Roll back the clock 10 years, and the Costa del Sol would be one to avoid. Nearly every inch of the coast was occupied by huge multi-storey hotels, uninviting cafés and cheap souvenir shops – it was also often described as “an overdeveloped concrete jungle.” The Spanish government were so worried, they planned on buying the unoccupied land themselves to stop these developments.
In 2018, things have changed. The sunny coast of Spain still has these high-rise hotels, but new proprietors have come in with fresh ideas and have set about a mission to make these resorts a real consideration for holidays for all in years to come.
But which are the best resorts to enjoy your summer holiday? Well, it completely depends on what you want to get out of your holiday - you can choose from traditional Spanish towns, to resorts bustling with like-minded people, making it a home away from home – just a bit sunnier!
Easy to travel to, and used as the main transport hub for most of the Costa del Sol; Malaga is home to the fourth biggest international airport in Spain, used by many low-cost carriers from all across Europe. So forget the onward journey once you arrive, and take in what the city has to offer.
Birthplace of Pablo Picasso, there’s a chance to visit exclusive paintings and exhibits from the famous Spanish artist in the Picasso Museum. Based in the heart of the historic city centre, and a stone’s throw from the Cathedral, you’re able to embrace the cultural delights on offer, without having to venture too far.
If you’re still looking for a beach break, the closest beach to the centre of the city is La Malagueta, as it’s the closest; it’s also one of the busiest, and not the most attractive. Head east up the coast towards El Palo for more choice and a longer peaceful stretch of sand to relax on - it can be a long (roughly an hour) but interesting walk following the coastline if you’re up to it.
30 minutes in the car from Malaga, you’ll find the coastal town of Fuengirola. One of the main tourist resorts for travellers arriving from Malaga, and with approximately 8km of sandy beaches, you can understand why it’s so popular.
Not only known for its long stretches of beach, there’s also a medieval fortress which is perched on the hillside. The castle (Sohail) was built to strengthen Spain’s coastal defences in AD 956. It was renovated in 2000, and subsequently turned in to a tourist attraction and function space for festivals and other concerts.
Very much an urban town, Fuengirola consists of narrow streets and passages which can be difficult to navigate in high-season due to the number of tourists visiting. In the middle of these narrow streets, you’ll find the local zoo, Bioparc Fuengirola. It specialises in captive breeding for endangered species and focuses a lot of its efforts on education, a real must-visit.
Travel east along the coast from Malaga, after about 50km you’ll find the community of Nerja. A perfect location nestled in front of the Sierra Almijara mountain range, Nerja remains one of the resorts on the Costa del Sol untouched by the high-rise hotels which blight some of the other resorts.
Nestled in the centre of the town is Balcón de Europa, the Balcony of Europe. Walk to the end of the beautifully paved pier, and you’ll be met with amazing views across the Mediterranean Sea in front of you, and the vast mountain range which towers behind the seaside town.
Not overly recommended for young families, Nerja does offer horse riding, but hiring a car is advised if you want a break from the beaches. You can take a trip to the mountains which will unlock some stunning views – there are also some designated hiking trails which will take you up close to the flora, fauna and wildlife found in the national park if you’d prefer to hike.
With a transfer from Gibraltar in under an hour, Estepona offers a snug and welcoming feel, with narrow streets near the seafront in the Old Town, with it becoming more open as you head south-west towards the marina.
The marina area boasts plenty of cafes and restaurants, with most offering up fresh fish brought in from the latest catch. We’d recommend taking a walk down here during the day to watch a live auction of the fresh catches of the day, or early evening to enjoy some tapas or small plates while enjoying a chilled bottle of wine.
Visitors are spoiled for choice, with over 20km of coastline including 17 beaches which are served by bars and restaurants along the promenade to keep you fed and hydrated throughout the day. The old town is home of the San Luis Castle (Castillo de San Luis) which dates back to the 15th century and provides a change of scenery from the rows of residential buildings, and if you like golf, then you can take your pick between 7 golf courses all nearby.
La Cala de Mijas
A small town with a population of around 24,000 residents, it’s mostly dedicated to tourism so you won’t have any trouble finding a hotel or activities to participate in here. Traditionally a fishing village until the tourism boom, you can still see some of the original fishermen’s homes along the coast.
A popular street market comes to town on Wednesday’s and Saturday’s where you’ll be able to take your pick of fresh fruit and vegetables, traditional Spanish arts and crafts amongst plenty of other things. Once you’ve taken a look through the market, you can head to Boulevard de la Cala which is the main strip for shops, bars and restaurants.
Much like other Spanish coastal cities and towns, there’s no shortage of historic castles and ruins to explore. Enclosed within the Fortress Walls of the ancient village are well-kept gardens which is a great place to visit to experience panoramic views of the town and surrounding areas.
There are plenty of other places to visit along the Costa del Sol, why not make a road trip out of it? The A-7 road runs along the coast from Barcelona and all the way down to Algeciras, making it the longest national motorway in Europe. Split it into the Costa del Sol section, and you can visit a number of towns, some larger and more suited to you than others, but that’s the fun in exploring!
So if you’re thinking about choosing the Costa del Sol for your trip this summer, remember as soon as you book your holiday, your next port of call is purchasing travel insurance for your trip to Spain, then you can relax and enjoy your holiday!