A-Z guide to the major resorts and towns in the Costa del Sol region of Spain
The Costa del Sol forms the coastal region of Andalucia stretching from Gibraltar in the west to beyond Nerja in the east. The region is one of the most popular and developed tourist destinations in Europe. Many former small fishing villages such as Torremolinos and Fuengirola are now large tourist resorts with hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
Driving in the Costa del Sol region is easy if you stick to the coastal routes, with the A-7 (E15) motorway providing easy access from Malaga airport. Driving inland from Malaga, the roads become smaller and undulate through the Andalucian countryside. The scenery inland from Malaga is often spectacular, dominated by mountain ranges such as the Sierra Nevada which is popular with skiers.
There are plenty of low cost flights available to Malaga, and the city makes an ideal weekend break, especially from late September to March when the climate is cooler.
Below is a guide to the major towns and resorts of the Costa del Sol and some ideas of places to visit.
Alhambra Palace Granada
Within a couple of hours drive of Malaga is the spectacular Alhambra Palace in Granada, built by the Moors in the 14th century. The palace is a very popular tourist attraction and can be very busy in the summer.
Granada is also inland, so the temperature can be hotter than on the coast in the summer months and can also be cold in the middle of winter.
Be prepared to queue, or alternatively you can book tickets in advance from the Alhambra Palace website. In addition to the architecture the palace has beautifully maintained gardens with ponds and fruit trees.
Alhaurin El Grande
Located inland from the shoreline of Costa del Sol is Alhaurin el Grande which is a town that is about 30km north of Malaga and one of the most scenic villages of the river valley area. The streets are narrow which can cause traffic problems but it adds to the quaint and undisturbed feel of the authentic town. The beaches of neighbouring towns Mijas and Fuengirola are only a short drive away and the wide open hills allow the town to take on a spacious, relaxing atmosphere accented by the scents of the lemon and fruit trees that naturally abound everywhere.
Arroyo de la Miel
Officially Arroyo de la Miel is considered to be a suburban town that is part of the Benalmadena municipality, but most people consider it a separate holiday resort location still. The council takes great care in maintaining the town so the plazas and town centre is quite charming which is one reason why many British expats have settled down in the area. You will find plenty of British pubs within the town centre and also the thrilling theme park Tivoli World which is well worth a few hours of your time at least.
The Benalmadena Costa is considered to be the actual southern strip of beaches that sits along the bottom of Benalmadena and sports plenty of beaches, the Puerto Marina, hotels, villas, and bars. Of note is the Puerto Marina which is more than just a place to park your boat as it is also home to a large open air mall and on the water condos for hire. During the day time the area is pretty abandoned, but at about 22:00 people come out in droves to do some late night shopping and experience the best in nightclubs that Benalmadena has to offer.
Just to the west of Malaga is Benalmadena which is one of the largest cities in the area and made up of plenty of nightlife and beaches to keep most holiday goers satisfied for weeks. Even if you partied every night of the week at the beach nightclubs there would still be more to check out as the coastal line of clubs merges neatly into the Torremolinos city limits to the east. During the day time the Benalmadena Marina is an excellent place to head as it offers plenty of cafes, shops, bars, and even chartered boat trips for dolphin watching. From here you can also hop on a cable car that will take you up the surrounding mountain side offering a great view of the surrounding cities and mid-western coastline of Costa del Sol.
The small white washed village of Casares could be lifted right off a postcard with a small population of only three thousand and plenty of local charms only magnified by the quaint beautiful unspoiled nature of the seaside town. About eight kilometres from the active beaches of La Linea, the quiet village offers peace and serenity to its visitors with the option to travel down to the holiday craziness at a minutes' notice.
The main square, Plaza de Espana, is where you will find an open air café and restaurants as well as notable statues. While in town take some time to tour the remains of the Moorish walls and gate where you can see the coastline and spot plenty of falcons along with other historical churches such as the Iglesia de la Encarnacion.
