Heading to the Costa del Sol? Think sun, sea, sand and... savings with the help of our banquet of MoneySaving pinchos.
Whether you're heading to Malaga, Marbella, Torremolinos, Fuengirola or elsewhere, this guide can help, with top Costa-cutting tips ranging from when to book and when to tip to how to avoid a sunbed fine and cheap entry tricks at the big attractions.
43 tips to save big on the Costa del Sol, including...
This is the first incarnation of this guide. Please give us feedback and suggest improvements in the Costa del Sol Tips forum thread. Also see our MoneySaving guides to London, New York, Paris, Rome, Barcelona and Amsterdam.
The Costa del Sol stretches almost 100 miles, so before booking it's important to work out where exactly you want to stay.
Each resort offers something slightly different, from the glam of Marbella to the quieter Estepona – and prices vary accordingly too. Puerto Banus, for example, is towards the more expensive end of the scale, while you're more likely to find a bargain in Fuengirola or Torremolinos.
Do your research before you go, to be sure you choose the right resort in terms of atmosphere and price. Andalucia.com has a great breakdown of what you can expect in each spot.
It's also worth factoring in transfer and travel costs, especially if you're a way away from the airport. That said, if you hire a car it's fairly easy to travel between resorts and towns, so nowhere in the Costa del Sol will be out of reach.
Eight airlines including Easyjet and Ryanair fly direct to Malaga from the UK, and you can fly from more than 25 airports here – meaning you've a very good chance of hunting down bargain flights.
Latest research from travel website Momondo's 'flight insight' data suggests 60 days in advance is the optimum time to book for London to Malaga. However, Momondo's figures are based on prices quoted in flight searches and that factors in sales too, so take its 'perfect day to book' info with a pinch of salt. As a general rule, it's best to book as early as you can, unless you're holding out for a sale you know is coming.
Don't just look at flights to Malaga either. It's worth checking if it's cheaper to fly to Gibraltar (with British Airways and Easyjet), or even Jerez (served by Ryanair). Consider the extra travel at the other end though – Gibraltar's only about an hour's drive from Marbella, but Jerez is two hours from Marbella and two and a half hours from Malaga, so only worth it if the saving's big.
Ask for the menú del día to bag a three-course meal and drink, for less than €15
It may not always be well advertised, but almost all cafes and restaurants will offer a three-course menú del día – menu of the day – for an el-cheapo price at lunchtime.
The menú del día was first introduced in 1965, when the government passed a law ensuring that restaurants offered one (this blog has a great piece on the history of it). It's no longer law, but it's still widely offered.
Technically the menú del día is just for weekday lunchtimes, though many restaurants will have a similar menu at the weekend too. It's generally a set menu. There will usually be three courses and it usually includes a drink – sometimes wine. Some places only offer two courses and no drinks though, while others add tax to the price, so check.
Here are some examples of what might be on offer:
- Primer plato (first course) – Mixed salad, paella, gazpacho
- Segundo plato (second course) – Spanish tortilla, salted cod, roast lamb
- Postres (dessert) – fruit, yogurt, rice pudding
Don't forget pretty much all restaurants offer this, so it can be a great option if you fancy eating out somewhere swanky, such as Puerto Banus, without breaking the bank. It's not always advertised though – if waiters are trying to entice you inside, they may offer it to you, but the chances are if you just walk in of your own accord it won't materialise. So you may have to ask.
Tire the kids out in the bevy of free playgrounds on San Pedro Boulevard
If you've young 'uns in tow then Spanish playgrounds are a treat – they're clean, colourful and pretty much everywhere. But the San Pedro Boulevard near Marbella is a step above. In fact, it's a fantastic (and completely free) day out with the kids in its own right.
The 55,000 square-metre complex includes a wavy bridge, inspired by the sea, and a course of individual playgrounds which come highly recommended by kids and parents alike.
The site also includes an amphitheatre, skate rink, zip line and areas for cycling. The Marbella Family Fun website has more details, and a video of what to expect.
Another highly recommended playground is in Poniente Park in Fuengirola – also known as pirate park. It features a huge ship for the kids to play on. The Fuerte blog recommends some other parks along the coast.
A trip to the Costa del Sol doesn't have to cost-a bomb – in fact, some of the best things to do are completely free...
Visit a Moorish palace. La Alcazaba (pictured above) overlooks Malaga from its striking hilltop perch. Tickets are usually €3.50, or €5.50 if you want to visit the nearby Gibralfaro castle too – but entry is free on Sundays from 2pm.
