susan on the beach
Self-guided tapas tour in Marbella from the Port to the Old Town
Updated: Apr 8
Discover insider's Marbella, beyond the Plaza de los Naranjos!
Where can I get authentic Spanish tapas in Old Town Marbella? Is Plaza de los Naranjos too touristy, can you get good food in the old town? Are there any good places to eat on the Paseo Maritimo in Marbella? Authentic tapas at reasonable prices in the main tourist district of Marbella... Yes, it is possible! If you know where to go. Treat yourself to a night out in Marbella Old Town, sampling the best authentic Spanish tapas at several different charming restaurants. Here is our self-guided walking tour around the charming whitewashed streets, and hidden cobblestone alleys. We'll share our insider secrets for typical Spanish tapas and drinks, eaten outside on the sidewalk while watching the world go by. Yes, it is possible to find typical, authentic Spanish home cooking in the most popular district of Marbella center, around the Plaza de los Naranjos (Orange tree Square), without falling into tourist traps! You just need to know, where to go for what.
This tapas tour is adaptable, you can omit any stop that doesn't suit (for example, if there is a wait for a table), do it in another order or backwards, or you could break it up into the beach-side circuit and the old-town circuit! 8 stops are a bit ambitious in one go, but there are so many good places we couldn't bring the short-list any shorter. Take a whole day and do half at lunch and half for dinner, with a nap on the beach in between!
Our tour takes you from the Avenida del Mar (Dali sculptures and fountains), through the gorgeous Alameda park to Marbella Old town, ending up again along the beach boardwalk Paseo Maritimo. We will discover favorite local tapas bars where you will mostly hear Spanish spoken around you. Amazingly it is still possible to find authentic places, with authentic prices, even in the most popular district of this wonderful city. Practice a few polite words in Castilian and you'll enjoy an even nicer welcome!
If you are staying in our Sunny Corner Marbella apartment, no need for a car. Just walk out your front door and head to the boardwalk, direction Avenida del Mar. If you are staying with us in our Honeymoon Suites in Marbella's Elviria beach district, you can take an uber downtown or drive and park at the Avenida del Mar parking garage (this is the easiest and cheapest underground parking in the center of town). You can also park in the street in the center of the city (do not attempt this in August evenings!). Blue-lines spaces can be paid at the parkmeters, white lined spaces are free (and rare!). Bring your appetite and comfortable shoes for walking, and let's set off!
Avenida del Mar - parking, meeting point.
La Venencia - Carillada, Berenjena frita
Jamon y Vino - iberico ham, and cantabrico anchovy toasts
Taberna Casa Curro - Steamed prawns with maldon salt, chicharrones
Bar Altamirano - fried baby squids or calamari, clams in white wine
Plaza de los Naranjos - passing through!
El Estrecho - Salmorejo, Croquetas
La Primeria - oysters, smoked sardines with tomato jam
Bodega del Mar - Rabo de Toro or Crujientes de Rabo de Toro
Back to parking on Avenida del Mar
Insider tip: most restaurants will try to serve you a basket of bread with your tapas, this is billed 50 cents to 1,50 per person. If you don't want it, say so immediately don't let the waiter put it down on the table. If the waiter puts it down, and you say nothing ,they are allowed to bill you for it. They are supposed to ask first but don't always do so.
We find there is no point getting huffed up about this practice, all of these hardworking places have greatly suffered through the pandemic, I'm happy to pay for a basket of bread if it helps them. The rest of the food and drink is highly reasonable, even with bread the bill at the end of the night will be reasonable!
Marbella is Unique along the Spanish coast
Unlike many Spanish artificially-built beach resort areas, Marbella center city is unique for its rich history. The area has been populated since paleolithic times, came under Arab rule for 9 centuries, was conquered by the Spanish Catholics in 1485 and remained a small fishing and farming community until the 1950's. Today, Marbella stands out among most other Spanish resort towns for its year round activity and animation. Restaurants, tapas bars and shops never close. With the best climate in Europe, there is never a dull season in Marbella.
Avenida Del Mar
We start our tour on Avenida del Mar - the exit to the main city underground parking garage and the center city focal point between beach and old town. Admire the open air museum of bronze Dali sculptures, a beautiful esplanade that links the beach to the old town.
Walk toward the beach, and go down the steps to the Paseo Maritimo. This is one of the most beloved features of Marbella city, a gorgeous boardwalk with shops, restaurants, beach clubs, activities - ride bikes, jog, walk, or just sit and watch the world go by. The Paseo is lovely and while there are many "tourist traps" you can still find some great places for tapas right nearby. Turn right when you get to the beach, pass in front of Santiago restaurant and head up Avenida Miguel Cano, La Venencia is the 2nd restaurant on your right with seats around sherry barrels set out on the sidewalk.
Bodega La Venencia
WHY GO HERE
Before heading to the old town, we'll make a stop in the thick of the tourist district on the port, at the still-authentic Venencia. Some of the restaurants on the Paseo are tourist dives serving mediocre food, but this is an oasis of true Spanish tradition and cooking. It's nice to sit inside near the bar, see the hams hanging from the rafters, the choice of fresh daily tapas in the vitrine and the wine selection along the back wall.