Situated in the middle of Marbella and Malaga making it a great central base for exploring the coast of Costa del Sol, the town is mostly inhabited by expats who enjoy its close proximity to the major regional beaches. Although the town dates back to the times of the Moors and was an agricultural town, today tourism and hospitality are the main drivers of the economy although can pick up some excellent pottery work at the local markets. Coin is most recognizable for its City of Cinema which has been used as the backdrop for many television series including several BBC and local soap operas.
The name of the town itself translates to mean paradise, and this small city that sits on the outskirts of Marbella is easily considered a paradise by most tourists who happen to stop in given it sits in peace and is composed mainly of flats and villas. El Paraiso is the ideal destination for those who want a quiet Costa del Sol holiday as strict local laws dictate what types of development can take place within the city limits and nightclubs are not one of them. Instead, the area is known for its golf course and many wellness and therapy health spas. About ten minutes from the beach, El Paraiso offers the quiet and charming serenity that the Costa del Sol area used to be known for before it became a major tourist attraction.
Located just east of Marbella, Elviria is about 20km from the airport and is most famous for its UNESCO denoted World Biosphere Sanctuary. The beach front resorts are only a small drive away and allow visitors a different type of Costa del Sol holiday destination. In addition, the small town is also home to some of the most notable golf resorts in the region making it a great place for avid golfers to seek accommodation and a base for their holiday.
Fuengirola is a lively resort, very popular with younger visitors in the summer due to the lively nightlife. There are many English bars and restaurants located in the narrow backstreets behind the main strip. Sohail Castle is an ancient 10th Century Arabic castle built by the Moors which is set in the foothills of the mountains behind Fuengirola. Much restoration work has been carried out on the castle over the last 20 years, and it is now surrounded by well maintained gardens. The castle is visible from the A7 motorway, and has local parking for tourists.
The Aqua Park and the Zoo are two activities that you should allow a full day for in Fuengirola. Once evening approaches Fuengirola really comes to life, there are numerous bars and entertainment venues that your evening fun, after the sun, is guaranteed. Other big attractions that bring people into Fuengirola are its many festivals and markets. A beer festival is held every July, top stars such as Jamie Cullum appear in one of the many revue venues and there are several markets to choose from. Every year a unique and exquisite market is held in August at Castle Sohail. Time is wound back several hundred years and this major attraction is transformed into a medieval town for the duration of the market. The 7km Rey de Espana promenade plays host to an extensive craft fair through the summer months which attract crowds from neighbouring villages as well as other resorts in the area.
One of the select main tourism resort towns of the Costa del Sol region that still offers the quaint Spanish pueblo charm complete with tapas bars and street cafes that line the cobbled streets of the olden times. You can find plenty of bodegas, shops, and all major tourist facilities within Estepona; which is only a short drive from the western border of the Costa del Sol area and plenty of nightlife to keep you going late into the night.
The modern sports bar marina is a large draw given it is filled with plenty of bars and restaurants, but also due to the fact that it sits near two Blue Flag noted beaches. Also notable is the fact that Estepona enjoys on average 325 days of sunshine a year making it the closest to a perfect weather guarantee that you can get while on holiday. Finally, just to the west of the town is the Costa Natura beach which is one of the most popular nudist beaches in the Costa del Sol area given it was the first officially proclaimed naturist site in the country.
Recommendation Selwo Wildlife and Adventure Park situated in the hills behind Estepona is a great family day out
Gibraltar is still a British territory located on the southernmost tip of the Costa del Sol, around 1.5 to 2 hours drive to the west of Malaga. There are bus services from Malaga and many of the other resorts.
The Rock of Gibraltar is so large that it is hard to really grasp the true effect of it until you actually see it for yourself. The upper area of the rock is a dedicated nature reserve where there is unique fauna and flora that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. The upper area is also home to the only colony of wild monkeys in Europe.