Go celeb-spotting in Puerto Banus. This area's known as the playground of the rich and famous (particularly around Ocean Club), so there's a decent chance you might spot one or two celebs at a swanky restaurant or on a stroll round the marina – past sightings include former England footballers Ashley Cole and John Terry and the cast of The Only Way Is Essex. If not, you can just enjoy gawking at the super yachts (mooring apparently costs more than €2,000 per day – definitely NOT MoneySaving).
Head to a summer festival. The Spanish love their fiestas and ferias and the streets will often be crowded for these events, which usually include food, drink and music. Andalucia.com has a good list of when and where they're on.
Explore Malaga's hidden nature reserve. Home to hundreds of species of different birds, the Rio Guadalhorce Nature Reserve is a secret gem. You can walk around the lakes to spot animals such as flamingos and chameleons.
Walk up the Rio Chillar. It's not all about the sea – in Nerja you can swap the beach for the river with this spectacular walk and enjoy refreshing dips in pools and waterfalls.
Visit a 14th-century market hall. An architectural wonder, the Atarazanas Market in Malaga boasts a stained glass window, horseshoe archway and a wealth of stalls for fresh food.
Marvel at Salvador Dali's statues. The surrealist pieces of artwork by one of Spain's most famous artists, such as the Roman emperor Trajan and a sculpture of Dali's wife, line the Avenida del Mar in Marbella.
Tour a Roman theatre. El Teatro Romano is claimed to be Malaga's oldest monument – entry to the visitors' centre is free.
Sun's out, guns out at Battery Park. As well as beautiful sculptures, there are three naval guns and spectacular views at Parque La Bateria in Torremolinos.
If in doubt... beach day. Let's face it, that's what the Costa del Sol is known for – and with 100 miles of coastline there are plenty of free spots on the sand to choose from. See a list of top beaches.
The Costa del Sol's been a leading package holiday destination for more than 50 years, so there's plenty of choice. But while the rule of thumb is that packages are cheaper than DIY hols if heading to an established resort, you need to book at the right time.
Generally this means booking early (as much as nine months in advance) or leaving it late (no more than eight to 10 weeks before departure). Do this and the savings can be big – for example, when we checked in February we found a one-week break for a family of four to Torremolinos in November for under £600 (including flights and a four-star hotel with breakfast).
But if you're booking just a few months ahead and don't want to risk waiting for a late package deal, always check if it's cheaper to book separately. When we checked four months in advance, we found with four out of five hotels it was cheaper to book flights and hotels separately – the saving was between £20 and £50.
Other package holiday tips include:
- The last two weeks of the summer holidays are cheaper.
- Find an online quote and then call around to see if you can beat it.
- Check if transfers and hold baggage are included.
- Make sure it's ATOL-protected.
See full help in our Cheap Package Holidays guide.
Rent a car for less than £5/day
If there's a group of you, hiring a car is probably the easiest and cheapest way to get around the Costa del Sol. Car hire is generally cheap in Spain if you book it right and driving's straightforward.
The general rule here though is to book in advance, especially for peak times. Done properly, you can get an economy-sized car with a full-to-full fuel policy for less than £5/day (although this can jump to £15/day in school holiday season).
For full info see our Cheap Car Hire guide, but here are the top three need-to-knows:
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Decide if the tolls are worth it – you'll pay €7 from Malaga to Marbella
While you may be able to hire a car cheaply, if you're not careful you'll pay as much again using the toll roads. Usually roads are well signposted if you have to pay a toll – you'll get a ticket from the entrance toll booth and then pay at the other end.
Each motorway toll road in the Costa del Sol has different costs, but they can be easier to navigate so good for those nervous of driving abroad. On the most expensive stretch, between Malaga and Marbella, a trip can cost €7.50 (£6.50) each way between June and September, or €4.60 (£4) the rest of the year. See the Autopista website – it runs the route – for a full list of charges.
Tourists can pay by credit card (make sure you use the right plastic) or cash.
Of course, if you don't mind taking a slightly longer, slower route (from Malaga to Marbella it'll add about 10 minutes to your journey) you can avoid the toll. To help, make sure you use a sat-nav – if you don't have one, you can turn your smartphone into one for free using the Navmii app. There's even a setting to avoid tolls.
If you're asked, ALWAYS pay in euros
At cash machines and in shops, you'll often be asked if you want to pay in euros or pounds.
ALWAYS pay in euros, even if you're told there's 0% commission.
The reason is, if you opt to pay in pounds, you'll be charged using the bank's own rate, which is usually pants compared with Visa/Mastercard's wholesale rate.
