Marbella is one of the Mediterranean's most representative tourist venues and a top favorite for travellers. What was once a small white village of fishermen is now one of the most cosmopolitan beach resorts on the Costa del Sol in Spain.
The beaches with its fine sand and the Mediterranean with its clean water are the main attractions of Marbella. A variety of activities, both on land and sea are available, as is shopping, eating and nightlife.
The city itself has a long history, being settled by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC. Later on came the Romans and Moors, who have left traces in the city. The Moors called the city Marbil-la, probably derived from an earlier Iberian name. Much of the current old town dates from the 15th and 16th centuries, when Marbella had once again become part of Spain. Later on the city was a center of iron mining industry.
Some of the first hotels were built in the 1920's, but the Spanish Civil War brought the development to a stop. After WW2, Marbella emerged as a popular destination for Europe's rich and famous. Soon the affluent beach suburb of Puerto Banús (handled in its own article) sprung up about 7 km west of Marbella. Eventually, the city also became a getaway for "royals" of organized crime and in their footsteps petty criminals and drug users, which in the early 1990s gave Marbella a bad reputation. Nowadays, however, the city is clean and safe and according to a 2008 study boasts the highest life quality in all of Andalusia. The city is also full of both domestic and international visitors, most of them from the British Isles.
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The climate type is Mediterranean, unsurprisingly. Marbella's location between the ocean in the south and the Sierra Blanca range in the north gives the city a pleasant microclimate. With about 320 sunshine days a year, it's no surprise that many telecommuters, retirees and other expats (especially from the northern half of Europe) have made Marbella and other destinations on Costa del Sol their second home. December and January have somewhat more rain than the rest of the year, though.
Tourist offices are located at the Plaza de los Naranjos (in the corner of the city hall) and Paseo Maritímo.
Malaga Airport (Aeropuerto Pablo Ruiz Picasso), 45km to the east, is the nearest major airport. It's the major airport of Costa del Sol and serviced by most European carriers both regular, budget and charter. From there, your options are bus (one way €6.15 as of May 2015), taxi or rental car. If you're coming from the UK you can alternatively fly in to Gibraltar, although this entails a 1.5 hour drive.
The main coast road (N340, now known as the A7) connects the major towns along the whole southern coast and Marbella is approx 30 minutes drive along the N340 from the provincial capital, Malaga. If you are prepared to pay the toll fee (around 4-6 Euros depending upon season) you can take the new AP-7 road which runs parallel to the N340, but with less traffic and higher speed limits means you will reach your destination more quickly. Several parking houses are available both in Marbella and in Puerto Banus.
Marbella's central bus station is right off the motorway (A-7 / E-15), right off exit 164. It's a kilometer and a half to the old town and the beach, walkable in 15-20 minutes.
From Malaga Airport, buy a bus ticket from the vendor facing the exit of the arrivals hall. In May 2015 a one way ticket costs either €6,15 or €8,30 depending on the comfort level of the bus. Buses to Marbella are operated by Avanzabus. The buses will arrive every hour or two on the road behind the vendor. Make sure to be there on time, since the bus leaves exactly on time, or even a minute before. Be aware that drivers don't sell tickets, you need to have bought one at the station or online. The buses are modern and air conditioned. Make sure to sit on the left side of the bus if you want to see the beautiful coastal view. When riding back to the airport you'll get a much better view sitting on the right. Without traffic (there really shouldn't be any, since the bus takes the toll road), the ride should take around 40 min.
Also, there are buses from all other major cities and towns along Costa del Sol, plus other larger cities in Andalusia. Although cheap, the buses can run to their own timetable (!) and are often very busy in summer.
There is a train service between Fuengirola and Malaga, which due to be extended to run further down the coast to Marbella in the near future. As of now, you need to take some other form of transportation the last part from Fuengirola. Malaga is reachable by the AVE rapid train from some other major cities in Spain such as Seville, Córdoba or Madrid.
Taxis are available from Malaga Airport to Marbella outside the terminal. The cost of the journey is around €68. The disabled can also pre-book a wheelchair accessible taxi or minivan online with Marbella Taxis for €65, if you are looking for a reliable and at the same time economical taxi company you can Pre-Book with malaga taxi service, no waiting in long airport queues for your taxi or minibus transfer.
Other companies specialised in private transfers (private taxi) are Autosol Private Transfer and Holiday-Transfer.co.uk. A transfer from Malaga Airport to Marbella will quote 66.50 € with Autosol Private Transfer. Holiday-Transfer.co.uk will quote only 58.00 €.
Marbella has two yacht harbors.
