Best places for families to live in the Costa del Sol

April 5, 2024

Have you ever wondered what are the best places for families to live in the Costa del Sol? That’s a question I have asked myself before, and I’ve recently been reminded of that by Shannon, a fellow blogger that writes the delicious A Little Adrift. Shannon is considering relocating to the area with her kid, and wrote me an e-mail asking about what would be the best places; this post is a consequence of that e-mail exchange and was suggested by her. Super on point! It got me asking myself why I hadn’t done it yet…

Best places for families to live in the Costa del Sol
There are plenty of places!

Of course, the best place will depend on personal priorities. Once again, I think Shannon was spot on when defining hers: a good place for kids; lots of nature, not isolated (coffee shops nearby), and no need for a car. Isn’t it the dream? Different places of the Costa del Sol offers these and other advantages in varying degrees; the hardest one is the no-car, though; the area is hilly overall, and some places are not well connected by public transport. That being said, in this post, I’ll add my answer to her and a few more options, based on other possible priorities.

Benalmadena, Arroyo de la Miel: kid’s activities and vibrant life

Benalmadena is possibly the best city of the Costa del Sol for kids, because it is a city that developed its tourist attraction around families with kids (at least since 1972, with the opening of the Tivoli Park). There are several playgrounds, the events that the town promotes include plenty of activities for children, there is plenty of sandy beaches and La Paloma Park – a very large green area with bunnies running free.

Arroyo is a central area, very well connected by train to Fuengirola, Torremolinos and Malaga, and by bus with other parts of the town – including the beach. Of the list I have here, Arroyo is the place that requires car the least. And it has plenty of coffee shops, restaurants and entertainment. Some parts of Arroyo have more nature than others, though; but it is not far from La Paloma.

Related posts:
Benalmadena for kids!
The 9 Benalmadenas
Train stations in Benalmadena

Benalmadena Pueblo: Spanish charm and vibrant life

A lovely part of Benalmadena. It is super cute, has plenty of flowers and little squares, and amazing views. It has commerce, supermarkets, coffee shops and a small community. There are expats around and many activities promoted by the Town Hall. It has more nature than Arroyo; it is also smaller and looks like a fairy tale white-washed village. It has good connections to Arroyo and Mijas Pueblo by bus, but it is rather far from the beach without a car.

Related posts:
The 9 Benalmadenas
Is it worth visiting Benalmadena Pueblo?

Fuengirola: easy to go around and pet friendly

The main reason I included Fuengirola among the best places for families to live in the Costa del Sol is because this town is concentrated in a flat area. It is quite packed and feels like a bigger city than it is, but because of its geography, it is easy to walk around; it has good public transport connections, both by train and by bus. Fuengirola has a large expat community and quite lively events, but the city is not so green. It offers easy access to the beaches from anywhere and is very pet friendly, with a dog beach and even restaurants that welcome dogs! 

Related post:
Train stations in Fuengirola

Traveling to Spain with a dog? Fuengirola!

Mijas Pueblo: charm and nature

It is a bigger version of Benalmadena Pueblo. It has great views, lots of green, good connections to Fuengirola (more) and to Benalmadena (less) by bus. More Spanish, so to speak, than most of the other areas, though quite touristic. A perfect place for nature and for relaxation. You’ll certainly find markets, restaurants and coffee shops there, but I’m afraid that for more you may feel the need to go to Fuengirola. 

Related post:
The beauty of Mijas Pueblo

La Cala de Mijas: beach and community

It is a coastal area of Mijas. It is beautiful, has a community, sits in a small area with expats and basic commerce granted. There are lots of restaurants which provide entertainment. But the further we go from Malaga, the worst the public transportation gets, unfortunately (except for Fuengirola). There are few buses here; the main connection is with Fuengirola, but from there you can take the train and reach up to Malaga. It takes time, though; a car would probably be useful. 

Estepona: flowers, yes; buses, no

The town is absolutely gorgeous; they have been focusing on being the garden of the Costa del Sol, and with great success. The beach, the old town and the promenade are delightful. The problem, as usual, is the public transportation, which is inexplicably limited in Estepona to this day. I have the impression that the town took long to realize it was part of the Costa del Sol and got inundated by new residents without being prepared.

It is building up, but the main problem I see there is that it is far from everywhere else and poorly connected. Cars are kind of important in Estepona, in my opinion. The area of Estepona is large, but the city is concentrated in a small area; so, it’s either a higher rent in the center, or a lower rent further away (and thus needing a car). But if car is not a problem, I believe Estepona is one of the best places for families to live near Malaga.

