Know Your Blanca from Your Brava: A Quick Guide to the Spanish Costas

UK tourists and the Spanish Costas – a love affair that goes back half a century and more. For British holidaymakers, there’s no place that has the same pull as Spain.

In 2019, a staggering 18 million Brits visited Spain. And you can bet that a sizeable majority of those headed for the famous resorts of the Costas in search of sun, sea and sweet relaxation.

Since then, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has intervened, triggering a temporary pause to the annual mass exodus from UK shores. For large periods of the past two years, Brits haven’t been allowed to travel to Spain at all.

As things stand, all of that happily looks behind us – although we should have learned by now not to underestimate COVID’s ability to disrupt the best laid plans. But for now, as long as you are fully vaccinated (for adults), you can travel to Spain without any restrictions. Which means the summer holiday in Spain is back on!

Time, then, to reacquaint yourself with the famous Costas. But how well do you know them? Here’s a quick guide to help you make that all-important decision about which part of this fabulous country to visit.

Costa de Almeria

Located on Spain’s southern coast, the Costa de Almeria is one of three Costas in the region of Andalucia, the hottest and driest part of Spain. At the eastern end of the 1000km-long Andalucian coastline, Costa de Almeria is known for being less commercially developed than some of its neighbours.

The main town is the port city of Almeria. Highlights include the protected nature and maritime park Cabo de Gata – great option if you like your beaches unspoilt and want to escape the main tourist herd, while still enjoying the best of the Spanish weather.

Costa del Azahar

Sweeping north in a great curve from the port city of Denia past Valencia and up to Castellon, the name ‘Orange Blossom Coast’ gives you a clue about the local agriculture in this southeastern corner of Spain..

While not exactly off the beaten path (Valencia is Spain’s third biggest city), the Costa del Azahar’s resorts are mostly smaller and less well known than some of the biggest hitters in Spain, making it popular with families looking for a quieter holiday. One claim to fame is that this Costa is home to the town of Benicassim, the location of a popular annual music festival.

Costa Blanca

Round the cape south from Denia, you leave the Costa del Azahar and reach the famous Costa Blanca – the White Coast, a reference to the colour of the blossom on the almond trees common in this part of Spain.

These days, Costa Blanca is known less for its almonds and more for being perhaps Spain’s premier summer holiday destination. This is arguably the king of the Spanish Costas, home of big hitting resorts like Benidorm, Torrevieja and Alicante. This was where the Spanish tourist boom first started, and it remains one of the busiest and most popular destinations, welcoming 10 million tourists a year before the pandemic.

If you like packed beaches, pulsing nightlife and an endless choice of entertainment, this is the Costa for you.

Costa Brava

Reaching from the Pyrenees mountains and the French border down to just north of Barcelona, Catalonia’s Costa Brava mixes beautiful rugged coastline with a backdrop of stunning mountain scenery. Rather than the wide open expanses of sand many of the other Costas are famous for, Costa Brava is renowned for its picturesque little coves dotted right along its length.

With plenty of gorgeous fishing villages along the way, Costa Brava is ideal for taking a road trip to see what hidden gems you can find for yourself. Or else pack your hiking boots and explore one of the many coastal paths.

Costa Calida

Nestled in between the Costa de Almeria and Costa Blanca, Murcia’s Costa Calida is known as the ‘warm coast’ because of its notably warm waters – up to 5oC warmer than the average temperatures of the surrounding Mediterranean. That makes it a particularly attractive destination if bathing in the sea is your idea of holiday heaven.

Key attractions include the historic port town of Cartagena and La Mar Menor, a shallow saltwater lagoon with gently sloping beaches that is especially popular among families with young children.

Costa Dorada

Back in Catalonia, this time running to the south of Barcelona, the ‘Golden Coast’ is aptly named. Unlike its northern cousin, this is a strip of coastline where the golden sands stretch for miles and the shallow waters are a fabulous turquoise. In easy reach of Barcelona and centred around the cities of Tarragona and Reus, this is another of Spain’s most visited Costas, welcoming in the region of 3.5 million tourists a year.

Major resorts include Cambrils and Salou, the latter of which is home to the giant Port Aventura theme park and water park complex.

Costa de la Luz

The second of the three Andalucian Costas, the ‘Coast of Light’ is also the only one on this list to face the Atlantic rather than the Mediterranean. Starting at Tarifa, the southernmost town in Spain from where you can see across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco, the Costa de la Luz takes in Cadiz and winds all the way up to Huelva.

If you like your beaches wide, sweeping and unspoilt, this is the Costa for you. There’s a distinctly laid-back, relaxed vibe to life in this corner of Spain, no doubt influenced by having more days of sunshine than any other region and beautiful natural scenery to go with it. It’s also a magnet for surfers and kiteboarders, with reliable Atlantic swell and warm on-shore breezes.

Costa del Sol

Finally, the third and best known of the Andalucian Costas, and one of the real big hitters on the Spanish tourist scene. Stretching west from the main city of Malaga, like the Costa Blanca, the ‘Coast of Sun’ boasts some of the most famous and popular resort towns in all of Spain – Marbella, Fuengirola, Benalmadena, Torremolinos.

Busy and bustling throughout the summer, the Costa del Sol is everything you would imagine from the classic Spanish holiday experience – great weather, beaches galore, restaurants and bars at every turn and lively nightlife. It’s also well known as a golfer’s paradise, and further west heading towards Gibraltar, you can still find long stretches of less developed coastline that remind you of Andalucia’s rugged beauty.

Ready to make your decision? Whenever you book, don’t forget to buy your Travel Insurance for Spain. Spain still has a complete ban on unvaccinated British travellers entering the country, and children between the ages of 12 and 18 who aren’t fully vaccinated will have to take a PCR test. If that comes out positive, that’s your holiday cancelled – cover yourself so you don’t lose your money, too.