Glitz, glamour, beach clubs and exclusive hotels are just one side of Marbella. For those seeking to escape the tourist trail, there’s a whole world to be discovered. We have spoken to locals and expats who live here all year round and we’ve put together our own alternative guide: Getting the most out of Marbella like a local. Soon, you will feel right at home.
First, let’s explore authenticity itself. Just what do we mean by “authentic Marbella”? Those hard-to-find places, untouched by tourists, make up just one part of it. Essentially what we mean by “authenticity” is a natural way of enjoying Marbella like a local. Tradition comes into it, but it’s also about the current day. So where do the “Marbella’s” (those who are lucky enough to live here) go to eat? Where do they go to the beach? How do they conduct their lives to get the most out of this delicious climate?
Well, we are here to clear that up for you.
Live Like you’re from Marbella
It can be easy to spot the tourists in this divine city. First of all, you’ll notice they flock to the beaches or pool even if the day is cloudy. They tend to eat earlier than those who were born here (for all meals except breakfast) and, in some cases, they walk faster, possibly still rushing from A to B. Clearly, they haven’t yet been hit with the Marbella magic yet: That feeling of “everything’s ok”, and “it can wait.”
Life shouldn’t need to be stressful and those who are lucky enough to live here all the time tend to embrace those relaxed vibes in all they do. So if you want to experience the true Marbella, start by slowing down! And, if you don’t want to look like a tourist, take it easy and go with the flow. It’s not so hard when you are faced with pretty sunsets and sea views.
The Marbella Timetable
The days here are longer than in many other countries, even in other cities in Spain. With dinner often as late as 11 p.m. in the hot summer, expect long lunches with extended “sobremesas” (otherwise known as chit-chat around the table long after the meal is finished.) The surprising thing tourists often find about life here is that the shops also have different timetables than they are used to. Many shops stay open until 10pm and often smaller retail outlets close for siesta at midday.
If you love shopping, you can read more about how to shop in Marbella here, with our Shopaholic’s guide to Marbella. Enjoy, but don’t say we didn’t warn you when you can’t fit everything in your case on the way home!
The Marbella Locals’ Attitude to the Beach
For those interested, here is our guide to the best beach clubs for this season. These lavish clubs are not just for tourists by any means. It’s just that those local to the area know which offer better value than others and they approach a day at the beach differently. Less concerned with getting a tan (After all, they have all year for that), the Marbella residents tend to visit these exclusive venues perhaps for a lunch or dinner rather than an all-day session on the sunbeds.
We interviewed Marbella born and bred Jesus Gomez, 42, a security guard, about beach life in the town. He told us the Spanish tend to see the beach as a family outing, so it’s rare to see just one or two people on the beach together. The Spanish turn a beach day into an extended family affair and make a day of it, often taking their own picnic with them. Jesus assured us (while shaking his head) that between the hours of 2 and 5 in the afternoon it’s very rare to be sunbathing. (The phrase “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” came to mind!)
Being part of Malaga province, it’s also very common to eat “espeto” here which is skewered fish, usually sardines, cooked on the beach barbecue. Look out for this and other delicacies at many of the chiringuitos (beach bars) you’ll find all along the region’s long stretches of sand.
Sip a cold beer and enjoy freshly caught, skewered sardines for the authentic Marbella style beach experience.
Dining out in Marbella: Local Style
If beach bars don’t float your boat then there’s plenty of other options.
Here’s a section of ten restaurants you won’t find in other guides to get you started.
Stroll around the old town in quieter lanes and you’ll find a few authentic bars like Nina del Pisto, or head further afield for a truly local delight. Maria Jose Lopez, a local GP who lives in the city centre told us about Los Farolillos on Calle Tirso de Molina, 23, 29660 Nueva Andalucia, Marbella Spain. Here, you probably will be the only non-local, and you’ll enjoy classic authentic Spanish cuisine, a tradtional décor and experience. As well as a high level of authenticity, Los Farolillos is easy on the purse too with excellent value for money.
Don’t forget it’s not just where to eat that matters, but how to eat too. Locals don’t have dinner before 9 and enjoy a long, late lunch. At lunchtime you might choose a “menu del dia” which means meal of the day, often the local restaurants offer a three course set-menu that will keep you full until much later.
What to eat is also important. Fish is a popular choice here in Andalucia, being so close to the sea.If you’re after a fantastic fish or seafood meal, you can take your pick from many excellent, traditional fish restaurants in Marbella but one you can’t miss is Altamirano in the old town.
Drinking like a Spaniard
Each culture has its own attitudes to drinking. You’ll notice in Spain that alcohol is widely available and inexpensive with quality wines at reasonable prices. Here, drinks are about being sociable but there are also plenty of options for non-drinkers too. Read our guide to how to order drinks in Spain like a local here.
Lastly it’s important to know where to go for a drink. If you want high quality wines head to one of the town’s beautiful wine bars like Primeria Seleccion on Calle Pintor de Rivera 10. This was originally a trade supplier that evolved into a wine and tapas bar and is truly a cut above. Enjoy!
Party like you’re from Marbella
So how do the locals have fun?
Despite the 320 days of sunshine per year and the amazing sunsets, Marbellis can be thrill seekers at times. They love to party and celebrate (just come here during one of the festivals like Easter, the annual Feria or San Juan and you’ll see what we mean.) There is no one-size-fits-all but Spaniards from Marbella tend to go out later than many other nationalities. It’s very common to meet for a tapa and a drink then move on to another bar and continue with more tapas and more drinks, rather than spending hours in the same place. Staying up late is in their blood, so you’ll even see small children and infants out in bars and terraces past midnight. This may take some getting used to but it’s perfectly normal in Spain.
The Spanish love music just as much as we all do, and there’s plenty to see here especially in summer. For 2022 there’s a fantastic line up of events, see 2022, Marbella’s Year of Music here. Another Marbella tradition is the Starlite festival. This is on every summer, with the stage built into a quarry. With impressive views and international acts, it’s a fantastic evening. Ask your Swish concierge about tickets.
Shopping in Marbella
With its sunny days and balmy evenings Marbella makes shopping a pleasure. Those in the know go where the locals go, from markets like Marbella’s indoor market to green-grocers’ and butchers’ shops. We put this mini-guide to where to shop in Marbella together for you previously.
Remember if you are our guest we can do your shopping for you, you just have to ask!
So that concludes our guide to local life here. We hope we have expanded your horizons to the most authentic side to Marbella.
The traditional Spanish restaurants and bars in Marbella can make your trip more interesting and give you a new perspective.
Can we tempt you to visit?
The Swish team xx
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