The Costa del Sol is famous for its sun, beaches and party lifestyle geared towards the expat (British, German and Scandinavian) community. Though there are some attractive Spanish towns in the area, for the true Andalusian experience, you need to head inland.
But where should you go?
See also: How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Malaga
01 of 09
Getting Around Andalusia from the Costa del Sol
There are no train stations along the Costa del Sol, apart from the commuter route from Fuengirola to Malaga. Most buses are run by the Portillo/Avanza company. You can find their timetable information here: Bus Timetables from the Costa del Sol
However, more so than in any other area of Spain, hiring a car is the best way of getting around.
Where to Base Yourself
Not all Costa del Sol towns were created equal when it comes to public transport. Marbella and Malaga have the best public transport connections.
Between Fuengirola and Malaga there is a train, good for connecting in Malaga (also on this train line are Benalmádena and Torremolinos). With poor bus connections in Benalmádena, you'll probably want to go via Malaga. Read more about Day Trips from Malaga.
If you're staying as far west as Estepona, you're going to have more limited options: Cadiz isn't too far away.
If you plan on visiting Seville, I would suggest basing yourself there for a few days as it is much easier to get to Cordoba, Cadiz and Jerez from there than from the coast. Read more about Day Trips from Seville.
02 of 09
Overview of Day Trips from the Costa del Sol
These are the top destinations close to the Costa del Sol, from nearest to furthest away.
- Ronda The number one day trip on the Costa del Sol, just over an hour's drive from Marbella and with good bus connections along the coast.
- Granada Home to the Alhambra and Spain's best free tapas culture
- Nerja Visit the prehistoric caves and check out the cute fishing village. Close enough to visit in half a day.
- Jerez and Cadiz Fried fish in Cadiz and sherry in the city it was invented, Jerez. Just over an hour-and-a-half from Estepona.
- Seville Andalusia's most famous city, great for flamenco, tapas and bullfighting.
- Cordoba See the Mezquita, Cordoba's famous mosque-cathedral.
And then there's Africa!
Yes, you can pop over to another continent from the Costa del Sol. Visit Tangiers in Morocco on a day trip or explore the country over a few days.
Read more about Visiting Morocco from Spain
03 of 09
Visiting the Classic Three Cities of Andalusia
These three cities are the most emblematic of what people consider to be classic Spain. Flamenco, tapas and (if you like that sort of thing) bullfighting.
Seville, Granada and Cordoba Under Your Steam
Visit Granada first: it's the closest to the Costa del Sol. Stay at least a day in Granada in order to visit the Alhambra (remember to book tickets in advance) and to sample the excellent local tapas. Add in a day to really explore the city, particularly the Moorish Albayzín and Gypsy Sacromonte areas, and a further day to take a day trip to the Alpujarras mountains.
Then head over to Seville. You need at least two days to experience Seville properly, plus half a day to visit Cordoba on the high-speed train and another day to visit Cadiz and Jerez. Because of the fantastic drinking culture of Jerez, I'd actually recommend not making the return journey that day but to head out late in the city and stay locally.
As a Guided Tour
To see the highlights of Cordoba, Seville and Granada quickly and easily, I'd recommend a guided tour. There is no short budget option from the Costa del Sol, but there is this Three-Night Andalusia Highlights Tour from Granada or, if you don't mind missing out Cordoba, a . Obviously, these require that you get to Granada first, and with the latter tour you'd need to explore that city by yourself.
For a bigger tour that does pick you up from the Costa, check out this Seven-Day Tour of Spain from Malaga
If You Can Only Visit One...
Though Seville is the more famous of the cities in Andalusia, I might choose Granada if I could only visit one city.
Seville is the finest microcosm of the Spanish experience that has seeped its way into our consciousness. But you'll get many of the same experiences in any Andalusian city. However, Granada's Alhambra and fascinating tapas culture are incomparable and could be a better option. Plus, it's easier to get to Granada than Seville from the coast.
Cordoba is a fine day trip from Seville, but not really worth being your top choice from the Costa.
04 of 09
Seville is where you go for the eternally classic Spain of flamenco, tapas, sherry, wine and bullfighting. It has a world-renowned mix of Christian and Moorish architecture and some of the best day trips in the country.
How to Get There
There are several buses per day from Marbella and Fuengirola, but none from Estepona. Check out the Avanza website for departure times from where you're staying.
Driving from the Costa del Sol to Seville takes around two-and-a-half hours from anywhere along the coast. Consider taking a detour via Ronda and then staying a few days in Seville, taking further day trips (to Cordoba, Jerez and Cadiz) from there.
