Lie on the beaches
You can revitalise yourself with Mediterranean sun and sea on Marbella’s beaches without spending a cent. Playa de Fontanilla stretches along the southern edge of the modern centre and is a great place from which to watch the sunset, whilst further to the east you’ll find Playa de la Bajadilla, a curve of sand next to the city’s quaint fishing port. For a day on the beach that will hardly cost you anything, stock up on a picnic at one of the cheap stores near the Paseo Maritimo and take it with you.
Explore the neighbourhoods
Wandering around Marbella’s various neighbourhoods is arguably the best way to get to know the city and needn’t cost you anything. Start with the casco antiguo, or old town, a beguiling barrio of flower-fronted houses, boutique shops and pretty squares; heading north from here will take you into the working neighbourhood of Miraflores, which delights with its colourful grocery stalls and lively street life, and in Divina Pastora (east of the Represa Park) you’ll find one of the city’s biggest food markets.
Enjoy the parks
Marbella is home to a number of attractive parks that provide shady retreats if you’re visiting in spring or summer – and they’re all free to visit. Nearest the to beach are Alameda Park – a small patch of greenery with a beautiful tiled fountain at its centre – and Constitution Park, which features an open-air auditorium and café. Snaking up through the north of the city is Represa Park, where you’ll find the quirky Museo del Bonsai (entry is just 4 euros), and to the west lies the elegant, romantic Lover’s Park.
Stay in budget accommodations
Marbella is famous for its plush hotels, but staying here doesn’t necessarily mean shelling out a month’s rent to have a bed for the night. The city boasts dozens of budget hostels, of which one of the best is Hostal Tak. Run by a friendly English couple, it offers stylish and modern rooms minutes from the beach and old town (it’s closed in February). Within a few hundred yards of Tak’s front door, a number of other inexpensive hostels can be found (most of which close between December-March).
Hostal Tak, 41 Calle San Ramón, Marbella, Spain, +34 951 46 94 20
Visit the local tapas bars
The key to eating and drinking well on a budget trip to Marbella is simple: steer clear of the establishments that line the Paseo Maritimo, most of which are overpriced and solely for tourists. For a delicious and inexpensive lunch or dinner, head to the streets around Plaza Delfin – an area packed with local bars serving three-course menus for less than 15 euros. Try Bar Guerola, one of the locals’ favourite lunch spots, or La Taberna del Pintxo, which serves Basque-style snacks for about a euro each.
Bar Guerola, 4 Calle Padre Enrique Cantos, Marbella, Spain, +34 952 77 00 07
La Taberna del Pintxo, 7 Avenida Miguel Cano, Marbella, Spain, +34 952 82 93 21
Check out the Salvador Dalí sculptures
One of the more surprising aspects of Marbella’s cultural offering is its open-air collection of ten bronze sculptures by Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), which can be admired (or puzzled at) for free just off the main seaside promenade. These characteristically strange pieces are scattered along the spacious Avenida del Mar and make for an intriguing stop-off if you’re wandering along the waterfront: their shapes and forms flow effortlessly into one another, as they do in all Dalí’s greatest work.