Staying on the Costa del Sol puts you in the perfect position to explore some of the most beautiful towns and cities in Andalucia. Sure, it’s got great beaches, but if you’re able to spare a day or two, we’d highly recommend getting out and about and discovering a bit more of this sultry southern region. Not sure where to start? We’ve picked out the top day trips you can do from the Costa del Sol, with all the need-to-know details on what to see and how to get there from the beach resorts of Marbella, Estepona and Nerja.
Granada’s headline act is the Alhambra – one of the best Moorish palaces in Spain. You can spend hours wandering through its intricately carved arcades and tiled halls – and that’s before you’ve even reached the trickling fountains, serene pools and immaculate flowerbeds of the Generalife gardens. The Alhambra is one of Spain’s biggest tourist attractions, so make sure you book your tickets in advance. Once you’re finished, head down to Granada’s historic Albaicin (or Albayzin) quarter, part of the same UNESCO Heritage Site as the Alhambra. As well as atmospheric lanes lined with traditional bars and restaurants, the Albaicin offers some of the best views back up to the Alhambra.
How to get to Granada: It’s best to visit Granada by car or as part of an organised excursion (just ask your concierge for more info). From Nerja, the drive takes an hour and 20 minutes, from Marbella it’s two hours, and from Estepona you’re looking at two hours 15 minutes.
Cordoba was once the capital of Islamic Spain and its heritage is still very much on display. Its most famous sight is the Mezquita, an amazing 10th-century mosque with 800-odd marble pillars connecting striking red and white striped arches. Surrounding it is a warren of narrow streets, which open out every so often onto shady squares and flower-filled courtyards – they’re perfect for an afternoon of wandering. Cordoba’s Alcazar is also worth visiting, particularly for the peaceful gardens.
How to get to Cordoba: Driving, Cordoba is two hours from Marbella, two hours 15 from Nerja and two hours 20 from Estepona. You can also catch a high-speed train from Malaga, which takes an hour.
It’s a bit of a drive from the coast, but Seville’s grand palaces and backstreet tapas bars more than make up for the long journey. Set your alarm and get up there early – there’s a lot to see. There’s the Alcazar royal palace, the huge Gothic cathedral and the serene Maria Luisa Park, with its tranquil pools and colourful tiled bridges. Stay until early evening for tapas, said to have originated in Seville. If you’re around in the springtime, you might catch one of Seville’s famous festivals. The first is Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter; the processions in Seville are some of the biggest in Spain, with thousands coming out to watch. A couple of weeks later is the Feria de Abril (April Fair), which involves plenty of sherry, flamenco and horseback parades.
How to get to Seville: Again, it’s best to visit Seville by car or with an excursion as it’s quite a way from the coast. Estepona is about two hours 10 minutes’ drive, while Marbella is nearly two and a half hours. Nerja is the furthest away, taking around two hours 45 minutes.
Hilltop Ronda is one of Andalucia’s prettiest towns. The old and new parts of the town perch on either side of a dramatic gorge, joined by a stone bridge that offers up spectacular views (as does the Mirador de Aldehuela). Sights to see include the traditional bullring, the 13th-century Arab baths, and the lovely Plaza Duquesa de Parcent; otherwise, just go for a stroll through the cobbled streets of the old town and enjoy the views of the Andalucian countryside.
How to get to Ronda: It’s just over an hour’s drive from Marbella and Estepona. You can also take the bus from Marbella, which takes an hour and a quarter. From Nerja, the drive will take around two hours 15 minutes.
You’ll likely be flying in and out of Malaga’s airport – but the city itself is actually well worth spending some time in. It’s had a bit of a makeover this past decade or so, and is now home to a spruced-up old town, fantastic restaurants, and a roster of art galleries and museums. Highlights include the Pompidou Centre (you enter via a giant, colourful glass cube on the harbour front), the Picasso Museum (the artist was born here), the Alcazaba fortress (think a smaller-scale version of Granada’s Alhambra) and the Castillo de Gibralfaro, a 10th-century castle which sits high on a hill overlooking the city. The Atarazanas Market is also a good pick – delicious fresh produce is laid out in a beautiful Moorish-meets-modern building.
How to get to Malaga: From Nerja, it’s an hour’s drive or around 90 minutes on the bus. It’s just under an hour’s drive from Marbella and an hour and 10 minutes from Estepona.