For more, see Martin's blog Using plastic overseas? Always PAY IN EUROS.
Book travel insurance ASAP and watch out – Spain ISN'T always automatically in 'European' policies
With el-cheapo holiday insurance so easy to find, there's absolutely no excuse not to book it before your trip to the Continent. Unfortunately we still hear of holidaymakers being caught out when something goes wrong as they left booking their travel insurance to the last minute, and so had no cover.
The golden rule is:
ALWAYS book your travel insurance as soon as you've booked your trip.
Weirdly, Spain isn't automatically covered by all 'European' travel insurance policies, despite being in Europe, so make sure you select Spain when booking a policy. All European policies featured in our guides offer the option of policies that can include Spain.
The cheapest price we found for a trip to Spain for someone aged 18-65 was £5 for one week, or £9 for annual cover.
See our Cheap Travel Insurance guide for more info, and also our Over-65s' Travel Insurance and Travel Insurance For Those With Pre-Existing Conditions guides.
As with any country, it's worth making sure you're aware of the laws in Spain before you go – but there are also lots of bylaws it's worth watching out for too.
One of the most extreme examples we've seen is in Torrox, at the eastern end of the Costa del Sol – there tourists who left out towels to reserve the best spot on a busy beach risked having their towels confiscated by the beach patrol and paying a £21 'release' fee to get them back.
Another example of a bylaw includes fines for drinking alcohol in the streets in Malaga.
It's not always easy to find out what the local laws are before you go, but if you're unsure, ask at your hotel or take your cue from the locals.
It's also worth remembering that driving in flips-flops is banned in Spain.
See if you can spot Smurfette in the beautiful village of Juzcar, which – you've guessed it – is entirely blue.
Juzcar, just over an hour from Marbella, was once one of the traditional Pueblos Blancos (white towns – so-called because the buildings are white).
But it was painted blue in 2011 to promote The Smurfs film – and afterwards decided to keep the colour because it had become a popular tourist destination.
It's quite a sight, with even the town hall and church all blue, and a good free trip away from the coast.
The Tivoli World amusement park in Benalmadena is hugely popular with families, but prices can soon add up.
There are three ticket types – these are the online prices for adults and kids, and the Tivoli World website says they are up to 21% cheaper than buying on the day:
- Basic entry – €7 (£6) for entry to the park and access to a show.
- Entry with attractions – €20 (£17) for entry and unlimited use of 35 attractions.
- Entry with special attractions – €26 (£22) – Unlimited use of the 35 attactions, plus 'special' attractions, including go karts
Kids under one-metre tall and adults over 65 years go free.
While you might be tempted to just opt for the cheapest ticket price, those who've been say it's often worth shelling out more upfront for the pricier tickets if you're planning to go on the attractions, which TripAdvisor reviewers say cost between €3 and €10 per go.
Some parents also say they just bought basic entry and watched the kids go on the attractions (you can see a full list of what's on offer on the park's website).
While it's cheaper to buy online beforehand (using the right plastic of course), it's safest to print your tickets prior to going in case they don't accept seeing them on your phone. If you've left it till the last minute you can often find flyers offering a few euros' discount in local hotel lobbies.
Visiting Selwo Zoo, Selwo Marina AND going on the Benalmadena cable car? A season ticket may be less pricey
If you're planning on visiting all three of these Benalmadena attractions it might be worth getting a season ticket pass rather than paying separately – though this trick works better for adults than kids.
Buying the season ticket online costs €63 (£54) per person, including a €4 issuance fee per person, or you can buy a family pass for five or more people for €53 (£45) per person.
If you were to buy the tickets separately online (buying on the gate can be €10 more in some cases), it would cost:
- Adults: between €45 and €56 (Selwo Zoo costs €17-€26, Selwo Marina Delfinarium €16 and the cable car about €12-€14)
- Kids: between €39 and €42 (Selwo Zoo costs €15- €17, Selwo Marina Delfinarium €14 and the cable car about €10-11)
The prices can change and they were higher when we checked at the height of season last July.
Also, you need to weigh up the options to find the cheapest price – the bonus with the season ticket, of course, is you can come back as many times as you like within the year.
Buying in advance? Print your tickets. It's always worth printing your tickets for any attractions in advance if you can – many won't accept a ticket on your mobile, and if you've booked while still in the UK it's usually easier to print here than try to figure it out abroad.
The Sea Life centre in Benalmadena has more than 30 displays, feeding demonstrations, rock pools and an underwater tunnel.