I'd say it's unrealistic to visit Seville as a day trip unless you take a guided tour.
Details of how to travel from Torremolinos by public transport, private car and guided tour. See also: 50 Things to Do in Seville
- From Marbella There is a bus at around 9am, but the return journey is at 6pm, which is a little early for a day trip.
- From San Pedro de Alcántara The bus takes approximately three hours. There are three buses a day.
- From Fuengirola As Marbella.
- From Benelmádena No buses.
- From Estepona No buses.
- From Torremolinos No buses.
How to get from the Costa to Seville by Organized Guided Tour
It's a long day (the bus may pick you up as early as 5am!) but if you want to see Seville in a day, this is for the best. You are escorted by a professional guide for half of your time and then left to your own devices for the rest of the day.
Have a local guide take you around the famous neighborhoods of Triana, Macarena and Barrio Santa Cruz and visit the famous cathedral, one of the largest in Europe. You will also have some time to explore by yourself.
This is an excellent value tour and well worth taking if you only have a day to spare to visit Seville. As it takes five hours of travel to make the return journey, you really need the knowledge of a guide to ensure you get the most out of your day.
Indirect Ways to Get from the Costa del Sol to Seville
There are two main indirect ways to reach Seville, both with excellent stops along the way.
Continue to 5 of 9 below.
- Take the bus to Cadiz, a beautiful peninsula-city with a temperate micro-climate and some nice beathes. Then take the train to Jerez, home of sherry, before hopping on a train to Seville.
- If driving, you can miss out Cadiz and go straight to Jerez instead.
- Alternatively, take a bus to Ronda, famous for its bridges over a ravine. It was also the supposed birthplace of bullfighting.
05 of 09
Ronda is the most obvious place to visit from the Costa del Sol, as it is so close. It is easy to get there by car, bus or guided tour.
Situated high above the Tajo gorge, Ronda's natural defences meant it was one of the last Moorish strongholds to fall to the Christians. It is a classic pueblo blanco, with historic bridges crossing the gorge and beautiful views of the landscape from all around the city.
Ronda also said to be the birthplace of bullfighting.
How to Get to Ronda by Public Transport
It is around an hour's drive from San Pedro de Alcantara, near Marbella and Puerto Banus, to Ronda, along the terrifyingly windy A-397, referred to locally as 'the Ronda road'.
There are also regular buses, run by Portillo/Avanza:
- From Marbella There are buses throughout the day from Monday to Saturday, with the first at 9.30am and the last one back at 8pm. Sundays are awkward, with few buses.
- From San Pedro de Alcántara Similar to Marbella.
- From Fuengirola Buses from Fuengirola run to a similar timetable to Marbella, but with more Sunday departures.
- From Torremolinos Similar to Fuengirola.
- From Benelmádena Not realistic as a day trip. You have to leave Ronda at 4.30pm. Only one journey each way on a Sunday.
- From Estepona There are no buses from Estepona.
There is no train.
Guided Tours of Ronda
Though Ronda is the easiest day trip to take by yourself from the Costa, a guided tour is a great way to take the stress out of the logistics, especially if you aren't staying so close to Marbella.
A bonus for this tour is that it is particularly cheap, and it includes a great wine tasting at a local wine cellar which you wouldn't be able to do by yourself.
06 of 09
Jerez and Cadiz
Jerez and Cadiz are two cities to the west of the Costa del Sol, just half an hour apart by train.
If visiting these cities by car or bus on a day trip, I recommend an afternoon in Cadiz and an evening (with a designated driver) in Jerez.
Cadiz is a port city, situated on a sea-cooled peninsula that can be a welcome respite from the heat suffered by the rest of Andalusia in the summer. It is famous for its fried fish. The beaches here are nice for a city.
Jerez is the home of sherry. This fortified wine is a lot more varied than the stereotypical sweet wine your grandmother drinks. Check out the full gamut of sherry styles - from dessert sweet to extra dry - at a tour of a sherry bodega or visit one of the classic sherry bars found throughout the city.
Jerez is also famous for its horse shows.
How to Get There
As the bus is slow and infrequent and there is no train, I would recommend either taking a guided tour or driving.
The quickest way to Jerez and Cadiz is on the A-381 road. However, this route has tolls. A cheaper way is via Ronda.
The journey takes around an hour-and-a-half from Estepona and a little over two hours from towns further east, closer to Malaga.
