THE Costa del Sol really does have it all. 

From the fantastic food and (almost) non-stop gorgeous weather, to the beautiful beaches and ample shopping opportunities, it’s obvious why Brits and Europeans have been flocking there for decades. 

But which towns offer the best experience?

Below I rank the five top contenders, all of which are a must-visit in 2020. 

1. Malaga, Malaga

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Malaga city is a must visit in 2020

Malaga city is one of the fastest-growing tourism destinations in Spain and sits comfortably at the top of this list (while technically a city it simply cannot be left off this roundup).

The birth-place of Pablo Picasso, it has attracted tourists from around the globe with its impressive collection of museums, particularly the Picasso Museum, first opened in 2003.

Unlike the rest of the coast, it is well connected by a metro while its pedestrianised centre makes it a treat to walk around (plus it has the airport on its doorstep).

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View of Malaga bullring

It is also packed full of fantastic restaurants and boutique hotels complete with rooftop terraces and pools (offering that perfect summer Instagram moment).

As if that wasn’t enough, it is also home to Roman and Moorish ruins and has a beach to cool off in the summer heat.

TIP: Lunch or dinner at the iconic El Pimpi is a must

2. Marbella

Marbella port

Some 40 minutes west of Malaga airport sits Marbella.

Although more recently famed by the likes of the cast of TOWIE, this seaside gem has much more to offer than a good night out.

‘No carbs before Marbs’ becomes ‘All the carbs in Marbs’ with one of the best collection of restaurants along the coast.

These include Nobu at the Puente Romano hotel and an incredible 17 Michelin star eateries.

Stroll into Puerto Banus just to the west of Marbella and you’ll witness everything from hen-doers celebrating their last night of freedom to members of the ‘1% club’ disembarking from mega-yachts or Ferraris to shop ‘till they drop’ at the likes of Gucci and Prada.

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Marbella Old Town

Banus has become an unashamed melting pot of the rich, famous and wannabe glamourpusses.

The glitz and glamour flows out of the port and along Marbella’s notorious golden mile, home to exclusive nightclubs such as Le Suite.

But if that’s not your style, head to the old town and Plaza de los Naranjos, AKA Orange Square.

The Moorish pueblo is just a five minute walk from the world-renowned beaches and stunning 17km promenade that runs from Marbella to San Pedro

At its heart beats Orange Square – named so for its abundance of orange trees – which has been nestled among quaint white houses and narrow streets since the town was re-conquered from the Moors in 1485.

An 11th century Arab wall still surrounds the square, while churches, its town hall and the Old Governor’s House all date back to the 16th Century.

3. Estepona

Estepona’s orchidarium

Around 25 minutes west of Marbella, Estepona is one of the most popular locations for Brits moving to the Costa del Sol.

It is packed full of Spanish charm while offering a perfect mix of food, fun and beach.

There are two things Estepona is famous for: Its huge murals dotted around the town and its abundance of flowers.

Within its mural series, you have the largest vertical mural in Europe, and even the first braille mural in Spain, which uses ceramic pieces to assist the learning of the visually impaired.

Meanwhile, the town hall funded ‘Operation Tree’ has seen almost 1 MILLION square metres of flowers and trees planted all over – earning it the title ‘The Garden of the Costa del Sol’.

And don’t miss its stunning orchidarium, home to 5,000 plants and over 1,000 species.

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FLORAL: Estepona streets

It also has one of the best stretches of beach along the coast, with almost a dozen chiringuitos to choose from (TIP: Head to Playa del Cristo where the beach acts like a cove with super soft sand and shallow waters).

And from next year visitors and locals will be able to enjoy the newly constructed Mirador del Playa del Cristo, complete with a stunning observation deck.

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Estepona mural

If you’re looking for a good time, Estepona port is full of lively bars, pubs and clubs.

Meanwhile, the cobbled streets of the old town offer a great mix of modern and independent shops and a further abundance of restaurants and bars.

More quirky experiences include the Selwo Aventura animal park.

4. San Pedro

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San Pedro main square

This traditional Spanish town is fast becoming the place to be.

San Pedro de Alcantara sits between Marbella and Estepona and differentiates itself by maintaining its traditional Spanish character while playing host to a thriving food and drink scene.

Stroll along its beach promenade before stopping off for a cerveza or lunch (TIP: Nuevo Reino doesn’t disappoint).

Alternatively, enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail at the iconic Pub Charles, run by local icon Jesus, before dining at one of the many restaurants on offer.

Fantastic traditional Spanish food can be found at hotspots Alfredos, La Bodega de Cantinero and La Cocina de Abuela.

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San Pedro Boulevard comes alive at night

Meanwhile, new places like Savor offer a haute cuisine fusion tapas experience that would no doubt impress Michelin Star aficionados.

The town is also home to a hugely popular flea market each Thursday while its town centre is filled with independent shops.

And don’t forget the cable ski situated on the lake next to Guadalmina, a perfect activity for kids.

TIP: Guadalmina Alta, part of San Pedro, is also home to brilliant restaurants, like steakhouse La Rosa and the much-loved Asador. 

5. Benalmadena

Benalmadena’s La Paloma park

If you’re on a tighter budget, then Benalmadena offers a great holiday that tugs a little lighter on those purse strings.

Around 15 minutes from Malaga airport, it’s one of the most accessible towns in this list.

One of the first things you’ll notice on approach is its Buddhist temple, which is the largest of its kind in Europe.

Sitting up in Benalmadena Pueblo, some five or 10 minutes from the coast, it measures 33 metres in height and was the final project of Buddhist master Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche, who was so smitten by Benalmadena’s multi-cultural mix that he built the stupa in 2003 in its honour.

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Quirky Colomares Castle in Benalmadena

Colomares Castle is another unique architectural wonder here.

The ornate palace was built by doctor Esteban Martin in 1992 in honour of Christopher Columbus and was done so with no prior architectural qualifications.

And while you’re up in the pueblo, don’t miss the Mariposario – another extraordinary attraction housing 1,500 exotically-coloured butterflies.

Like many old towns, the pueblo is home to gourmet tapas bars, narrow streets and bustling plazas.

Moving towards the coast you have Arroyo de la Miel, home to Tivoli World, a theme park open from June to the end of August.

It’s also where you can board the Teleferico cable car which takes you up to the peak of Mount Calamorro or down closer towards the coast.

Walking down to the coast will take you via La Paloma park, a gorgeous green space measuring 200,000m2 featuring lakeside walkways and wildlife.

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Tivoli World is a great day out for the kids

Finally you will arrive to the coast, packed with bars and a offering a pumping port with much better drink offers than in the likes of pricier Marbella.

And there’s two kilometres of seafront to help you recover the next day, including a rocky cove, a sandy strip and a nudist colony, depending on your tastes.

Benalmadena port is also a treat for a stroll, having been named ‘Best Marina in the World’ more than once.

Its filled with designer boutiques, bars and restaurants and boasts pseudo-Moorish architecture and minaret domes.

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