Tickets booked online cost €12.50 (£9) for adults and children, €9.50 if you visit between 5.30pm and 7.30pm. But if you're planning to go to the Bioparc zoo in Fuengirola too, consider buying a combined ticket. For adults a combined ticket's €29.50 (would be €32 if bought separately) and for kids it's €21.50 (would be €27 separately).
If you're going just to the Sea Life centre, bear in mind they can be €4 more if you pay on the day. Again, if you do leave it to the last minute it's worth looking for flyers in hotels which can knock a few euros off.
There are 1,000s of villas in all shapes and sizes you can hire along the coast, and if you're travelling in a group, these can be far cheaper than a hotel, even if you're not booking very far in advance.
When we looked just over a week in advance (at the height of peak season) it was still possible to find a two-bedroom apartment in Mijas, with a terrace and views of the golf course, for four adults for six nights for about £385.
Looking three months in advance, we found the same two-bedroom apartment for £229 for seven nights.
When booking, watch out for sneaky cleaning charges, which can be €20 per person, and any large deposits. Most will also want you to pay in euros, so make sure you use the right plastic.
Water in restaurants can be as expensive as beer
On a hot day it's tempting to order water by the gallon with your meal, but bottled water can be expensive – at anywhere up to €5 per bottle, the bill can soon rack up.
If you want to ask for free tap water, the phrase to use is 'un vaso de agua del grifo, por favor'. But be warned, some tourists and expats say it's not a good idea to drink the tap water in the Costa del Sol area.
An alternative to pricey bottled water or risking tap water is to just load up at a supermarket where you can buy litres of water for less than €1 (although we're not suggesting you drink this in the restaurant, just keep hydrated throughout the day).
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A free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles you to free or cheap healthcare if anything goes wrong while you're in Europe. It's not a substitute for travel insurance, but valuable extra protection nonetheless.
It allows you to get the same treatment that local citizens are entitled to, at the same cost. In Spain, state-run healthcare is generally free, though if you're in some of the outlying areas you might have to travel quite far to get to it.
Most hospitals offer private and public (free) healthcare – so if they start talking about costs, the chances are they're trying to treat you privately and you'll need to show your EHIC.
Only emergency dental problems, rather than more routine procedures, are covered by the EHIC.
And when it comes to paying for prescriptions, if you use your EHIC you'll pay 50% of the cost if of working age and just 10% if you're a pensioner. See our Free EHIC guide for more info.
Often when you sit down to eat out, a basket of bread will arrive even before your drinks do. But beware – some restaurants will charge you for this even if you don't eat it.
Sometimes the bread's price is made clear on the menu, in other cases it will appear as an unexpected charge on your bill and some restaurants won't charge at all. But it's often not clear, and tourists have reported being caught out.
To avoid an unpleasant surprise when you come to pay and avoid any confusion, just ask the waiter to take away the bread if you don't want it.
Heading to the Costa del Golf? It can be cheaper to take your own clubs
The Costa del Sol's often dubbed the Costa del Golf because of the huge number of golf courses in the area, and the fact that the balmy weather means the courses stay open all year round.
But if you're planning to fit in a cheeky round or two, you may find it's cheaper to take your own clubs rather than hire them, depending on who you're flying with.
Some let you take the clubs as part of your checked baggage, so with a bit of clever packing you could potentially take them for free, while others will give discounts if you book online.
Most ask that you book the clubs onto the plane in advance, and warn that if you leave it until you get to the airport there might not be room in the hold.
Here are the different policies of the main airlines (last updated May 2018):
|Airline||Golf club policy|
|Aer Lingus||Allowed as part of checked baggage. One golf bag per person, with a max weight of 23kg.|
|British Airways||Allowed as part of checked baggage. The maximum bag size is 190cm x 75cm x 65cm, with a max weight of 23kg.|
|Easyjet||Allowed as part of checked baggage. One golf bag per person, with a max weight of 21kg.|
|Flybe||You can take golf clubs instead of checked baggage, or pay a £30 fee. 'All in' customers can take one golf bag and one checked bag.|
|Jet2||Cost from £30 and can weigh up to 22kg.|
|Norwegian||Costs between £30 and £35 if pre-booked and can weigh up to 20kg.|
|Ryanair||Costs between £30 and £35 and can weigh up to 20kg.|
|Thomas Cook||Costs between £35 and £40 (for flights to and from Spain) and can weigh up to 20kg.|
|Vueling||Cost is €45+ (£39+) each way.|
Here are a few other things to watch out for:
- Check if clubs are members-only – although some do 'public tee times', particularly through the summer.
