Marbella is one of the most important and popular cities on the sun-kissed Costa del Sol in southern Spain. Famous for its sandy beaches, sunny climate and party nightlife, it has many other interesting aspects and attractions that you might want to include in your holiday.
The Old Town Marbella offers a totally different experience to the flashy designer boutiques around Puerto Banús marina. Narrow cobbled streets ascend from the waterfront promenade and tropical Parque de la Alameda. Head towards the Plaza de los Naranjos (Orange Square) along winding alleys and streets lined with bright pink pots of bougainvillea. It’s a great place to discover independent shops, quirky boutiques and friendly tapas bars with tables spilling onto the street.
In sharp contrast, drive west along the busy N-340 coastal road towards the new developments in Nueva Andalucia. As the luxury villas along Golden Mile thin out, you’ll see championship golf courses overlooking the sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea from their elevated hillside location.
So, whether you’re looking for history, culture, sports activities, gourmet cuisine or just a beautiful sandy beach for chilling out, Marbella ticks all the boxes. No wonder it welcomes over 11 million tourists every year!
Let’s show you around!
- Want to know how to get to Marbella and then get around? Start here!
- Summer or winter? Here’s guidance on the best times to visit
- A little background to Marbella’s 2000-year history
- A few hidden places to visit in Marbella
- Where and what to eat from tapas to Michelin star
- Enjoy a cultural immersion with Marbella’s festivals and events
- Marbella has beaches for everyone in this handy guide
- Cool things to do with kids so they’ll never be bored!
Marbella: Getting there and getting around
Marbella is located in southern Spain on the Mediterranean coast. It’s part of Malaga province in the larger region of Andalusia. Further inland are the foothills of the arid Sierra Blanca dotted with the famous pueblos blancos (white villages). These are just one of the local attractions in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park.
Marbella is midway between Malaga (37 miles north) and Gibraltar (48 miles south), just to put the pin on the map. The majority of visitors arrive by air into Malaga Airport. From there you can hire a car, book a transfer, grab a taxi or catch the local bus to Marbella. There are plans to bring a high-speed rail link to Marbella in the future. For now, a hire car is the easiest way to get around and explore, especially if you’re staying away from the beach, perhaps in a private villa in the mountains.
Best time to visit
Marbella, Spain is a year-round destination. The most popular months for visitors are from May to September, but they are also the hottest and busiest. Temperatures are regularly in the high 80sF (27 to 30°C) in summer, dropping to a more pleasant heat outside July and August. However, shady terraces, a dip in the pool, cooling sea breezes and visiting the cooler mountain villages are sensible ways to stay cool.
The locals enjoy a siesta, usually from 2 to 4pm, to stay out of the heat. You may find local businesses are closed after lunch and re-open in the late afternoon / early evening to continue their trade in cooler conditions.
Many retirees and celebrities own holiday homes or winter homes around Marbella. It’s very tempting to escape the rain and snow of northern Europe and enjoy balmy days with little rainfall in this sunny southern clime. Marbella really is a year-round destination, especially for golfers and walkers who may prefer the cooler months.
A little Marbella history
If you stand on the seafront, you might be forgiven for thinking that Marbella sprang up in the late 20th century, but you would be totally incorrect. Look beyond the flashy villas and glass-fronted department stores and you’ll find evidence of a much older civilization.
Being a coastal settlement, Marbella was invaded many times – by the Romans, the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians. From the 10th century until the Treaty of Marbella in 1286, the area was under Islamic Rule. Each era has left its own mark on the city’s culture and architecture. Surprisingly, it’s a fantastic place to visit for those who appreciate ancient history and Mudejar architecture.
Amble around Marbella’s Old Town and you’ll see the remains of the old city walls dating back to Moorish times. Check out the Plaza de la Iglesia de la Encarnación with its sturdy stone walls and a tower that belonged to a 9th century fortress. Sit outdoors enjoying lunch beneath the orange trees at the Plaza de Los Naranjos. You’ll be sitting in a square that dates back to 1504. Explore the nearby Town Hall, the well-kept 15th century church Ermita de Santiago and the Casa del Corregidor with its lovely ironwork balcony, built in 1622.
