You’ve probably heard a lot about Benidorm and Marbella over the years. Both these Spanish holiday hotspots have reputations that precede them. One is known as a glamorous celebrity hang-out and the other as the ultimate cut-price package-holiday destination. But do those reputations tell the whole truth? And if so, which one should you choose?
Will it be Benidorm, the Costa Blanca resort working hard to reinvent itself with a pending UNESCO heritage application and sleek skyscraper accommodation that has earned it the nickname ‘Dubai in Spain’? Or will you choose Andalusian Marbella, the millionaires’ party playground that offers a surprising amount of culture and is more affordable than you might think?
We take a look at some of the highlights of these two beautiful destinations to help you decide which one is right for you. Benidorm or Marbella? Let’s find out!
Benidorm Or Marbella: Beaches
One thing that has not been exaggerated about these Spanish destinations is the beauty of their beaches. Benidorm is home to three gorgeous blue flag beaches. The most popular, Levante, stretches alongside the town center for 2km of soft, south-facing sand and turquoise water. It’s convenient, accessible, and has every possible amenity. But if you fancy a change, try Poniente, the ‘locals beach’. A little further from Benidorm’s center, Poniente is even longer than Levante and often quieter. However, it has just as many amenities, and is backed by a promenade packed with cafes and restaurants.
If you want to get away from the urban beaches, head along the coastline past the end of Levante, and you’ll find hidden coves with crystal clear waters like rocky Cala Tio Ximo or La Almadrava.
But, while Benidorm’s beaches are beautiful, Marbella might just have the edge. It boasts a whopping 27km of beaches which are known for their beauty and their chiringuitos – sociable beachfront bars and cafes selling delicious seafood and drinks. Playa de la Fontanilla is the most central and busiest of the beaches and is backed by the Paseo Maritimo, Marbella’s must-stroll promenade. Or follow the youthful crowd to hip Playa del Cable to enjoy volleyball, water sports, and Sunday beach parties.
Playa Nagueles lies beside some of the most exclusive hotels and restaurants in town, while narrow Playa del Alicate has the highest concentration of beach bars. Stunning Cabopino Beach is the favored spot for nudists to get their kit off amongst the Artola dunes, an area of protected natural beauty.
Conclusion: You won’t find a bad beach in either of these locations, but Marbella just wins it wins for abundance and variety.
Benidorm Or Marbella: Things To do
One good thing about visiting the package-holiday capital of Spain is that it comes with plenty of family-friendly activities. Benidorm is packed with things to do. You can try out all the watersports available on the beaches, hit up a theme park or water park, swim with seals at the Terra Natura Wildlife Park, or hike wilderness paths in Sierra Helada National Park.
For those of a more cultural mind, how about visiting a different side of this resort town? It might not look like it but tucked behind the wall of shiny new skyscrapers is a charming old town filled with maze-like streets, quaint whitewashed buildings, and authentic tapas restaurants.
Marbella too has a colorful old town that many tourists never take the time to see. Stroll the flower-filled streets before stopping for a glass of wine in the Orange Square, a perfect spot to sit and watch the buzz of activity that fills the old town. For more modern delights, walk the marinas instead. Check out the luxury yachts, keep your eyes open for celebrities, and duck in and out of the sleek bars and luxury shops. And speaking of shops, Marbella is a shopper’s paradise with everything from high street chains, elegant boutiques, massive shopping centers, high-end brands, and authentic markets.
Families can hit theme parks, water parks, and watersports schools, while culture lovers can visit museums and galleries featuring works by Picasso. Or stroll through the open-air sculpture garden filled with Dali’s surrealist creations.
Conclusion: Draw. You’ll never run out of things to do in either of these locations, although if you’re traveling with kids Benidorm has the edge.
Benidorm Or Marbella: Festivals And Events
Spain is a country that loves a party and has an events calendar filled with festivals, ferias, and celebrations. And these two resort towns are no different. Visit during a holy week or saints day to find them transformed by massive street parades featuring excellent authentic food, traditional music, and street performances.
In Benidorm, you’ll also find a film festival, several huge music festivals, a pride festival, and one uniquely Benidorm tradition – the British Fancy Dress Party. Every year tens of thousands of Brits, both residents and holidaymakers, take to the streets and pubs while wearing their best costumes.
Andalusia is famous for its ferias or summer fairs. Every village and town in the region throws its own, but Marbella’s is a little bit special. Rather than happening at a fairground out of town, the fair takes over the city itself as flamenco dancers, parades and performers flood the streets.
And there’s the annual Starlite Festival, a month-long celebration of music and culture inside the rocky walls of a disused quarry. Huge international acts perform alongside a program that celebrates Spanish food, fashion, film, art, and philanthropy.