WHAT TO ORDER
Specialty here is suckling pig, served with homemade french fries and padron peppers. you have a larger group why not order a raçion to share among 4 or 6 people.
If there are just 2 of you we recommend starting out with a tasting the "puchara" croquettes (croquettes made from the "pot" or the stew of the day), or ham croquettes (jamon). Another classic to start off the night here would be the gambas pil pil to share. A ceramic dish of prawns cooked in boiling olive oil, garlic and chili peppers, it's brought bubbling to the table, served with bread for mopping up the garlic oil.
Head back down to the beach, turn left, walk past Avenida del Mar, and then start walking up the next street - Avenida Puerta del Mar. Shortly before you reach the corner with Alameda park, you will find:
Taperia Jamon y Vino
Absolutely authentic, no frills, and serving mainly Spanish clientele for a few bites in the evening and a generous drink - tinto de verano, una cana (small beer), or a glass of wine..
WHY GO HERE
Family run small tapas bar in a back-street off the Paseo. This is where our Spanish neighbors come for a drink and some tapas, before maybe heading to the next stop for a plate of fish to share!
Prices are reasonable, terrace under the plane trees is very pleasant, enjoy the Spanish conversation around you and enjoy the wonderful weather. In between the main taxi stand/bus stop and the Paseo Maritimo. Jamon y Vino has the best cold cuts, artisanal Spanish hams and cheeses, locally sourced. Go for the artisanal products, not so much the cooked tapas.
WHAT TO ORDER
- Iberico ham (expensive, but do try it at least once)
- Cecina - a kind of Spanish dried beef similar to Bresaola. Also expensive, and delicious
- Anchovy toasts - we are addicted - the best in the city - we are capable of taking a Ryanair flight to Marbella just to eat this!
- The homemade meatballs are usually delicious and served in the classic yellow almond and saffran sauce. The carrillada (pork cheeks stew) is full of Andalusian and Moroccan flavors, with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg in a savory dish.
- Brioche with deboned oxtail - a-m-a-z-i-n-g but maybe now only available at lunch?
Continue up the hill to the Alameda park, admire the mature tropical trees and beautiful fountain.. Cross over the main Sorriano boulevard to enter the old town via Plaza Africa.
Taberna Casa Curro
Taberna Casa Curro is just uphill from Plaza Africa on a little side street called Calle Pantaleon.
WHY GO HERE
There are sherry keg tables and stools to sit on, many people eat standing up when there are no more seats! This minuscule "hole in the wall" also serves the best artisanal products. Spanish flock here for tapas around 8pm-10pm so be prepared you might have to eat inside or wait for a seat! The owner (nordic lady with brusque demeanor) will try to upsell, but stick to your guns and order only what you want! We love the old town atmosphere and watching the people go by from the outdoor tables. We love eating beautiful cold cuts off of butcher paper. We love throwing our shrimp tails and shells into the plastic bins put around for this purpose. We looove places like this which sprinkle Maldon salt on everything. Why does that make a difference? Not sure why, but it does! What do you think?
WHAT TO ORDER
Gambas cocidas (steamed fresh prawns), served in a paper cone with maldon salt and a wedge of lemon. The small trash bins at every table are for the prawn shells.
Chicharrones (cured pork belly), a fatty cut of cured pork also served with maldon salt and lemon, it comes on a piece of butcher paper instead of a plate.
Manchego cheese comes on a board, cut into the typical fan-like slices, with candied "angel hair".. the sweet touch with the cheese is addictive. What to avoid: anything cooked except the steamed prawns Budget note: Casa Curro is not cheap, and the boss always tries to upsell. We still love it but if your budget is restricted, skip this stop!
A wander uphill and through the beautiful cobblestone streets and whitewashed houses, will take you to a beautiful square that is home to several restaurants: The Farm has flamenco shows and good organic food (Authentic flamenco, tap here to see their insta and book a table. This is an insider must for Marbella ). Zozoi is a favourite among French and Belgian expats.
WHY GO HERE
The square is beautiful and picturesque; it is pleasant to sit outdoors under the flowered façades, under the church bell, and watch the world go by. Street performers liven up the summer evenings. Spanish families come here to share the large "raciones" of fried seafood and fresh fish. Go inside to see the typical Spanish tilework, the football (soccer) memorabilia, and above all the fresh fish vitrine to pick out what you'd like to eat, either fried or done quick on the "plancha".
Portions are generous, fish is very fresh, service quick and professional, white wine cold crisp and delicious with your seafood.
WHAT TO ORDER
Fish fish fish! That is all they have, and the only accompagnements are roasted red pepper salad and tomato salad (heavy on the garlic, be sure to ask them to hold the ajillo if you don't like it!)
Fried calamari are of course a classic, but since you are on the Costa del Sol why not try something more adventurous? - Chopitos fritos - fried whole baby calamari, delicious
- Boquerones fritos - little fresh anchovies, tail still on... - Rosado a la plancha - dogfish but don't let the name put you off. White fish without bones, served done on the plancha with olive oil, parsley and garlic.
