Last updated on June 7, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Andalucia

Where to stay in Costa del Sol – Best places to stay by the beach and inland

Deciding where to stay in Costa del Sol is not an easy task. I still remember my first trip there, totally panicking in front of a map and over 150km of coastline.

Honestly, I can count at least 10 destinations I would suggest, all different in style and in what they offer. It really depends on the type of trip you have in mind.

My favourite summer resort town is Estepona and Malaga works so well in winter. I have organised this post to talk more about all the possibilities with a quick comparison table and full descriptions of all these destinations.

On my last trip, I also did a video that you can check out later in the post

But let’s jump straightaway to the key points.

Map of where to stay in Costa del Sol - My top 10 towns
Map of where to stay in the Costa del Sol – My top 10 towns

10 Best places to stay in Costa del Sol – Key Points

In this table, I have summarized the best 10 destinations on the Costa del Sol. They are all slightly different and they cater to different kinds of travellers.

You can click on the town name for more information or just keep reading for my favourites. Swipe left or right to see the entire table on the mobile.

Area/Town/CityBest forAvg. CostBest Costa del Sol HotelsBars and RestaurantsTransportationArea CharacterBeach QualityVisitors AgeNightlife
MalagaSightseeing, History, CultureModerateEl MuseoExcellent, diverseGood public transport, airport nearbyHistoric, vibrantGood sandy beachesAll agesLively
MarbellaLuxury, High-end tourismExpensiveLa Fonda HeritageHigh-end, diverseAccessible by car, public transportLuxurious, stylishExcellentYoung to middle-agedVibrant
BenalmadenaFamily holidaysModerateSF Carihuela 2BRFamily-friendly, variedGood public transport, close to Malaga AirportFamily-oriented, livelyGood sandy beachesFamiliesModerate
EsteponaBeach lovers, Quieter staysModerate to HighApartamento en Playa del CristoGood selection, seafood focusCar recommended for explorationTraditional, relaxedExcellentMature, familiesVaried, quieter
NerjaScuba divers, Snorkelers, HikersModerateVilla CarmenLocal and authenticCar recommended for explorationTraditional, scenicRocky, scenicMature, outdoor enthusiastsQuiet
TorremolinosAll-round family funModerateIdeal apartamentoVaried, internationalExcellent, close to Malaga AirportTouristy, lively, 70s/80sExcellent sandy beachesAll agesLively
FuengirolaCosmopolitan, family-friendly, golfModerateDe La Playa 1BRInternationalGood public transport, near airportCosmopolitan, vibrantGood sandy beachesAll agesModerate to lively
MijasMature couples, older familiesModerateSea to Sky SuitesLocal, traditionalCar recommended for explorationTraditional, picturesqueGo to Mijas Costa or La Cala de Mijas Mature, familiesNone
CasaresRomantic, Secluded ViewsModerateLa casita de LúLimited but charming local optionsCar recommended for explorationHilltop, picturesqueInland
N/A
Mature, couplesNone
Puerto BanúsLuxury, High-End ShoppingExpensiveMarina BanusHigh-end, trendyAccessible by car, public transportLuxurious, stylishExcellentYoung to middle-agedVibrant
My favourite towns and villages to stay on the Costa del Sol

My 3 suggested Hotels in Costa del Sol

View of Malaga from the Gibralfaro Castle
View of Malaga from the Gibralfaro Castle

Malaga – Best place to stay in Costa del Sol for a short visit

  • Best for a weekend and a short stay. Best location for winter

Pros

  • Rich History: Malaga’s old town is full of history, with beautiful old buildings at every turn.
  • Art Lover’s Dream: Home to Picasso, the city boasts amazing art museums.
  • Beach Life: Loads of beaches offer the perfect mix of sunbathing and fun.
  • Tasty Food: The central market is a feast for the senses with delicious local food.
  • Exciting Nights: Once the sun sets, there are plenty of bars and clubs to enjoy.

Cons

  • Very Busy: It gets crowded, especially in the summer.
  • Pricier Stays: Accommodations in the city centre can be expensive.
  • Cobbled Streets: The charming streets can be tough to walk on.
  • Night Noise: Street-facing rooms might be noisy at night.
  • Crowded Beaches: The beaches can get really busy in the summer.

Malaga City has undergone a vibrant transformation since the early 2000s, emerging as a beacon of cultural heritage and modernity.

