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15 Best Things to Do in Costa del Sol, Spain

15 Best Things to Do in Costa del Sol, Spain

Depending on who you talk to, Costa del Sol gets a bad rep. For years, parts of this southern stretch of Spanish coastline have been dubbed “Little Britain,” as it attracts UK retirees and expats in their thousands.

But who can blame them? Spain is one of the best countries in Europe to visit and live – especially for anyone entering their twilight years.

Travel stalwart Rick Steves in particular gave the Costa del Sol a scathing review. Many see it as little more than a playground for Brits looking to escape their own mixed weather, before shuffling off the mortal coil. But is that doing it a disservice? After all, surely any length of Mediterranean Sea shoreline is worth a look?

The Costa del Sol coast runs for just over 90 miles in the Andalucia region of southern Spain. It’s famous for its year-round sun, Blue Flag sandy beaches, exciting attractions, water sports, golf courses (it’s not nicknamed the Costa del Golf for nothing), and Riveria party lifestyle. But if you’re willing to take a second look and scratch the surface, you can find plenty of depth away from the cheap thrills and maddening crowds.

In this article we look at the best things to do in Costa del Sol. Regardless of the expat invasion, it’s still one of the top places to visit in Spain.

TL;DR

  • Most significant landmark: Alcazaba, Málaga
  • Best park: Parque de la Paloma, Benalmádena
  • Free activity: La Senda Litoral walkway
  • Activity for kids: Visiting the beaches
  • Activity for adults: Water sports
  • Place to eat: Tapas – just about anywhere
  • Place to stay: Vincci Selección Posada del Patio

Things to Do in Costa del Sol, Spain

1. Explore Málaga

Malaga city

Address: Málaga, Spain

No visit to Costa del Sol is complete without exploring the region’s capital city. And since Malaga airport is likely to be your entrance and exit point, it’s a great place to start or finish. Some top Costa del Sol historical tours are to be found in Malaga and it’s an ideal base for exploring the area.

As the birthplace of Picasso, a visit to the Picasso Museum Málaga is essential. The legendary artist’s childhood home is located on the beautiful Plaza de la Merced, and the museum is housed in the Palacio de Buenavista.

You can book tickets online or go during the last two opening hours on Sundays for free entry. Be advised it is extremely popular and will be very busy during these times. It is, after all, one of the best museums in Spain.

Málaga Cathedral is an architectural wonder that dates back to 1530. The Moorish Palace, Gibralfaro Castle, sits in a dominant position overlooking the city. And the Roman theater ruins and Alcazaba fortifications are not to be missed.

See them all with this guided walking tour. For something a bit more up-to-date, the Museum of Automobiles and Fashion marries classic cars with haute couture. Pick up a ticket here.

Foodies will go wild with all the tapas bars in the old town, and the restaurants at the new marina are perfect for dinner or sunset drinks. And as Andalucia is the cradle of flamenco, you must catch a show of this passionate dance when you’re in town. For places to stay, the Petit Palace Plaza Málaga offers a great location, but Vincci Selección Posada del Patio is on another level.

2. Enjoy a Mediterranean Sailing Trip

Sailing Catamaran in Malaga
MUNDO MARINO / GetYourGuide

Water and the Costa del Sol go hand in hand. From swimming to snorkeling, jet skiing to paragliding, there’s something for all you water babies out there. One of my favorite activities is to go sailing.

Boat charters, sailing trips, and sunset cruises can be taken from just about anywhere along the coast. This catamaran trip departs from Malaga and includes a glass of cava as you watch the sun go down. In Marbella, you can take this private sailing adventure which includes a paddle boarding and snorkeling experience.

If you’d prefer to be the captain of your own ship, you can enjoy license-free boat rentals from places like Benalmádena. Kids might also like to visit the marine park while you’re there.

From Nerja, this cruise takes in the stunning cliffs of Maro-Cerro Gordo. You will not believe the color of the water there. And you can even do this day trip to Morocco, sailing across the Gibraltar Straight to explore the bazaars of Tangier.