Conclusion: Draw. Whether it’s traditional fairs, religious celebrations, or international music festivals, there are always events happening in both these towns.
Benidorm Or Marbella: Nightlife
Both of these destinations are known far and wide for their nightlife, and this is one instance where their reputations are not exaggerated. Benidorm has a shocking number of bars and clubs and if you can’t find a place to enjoy yourself after the sun goes down, you’re doing something wrong!
Start in the English Zone for happy hour cocktails, real ale pubs, and draft cider, then visit the old town for a sundowner with the locals on Avenida Mallorca. Next, head for the main party strip alongside Levante Beach. There you’ll find the largest concentration of tourist bars and clubs alongside cabaret bars, flamenco and drag shows, and live music for all tastes. Then, around 2 am, head out of town to La Carretera to party till dawn at the biggest and best clubs.
In Marbella, the days are all about partying with your toes in the sand at the many seafront bars and beach clubs. Sip champers poolside at world-famous Nikki Beach, or hit up the bars along Playa del Cable, where there’s always a hip crowd. Then, as the sun goes down, head to the old town for chilled evening drinks alongside elegant tapas.
To experience the Marbella nightlife of legend, head to The Golden Mile or Puerto Banus. The swanky marina area is the epicenter of Marbella’s nightlife scene and is where the rich and beautiful come to see and be seen. However, be aware that many of these bars have prices to match their celebrity reputations! But don’t let that put you off having a night out. You can find bars and clubs to suit every budget in Marbella, you just need to do a little research beforehand. Stick to local spirits and beers rather than cocktails if you’re on a budget. And aim for the slightly less glitzy Marbella Marina or the less image-conscious bars behind the Paseo Maritimo.
Conclusion: it’s a draw for nightlife unless you are actively looking for the celebrity lifestyle, in which case we have to give it to Marbella.
Benidorm Or Marbella: Accommodation
You’ve got no shortage of accommodation options in either of these holiday favorites. However, on booking.com, Marbella has substantially more with 2200 to Benidorm’s 1500. You’ll also find more high-end accommodation with 29 five-star and 1400 four-star accommodation options and double the amount of 9/10 guest reviews than Benidorm has.
But that’s not the whole story. While Benidorm lacks five-star accommodation – it has only two properties listed – the ones it does have are pretty special. Such as Barcelo Asia Garden Hotel, with its world-class, Thai-inspired spa and gorgeous landscaped grounds. You can also get some great deals in the Dubai-Esque skyscrapers, and you’ll find plenty of family-friendly choices amongst the 500 four-star options, so you won’t struggle for a bit of inclusive luxury.
It’s also worth noting that 65% of Benidorm’s accommodation is beachfront or beach adjacent compared to only 54% in Marbella.
Conclusion: Marbella is the place to head for greater choice and more luxurious accommodation. But it’s Benidorm for beachfront living.
Benidorm Or Marbella: Budget
One of the biggest decisions when it comes to booking a holiday is often the budget. So how do these two Spanish destinations compare?
There’s barely any difference in terms of flights, and if you’re flying from Europe, it’s cheap as chips. Direct flights from London to both Benidorm and Marbella in August can cost you as little as $22 and from Amsterdam only $33. However, once you arrive at your chosen destination, there is more price variation.
With its reputation for glamour and celebrity endorsements, Marbella does cost more than cheap and cheerful Benidorm but perhaps not as much more as you’d think. According to Championtraveler.com, one week in Marbella, including flights from the US, will set you back an average of $2,696. Accommodation costs roughly $88 per night, and the recommended money to budget per day for transport, food, drink, and activities is $78. In Benidorm, it’s $2,225, with the accommodation costing $81 and a daily spend of around $55.
Conclusion: Benidorm. Although budget options are available in each area, Marbella is, on average, more expensive than Benidorm.
Benidorm Or Marbella: Conclusion
So are you still struggling to pick between these two? We don’t blame you, there are a lot of similarities. Each one offers beautiful beaches, plenty of activities, wild nightlife, and surprising pockets of culture. So what makes them different?
Marbella’s reputation as a celebrity hang-out isn’t the whole story, but it does have some truth. So if you fancy staying in five-star luxury, drooling over the superyachts, and hanging out in marina clubs with influencers, then this is the place for you. It’s also a better shopping destination and a better choice for art lovers.
While more upmarket these days than in the peak of its package holiday days, Benidorm still offers the best option for budget travelers. Your money will go further here. And it’s also the better option for families who want extremely accessible beaches and no end of fun activities and theme parks.
So there we go. Hopefully, this has helped you make your choice, now you just need to start planning your itinerary!