Have you ever visited Spain? What would your list of top holiday destinations in Southern Spain look like? As a holiday destination, Spain has a lot to offer. We fell in love with the country and its culture during our first family holiday in 200 in Estepona in 2006.
It was not an easy task to come up with this list of the 12 top holiday destinations in Southern Spain. In our opinion, this is the ultimate list.
Table of content
- Facts about holiday resorts in Spain
- Our favourite 12 top holiday destinations in Southern Spain
- Learn 5 easy words of Spanish
- Did you know this creepy fact?
1. Facts about holiday resorts in Spain
Family holiday resorts in Spain are beautiful and varied, offering beaches, delicious food & wine, culture, history, sports and not forgetting the weather. Almost anywhere in Spain you can enjoy over 300 days of sun.
Andalusia is seen as “typical Spain” as it has it all: beaches, flamenco, whitewashed Pueblo Blanco villages,bull fighting rings. Therefore many of our favourite holiday resorts included in our list of top holiday destinations in Southern Spain are located in Andalusia.
2. Our favourite 12 top holiday destinations in Southern Spain
Marbella – a beautiful sea (mar = sea, bella = beautiful) – is an upscale beach resort with fine beaches and clear blue water. Enjoy a day on the beach and get a taste of luxury.
The Golden Mile area
This is the residential area where the rich and famous live. It is located approximately from The Puerto Banus marina in the West to the centre of Marbella in the east.
The marina is packed with yachts – OMG how big they are! – and from the beach front, you can find the city’s best boutiques, restaurants and bars.
I was excited to have a peek of the luxurious way of living since some of the fanciest homes in Europe are located in Marbella!
You can find the old town around the church Ermita de Santiago. Stone-paved streets and colourful doors make perfect surroundings for photographs.
And history lovers should visit the Arabian medieval building the Castillo as well as the Plaza de los Naranjos.
The nightclubs. Time before children – can barely remember that, but we have visited few of the clubs, which are open until very late – or early in the morning (at 6 or 7 am).
When in Marbella, don’t miss…
The Puerto Banus Saturday Street Markets, which are held every Saturday at 9am-2pm. It’s one of the largest flea markets in Costa del Sol, selling literally everything. It starts from the Puerto Banus Bullring and continues all the way to the harbour.
Estepona is not “just a small town next to Marbella”. We have once rented a villa in Estepona, and enjoyed our time there a lot! The beaches are beautiful and really well taken care of. And the seafood restaurants are out of this world!
Plaza de las Flores in Old town
I love the look & feel of old towns, but nowhere else have I found such colourful & decorative plant pots as in the blocks of the pueblo blanco in Estepona.
We found this in 2016 when we drove through Estepona on our way to Cadiz. We learned that the Orchid house was opened in 2015, and it can be easily spotted: it has 3 domes, the highest being 30 metres tall and made of glass.
They have an incredible collection of orchids – 8.000 species! And the self-guided tour takes you behind a 30-metre high waterfall. The tickets were only 3€ per persons, so it is definitely worthwhile visiting!
I have never enjoyed watching a bullfight, but it is part of the Andalusian culture and history. You can find the display of artefacts and instruments as well as costumes worn by some of Spain’s most famous matadors by the Estepona bullring. It is nowadays used for concerts, theatre and local market on Sundays.
Many tourists, lot of expats, but Fuengirola has not lost its Spanish look & feel. As being one of the most versatile holiday resort in Southern Spain, Fuengirola has it all: beautiful beaches, plenty of local restaurants and several tourist attractions to entertain the entire family.
It definitely should rank high within families travelling with kids when listing the 12 top holiday destinations in Southern Spain.
Miramar Shopping Center
Love to shop? Miramar is one the largest malls on the Costa del Sol. And if the day is super hot, the air-conditioned mall is not a bad choice.
Costa Water Park
If you’re travelling with children, take them to this floating playground in downtown Fuengirola! Kids wear life jackets and are supervised while they have an hour to climb & slide around the park.
When in Fuengirola, don’t miss…
BioPark. We have visited A LOT of animal parks, but this is my ultimate favourite. The BioPark is good size and the animals have ethical surroundings. When you walk along the paths, you have a feeling you are in a forest, not in a park.
This beautiful little town is located more than 400 meters above the sea level, and the views are magnificent! Mijas is an authentic small village, that has a lot of surprising things to explore.
The museum looks like a typical caravan, and we found there numerous pieces of sculpture and art originating from more than 50 countries. The museum does not look very special from the outside, but we were positively surprised when we walked in.
