Our Guide to Marbella, Spain
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For more than 60 years, Marbella has remained unrivaled in Spain as the go-to destination for the wealthy set. From its glittering shores to its charming Old Town, the see-and-be-seen set can be found frolicking on postcard-perfect beaches, dining in Michelin-starred restaurants and partying till dawn in Marbella's exclusive nightclubs. Take a look at our travel guide before visiting this swanky playground for the rich and famous.
Where to Eat
Make dining an adventure at this Michelin-starred destination
If the Michelin stars awarded to Restaurante Calima and its famed chef aren't enough to lure you into dining at Marbella's top restaurant, at least be wooed by the stellar setting. Located in the Gran Melía Don Pepe resort, the uber-elegant restaurant enjoys unparalleled views of Marbella's famed sands and sea. The adventurous tasting menu designed by celebrity chef Dani Garcia features creative takes on Andalusian cuisine, like the Rosquilla Ibérica, Ibérico ham on a "bagel" made from dehydrated tomato foam, or the Cerezas con Nata (cherries with cream), a combo of foie gras and port cherries served with a foamed Parmesan cream.
Marbella's best fresh seafood by the seashore
Located along the waterfront, guests will enjoy views of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea from Santiago's terrace, one of Marbella's more scenic spots to dine. Santiago specializes in fresh seafood, though it also houses a tapas bar where diners can enjoy one of the restaurant's 500 tapas before sitting down for a meal. Of course, the main reason you dine at Santiago is to enjoy the fish. For more than 50 years, Santiago has been serving plates of seafood in unique preparations, like hake cooked in cider with tapioca pearls, or monkfish stuffed with glazed vegetables, served on a bed of sunflower seeds and topped with a Romesco dressing. Wash this goodness down with a bottle of wine from Santiago's vast cellar of more than 700 bottles.
Bar El Estrecho
It's tops for tapas in Marbella
Wander away from the coast and into the heart of Marbella's Old Town to find Bar El Estrecho, known for its excellent selection of traditional tapas. The tapas bar has been serving locals and visitors since 1954, and most of the menu items can be ordered as tapas, appetizers or main courses. Arrive hungry and order a mix of items like the sardinas al limon, a selection of fried sardines with lemon; boquerones en vinagre, fresh anchovies marinated in vinegar, or albondigas, classic meatballs.
Where to Stay
If it was good enough for Ava and Audrey, it's good enough for all
The most storied hotel on the Costa del Sol has played host to the likes of Ava Gardner, Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant over the course of its luxe history. The Marbella Club has attracted celebrities and aristocrats since it opened in the 1950s, and today remains the most desirable high-end accommodation along the fabled "Golden Mile." Today, the resort lies sheltered amidst semi-tropical gardens and is hugged by a private stretch of pristine beach and sea. The Club's 121 rooms and suites, as well as its 14 Andalusian-style villas are spread throughout the 10-acre property. Guests are privy to a wealth of amenities, including pampering services at the Thalasso Spa and access to riding stables and a private 18-hole golf course.
Hotel Fuerte Marbella
Conveniently close to both beach and town center
Marbella's stretch of the Costa del Sol is lined with towering hotels; top among them is the Hotel Fuerte Marbella, a stylish 263-room resort chock full of high-end amenities. Location is everything, and Fuerte doesn't disappoint with both a beachfront setting and proximity to Marbella's historic center. The hotel is just a few minutes stroll to the Old Town's hub of restaurants and nightlife. Most of the hotel rooms feature balconies with views of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, and include standards such as Nordic-style duvets, a pillow menu and free Wi-Fi. Guests are privy to use of the property's gym, heated pool, scenic gardens and luxury spa. The hotel also offers guests unique "Fuerte Experiences," including Spanish lessons, cocktail workshops and city center tours.
A charming respite for travelers on a budget
Marbella notoriously attracts high-end travelers, and finding affordable accommodations along the ritzy Costa del Sol can be difficult for some. Thankfully, the charming Linda Marbella in the heart of Old Town steps up to the plate, and offers a cozy atmosphere at a budget-friendly price. The inn's simple accommodations are cheery and well-maintained. Be sure to request a room with a balcony, which overlooks the lovely street below.
What to Do
The Beach: El Fuerte and La Fontanilla
Bask in the Mediterranean sun along the Costa del Sol
If you've traveled to Marbella, chances are, you're here for the beaches. Marbella's coastline stretches for a blissful 16 miles, with the Mediterranean's shimmering blue waters lapping at its shores. Enjoy golden sands and crystal clear water at El Fuerte or La Fontanilla - the town's 2 main beaches. From May through October the weather here is typically warm and sunny, perfect for lounging on a chaise and indulging in the Costa del Sol's favorite pastime: relaxing in the lap of luxury. These beaches are bordered by a popular promenade, where travelers can explore beach bars, seafood restaurants and shops. From June through August beach kiosks rent sun chairs and water sports equipment like water bikes. Amenities include lifeguards, toilets and showers, though beware: the sands are packed during summer months.
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Stroll Marbella's ancient quarter, the town's epicenter of charm
Marbella's Old Town remains a delightful, white-washed respite from the towering concrete hotel complexes that line the town's sandy shores. The heart of Marbella can be found ticking here down winding, cobblestoned alleys, draped with bougainvillea dangling from wrought-iron balconies. Indeed, the charm and romance factors run high. Head to the Patio de los Naranjos, Old Town's central court, and admire the surrounding buildings, including the town hall, built in 1568, the Mayor's house, which combines Gothic and Renaissance elements, and the 15thcentury Chapel of Santiago, the oldest religious building in the city. Walk from the Patio to its neighboring bars and restaurants, where you can grab a table, sit for a spell and people watch as the well-heeled world of Marbella strolls past.
Admire this small, brilliant collection of Latin American art
It's no secret that most visitors to Marbella are here for the beaches, not the culture. But for those craving a scene with a bit more depth than the waterfront promenade, head to Museo Ralli - a small but excellent private museum exhibiting paintings by mostly Latin American and European artists. The museum's permanent collection includes sculptures by Salvador Dali and Eduardo Soriano, as well as artwork by the Argentine surrealist Alicia Carletti, Joan Miró and Chagall.
Museo del Grabado Español
See engravings from Spain's foremost artists
Housed in a former hospital, the Spanish Engraving Museum opened in Marbella's Old Town in 1992, and today displays a collection of prints and graphic works by 20th century Spanish artists such as Picasso, Joan Miró and Salvador Dali. Visitors can explore etchings, lithographs and woodcuts, among other engraving materials. Spend some time discovering the art of engraving in the museum's exhibition hall, dedicated to explaining engraving techniques.
Getting There and Around
Travelers arriving from North America will fly into Malaga where they'll find the main bus route from the airport to Marbella. The Empresa Portillo bus company runs 17 buses per day to Marbella. The trip takes less than an hour. From Malaga Airport, it is also possible to rent a car, or to hire a private car to take you from the airport into town.
Marbella is easy to explore on foot, particularly in the Old Town. If you're staying along the waterfront, away from the town center, taxis are a cheap and reliable option for traveling into town.