I’m just back from Costa del Sol where I investigated the 10 best things to do in Marbella during a TBEX travel bloggers conference. One of the most beautiful places in Andalucia, this town has a reputation as a destination for the rich and the famous. Yet at the same time, I found that the best things to do in Marbella are casual, unfussy and affordable.
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Although Marbella is popular with international celebrities, I felt comfortable exploring its nooks and crannies in shorts and a T-shirt. Sure, flash cars whooshed by as I walked to the convention center, where I attended the TBEX conference. Resident billionaires include Saudi princes and kings, and in earlier days, Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn owned homes in Marbella. Of course, I kept an eye out for Antonio Banderas and George Clooney, who maintain private mansions here. But still, I found the following ten best things to do in Marbella that are free or cost little.
Why do the rich and famous choose to live here?
But first, why do the rich and famous choose to live here? How did Marbella earn its designation as a “5 Star Destination?” I think the answer starts with Marbella’s healthy 320 days/year of sunshine and its unique set of atmospheric conditions that differ from those in the surrounding regions.
Marbella’s unique microclimate
Mountains encircle Marbella to the north, while the warm Mediterranean Sea laps its sandy beaches to the south. The mountains block cold north winds while breezes from Africa to the south warm the wonderful micro clime. This enviable microclimate makes Marbella one of the best places in the world for golf, water sports and sun-worshipping. In fact, locals boast Marbella has the best climate in Europe. But the answer to the question, ‘why do the rich and famous choose to live here?’ goes much deeper than climate alone.
The Mediterranean lifestyle
How did a sleepy fishing village becomes known as a five-star destination? To develop into a world-class destination, a place typically offers a unique local lifestyle for the people. That produces satisfying lives for the locals and a way of life that newcomers readily embrace. When locals are happy, travelers catch the spirit of the place and, upon leaving, yearn to return.
So now, let’s get on with it! Here are the ten best things to do in Marbella for the not-so-rich or famous:
1.) Best things to do in Marbella: Get on the water
I love getting on the water and sailing in or out of cities while traveling. I think the “sail away” gives you a majestic perspective of a place. You can experience this for yourself with Fly Blue, which operates motor catamarans, a sailing catamaran, and a Jeanneau Prestige 500 yacht in Marbella. Book your cruise at https://www.fly-blue.com/en.
Fly Blue also offers ferry services between Marbella city center and Puerto Banús, the world-famous luxury marina and upscale shopping complex. On the 15€ ferry ride, you’ll see stunning views of the coastline, La Concha Mountain and the palatial summer residence of the King of Saudi Arabia, which you can view only from the sea.
The ferry departs at 10:30 from Marbella, arrives in Puerto Banús at 11:00 and continues on 30-minute back and forth segments until the last departure from Puerto Banús at 19:00. The low-priced ticket and views make this ferry ride one of the best things to do in Marbella.
Before the blogger’s conference, I sailed aboard a Fly Blue catamaran in Malaga. Although I didn’t have time for boating in Marbella, I can attest to the staff’s service and the vessel’s cleanliness in the Fly Blue Malaga operations.
2.) Chill out at the beach
Marbella is a beach lover’s nirvana with 23 beaches totaling 28 km of sandy seashore. So then, one of the best things to do in Marbella is chilling at the beach. Here’s a map of the beaches around Marbella. Which one is the best? Of course, the best Marbella beach is the one that is closest to your hotel! | FREE
Map of Marbella Beaches
3.) Stroll among Salvador Dalí statues on Avenida del Mar
Peruse artwork by 20th-century surrealist Salvador Dalí as you walk the enjoyable Avenida del Mar. The collection brings together ten sculptures designed by Salvador Dalí and cast in bronze by Bonvicini in Verona. To interpret the surreal art, look inward as you view the outdoor gallery. Take deep breaths of the fresh, salty air. What feelings does each piece evoke in you?
Esculturas de Dalí Av. del Mar, 16 | FREE
4.) Experience peace at Iglesia de la Encarnación
I love to visit the ancient Andalucian churches that often still have the aroma of incense in the air after Mass. The candles flickering at the feet of a statue give me a sense of peace and remind me that the Holy Spirit is near. The quiet interior and the church’s deep history are reasons spending time here are the best things to do in Marbella.
Some historians believe that the Iglesia de la Encarnación stands on the site of the former Mosque of Marbella or Marbil-ha in Arabic, the language of Islam. After the Catholic monarchs of Castile took over the city without bloodshed in 1485, the Archbishop of Seville gave legal status to two parishes: “Santa María de la Encarnación” and “Santiago.” The Ermita de Santiago, the oldest church in Marbella, is just down Calle Carmen in Plaza de Los Naranjos—see below.
San Bernabé / St. Barnabas, the city’s patron saint
A statue of the city’s patron saint, San Bernabé / St. Barnabas, stands in the central niche of the gold-leafed Baroque altarpiece inside Iglesia de la Encarnación, also known as Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación / Our Lady of the Incarnation. There is also a San Bernabé statue in front of the historic church, located in Plaza de la Iglesia in Old Town. | FREE
5.) Having a meal at Plaza de Los Naranjos is one of the best things to do in Marbella
Orange trees line Plaza de Los Naranjos, dating from 1485 when Christians expelled the Muslims who ruled here for 700 years. Ironically, it was the Arabs who introduced orange trees to Spain. The charming plaza, lined with whitewashed Andalucian homes, is a chill place to have lunch or dinner at nearly any price point. You won’t feel like you are in a busy city since the pedestrian-only streets and manicured landscaping create a feeling of relaxation and repose.