Your visit will be marked by the awe-inspiring sight of historical monuments like the imposing Malaga Cathedral and the majestic Alcazaba and Gibralfaro Castle. The opening of the Picasso Museum in 2003 was a testament to the city’s dedication to celebrating its artistic roots, offering a deep dive into the life and works of Pablo Picasso.

Just one simple tip here, buy your tickets for the Picasso Museum in advance otherwise get ready to queue up for 1-2 hours or more. As annoying as that.

Start your city exploration from the Plaza de la Constitución, the main square of Malaga, surely the most beautiful square on the coast where you can experience a blend of architectural styles, from Moorish to Gothic and Baroque.

The city’s old town, with its lively atmosphere and bustling markets, is a delight to explore, offering delicious local cuisine. I particularly love the Mercado Central. I can literally spend entire afternoons there with long lunches and drinks.

There is such a cool vibe, easy to meet other travellers and locals. I may also add that both food and drinks come at bargain prices.

Entrance to the Mercado Central in the Historical Centre of Malaga
Entrance to the Mercado Central in the Historical Centre of Malaga

It would be a pity if you make it to Malaga without visiting Soho, the arty district with plenty of street art all around, more serene and local energy and some great tapas bars.

One thing I am not truly inspired by in Malaga is the beach, next to the port. The water is not amazing and the sand is more often than not dirty. Take a bus or drive north 5km and go instead to the small town of El Palo, so much better.

Malaga is the best place to be on the Costa del Sol for a short stay, 2-3 days, followed by a pleasure week by the beach in any of the towns I have mentioned in this post. I would not suggest staying longer than that, it’s a city after all.

There is one exception though, if you visit Costa del Sol in winter, then stay in Malaga for the entire holiday. The city offers so much more than anywhere else. Besides, the weather is usually so mild, with an average of 320 days of sunshine, that you will not miss the cold winter back home.

Despite the challenges of navigating through crowded streets and the occasional noisy night, the city’s blend of historical charm makes Malaga an unforgettable destination, perfect for those who appreciate a mix of cultural richness and vibrant city life.

I have written a specific guide to the best areas to stay in Malaga. Below are 3 of the best hotels in the centre of town

The Clock House ($$$$): Stunning sea views, comfy beds, and friendly staff in a charming environment.

Hotel Bro – Adults only ($$$): One of the few places in the city with a pool and a spa, a great bonus in summer. Modern and stylish

El Museo ($$-$$$): Central location, steps away from major attractions. Friendly staff and comfortable studios to 2BR apartments.

Walking around Estepona
Walking around Estepona

Estepona – A charming stay on Costa del Sol 

  • Best for a charming stay, relaxed, ideal for families

Pros

  • Andalusian Charm: The old town area of Estepona is a perfect example of traditional Andalusian beauty, with its cobbled streets and whitewashed houses.
  • Beach Paradise: Estepona boasts some of the best beaches on the Costa del Sol
  • Culinary Delights: The town provides an excellent selection of dining options, especially seafood.
  • Relaxing Ambiance: Estepona offers a more laid-back, relaxed environment compared to busier resorts.

Cons

  • Transportation: Having a car is recommended.
  • Quieter Town: Estepona is less bustling than some of its neighbouring towns.
  • Some Commercialization: Certain beach areas can be quite commercialized.
  • Limited Nightlife Options: Compared to larger towns, Estepona’s nightlife is more subdued.

Estepona, with its delightful blend of authentic Andalusian charm and modern comforts, instantly captivated me on my first trip. Wandering through the old town, I was immersed in a world of quaint, narrow streets lined with brightly painted houses adorned with pots of vibrant flowers.

The Historical Centre suddenly becomes alive after sunset with all the outdoor tables of the restaurants and bars busy with locals and travellers alike.

The beaches here are truly exceptional, stretching along the coast with golden sands and crystal-clear waters. One thing has to be said, the water gets deep in a matter of metres.

If travelling with kids, I suggest checking out Playa de Cristo, on the southern end of town. This beach is so lovely, in a small bay, with shallow transparent water and white sand. Add also that parking is free and plentiful.

Dining in Estepona is a joy, with an abundance of seafood restaurants serving fresh, locally sourced dishes. The historical centre tends to be more expensive than the modern town where you can find some hidden gems like my local favourite, El Tejar.