There is a cable car to the top of the Rock, but there can be queues, especially if a cruise ship has just arrived. Keen walkers can make the journey to the top in around an hour.
Only a about a 5 minute walk from Gibraltar, La Linea offers plenty of shore side accommodations and villas that are much lower in price than the main British tourist attraction of Gibraltar. Filled with plenty of restaurants and bars you can easily get to the area by bus or car and relax at the many cafes that offer drinks and live music. While in town make sure to check out the central market of Calle de Isabel La Catolica where you can find plenty of food and souvenirs.
Although tourists often refer to La Zagaleta as a development and high class luxury holiday location, the truth is that the town is not actually a town but instead to the most exclusive country club in Marbella and Europe. Home to the most private golf course in Europe and the most luxurious beaches and clubs, the average person cannot hope to do more than peer into the life of luxury that Europe's richest enjoy from outside of the country club that holds such significance to the area that it has gained recognition as a village of its own among locals.
Malaga is a typical Spanish city, unspolt by tourism and rich in culture and heritage. Malaga is the birthplace of Picasso and historically the coastal city offers plenty to do outside of water activities including hiking, museum tours, shopping, great cuisine, and plenty of historical architectural sites to visit.
Malaga is a great beach resort destination for those who want to mix city life with a beach close at hand. A few of the sights that visitors should make sure to see while in town include the Picasso Museum, the Interactive Museum of Music, the town centre which hosts the Catedral de Malaga, and the Plaza de le Merced where a great deal of shopping is located.
Find more ideas of things to do in Malaga.
One of the most eastern towns in the Costa del Sol region, Manilva is one of the few towns that has not yet become a main tourism driven economy but instead is still mostly an authentic charming Spanish coastal town which is what helps drive its appeal to those looking for a quieter holiday experience. Sporting many vineyards and thus plenty of great wineries to visit, the area is still mainly focused on agricultural pursuits emphasized by the rolling green hills filled with crops.
Marbella is the most exclusive resort of the Costa del Sol and is the favoured resort of the rich and famous. Located around 30 minutes to the west of Malaga Airport, Marbella is popular with people boat owners, shoppers and golfers. Marbella has an attractive waterfront area with many exclusive bars and restaurants, although the prices are generally higher than in neighbouring resorts such as Fuengirola and Torremolinos. Marbella has a beautiful old town area which should not be missed.
Marbella is also where many celebrities call home, and this chic resort has earned the title of the Spanish equivalent to St Tropez. A mere 30 minute from Malaga airport and enjoying the enviable climate of this region, Marbella is particularly popular with tourists from Northern Europe, the USA and Saudi Arabia. It is by far the most cosmopolitan of all the resorts in the Malaga Province, and effortlessly combines this with Andalucian traditions.
Although many some to Marbella for sun, sea, sand and Sangria, there is another increasingly popular reason for heading south; surgery. The cosmetic surgery business is booming in Marbella, and let's be honest, there aren't many better places to recover in than this jewel on the Med. Those who just want a great holiday without setting eyes on a scalpel can happily stroll around the pretty and quaint back streets and search for those little treasures that make holidays so memorable. Tucked away in these cobbled streets are numerous authentic tapas bars, many a tourist has whiled away an hour or so sitting outside these little bars eating tapas, sipping vino, and watching the world go by.
The neighbouring resort of Puerto Banus is the only resort that can match Marbella for opulence. If you like to stroll around and soak up the luxury whilst deciding which kind of yacht you will buy when you win the Lotto, then a day in Puerto Banus is a must. Shopping is a big deal in Marbella, there are the top end designer stores where you can pick yourself up Gucci bag, or a pair of Jimmy Choos and there are the colourful markets which take place in Marbella in Mondays and Puerto Banus on Saturdays. Marbella is a large town, and it can get uncomfortable walking around in the intense heat, so a relaxing and enjoyable way of seeing all the best bits is to jump onto one of the many horses and carriages which are parked in the centre of Marbella at Parque Almeda.