If you think that’s ancient history, there’s more. There are remains of Marbella Castle (Muralla del Castillo) dating back to the 9th century and fine mosaic flooring at the 1st century AD Roman villa at Rio Verde. Historians are welcome to visit the site on weekends between 10:30 and 13:30.
Other UNESCO listed sites of unique historic interest include the 13th century Alhambra Palace in nearby Granada and the magnificent 8th century Mesquita (Mosque-Church) in Cordoba. These awesome attractions are very well-maintained, especially considering their age.
Fun things to see and do in Marbella
Visit the marina in Puerto Banús and browse the surrounding streets and waterfront. Along with designer boutiques and swanky fish restaurants you’ll find plenty of photos ops. The marina is a favoured spot for Saudi royal princes to moor their multi-million dollar yachts. Along the nearby streets you’ll see dozens of Ferraris and Lamborghinis parked bumper to bumper – how the other half live!
Stroll through Alameda Park enjoying the beautiful marble paved walkways and lush greenery. Loved by locals, it’s a wonderful way to sense the less touristy side of the city. If you look closely, the colourful tiled benches are artworks in their own right. Leafy subtropical greenery, the sound of birds and cascading fountains provide a shady escape and an oasis of peace in the heart of the city.
Walk along the nearby Paseo Maritimo, a broad marble-paved promenade with 10 bronze sculptures created by Salvador Dali. You’ll get an idea of the subjects from their titles: Naked woman climbing a staircase; Horse with people stumbling; Mercury; Perseus; Don Quixote seated; Gala gravid; Gala at the window; Trajan on horseback; Cosmic Man on dolphin and Elephant.There are two more sculptures by local artisan Eduardo Soriano on this pleasant Art Walk.
Days out from Marbella…
Head inland an hour-or-so’s drive to the extraordinary El Caminito del Rey where you can book a 7.7km mountain hike like no other. The route includes precarious cliffside ledges, boardwalks and trails along the breathtaking El Chorro gorge and reservoir. You’ll be glad to know that there’s a shuttle bus for the return journey back to your car!
Just 35km east of Marbella’s smart city centre, the narrow cobbled streets of Mijas Pueblo could not be more different. Whitewashed cottages run down the stepped streets of this typical Andalusian hillside village with its ruined Arab Palace. These pueblos blancos (white villages) are a typical feature of Andalusia and offer panoramic views from their elevated position.
Go Canyoning in Guadalmina! Book a guided tour and get all the gear (wetsuit, canyoning shoes, helmet etc.) before plunging into the water from rocky ledges 2-5 metres above. This exciting sport takes place in Angosturas Gorge, Benahavis and includes swimming, jumping, sliding and abseiling in glorious unspoilt surroundings.
How about a day exploring the sights of Gibraltar? Travel independently (take your passport!) or take a guided tour on a minibus. Gibraltar is a mini British enclave with a great shopping street, pubs, a castle and cable car up "The Rock". Walk back down snapping photos of the resident Barbary apes and visit the spectacular St Michael’s Caves right inside the rock.
The dramatic gorge and multi-tiered bridge at Ronda are reason enough to visit this inland town just an hour from Marbella. Join a tour if you want to sit back and enjoy the mountain scenery. Once there, see historic buildings, churches and the oldest bullring in Spain. It’s huge! Guided tours include a stop for wine tasting on the return journey.
Best kept secrets in Marbella
Every city has its hidden gems known to locals but often by-passed by visitors. Some of Marbella’s hidden gems are well worth hunting down.
Try your hand at Sunset Paddle-boarding and see Marbella from a new perspective. You might want to take a beginner lesson first to get your balance and then head out on glorious golden waters. It’s a deceptively good upper body work-out too!
We’ll cover food and wine in Marbella below, but if you want to learn how to order with confidence from a typical Spanish menu join a 3-hour guided tour. Explore the world of olive oil, tapas and wine tasting. It’s a great way to "get a taste" of the local culture!
Visitors rarely think about Marbella as a destination for wildlife. The Sierra Blanca mountain range is home to some large mammals including Spanish Ibex. lynx and wild boar. Kites, eagles and rare bearded vultures are some of the bird species you might spot on a hike from Marbella to Juanar, or on a mountain hike up La Concha (1,210 m). Both have amazing viewpoints.
