Riviera is the Italian word for the coastline, usually referring to the Ligurian Coastline. However, the expression has been used for several other coastlines around the world. Here we will focus on the Spanish Riviera, particularly the amazing Costa del Sol and its beautiful towns of Malaga and Marbella.
Malaga is a big city, the second biggest of Andalusia and the 6th biggest in Spain with more than 500.000 inhabitants. It is also one of Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited city, since 8th century BC. Malaga was settled by the Phoenician and later ruled by Carthage, Rome, the Visigoths, the Muslims and only since 1487 is under Castille/Spain control.
This long and rich history shows we visit the city, especially in its old town. The Muslim rule is particularly interesting and reflects very much on Malaga’s beauty and attractiveness. We were expecting Malaga to be much more directed to beach and nightlife tourism, but it has much to offer in terms of cultural and historical tourism.
Best things to do in Malaga
Malaga’s Alcazaba is one of our favorites monuments in Andalusia, together with Granada’s Alhambra and Cordoba’s Mosque/Cathedral. And just putting it at the same level as these two, states how much we liked it. The Alcazaba is the fortress/palace from where the Muslims ruled the city. It’s on the hillside of the Gibralfaro Castle and has 3 concentric walls. It’s full of trees, paths, and gardens on the inside, making it a fabulous and romantic monument to go. It costs 2.2 Euros to enter or 3.5 Euros if in a combined ticket with Castle Gibralfaro.
Castle of Gibralfaro was built in the 14th century and from its viewpoints, you get the most beautiful views of Malaga, the harbor, the coasts, the bullring, the long horizon. Although not as astonishing as the Alcazaba, it was very nice to walk through it, discover every corner and viewpoint to the city. Tickets have the same pricing as the Alcazaba.
Atarazanas Market is a 14th Century building right in the middle of the town. Interestingly, through its history, it has been a shipyard, a convent, a hospital and a medical school… Nowadays is buzzing market, full of people, colors, and smells. Fish, meat, cheese, fruit and veggies, all fresh and at the good prices. Seafood (colossal prawns) and olives (the huge ones) were particularly impressive. Note that the market is open until 14:00 from Monday to Saturday.
La Malagueta Beach
La Malagueta beach is the typical sandy urban beach. It’s very close to the center and east to the Part/Marina. Being so close makes it very lively, full of bars/restaurants and easily accessible. On the other hand, you lose on water cleanness and peacefulness.
However, la Malagueta is only one of the best beaches in Malaga province. There are many others worth a visit.
Malaga’s Port goes back to 1000BC and it’s nowadays a big cruise Port. It’s very close to La Malagueta and the new Quay one, full of restaurants, bars and stores make it a very lively place and pleasant for strolls along the water. We definitely recommend you take a walk from the city center to the Port, Quay one and into La Malagueta Beach.
Malaga Travel Tips
Malaga is a parking nightmare. There are little to no free parking spots near the city center. If you are using a car leave it outside town or in a town car park. In these parks, you can ask a reduced fee in your hotel/hostel. The full price was 24 Euros but it was reduced to 18 Euros.
If you have a car you can easily have a day trip to Mijas, one of the famous white villages of Andalusia!
We recommend you sleep as close to the center as possible and you will be within walking distance of everything above! Hostal Larios has a fantastic price right in the heart of Malaga. It’s perfect for backpackers and the staff is just very helpful.
What’s the first thing on your mind when hearing Marbella? Well, mine is Jesus Gil y Gil, former mayor of Marbella and Atletico’s President… 🙂 Well, but probably that’s just me. Marbella is famous for being a glamorous resort town, full of rich celebrities who gather to party and spend a few euros. But don’t be deceived, if you want to peep into this lifestyle you should head to West of Marbella, Puerto Banus. It’s in Puerto Banus Marina where the sports cars and yachts meet and can be easily spotted. The true heart of the Spanish Riviera.
Best things to do in Marbella
Like most of the other cities of Andalusia, the history of Marbella stretches way back and this shows in its old town center, known as Casco Antiguo. Casco Antiguo is characterized by white houses, small streets, churches, plazas, and stores in a Labyrinthine Swirls around the central Plaza de los Naranjos, named after the orange trees that outline it. It’s very charming but falls short compared to other old towns in Andalusia like Granada, Cordoba, and Malaga. Or even the unique/astonishing Ronda.
On the other hand, it has a beautiful and long boardwalk by the beaches which is great for walking or cycling, all the way to San Pedro de Alcántara. To top it all this seaside promenade freely displays a collection of sculptures by Salvador Dali.
Nevertheless, the true great appeal of Marbella is on its beaches, hot summers, luxurious marina, and parties, not its history or architecture.
The Beaches around Marbella
Marbella is protected by the Sierra Blanca, but during our stay, it was strangely windy which made it difficult to stay on the beach. With or without wind they are beautiful with the strong blue/green color of the Mediterranean sea. Seawater is really warm on these beaches (27/28º) but the extreme heat of Andalusia (+40º) makes it feel colder at first touch.
Puerto Banus, the infamous side of the Spanish Riviera
Puerto José Banus is the luxurious marina located southwest of Marbella. Beach clubs, expensive designer stores, restaurants, bars, and hotels live around the marina. This is where the rich and famous gather to party and show their new sports cars and yachts. It was extremely fun to peep into that lifestyle for a few hours and take some (shameful and self-conscious) pictures of it.
Where to sleep and eat in Marbella
As you can imagine accommodation in summer around Marbella is quite expensive… After a longer than usual search for a place to stay we decided to stay in the: Royal tennis Club… It’s on the east of the town and on a walking distance to the beach. It felt like a tennis training center, but we actually liked it. We also discovered that one of Marbella’s best restaurants (Don Quijote) is on the other side of the road! We couldn’t resist and splurge a little, after all, we were in Marbella. Don Quixote definitely lived up to the reputation. It was a fantastic romantic dinner.
In conclusion, we recommend Marbella to people who love the sun, parties, and shopping. If this is what you are looking for, you will spend some fantastic holidays there. For a frugal traveler who isn’t really into clubbing it was an opportunity to rest and swim in the Mediterranean while peeking into a very different reality in the Spanish Riviera.
Is the Spanish Riviera and Costa del Sol your kind of holiday?