The attractive whitewashed village of Mijas is located around 30km to the west of Malaga and a few kilometres inland from Fuengirola. Set back in the hills overlooking the mediterranean coastline Mijas is very popular with visitors.
There is a very popular market every Wednesday and Saturday which attracts visitors from all over the Costa del Sol region.
Mijas Costa is considered everything that is a part of Mijas that is not inside of the village such as the golf courses and the beaches that are blue flag quality. While confusing, Mijas Costa is considered the region of Mijas where activities related to nature are grounded such as swimming, tanning, mountain climbing, golfing, etc. It also contains two small beach resorts within the major beach resort town, the Calahonda and the Riviera del Sol.
To the east of Malaga is the town of Nerja. Slightly quieter than towns such as Fuengirola and Torremolinos, Nerja is a popular family holiday resort. Nerja is a popular destination for walkers and climbers. The pretty hillside village of Frigiliana set in the hills behind Nerja is also a favoured location for visitors.
The caves of Nerja were accidentally discovered in 1959 by a group of locals searching for bats. Stretching for almost 5km, the caves offer visitors a unique look into some of the finest caves in Europe. There are spectacular stalagmite and stalactite formations which are viewed from "galleries" within the cave network.
Entry to the caves costs around 9 Euros for adults (half price for children and senior citizens), and the caves are open year round except for Jan 1st and May 15th.
Located to the west of Marbella, Nueva Andalucía is the perfect representation of the architecture of the Andalusia time period. A small area, the mountain roads offer great views and on a clear day you can even see the coastlines of North Africa as the white sands shine against the pale blue hues of the Mediterranean Sea.
Golfers love the area due to the presence of many great courses and general sports enthusiasts will find the local paddle tennis, tennis, and gyms to be a great perk. Outside of sports and its view, Nueva Andalucia is known primarily as the home of great international cuisine as the cooks offer top quality dishes from every location in the world.
Restaurants and bars can be found in the Centro Plaza along with a wide range of shops with a great street market that is open every Saturday near the bullring. The beach is only a short walk or drive away allowing tourists to enjoy the quiet calm of the town and the brilliant sands of the beaches that thousands flock to Costa del Sol to enjoy every year.
Known for its ancient history that dates back to the time of the Paleolithcic period when Neanderthal Man lived in the area, the town is still quite small and located just outside of Marbella in the mountain ranges. Although technically Ojen sits in the mountains, many people consider the small villa town to be the heart of the Costa del Sol region with the beaches only a short ride away. While in Ojen make sure to try out the local wine titled Aguardiente Ojen which is a brandy that is prepared with sugar and anise and takes over twenty years to ferment.
Unique due to the fact that Puerto Banus is not actually a town, but one of the premiere yacht ports in Europe and in the Andalucian province of Costa del Sol, it is a very pricey resort area that offers plenty of high scale nightlife on a regular basis. While drinks can get a bit pricey, it is known as the crème de la crème of the Marbella night life scene with excellent beach clubs and many exclusive VIP only clubs that will make celebrity sightings almost a guarantee if you can gain admittance.
Rincoin de la Victoria
Located next to Malaga and considered to be the gateway into La Axarquia, the land offers some of the best vines of the area as well as plenty of tropical delights such as mangoes and avocados. Dating back to ancient times there are many breathtaking historical sites to see such as the House-Fort Bezmiliana which is open to touring and used as an art gallery frequently.
San Pedro de Alcantara
San Pedro is the perfect central location between the mountain ranges of the Sierra de Ronda and the bustling and raging nightlife of Marbella as it is centred about ten minutes from both. In addition, it is only a short twenty minutes from Estepona. As a former agricultural community, today the town remains unspoiled and offers small authentic parish churches to view that are surrounding by narrow cobblestone streets lined in turn with plenty of bars, sidewalk cafes, and shops.
