Malaga port

12 Great Tips to Experience Costa del Sol Like a Local

Born and raised in Costa del Sol, I’ve always loved to host friends and family from other Spanish cities and show them all the amazing things they can do and see in my hometown. 

Whereas some of my hosts only wanted to see the main attractions and the touristy life (I had to learn how to be a tourist in my own city), others were curious about how they could make the most of the place by having a local experience!

Experiences like having some delicious grilled sardines and other Malaga traditional dishes, visiting less well-known little towns with beautiful white houses and narrow streets or speaking like the locals.

It’s a busy and touristy place, especially during the summer, but I’m going to tell you some travel tips as well as places that locals tend to go to so you have an authentic experience when you’re travelling to Costa del Sol.

A travel guide to costa del sol

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How to Experience Malaga and Costa del Sol Like a Local

Go to the beach early in the morning

The beach is busy all the time during the summer, so my number one piece of advice is to go early in the morning to make sure you get a good spot and chill. This is even more important on Sundays. 

Why? Shopping centres, banks, supermarkets, etc. don’t open on Sundays so it’s the time when families go to the beach. 

If you don’t like being on a busy beach with kids playing on the shore and umbrellas everywhere making it difficult to find a spot for yourself, you could avoid going to the beach on a Sunday and look for an alternative plan.

For example, you could walk around Málaga city centre, have lunch in the port and visit one of the many free attractions in Malaga, like visiting the beautiful Alcazaba castle from 2 pm for free admission on Sundays. 

If you’re looking for less touristy beaches, I would recommend going to Playa La Misericordia in Málaga or the beginning of Los Álamos beach in Torremolinos. 

nerja coast view

Avoid eating in restaurants close to the ports

Most of these restaurants offer “traditional Spanish meals”, but they certainly don’t taste as good as a real traditional restaurant.

If you want to spot these places, you can easily do so by looking at their menus which are available in English, French, German, etc. and the list goes on.

For example, if you go to Torremolinos, you can also spot these places because they’re all next to Irish pubs, Chinese restaurants and Burger King.

If you want to try the local fish and seafood in Torremolinos, I’d recommend having lunch at Los Mellizos and trying the fried fish, you won’t regret it!

Try the local food

If you’re a foodie who loves Mediterranean food, Málaga is a great place to eat healthy and delicious food. Here are some of the typical dishes you can try in tapas bars, restaurants or bakeries: 

  1. Espeto de sardinas. These are sardines skewers that have been roasted over a barbecue pit. They’re a bit messy to eat because you need to eat them with your hands, but the taste is incredibly delicious. 
  2. Gazpachuelo malagueño. It’s a soup made with white fish, potatoes, shrimps, water, salt and mayonnaise. 
  3. Ensalada malagueña. A great refreshing salad for the summer! Its ingredients are potatoes, onions, oranges, tuna or salted cod, boiled eggs and green olives.
  4. Pescaito frito. A mixture of different types of fried fish that can also include octopus and squid.
  5. Plato de los Montes de Málaga. If you want comfort food and love meat, you should try this one. This meal consists of chips, roasted green peppers, fried egg, chorizo and pork meat. 
  6. Tortas locas or locas. This is a delicious and sweet pastry filled with custard that you can’t miss and you can find them in any bakery around Málaga.
  7. Torrijas. These are a Spanish version of French Toast. They are normally served in Semana Santa (Holy Week) in any local bakery. You must try them if you happen to be in Malaga during Easter. However, if you can’t wait to try them, this is my grandma’s torrija recipe.

Experience the feria

If you’ve never heard of the Feria de Agosto before, it’s a fair that takes place in Malaga in the middle of August and lasts for 10 days. 

During the day, you can enjoy dancing or having some delicious tapas or wine (Cartojal wine is a must!) Whereas, during the night, you can go on a rollercoaster or many other attractions, or listen to live music. 

Alternatively, you can visit other ferias that take place in different towns along the Costa del Sol during the summer. Use this website to help you find more events.

Going to a feria is definitely something to add to your Spain bucket list!

painting wall in costa del sol

Attend a music event

There are many music events going on during the summer wherever you stay in Costa del Sol. 

For example, you can attend Los Alamos festival in Estepona, Starlite concerts which happen in Marbella during summer and you can see many national and international singers (like Jason Derulo or Luis Fonsi), or simply a live flamenco evening in El Pimpi bar, Málaga.

This is a great way to get to know more about the locals and the culture.

Try to speak Spanish and engage with the locals

Spanish people are very friendly, outgoing and always attempt to help you (even if they don’t know your language.) However, they’ll really appreciate you trying to speak the language or even just using a few words.

If you already know a bit of Spanish, beware of the accent! The Andalucia accents (i.e. Málaga, Sevilla, Cádiz, etc.) are very unique but as a general rule, we don’t pronounce the “s” at the end of words like in other places in Spain. 