- Look out for any handicap limits at the club.
- Beware of the temperature at some tee times – it could be too hot to play.
- Compare the club's own prices and special offers with those on golf comparison sites.
- See how much club hire is at the course or nearby.
- If you have to call the club to book in advance, do it for free or very cheap – full help in our Cheap International Calls guide.
It can cost £8+/day to rent a child's car seat while abroad, so if you can, it's far better to take your own. That way, not only will you save, but you know your child will be happy sitting in it.
Most airlines will let you check in a car seat and pram for free, on top of your normal allowance. See our 50+ Overseas Travel Tips guide for each airline's policy.
If not, a great way to slash the cost is to hire while you're there – but not from a pricey car-hire company. In Malaga Airport there's the Tots store where you can book a Maxi-Cosi car seat and base for €60 (£52) for seven days, or €84 (£72) for two weeks.
Bizarrely, Spain has been in the 'wrong' time zone for more than 70 years.
In 1942, during the Second World War, Spain's Fascist leader General Franco moved it on to central European time to align with Germany. While some other countries also changed the clocks to gain more daylight working hours during the war, Spain did not return to its 'normal' time after the war, so it remains an hour ahead of countries in the same time zone, such as the UK.
Fairly recently there have been calls for this to change (as covered by many newspapers, including El Pais) but for now...
In Spain you can expect sunrise and sunsets to be later, so you'll get more evening sun than in the UK.
While this fascinating nugget isn't strictly MoneySaving, it is definitely worth knowing when you're planning your holiday – in particular, because the longer, later hours of sunlight mean you can get much more out of day trips. Here's how much of a difference it can make:
- 21 March – London sunrise 6.01am and sunset 6.15pm, Malaga sunrise 7.20am and sunset 7.30pm
- 21 June – London sunrise 4.43am and sunset 9.21pm, Malaga sunrise 6.59am and sunset 9.40pm
- 21 December – London sunrise 8.04am and sunset 3.53pm, Malaga sunrise 8.26am and sunset 6.05pm
Travel from the airport for €5
For some resorts there are direct public transport links from Malaga Airport, but for others you'll have to take a bus or a train into Malaga city and another train onwards.
The other options are to book a transfer or a taxi or hire a car.
To give you an idea of the difference in prices we've compared the journeys from Malaga Airport to Fuengirola, which is about 15 miles away.
- Take the train from Terminal 3. Each way is €2.70 (£2) and the train leaves every 20 minutes between 5.32am and 11.42pm (it's slightly less often before 7am and after 10pm). Fuengirola station is not far from many of the hotels. See Renfe local services.
- Shuttle transfer. If booking in advance, it's roughly £20 return when we looked a month in advance.
- Private taxi for four. Approximately €36 (£32) each way on weekdays or €41 (£36) for evenings and weekends.
- Car hire. From £5 per day booked three months in advance, or about £15 per day in peak season. See Cheap Car Hire.
Tourists tend to report being charged higher prices if they hail a taxi at the airport rather than booking one, so it's a good idea to decide how you'll get to your resort before you land at the airport.
Costa del Sol water parks are a firm favourite with families, but before you get swept up booking a trip with a rep or tour guide, make sure you know what you should be paying.
We've put the online prices from the parks plus big discounts in the table below, but tourists have also reported finding leaflets with up to 20% off on-the-day prices, in shopping centres, tourist centres and hotels. If you pay at the gate on the day though it'll be at least a few euros more.
Also, if there's a group of you, don't be afraid to haggle for a better offer, again, using the prices below as a benchmark.
Water park standard prices and discounts
|Water park||Area||Adult price online||Concessions||Offers||Dates open|
|Aqualand||Torremolinos||€26 (£22)||€8-€17 (£7-£15)||Family ticket (two adults, two kids) for €80 (£69) or a friends ticket (for four adults) for €96 (£83)||May to October|
|Aquamijas||Fuengirola||€22 (£19)||€12-€16 (£10-£14)||Family ticket (two adults and two kids aged 3-7) for €67 (£58), or family ticket (two adults and two kids aged 8-12) for €72 (£62)||April to September|
|Aquavelis||Torre del Mar||€22 (£19)||€11-€18 (£10-£15)||About 1/3 off tickets after 3pm (4pm in July and August) or you can buy a season ticket||June to September|
It's also worth bearing in mind:
The parks are all easy to get to by taxi or public transport, so if you don't have your own wheels you shouldn't have to pay more than a few euros on top of your ticket price to get there.