Downtown is fairly compact and you can get around by foot fairly easily if you are moderately fit, just remember to drink water regularly if visiting in the summer when daytime temperatures above +30°C are the rule rather than the exception. Also sidewalks are often very narrow.
The city operates a network of seven local bus lines. Here is information concerning routes, schedules and fares. The Spanish version of the site has an additional route map for each line using Google Maps. Single tickets cost €1.18 when purchased from the driver.
A car is probably an option if you want to go somewhere further out — west, east or inland. If you want to rent a car, all the major car hire firms are represented, but the best value will probably come from local firms. Small car for around €80-90 a week in off season.
If travelling any distance agree the fare in advance. Official rates should be displayed inside any licensed taxi. Phone 952 823 835
Although a modern town, Marbella's origins date back several centuries BC. The main sight of the city is the historical old quarter (Casco Antiguo) with Andalucian and Moorish architecture, flower filled balconies, decoratively painted tiles, narrow streets and the "Orange Square" in the middle of it all. Also, if you're interested in beautiful churches and chapels, Marbella has a lot to offer.
- Plaza de los Naranjos. The square lined by the city hall, orange trees, restaurants and bars is the lively heart of the old town. Built after the Christian reconquest of the city, it is an example of renaissance architecture
- Parque de Alameda. A nice little park in the middle of the city with a beautiful benches and a fountain decorated with painted tiles. Buy an ice cream, sit down and watch locals and tourists.
- Avenida del Mar. From the park, the pedestrian street Avenida del Mar leads down to the Mediterranean. Along it you can see ten statues by the famous Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí.
- Nuestra Señora de la Encarnacion. Marbella's baroque cathedral, from 1618 and colorful on the inside.
- Ermita de Santiago. A former mosque, this building next to the main square is nowadays a small church — the oldest one in Marbella.
- Capilla del Santo Sepulcro. Actually built in 1994 on the site of a former hospital. The throne inside it depicting Christ is much older and is carried around Marbella on Good Friday.
- Capilla de San Juan de Dios. A 16th century chapel that also has functioned as hospital and a home for foundlings.
- Virgen de los Dolores. A statue of Holy Mary looking out from a window over the eponymous alley.
- Moorish walls. Part of a former fortress, these are in a quite good shape for having been standing there for centuries.
- Parque de la Represa. A quite long and narrow park, just east of the old town. The park was constructed in the 1980's on a former riverbed, and a road bridge goes across it. The park also features a Bonsai Museum, reportedly one of the largest in Europe.
- Paseo Maritimo. The beach promenade, 6km in length with palm trees, restaurants, bars and of course the Mediterranean.
- Museo del Grabado, Calle Hospital de Bazán. Tu-Fr 10-14:30 and 17-20:30 (summer: -22), Mo and Sa 10-14. Interested in contemporary Spanish art? Then this museum is something for you.
- Sunbathing and swimming on the sand beaches along the seafront or at a pool, is undoubtedly Marbella's biggest draw for much of the year. Beware of getting sunburnt, though!
- Parasailing activity (Parasailing activity), Puerto deportivo Marbella (Puerto deportivo Marbella), ☎ +34 682173225. summer season, Easter-October. The activity takes place at Puerto Deportivo of Marbella and consists of 12 minutes of flying over the sea, at a height of over 70 meters. The company offers you a lifejacket, harness and other equipment needed. Then a boat will pull you across the water until you take off and during your flight. Then you're brought back to land. 55€.
A major vacation destination, Marbella has facilities for a range of sports, especially golf and padel tennis. The latter is a mixture of tennis and squash invented in Mexico and widespread in the Spanish-speaking world.
- Golf - If you love golf then Marbella and the surrounding area has spectacular golf courses that have been designed by the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Peter Alliss and Clive Clark. There are more than 40 quality courses to be played throughout the Costa del Sol making it a perfect destination for the golf enthusiast. Also, the courses are frequently the venues for major international golf competitions, which means you'll get to see real golf pros playing. See also: Spain section of main Golf article
- Guadalmina Club de Golf, Urbanizacion Guadalmina Alta. One of the largest and best golf courses in Europe with a 45-hole course.
- Horseracing - about 15 minutes from the centre of Marbella is the Hipodromo Mijas Costa. The recently built all weather racetrack has meetings throughout the year including floodlit night racing on summer weekends. The course also boasts plenty of entertainment including bars, music and restaurants.
- If you like hiking, it's possible to hike up to the summit of La Concha — the 1215 m high mountain that can be seen from everywhere in the city. The summit is located about 6 km northwest of the old town as the crow flies, but the main hiking trails start from the northern side of the mountain. They are located near the villages of Ojén (longer trail) and Istan (shorter but steeper trail). The walk itself is not very difficult, though if you do it in summer you'll need sunscreen and plenty of water.