3. Snorkeling in Nerja

Nerja Andalucia Hiking

Address: Nerja, Málaga, Spain

Nerja is undoubtedly the best place in Costa del Sol for snorkeling, with crystal-clear water and thrilling up-close encounters with marine life. Not to mention all the underwater caves and hidden coves you find in this area.

If you travel without snorkeling gear, there are several places in Nerja where you can rent equipment for a few hours. Boat trips and guided snorkeling tours are available, where experienced guides will show you the ropes and take you to the best snorkeling spots.

The coastline between Nerja and Maro is spectacular, which includes the Maro Cerro Gordo Nature Reserve set into the cliffs. But it’s the azure-blue waters that are the main attraction in this region. Check out Maro’s sandy beach as one of the best places to dive in.

Guided sea kayaking tours are also popular, which explore some of the caves, cliffs, and bays surrounding Nerja that are unreachable by land. And if you are planning to enjoy adventure sports in the Costa del Sol, I highly recommend picking up some good coverage from Travel Insurance.com. Accidents happen, and you don’t want to be up the creek without a paddle.

4. Hiking in Sierra de Mijas

Costa Del Sol Spain

Address: Sierra de Mijas29120, Málaga, Spain

Sierra de Mijas is one of the lesser-known mountain ranges in Costa del Sol, yet it has some of the most beautiful hikes in Malaga with mesmerizing coastal views. For accommodation, La Posada de Mijas offers affordable digs with mountain and sea views.

Many of these hikes begin from the popular white village, Mijas Pueblo. Note that the hills are steep in these parts, and ramblers will need a decent level of fitness. Hiking poles and good footwear are highly recommended.

There are a lot of different hiking trails, and you can tackle anything from one-hour to seven-hour routes. The highest peak is Pico de Mijas (1050m) which boasts stunning 360-degree views from Malaga to Gibraltar.

Since the Costa del Sol is one of the best European warm winter destinations, these hikes are perfect to enjoy during the colder months when the temperatures range between 13 and 20 degrees. But once the summer heat kicks in, you had better spend your days closer to the sea, instead.

5. Explore The Caves of Nerja

Nerja Caves, Spain

Address: Carr. de Bajada a Playa de Maro, 29787, Málaga, Spain

One of the main Costa del Sol attractions is the spectacular Caves of Nerja. A short five-minute drive from the town, they are easily accessed if you’ve rented a car. There’s also a bus service available departing from Nerja bus station, and the attraction is well-signposted.

The caves consist of over three miles of underground caverns and chambers, formed around five million years ago. Skeletal remains found in the caves have been dated to 25,000 BC, and are displayed at the entrance. Dramatic stalactites and stalagmites surround you, including the world’s largest stalagmite column.

The most recent significant discovery has been cave paintings thought to date back 42,000 years. As you might expect, that makes the site even more significant than it already was.

I recommend picking up a Nerja Caves entry ticket beforehand, which comes with an audio guide. The ticket will also allow you into the Museum of Nerja.

Some parts of the caves are not accessible to tourists, but the parts are well-lit with solid walkways. You don’t have to be a die-hard spelunker to enjoy this fascinating slice of geological history. And you’re certainly not expected to live in a cave when you visit, so try this comfortable apartment in the heart of Nerja.

6. Stroll La Senda Litoral de Malaga

La Cala de Mijas in Spain
Perry Van Munster/Wirestock / Adobe Stock

Address: Paseo Marítimo Antonio Banderas, 28, 29004, Málaga, Spain

If you fancy an ambitious walk on an ambitious project, try La Senda Litoral de Malaga. This seaside trail stretches the entire length of the Costa del Sol, with plans to connect Manilva and Nerja and beyond. One of the best sections winds through La Cala de Mijas.