While the nightlife may not be as extensive as in some other Costa del Sol towns, the evenings in Estepona have a charming, laid-back atmosphere that is perfect for relaxing after a day of exploration.

Estepona is a gem for those seeking a more authentic, serene Spanish coastal experience.

Here are 2 of the best accommodations in Estepona:

Hotel Silken El Pilar ($$$$): Charming clean rooms with soundproofing and bright verandas. Exceptional staff, great location, and diverse dining options. Comfortable, spotless facilities catering well to couples.

Apartamento en Playa del Cristo ($$$): Beachfront 2BR apartment with stylish decor, top-quality equipment, and breathtaking balcony views. Private pool and garden views in a superb location, ideal for beach access.

Far end of the lovely Marbella
Far end of the lovely Marbella

Marbella – A great stay for nightlife and luxury

  • Best for luxury and style, a unique stay

Pros

  • Luxury and Style: Marbella is renowned for its luxurious lifestyle, with upscale shops and exclusive beach clubs.
  • Pleasant Microclimate: Thanks to the Sierra Blanca mountains, Marbella enjoys lovely temperatures all year round.
  • Cultural Duality: Marbella beautifully blends its appeal to both package holidaymakers and the elite, especially evident in areas like Puerto Banus.
  • Charming Old Town: The town’s old area offers a tranquil escape with its traditional whitewashed houses and narrow streets.
  • Dynamic Nightlife: Known for its vibrant nightlife, Marbella has a high concentration of bars and clubs.

Cons

  • Expensive: Marbella is on the pricier side, particularly in terms of accommodation and dining.
  • Crowded in Peak Season: The town can get quite busy, especially during the summer.
  • Commercial Beaches: Some of its beaches are heavily commercialized.
  • Can Lack Authenticity: At times, Marbella might miss out on the authentic Spanish feel due to its modernized developments.

Visiting Marbella is like stepping into a world where luxury meets tradition. The town’s unique microclimate, shielded by the Sierra Blanca mountains, provides a comfortable haven irrespective of the season.

Marbella’s dual nature is fascinating – on one hand, it caters to the glamorous lifestyles of the rich and famous, with Puerto Banus displaying an array of luxurious yachts and high-end cars. On the other hand, it retains a charm that appeals to regular holidaymakers.

The contrast is most evident when you stroll from the opulent marina to the quaint, peaceful old town. The narrow, winding streets, lined with traditional Andalusian houses, offer a serene retreat from the glitzy parts of town.

Although Marbella’s upmarket vibe and bustling beaches might not be for everyone, its blend of modern luxury with historical charm makes it a uniquely enticing destination on the Costa del Sol.

Marbella is the place to stay in Costa del Sol for a luxurious time and a unique experience, certainly an expensive one, but so exclusive that you will remember it for a long time, if not forever.

Here are 2 of the best hotels in Costa del Sol:

La Fonda Heritage ($$$$$): One of the best luxury hotels in the Costa del Sol, nestled in Marbella’s historic old town, this hotel impresses with its blend of historical charm and modern amenities. Amazing breakfast

Amàre Beach – Adults Only ($$$$): One of the best hotels by the beach with exceptional service and facilities. Superb breakfast, and a relaxing spa.

Drone view of Torremolinos
Drone view of Torremolinos

Torremolinos – LGBTI friendly

  • Best for a LGBTI destination and beach destination

Pros

  • LGBTI Friendly: Recognized as one of Spain’s most LGBTI-friendly towns with numerous tailored establishments and events.
  • Beach Paradise: Offers seven kilometres of immaculate sandy beaches perfect for all kinds of beach activities.
  • Vibrant Nightlife: A lively town with a variety of bars and clubs that stay open until the early hours.
  • Family Attractions: Features attractions like Aqua Park and Crocodile Park, making it great for family fun.
  • Convenient Location: Close proximity to Malaga Airport makes it easily accessible.

Cons

  • Tourist-centric Development: The town has undergone significant development, losing some of its traditional charm.
  • Busy Beaches: The beaches can become overcrowded, especially during peak season.
  • Urban Landscape: Some areas have a more urban feel, with less of the quaint Spanish village atmosphere.

This town has become synonymous with inclusivity, proudly standing as one of Spain’s most LGBTI-friendly destinations. Each visit reveals the town’s vibrant and diverse spirit, particularly evident in the central area bustling with LGBTI-friendly bars, nightclubs, and events.