Save for the winter, there are several festivities and processions going on each month in and around Marbella, most of them religious.
- Easter week: During the Santa Semana, processions are a common sight in the city.
- May: Pilgrimage to Cruz de Juanar
- June: La Fiera, a week-long party in the old town to honor San Bernabé who is the city's patron saint.
- July: The festival of Virgen del Carmen
- August: Pilgrimage to the Virgin Mother
- October: The fair and festival to honor the parton of nearby San Pedro Alcantara
- November: Día del Tostón, a day celebrated by roasting chestnuts
Between the patron saint festivals in June and October, also several smaller fairs take place, the Feria y Fiestas de Nueva Andalucía, Las Chapas and El Ángel. In addition each neigborhood of Marbella has their own "day" sometime during the year.
- Don Quijote Spanish school in Marbella is a great school where you can take 4-6 hours of courses a day. All courses including beginner courses are taught entirely in Spanish.
The narrow streets of the old town features small shops selling fashion and souvenirs. Avenida de Ricardo Soriano, the main street, and streets running parallel to it are other good places for shopping. If you want to go to a big mall, head to La Cañada in the north of the city. Finally, in the suburb of Puerto Banús you can find a Corte Inglés department store and many upmarket shops such as Versace and Emporio Armani.
For bargains, check out the weekly markets. One is held in the Albarizas neighborhood, east of the old town each Monday morning. Other markets take place on Fridays in San Pedro de Alcántara on Thursdays and Puerto Banús. Though, here it's more likely than not that brand products for sale are fake.
- La Cañada. A shopping mall with about 150 shops with many European name brands. Located right off exit 185.
- Che Olé, C/ Valdés 3, ☎ +34 952 85 77 33. Clothing.
Streets in the old town around Plaza de los Naranjos are lined with restaurants - if they are not (souvenir) shops they are restaurants. You will therefore have no trouble finding a restaurant and as elsewhere in touristed parts of the world the menus may be available in even ten languages and restaurant staff are very eager to get passers by patronizing their restaurant! Also, your hotel is likely to have one or more restaurants, especially if the hotel is away from downtown.
Even as all major cuisines are represented on the Marbellan restaurant scene, most (also) offer Spanish and Andalusian dishes — especially paella in all thinkable varieties. Also, unlike lesser touristed parts of Spain, restaurants open for dinner already at 18:00, even with some special offers for early diners. Tapas are available all day.
- La Taberna del Pinxto, Avenida Miguel Cano 7 (One block from Playa de Venus). Basque style tapas. Set lunch €9, tapas €1,50.
- Venencia, Av. Miguel Cano 15. Outdoor and indoor seating. This is a popular tapas bar where you can try gambas pil pil (fried shrimps and garlic served with bread), patatas bravas (roasted potatoes with spicy sauce), pimientos fritos (fried paprika with sea salt). Dishes cost €4-8. Fast and attentive service.
- Los Cano (Alicate Beach, 3 km east of downtown). €10-20. A nice restaurant next to the sea with pleasant ambiance, good service and delicious fish. Dishes to try are boquerones fritos, lenguado a la planche, dorade al sal and rodaballo al horno.
- El Salón, C/ Virgen del Pilar 14. Popular restaurant open all day, specializing in tapas..
- Casa del Corregidor, Plaza de los Naranjos 6 (southwestern edge of the Orange Square), ☎ +34 951 21 69 92. One of the restaurants at Plaza de los Naranjos, so the outdoor seating is great for people-watching too. Fish, meat, seafood, and of course paella on the menu. One Wikivoyager found the secreto iberico (barbecued ham with baked potato) particularly delicious. around €15.
- Restaurante El Cortijo, C/ Remedios 5 (opposite Virgen de los Dolores), ☎ +34 952 77 00 64. Specializing in Andalusian cuisine with a lot of different paellas on the menu. Indoor and outdoor seating, like most places in the old town. around €20.
- Vale Vale Bar & Grill, Bulevar del Príncipe Alfonso von Hohenlohe s/n, edificio Marbella Forum, ☎ +34 663 34 44 44. Breakfast Monday to Saturday. Dinner service from Tuesday till Saturday. Set menu at 19 euros per person. Friendly international personnel. Excellent place for a casual and fun mornings and evenings with your friends.
- Restaurante La Buena Vida, Av. de la Puerta del Mar. Mediterranean food and sushi, to that a large selection of wine and beer available.