Eating and drinking
Marbella has over 800 restaurants, so you might need some help whittling down your options. Traditional menus include freshly caught fish and seafood in this coastal city. Spain’s national dish is paella, often served table-side in a shallow pan. It is a medley of saffron-infused short-grain rice loaded with chorizo sausage, mussels, clams and shrimp with larger langoustines artistically arranged as a garnish on top. It’s a great dish for sharing.
At lunchtime many restaurants serve fixed priced menu del dia from Monday to Friday. They include a salad, bread with aioli, a carafe of local wine or bottled water, a generous cold meat appetizer (primer plato), the main dish of fish or meat (usually chicken) and potato (segundo plato) followed by a dessert (postre) and coffee. However, the main meal of the day for Spanish families is generally enjoyed around 9pm after early evening drinks and tapas. As visitors you can mix and match depending on the day’s activities. One thing’s for sure, tasty fresh food and affordable drinks are all part of your Spanish experience when visiting Marbella.
Tapas and casual dining
Tapas is a must do. Grab a seat at El Estrecho, order up a selection of "small plates" and enjoy meatballs in sauce, fried fish, slow-braised pork, bite-size empanadas and seafood ceviche. Order a caña of beer (it’s a small-size glass usually filled with house draft beer) and tuck in. For a pint-size glass, ask for a jarra or tanque.
Look out for Chiringuitos along the beach. These colourful beach shacks are a great place to enjoy cool fruity drinks at sunset and tasty lunch or dinner at competitive prices. Many have an old boat in which they fire up a wood barbecue and cook fresh fish and sardines in the embers. Served with fresh crusty bread and a side salad, it’s hard to beat this simple meal enhanced by the authentic wood-smoked aroma and waterfront setting.
Recommended restaurants in Marbella
Marbella has something for every taste when it comes to restaurant dining. Remember, in Spain a meal is an unhurried event of several leisurely courses. As well as being an important time for socialising and chatting, it’s a key part of the nightlife scene which goes on until the small hours. From family owned tabernas to Michelin Guide restaurants (Marbella currently has three Michelin star restaurants and 10 Plate Michelin entries!) you’ll find some amazing places to eat. Don’t be afraid to experiment and explore somewhere new.
Gourmands may enjoy the unique dining experience offered at Garum on Paseo Maritimo on Marbella’s Golden Mile. From smoked cheese soup to Moroccan samosas and falafel, it’s a unique extravaganza for your tastebuds. By day, enjoy coffee, tapas and artfully presented cakes along with fabulous sea views. After dark, the a la carte menu ratchets up a notch to include modern and traditional dishes such as Gazpacho with a dash of Balsamic, garlic croutons and a tomato and onion relish. Pasta takes on a new persona with Asian wok vegetables, soy and sweet chili sauce. Grilled sea bass with sage butter and beetroot hummus is a healthy option served with kale salad, or go carnivore with a rib eye steak served with cognac sauce, chips and mesclun salad.
Address: Paseo Marítimo / Avenida de la Fontanilla, 29602 Marbella
Open: Monday to Sunday 13:00 until 24:00
Book a table at Garum
For a cultural ambience, try The Farm, a pretty restaurant in the Old Town with a plant-decked patio, terrace and dining room. Owned by Elio and Maria, they combine international experience with a passion for good food and fine wine. Whet the appetite with a Tapas platter of Iberian meats, chorizo and manchego cheese before moving on to Lomo de atun (tuna steaks with garnish) or melt-in-the-mouth boneless beef ribs with mashed sweet potato. Of course, all the food is farm fresh, organic and tastes delicious. Described as an "urban beach bar" it promises "slow food" with a very friendly atmospheric. The Farm also hosts free flamenco shows on certain nights, so check when booking.
Casanis on Calle Ancha offers bistro-style dining in a restaurant decorated with cartoons and murals. Ask for a table on the front terrace and hone the Spanish art of people-watching. On summer evenings, this pretty location in the Old Town is buzzing with couples and families taking a leisurely pre-dinner stroll. Chef Fabian Cangas creates a Mediterranean-influenced menu with French and Belgian influences. Rustic wooden tables and chairs create the perfect ambience for savouring fish soup, beef wellington, duck and caviar-topped pasta dishes. The crème brûlée is the perfect finale.
