The lively Spanish city of Marbella is one of the most popular hotspots on the Costa del Sol, and a terrific holiday destination, not least because it offers something for everyone. Cleverly combining a cosmopolitan appeal with a traditional feel, it offers plenty of culture, a lovely old town, wonderful food, super shopping, great beaches, and a terrific year-round climate - all elements that ought to ensure a great time, whether you visit as a couple, family or group of friends.
A two-day trip is a pretty good way to get a good feel for Marbella, as it should give you enough time to see everything the city has to offer, from laidback squares to lively neighbourhoods, chilled out dining to exciting nightlife.
But before we get going, it might be best to deal with a few potential misconceptions about Marbella, as plenty of people seem to have the wrong idea about the place. For starters it’s neither an over-developed concrete jungle nor a party town for the rich and famous. Sure it attracts its fair share of luxury yachts and flash Ferraris, but the well-heeled know a great spot when they see one, and with more than 320 days of sunshine a year, 16 miles of pristine beaches, spotlessly clean old and new towns (tirelessly maintained, just like those beaches), top-quality restaurants and nightlife, it’s no surprise the city has more than its share of admirers.
But you don’t need to rock up with a Rolex and a Rolls-Royce to enjoy Marbella. Here’s our guide on how to make the most of 48 hours in this wonderful holiday destination…
Day One: Morning
The best way to start a trip to Marbella - and this rule applies to most places, in my experience - is to hit the streets and explore it on foot.
The best streets on which to do so are the narrow, cobbled ones of the city’s Old Town or ‘Casco Antiguo’. Even though it’s near the centre of town and very near the city’s main street (the Avenida Ricardo Soriano), this lovely little area of colourful squares and flower-laden streets is (criminally) overlooked by many tourists - a fact that only adds to its hidden gem appeal.
The ancient streets are lined with elegant houses, boutique shops, quirky art galleries, cool cafés and trendy tapas bars, all orbiting Orange Square (‘Plaza de los Naranjos’), which is at the heart of the action. A traditional Andalucian square filled with orange trees and tropical plants, it’s the perfect place to stop for a coffee and watch the world go by. Better yet, go bar hopping and turn tapas-tasting into a makeshift lunch.
Day One: Afternoon
Your appetite hopefully sated, it’s now time for some culture, because Marbella is home to a surprisingly wide collection of museums and galleries, most notably the spanish Contemporary Engravings Museum, the only one of its kind in Spain.
Housed in a beautifully-kept 16th century building that was once a hospital, the 4,000-piece collection tells the story of Spanish engraving and graphic art from its earliest days, and also showcases work by artists, such as Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí. The latter never lived or worked in Marbella, yet the city is also home to a unique and fascinating collection of his bronze sculptures, which are spread out along the Avenida del Mar, a wide road that leads down to the seafront promenade, and are free for all to view.
There are more sculptures, as well as ceramics and photography exhibits, at the Art Wanson Gallery, located in Marbella Club Golf resort, but the main (pun alert!) draw is a number of significant works by the likes of Cézanne, Picasso, Chagall and Bacon. For something rather more off the wall, in every respect, check out the oil and archaeology exhibits at the Miraflores Cultural Centre.
Of course many visitors will require a shot of retail therapy during their time in Marbella, and while some of the pricier boutique shops in the city’s charming Old Town are galleries for most of us (look but don’t touch), it’s certainly a novelty to gasp at the price tags. You might even fancy treating yourself to a perfect new outfit or piece of jewellery.
There’s more upmarket shopping down the coast at Puerto Banús, where the designer-label stores include the likes of Armani, Versace and Vuitton, while more affordable shopping can be found at La Cañada, a shopping complex that’s just a short bus or taxi ride north of the city. Serious shoppers could probably spend a day here, as there are nearly 300 stores, as well as bars, coffee shops, restaurants, and a cinema, all under one roof.
Day One: Evening
Much like the culture versus shopping options above, I feel duty bound to offer alternatives here - a nice meal out or the chance to party at one or more of Marbella’s renowned selection of bars and clubs. More energetic readers will doubtless manage both, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Marbella is of course famed for its nightlife, and there’s a head-spinning selection of bars and clubs where you can enjoy as wild (and late) a night of drinking and dancing as you have the stamina for. Most are in the streets in and around the promenade of Paseo Maritimo and Alameda Park. A little further out of the city, the Golden Mile, which stretches out as far as Puerto Banús, plays host to some of the world’s top DJs every summer, and there’s a good chance you’ll spot a few shape-throwing (or ultra-cool) celebrities, from rock gods to soap stars.
For a rather more relaxed evening, finish the day where you began it in the Old Town, which is as lively as it is lovely to explore, and where you can choose from a range of great eateries, from pricey restaurants serving gourmet meals to relatively inexpensive tapas bars where you can eat and drink until the early hours.
Day Two: Morning
The morning’s activities will crucially depend on what option you chose the night before. If you were out partying until 8am, I rather think you can skip this bit - but let’s assume you were tucked up early and are ready to start the day by a reasonable hour. Because a great way to get going again, as well as to see the area, is a bracing walk or cycle ride (there are a number of places where you can rent bikes) out to the marina of Puerto Banús.
The easy five-mile journey takes about half an hour on a bike (around 90 minutes on foot), along a coastal path that runs alongside the Mediterranean, so you’ll be accompanied by terrific sea views all the way.
Your journey will take you to the rather more man-made attraction of Nueva Andalucia (New Andalucia), which is home to a range of upmarket hotels, casinos, apartments and golf courses. The millionaire’s playground - and people-watching paradise - of Puerto Banús raises the bar even further, with yachts and Ferraris - the chosen transport of the rich and famous who frequent the marina’s boutique shops and glamorous restaurants.
Day Two: Afternoon
After the exertions of the excursion (see what I did there?) to Puerto Banús, it’s only fair to reward yourself with a couple of hours chilling on the beach. Marbella has an amazing 23 beaches to choose from, but its main stretch of sand is Playa de la Fontanilla, which runs along the city centre’s southern edge, and works equally well whether you want to kick back and rent a sun lounger, or kick on and take part in one of the many water sports on offer. The beach also conveniently backs onto the Paseo Marítimo, which is lined with bars and restaurants should refreshments be required.
Another lovely beach can be found at Playa de la Bajadilla, a little further east in Marbella’s old fishing quarter, where its idyllic arc of sand is lapped by calmer waters, making it especially popular with families.
Speaking of which, if you’re visiting as a family and need more than sandcastles to keep the children entertained, then Funny Beach Marbella, the region’s top water sports centre, could be the answer to your prayers. Dramatically modernised just over a year ago, here you can try everything, from tubing and jet-skiing to pedalo and banana boats, while other child-friendly options include (deep breath) go-karting, electric bikes and cars, amusement rides, trampolines, video games… Oh and food and drink outlets that serve the sort of meals that children love too.
Day Two: Evening
On the subject of food, I’d say the best way to round off the weekend, and bid your farewell to Marbella, is to sample some of the city’s fantastic seafood. You’ll find plenty of places and ways to do so, from those tapas bars and restaurants of the Old Town to cheery little chiringuitos at the beach, where you’ll find fish being cooked over an open fire.
Take that notion a step - well ten minutes’ worth of steps - further and head back out to the old fishing quarter of Playa de la Bajadilla. Here you’ll find arguably the city’s best-known seafood restaurant, Puerto Playa, which has tables out on the sand with great views out over the sea. Hopefully the perfect end to a perfect weekend…
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