Cliffs and golden sandy beaches, fishing villages and metropolises, simple fish dishes in beach bars or culinary delights in sophisticated top restaurants: on Spain’s 5,000 kilometers of spectacular coastline you will find it all. The costas around the entire Iberian Peninsula are a dream for anyone with a love for Spain.
In fact, they are not official geographical regions, rather names given to entice tourists or nicknames that stuck over the years. As a result, some of the costas, which we discuss below in clockwise fashion, may be delineated differently elsewhere. The name may differ, the feeling does not.
Alias: the wild coast.
The Costa Brava owes its nickname to the rugged cliffs and hidden coves that stretch along the Mediterranean. Artists such as Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso were attracted to the authentic atmosphere of the villages, an artistic tradition that the locals continue to this day. Larger seaside towns like Lloret de Mar then counterbalance this with a lively nightlife.
- Strengths: artistic, authentic atmosphere.
- Popular seaside towns: Roses, Lloret de Mar, Begur.
- Popular beaches: Platja de Tamariu, Cap de Creus.
- Airport: Girona.
Alias: the golden coast.
Three guesses what that gold refers to. The endless beaches of course! Their safety makes the beaches ideal for families with (small) children. Inland, there are small villages that see few tourists, where life is a touch slower and where you can get lost among vineyards and olive groves. Relaxation squared.
- Trump: family friendliness.
- Popular seaside towns: L’Ampolla, Salou.
- Popular beaches: beach of Cunit, beach of Calafell.
- Airport: Reus.
The Balearic Islands may comprise only four inhabited islands, but they are wildly diverse. From touristy Mallorca to laid-back Formentera. From Ibiza, the island that always dances to the hippest house tones, to Menorca, so child-friendly that it is sometimes called “baby carriage island. They all have one thing in common: beautiful beaches and ditto nature.
- Strengths: versatility, nightlife, active lifestyle.
- Popular seaside towns: Palma Nova (Mallorca), Ibiza City (Ibiza), Cala and Porter (Menorca).
- Popular beaches: Cala Agulla (Mallorca), Platja d’en Bossa (Ibiza), Cala Macarelleta (Menorca).
- Airport: including Palma de Mallorca.
Costa del Azahar
Alias: the orange blossom coast.
Alexander the Great’s caravans introduced the first oranges to what is now Spain in the fourth century BC. Even today, the sweet scent of the many orange, tangerine and lemon groves lingers in the air. Hikers and cyclists enjoy that rural picture year-round; in summer, sunbathers join them.
- Strengths: largely unspoiled, rural tourism.
- Popular seaside town: Peñíscola.
- Popular beaches: Playa Romana (Alcossebre), Els Terrers (Benicasim)
- Airport: Castellon.
Costa de Valencia
Alias: the coast of Valencia
Traditionally, the coast off the province of Valencia belongs to the Costa del Azahar, but recently it was given its own name. On this coast you can find a lot of variety, from busy golden beaches to quiet coves and bays where it is lovely to linger on a hot day. The Costa de Valencia is also highly regarded by water sports enthusiasts.
- Strengths: water sports, culinary.
- Popular seaside town: Calpe, Altea.
- Popular beaches: Platja Port de Sagunt, Playa de la Malvarrosa, Playa de Canet.
- Airport: Valencia.
Alias: the white coast.
Along with the Costa del Sol, it is by far the most famous coast in Spain. From the jagged and green north to the flat and arid south, with its stunning white beaches, no matter where you go or stand on the Costa Blanca, you will meet Belgians (and other expats) everywhere. Unless you enter the hinterland of this “California of Europe,” which is still surprisingly authentic with its fruit and almond orchards.
- Strengths: fantastic climate, something for everyone, many facilities.
- Popular seaside towns: Villajoyosa, Denia.
- Popular beaches: Playa de Levante, Playa de San Juan.
- Airport: Alicante.
Alias: the warm coast.
The Costa Calida is less touristy than the Costa Blanca, thanks in part to the many extensive (protected) natural areas that do not always allow for building. On the other hand, the area is less alive in the winter. Tourism centers mainly around the Mar Menor, an inland lake cut off from the Mediterranean Sea by a long narrow strip of land.
- Strengths: less touristy, playground for nature lovers.
- Popular beach towns: San Pedro del Pinatar, Los Alcázares.
- Popular beaches: Playa de Calblanque, Playa de Los Narejos.
- Airport: Murcia.
Costa de Almeria
Alias: the coast of Almeria.