Axarquia: calm and less tourists

The area east of Malaga is known as the Axarquia, and has towns such as Rincón de la Victoria, Velez-Malaga (Caleta de Velez, shown below, is part of Velez-Malaga), Torre del Mar, Torrox and Nerja. These towns are less busy than their counterparts on the west; they are also more affordable and receive less tourists (with the exception of Nerja). Their public transportation is also limited, both because there are no local trains and the buses don’t pass often.

The Axarquia is naturally beautiful, but I have the impression that, perhaps because it is less focused on attracting tourist than the west area of the Costa del Sol, the towns invest less on cosmetic improvements.

Malaga: it has it all, and then some

Malaga is big. And true to the nature of big cities, it has traffic jams and some pollution. It also has the biggest everything in the Costa del Sol: the biggest celebrations – Holy Week, Christmas, feria – the biggest shopping, the greater number of museums, the biggest old town and the biggest hospitals; it also has the airport and the university. It has beautiful parks and beaches and the lovely Muelle Uno. It is a great big city, very much worth visiting. By the way, the public transportation in Malaga is also great, and so are the connections with the rest of the country!

Of particular interest, it has something the towns nearby lack: job opportunities beyond the hospitality or tourism sector. Malaga even has its own industrial park and an impressive and growing IT Park – Parque Tecnológico de Andalucía.

Above: Google’s cybersecurity center (GSEC), in Malaga, opened in the end of 2023. Did you notice the ‘G’ in the gate?

Related post:
Train stations in Malaga

Other possible priorities:

Access to cinema

Marbella, Fuengirola and Malaga have cinemas; the other towns, do not, as far as I know. But people in Torremolinos and Benalmadena don’t have much a problem with that, as long as they are close to a train station, because the Plaza Mayor train stop is a shopping center with cinema. This stop is less than 15 minutes away from Arroyo de la Miel, and certainly less from Torremolinos!

Best places for families to live in the Costa del Sol - Plaza Mayor, Malaga
Cine Yelmo, in Plaza Mayor, Malaga

Many expats around or few expats around

Both things could be considered an advantage; and though I’m strongly on team pro-expats, I know it is not everybody’s choice. So let me tell you a bit of the advantages I see for families living in an international community:

– Kiddo made friends with other expat kids right away, easing his adaptation to the new country;
– Kiddo is not an alien to the eyes of the local kids. He is seen by (at least some of) his colleagues as someone very competent in English. I imagine if we were in a 100% Spanish area, he would be the weird kid that can’t speak or speaks funny (we had a bit of that even in Benalmadena);
– Kiddo’s school teachers speak English and help him in English when needed. This was of enormous help on our first year in Spain.

Even for those without kids, there are advantages in being an expat in an area with other expats:

– the language barrier is smaller. Hubby doesn’t speak Spanish, and all the friends he made since we moved in are people that can speak English. If we were in an area deprived of expats, he would not be able to communicate;
– we can buy food from our home countries in specialty shops. Among shops of other nationalities, there’s a Brazilian shop in Fuengirola (I’m Brazilian) and an Eastern European shop (Коровай) in Benalmadena (Hubby is from Estonia). It feels like a party every time we go to either!

Here are some cool statistics about the origins of the inhabitants of different parts of the province of Malaga that you may like, all dated from 2022 and from Foro Ciudad (foreigners in red; people from the town in gray, from other places within Malaga province in blue, from other places of Andalucia in green and from other places of Spain in yellow):

Towns of the Costa del Sol:

Towns of the Axarquia:

Malaga, Antequera and Benahavis:

With the notable exception of Benahavis, you may find generally less foreigners inland than on the coastal areas; Malaga city also attract proportionally less people from abroad to live than the towns around it.

Related posts:
Is Spain full of foreigners?
The school system in Spain – a guide for expats
International and bilingual schools in the Costa del Sol

Our experience with schools in Spain

Conclusion

There are amazing options for families to live in the Costa del Sol; there are places with more of an urban feel, as well as others that feel like a small village; close to the sea or very close to the sea (😄); but while community and coffee shops are easy to come by, good public transportations is not so pervasive. I hope you enjoyed the options here and found one for you! Let me know in the comments if you have other priorities that were not included, and I’ll do my best to tell where to find them.

Next: Our unusual perspective on renting vs buying after arriving

2 thoughts on “Best places for families to live in the Costa del Sol

  1. Thanks for that, I always find your articles really useful, learning something new with each one 😊

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