tower, dating back to the 12th century, is one of the city’s oldest landmarks. Originally constructed by the Moors as part of the city’s fortifications, it served as a defensive point guarding the main entrance to Elche from the Alicante road. Previously standing 25 meters taller, the tower was severely damaged in an 1829 earthquake, resulting in the loss of its upper parts and reducing its height to the current 15 meters.

Inside the tower, you can view frescoes that showcase panoramic views of early 20th-century Elche. On the ground floor, a notably decorated room features Egyptian motifs and Freemason symbols, marking the establishment of a Freemason society here in 1858. Admission is €2, but the tower can be visited for free on Sundays.

#7 Elche Town Hall

Positioned in Plaça de Baix, the Elche Town Hall is a striking feature of the cityscape. Its architectural story begins in the 15th century with the Torre del Consell, which was once linked directly to the medieval city walls. This tower now acts as a passageway from Plaça de Baix to the nearby covered market hall.

The building has seen numerous modifications over the centuries, including a transformation into a Renaissance palace and later expansions adding more wings. A particular highlight is the Vetla tower, also known as the Calendura tower, topped by a 1572 clock. Every quarter-hour and hour, the wooden figures Calendura and Calendureta strike the bell to mark the time.

Ayuntamiento Elche

#8 Mercat Central Market Hall

At the heart of Elche near the town hall, the Mercat Central is a vibrant covered market that brings together local products from the surrounding Camp d’Elx area.

With 150 stalls, the market boasts a rich selection of fresh vegetables and fruits, premium meats, deli products, and seafood brought in from Santa Pola. Specialty items such as salted fish, nuts, olives, and locally produced baked goods are also available. To round out the market experience, there’s a bar and café for visitors to enjoy.

In front of the market hall, at Plaça de la Fruita, stands a protected archaeological site thought to be remnants of a Moorish bathhouse, discovered in 2014. An informational display provides details about the bathhouse’s historical context and what it once looked like.

Mercat Central Elche

#9 Museo del Belén and Other Museums of Elche

Elche is proud to host several museums, including the notable Museo del Belén we visited. The museum is centrally located at Plaça de la Fruita. This museum is open to the public at no charge and features an intriguing array of dioramas that depict nativity scenes, significant biblical events, and various views of Elche, spread out over several floors.

The city is also home to the Archaeological and History Museum of Elche, housed in the Palacio de Altamira. This museum provides a thorough look at Elche’s development from prehistoric times to today, with interactive exhibits and archaeological finds. The Museo del Palmeral highlights the agricultural significance and cultural importance of Elche’s vast palm groves, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors can discover the methods of palm cultivation and their societal impact throughout history.

The Paleontological Museum offers insights into the region’s ancient plants and animals, with fossils that take you back to a time long before humans. Situated in the basilica, the Museo de la Virgen focuses on the religious traditions of Elche, particularly the annual celebrations of the Virgin Mary, including the famous Misteri d’Elx performances.

Lastly, the Museum of Contemporary Art provides a space for modern artists, featuring rotating exhibitions of contemporary works.

Museo del Belén Elche

#10 Sendero del Palmeral

Encircling Elche and weaving through the city’s lush palm gardens, the Sendero del Palmeral (or Ruta del Palmeral) offers a scenic trail ideal for both biking and walking. Given its length of just over 10 kilometers and the fact that we had two young children with us, we chose to explore the route by bicycle.

The journey starts at Huerto de San Plácido, where the Palm Grove Museum resides within a charming 19th-century house. The path meanders alongside historic irrigation channels, notably the Acequia Mayor del Pantano, which has been nourishing the palm groves for centuries. The route skirts the Huerto del Cura and winds past the old city schools of the Salesian College, continuing through various ‘huertos’ (orchards), including Rogeta, Tia Casimira, and Felip. A particularly beautiful part of the trail runs alongside a deeply carved riverbed, now mostly dry and spanned by multiple bridges.

Navigating the trail proved a bit challenging, as the signage was not always clear. There are plenty of signs along the path, but they seemed either absent or discreetly positioned at several crucial junctions.


Things to Do Outside Elche: Hike to the El Pantano de Elche Waterfall

For those eager to delve deeper into the natural beauty near Elche, the short hike to the El Pantano de Elche waterfall provides an enchanting escape. This historic reservoir, just 5 kilometers north of Elche, ranks among Spain’s oldest active reservoirs, its origins stretching back to the 17th century. The dam has been a cornerstone in the regional irrigation system and plays a vital role in maintaining the iconic palm landscapes of the city.

The hike to the waterfall is short and straightforward, making it perfectly suitable for families with small children. The path leads directly to the dam, where you’re greeted with stunning views of the reservoir and lush surroundings. The most breathtaking sight is the wide waterfall that spills over the dam’s edges. If you’re up for more adventure, the trail continues beyond the dam, weaving through the diverse landscapes that offer various hiking opportunities.

Additionally, the location includes a parking area that’s ideal for RVs and campervans, positioning it as a prime spot for wild camping (Park4Night #170605). We enjoyed two wonderfully serene and pleasant nights here in our camper.

El Pantano de Elche Waterfall
El Pantano de Elche Waterfall

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