Spanish Costas: which is right for you?
The Spanish Costas - a uniform mass of sun, sea and sand? Not at all. Some are wild, extrovert and shout out to be enjoyed, while others whisper their charms from atmospheric courtyards and deserted beaches. Here, we look at nine of mainland Spain's most popular coastal regions, each offering different scenery, character, and attractions.
- Costa Brava
- Costa Dorada
- Costa del Azahar
- Costa Blanca
- Costa Cálida
- Costa de Almería
- Costa Tropical
- Costa del Sol
- Costa de la Luz
Spain continues to be one of the most popular destinations for holidaymakers, and with wonderful weather, it's easy to see why. Another bonus is the variety of affordable holidays on offer from companies such as Thomas Cook. Choose from departure airports across the UK and travel to the likes of the Costa del Sol, Costa Brava and Costa Blanca, among others. Read on to discover more about the different mainland options on Spain's east coast, and find your next dream destination...
- Main attractions: beaches and castles at Lloret and Tossa de Mar, Dali museums, Girona
- Who goes: families, foodies, cyclists
- Best for: culture, traffic free biking
While Costa Brava helped ignite the British passion for the package holiday, the affordable resorts of Lloret and Tossa de Mar aren't the only draw for the modern tourist. Catalan food is world famous thanks to Michelin starred chefs Ferran Adriá and the Roca brothers. Can't get a table at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona? Then buy ice cream from Jordi Roca's Willy Wonka style Rocambolesc, and go looking for the Game of Thrones film locations of King's Landing and Braavos.
Costa Brava's most famous son is Salvador Dali; check out his egg topped Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres. We also enjoyed the artist's former home at Port Lligat; stopping at pretty Cadaqués for a seafood lunch. Costa Brava is a cyclist's dream, from the hairpins of the Pyrenees to the flat Vies Verdes trails that run from Ripoll to the sea. For sailing, hire a boat at Roses and explore the Medes Islands or Cap de Creus Natural Park by catamaran.
- Main attractions: PortAventura, Salou, Sitges, Tarragona Roman ruins
- Who goes: Gaudi and architecture enthusiasts, bird and people watchers
- Best for: beach and rollercoaster bagging
New for 2017, Ferrari Land at PortAventura theme park is a prime reason to visit Costa Dorada. If you are fearless, head straight for the Vertical Accelerator ride. Or for more natural thrills make your way to the sea. Costa Dorada is famous for long stretches of golden sand stretching south from Barcelona. Don't miss people watching in Sitges, Spain's answer to Brighton. The resort of Salou is uber busy; try the quieter beaches at La Pineda and Cambrils for a more peaceful coastal break.
Reus is the birthplace of Gaudi. Head up to Barcelona to check out some of the artist's greatest hits, and then enjoy the modernist architecture of this lesser visited city. It's a great contrast with the UNESCO Roman site at Tarragona. For unadulterated nature visit the wetlands of the Ebro Delta, notable for huge numbers of breeding birds.
Costa del Azahar
- Main attractions: Peniscola Castle, City of Arts and Sciences Valencia
- Who goes: outdoor enthusiasts, music lovers
- Best for: beach picnics at Oropesa, citrus fruit groves
The Costa del Azahar translates into 'Orange Blossom Coast' but you get more than orange groves for your money. This unsung Costa in the east of Spain knits mountains, nature reserves, and beaches into a stunning coastline. Benicàssim is famous for its music festival, and its clutch of beaches are sheltered by the Desert de les Palmes mountain range. From here you can bike to one of Oropesa's seven beaches on a 5 km coastal cycle trail.
Food wise, Vinarós is said to cook up Spain's best langoustines, and Cullera's museum celebrates the rice of traditional Valencian dishes. In Valencia, don't miss the City of Arts and Sciences with aquarium, science museum and opera house.
The smaller towns of the province boast impressive historic buildings: Morella is enclosed by 14th-century walls, and Peniscola has a striking castle (and spray-filled papal cavern!). From its walls glimpse the volcanic Columbretes Islands, or go there on a boat tour from Castellón. If you can't get enough medieval stuff try Segóbriga Park for a themed dunking.
- Main attractions: Benidorm, snorkelling off El Portet, hilltop castles at Denia and Alicante
- Who goes: expats and older couples, party people, families
- Best for: lively nightlife, water parks, walking
This isn't called the white coast for nothing. Some 200 km of Mediterranean beaches make Costa Blanca one of the biggest holiday destinations in Spain. Many sun seekers and party people head straight for Benidorm's good value seaside but you may prefer the resorts of Gandia, Dénia, Jávea and Altea. The coast between Calpe and Moraira fishing villages has quiet and scenic bays. Visit Moraira's lively fish market or go walking at Calpe's rocky peninsular, Penyal d'Ifac. At Santa Pola, mountain views compete with wild dunes for your attention. Fill a coolbox and chill like a local.
Kids will undoubtedly enjoy Terra Mítica, Aqualandia, and Terra Natura theme parks, but the marine reserves of Tabarca Island, Cape de la Nao, and Cape San Antonio provide more natural attractions. After strolling along the palm tree promenade of Alicante, enjoy the views from Santa Bárbara Castle.
