It’s unfair, but for some reason, the Costa del Sol has a little bit of a bad reputation. The free-flowing drinks of certain party-friendly areas, the relatively affordable accommodation, and the influx of tourists from all classes – especially from the UK – have made it so that some people would never even dream of visiting the Costa del Sol. But how wrong they are, and what a fascinating part of the world they are missing out on.
This is the Andalusian coast, southern Spain’s gemlike offering to the world, and the location of much of the region’s connection to its past overlords – the Moors. And this is the enchanting thing about the Costa del Sol; how its history sits in proximity to its resorts, sparkling beaches, and ports. Ruined castles look out over beaches where tourists sunbathe and paddle in the Mediterranean Sea; Roman relics sit next to convenient train connections; Renaissance churches are neighbors with souvenir shops – it all works in harmony.
Map of the Costa del Sol
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Then there’s the nature; not just in terms of beaches and seaside fun, but all manner of other landscapes that make the Costa del Sol a beautiful place to explore for anybody active and willing enough to get outdoors and away from the beach. You’ll find clifftop trails, mountains to hike, and even superb cave systems to explore.
When it comes to finding a base for the night, the accommodation in Costa del Sol comes to the rescue. Here, you will find everything from friendly, family-run guesthouses for ultimate homely coziness, to shiny resorts complete with multiple pools and kids’ clubs.
A long established Costa del Sol getaway, Malaga comes complete with a range of accommodation to suit practically every visitor; there are many family-friendly resorts and high rise hotels to choose from in this port city.
Malaga may well have a reputation for partying, but there is a whole lot of culture and history to learn about and soak up here. Just head to the medieval Alcabaza – a Moorish palace complete with amazing views – or the Picasso Museum – set in a converted palace – to experience just a small portion of what makes Malaga tick.
From the nearby La Concepción Historical-Botanical Gardens to the beach that the resorts are centered around, the natural landscape here is something that’s very worth your time. Easy to get in and out of, Malaga is well connected by road, has a train station, and even an airport.
Further west along the Andalusian coast from Malaga lies the city of Marbella. Neither the typical ‘soulless’ Costa del Sol that makes many people shy away from this town nor the expensive haunt of the nouveau-riche, Marbella boasts 47 kilometers of beach to choose a spot on. There are also numerous cultural hotspots, all with a backdrop of the beautiful Sierra Blanca Mountains.
Take a walk around Marbella’s charming old town, choosing to stay anywhere from an affordable boutique hotel to a luxury resort, and take a stroll along the many paths of the Parque de la Represa.
Marbella may not have its own train station (it’s the largest city in Spain without one), but nearby Fuengirola does, and getting the bus from here to Marbella is simple enough.
One of the small towns located between Marbella and Malaga, Benalmádena may be compact, but there is a lot going for this little Costa del Sol gem.
For families traveling in the area, you’ll be pleased to know that you’ll be able to amuse your children at least for one day at the Tivoli World theme park located nearby. They’ll probably also love the dreamy, fairytale-like castle of Castillo Monumento Colomares, a monument built in the late 1980s dedicated to the life of Christopher Columbus. There’s also an aquarium, in the form of Sea Life Benalmádena.
Staying in Benalmádena is easy, thanks to the number of predominantly budget to mid-range accommodation options. Getting here is simple too, thanks to the town’s railway station.
Complete with the Playa del Cristo beach, castle ruins in the form of Castillo de San Luis, plenty of affordable mid-range hotels, a train station, and plenty of other good points, the town of Estepona is a great option for anybody looking for a place to stay along the Costa del Sol.
It’s got a little bit of everything. Located west of Marbella, Estepona is famous for its Puerto Deportivo, complete with a few 5-star hotel options, a lot of restaurants, bars and cafes; this is also the place to go for sailing or diving excursions.
Plaza de las Flores is a picturesque place in Estepona to stroll around, filled as it is with flowers – as you might have been able to tell from the name. Here is where you’ll find the Colección Garó, home to a good collection of artworks ranging from 15th-century pieces to signed Picasso prints.
Backed by the peaks of the Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama Natural Park, Nerja is located just east of Malaga and offers up a natural slice of Costa del Sol beauty.
This town is famous for the Caves of Nerja, which are arguably one of Spain’s most visited tourist sights – and for good reason. This magnificent wonder boasts neolithic cave paintings and stretches underground for five kilometers. They are large enough that concerts are even held inside!
Nearby, the Cliffs of Maro-Cerro Gordo provide ample opportunities for peaceful walks among the many trails lacing the cliffs above the Mediterranean Sea. You can even learn about the history of the town at the Museo de Nerja.
Thankfully, staying in Nerja is easy – there are numerous affordable hotels and guesthouses in town.
Practically the whole coastline of Torremolinos is beach; from the shores of El Bajondillo to the smaller La Carihuela, you’ll have plenty of space to relax on this portion of sun, sea, and sand.
Situated just north of Benalmádena and a little to the south of Malaga itself, Torremolinos is well connected; the airport is not too far away at all. Plus, Torremolinos boasts multiple train stations (North to South: Los Alamos, La Colina, and Estacion de El Pinillo), which makes station hopping along the Costa del Sol simple indeed.
Torremolinos is also handily packed with accommodation offerings, from sea view apartments to family run guesthouses and big resorts, with just about everything in between – and most on the cheaper side of mid-range, too. It’s here where you’ll find the super fun, family-friendly waterpark of Aqualand Torremolinos.
Another of the Costa del Sol’s quintessential destinations that mixes beachside fun with history, Fuengirola boasts eight kilometers of beach, as well as the Moorish era Sohail Castle looking down over the town.
There’s a museum in town looking at the area’s local history; at the other extreme, there’s also a small waterpark – Aquamijas.
With two train stations – Fuengirola and Los Biloches further north – this town is easy to get to. There’s a number of affordable hotel options in town, too. Even the 4-star offerings here are quite easy on the wallet. Once you’ve bagged yourself a place to stay, there’s even more culture to discover; for example, Yacimiento Arqueologico Romano – the extensive ruins of a Roman-era bathhouse – is a fascinating site.
Connected to Fuengirola to the south via the A-387 road, Mijas is situated 430 meters above sea level on a hillside. A long independent village, Mijas has been through trade with the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans, and ruled by the Visigoths and then the Moors.
Needless to say, its location makes it an intensely picturesque place to stay. In some ways the fact that it doesn’t have a great deal of accommodation options keeps it feeling beautifully authentic.
There are a few choices, mainly in the form of lower mid-range villas and quaint guesthouses. But staying here is all about soaking up the landscape and enjoying the historic atmosphere – thanks to places like the wine-oriented Enoteca Museo del Vino Mijas or the beautiful church of Ermita de la Virgen de la Peña.
Complete with a wonderful Moorish-era old town, the ruins of Castillo de Lizar, and the 16th-century palace of El Ingenio which now houses a molasses factory, Frigiliana is an intriguing Costa del Sol destination.
This town is not actually situated on the coast, but it’s not far north from Mijos along the winding road of MA-5105. This place is not to be missed – if not for that Moorish part of town alone, a hilly slice of town where steps lead through whitewashed houses decked out with plenty of flowers.
In terms of accommodation, there are B&Bs, villas, and pensions in Frigiliana, some of which inch into lower high-end territory in terms of price. It’s worth it though; this town is stunning. And when you need something to eat or drink, there are a fair few establishments in town catering to that!