Our girls loved the tiny treasures they could marvel with a magnifier.
Mijas wine museum
In the wine museum, we had the pleasure of learning about the process of wine making, and how to do a proper tasting. Not forgetting the tasting itself – both local and national wines. For me, it was a piece of heaven on earth.
When in Mijas, don’t miss…
El Barratillo, which is a street market, organized every Wednesday and Saturday. The locals sell ceramics, clothing, fruits & vegetables, small delicacies etc.
Do not forget to take water bottles with you, when you explore the province capital! If you feel Spain is hot, welcome to this inland city and you have a new meaning for the word hot.
The Mezquita de Córdoba
The medieval city’s most famous attraction, the astonishing Great Mosque of Cordoba, nominated a World Heritage Site in 1984, is surrounded by tiny streets and whitewashed courtyards.
Alcazar and the Roman Ruins of Cordoba
If you visit Córdoba, you MUST visit the Alcazar – the Castle of the Christian Kings. Did you know, that Alcazar housed the largest library in the west in the 14th century?
When in Córdoba, don’t miss…
The annual Courtyards Festival held in May. During the festival, many “patios” are open to visitors and you can discover the most beautiful streets packed with colour, scent, blossom and flamenco.
Cádiz is believed to be the oldest city in Western Europe. The city has a beautiful coastline with public beaches.
Cádiz is definitely one of my ultimate favourite holiday resorts and therefore it gained its rightful place on our list of top holiday destinations in Southern Spain.
Some beaches of Cádiz have been recognised as one of Europe’s best urban beaches. La Caleta was a little crowded when we visited, yet few minutes further Santa Maria Del Mar and La Victoria were quieter.
Bike tour around the city
Last year, when our girls were age 7 and 14, we booked a bike tour. A guide took us around the city on wheels and it was fun for both the girls and us adults. Book your tour here!
We have spent most of our holidays on the Southern side of Málaga, but few times we have headed to the eastern edge of the Costa del Sol in Nerja.
You just don’t get bored in Nerja, due to million things to explore, whether you seek natural or man-made landmarks. That is why you should not miss Nerja but instead estimate could it become one of your favourite top holiday destinations in Southern Spain?
Balcón de Europa
The seafront veranda is the landmark of the town. During festivals, everyone gathers at the plaza for celebrations.
Church of El Salvador
The church is a historic landmark near the Balcón de Europa. The baroque and Moorish-style church was built at the end of the 17th century. The bells of the church ring every half-an-hour, and the masses are held in both Spanish and English.
Cuevas de Nerja is open 363 days a year. Consider booking an exclusive tour – we took the Secrets of the Caves, and combine your visit with the museum. The price of the combined ticket is about the same therefore it’s worthwhile taking.
Aqueduct of El Áquila
The construction is definitely a thing to see. It was built to carry water to the mills of a sugar refinery in Maro and nowadays used for irrigation. The aqueduct has four storeys of overlapping arches, all a Moorish-style horseshoe shape.
When in Nerja, don’t miss…
The Feria de Nerja is a family-friendly celebration, taking place on the second week in October in honour of the town’s patron saints. The entire town is having a blast for a week or so. You need a vacation after that!
One of the oldest cities in Spain is located around the deep El Tajo gorge. It took as a little over an hour to drive from Málaga to Ronda. Did you know, that the Plaza de Toro in Ronda is the oldest bullring in Spain?
The Puente Nuevo
The bridge over the 30-story high gorge is the city’s landmark and very impressive! If possible, take the time and walk down into the gorge along the Camino de los Molinos. The views are the best ever!
Banos Arabes – Arab baths
The Arabic baths built at the end of the 13th century, and are very well preserved. The cauldron used for heating the water is still in good condition. You can find the baths in the old Arab quarter “San Miguel Quarter”.
When in Ronda, don’t miss…
When you drive to Ronda, have a little break in Juzcar – The Smurf Village. It is the one and only official Smurf village in the world, a funny little village with blue-washed houses.
The capital of Andalusia is a combination of Andalusian, Islamic, Gypsy and Jewish cultures. I just love the lively atmosphere, so, therefore, there were no questions asked why Seville should be included on our list of top holiday destinations in Southern Spain.
This extravagant Moorish Palace is surrounded by luxurious gardens. The look and feel of the palace is the somewhat same as in its counterpart in Granada, but the internal courtyards took my breath away.
