The densely populated coast of Andalusia, stretching from Almeria to Tarifa, is Europe's favoured, all-year-round holiday destination and is commonly known as the Costa del Sol. It consists of a string of fine sandy beaches, where the average water temperature is 64ºF (18ºC).
Picturesque towns have abundant tourist amenities, resorts, and high-rise hotels. Attractions include zoos, bullfights, water parks, casinos, and amusement parks, like the renowned or Tivoli World.
A huge beach resort itself and the birthplace of Picasso, the energetic city of Malaga is the capital of Andalusia and the gateway to the Costa del Sol. The most popular resort town on the Costa del Sol is Torremolinos, which retains some elements of traditional Spain, although most main streets are now pedestrian thoroughfares filled with souvenir shops and ice-cream parlours. Torremolinos is a popular party resort, perfect for all kinds of hedonistic fun in the sun.
Marbella is another favourite, although it is a more elegant, upmarket resort, something of a playground for the elite. Those in the Costa del Sol yearning for some cultural sightseeing should venture to nearby Granada and its iconic Alhambra fortress.
Tourists can also visit the quaint and scenic villages of Nerja and Mijas to experience some authentic local flavour. Ronda also offers holidaymakers some respite from the revelry of the resort towns thanks to its beautiful natural scenery and wealth of cultural attractions.
The airport is situated between Malaga and the large resort of Torremolinos on the national road N340, which connects all towns and resorts along the coast. Trains can be caught from the airport into Malaga City and to Fuengirola. Bus services link the coastal towns as well as the inland towns of Ronda and Granada to each other, and there is also a train between Malaga and Fuengirola and a train connecting Ronda to Malaga.
Granada is a high altitude city of romance and folklore, boasting one of the most popular tourist attractions in Spain: the Alhambra. A palace-fortress built up between the 9th and 16th centuries, the Alhambra is the most important and spectacular piece of Moorish architecture in Spain. Set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the huge complex includes the Summer Palace with its fountains and gardens, the Palacios Nazaries with its intricate ornamentation, and a hilltop fortress. The queue to get into this UNESCO World Heritage Site gets ridiculously long and tickets should be booked online or booked weeks in advance to avoid disappointment. At least one full day is required to really explore the vast complex. Although the Alhambra is the city's main attraction, Granada boasts a number of other gems, including the Cathedral containing the Royal Chapel where Isabel and Ferdinand of Spain lie buried, and a Moorish medina area, known as the Albaicin, which has labyrinthine, narrow streets and whitewashed houses. North of Granada is Sacromonte Hill, famed for its cave dwellings, which were once the home of a large gypsy community. The Interpretation Centre has an ethnographic museum detailing the history and culture of the cave dwellers.
Credited both as the birthplace of bullfighting and the home of one of Spain's great architectural feats, Ronda is an easy and entertaining escape from the city. Dramatically situated on the edge of a deep gorge, Ronda is a very picturesque place offering plenty of fodder for photographers. Ambling about the cobbled streets, handsome mansions, and well-established artisan boutiques is enough to fill a day, but no visit would be complete without a trip to the beautiful old bull ring and Ronda's most famous attraction, the Puento Nueveo. The structure straddles a magnificent chasm and connects the old town to the new, while allowing visitors a vista of the region unfolding around them. The Old Town, La Ciudad, is a labyrinth of narrow streets and historic old buildings which is a delight to explore. Calle la Bola is the main shopping street, and La Alameda, right next to the bull ring, is a pleasant park for a rest in the shade. Ronda is small and best explored on foot, with plenty of drinking fountains in the Old Town. Those who have energy to spare can walk down to the bottom of the gorge, which affords great photo opportunities.
