Dénia is a down-to-earth coastal city that continues to make a living from the sea. Tourists are welcomed with open arms of course, and there’s much to love, with four Blue Flag beaches and a gastronomic scene recognised across Spain.
The Dénia prawn is a delicacy that only exists in a deep sea trench in the waters between here and Ibiza, and is delectable if you don’t mind paying extra for it.
The wild landscapes to the south and east are part of the experience, and you can take memorable excurions to the lofty cliffs at Cabo de San Antonio, or the colossal Montgó mountain at 750 metres.
Lets explore the best things to do in Dénia:
1. Les Marines
Starting just north of the harbour, Les Marines may be the pick of Dénia’s superb beaches.
At almost three kilometres long it’s spacious enough that you can escape the crowds and laze in peace on the soft golden sands.
Behind the beach are low dunes and a mix of unobtrusive apartments and large holiday homes.
Kids will love it too, and you can let the little ones play in the shallows as the beach shelves very gradually.
As befits a Blue Flag reach there are beach bars and restaurants, and you can also hire pedalos from the shore.
2. Punta del Raset
The closest beach to the centre of Dénia still manages to have an open, natural feel about it.
Punta del Raset is broad enough that you’ll need to use the wooden walkways that traverse the dusky golden sands, which can get pretty toasty under the summer sun.
And as with Les Marines, its size guarantees some seclusion, even on July and August weekends.
Also convenient is Punta del Raset’s western orientation, facing away from the harbour and the easterly winds, so the sea is smoother here than on Dénia’s other beaches.
3. Castillo de Dénia
On a crag behind the port, Dénia’s castle was built by the Moors in the 10th century on top of the foundations of a fortreess from the Roman city of Diannium.
In the 11th-century it would have been a sumptuous palace, as it was the home of the Moorish governor of the Daniya Madinat.
Later though it was needed for military purposes to offer a stronghold against the Barbary Pirates who attacked the coast incessantly in the early modern age.
The castle is the highest point in the city and you can get up to the roof for the best view of the harbour and also Montgó to the southeast.
If you want a tale to tell your friends you can tackle this monolithic 750-metre mountain that separates Dénia from neighbouring Jávea.
What you don’t need to tell them is that, despite its powerful appearance, it’s actually a relatively straightforward climb.
If you take the CV-736, you can pull off on a side track and park near the shooting club.
Tackling the mountain from the east side the going is surprisingly easy, as the path winds up along grey limestone terraces.
It’s only near the top that you’ll need to go carefully, as there’s a fair bit of scree after about 600 metres or so.
After that you can drink in the sight of Dénia and its port in miniature.
5. Les Rotes
The further east you go from the port the smaller and rockier the beaches get.
If you prefer small coves to sweeping beaches then you’ll love this part of the resort.
Les Rotes is a chain of little rock pools and cute beaches that despite being in a quiet part of Dénia are complemented by a clutch of posh seafood restaurants.
They take advantage of the exquisite scenery, with clear views of the golden sandstone cliffs of Cabo San Antonio and across the waters of the marine park below.
6. Local Gastronomy
Dénia’s fishing industry is alive and well, in part thanks to one specific type of crustacean.
The Dénia red prawn has a bright red tint and lives in a deep sea trench 600 metres beneath the surface between this part of the Valencian coast and Ibiza.
Its habitat and algae diet gives it a flavour that gourmands claim is unmatched – but be prepared to shell out a bit extra for this type of prawn because it’s tricky to catch.
The local seafood paella is as good as any you’ll taste, and you should also sample espencat, a Valencian salad with red peppers and aubergine, and usually served with cod.
7. Gerro Tower
You could also take an exhilarating seafront walk up to this vase-like historic watchtower, perched on the bluffs on the Dénia side of Cabo de San Antonio.
It was built in the mid-16th century during the reign of Carlos I, and was part of the first generation of coastal watchtowers designed to detect or even fight off incursions by Berber pirates.
The structure belonged to a system of defences that would communicate with each other via mirrors or smoke, and this one would have been pretty self-sufficient as it was built on a freshwater spring.
The most exciting part for amateur historians is the surviving coat of arms of Carlos V, with the two-headed eagle of the Habsburg Empire.
8. Barrio Baix la Mar
One of the nicest parts of Dénia for strolling is the Barrio Baix la Mar, a seafront quarter that for centuries had a large population of fishermen and sailors.