Again, nature is in charge. In Cabo de Gata, a wetland reserve with spectacular cliffs and wild landscapes, birdwatchers can spot flamingos, among other species. But amateur photographers also get their money’s worth in the historic city of Almeria, with its cobblestone alleys and squares begging for a snapshot. The beaches on the Costa de Almeria are not infrequently pristine.
- assets: nature, historic city of Almeria, pristine beaches.
- Popular beach resorts: Roquetas de Mar, Almerimar.
- Popular beaches: Playa de los Muertos, Playa de los Genoveses.
- Airport: Almeria.
Alias: the tropical coast, sometimes also Costa de Granada.
The coast of Granada province is smaller in scale than the Costa del Sol. Traditional Spain – read: the white mountain villages of Andalusia – is never far away. Although in winter you can also go skiing in the Sierra Nevada. And that on the tropical coast! Fact: King Baudouin had a country house in Motril, where he died in 1993.
- Strengths: small scale, tranquility.
- Popular seaside town: Almuñecar.
- Popular beaches: Playa de La Rijana, Playa de Torrenueva.
- Airport: Granada.
Costa del Sol
Alias: the sunny coast.
Another nickname is Costa del Golf, after the abundance of world-class courses for hitting a ball. More than forty in all. But even those who never saw a golf club up close will not be bored for a second. Hiking, water sports, sunbathing on some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe: on the cosmopolitan Costa del Sol, adventure lurks around every corner.
- Strengths: luxury, active vacation.
- Popular seaside towns: Marbella, Estepona, Torremolinos.
- Popular beaches: Playa de Burriana, Playa Malapesquera.
- Airport: Malaga.
Costa de la Luz
Alias: the coast of light.
The last in the list of southern coasts, but therefore not the least. At the very tip, near Gibraltar, there is only 13 kilometers of sea between you and Africa. Every clear day promises views of the Moroccan Rif Mountains. On the Spanish side of the Mediterranean you will find long sandy beaches, endless cork oak forests and – indeed – light that does fall in a very special way.
- Strengths: sun beats, warm climate.
- Popular seaside towns: Tarifa, Cadiz.
- Popular beaches: Playa de Bolonia, Playa del Palmar.
- Airport: Seville.
Alias: the fortunate islands.
Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Granciosa: together they form the Canary Islands. This volcanic archipelago offers a slice of Europe with the climate of Africa. No wonder eternal spring beckons here. Paradisiacal beaches, stunning nature – large parts of the islands are protected – and good food and drink do the rest.
- Strengths: always nice weather, beaches, volcanic origin, nature.
- Popular seaside towns: Costa Adeje (Tenerife), Maspalomas (Gran Canaria), Costa Teguise (Lanzarote).
- Popular beaches: Playa Abama (Tenerife), Playa de Las Canteras (Gran Canaria), Playa Chica (Lanzarote)
- Airport: including Tenerife South.
Costa de Galicia
Alias: the coast of Galicia.
The northwestern corner of Spain has, according to some, the most beautiful coastline in the country on offer. Think green valleys, rugged mountains, white sand beaches and Atlantic cliffs that will make you gasp. Partly because of the Celtic atmosphere – expect bagpipes – the landscapes sometimes seem rather plucked from Scotland. The smell of goodies from the sea, expertly grilled, takes you back to Spain.
- Strengths: mighty nature, rugged landscapes, fish and shellfish.
- Popular seaside towns: Carnota, Arnados.
- Beaches: Praia das Catedrais, Praia de Xilloi, Praia de Laxe.
- Airport: Santiago de Compostela.
Alias: the green coast.
Some consider the entire northern coast of Spain to be Costa Verde, but we limit it to Asturias and Cantabria. As in Galicia, green predominates. Other than that: sympathetic fishing villages and endless beaches. Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts get their fill in the Picos de Europa, the mountain range that provides a spectacular backdrop.
- Strengths: long beaches, lots of greenery.
- Popular seaside town: Langre.
- Popular beaches: Playa de Torimbia, Playa Xago.
- Airport: Asturias (near Oviedo and Gijon).
Alias: the Basque coast.
The coast of the Basque Country acts as a hinge between the Atlantic Sea and the Pyrenees. Near the south of France are some of the most cosmopolitan beaches in Spain, where m’a-tu-vu is not an empty term. But equally, tourists will find wild coastlines, mountains and forests. For surfers, this is the ultimate Spanish destination.
- Strengths: culinary excellence, sandy beaches, surf.
- Popular seaside towns: San Sebastian, Zarautz.
- Popular beaches: Playa de Eraega, Playa de Gorliz, Playa de La Concha.
- Airport: Bilbao.