This truly incredible limestone formation sits at the end of the Iberian Peninsula, famous for its astounding geology and overly-friendly furry friends. Though many countries have claimed the beacon over the years, it's officially owned by the British government and thus it is advised that tourists exchange euros for pounds. The Rock of Gibraltar is easily conquered by cable car, but it's worthwhile to hire a guide to explain the countless caves and rocks, and to entice the wild but sociable monkeys. On clear days, visitors can even view North Africa. St Michael's Cave, long believed to be bottomless, is a thrilling attraction with many myths and stories attached. Part of the massively deep cave is open to visitors and is even used as a concert venue. The labyrinthine Great Siege Tunnels, an incredible defence system constructed to repel the Spanish and French invaders between 1779 and 1783, is also fascinating. The Moorish Castle complex, dating back to the 11th century, is another impressive attraction in Gibraltar. The fit and brave should consider walking up the steep Mediterranean Steps with its stunning vistas, which wind up the eastern side of the Rock.
Mijas is a fantastic choice for visitors looking to amble through a pretty Spanish village with a real sense of history and traditional Andalusian character. It's an ideal spot for those keen to take a break from the golden sands and sparkling clear waters of the Costa del Sol which are somewhat dominated by mass tourism. A popular day trip destination, Mijas is easily reached by bus, and offers visitors the chance to wander through narrow streets lined with white-washed buildings and historic sights. Archaeological finds reveal the town's foundation by the Tartessians, interactions with the Ancient Greeks and Phoenicians, Roman and Visigoth influence, and Moorish rule. Mijas also has its share of history from the Spanish Civil War. Once a tiny place, Mijas is growing in size and popularity and now boasts wonderful cafes, restaurants, and bars, and is an ideal shopping destination for those looking to pick up a few Spanish souvenirs for their loved ones back home.
Nerja is a special Costa del Sol destination for those seeking an authentic, less commercialised coastal village. Nerja is more quaint and picturesque than many of the region's popular beach resorts and is a good place to find charming tapas bars and a great restaurant scene. The narrow winding streets and many squares are lit up beautifully in the evening, and the town has a romantic atmosphere. The village is nestled among the sandy coves and rugged cliffs where the Sierra de Almijara Mountains meet the sea, and the Balcon de Europa is one of many viewpoints that allows visitors to enjoy spectacular views in and around Nerja. There are more than five miles (9km) of beaches stretching to either side of Nerja, including long, sandy stretches for walking and activities, and tiny secluded coves. The area of Nerja boasts some amazing attractions, including the famous caves of the same name, and some impressive Roman ruins. Nerja is about 31 miles (50km) east of Malaga, making it a convenient and popular excursion from the city, which is the capital of Andalusia and often the starting point for travels in Costa del Sol.
The Costa del Sol enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate, with sunny, hot summer weather and mild winters, which make it a great holiday destination year-round. As the name suggests, the coastline receives more than 320 days of sunshine per year. Summer temperatures reach an average high of 86°F (30°C), and the winter temperatures seldom drop below 50°F (10°C) on the coast.
Inland temperatures have greater extremes, with scorching summers and cold winters. Rainfall is sporadic and pretty much limited to the winter months, with the majority falling in November and December; the rain usually comes in the form of intermittent, light showers which give way quickly to sun and blue skies. The temperature of the ocean seldom falls below 68°F (20°C) meaning that swimming is almost always a possibility and is enjoyed in spring and autumn as well as summer.
Summer, between June and August, when the heat is tempered by frequent sea breezes, is by far the most popular time to visit the Costa del Sol. Spring, especially late April and May, when temperatures average between 73°F and 80°F (23°C and 27°C), is also a glorious time to visit.
Once lined with a string of small fishing villages, the Costa del Sol is now dominated by purpose-built resorts and apartment buildings. The beaches are the coastline's greatest attraction, but there are plenty of other things to see and do, with any number of amusement parks and water parks, excellent golf courses, and a very active nightlife at many of the resorts.
Although the historic towns and villages along the Costa del Sol have been somewhat diminished by tourism, it's still possible to get a glimpse of the old Spain. The old town centres in Malaga, Marbella and Mijas are well preserved, and are now home to art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants.
Those seeking a more authentic Spain will need to head to inland, where the small villages remain undeveloped and the spectacular natural parks offer dramatic walking and cycling trails. Ronda is a popular excursion, with its iconic bridge and famous bullring.
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