A piece of heaven in Andalusia: What to see and do in Marbella, Spain
White-washed beaches and fascinating culture
The pretty town of Marbella sits between the azure-blue waters of the Mediterranean and the picturesque Sierra Blanca Mountains. Many modern visitors taking holidays in Marbella are naturally drawn here because of Marbella’s reputation for sun, sea, sand and exquisite tourist beaches. Yet a walk through the alleys of the old Arab Quarter soon reminds tourists Marbella’s history dates back at least as far as the Roman era. The town has long been a favourite with celebrities too, and visitors eating out in Marbella – or wondering what to do in Puerto Banus – will find delicious food and fine dining in Michelin-starred restaurants, vegetarian and vegan cafés, beach-front chiringuitos and more. Amid the sparkle of luxury venues, it’s easy to overlook some hidden cultural highlights. One such gem is the Museum of Contemporary Spanish Engraving with around 4,000 artistic exhibits, including works by Goya, Picasso, Miró, Chillida and Dalí. Those willing to venture beyond the town and beaches can take to the hills to explore the wonders of the Sierra Blanca landscape. One highlight is a climb to the top of La Concha, one of the highest coastal peaks. From here it’s possible to look across the blue Mediterranean and view Morocco’s Atlas Mountains still guarding the sands of the Sahara as they did in the days of Spain’s Moorish occupation.
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Discover the natural wonders of Marbella
This natural park lies at the foot of the Sierra Blanca surrounded by tall pines and overlooked by the majestic La Concha mountain peak. Visitors will find a dedicated barbecue area with cooking equipment, and lots of cool, shady areas to relax and enjoy wonderful landscape views. There is convenient parking and an exercise area for dogs.
Puerto Banus Beach
Situated between the Puerto Banus Marina and the Río Verde estuary, this is a long, semi-urban Blue Flag beach with calm, shallow waters and 1,500 metres of golden sand. Essentially, Playa Puerto Banús offers an exclusive, well-equipped beachfront area with all amenities. Puerto Banus beach also has a great reputation for fine dining with its waterfront restaurants rated among the best in Marbella.
Marbella Golf and Country Club
Just five minutes beyond the town, set amid verdant green hills and olive groves, Marbella Golf and Country Club is regarded as one of Spain’s premier golfing facilities. Created by Robert Trent Jones Senior, this par 72 18-hole links course is 6,000 metres long and offers a variety of terrain, challenging bunkers and lakes, and magnificent Mediterranean views. There is a good Club House restaurant.
Paseo del Alameda
This is an elegant park and botanical gardens not far from the seafront in the historic Old Town quarter. Created in the 18th century, this peaceful green oasis offers marbled walkways and exquisite tiled benches shaded by lush banana palms. An excellent retreat on warm summer days, the park also has some interesting features such as the decorative Fuente Virgen del Rocio fountain dating from 1762.
Puerto Cabopino Beach
Cabopino is an attractive, well-sheltered sandy beach which slopes gently towards the sea. Enjoying a picturesque natural setting with ranks of pine sweeping towards the sea, Cabopino has a quieter, more relaxed atmosphere than many Costa del Sol beaches. Nearby, is a delightful harbour area with some attractive architecture and a range of superb restaurants to suit every taste.
Immerse yourself in popular sights and attractions
Mercadillo de Marbella
This is one of the town’s largest open air street markets, located on the Avenida José Manuel Vallés. The market is held from 8.00 a.m. every Monday morning and closes mid-afternoon. There are usually around 300 stalls selling food, fruits and vegetables, flowers, jewellery and crafts, as well as a range of clothing, footwear, cosmetics and accessories.
What to do in Puerto Banus was a question carefully considered by local property developer José Banus back in 1970. His solution was to create a marina and shopping complex with superb ocean views and a scenic Sierra Blanca backdrop. Today, this Marbella suburb still attracts a host of residents and wealthy tourists who appreciate its exclusive boutiques, restaurants and beach clubs.
Plaza de los Naranjos
Plaza de los Naranjos lies in the heart of Marbella’s Old Town and has been a vibrant meeting place for centuries. Its unique atmosphere is enhanced by charming Castilian Renaissance architecture, Spanish guitars played in the open air, and the sweet aroma of los naranjos (orange trees). People gather here in the evenings to eat, drink and relax in the plaza’s many open-air cafes and restaurants: What to do in Marbella distilled to its very essence.
Avenida del Mar
A modern urban boulevard, the marble-tiled Avenida del Mar is a pedestrianised space adorned with ponds, fountains and pergolas. However, its most famous feature is ten bronze sculptures by Salvador Dalí, plus two more by Eduardo Soriano. This must be one of the few places visitors can enjoy street art the equal of any museum collection.
Marbella Old Town
Marbella’s picturesque Casco Antigo (Old Town) preserves the narrow winding streets of the old Moorish quarter just as they were when the town citadel fell to Spain’s Catholic Kings in 1485. This is the place to see typical Andalusian houses adorned with fresh flowers, discover magnificent architecture, and explore treasures from Marbella’s rich and colourful past.
Enjoy Marbella's historic and contemporary art scene
Museo Picasso Málaga
In this extraordinary museum near the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, almost 80 years of the artist’s work are collected and exhibited. Here discipline and creativity are equally conveyed by the artist who is fundamental to comprehending the history of Western art. Gain unique insights into the special selection of works and learn more about the techniques that Pablo Picasso skillfully utilized.
Museo del Grabado Español Contemporaneo
Housed in a former 16th-century residential palace, the Museo del Grabado, also known as the Museum of Contemporary Spanish Engraving, holds some fine examples of modern engraving and graphic art, including examples of additive techniques, lithography and digital printing. In addition to these artworks, the museum has also acquired a number of ‘artists books’ and holds regular exhibitions, seminars and printing workshops.
This cultural space houses one of Europe’s most important collections of Latin American art. Focusing on avant garde works which explore Surrealism and Magic Realism, the Museo Ralli displays the works of artists such as Wilfredo Lam (Cuba), Marc Chagall (Russia) and Salvador Dalí (Spain). In addition, the Ralli also holds a permanent collection of European art.
La Encarnación church
This beautiful example of a Spanish Renaissance church is believed to have been built in 1505 on the ground floor of a former Moorish mosque. Further reconstruction followed, and today’s well-preserved church has a huge gold altar as its centrepiece. In addition, the grand church organ is said to be one of the largest ever built in 20th-century Spain.
Santo Cristo de la Vera Cruz Church
Dedicated to the ‘Holy Christ of the True Cross’, this church with its distinctive square bell tower was built in the 15th century and extended further in the 18th century. The exterior has traditional Andalusian limewashed walls, while the roof has some fine glazed ceramic tiling known to have been fired in Marbella.