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Growing from a fishing village to playground of the rich and famous in just a few decades, Marbella is a major vacation spot on Spain’s Costa del Sol. Inhabited since Roman times (with the ruins to prove it), it wasn’t until the 1950s and ’60s that this sunkissed stretch of Mediterranean coastline became the destination du jour for Saudi kings, European aristocrats, and members of the international jet set. Today, it accommodates about a million visitors a year, along with a significant population of British expats who live in beachfront luxury villas in communities like Elviria, Nueva Andalucía, San Pedro de Alcantara, and the Golden Mile. Marbella is especially hopping in the summertime and around Easter, when Semana Santa (Holy Week) brings colorful religious processions through the streets of Old Town.
Air travelers will likely arrive at Pablo Ruíz Picasso International Airport (AGP) in Málaga; from there, it’s a 45-minute direct bus ride to Marbella. Another option is to fly into Gibraltar International Airport (GIB), about an hour southwest, with arrivals from various British cities. Marbella doesn’t have its own railway station, but if you’re coming from elsewhere in Spain, you may opt to take a high-speed train from Madrid, Seville, or Barcelona to the María Zambrano Station in Málaga. From there, you can board a regional train to Fuengirola, then hop on a bus the rest of the way, but it’s easier to grab a cab or rideshare. The city of Marbella is easy to get around by foot and taxi, but if you plan to sightsee along the Costa del Sol during your vacation, you may want to rent a car — just budget extra for parking.
They don’t call it the Costa del Sol for nothing: With 320 days of sunshine per year and an average annual temperature of about 64 degrees, you seldom have to pack anything more than a light sweater for your Marbella vacation. Sheltered from the wind by the surrounding mountains, Marbella is at its hottest and most crowded in the summer, with the mercury hitting a comfortable 81 degrees Fahrenheit in August. Fall is a great time to visit, when the water is still warm enough for swimming and there are fewer crowds. December and January are Marbella’s wettest months; temperatures dip to an average of 61 in January.
History buffs will love strolling the labyrinthine streets of Marbella’s colorful Casco Antiguo. Start at Plaza de los Naranjos, with its Renaissance-era town hall and the 15th-century church Ermita de Santiago, before paying a visit to the Baroque church of Santa María de la Encarnación. Art lovers will want to stop at the Museo del Grabado Español Contemporáneo, and snap a selfie with one of the famous sculptures that line the Avenida del Mar.
With 16 miles of coastline, gentle waves, and clear waters, Marbella theoretically has plenty of beach to go around, though summertime crowds can challenge that notion. Close to Old Town you’ll find Playa de la Fontanilla, where you can rent sun chairs for the day, or stroll the beachfront promenade, lined with shops and chiringuitos (beach bars and restaurants). When crowds peak, it’s worth venturing up and down the coast to find a more secluded spot.
Nueva Andalucía’s luxury yacht marina is one of the largest entertainment centers on the Costa del Sol, thanks to its designer boutiques and lively nightlife.