The 16th-century Ermita de Santiago / Santiago Hermitage remains on the Plaza de Los Naranjos. The small, simple church contains a contemporary sculpture of Saint James the Apostle. I’m telling you, visiting Plaza de Los Naranjos is one of the best things to do in Marbella.
6.) Investigate Murallas del Castillo (Muslim castle walls)
After the Norman attack on the coast of Malaga in the 10th century, the Caliphate of Córdoba constructed a line of lighthouse towers to fortify the shoreline. In addition, the Muslim Caliphate built a citadel, the Alcabaza, and a wall to protect the town of Marbella, which at the time had a mosque surrounded by orchards of figs and mulberry trees for silk production. So it makes sense that they reused materials from the Roman period. For example, on Trinidad Street, three ionic capitals are used as simple building stones. Read more about the castle walls at HistoryHit.com.
Today, the only things left of the Muslim fortified castle and city are the immense walls capped with battlements and two towers. You can view Murallas del Castillo from the outside. Even though the ruins are not open to the public, reconnoitering Murallas del Castillo is still one of the best things to do in Marbella.
Address: Calle Portada, 7, Marbella | FREE
7.) Improve your swing
Spain is on top of the list when it comes to international golf tourism. What’s more, locals claim that Marbella has more golf courses per person than anywhere in the world. With over a dozen world-class golf resorts, Marbella is a destination that keeps drawing golfers back again and again. On average, golfing visitors come to Marbella 4.7 times. In addition, Robert Trent Jones designed many area golf courses, including Los Naranjos Golf Club and Las Brisas. So even though I’m not a golfer, I had to add golf as one of the best things to do in Marbella. I bet it will improve your swing.
8.) Hangout on a Rooftop Bar
One of the best things to do in Marbella, according to my own experience, is to hang out at the rooftop bars in Old Town. The night breezes are warm, and the small mom-and-pop establishments feel safe and comfortable. We met travelers from around the world, including a few golfers from the Nederlands.
Marbella is known for its clubbing scene, but I stayed away from the wild nightlife and simply relaxed on the rooftops of the medieval city. El Cortes AKA Café Cortes has a fun rooftop and authentic Spanish tapas. The Spanish stay out late, so make sure to take your midday siesta!
9.) Explore an archaeological site at Roman Villa of Río Verde
Exploring the ruins of a sumptuous countryside Roman villa near Playa Rio Verde / Rio Verde Beach between Old Town and Puerto Banús is one of the best things to do in Marbella. If you look closely, you’ll see two sections of the estate—where the family lived and where they worked salting fish, a lucrative activity in the Roman settlements along the Andalusian coast.
The shaded facility is located at Calle Carlos Posac Mon, 1D, 29600 Marbella | FREE
10.) Bag La Concha Peak
La Concha Mountain looms over Marbella, so its constant presence made me hunger to hike the peak. The steep 3.3 mi / 5.3 km journey to the top is not for the faint of heart, but for true outdoors people, it would be a fantastic all-day (seven-hour) hike. When I return, the trek is on my list of the best things to do in Marbella. Here are the stats and directions for hiking Istán-La Concha PR-A 135:
(Thanks to the Marbella tourism bureau)
Length: 6.6 mi / 10.6 km (roundtrip)
7 hours (roundtrip)
Join the trail just above the Altos de Istán Hotel, to the left of the fenced-off water tank. Here, the gravel path begins near an information sign. In a few meters, a signpost indicates PR-A 135 and PR-A 139, where you turn right. About a minute from the beginning of this stretch, another similar post appears on your left, indicating the PR-A 139 Istán – El Picacho and the PR-A 135 Istán – La Concha. Continue forward in the direction of PR-A 135.
The path ascends until it reaches the Pilones plain. The following section, also climbing, takes you to Puerto Corrito mountain pass via an approach that is difficult to distinguish. Nevertheless, the route continues, turning to the right until you reach the second mountain pass, U-shaped Puerto Ventana.
El Pico de la Concha / La Concha Peak
In this section, the path becomes easier to follow due to the downward direction along the sierra and the gentle climb to the Lomilla de Enmedio. From here, following a short rise, you will arrive at Puerto Hilito, with a large solitary pine as a reference point. (Watch carefully for natural reference points to avoid losing your way). Continue onwards until you pass the Gracia León mountain pass, and shortly after crossing the Fuentezuela Gorge, you ascend to the Cifuentes mountain pass. Then cross the Castillejo gorge, the last gorge before arriving at the Corralillos mountain pass, where the path, which is difficult to distinguish, also becomes physically challenging.
From here, find the Cresta del Espolón / Espolón summit, which links to La Cepilla del Enebro / the Concha rope. Here there is no clear path, only markers that indicate the direction of the route. At this point, you connect with PR-A 168 Juanar – La Concha. It will take about 15 minutes to reach El Pico de la Concha / La Concha Peak at 3986 feet / 1,215 meters above sea level. | FREE
Wrap-up: The 10 best things to do in Marbella
Even though the city is popular with international celebrities, I found plenty of places and attractions in my budget. The locals made me feel comfortable – some women invited me to dance flamenco with them at the annual San Bernabé feria/festival. I split my 100 € guestroom at Hotel San Cristóbal with travel-writer colleague Carla Rupp. Our room had a private bath, a small patio overlooking Old Town and 24-hour access to front desk staff.
Are you ready to visit Marbella? Check your dates here:
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