The Metropol Parasol
The “Las Setas” – mushroom-shaped monument – is the largest wooden structure in the world, and is an example of modern architecture in the city. You will get an amazing views over the city when you go to the 2nd or 3rd floors!
When in Seville, don’t miss…
Seville’s Semana Santa. The Holy Week in Seville is one of the most important and dramatic experiences! The city of crowded during the week, but it’s worthwhile taking the effort.
This city in the Sierra Nevada Mountains has magnificent views over the mountains you should not miss. The city is absolutely amazing, and therefore should not be forgotten when listing the top holiday destinations in Spain.
This medieval architectural complex is Granada’s most famous attraction and one of the greatest wonders in Europe. Experience the spectacular architecture, gardens, water features and views of the city below.
The Carrera del Darro
No wonder they say it’s the prettiest street in Granada. This beautiful walkway features centuries-old buildings, decorated with bright flowers.
When in Granada, don’t miss…
Sierra Nevada. Seriously, where else can you ski in the morning and go to the beach in the afternoon? Only 32 km away from Granada, this activity resort offers you possibilities to ski, go hiking or biking.
The city has it all: the beach, the history, the culture and shopping. The birthplace of Picasso is packed with tasty tapas bars and museums.
Alcazaba and the Gibralfaro Castle
One of Málaga’s key monument was built by the Moorish rulers in the middle of the 8th century. It was connected to the nearby Gibralfaro Castle and this magnificent piece of architecture blends amazing courtyards, open-air corridors, views out to the sea and over the city.
You’ll find this nearly 500-year old church ‘The One-Armed Woman’ in the heart of Malaga. The original plans of the cathedral included two towers, but due to the lack of funds, only one was built.
The city’s most famous inhabitant – Pablo Picasso was born on on Plaza de la Merced. The most popular gallery in Málaga – the Museo Picasso – is located only a 10-minute-walk away from his home.
Málaga is a shopping paradise (for a teenager, mom might think otherwise). Larios Centro was fairly compact and easy to move around. El Corte Inglés is a bit like Macy’s and Vialia Centro Commercial was conveniently next door to the train station.
When in Málaga, don’t miss…
Mercado de Atarazanas. Food lover or not, you should definitely experience the iconic food market in Málaga. The building itself is historic, and the variety of fresh local specialties is endless. Just explore & have a taste of Spain!
Torremolinos is one of the first holiday destinations in Southern Spain on the Costa del Sol. Superb beaches that continue as an almost unbroken line for ever, long summer season, fabulous golf courses, and endless choices of restaurants attract visitors just like in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Calle and Plaza San Miquel
The main street in downtown Torremolinos climbs sharply from the Bajondillo beach. IIt’s a pedestrian street with tiny restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. The small, pretty plaza along the main street has a variety of delightful restaurants next to the church.
The landmark of Torremolinos is the never-ending line of beaches with wonderful soft sand (and beautiful rocks and shells to collect).
If you are lucky, a masseur comes along to give you a relaxing moment by the beach (with only about 5 euros).
Parque La Batería
The park is on the site of the city’s former battery, and the gun positions have been preserved as memorials. We come here often for a workout – a jog and an outdoor gym – while our youngest daughter enjoys the enormous activity playground.
You can also hire a row boat (1€/ for an hour) or climb the Mirador to view the town. The big carousel is open in the evening.
Take the train to Montemar Alto, walk across the train tracks and you’ll see the park on your left-hand side.
3. Conclusion – Why Torremolinos is at the top (or bottom) of our list of 12 top holiday destinations in Southern Spain?
Location – location – location. The train takes you to Malaga in some 20 minutes, and you pay less than 3 euros per person. Hire a car, and you can easily make 1-3 day trips to the southern parts of Andalucia.
Torremolinos has a lot more to offer than we could ever hope for when looking into the 12 top holiday destinations in Southern Spain.
4. Learn 5 easy words of Spanish
¿Dónde está …? – (dohn days tah ) – Where is…?
La calle (lah cah yay) – lane, street
Pueblo – village
Parque – park
Playa – beach
5. Did you know this creepy fact?
You can find the most dangerous footpath in Spain, the Caminito del Rey – the little footpath of the King – in the Málaga province. The trail was closed for 15 years after 5 people died there in 1999-2000, but it is now reopened after restoring the path.
Don’t go there if you are afraid of heights. The path is 3 kilometres long, barely a metre wide and you walk next to a 100-metre drop to the gorge.