Here, you’ll find nearly four miles of wooden boardwalk that hugs the coast: experience uninterrupted sea views, golden sands, watchtowers, archeological sites, and stunning natural beauty. The walk stretches across the Cabopino Dune Nature Reserve, perfect for getting away from the crowds and into nature.

The whole route is estimated to run over 100 miles, but there are many unfinished sections, and your guess is as good as mine if it will ever be finished. Still, the sections that are complete are perfect for strolling on a sunny day. And you won’t be short of refreshment options along the way, as there are plenty of beachside bars and restaurants en route.

A word of caution, however, as some parts of the walk are poorly lit – if at all – and it can get dark after sunset. An alternative is to dine on fresh seafood at the charming little harbor in Cabopino before getting a taxi back. Or simply crash at the Villa Costa Marbella located seven minutes the beach.

7. Hike Rio Chillar

Rio Chillar Andalucia Hiking

Address: Chíllar, Málaga, Spain

Rio Chillar is a river that runs from the Sierra de Almijara and flows into the Mediterranean Sea. Over thousands of years, it has carved out a deep canyon in the limestone mountains and created one of the Costa del Sol’s top attractions.

The Rio Chillar hike is a dramatic river walk traversing rocky slot canyons and passing secluded swimming spots and waterfalls. With the shade of the deep gorge and cooling, ankle-deep waters, this is one of the best activities for those hot summer days in Spain.

The five-mile walk takes a couple of hours, but you have to return the same way, so you can easily make a day of it with stops for swimming. We call this ghyll scrambling in the UK, and it’s a genuinely wonderful experience that is particularly memorable for group and family bonding.

Good footwear is a must, although the trail isn’t too challenging and is suitable for people of all ages. You do need a modicum of fitness though, as there will be some climbing involved, and rocks can be slippery. Do the walk with a guide for a more informative experience, and a fun day will be had by all.

8. Visit Frigiliana

White Buildings in Frigiliana, Spain
Sopotnicki / Shutterstock.com

Address: Frigiliana, 29788, Málaga, Spain

This picturesque, whitewashed hillside village is one of the most popular Costa del Sol travel destinations for its astounding beauty and breathtaking views. Colorful flowers cascading from windows and flowerpots in the narrow cobblestoned streets make this a Mediterranean dream.

The town is known for its ceramic mosaics that decorate the labyrinthine alleyways. It also has a Moorish old quarter and the ruins of Lizar Castle overlooking the sugar cube town. One thing’s for sure – you’ll need a pair of decent sunglasses!

At the tail end of August each year, Frigiliana hosts the Festival de las Tres Culturas, which celebrates the co-existence of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religions in the region. And if you’re worried about getting lost, try this guided walking tour which will teach you the town’s history while showing you its most spectacular views.

This day trip from Malaga takes in the best of Frigiliana and Nerja if you’re not staying in the area. But if you are, then I highly recommend the Hotel Rural Los Caracoles for a unique stay in cave-like dwellings.

See related: The 14 Best Travel Sunglasses

9. Hiking in Sierra Blanca

Sierra Blanca, Spain

Address: Sierra Blanca, 29602 Marbella, Málaga, Spain

The Sierra Blanca mountain range is another astounding hiking area in Costa del Sol, with plenty of signposted walking routes and trails. Overlooking Marbella, you can get some of the most breathtaking coast views if you’re willing to put in a little effort. And in some cases – a lot of effort!

Not to be confused with Marbella’s expensive neighborhood of the same name, Sierra Blanca offers hikers some challenging but rewarding trails. Pico del Lastonar is the highest point and closest mountain to Marbella at just over four thousand feet. Views of Africa can be seen on a clear day.

If you prefer two wheels instead of two legs, try a Sierra Blanca E-bike tour with tapas and wine tasting. For the less energetic, some roads meander into the mountains, with multiple viewpoints and car parks scattered throughout.

The “pueblo blanco” towns of Istán and Ojén are worth a look, situated on either side of Pico del Lastonar. And when you’re shattered from all the climbing and hiking, try the gorgeous Hotel Rural Los Jarales. Located in Istán, the terrace mountain views are well worth the price of admission.

