It won’t surprise too many people to hear that the Costa del Sol is famous for its beaches. The towns along Spain’s ‘Sunshine Coast’ each have several beautiful stretches of sand, though that is often their only similarity. Each has a unique atmosphere and style. Marbella offers a luxury lifestyle, Benalmádena is known for its theme parks, Fuengirola is popular with families and Torremolinos is famously gay-friendly.

    While the Costa del Sol is the destination of choice for many European sun seekers, it’s not all beaches. The area’s exotic history and beautiful scenery are yours to enjoy. Take a look through our suggestions and see what strikes a chord with you.

    What are the best things to do in Costa del Sol?

    1

    Burriana Beach

    Relax on one of Costa del Sol’s best beaches

    • Families
    • Couples
    • Photo
    • Budget

    Playa de Burriana is one of the more popular and better-known beaches along the Costa del Sol. The sand is beige in colour, but soft, fine and swept by a gentle blue sea. There are plenty of sun loungers you can rent, as well as jet skis and sea kayaks if you want to explore the nearby bays. You’ll find plenty of places to eat both on and behind the beach, as well as volleyball courts, showers and toilets. The only downside to this beach is that it’s at the bottom of a hill, which is known as “Cardiac Hill” because it takes a lot of effort to get back up, especially in flip-flops. There are some car parking spaces by the beach, but taking a taxi is the best way to go.

    Location: Calle Filipinas, Nerja, Spain

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    2

    Marbella Old Town

    Shop, eat and party among the historical streets

    • History
    • Photo
    • Budget

    Imagine narrow, winding streets lined with uneven, white-washed houses, each with a terracotta-tiled roof and wrought-iron-railed balcony covered in plants– that’s Marbella Old Town. At the centre of it all is the Plaza de los Naranjos (Orange Square), which is filled with the sweet aroma of orange blossom, as well as the oldest church in Marbella, the town hall and many colourful cafés and restaurants. You’ll find a great selection of shops and bars around Old Town, making it a popular place to visit throughout the day and after dark.

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    3

    Alcazaba of Malaga

    Imagine living like a king in an ancient citadel

    • Couples
    • History
    • Photo
    • Budget

    The Alcazaba is a fortress palace from the period of Moorish rule in Spain. It is a beautiful and very well-preserved example of the architecture of the time. Accompanied by an audio guide, walking among the lush greenery and fragrant trees of the gardens and patios or looking at the Islamic pottery in the cool rooms makes it easy to imagine a very comfortable life of luxury here. Below the palace, you’ll find the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre, while the hill above the Alcazaba is dominated by Gibralfaro Castle. There are many other historical buildings and museums nearby, too.

    Location: Calle Alcazabilla, 2. 29012 Malaga, Spain

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    4

    Caves of Nerja

    Escape the summer heat in the amazing ancient caverns

    • Families
    • History
    • Photo

    The Caves of Nerja is a complex of massive limestone caverns, filled with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. The caves are very old, with cave paintings and even Bronze Age human remains discovered in them. It’s easy to explore the complex thanks to the purpose-built walkways and experienced guides, though it’s recommended to wear sturdy shoes as the walkways can be slippery when wet. If you’re visiting during the summer months, look out for music festivals held inside the caves, using their unique acoustics to amplify classic opera, ballet and flamenco performances.

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 3 pm

    Phone: +34 952 52 95 20

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    photo by Mark Nakasone (CC BY 2.0) modified

    5

    Castillo de Gibralfaro

    Ancient ruins with fantastic views over Málaga

    • History
    • Photo

    Gibralfaro Castle (Castillo de Gibralfaro) is a magnificent fortress on a hill overlooking Málaga. It was originally built on top of Phoenician fortifications around the 10th-century and later re-enforced and expanded in the 14th-century. The castle’s primary function was to house troops and protect the Alcazaba.

    Soak up stunning views over Málaga as you can walk around the entire perimeter of the ruins along the ancient ramparts. And to learn more about the site’s history, you can visit the onsite military museum. There are several ways to reach the castle. You can walk along Paseo Don Juan de Temboury which connects with a winding path to the castle, drive up the Camino de Gibralfaro, or take bus 35 from Avenida de Cervantes.

    Location: Cam. Gibralfaro, 11, 29016 Málaga, Spain

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +34 952 22 72 30

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    6

    Colomares Monument

    A fascinating tribute to Christopher Columbus and his travels to America

    • History
    • Photo
    • Unusual

    The Colomares Monument in Benalmadena, known locally as Castillo de Colomares, is dedicated to the life and explorations of Christopher Colombus. The castle was built by a doctor – who had a fascination for Columbus – and 2 brick-laying friends between 1987 and 1994. It covers an area of 1,500 metres and features charming, fantasy-like architecture inspired by Gothic, Mudejar, Byzantine, and Romanesque designs. 

    On a stroll through the premises, you’ll find carved statues of the 3 ships Columbus took to America, a large book narrating his voyages, and a tiny church. According to Guinness World Records, the 1.96-square-metre church is the smallest in the world.

