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Marbella embodies the essence of Spain’s renowned Costa del Sol, with 17 miles of shoreline luring sunseekers to its azure Mediterranean waters, as it boasts 320 days of sunshine a year. The sea is a way of life here, with four marinas, including the popular Puerto Banús. But there are just as many treasures on land, all doused with Andalusian flavors, represented in its whitewashed architecture and orange trees aplenty: It’s no wonder that the historic area is anchored by Plaza de Los Naranjos, or Orange Square, dating from the Renaissance era. Also within the winding streets of Old Town, which sits in the Sierra Blanca’s foothills, are preserved sections of Islamic walls and towers that formed the ninth-century Arab fortress. But above all, Marbella just has that sense of elevated living, drawing celebrities, culture seekers, and beach lovers alike.
Fly into the area’s Malaga-Costa del Sol Airport (AGP), just over a half-hour drive northeast along the coast to the northwest from Marbella. Rental cars, cabs, buses, and rideshares are all available to make the trip. Alternatively, Gibraltar International Airport (GIB) is located about an hour’s drive to the southwest. Trains run to Fuengirola, a 30-minute drive away, and Malaga, about 40 minutes away. Ferries also serve the marinas. Once you’re in the area, a car is the most recommended form of transportation, though there’s also a bus system and plenty of cabs available, whether you wave them down or book in advance. However, in central areas such as the Old Quarter Marbella and Avenida del Mar, it may be easiest to get around carless, since the main landmarks and beaches are all fairly close together.
Of course everyone wants to be at the Spanish Mediterranean destination in the summer when the beach weather is idyllic, but that also makes May through August the busiest period, with higher prices and heavier crowds. April, September, and November may feel more manageable and the water temperatures are still suitable for a swim. The winter temperatures dip low enough that it’s simply too cold to get into the water, but the land temperatures remain moderate enough for exploration by day. The major annual festivals include the Marbella Carnival in February, Festivities of San Bernabé in June, Virgen del Carmen in July, and San Pedro Alántara Fair in October.
The famous blue waters of the Spanish Mediterranean draw visitors to the golden sands — and with two dozen beaches lined along the city’s southern coast, there’s no shortage of choices. Artola-Cabopino Beach within the Dunas de Artola nature preserve offers a relaxed landscape among the dunes, while Playa de la Bajadilla, Playa de Rio Real, and Playa de Venus are closer to the action in the city center.
Wander the charming streets of the historic city center, where ruins of the area’s Roman, Arabic, and Christian pasts are all preserved. Highlights include the Arabic Castel’s ruins, the Church of Our Lady of the Incarnation, and Orange Square. Also make sure to wander down Avenida del Mar, which has fountains, gardens, pergolas, and 10 sculptures by Salvador Dalí along its route.
Housed inside the 16th-century Renaissance-style former Bazán Hospital, the museum’s collection of more than 4,000 prints includes works by all the Spanish masters.