The seven kilometres of golden beaches offer a bustling seaside atmosphere, perfect for a variety of activities, from sunbathing to water sports. For families, attractions like the Aqua Park and Crocodile Park provide endless entertainment.

Despite its evolution into a more modern, tourist-centric town, with high-rise buildings dominating the skyline, Torremolinos maintains its appeal with its lively nightlife and welcoming attitude towards all visitors.

Torremolinos is widely known as the gateway to the Costa del Sol, being so close to Malaga Airport.

It’s a great destination for a week giving you the possibility to cut down on transportation time and just focus on your holiday on the Costa del Sol. You will miss out on the historical architecture and Spanish charm but everything else is there.

Here are 2 of the best accommodations in Torremolinos:

Ideal apartamento ($$$): Modern, centrally located apartment with stunning mountain and ocean views. Clean, spacious, and well-equipped rooms, with comfortable beds.

Savanna Beach with Jacuzzi ($$$$): Exceptional beachfront apartment with stunning sea views and luxurious amenities, including a jacuzzi.

The long beach of Fuengirola
The long beach of Fuengirola

Fuengirola – The destination on the Costa del Sol for a beach stay

  • Best for beach lovers and water activities

Pros

  • Beach Lover’s Paradise: Fuengirola is famous for its extensive 7km stretch of beaches, perfect for sunbathing and water activities.
  • Diverse Activities: From golfing to exploring historical sites like Sohail Castle, there’s a blend of relaxation and adventure.
  • Cosmopolitan Atmosphere: A mix of cultures gives Fuengirola a vibrant and international vibe.
  • Great Dining Options: The town offers a variety of international cuisines to cater to its cosmopolitan population.
  • Family-Friendly: Fuengirola is ideal for families, with activities and facilities that cater to all ages.

Cons

  • Can Be Crowded: The town, especially the beaches, can get quite busy, particularly in the peak summer months.
  • Urban Feel: Some areas can feel more like a city than a traditional beach town.
  • Busy Nightlife: While lively, the nightlife might be overwhelming for those seeking tranquillity.
  • Tourist-Oriented: You may find Fuengirola overly tailored to tourists, lacking a local Spanish feel in places.

Costa del Sol is one of the best destinations in Europe for its combination of amazing weather and lovely beaches.

Of all the towns in this post, Fuengirola has the most extensive beachfront, 7km long, a haven for beach lovers, offering everything from lazy sunbathing to exciting water sports like scuba diving.

But it’s not all about sand and sun, you can, for example, explore the historical gem of Sohail Castle, perched majestically on a hill, providing a fascinating glimpse into the town’s past. A little tip here, download the free audio guide on the website before visiting the place. It will help you understand the incredible past of the castle.

Fuengirola’s cosmopolitan nature is also evident in its diverse culinary scene, with an array of international restaurants lining the streets. The town buzzes with energy, especially in the evenings when the bars and restaurants come alive.

South of Fuengiorl, towards Marbella, you will find a plethora of golf courses of which Chaparral is probably the most popular of all. The route is highly rated as one of the most beautiful and scenic in Spain.

Despite its popularity, leading to crowded beaches in summer, Fuengirola still manages to maintain a welcoming, family-friendly atmosphere.

It’s a place where every day offers a mix of seaside relaxation and the lively allure of a modern town, making it an ideal destination for those who enjoy the best of both worlds. You will miss out on the Spanish charm but everything else is here.

Here are 2 of the best accommodations in Fuengirola:

Paseo Marítimo 1BR ($$-$$$): Exceptional location with beachfront views and modern amenities. Relaxing stay with access to a clean swimming pool.

De La Playa 1BR ($$): Exceptional location in Fuengirola’s heart, a minute from the beach, surrounded by restaurants and shops. Comfortable, clean apartments with well-equipped kitchen.

The beautiful old town of Casares
The beautiful old town of Casares

Casares – Best area for A relaxing holiday

  • Best for a quiet, relaxed stay in a historical hilly town

Pros

  • Historical Legacy: Casares’ history is enriched by its association with Julius Caesar and the healing springs.
  • Roman Heritage: Its right to mint coins in Roman times speaks to its historical importance.
  • Picturesque Setting: Perched on a hillside, its views and cobblestoned streets are postcard-worthy.
  • Tranquil Ambiance: Offers a peaceful retreat from the busier coastal towns.
  • Outdoor Activities: Ideal for rock climbing, hiking and exploring the natural surroundings.