See Related: The Best Hiking Shorts for Men and Women

10. Explore Marbella’s Old Town

Plaza de los Naranjos in Marbella, Spain
sushaaa / Adobe Stock

Address: Old Town29601 Marbella, Málaga, Spain

If you are looking for the best weekend activities in Costa del Sol, go to Marbella. Although most visitors flock here for the beaches and nightlife, Marbella’s old town is charming in its own right. Wander the narrow, cobbled streets past boutiques and tourist shops, and enjoy mouthwatering Spanish cuisine at any number of traditional restaurants.

Head to the Plaza de los Naranjos (Orange Square) to enjoy tapas and drinks in the shade of its beautiful orange trees. Other highlights include the 16th-century Iglesia de la Encarnacion and 15th-century Ermita de Santiago churches.

Old city walls, colorful pot plants, and popular beaches make this the perfect Mediterranean vacation spot. Take it all in with this walking tour with a local guide. Alternatively, you can discover the delights of local cuisine with this Marbella tapas adventure.

A little outside the town, you’ll find the Puerto Banus Marina. This is a popular destination for the rich and famous, and one of the busiest entertainment centers of the Costa del Sol.

If you’ve not brought your billion-dollar super yacht, romantic sunset cruises are available instead. Regardless, Marbella’s unique blend of old-world charm and present-day hedonism keeps people coming back for more.

11. Visit Mijas Pueblo

Tables and Chairs in Mijas Pueblo
Pabkov / Adobe Stock

Address: Mijas Pueblo, 29650 Mijas, Málaga, Spain

Mijas Pueblo is another of the most beautiful places to visit on the Costa del Sol. The village sits halfway up Sierra de Mijas, overlooking the coastal town of Fuengirola.

Here you’ll find more charming cobblestoned streets lined with colorful pot plants, art galleries, boutiques, and artisans. It is hard to beat an afternoon among the whitewashed houses – if you’re not yet all whitewashed out!

You can often find local markets and concerts in the village, and a stroll through the park offers endless viewpoints of the coastline. It is especially stunning at sunrise and sunset. The village also has interesting museums, like the Mijas Miniature Museum, Casa Museo, and Molino de Harina de Mijas.

Chocaholics will be in their element at the town’s chocolate factory. Enjoy a chocolate-making experience that includes a museum tour, and teaches you the secrets of the master chocolatiers.

You might also notice a lot of donkey taxis around. Please avoid this cruel and archaic practice for the sake of a photo.

If you want to interact positively with the donkeys, visit El Refugio del Burrito Donkey Sanctuary or Donkey Dreamland instead. They rescue abused donkeys living in poor conditions from all over the country. It’s time to end the exploitation of animals for tourism.

12. Go Dolphin and Whale Watching

Dolphin Watching Boat Tour in Benalmadena
COSTASOL CRUCEROS S.L. / GetYourGuide

The Strait of Gibraltar is one of the best places to see dolphins and whales in Spain. You can observe many types of dolphins, and the pilot whales live there year-round. Naturally curious creatures, they will often approach boats and if you are lucky, you’ll enjoy some memorable encounters.

I highly recommend booking a dolphin and whale watching tour in advance, as they are extremely popular with visitors. This is especially true in the summer months of July and August, as this is killer whale season.

You might also see fin whales – the world’s second-largest in the cetacean species. These behemoths can reach up to 22 meters long, but sighting them isn’t as common. There are plenty of sea lions, though!

Dolphin-watching day trips are available from Malaga, which first takes you by bus to Gibraltar, before embarking on a boat tour where the Med meets the Atlantic. Marbella is also a hotspot for this activity, and you can book this dolphin-watching tour if you’re staying there.

13. Chill at the Beach

Costa Del Sol Beach

Okay, so I did my best not to mention it, but I suppose it’s time. One of the best things to do in Costa del Sol is to visit the beaches. Don’t forget your lotion and sunhat; you can head here to pick out the best travel sandals.