Some visitors have reported paying up to €3 (£2.50) for sun loungers.
All the parks warn that glass bottles and umbrellas are banned, but none say you can't take your own food inside – some take a packed lunch to cut down on costs.
You can create your own DIY 'protected package holiday'
If you book a package holiday, make sure it's ATOL-protected. That means if the company you booked with were to go bust, you'd be entitled to help if you're already overseas, or a full refund if you've yet to travel.
But even if you're not booking a package, there's a nifty way you can get this protection on your DIY holiday. If you book a flight plus a separate hotel or car hire from the same travel website (excluding airline websites) on the same day, or up to one day later, you'll get ATOL protection.
If it's cheaper to book on separate sites, weigh up the difference and see if you think it's worth missing out on ATOL protection. Don't forget Expedia*, Travelocity*, Ebookers* and Lastminute.com* often have discounts for flights and hotels booked together too.
You can now use your mobile phone on the Costa del Sol with NO extra roaming charges
New rules which came in on 15 June 2017 mean that the extra mobile roaming fees you pay to use your phone in Europe have mostly disappeared (though not entirely - some could still face data fees).
For full details, plus what to watch out for, see our 10 'free' EU mobile roaming need-to-knows.
Cuánto cuesta? This might be the most important Spanish you'll ever learn
It's always nice to learn some holiday phrases, and to help we've listed some essential MoneySaving Spanish.
- Cuánto cuesta? = How much? Pronounced 'kwanto questa'
- La cuenta, por favor = Can I have the bill please? Pronounced 'la kwenta por favor'
- Quiero comprar = I would like to buy... Pronounced 'keero comprar'
- Hola = Hello. Pronounced 'ola'
- Permiso = Excuse me. Pronounced 'permeeso'
- Gracias = thank you. Pronounced 'grath-e-ass'
Quiz Buddy has heaps more phrases and audio of how they're pronounced.
Get max euros to the pound whether you pay by plastic or cash
One of the best ways to spend abroad is to use a specialist travel credit card that gives you near-perfect exchange rates every time.
Our current top pick is the Halifax Clarity* which offers no fees on overseas spending, though ATM withdrawals incur interest even if you pay off the card in full - so it's best to prioritise spending where possible. Plus, if you apply by 31 August 2018, you'll get £20 cashback if you make a transaction in a foreign currency by 30 September 2018.
As an alternative, the Barclaycard Platinum Visa travel card with near-perfect exchange rates and no interest on ATM withdrawals until 31 August 2022. You can use our eligibility calculator to see your chances of acceptance.
Always pay both cards off IN FULL each month, or you'll pay 18.9% rep APR on spending for Halifax Clarity (as well as 18.9% rep APR on all withdrawals), and 19.9% rep APR on spending for Barclaycard. See our Travel Credit Cards guide for full info and other best buys.
Paying on a credit card means you'll also get the super Section 75 protection on anything over £100 (about €114). This important law means your credit provider must take the same responsibility as a retailer if anything goes wrong.
Alternatively, if you want to take cash, use our TravelMoneyMax tool to ensure you get the very best rate.
Chase the winter sun to get 75% off summer prices
The Costa del Sol boasts some of the most reliable weather in Spain, which means it can be a good choice for a cheap winter break.
The Met Office says temperatures can hit the late teens even on winter afternoons – and of course, if you go out of season, you'll save accordingly.
As an example of the huge price differential, we found a three-star hotel in Fuengirola for two adults in the last week of August for £460pp. For the first week of December it had dropped to just £168pp.
However, if you're going out of season, it's worth checking where you want to go is open. Some of the bigger attractions, such as Aqualand in Torremolinos, for example, close during the winter and have shorter opening hours towards the end of the season.
Check if 10% tax is included with your meal
Some restaurants include the Spanish VAT charge of 10% within menu prices, but in others, you might see this added at the end.
If in doubt, don your best Spanish accent and ask: "IVA incluido?"
If you're hitting the shops, it's worth knowing there's a 21% tax on clothing, though this is usually included in the price marked on the tags.
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Tipping isn't generally expected in Spain – but it may be in tourist areas
Tipping in Spain isn't as widespread as here in the UK – certainly in authentic Spanish restaurants it's not standard.
But it can be a different ballgame in major tourist areas at the height of the season, where tipping is often expected and sometimes you'll even be asked if you forget.
Many expats say they simply round up to the nearest euro, or for meals add a few extra euros on to their bill. But again it varies – in some tourist areas, they may expect 10%.