    Location: Finca la Carraca, Ctra. Costa del Sol, 29639 Benalmádena, Málaga, Spain

    Open: Wednesday–Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm (closed on Monday and Tuesday)

    Phone: +34 678 03 40 11

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    7

    Malaga Botanical Garden

    A romantic garden with sea views

    • Families
    • Couples
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    Málaga Botanical Garden on the outskirts of the capital of the Costa del Sol is a must-see for nature lovers. The English-style garden dates back to 1855 and features an enormous collection of more than 2,000 plant species from 5 continents. You can discover tropical and subtropical plants, ponds, waterfalls, and sculptures.

    Be sure to visit the Mirador to enjoy stunning views of Málaga and the sea beyond. And it’s good to know that you can stay in the garden for an hour and a half after closing time, making it the perfect place to watch the sunset. Entrance is free on Sundays, but if you want to skip the crowds, plan to visit the garden on a weekday.

    Location: Camino del Jardín Botánico, 3, 29014 Málaga, Spain

    Open: Tuesday–Sunday from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm (closed on Mondays)

    Phone: +34 951 92 61 80

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    8

    Malaga Cathedral

    One of the most impressive in Spain

    • History
    • Photo

    One of the most important and spectacular monuments in Malaga, the city’s cathedral is iconic. Construction took more than 250 years to complete, beginning in the 16th century, and it was built on the site of the former Aljama mosque. Plans originally included 2 towers, but a lack of funds resulted in just 1 being completed.

    A mix of Spanish Renaissance and Baroque styles adorn both the interior and exterior of the cathedral. A number of wood carvings dress the stalls inside and the main altar features a 16th-century retable. There are gardens which are free to visit, and at the end of the main cathedral, you'll discover a small wooden staircase in the cathedral shop that leads to a small museum. The option to visit the rooftop is also available, offering views over Malaga.

    Location: Calle Molina Lario, 9, 29015 Málaga, Spain

    Open: Monday–Friday from 10 am to 8 pm, Saturdays from 10 am to 6.30 pm, Sundays from 2 pm to 6.30 pm (weekday closing times vary by season)

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    9

    Castillo Sohail

    Imposing hilltop castle by the sea

    • Families
    • History
    • Photo

    You can enjoy multiple attractions in your single visit to this 10th-century castle. There’s the castle itself (free entry), with its majestic striking walls and towers from where you can take in the Mediterranean seascape. Then there’s beach below that’s basically named after it, as well as an adjoining multipurpose venue where open-air concerts are regularly held. Between this hilltop castle and the beach, there’s a riverside recreational area with swan duck pedal boats before the scenic suspended bridge that connects the promenades between Playa de Castillo and Santa Amalia. 

    Location: Calle Tartesos, Fuengirola, Málaga, Spain

    Open: Tuesday – Friday from 10 am to 2 pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm and from 3.30 pm to 6 pm

    Phone: +34 (0)952 4674 57

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    photo by José Luis Filpo Cabana (CC BY 3.0) modified

    10

    Picasso Museum Malaga

    Dedicated to the city’s most famous artist

    • History

    Set up in honour of the work of Malaga’s famous son, Picasso Museum Malaga (Museo de Picasso) is an unmissable museum whatever the weather. More than 200 works of art comprise the collection that catalogues Picasso’s brilliant artistic career. There remain a few gaps, the blue and rose periods in particular, but it otherwise offers a comprehensive review of his work.

    This museum boasts more than just the work of an incredible artist, however. Located in the city centre, housed within Palacio de Buenavista, it’s set to a backdrop of Alcazaba Fortress. Just a few minutes' walk from the museum will land you at Cata Natal, the birthplace of Picasso at the Plaza de la Merced.

    Location: Palacio de Buenavista, Calle San Agustín, 8, 29015 Málaga, Spain

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 7 pm (closing time varies by season)

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    photo by Emilio (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    11

    Benalmádena Cable Car

    Get a great view of the area from the Teleférico Benalmádena

    • Families
    • Couples
    • Photo

    The cable car up Monte Calamorro offers probably the best view across the Costa del Sol. The 15-minute journey in the glass-walled cars will take you up to 769 metres above sea level, from where you’ll be able to see right across the Mediterranean Sea to the coast of Africa, on a clear day. There’s nearly 3 km of walkways around the rugged summit, including one leading to the Valley of the Eagles for fun birds of prey shows at 1pm and 4pm every day, featuring eagles, falcons, vultures and owls.

    Location: Near Tivoli World, 29630 Benalmádena, Spain

    Open: Daily from 11 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +34 951 56 03 24

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    12

    Atarazanas Market

    Buy budget local food in a beautiful covered market

    The Atarazanas Market is Malaga’s lively central market, where locals come for their daily essentials. It is also an extremely popular place to visit while in the Costa del Sol, partially for the great bargains on local food and produce, but also for the striking building. The main entrance is from a Moorish shipyard which was originally on the site in the 14th century, and a colourful stained glass window shows a homage to this maritime history. Unsurprisingly, the seafood here is especially good.

    Location: Calle Atarazanas, Malaga, Spain

    Open: Monday – Saturday, from 8 am to 3 pm (closed on Sundays)

    Map

    photo by Johannes Schwanbeck (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveller

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