Cons

  • Limited Amenities: Fewer modern amenities compared to larger towns.
  • Lesser-Known: Not as widely recognized as other Costa del Sol destinations.
  • Quiet Nightlife: Offers a more subdued (non-existing) evening atmosphere.
  • Accessibility: Its hilltop location might be challenging for some visitors.
  • Remote Feel: Located inland, it’s a bit removed from the main coastal attractions.

This picturesque village, clinging to a hillside, is not just a unique charming destination but also a place steeped in significant history.

It’s fascinating to walk the same grounds that are said to have cured Julius Caesar with the sulphurous waters of a local spring. The deep connection to Caesar, who allegedly built a villa here and gave the rare privilege to Casares of minting its own coins, adds a layer of intrigue to the town.

I personally love the tranquil streets, far from the coastal hustle, and the breathtaking views that span across the rugged landscape. A little tip here. The town develops between two hills. Take the lane going up to the castle for the best views, down to the coastline.

While there is basically no nightlife to talk of, and overall the amenities are sort of modest, the charm of Casares lies in its serene, historically rich character.

Casares is a great place to stay to relax and recharge from the busy life, still one of the Costa del Sol’s little gems not discovered by mass tourism.

I highly suggest hiring a car once in Spain because public transportation options from/to Casares are limited. Without your own vehicle, getting around can be quite challenging, and you might find yourself feeling a bit stranded in this picturesque but somewhat remote location.

Here are 2 hotels near or in Casares:

DDG Retreat ($$$-$$$$): Exceptional retreat offering serene paradise with stunning views, top-notch facilities, and luxurious comfort.

La casita de Lú ($-$$): Central location, stunning balcony views, and comfortable, simple, well-equipped rooms. All at a bargain price

Drone view of the resort town of Nerja
Drone view of the resort town of Nerja

Nerja – Lovely part of the Costa del Sol for a scenic stay

  • Best for views, rocky coastline and diving

Pros

  • Historical Gem: Nerja has been a notable spot since the 1880s and was even a favourite of King Alfonso XII.
  • Unique Geography: The town’s rugged cliffs and rocky foreshore offer stunning natural beauty.
  • Balcón de Europa: This iconic viewing platform provides breathtaking views and is steeped in history.
  • Outdoor Activities: Ideal for scuba divers, snorkelers, and hikers, thanks to its varied landscape.
  • Authentic Charm: Despite its popularity, Nerja retains an authentic Andalusian feel.

Cons

  • Rocky Beaches: The coastline is more rugged, which might not appeal to all beachgoers.
  • Limited Nightlife: Nerja’s nightlife is quieter compared to other Costa del Sol towns.
  • Car Recommended: To fully explore the surrounding areas, a car is quite handy.

The resort town of Nerja is located at the northeast end of the Costa del Sol near Costa Tropical. It has been a favourite since the 1880s and cherished by King Alfonso XII himself, captivates with its unique blend of historical significance and natural splendour.

Each visit to the Balcón de Europa reaffirms its status as not just a spectacular viewing point but also a portal to the past, offering panoramic views that span across the Mediterranean.

The rugged cliffs and rocky shores of Nerja, while less conventional for sunbathing, are a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, particularly scuba divers and hikers. For this reason, I do not suggest families with small kids staying here, you would be very limited with beach activities.

While the town’s nightlife might be subdued, it only adds to its charm, offering a peaceful retreat from the bustling beach resorts of the Costa del Sol.

I personally suggest renting a car in Malaga to travel to Nerja and from there visit other gems of Andalusia like Granada, just over one hour away, Cordoba or Caminito del Rey, 1h30m to 2 hours away, and Torre del Mar for one of the best beaches in the area in just 10 minutes.

Here are 2 of the best accommodations in XYZ:

Villa Carmen ($$-$$$): Exquisite rooms with scenic views, exceptionally clean and well-equipped. Superb breakfast, and lovely pool

MB Boutique Hotel – Adults Rec.($$$): A superb, modern boutique hotel with exceptionally clean, comfortable rooms, offering quirky amenities like mood lighting and video games.

Walking and getting lost in Malaga
Walking and getting lost in Malaga
Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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