- Main attractions: Mar Menor, La Manga, Cartagena
- Who goes: sports enthusiasts, wildlife spotters
- Best for: water sports, birdwatching, paddling
If you have little ones, head straight to Murcia's saltwater lagoon Mar Menor - it's like walking into a warm bath and you'll find shallow waters, safe narrow beaches with shops selling beach balls and family friendly bars. While you are there learn to paddleboard or canoe or try windsurfing at Mar de Cristal. If you prefer activity on land, La Manga Club resort runs popular golf and football academies.
The further south you head along the coastline, the more you lose the crowds. At the wild beaches of Calblanque Regional Park, there are no ice creams for sale; you'll need to bring everything with you. The massive waves and rugged rocks will bring Cornwall to mind. At San Pedro del Pinatar walk the long promenade looking for jellyfish or at the nearby Salinas wetlands stand on one leg to attract passing flamingos. Cartagena is an authentic port city with a curious mix of art nouveau and 2,000 year old Roman architecture.
Costa de Almería
- Main attractions: water parks in Roquetas de Mar and Vera, Cabo de Gata-Níjar Nature Reserve, Almería's Alcazaba
- Who goes: active holidaymakers, geology and caving fans
- Best for: unspoilt beaches, coral reefs
In the south east of Spain, the Sierra Nevada mountains and the sea give the Costa de Almería its character. The former fishing village of Roquetas de Mar is one of the stars of the show with a promenade lined with palm trees and water slides to splash down at the nearby Mario Park.
If you're looking for a deserted beach or exciting kayaking and watersports, try rugged Cabo de Gata-Níjar Nature Reserve. Other natural paradises include the wetlands of the Punta Entinas-Sabinar southwest of Roquetas, and castle and cave studded Sierra María-Los Vélez Nature Reserve in the north. Almerimar is ripe for sporty types with 27-hole golf course, canoeing, and riding trails. Almeria has one of the most impressive citadels in Spain in the Alcazaba east of Roquetas, meanwhile, on the hillside at Mojácar you'll find the Instagram-friendly sugar cube houses - they're every bit as sweet in real life.
- Main attractions: water sports at La Herradura. Almuñécar's Old Town, cliffhanging Salobreña
- Who goes: surfers, scuba divers, hikers
- Best for: high cliffs and natural coves, water sports
As its name suggests, Costa Tropical has a subtropical microclimate. Fruit, nut, and olive groves are abundant, and the landscape is colourful and verdant. It's not all 'five a day' though; the towns of Motril and La Caleta are all about sugar.
Although not as well known as other Costas, there are busy tourist hubs. La Herradura overlooks a horseshoe-shaped bay known for its crystal clear waters and sheltered beach. Almuñécar's San Miguel Castle and atmospheric old quarter provide a break from sunbathing on Playa Puerta del Mar or one of 20 or so nearby beaches. Fishing town Castell de Ferro has plenty of natural coves and caves. Parts of whitewashed Salobreña seem to squat on the shore, while the old town clings to the rugged rocks above.
Costa del Sol
- Main attractions: Granada's Alhambra, Puente Nuevo at Ronda, beaches of Marbella, Torremolinos, Fuengirola
- Who goes: sun seekers, golfers
- Best for: bridges and gorges, yacht spotting
Costa del Sol is planet sunshine, and its famous golden beaches hem the resorts of Marbella, Torremolinos, Benalmadena, and among others. When you've made enough sandcastles, head for some rather more impressive constructions like Puente Nuevo bridge crowning El Tajo gorge at Ronda and the caves at Nerja. Nerja's Balcón de Europa is also the ultimate viewing platform.
With over 70 courses, it's no great surprise that the region is often dubbed Costa del Golf, but if you have young kids, Benalmadena Butterfly Park, Bioparc Fuengirola, and Tivoli World theme park may suit you better. Road trip highlights include historic Malaga and the millionaires' marina Puerto Banús.
Costa de la Luz
- Main attractions: water sports at Tarifa, hiking cork forests of Doñana National Park
- Who goes: windsurfers and sherry drinkers
- Best for: bodegas, quiet beaches, Moorish architecture
The Costa de la Luz, or Coast of Light, is on the southwest coast of Spain. Beaches face the Atlantic, and if you like your sand golden, your sea turquoise, and your water sports challenging, it's the one for you. Try some surfing near Vejer de la Frontera or head down the coast to Tarifa in the very south of Andalusia, stopping at beaches along the way. Tarifa's windy conditions and lively waves make it a magnet for windsurfers and kiteboarders and if there's a competition on you'll be blown away by the action, if not by the wind.
Chiclana de la Frontera is an authentic Andalusian town complete with cobbles, courtyards, bodegas, and the 6 km long Playa de la Barrosa. In Jerez you can while away your leisure time sherry tasting, learning flamenco, and watching dancing horses while in historic Cádiz climb one of the famous watchtowers. You'll find Camera Obscura in the Tavira tower.
Has our guide to the Spanish Costa helped you choose you the right destination for your next break to Europe's leading suntrap? Head over to our Thomas Cook deals page for the latest online discounts on holidays to Spain in 2017/2018, plus check out the weather in regions across Spain to ensure you go at the right time for ultimate escape-worthy conditions.
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