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.
Understand : 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 Banus (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.
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 information : Tourist offices are located at the Plaza de los Naranjos (in the corner of the city hall) and Paseo Maritimo. Access : Coordinates : 36.516667, -4.883333 / By air : 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.
By car : 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.
By bus : Marbella’s bus station. To the right a part of the mountain La Concha
1 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.
By train : 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, Cordoba or Madrid.
By taxi : Marbella’s own taxis are white with a blue strip
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 €. By boat : Marbella has two yacht harbors.
- 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 Dali.
- Nuestra Senora 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 Bazan. 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
Activities : Sea : 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. edit
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.
Pico de la Concha
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 Ojen (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.
Events : 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 Bernabe 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: Dia del Toston, 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 Andalucia, Las Chapas and El Angel. In addition each neigborhood of Marbella has their own “day” sometime during the year.