For outstanding gastronomy, try the intimate 10-cover Skina restaurant on Aduar in Marbella city centre. Two Michelin stars suggest the top quality gastronomy and attentive service will be worth the higher prices. You might need some advice from the sommelier with 950 wines on offer. The glass-fronted wine cellar creates an authentic Andalucian setting for local cuisine and seafood from master chef Marcos Granda. He elevates food presentation to an art form with an ever-changing menu depending on seasonal produce and the local catch of the day. Without doubt, the lobster and souffle are the best.
Toro Burger Lounge
If you’re looking for something less upscale, Toro Burger Lounge has several locations in Marbella and Puerto Banús. Yes, they specialise in burgers, but these require a knife and fork to eat them! Hands down the most flavoursome, these burgers come laden with a choice of cheeses, pickles, bacon, ketchup and onion rings piled on top! Try the Texas Cowboy with added caramelized onion, cheddar and spicy whisky barbecue sauce crammed into a black brioche bun. Just a burger? Not here!
Address: Avenida Fontanilla / Paseo Marítimo, 29602 Marbella
Open: Tuesday to Sunday 13:00 until 16:00 and 20:00 until 24:00
Book a table at Toro Burger Lounge
Top places for brunch in Marbella
You might not be ready for brekkie after a late night on the town, but brunch is the perfect answer.
Most of us like to start the day with good intentions to stay on track. This top brunch hangout offers health conscious options such as colourful fruit platters, healthy smoothies and juices. Experiment with added wheatgrass and ginger. They make mega sandwiches using German bread, amazing salads, paninis and the best Italian coffee and cakes. Oops, the halo’s slipped a bit now!
Address: Calle las Malvas 20, 29660 Marbella
Open: Monday to Friday 09:00 until 17:00, Saturday & Sunday 09:30 until 17:00
Tucked in the lower floor beneath the lively Breathe Bar restaurant, Ground is a noteworthy artisan cafe and bakery. It’s menu boasts a philosophy of good honest food using local seasonal ingredients. Try their power juices, super salads and Poke Bowls for a post-workout lunch with friends. Their fresh ground coffee from Ibiza is a nice local touch and their locally pressed olive oils enhance any salad.
You simply have to visit Nikki Beach once in your stay and brunch is a great excuse to do so. This iconic beach club attracts celebs across the globe from Hollywood to St Tropez, so who knows who you’ll see here. Start with a refreshing mojito or a glass of champers while waiting for your brunch to appear. Try the Avocado Garden with tortillas, hummus, garden herbs, cream cheese and quail egg or tuck into fresh crusty bread, cherry tomatoes and slices of hand-carved Jabugo ham.
Address: Playa Hotel Don Carlos, Carretera de Cádiz Km 192, 29604 Marbella
Open: Monday to Sunday 12:00 until 19:00
Book a table at Nikki Beach
For sea views and a contemporary vibe, Besaya Beach specialises in fish and seafood with a hint of Asian flair. Start with the freshest Salmon Tartare or King Crab Salad before moving on to Grilled Lobster, Turbot or Sea Bass. Their speciality is steak cooked on a hot stone table-side so you can cook it to your liking. Then bag one of the sun loungers and enjoy a well-earned nap.
Address: Coral Beach Urbanization Km 176, 29602 Marbella
Open: April to October: Monday to Sunday 10:00 until 24:00 – November to March: Monday to Sunday 09:00 until 23:00
Book a table at Besaya Beach
Bars and night spots
Arguably Marbella’s top spot for drinking and dancing, this stylish hub is at the entrance to Puerto Banús. Head up the steps to the first floor restaurant, Gastro Bar and Garden Zone while on the top floor the Sky Lounge is the place to hang out for signature cocktails or try the Raw Bar. The ambience and setting are out of this world with water features and greenery creating a sensual outdoor space for stargazing, music and entertainment.