- Tortillita de Camerones - "prawn pancake", miniature whole baby bay prawns thrown into a batter and fried up, half crepe, half beignet... Crispy, salty, with a tender center... addictive.
What to avoid: do not take any dish with potatoes here, such as whole cooked fish in the oven. They take the potatoes out of a tin.
Heading over past Plaza de los Naranjos, we won't stop here for tapas (too touristy), but we can walk around the square and soak up the atmosphere! Wind your way through the little streets to wind up on one of the narrowest and most picturesque old-town alleys. This cobblestone street is so narrow you can touch the houses on either side, without even straightening out your arms! Filled with charming tapas bars who still manage to get tables and stools in the tiny alleyway to provide outdoor seating for their specialties.
WHY GO HERE
"El Estrecho" means, "the narrow one"! And indeed it carries it's name well. Be prepared to head indoors for this stop, the places in the street are few and far between. Inside, they have opened up several houses together to make a bar and a (narrow - "estrecho") dining room! But they can fit an amazing number of convivial people all here to enjoy the home cooking.
The vitrine next to the bar shows off what the cooks have prepared today. Ceramic platters of hearty chick pea stew, fried fish, cold potato and garlic aoili salad... Friendly warm welcome and Spanish prices! What's not to like, and we are in the main tourist district of Marbella. Estrecho is across the street from another Marbella landmark, the Taberna Nina del Pisto. Nina del Pisto has food that is one notch above, but very unpleasant servers, not a smile to be had, constantly fully booked and rude welcome. So we'll prefer to hang out at Estrecho!
WHAT TO ORDER
Everything we've tried on their menu has been home made and fresh. Since this is our 5th stop we select the most representative two dishes:
- Carillada - pork cheek stew. Made fresh daily, served with little home made french fries.
- Salmorejo - olive oil , bread and tomato cold soup. Like Italian "panzanella" but pureed and served with some little ham bits and chopped egg on top. A classic.
Everything is home made and fabulous here, sample whatever you find on the menu you won't be disappointed! And the smiling young management and staff makes it all the better.
Are you ready to drop? If not we are heading back across Soriano boulevard and through the sought-after neighborhood "between Alameda park and the sea", where expats and Spaniards alike dream of having an apartment to come to on the week-ends. We are heading to the new up-and-coming tapas street - Francisco del Norte - just a block behind the Paseo and home to restaurant Gaspar (see our post "eat like a local"). Sandwiched between the Notary and Lawyers offices on the boulevard, and the touristy boardwalk and port, this street has started to attract a large number of new tapas and authentic Spanish venues.
LA PRIMERIA SELECCION
WHY GO HERE
Yet another family run place that specialises in artisanal and local products. La primeria is set up like a shop, and you can buy the products that you eat at the tapas bar they are all for sale inside. The unusual thing about this one is that the specialties are... conserves (in cans!). The Spanish have a tradition of enjoying excellent artisanal canned products, such as sardines or clams... even having "millesimé"s like for fine wine, and rotating or turning the tins of fish as they are aging... You can order a tin of smoked sardines, "berberechos" (a kind of shellfish), or cantabrian anchovies to share it will be served with the finest french butter and toasted brioche. Spaniards flock here on the weekends. In addition to the canned goods, this restaurant brings in the finest french oysters, french and italian cheeses... the best of the best.
WHAT TO ORDER
- A glass of high quality CAVA or top quality champagne (the cava here we feel is almost equivalent to the French bubbly)
- Fresh French Oysters (if you are here Friday to Monday) - Smoked sardine on toast with onion marmelade
- French cheese platter (look in the vitrine and ask what is on offer, this is not always consistent as they only take fresh and what's best at the time)
- A tin of mussels in escabeche if you are feeling adventurous (acquired taste!)
CAN YOU HANDLE ONE MORE STOP?
Walk towards the beach, and enjoy the parade of beautiful people on the Paseo. Marbella is clean, safe, brightly lit. The paseo maritimo is festive all year round. In summer, especially so.
BODEGA DEL MAR
WHY GO HERE
The exception to the rule? A crazy outlier? This restaurant is on the main tourist drag, has the most kitcsh decor I have ever seen (and they are proud of it). Purple throw pillows with dogs portraits printed on them. I do not lie. They even opened up a decoration shop next door with their merchandise and expanded the seaview Paseo terrace to extend across the whole front of their building! If you can put the touristy location and the decoration aside, you will be treated by some great cooking and lovely owners (part French, part Spanish!). And the Rabo de Toro is one of the best we've had in the city.
WHAT TO ORDER
- Crujiente de Rabo de Toro. - crunchy filo pastry wrapped around luscious de-boned rabo de toro (oxtail), served with a sweet and savory dipping sauce. This is an amazing take on the classic rabo de toro stew. If you are still hungry or want to go for the authentic instead of the fusion:
- Rabo de Toro (tapa portion or whole meal). The tapas portion is generous and comes with a few home made french fries.
Bravo! You have completed the authentic Spanish tapas tour of Marbella, conveniently ending on the Paseo Maritimo where you can stroll a few short steps and find an ice cream parlor for your desert!
Stay with us and make this tapas tour one of the great features of your stay!