Some of Southern Spain’s finest beaches are in Maro and Nerja, where the water is crystal clear. But even Malaga city is surrounded by amazing stretches of sand. Maro Beach, Burriana Beach, La Cubana, and La Malagueta are worth mentioning. And there are treasures to be found between cities like Cabopino and Calahonda.

Puerto Banus Beach in Marbella is popular for clubs and heady nightlife if you prefer something a bit livelier. But you’ll find beach bars and clubs with great food and drinks all along the coast. If you are looking for late-license beach bars, head to Los Alamos in Torremolinos or Marbella, where the party goes long into the night.

You’ll find a wide selection of beach activities almost everywhere, so there’s plenty to keep the whole family happy if they’re not content simply soaking up the rays. For a slice of Spanish culture and tradition, check out an Andalusian horse show in Torremolinos.

See Related: The Best Beaches in the World

Further Afield

14. Marvel at the Caminito del Rey

View of Caminito del Rey hiking area in  in Spain
Áloratur/Caminito Travel / GetYourGuide

Address: El Caminito del Rey, 29550 Ardales, Málaga, Spain

Although this activity is technically not part of the Costa del Sol, it is within striking distance of the coast. One of Spain’s top attractions, the Caminito del Rey, is a jaw-dropping walkway along a steep gorge in El Chorro. A hugely popular day trip from Malaga, it’s the perfect destination if you need a break from the beach.

Translated as “the king’s little path,” El Caminito del Rey sits over 300 feet high over the Gaitanes Gorge. Originally built to provide worker access to hydroelectric power plants, construction of the path was completed as far back as 1905. Now a popular tourist attraction, the walkway works harmoniously with one of the most dramatic natural environments you’ll ever see.

You can get there on your own steam, but this guided tour out of Malaga includes entry fees and transportation to and from the site. But if you do decide to make your way there, pick up an entry ticket in advance.

You’ll need to have a head for heights if you’re interested in this breathtaking experience. Although the path is perfectly safe today, it was formerly nicknamed the “walkway of death” by rock climbing enthusiasts.

Fully restored, it is suitable for anyone over the age of eight. You can count me out. I’ll stay by the coast and play golf, instead.

15. Rock on at Gibraltar

Gibraltar Aerial view
Julia Travel Gray Line Spain / GetYourGuide

If you’re caught between a rock and a hard place for things to do in Costa del Sol, you can always take a trip to one of the most famous promontorys on earth.

A British territory since 1713 (yet often hotly contested), the Rock of Gibraltar towers above the Mediterranean, guarding the passage to the Atlantic. Sightseeing day trips to the Rock from the Costa del Sol are popular, where visitors can explore secret underground passages and learn all about the significance of this iconic landform.

Duty-free shopping is also available, and when you’re done exploring St. Michael’s Cave, you can enjoy some classic British retail outlets, high-street stores, and fashion chains.

The tour has multiple departure points depending on where you’d like to be picked up. Go here to select your location and language. Watch out for the lighted-fingered Barbary macaque monkeys who call the Rock home.

FAQs

What is Costa del Sol famous for?

Costa del Sol is famous for its stunning beaches and excellent weather. The area also offers various wonderful attractions, including historic sites, cultural events, traditional Spanish cuisine, and local festivals.

Why is Costa del Sol a tourist destination?

Costa del Sol is a major tourist destination due to its beautiful beaches, warm climate, upscale shops, watersports, and popular attractions. Its location in Andalusia also places it near other prominent Spanish destinations like Granada and Seville.

What are some free things to do in Costa del Sol, Spain?

There are numerous free activities to enjoy in Costa del Sol. These include relaxing on public beaches, exploring Málaga’s historic city center, and hiking in the Sierra de las Nieves Nature Park. Also, many museums offer free entry on certain days, such as the Picasso Museum in Málaga and the Carmen Thyssen Museum.

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