In the heart of Marbella, Fika attracts an upmarket crowd with its outdoor terrace and sleek interior bars. Open from noon daily, it has easy parking under Parque de la Alameda Square. It has a good choice of appetisers and light bites but their cocktail and mocktail menu is outstanding. Try the Cheeky Tiki with fruit juices and spiced rum or go upmarket with a Pink G&T including Jasmine tea. Jugs of icy sangria (red, white or rose) are a great choice for lasting well into the evening.
Address: Local 13, Avenida Puerta del Mar, 29602 Marbellan
Open: Monday to Saturday 17:00 until 24:00
Claddagh Irish Bar
Nostalgic expats mix with tourists at this authentic Irish Bar which has live music, bands and artists 6 nights a week. Sports fans are not forgotten with large-screen TVs and pool tables creating a sports bar ambience. Enjoy a pint of traditional Guinness, Kilkenny ale, wine or order up one of their fruity cocktails and get the party started.
Address: Avenida Arias Maldonado 16, 29602 Marbella
Open: Monday to Thursday 16:00 until 11:30, Friday 16:00 until 02:00, Saturday & Sunday 13:00 until 02:00
One of the best nights out in Marbella can be found at the Olivia Valère Club, an upscale venue for international guests to meet, dine and party. Live music, glam theme parties and fantastic shows (think Cirque, Jungle and Pueblo Loco for starters) provide an awesome programme of ongoing events. For something different, book a seat at the Mikado Sushi Bar where Maki meets Marbella!
Address: Carretera Istán, Km 0.8, 29600 Marbella
Open: Monday to Sunday 21:00 until 02:00
Celebrate cultural events and festivals Marbella-style!
Marbella and the surrounding towns and villages always have something to celebrate. From saints days and feast days to cultural events, there are many opportunities to watch a parade, sample local cuisine and join in the street party atmosphere.
Cabalgata del Los Reyes
The year begins with the celebration of the Three Kings, part of the Christmas story. This takes place in towns and villages across Spain on January 5th, a local bank holiday. A procession is led by the Three Kings with street celebrations to follow.
Carnaval de Marbella
Carnival is not just reserved for Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans at Mardi Gras. Dates vary as carnival marks the start of Lent, a period of 40 days of fasting and reflection before Easter in the Christian calendar. The day before Lent starts is Shrove Tuesday which is traditionally marked the world over with feasting and partying before entering this more solemn period. Let your hair down by wearing fancy dress, joining in pool parties and participating in the fun events. These usually include mask-making workshops, bouncy castles, street theatre, parades and open-air parties all over the city.
Semana Santa (Easter / Holy Week)
This is a biggie in the mainly Catholic Spain. There’s sure to be a procession to the church, often led by floats and locals carrying the ornate monstrance made of solid silver or gold. It’s a time of deeply held traditions with some amazing robes and traditional costumes. After that, celebrations turn to street music, food stalls and live entertainment by costumed performers. Special folk songs are part of the event, known as comparsas. Join in and you’ll be taking part in traditions that have been handed down through the generations.
Held from mid June through September, the Starlite Festival is a local Marbella event which takes place in an open air quarry venue that acts as a natural amphitheatre. The ambience is unforgettable. In 2021, it will take place in the Cantera de Nagueles and the line-up is impressive. Past performers include Tom Jones, Bonnie Tyler, Julio Iglesias, Elton John and many noteworthy Spanish performers. The festival also premieres films, hosts fashion shows and DJ nights. Definitely one to get tickets for!
Noche de San Juan
Marbella’s answer to Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night is La Noche de San Juan on Midsummer’s Day. Held on the night of June 23 (Midsummer’s Eve), bonfires and effigies are built on beaches and then set alight to celebrate the Summer Solstice. Join in beach barbecues, music and partying beneath the stars.
Feliz Navidad (Christmas)
Like most other European cites, Marbella celebrates the lead up to Christmas with shopping events, Christmas lights, nativity scenes and celebrations. Look out for the official Christmas Lights Switch-on in late November and browse Christmas Fairs that pop up on plazas and streets everywhere. The Stock Fair is a big event for shoppers, held the first weekend in December in the Palacio de Congresos. It’s Spain’s answer to German Christmas Markets,
On Christmas Day most celebrations take place in restaurants and bars when families gather and celebrate together. Santa, aka Papa Noel, abandons his reindeer and sleigh due to a lack of snow and arrives in Marbella port by boat late on the 25th. He also takes requests and hands out gifts to youngsters before Christmas at La Cañada Shopping Centre.
