Spain’s Costa del Sol may be most famous for its year-round sunshine and pristine beaches but if you want to do more than just soak up those rays, there’s no shortage of fascinating things to do.
From historic Moorish fortresses and spectacular scenery to family-friendly parks, top-notch tapas and exceptional restaurants, the Costa del Sol on Spain’s southern coast has it all.
Here are ten of the best things to do on the Costa del Sol for your holiday itinerary, including one of our favourite beaches.
With sky-skimming ceilings, ornate chapels, renaissance, gothic and baroque sculptures, and brightly coloured stained-glass windows, Málaga’s landmark cathedral is one of the Costa del Sol’s key sights. Look out for the intricately carved choir stalls and not one but two 18th-century organs.
If you want to find out more, take a guided tour and if you’re up for the 200-step climb to the newly restored domed rooftop, the view from the top is well worth the trek.
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There’s nothing quite like a cave to shield you from the sun, as our predecessors back in the Stone Age obviously discovered. Just five minutes east of Nerja, this magical grotto of ancient limestone caves is filled with stalactite and stalagmites, including the world’s longest and largest stalactite at a staggering 33m long (108ft).
Once home to Stone and Bronze Age hunters and gatherers, the caves date back some five million years, as you’ll find out on the guided tours included in the entrance price (from €15.50).
Picasso may have found fame and fortune after he left Spain, but he was born in Málaga and at the city’s Picasso Museum you can admire more than 200 of his works.
Housed in an elegant 16th-century palace, you’ll find paintings, sculptures and sketches including several early works as well as ceramics and metal pieces. Look out for the temporary exhibitions but allow plenty of time for a visit as entrance queues can be epic.
Fancy sampling the best local Spanish food without paying top dollar? Look no further than Málaga’s Atarazanas indoor food market. Housed in a striking 19th-century building, the large, brightly coloured stained-glass window showing different aspects of the city is almost worth the visit alone.
For the freshest grilled fish and tapas, bag a chair alongside the locals at one of the fish stalls or, alternatively, pick up a bargain bag of fresh prawns or fruit – perfect for a snack on the seafront.
Just like the Costa del Sol’s visitors, exotic plants love the region’s year-round sunshine and blissfully warm temperatures, and there are plenty of them to admire at these gorgeous botanical gardens.
Just 20 minutes’ walk from the beach bustle of Torremolinos, escape the hubbub of modern life and feel the stress ebb away as you wander amidst 150 varieties of palm tree to the gentle burble of the garden’s three different ponds. The garden’s museum in a restored 17th-century flour mill is also worth a look.
Standing proudly on a hill above the city, the magnificent 10th-century Gibralfaro Castle is the place to come if you want to see Málaga and the surrounding coastline spread out below you. Built on the site of an earlier Phoenician fort, the castle was originally home to the local troops, and there’s a small military museum inside.
Then head down to the Alcazaba – Málaga’s impressive 11th-century Moorish fortress and palace where you can wander through a labyrinth of lush gardens, fountained patios and shady interiors.
This beautifully landscaped, award-winning park in Benalmádena is the perfect place for a gentle stroll. Wander around the huge lake and keep an eye out for swans, ducks, carp and turtles, as well as cacti and bronze sculptures.
The park is also a great choice for a family day out with not only two play parks and a restaurant but also a selection of free-roaming animals. Play ‘Who can spot the animal first?’ with peacocks, cats, roosters and rabbits.
It’s almost impossible to choose one beach among the hundreds on the Costa del Sol, but this one is a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
Known for its broad stretch of sand and palm trees, this Blue Flag beach, just 15 minutes’ drive from the centre of Estepona, has wonderfully clear, clean water. However busy it gets, it also manages to feel wild and unspoilt. With playgrounds as well as sun-loungers and showers, this is a family favourite and there are also specially adapted facilities for wheelchair users.
Got a head for heights? Look no further than the Telecabina cable car ride at Benalmadena for the ultimate bird’s eye view of the Costa del Sol.
Soaring over 750m (2,461ft) above sea level, the views along the 15-minute journey up Monte Calamorro are seriously spectacular. On a clear day you can even see across to the coast of Africa as well as inland to the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada.
Don’t miss the bird of prey displays and panoramic walkways at the rugged summit.
With its fairytale turrets, Moorish arches and Pirates of the Caribbean-style galleons, the Colomares Monument – also known locally as the Colomares Castle – looks like something out of a Disney film.
However, this crazy castle was in fact built by a local doctor and a couple of his bricklaying mates in the 1980s and ‘90s and is dedicated to the life and adventures of Christopher Columbus. With replicas of the three ships that Columbus sailed in, amidst gothic and Moorish architecture, you won’t find anything quite like it anywhere else.
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