Of all the resort towns that line southern Spain’s Costa del Sol — the sun-drenched stretch of Mediterranean shoreline that’s part of Andalusia — none is more famous than Marbella.
A playground for the international jet set since the 1950s, Marbella is known for its luxury beachfront hotels, extravagant villas, yacht-filled harbors, swanky nightclubs and posh designer shopping.
Most of that glitz and glamour is found along the Golden Mile, which actually spans some 7 miles, from west of Marbella proper to the upscale marina development of Puerto Banus.
Worlds away from all that flashiness, Marbella’s Old Town (Casco Antiguo) offers a taste of old Andalusia, with its historic whitewashed houses, flower-filled plazas, ancient churches, cozy tapas bars and narrow, twisting cobblestone streets.
Here’s everything to know about this beloved Costa del Sol destination.
3 New Marbella, Spain Hotels
Marbella’s beautifully preserved Old Town has long attracted tourists, but for quite some time, few actually stayed here due to a scarcity of good hotel options. That has changed in the past year with the opening of three boutique properties from local hospitality group La Ciudadela Marbella.
On a recent trip, I checked into El Castillo Hotel, which the group debuted in April. The property is situated slightly above the town and within the remnants of the ancient Moorish walls that once encircled Marbella. The renovated 17th-century building seamlessly blends historical details with an edgy, modern flair — notably in the dramatic lobby atrium, where 14th-century wine vats (unearthed while shoring up the ground floor) share space with contemporary stone sculptures suspended from the glass ceiling.
El Castillo’s 15 rooms feature crisp black-and-white decor, warmed up with natural wood accents in the beamed ceilings, desks and side tables. Headboards depict historical photos of Marbella printed directly on wood — a lovely old-meets-new design touch. It’s worth trading up from a Double room to a Deluxe Double Room or Junior Suite for step-out balconies overlooking a quiet residential square.
The hotel’s crown jewel is its rooftop, bedecked with comfy sofas where guests can lounge with a cocktail and soak in views of the historic center, the Sierra Blanca mountains and the Mediterranean. And it doubles as a buzzy dinner spot: AFuego restaurant (which also has indoor dining on the lobby level) specializes in grilled meat and fish, and it sources much of its produce and seafood locally.
La Ciudadela Marbella’s other four-star property, Maison Ardois Hotel, occupies a restored 1929 manor house on the corner of the lively, cafe-filled main street of Calle Ancha. It, too, fuses past and present in the design, maintaining the original geometric-tiled floors, brick archways and vaulted wood ceilings while adding sleek, modern furnishings and industrial-style lighting.
With just nine guestrooms, the vibe here is intimate, though be sure to book a room that faces the quieter Calle Rafina to avoid street noise. The hotel is home to the terrific Thaissence restaurant, where locally sourced ingredients get a Peruvian and South Asian spin.
One block away from Maison Ardois is the hospitality group’s third property, Santo Cristo Hotel, a 15-room two-star property set in a 19th-century building. There are plans to open a five-star hotel nearby in 2023.
A 15-minute drive west of Old Town, on the swish Golden Mile, is the tony Puente Romano Beach Resort, a lushly landscaped colony of whitewashed buildings. Nestled within is the 80-room Nobu Hotel Marbella, which features sleek Japanese-inspired interiors dotted with edgy artwork.
The spacious, open-plan rooms don’t have sea views, but all offer balconies — many of which overlook La Plaza, the buzzy alfresco heart of the resort that’s ringed by several high-end restaurants, including Nobu. Hotel guests receive access to everything in the family-friendly resort, including multiple pools, a Six Senses Spa, a fitness center, tennis courts and beach cabanas — and there’s also a private, adults-only Nobu pool.
Where to Eat in Marbella
Marbella’s Old Town is brimming with open-air cafes, chic restaurants and tapas bars. For fresh, simply prepared fish and seafood, head to Restaurante Altamirano, a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. There’s terrace seating out on the pretty cobblestone plaza that's fronted by a 16th-century church. Inside, the walls are lined with hundreds of scarves from local and international soccer teams.
Meanwhile, Bar El Estrecho — which dates to 1954 — oozes rustic charm. Sidle up to the wood bar and order an assortment of Andalusian tapas: Don’t miss the excellent homemade albondigas (meatballs) and the spicy baby octopus.
For a gourmet dining experience, book well in advance at the two Michelin-star Skina, a pint-size restaurant where creative tasting menus highlight seasonal Andalusian products.
If you fancy a meal with views of the Med, it’s about a 25-minute walk along Marbella’s pleasant seaside promenade to Playa Padre, an open-air beach club-cum-restaurant on Cable Beach. With its thatched roofs, wood-plank floors and tables in the sand, it first appears quite casual; however, that notion will be quickly dispelled once the fashionable crowd arrives and the DJs start spinning. The organic, Mexican-influenced menu is excellent — if a bit pricey — but the sea views are unbeatable.
Things to Do in Marbella
The compact Old Town covers less than half of a square mile, but exploring its maze of cobblestone streets can easily take a whole day. Pop into cute boutiques, duck inside ornate centuries-old churches, or just relax at one of many restaurant terraces in its gorgeous historic plazas.
The leafy Alameda Park is a popular local gathering spot, with its ceramic-tiled benches and large fountain; from there, clients can stroll down the wide Avenida del Mar leading to the sea and admire the surreal Dali sculptures along the way.
Marbella’s high season is summer, and temperatures can regularly soar into the 90s, which means that most activities are focused around the sea. Unfortunately, the beaches closest to the city aren’t particularly nice — narrow strips of sand that are perpetually mobbed — so it’s worth heading to the quieter, wider strands along the Golden Mile.
A boat charter is a wonderful way to take in the coastline, and usually includes stops for swimming and paddleboarding. Adventure-seekers can take advantage of the steady, year-round winds and try kite-surfing.
The rest of the year, Marbella’s climate is quite mild, with 70-degree highs even in winter. Combined with an average of 320 days of sunshine annually, the area’s outdoors are easy to enjoy in the off-season. Golf is particularly popular here; with dozens of courses surrounding the city, clients could play a different course every day.
Whether travelers come for golf or glamour, they’ll be pleasantly surprised by the old-world charm that awaits them.