Also, every place has some local words you haven’t probably heard of before. In Málaga, we have words like “pechá” which means a lot, or “perita” which means cool.

If you’re travelling alone and you’re looking to make friends, I recommend staying in a hostel instead of a hotel. You’ll get to know more people in the same position as you!

To find a great hostel check HostelWorld. They don’t charge you any booking fees, they offer modern hostels across the world and have 24/7 customer service available in several languages. 

Also, you can join one of the many language exchanges which happen in Malaga city centre or have a look at Meet Up for any other events. 

malaga city square

Party like a local

If you love to party and dance, here are a couple of things to consider to party like a local: 

  1. Don’t arrive at the club before 12 am because the place will be dead; 
  2. Try to sing (even if you don’t know what they’re saying); 
  3. Dance to any sort of music!

Also, drinks have lots of alcohol so it’ll be easier to get drunk. Why am I telling you this? 

If you’re partying in the UK, alcohol is measured and you’ll have to spend more money on drinks, however, if you’re partying in Spain, the bartender just pours the alcohol into the glass without measuring.

You can’t leave Costa del Sol without visiting Marbella, one of the top party destinations in Europe.

Enjoy an ice cream

If you’re looking for relaxing evenings, you can just grab an ice cream as many locals do. 

You’ll be surprised to see how many families and young people sit down in the ice cream shop, chat, and enjoy eating their ice cream. 

The two ice cream shops you can’t miss are:

1) Heladería Inma (located in Málaga)

2) Kalua (located in several locations around Costa del Sol) 

They have delicious artisanal ice creams, and many flavours to choose from, and they are open until 2 am! 

Depending on the time you go, you’ll probably have to queue a bit but it’ll be very worth it. My favourite flavour is strawberry sorbet 🙂

European dessert

Visit the lakes and mountains

Costa del Sol is very well-known for the coast as its name suggests, however, if you want a different experience and you’re adventurous, why don’t you try to visit the lakes? 

El Caminito del Rey is a must and it’s very accessible! You can go by car, bus (there’s a shuttle bus) or train from Málaga María Zambrano station. 

If you want to visit other natural places I would highly recommend visiting them with a local or tour. 

I’ve always visited these places with my family or friends so I’ve never been on a tour. However, if you’d love to visit Caminito del Rey with a guide, this guide has very good reviews. 

Costa del Sol mountain landscape

Join others doing sports

Love meeting other people? An easy way to meet others is to join people doing sport.

 If you’re on the beach in the morning or evening, you can see many groups playing volleyball. People are very kind so they’d be happy to introduce you to others and invite you to play with them.

TIP: To ask in Spanish if you could join them, say “¿Puedo jugar con vosotros?” (Can I play with you?) or “¿Me puedo unir?” (Can I join you?)

Also, you can find many people playing football or basketball in the big parks such as Parque del Oeste in Málaga.

Order a coffee in a local cafetería

I know you may be thinking, “oh well! I can do that anywhere in the world, right?” I can do that in Starbucks, Costa or any other chain! 

But if you want to learn more about the language and the culture, I recommend going to the local cafeteria to see how many different types of coffee you can find. 

Malagueños (people from Málaga) have their own coffee language because you won’t see those names in other parts of Spain. 

For example, if you want to order a latte, you should say “un mitad,” or if you love a strong coffee, ask for “un largo.” 

If you don’t like coffee like me, you can enjoy a delicious fresh orange juice!

Malaga cafe central

Go to the markets

If you’re staying longer and have your own kitchen, I encourage you to go to the markets to buy your food! 

Prices are lower and you get fresh and delicious ingredients. Mercado Atarazanas is the most accessible because it’s in the city centre but it’s also well-known for its beautiful architecture.

In there you can find local ingredients such as raisins, peaches, honey made in Frigiliana and many others. 

atarazana market in malaga city centre

As you can see, it’s possible to experience Costa del Sol like a local!

There are plenty of things to do in Costa del Sol and this is reflected in the amazing combination of sea and mountains, museums, castles, etc. And there’s nothing better than watching the sunset on a summer evening. Sunsets in Costa del Sol are magical.

But let’s not forget about views! If you’re searching for a beautiful view, then you’ll love the Mijas Pueblo viewpoint, Gibralfaro viewpoint (between Alcazaba and Gibralfaro Castle), and Balcón de Europa in Nerja.

If you’re wondering where to stay, have a look at these incredible hotels in Malaga and Costa del Sol. Staying in Marbella? Then these 12 fabulous Marbella accommodations are ideal for you if you love a sophisticated experience in this popular town.

If you’re after more rural and authentic experiences, I’d definitely check towns like Estepona, Ronda and Antequera. There are many easy and short day trips from Malaga to choose from.

Have you ever been to Costa del Sol? If not, the best way to explore Costa del Sol is a seven-day road trip!

Safe adventures,

Cristina x

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40 Comments

  1. GGeorgina says:

    Very practical and sensible tips especially the one about not to eat near the ports! Good read.