For services such as taxis or hotel porters, tipping is welcomed but large tips are not commonplace and a few coins should be fine.
We say go with what you feel comfortable with.
Yep, you heard us right. You might not expect to be doing snowplough turns on the Costa del Sol, but for something completely different, the ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada are actually just two and a half hours' drive from Marbella, and just 90 minutes from Nerja. At a push, you could be skiing the slopes in the morning and swimming in the sea in the afternoon.
The Sierra Nevada ski season usually starts at the end of November and runs right up until the beginning of May.
Adult ski hire, including boots and poles, starts at €25 for a day or 84 for a week. One-day lift passes cost between €36 and €48 depending on the time of the season, and it's between €188 and €264 for a seven-day pass.
Some have warned you have to show your passport number when hiring equipment or paying by credit card, so make sure you take it with you to be on the safe side.
Reviews say it can get very busy at weekends, with lots of locals taking the chance to get out on the slopes. Others suggest packing drinks and a lunch as there aren't always cafes near the ski runs.
As with any beach holiday, renting sun loungers everyday can soon add up.
Along the coast you'll find the cost of loungers can vary depending on which spot you choose, so it's worth asking how much before you set up camp, but we've heard reports of €5 per day, or €10 for two and a parasol.
Alternatively, it might be worth heading to the local supermarket to see if it's cheaper to pick up your own for the weeks you're there.
The famous beach clubs in Marbella are far from MoneySaving, but they're a must-visit for many hen and stag dos (not to mention the cast of The Only Way Is Essex).
You'll usually need to book in advance if you're going as a big party – here's how booking prices vary depending on what you want to do:
- La Sala by the Sea – From €15pp to €275 for eight people.
- Plaza Beach – From free to €1,500 for 12 people.
- Ocean Club – From €110 for three people to over €2,750 for 12 people. Prices vary according to the season and day of the week, and will cost more during Champagne Parties.
Some of the prices above take into account the minimum spends that you may have to agree to. Remember when you're being charged €200 per bottle of spirits (at some of the clubs), €1,000 might not go as far as usual.
Many of the packages include a few bottles of champagne or spirits, but bar prices tend to start at €10 per drink, and tourists have also warned they've had to pay a whopping €12 for a 1.5-litre bottle of water.
That said, many who've been do post great reviews of the clubs online, so if this is your type of thing, have a look at all the clubs, all the packages and decide which works best for you.
And finally, don't forget that with all the drinks and the dancing, the bill – which is usually given to you at the end – can soon spiral out of control. So try to keep tabs on your tab throughout the day.
Buy suntan lotion before you go – you can order it to duty-free to save on luggage weight
As with most tourist destinations, must-haves such as suntan lotion and after-sun are likely to be expensive in the resorts. Here are some tips to avoid getting burnt:
Before you do anything, check if you actually need any new suntan lotion – to do this, simply turn your bottles around. On the back you'll see the 'Period After Opening' number, which tells you how long you can keep using it for. It'll usually look like an open jar and say 12 or 24 next to it.
If you do need to buy before you go, check out our suntan lotion deals page.
Another nifty trick to save on your luggage weight is to order heavier toiletries to Boots stores in duty-free at the airport (always check if possible first). That means you can stuff it into the one extra plastic bag of duty-free you're allowed to take on board, keeping heavy bottles out of your luggage.
If you're in need of a bottle or two while out there, most MoneySavers recommend heading away from the tourist strips to one of the big supermarkets. Here you'll find Spanish brands in particular are much more reasonably priced.
See Picasso's masterpieces for free
The Museo Picasso Málaga displays eight decades of the great painter's work and was set up as a tribute to him in his home town.
Tickets are usually €7 (£6) or €5.50 (£5) for concessions, and you'll pay another €2 or so on top to get into the temporary exhibitions. But entry is free for the last two hours of every Sunday.
Just around the corner is the actual birthplace of Picasso, the Casa Natal. Here there are more exhibitions of his work and entry is usually €3 (£2.60) or €2 (£1.70) for concessions, but it's free every Sunday from 4pm.
It's easy to think that the Costa del Sol is only sun, sea, sand and sangria, but the area offers a wealth of history and culture too.
Malaga city offers more than 30 museums, a Gothic cathedral and an 11th century castle, and is definitely worth a visit. The Lonely Planet guide is a good place to start for all the top sights to see while you're there.
Ronda, which is about an hour's drive away, is famed for its spectacular views, the El Tajo gorge and surrounding mountains. Again Lonely Planet has a guide to get you started.