- Casa Tua, C/ Ortiz del Molinillo 14. Italian restaurant.
- La Meridiana, 0.1 km N, Cno. la Cruz, ☎ +34 952 776 190. International cuisine, apparently more a place where you arrange events rather than dropping in for dinner. A couple of kilometers west of downtown.
- Santiago, Paseo Marítimo 5 (at the beach promenade), ☎ +34 952 770 078. A good fish restaurant with beautiful decor. from €25.
- Restaurante Marbella Club, Bulevar Principe Alfonso von Hohenlohe. Internationally awarded restaurant of the eponymous upscale hotel.
Most late night action takes place in Puerto Banús, or in one of the clubs along the 7 km road there (ie. west of Marbella). Clubs keep going until the morning and it's not uncommon that they don't even open before 1AM.
- Karaoke #1 (Karaoke №1), Bulevar del Príncipe Alfonso de Hohenlohe s/n, Edificio Marbella Forum, ☎ +34 695 30 00 00.
- La Notte, 0.1 km N - Cno. la Cruz, S/N, ☎ +34 952 777 625.
- Buddha del Sol, Avenida del Mar 3. Night club.
- Circus Cabaret, Plaza de los Olivos. Club and entertainment venue.
- Bar El Estrecho, C/ de San Lázaro 12. Tapas bar.
One of the major tourist centers on Costa del Sol, in and around Marbella you have plenty of accommodation to choose among from simple hostels to luxurious resorts.
- Pensión Aduar, Calle Aduar 7, Old Town, ☎ +34 952 773 578, e-mail: email@example.com. Probably the cheapest beds in Old Town. Also has triples and quads. Single €15, double 25.
- Hostal Paco, Calle Isaac Peral 16 (old town). Shared bathrooms, roof terrace, no breakfast. Bar with pool table. Single €45.
- Albergue Juvenil Inturjoven, Calle Trapiche 2, ☎ +34 952 771 491. Youth hostel
- Linda Marbella Hotel, C/Aucha 21. from €50.
- NH Alanda, Boulevar Ppe. Alfonso Von Hohenlohe, ☎ +34 952 899 600. The hotel contains 199 rooms, a spa, a gym and an outdoor pool. Family location. Rooms from 78.84€.
- OH Marbella Inn, C/ Jacinto Benavente 6, ☎ +34 952 82 54 87, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Small and well-functioning hotel near the old town, the main shopping drag and Playa Venus. At the outside it looks a bit shabby, but the rooms and the lobby seems to have been refurbished lately. Free Wi-Fi and TV, bathroom, A/C and fridge in the rooms. Rooms also have balconies. double €85, incl. breakfast.
- Puente Romano Hotel, Bulevar del Príncipe Alfonso von Hohenlohe (at the Golden Mile). from €270.
- Gran Melia Don Pepe, C/ José Meliá, s/n. from €335.
- Guadalmina Beach, Marbella Málaga (12km west of Marbella), ☎ +34 952 12 62 79. The beach has exceptional surroundings including the third-century AD Roman ruins known as Las Bóvedas located within a protected archaeological site. This beach has been blueflagged since 1992.
- Puerto Banús - is the famous yacht marina, lined with popular bars and restaurants, and a veritable posers' paradise. Plenty of late night bars and the odd celebrity are to be found here, but don't forget your wallet, it's not cheap! Some 7 km west along the beach.
- Head up to Refugio de Juanar near Ojen, about 5 km inland. You can hike in the woods and up to the summit of La Concha for great views over the region.
- Other cities and towns on Costa del Sol can easily be visited as a daytrip by bus or rental car. In addition to sights and services you can expect from beach resorts, most also offer interesting architecture dating back to Roman times, museums and typical Andalusian landscapes. Also the picturesque inland town of Ronda can be worth considering.
- If visiting during the winter months, Marbella is a good base to visit the famous Spanish Ski resort of Sierra Nevada, 1.5 hours away by car
- Gibraltar - visit the historical British Colony, climb the famous rock and see the mischievous Barbary Apes. NB You will need your passport as the Spanish Guardia operate a full border control.
- You can actually make a daytrip to Africa. Take an early bus to Algeciras, and one of the frequent fast ferries to Ceuta and head back in the afternoon. On the other hand, Morocco and back is probably not feasible in one day, as it will involve multiple changes of transportation and times at the borders. There are however companies offering day-length tours to Tangier for about €80 per person.
- If you want to make a longer side trip and are interested in history, culture and architecture, why not head to Córdoba, Seville or Granada, accessible by direct bus? Southwards you can explore more of Morocco.