It’s an area of one and two-storey homes brightly painted in blue, yellow and red.
The wrought iron balconies are decorated with flowers and plants that cascade down the walls.
These homes are mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries, but there’s evidence that it was also a waterside district in Moorish times.
The closer you get to the water there more restaurants you’ll encounter, and close to the port these have outdoor seating shaded by palm trees and canvas awnings.
9. Toy Museum
For the first few decades of the 20th century Dénia was a centre for toy-making, after its raisin industry was wrecked by the phylloxera blight.
Starting in 1904 metallic models of trains and the like were assembled here.
From the 1920s the city turned its attention to wooden toys, and became known for the high quality of its model cars, dolls, bowling sets and sailboats, all carved, varnished and painted to exacting standards.
At this free attraction in Dénia’s former train station you can check out these vintage toys, and track the progression of toy-making in the city, from the turn of the century to the 1960s.
10. Ethnology Museum
This attraction takes you back a bit further, to the 1800s when Dénia experienced a bit of a boom thanks to its dried fruit harvest.
The income from raisins helped expand the city, create a middle-class and brought a railway line with it.
On the ground floor you can check out archive photography of raisin production in action.
Higher up you can see what the wealth meant for the new bourgeoisie, and the clothes and jewellery that were in fashion at the time.
Then on the top floor are more rustic displays of work tools and folk costume, as well as a map that indicated the extent of Dénia’s maritime trade with other nations.
11. Cabo de San Antonio
The walk to the tip of this monumental headland to the southeast of Dénia may seem a bit forbidding to families, but the good news is that there’s an upland road twisting past old windmills to get you there.
Many people pack a picnic and spend a good couple of hours revelling in views that extend out to Ibiza on clear days.
The cliffs are 160 metres high and are part of a marine reserve, where fishing is prohibited in the waters below and grouper and sea cicadas flourish.
A fun way to get out in the countryside around Dénia is to set off in search of one of the handful of old hermitages, or chapels, usually dating to the 15th and 16th centuries.
These tended to be set far away from settlements and today usually remain unfrequented apart perhaps from small weekly masses and saint’s days when people may make the pilgrimage.
You can get detailed information on how to find them from Dénia’s tourism office.
Take Pare Pere, on the middle slopes of Montgó, which sits within the natural park in pine-woodland.
Still standing is the modest 17th-century house used by the founder, Fray Pedro Esteve during his retreats for prayer and meditation.
13. Las Fallas
In mid-March Dénia hosts its own festivities held to commemorate Saint Joseph.
As he was the patron saint of carpenters, the city’s various tradesmen would hold bonfires to clear out their old scraps.
Over the centuries this snowballed into the noisy, gun-powder-fuelled celebrations that take place today.
It all begins when 11 papier mâché sculptures, usually satirical in tone, are put on display around the city.
This is known as the “plantà”, and over the next few days the sculptures are paraded through the streets and judged to see which is the best.
There’s also a daily “mascletà”, a cacophonous fireworks display in Plaza Jaume I at 14:30. On the final night is the “cremà” when all except the winning sculpture are burned in huge bonfires.
14. Water Sports
Those in the know rate Dénia as one of the top destinations in Spain for water sports.
This has much to do with the resort’s orientation, catching the prevailing winds at places like Les Deveses at the top end of Punta del Raset.
it’s great news for windsurfers and kite-surfers, and if you’ve ever felt like giving these sports a go you’ll never have a better chance than in Dénia.
The same goes for sailing, as there are several schools in the harbour.
For spectators, the Real Club Náutico de Dénia (royal sailing school) is famed for its prestigious regattas, the Ruta de la Sal and the Copa del Canal
15. Cova Tallada
There’s no way to reach this cave in the San Antonio reserve unless you’re willing to get intrepid.
By land you can get there from Les Rotes, continuing past the Gerro Watchtower.
From the rim of the bluffs are two hair-raising paths down: It’s vital that you wear suitable shoes for this.
A more relaxing way is to book a kayak trip with one of Dénia’s adventure sports companies and paddle here instead.
However you get there the cave is worth the effort, with clear, sheltered waters, perfect for snorkelling, and a huge chamber to investigate.
Many people come just to sunbathe on the rocks and swim in the warm, clear sea.