Marbella bills itself as the most luxurious Costa del Sol resort and there’s no doubt the pretty town and surrounding area are quite a bit more polished than some of the neighbours. But you will have to travel a few kilometres east for waterparks and major attractions: not too much of a hardship when you have some of Andalusia’s loveliest beaches and hotels, coolest restaurants, historic architecture and fantastic water sports on the doorstep.
Why go on holiday in Marbella
Direct flights to Malaga all year round take less than three hours. Marbella is under an hour’s drive west of Malaga.
Marbella’s on the Costa del Sol, the coastline’s 27km long and has 24 individual beaches ranging from protected dunes to urban waterfronts.
The resorts of Estopona and Puerto Banus are less than half an hour west of Marbella and Fuengirola and Benalmadena are about 20 minutes east.
Temperatures sit between 25 and 30˚ in June, July and August. Spring’s a good time for walking, hiking and mountain biking in the nearby Sierra Blanca.
Marbella Old Town is one of the best preserved on the Costa del Sol and has several good museums and art galleries.
Marbella has ten local markets including the famous Sabanillas Sunday Street Market and the daily Medieval Market in the Old Town. The shopping district is one of the most expensive on the Costa del Sol and home to dozens of international luxury brands.
Accommodation ranges from boutique hotels and beach clubs to four and five star family hotels, holiday villas and apartments, design hotels and luxury resorts.
Where to go and stay in Marbella
The Golden Mile
Stretching from the west of Marbella town to Puerto Banus, this famous strip takes its name from the line of ‘golden’ beaches which runs along its length. The term was coined in the early 1950s when the venerable Marbella Club first opened its doors and set the tone for opulent resorts in lush gardens overlooking the Mediterranean. Extreme luxury’s still the signature today and this is the area to find five star hotels and golf resorts, chic seafood restaurants and, of course, the best of all beaches.
1km long Nueva Andalusia Beach is star of the Mile with a choice of beach clubs, water sports instruction and several of Marbella’s top restaurants.
Even if you aren’t staying on The Golden Mile, it’s a celebrity favourite and worth a visit just to admire the grand private villas and estates along the waterfront.
Marbella has an astonishing heritage relative to its size. Spend the afternoon exploring round the Old Town and you’ll come across architecture and influences from Moorish and medieval right through to the Renaissance.
Visit in the evening during summer for Los Candiles Medieval Market from 5pm to 10pm.
Don’t miss: Iglesia de Santa Maria; Las Murallas del Castillo; the Governor’s House; Avenida del Mar.
Marbella Town Centre
The narrow streets of Marbella town centre are balanced by graceful squares and the long and lovely sweep of Paseo Maritimo. This is the district for eating and shopping and strolling around admiring and being admired (favourite local pastime). It’s also where you’ll find several of the city’s museums and galleries and the Plaza de Toros bullring.
Avenida Ricardo Soriano is the main street and heartland for luxury shopping, expensive restaurants, smart cafés and chic specialist stores.
Paseo Maritimo is the city boardwalk and brilliant for cycling with kids in the cooler parts of the day.
Don’t miss: Bazan Hospital; Alhameda Park; Arroyo de la Represa Park; the Bonsai Museum.
What to do and see with kids in Marbella
Museo del Grabado Español Contemporáneo, Bazan Hospital
A major Spanish art museum’s probably the last thing you’d expect in the centre of Marbella, so this important collection of engravings and prints will come as a pleasant surprise. It’s also housed in one of the city’s loveliest 16th century buildings.
Amazonia Aventura Marbella
The Spanish treetop challenge giant only has one park in Andalusia and only one on the coast and it’s 500m from the beach in Marbella.
The looks incredible, but isn’t as easy as it looks, flyboarding phenomena is just as popular in Marbella as everywhere else.
Endurance Trail Biking, Marbella
Not too far from the glossy beachfront bars and designer shops, Marbella’s slice of Andalusia is wilder than teens might expect. Endurance Trail Bike tours are great for getting to grips with a local sierra or two.
Canyoning, Guadalmina Gorge
The breathtakingly lovely Angosturas Gorges in the Sierra Blanca behind Marbella are famously good for a first introduction to the thrill of canyoning.
This waterpark focuses on fun inflatables and water challenges instead of extreme slides and chutes: nice change for height-restricted younger kids.
Tivoli World, Benalmadena
White-knuckle rides, fairground attractions, stage shows and one of the biggest rollercoasters on the Costa del Sol, Tivoli World is 30 minutes east of Marbella.
This huge family waterpark is in Fuengirola, Marbella’s more downmarket neighbour 20 minutes east. More than enough to fill an entire day and a good mix of big rides, swimming pools and splash zones for under 5s.
Selwo Marina, Benalmadena
Just east of Marbella, Selwo Marina is where kids can swim with dolphins, encounter penguins and see sealions in tropical gardens packed with parrots.
Cycling Tour, Marbella
Get to know a little bit more about the area that only became a holiday resort in the past five decades. The real history stretches back millennia and a multi-lingual family bike tour is a good way to learn about it from a local.
Educational value for kids
Alhameda Gardens in the centre of Marbella contains a vast collection of native Mediterranean plants set in and around gorgeous 19th century formal parkland. A hub for summer events and interesting for a shady stroll around when it’s too hot on the beach.
Visit the Dunas de Artola nature reserve to the east of Marbella and kids can explore the remarkable dune landscape which once dominated the Andalusian coast and is now only seen in protected areas like this.
The week long Fiesta of Saint Bernabe in June is the biggest summer festival in Marbella. Like all the great Andalusian feria, it’s a mix of tradition, colourful spectacle, family events, parades, parties and feasting.
One of the most curious sights on the Costa del Sol is Castillo de Colomares in Benalmadena. Looks like a castle but is actually a monument to Christopher Columbus built by a private admirer in the mid-1980s. Whatever your take on the crimes of 15th century explorers, it’s an interesting oddity for older kids.
Take a free guided tour of Marbella’s ancient Roman sites at San Pedro Alcántara, 10 minutes west of the city centre. Tours take place between 11am and 1pm every Friday during summer.
Go see the spectacularly famous village of Ronda. It’s an hour inland from Marbella, deep in the mountains, and best known for vast gorges and ancient houses teetering above sheer, precipitous drops.
Take a drive into the hills behind Marbella and amaze kids with how quickly the Costa del Sol is replaced by tiny sugar cube villages and soaring peaks: look for eagles floating in thermals above high Sierra Blanca ridges.
Getting about with kids in Marbella
Marbella and its near Costa del Sol neighbours are easy to walk around and most have beaches minutes from the centre. But this is Andalusia and, whatever you think, exploring beyond the coast is irresistible. Hire a car for at least a few days, stock up on water and snacks, charge your phone, get a paper map and take to the mountains. Just remember to watch your speed: the roads are steep, often narrow and can seem like a single, never ending, hairpin bend in some places.