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.

Spanish Costas: which is right for your holiday in Spain? © Peter.K - Fotolia.com
Spanish Costas: which is right for your holiday in Spain? © Peter.K - Fotolia.com

Spain* continues to be one of the most popular destinations for holidaymakers and, with wonderful weather, it's easy to see why. Here, we look at nine of mainland Spain's most popular coastal regions, each offering different scenery and attractions.

Getting to Spain: TUI has been whisking holidaymakers to the Spanish coast for decades with something for every budget and interest. Check out the latest deals on holidays to Spain*, which depart from airports across the UK, with TUI today.

Costa Brava

  • Main attractions: beaches & castles at Lloret and Tossa de Mar, Dali museums
  • 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 de Mar* and Tossa de Mar* aren't the only draw for the modern tourist. Catalan food is world-famous thanks to Michelin-star 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.

Dali Theatre and Museum, Costa Brava, Spain © Zoonar GmbH - Alamy Stock Photo
Dali Theatre and Museum, Costa Brava, Spain © Zoonar GmbH - Alamy Stock Photo

Costa Brava's most famous son is Salvador Dali; check out his egg topped Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres. Then there's the artist's former home at Port Lligat and a stop at pretty Cadaqués for a seafood lunch in between is the perfect way to refuel.

Costa Brava is also 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.

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Costa Dorada

  • Main attractions: PortAventura, Salou, Sitges, Tarragona Roman ruins
  • Who goes: Gaudí & architecture enthusiasts, bird & people watchers
  • Best for: beach & rollercoaster bagging

Costa Dorada* is famous for long swathes of golden sand stretching south of 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.

PortAventura* is another prime reason to visit Costa Dorada. If you're fearless, head straight for the Vertical Accelerator ride or, for more natural thrills, make your way to the sea.

The beach at Sitges, Costa Dorada, Spain © Nejron Photo - Fotolia.com
The beach at Sitges, Costa Dorada, Spain © Nejron Photo - Fotolia.com

Barcelona may be most famous for Gaudí's gretest hits but scenic Reus, the artist's birthplace, is quieter, more laid-back and stufed with modernist archeitcure of its own not to mention the Gaudí Centre.

It's in stark contrast with the Roman ruins at the UNESCO site of Tarragona. For unadulterated nature, visit the wetlands of the Ebro Delta, notable for its migratory birds.

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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 Azahara 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 diverse 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.

Kayaking in the Ebro River Delta, Costa Dorada, Spain © Club Nautic Garraf - Flickr Creative Commons
Kayaking in the Ebro River Delta, Costa Dorada, Spain © Club Nautic Garraf - Flickr Creative Commons

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, take an e-scoot through the remarkable Jardín del Turia, a once-upon-a-time river turned park, to the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences with its dazzling - quite literally in the bright sunshine! - architecture, 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 you'll glimpse the volcanic Columbretes Islands or take a boat tour from Castellón. If you can't get enough medieval Spain, try Segóbriga Park for a themed dunking.

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Costa Blanca

  • Main attractions: Benidorm, snorkelling off El Portet, hilltop castles at Denia & 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.

One of the two massive beaches in Benidorm, Costa Blanca, Spain © lunamarina - Fotolia.com
One of the two massive beaches in Benidorm, Costa Blanca, Spain © lunamarina - Fotolia.com

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.

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Costa Cálida

  • 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 Costa Cálida's saltwater lagoon Mar Menor near Murcia - 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're there learn to paddleboard or canoe or try windsurfing at Mar de Cristal. If you prefer dry 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.

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Costa de Almería

  • Main attractions: water parks in Roquetas de Mar & Vera, Cabo de Gata-Níjar Nature Reserve, Almería's Alcazaba
  • Who goes: active holidaymakers, geology & caving fans
  • Best for: unspoilt beaches, coral reefs

In the southeast 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.

Trekking in Costa de Almería, Spain © txakel - Fotolia.com
Trekking in Costa de Almería, Spain © txakel - Fotolia.com

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. Almería 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.

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Costa Tropical

  • 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, nuts 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.

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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* and Benalmadena 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.

The bridge in Ronda, Costa del Sol, Spain © javarman - Fotolia.com
The bridge in Ronda, Costa del Sol, Spain © javarman - Fotolia.com

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*.

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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.

Horse fair in Jerez, Costa de la Luz, Spain © Taka - Alamy Stock Photo
Horse fair in Jerez, Costa de la Luz, Spain © Taka - Alamy Stock Photo

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.

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Planning your next break to Europe's leading suntrap? Check out great value holidays to resorts up and down Spain's coast with TUI.

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Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie Pelling
Article updated on Sunday 28th June 2020 in: Beach Europe Family Summer

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