The Spanish are famed for their afternoon siesta (a two-hour break mid-afternoon, when shops are traditionally closed) and are known to eat much later than in the UK.
Nowadays the Spanish government is talking about abolishing the siesta, and you'll find it often isn't strictly observed in tourist areas anyway, with shops staying open all day.
But it's still noticeable that the Spanish keep generally later hours – it's not unusual to see whole Spanish families out past 10pm enjoying a late evening meal. So you may find yourself eating out later than you're used to – and if you've hungry kids whose stomachs are still firmly keeping UK hours, you may need to plan accordingly.
Taxis are usually on a meter – if not agree a price
Taxis on the Costa del Sol are usually metered, but if not the driver will have a book of fares which have been set by the local town hall, so always agree a price beforehand.
There are often different rates depending on what time of day you're travelling, and if the driver is using the book instead of a meter there can be all kinds of extra charges, such as for luggage, so your best bet is to agree a price first.
While tourists say taxi prices are generally reasonable, it can be a different story if you hail one at the airport, without a booking. See instead how to get from the airport for less than €5.
Heading to Gibraltar? There's a whole different set of rules
Although it's just next door to the Costa del Sol, Gibraltar is actually a British territory and the main language is English.
It's about an hour's drive from Marbella, and you'll have to go through customs and security checks using your passport when you cross the border - motorists are warned to expect long delays in summer months. You can check the queues before you set off via the Gibraltar Frontier Queue Live Stream and the AA has some driving tips.
Here are some other key differences from the Costa del Sol:
- The currency is pounds, not euros.
- You can use Bank of England notes (but not Scottish or Northern Irish notes) while there, but you CAN'T use notes issued in Gibraltar back in the UK.
- There are limits on the amount of goods (including alcohol and tobacco) you can take in, eg, you must declare if you have more than a litre of spirits. See the HM Customs website for a full list.
- You can get emergency treatment at the hospital by showing your British passport.
Things to do in Gibraltar
There are tons of trips to take in Gibraltar, but some of the most popular include the dolphin tours or cable car rides to see the apes at the top of its renowned rock.
You're looking at paying about £25 for adults and £12.50 for children to go on a dolphin boat tour, and about £29 for adults and £16 for children to see the dolphins and apes.
Some tour companies offer packages including transport from the Costa del Sol, which equates to about £7 extra for the transport (even from as far as Torremolinos), though always check to see if this is the cheapest option for you.
Lonely Planet has a good list of other sights and attractions in Gibraltar.
When you get to a restaurant, you'll often find locals eating inside or drinking at the bar, whereas tourists are likely to be outside soaking up the sun.
In some cases though you'll pay more for that premium spot outside. It might be worded as something like a terrace surcharge (you might see it written as 'terraza de pago'), so if you want to pay less, sit by the Spaniards.
You must show your passport if asked by a police officer
As long as your passport will still be in date by the end of your holiday there's no need to get a new one, and as long as you're a British citizen you don't need a visa when visiting the Costa del Sol.
Under Spanish law, you must show your passport if asked for it by the police and they can detain you until you've proven your identity, so make sure you keep it somewhere safe.
You'll also need to show your passport to staff at your hotel reception, as hotels have a legal duty to register you. But they only need to write down your details or take a copy of your passport, so don't leave it with them.
Watch out for the wallet ID scam. While you should always show your passport to the police if asked, the Home Office warns there are some scammers who pretend to be police and ask tourists for their wallet for verification – officials says genuine officers don't ask to see wallets or purses.
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Booking a boat tour? Don't get taken for a ride
Try to book a boat ride anywhere along the Costa del Sol and you'll be awash with offers, but make sure you check if they're really the best offer for you.
First you'll need to decide what kind of boat tour you're after: there's everything from schooner to catamaran tours, disco boats to regattas and pretty much everything in between.
Once you've decided where you want to go and on which kind of tour, check out all the prices you can find online (it might be worth looking on TripAdvisor* for reviews first) and then compare them to any you've been offered by tour guides or reps. Armed with the price knowledge you should be able to haggle a good price, particularly if there's a group of you.
Before booking also check the basics, such as if transfers and refreshments are included, what happens if the trip is called off due to bad weather, and if the trip is covered by your holiday insurance.
Here are some examples of how much different types of tour can cost from Marbella:
- €15pp (£13) for a round trip on a public catamaran from Marbella to Puerto Banus
- €39pp (£34) for a two-hour sailing tour
- €45pp (£39) for a two-hour catamaran tour
- €125 (£107) for an hour's private boat hire for eight people, with one member of crew