There are many more locals festivals in Marbella on saint’s days as well as arts festivals, music fests and cultural ferias. Keep your eyes open for local posters and don’t miss out on these fun cultural events that are generally free.
See authentic Flamenco in Marbella
As well as cultural festivals you’ve got to experience Flamenco, and there are several places in Marbella to see it. Women wear gorgeous figure-hugging tiered dresses and cuban heeled shoes used for stamping the floor. They raise their hands to clap or clatter their wooden castanets in time with the music. Men wear tight black trousers and white ruffled shirts. As well as dancing with their partners, they strum guitars and sing at these authentic cultural shows.
Head to Flamenco Marbella to see their nightly shows or book a table at The Farm (see above) or La Plaza Restaurant on Calle Lopez Ibor.
One of the best places for a Flamenco Show is Tablao Flamenco Ana Maria in Old Town Marbella. It has been featuring performances since 1991. The show starts at 10:30pm and if you like dancing you can join in and give it a go – a few drinks first might help!
Best beaches in and around Marbella
Marbella’s golden sandy beaches and warm Mediterranean Seas are legendary. Three of the best-known beaches are Playa del Cable, located east of the city between the port and the Real River. Popular with a younger crowd, you’ll find lots of local activities here, from sandcastle sculptures, snack bars and live music to organised sports tournaments.
In the centre of Marbella, the Playa de la Bajadilla is always busy due to its location. Further west and stretching over 1km, Playa de la Fontanilla is another popular beach close to cafés, bars, hotels and shops.
Some of the less well-known beaches further out of the city include Playa del Duque near beautiful Puerto Banús. This upscale beach area has several private beach clubs where an admission fee secures you a lounge chair, shady umbrella and bar service drinks.
One of the advantages of staying in a luxury villa just outside Marbella city means that you can pick a beach that is quieter and full of charm a little further west along the coast. Try Playa Guadalmina near San Pedro de Alcantara or head east to Las Chapas and the delightful old port and beach at Cabopino
Things to do with kids in Marbella
Families may be looking for more than history and culture. Marbella has plenty of fun attractions for youngsters too.
- Head to nearby Fuengirola and spend the day at the Bioparc Zoo. It’s perfect for all ages.
- Visit the biggest water park in the area at Aqualand in Torremolinos. It includes 18 slides, rapids, kamikaze rides, speed racer and more.
- Between Marbella and Estepona you’ll find the popular safari park Selwo Aventura. Join a jeep safari, ride a zipline, enjoy archery and trampolines as well as seeing some Big Game wildlife.
- Adventure Amazonia has rope bridges, zip-lines, tree climbs and swing bridges for a day of adventure. Altogether it offers 83 challenges, 20 zip-lines and a mini courses for those aged 4 to 7.
- Costa Water Parks are located in various places around Marbella. They include an inflatable assault course moored just offshore and provide hours of fun. Life jackets are provided as part of the ticket price.
- Parque de las Medranas at San Pedro del Alcantara is a lake for swimming and watersports. Book a wakeboarding session and be towed on a cable pulley. It’s a continuous ride with lots of obstacles to navigate.
- Another popular place for kids in San Pedro is the 3km bike track for skating and rollerblading on Av. Luis Braille. This public space also hosts live music events and shows in the summer.
- Hire a motor boat or catamaran for the day and enjoy picnicking, swimming and snorkelling in the Med – just like the jet set!
- All the family are welcome at the Food Room which offers kid-friendly cookery classes where you can learn to create authentic Spanish cuisine.
- Learn to ride a Segway along the boardwalk on a guided tour with Marbella Segway Tours. Teenagers love it!
- Go exploring on horseback as a family with Los Caireles rides.
Why not stay somewhere amazing in Marbella and enjoy some of these unique Spanish activities as part of your holiday? Take home happy memories of new experiences along with a healthy tan!