Your options by bus are limited:
- From Marbella There are buses from Marbella to Cadiz, taking around three or four hours and costs between 12 and 25 euros. Book from avanzabus.com.
- From San Pedro de Alcántara Just one bus in the morning, to Cadiz. Apaprently, there is no return route!
- From Fuengirola No buses.
- From Benelmádena No buses.
- From Estepona There are no practical buses for a day trip.
- From Torremolinos No buses.
There is a quick and easy train from Cadiz to Jerez.
Enjoy a sightseeing cruise of Cadiz bay, then visit a sherry winery and see a horse show in Jerez.
Fitting in two cities into a single day trip is a bit difficult when you don't know the area, so a guided tour is probably the best way getting everything in, especially when you want to include sherry and horse shows.
Having said that, it really isn't difficult to get around the two cities by yourself, and a guided tour does mean you miss the opportunity to visit the old sherry bars in Jerez.
My advice, over visiting from the Costa del Sol is to visit from Seville (or on the way to Seville). Let your hair down over a few sherries in Jerez and stay the night in the town.
07 of 09
An easy day trip, especially from Malaga.
What to Do in Nerja
Nerja is famous for its fishing, as well as its caves.
How to Get There
The only public transport to Nerja is the bus from Malaga. Catch the bus from the port area of Malaga, not from the bus station (travel time is a little over an hour).
Driving from Malaga to Nerja takes under an hour, via the A-7 road.
Visit Nerja and the nearby village of Frigiliana on a short, half-day trip from Malaga. In Frigiliana you'll visit the medieval Moorish fortress, while in Nerja you'll get to visit its famous caves.
Pick-up is from Torremolinos or Fuengirola.
08 of 09
The Moorish Alhambra fortress and garden complex is the finest symbol of Spain's Islamic past and a beautiful building in its right, regardless of its history.
Granada is one of the few cities in Spain where you can still get ample-sized portions of free tapas with your drinks in any bar.
How to Get There
Granada is to the north-east of the Costa del Sol: it takes around an hour and a half from Malaga and two hours from Estepona, by car.
Buses from the Costa del Sol to Granada tend to be run by Avanza, apart from the Malaga route, which is run by ALSA. Check out the timetable here: Avanza timetables and ALSA. Buses tend to take two to three hours.
- From Marbella Three departures per day make this a good day trip. Make sure you get a direct bus and not the 'ruta'.
- From San Pedro de Alcántara One bus each way, at an inappropriate time of day for a day trip.
- From Fuengirola One bus per day each way, leaving Fuengirola at 9am and departing Granada at 9pm.
- From Benelmádena No bus.
- From Estepona Not possible as a day trip. Just one or two departures per day.
- From Torremolinos No bus.
Granada Guided Tour from the Costa del Sol to Granada
As you will see below, it is impossible to take a public transport to visit Granada as a day trip from most destinations. Your only option is to hire a car or to take a guided tour
Your guide will pick you up by bus early in the morning from Torremolinos, Fuengirola, Marbella, San Pedro de Alcántara or Estepona and take you on a tour Alhambra fortress, as well as giving you free time to explore the Granada.
If you only have a day to visit Granada, a guided tour is especially convenient because of the guaranteed entry you get to the Alhambra. (If you don't take a guided tour, you really need to book your Alhambra tickets in advance if you want to ensure you get in).
Your tour will also give you time to visit central Granada by yourself, including the opportunity to visit the famous tapas bars.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Today, the Great Mosque of Cordoba is the city's cathedral, converted to a Christian place of worship in the 16th century, when there was evidently a lot more pick-and-mix involved in choosing where to worship your preferred version of God.
There is also a picturesque Jewish quarter.
How to Get There
Though Cordoba is a great place, it definitely comes third out of these Andalusian cities. It is also the furthest away from the Costa del Sol. As a result, I wouldn't recommend it as a day trip unless you've already been to Seville and Granada.
Cordoba is best visited as a day trip from Seville, as there is a high-speed train that connects the two cities in 45 minutes.
There are no appropriate buses from the Costa del Sol to Cordoba for visiting as a day trip.
How to get from the Costa del Sol to Cordoba by Organized Guided Tour
If you don't want to hire a car, the only way you can do a day trip to Cordba is by guided tour. This guided tour takes you by bus to Cordoba takes you to the Jewish Quarter and, old Mosque, Roman bridge and the garden patios that Cordoba is famous for. You will be offered lunch, but this is an optional extra that you have to pay for.
However, as mentioned above, I'd do this as a day trip from Seville, not the Costa.