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      Thank you Georgina 😉 That’s one of the tips I had to remind myself a couple of times because you can sometimes feel tempted to eat somewhere with views.

  2. I’d much rather experience a town like a local so this was an awesome read Cristina!

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      Thank you Gabby! There’s nothing better than immersing yourself in the culture 🙂

  3. Chewy Pineapple says:

    Great tips Cristina … love how you connect the general tips with a specific examples in your home town.

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you love the tips and examples 🙂

  4. Alexandra B says:

    Completely agree with the not eating at restaurants close to the ports! I feel like they are always overpriced and the food isn’t that great. I love your other tips, too!

    1. madhu sharma says:

      Wthise are great tips toingle with lics and know the place in its own flavours..hope to visit some day

  5. Alice | Girl with a saddle bag says:

    I love your suggestions Cristina. There is so much more fun to be had exploring a region like a local. Love your recommendations for the best local dishes and where to get off the beaten path in the countryside. I cannot wait until we can return to Spain again.

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      Thank you, Alice 🙂 I’m very happy to hear that you love these recommendations. I hope you can go back to Spain soon.

  6. Nearly everybody I know has visited the Costa de Sol but I have yet to do so. The nearest I’ve gotten is Cadiz’s Costa de la Luz coast! Thanks for sharing this helpful advice as it’s always good to know the authentic activities in an area popular with tourists.

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      Cádiz is beautiful too 🙂 I hope you can visit Costa del Sol next time you go to Spain.

  7. It’s always so amazing if you can meet a local to show your around his/her hometown. Such a unique experience! I also love when locals write about their hometown, there is just so much insight in this post as well! I absolutely loved all the food recommendation so if I ever visit Costa del Sol I will definitely use your guide. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      I completely agree with you, there’s nothing better than recommendations from locals 🙂 Also, thank you so much for your kind comment. I’m very happy to know that this blog is helpful to you.

  8. Holidays from Hels says:

    It is so useful to have a guide written by an insider. Love it! The feria sounds amazing! Makes me want to speak Spanish and party like a local.

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      Thank you! Yes, you must experience the feria at least once 🙂

  9. Paula Morgan says:

    We spent a week in Malaga once and explored Costa Del Sol, so much to see, do and eat! I could not agree more about trying to speak to the locals, they are very forgiving of tourists mistakes but really love your effort.

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      I’m happy to hear you had a nice experience there 🙂

  10. I actually plan on going around Spain on a road trip with my Galician friend at the end of this summer, as I’m hoping that travel restrictions will be lifted. I was actually planning on skipping out the Costa del Sol, but from your post it looks gorgeous! Do you have any other places that you would recommend I visit in Spain?

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      I hope travel restrictions will be lifted and you can do a road trip around Spain 🙂 Valencia is very nice! I’d recommend visiting it too.

  11. I miss Spain so much! Your suggestions are great – I love exploring destinations like a local 🙂

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      Thank you, Or! 🙂 Exploring destinations like a local is amazing.

  12. Cristina somos vecinas! 🙂 yo vivo en Marbella. Me encantó la guía, muy autentica!

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      Qué bien 🙂 Muchas gracias Paloma, me alegra que te haya gustado.

  13. I haven’t been to the Costa del Sol in years! I had no idea there were mountains and lakes nearby. Tortas locas sound delicious too. I need to try some!!

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      Yes, there is so much to do 🙂 I hope you can go back to Costa del Sol and explore other areas!

  14. These are great tips! the markets sound awesome and I’d definitely be at the beach early in the morning!!

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      Thank you, Helena! I like going early to the beach too.

  15. I loved your point for partying like a local. Don’t arrive before 12AM, I think I’d cry! I am by no means a night owl.

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      I get you, I’m not a party person haha

  16. Brittany Sneller says:

    I always try to eat away from the “main” restaurant area to find more local gems!! Would love to visit Costa del Sol one day, what a fun place to come from!! x

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      I think you can find local gems in the main area, but it can be a little tricky with so many restaurants to choose from. I hope you visit it and have a good time there 🙂 x

  17. World of Lina says:

    Wow! You’re lucky you can call a place like this your hometown 😍

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      Yes, I miss it so much! 🙂

  18. I really want to get to Costa del Sol next time I go to Andalusia. I attended the Feria in Sevilla and it was amazing! I loved all the dresses. Also, you’re so right about not getting food in the touristy areas. I learned my lesson in both Florence and Lisbon once before.

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      That would be great! Let me know if you need more local recommendations 🙂 I’m happy to help.

  19. This guide is amazing! I am always looking for local tips when I visit new places!! I am saving this for if I ever visit Costa del Sol!

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      Thank you, Katie 🙂 It’s nice to hear you found these tips useful.

  20. Mikk Graham says:

    Thank you for this wonderful guide!
    Greetings from Finland 🙂

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      I’m glad to hear you’ve enjoyed reading this guide.
      Greetings to you too, Mikk 🙂

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