Marbella's picture-postcard beauty is almost too polished to be true. This tidy and fashionable town nestles along an idyllic portion of the Costa del Sol, with the Sierra Blanca mountain range as a backdrop. Palm-trimmed promenades draw locals and tourists for leisurely strolls, while posh beach clubs and exclusive golf courses cater to an upscale clientele.
Visitors not only love the beaches but also the quaint historic center, the Old Town (Casco Antiguo). Historic Marbella is an enchanting old Moorish town full of charming whitewashed houses, cobblestone streets, and shady trees. Many of the old buildings are adorned with ironwork balconies and dripping with vibrant bougainvillea.
Vacationers will enjoy exploring Marbella's town squares, historic landmarks, art museums, and boutiques to balance time spent sunbathing and relaxing at the beach.
Discover the highlights of this alluring seaside resort on Spain's southern coast with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Marbella.
See also: Where to Stay in Marbella
1. Plaza de los Naranjos
In Marbella's charming Old Town (Casco Antiguo), the Plaza de los Naranjos was built after the Christian Reconquest in the area that was a center of urban life. This beautiful town square has become the heart of Marbella, where locals and tourists socialize and relax.
The Plaza de los Naranjos blossoms with fragrant orange trees in springtime, reminiscent of the Moors' homeland in North Africa. The group of orange trees is planted right in the middle of the square, providing welcome shade during summertime. Several restaurants have outdoor patio seating, arranged at the center of the square beneath the leafy trees.
Two important historic landmarks are found on the Plaza de los Naranjos. The town hall, also called the Casa Consistorial, was built in 1572 and enhanced in the 17th century. With its balconied facade, the building exemplifies Spanish style architecture.
The oldest parish church in Marbella, the 16th-century Ermita de Santiago (Santiago Hermitage) also stands on the Plaza de los Naranjos. This small, simple whitewashed church possesses a noteworthy contemporary sculpture of Saint James the Apostle.
A nearby attraction for gourmands is the Restaurante Skina, a restaurant that holds two Michelin stars. This gastronomic destination is a few blocks away (a five-minute walk) from Plaza de los Naranjos at 12 Calle Aduar.
2. Paseo de La Alameda: An Elegant 18th-Century Park
Filled with lush vegetation, leafy palms, and shady pine trees, the Paseo de La Alameda is a peaceful public park in the Old Town that joins the Alameda del Mar and the Paseo Marítimo along the seafront.
The park features a main promenade with marble walkways; decorative benches shaded beneath banana palms; and fountains, like the Fuente Virgen del Rocio, which was made in 1762. The park is also home to botanical gardens, and it was the city's first designated green space.
Locals and tourists alike enjoy this refreshing oasis on warm sunny days, and it's a wonderful area for a leisurely stroll.
3. Stylish Beaches
Marbella's name means "Beautiful Sea," and the town lives up to this moniker with fine sandy beaches. Several excellent choices are within a short walk of the historic center of Marbella. All the public beaches have restroom facilities and lifeguards on duty during summer.
The Playa de la Fontanilla is the closest beach to the city center of Marbella, just a short walk from the Old Town. This popular beach extends for 1,000 meters and has a promenade with restaurants and shops.
The Playa Real de Zaragoza is a favorite beach known for its chiringuito (snack bars) and trendy restaurants. Close to Puerto Banús, the Playa Alicante is a long stretch of sandy shore with beachside restaurants; beach chair and parasol rentals are also available.
The beaches of Marbella continue past Puerto Banús for several kilometers; in this area, the Guadalmina beach, Linda Vista beach, and San Pedro Alcántara are ideal for families. These sandy beaches are rated as "Blue Flag" beaches because of their calm, safe waters, ideal for wading and swimming.
4. Puerto Banús and its Waterfront Restaurants
About 10 kilometers from the Old Town, Puerto Banús is the most fashionable marina in Marbella, where the jet-setting crowd comes to see and be seen. Stylish restaurants and upscale boutiques line the waterfront. The restaurants have outdoor terraces for the perfect seaside ambience; diners savor the delicious cuisine while watching luxury yachts bob up and down in the harbor.
With hundreds of berths for yachts and other boats, Puerto Banús is considered the best yacht marina in Spain. The marina also offers nautical services and water sports facilities.
The beaches around Puerto Banús are equally chic, with beach clubs, sunbathing rentals, and seafront restaurants.
Address: Puerto José Banús, Muelle de Honor, Marbella
5. Avenida del Mar and the Dalí Statues
Art-lovers will want to make time for a stroll down the Avenida del Mar, a lovely pedestrian way that stretches from the Paseo Maritimo to Parque Alameda. It serves as an outdoor showcase, with a permanent exhibition of Salvador Dalí's imaginative bronze statues, including 10 Dalí works, as well as two additional sculptures by artist Eduardo Soriano.
The pedestrian avenue is in an area where prominent residents once came to show off their decorated carriages. In the 1990s, the space was converted into a modern promenade but is still a popular place to visit for locals and visitors.
6. Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación
The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación (Church of the Incarnation) is the most important church in Marbella's Old Town. Built in the 16th-century by the Catholic Monarchs, the church stands on the site of the former Mosque of Marbella. It was common practice in 16th-century Andalusia to replace the mosques with new churches.
The building features a spacious basilica plan with a barrel-vaulted central nave and a semicircular apse with Corinthian columns. A distinguishing feature of the facade, the main door is exquisitely carved from ochre stone in Rococo style, an 18th-century enhancement. The sanctuary boasts a Sol Mayor Organ, considered the finest type of modern organ built in Spain.
The church is open to the public daily (free of charge) for cultural visits and prayer. Mass is celebrated here throughout the week, with two services daily Monday through Saturday and several services on Sundays.
Address: Plaza de la Iglesia, Marbella
7. Murallas del Castillo: Ruins of a Moorish Castle
The Murallas del Castillo stands as the last remains of an old Moorish citadel (fortified castle and city). These immense crenellated walls with two towers are the only relic of Muslim civilization in Marbella. The walls date to the 10th and 11th century, the Moorish Caliphate period.
Although there is nothing to visit within the walls, it is definitely worth taking a look. The enormous proportions of the walls hint at the ancient citadel's grandeur.
Address: Calle Portada, Marbella
8. Museo Ralli
Between Puerto Banús and Marbella's Old Town, the Museo Ralli is a worthwhile excursion (about a 10-minute drive away). The Ralli Museum, which opened in 2000, is housed in a completely renovated building with 10 spacious exhibition rooms.
This museum is part of the Ralli Museums, a group with other branches in Punta del Este, Uruguay; Santiago, Chile; and Caesarea near Haifa in Israel. The Ralli Museums boast one of the world's best collections of Latin American art.
At the Marbella Museo Ralli, visitors will discover an extensive collection of works by contemporary artists from a variety of Latin American countries. The paintings on display reflect the influence of the great European masters.
Address: Urb. Coral Beach, Marbella
Official site: http://www.rallimuseums.com/en/Marbella
9. Museo del Grabado Español Contemporáneo
This renowned art museum is another top attraction in Marbella's Old Town. The museum occupies the Bazán Hospital, an elegant Renaissance Gothic-Mudéjar building founded in the 16th century and registered as a protected historic monument.
The only museum of its kind in Spain, the Spanish Contemporary Engravings Museum is devoted to the preservation and exhibition of contemporary engravings and Spanish graphic artwork from the 20th and 21st century.
The museum has an extensive collection of more than 4,000 artworks. Artists represented in the permanent collection include Goya, Picasso, Miró, and Dalí.
Temporary exhibitions, organized in coordination with other major museums in Spain, are held frequently at the museum.
Address: Calle Hospital Bazán
10. Mezquita del Rey Abdul Aziz al Saud (Marbella Mosque)
The Marbella Mosque was the first Mosque built since the Christian Reconquest of Spain in the 15th century. It was built by Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia in 1981, and is a splendid example of contemporary Andalusian architecture inspired by the Moorish heritage.
The mosque is surrounded by well-maintained Mediterranean gardens and contains a library collection of 30,000 volumes, which focus on Koranic studies. It is located just off the "Golden Mile," about 10 minutes west of Marbella's Old Town.
Address: Las Lomas de Marbella, Marbella
11. Iglesia del Santo Cristo de la Veracruz
A historic church in the Old Town near the Murallas del Castillo, the Iglesia del Santo Cristo de la Veracruz was built in the 16th century as part of a Franciscan convent. The church facade features stone details and an octagonal glazed-ceramic tile roof. The interior is a humble space with a single nave and Andalusian-style decor.
Nearby is another historic church, the Capilla de San Juan de Dios on Calle Caridad. This Mudéjar (Moorish Christian style) chapel was part of a hospital built by the Spanish Monarchs in the 16th century. This is a small and somewhat unassuming church, but the iconography within is impressive and moving.
Address: Plaza del Santo Cristo (Calle Ancha)
12. Plaza Altamirano
Tucked away in a quiet corner of the Casco Antiguo, the Plaza Altamirano captures the historic ambience of the Old Town. This lovely cobblestone square is filled with leafy palm trees and old-fashioned street lamps. The quaint old buildings feature classic ironwork balconies and are trimmed with climbing plants and blossoming purple bougainvillea.
Taking advantage of the charming old-world ambience, two restaurants on the Plaza Altamirano have outdoor terrace seating. The setting is delightful for al fresco dining, especially on balmy summer evenings.
An interesting tourist attraction on the square is the Archeological Collection housed in the Department of Culture's central office, a renovated 16th-century building. The collection includes archeological discoveries found in the Marbella city center and its surroundings such as at the Alcazaba, Roman Baths, Río Verde's Roman Villa, and the Vega del Mar Paleochristian Basilica.