On Thursday the streets turn into markets and become the epitome of paradise for bargain shoppers. From the town centre you can easily walk down to the beach via the Avenida del Marques del Duero avenue which is lined with palm trees. The avenue turns into a wide promenade that offers plenty of restaurants with top rated seafood and plenty of beach clubs/bars. Make a point to also see the Roman baths that are open sporadically throughout the day and found within close proximity to the Guadlamina Beach Club.
Sierra Blanca is an urban city that sits about 300m above the coastline within the Sierra Nevada mountain range and is considered to lie on the outskirts of Marbella allowing visitors to stay away from the main drag in a charming city without sacrificing the nightlife that is easily reachable. Named for the mountain range, from the unique vantage point that the city affords tourists can look out over the lush Golden Mile of Marbella and the Mediterranean Sea. Dotted with restaurants, cafés, a nice town square for shopping, and a few pubs; it is not the most ideal location for those planning to spend their holiday at the nightclubs as you will have to travel to and fro every night down to Marbella to do so.
Formerly a small fishing village until tourism arrived in the 1950's, Torremolinos was one of the first resorts to be developed on the Costa del Sol. Torremolinos is now the largest resort in the Costa del Sol. The town has a large ex-pat community and like Fuengirola, is very popular with British tourists. Even now, the town is still developing in all directions as high rise hotels and apartment blocks stand against the skyline, and to counteract the 'concrete jungle' effect there are many pretty parks and public areas, resulting in a very attractive resort.
The centre of Torremolinos was the first part of the town to be developed and remains the most authentically Spanish part of the town.
In the summer months Torremolinos has a very lively nightlife with plenty of bars and nightclubs attracting a lot of younger visitors. In the winter months the town is much quieter and frequented by older visitors.
Recommendation Aqualand Torremolinos - the largest water park in the Costa del Sol is the perfect place to catch some sun while the kids amuse themselves - don't forget the sun lotion!
Torre del Mar
Part of the eastern Axarquia principality, the small town is known for its many crops and fields and as one of the main producers of tropical fruits including kiwis, avocados, and mangoes. However, holiday goers should not be deterred because the town economy is not based on agriculture, but on tourism and the large sandy beaches that are lined with an extremely long promenade are a sight to take in especially given that the background to the beaches are plenty of white villages and houses as well as the notable lighthouse that stands in the town square.
Close to the lighthouse is also one bar that looks out over the La Caleta de Velez marina. Within the main beach and town areas are plenty of restaurants known for their seafood, shops, and bars. Beach goers should head towards the El Copo 500m seafront spread that is a straight line of discos and bars that stay open until 6am every morning.
Directly to the west of Nerja sandwiched between Torre del Mar and Nerja is the municipality of Torrox which is a favourite tourist spot and expat destination of the German and British. Split into two major city sections, the beachfront and inland, the town is known for its wonderful climate.
The main village areas have retained their poor white structures with a main square that offers plenty to do and see. Known for two excellent promenades that are filled with bars and restaurants that stretch along nine kilometres of pure white sandy beaches, the bamboo trees only help add flavour to the area. Olives are a specialty of the area so expect to find them in many dishes and to sample as many of the delicious delicacies as you can while in town.
Known to the locals simply as Velez, Velez Malaga is a market city that sits four kilometres away from the beaches of Torre del Mar and is one of the only cities in the Costa del Sol area that has not yet been completely converted into a tourism destination thus allowing visitors to get a true taste of the authentic coastal Spanish lifestyle. Dotted with remains of churches, castles, and even coastal watch towers the town is full of hidden gems for an adventurous sightseer and still boosts a nearby 25km of coastline. Near the end of September is the Royal San Miguel festival which is worth seeing if you can plan your holiday to coincide.
How to get there
Malaga Airport is thegateway to the Costa del Sol. Low cost flights to Malaga are available from Ryanair, Easyjet and most of the low cost airlines.