Malaga is one of the largest cities on the south coast of Spain, and while it’s long been the gateway to beach resorts on the Costa del Sol, it’s far too often been overlooked as a travel destination in its own right.
The city has long played an important role in Andalusian affairs, but it has always been in the shadow of nearby Seville, a city which for a long time was the centre of the vast Spanish Empire. For travellers today, that’s just fine, because it means that compared to the more popular Spanish cities and the package holiday influenced coastline, that Malaga is both a cheap and untouristy city to explore.
Marvel at Moorish era architecture, visited the hallowed halls of the Picasso Museum, and indulge in great value local cuisine at the tapas bars and taverns. It’s a great place to visit, and to inspire your next Spanish excursion, here’s our budget travel guide to Malaga, to help you to save money!
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How to get around Malaga on a Budget
Malaga Spain is a large and bustling city, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not easy to get around or to get around on a budget either. Forget the need for expensive taxis or ride-sharing apps, because Malaga City has a great public transport system.
Malaga is a huge hub for the south coast of Spain, and the main bus and train stations are conveniently located opposite each other, just a short walk away from the city centre. The international airport is one of the busiest airports in Spain, at least in summer, and the journey time to the city centre takes just half an hour and costs just a few Euros on the local bus.
The bus is the most convenient form of public transport, but as the city expands, the Malaga Metro, a light railway line, is becoming busier and more extensive. The Malaga Metro is connected to the airport rail line, allowing for fast transfers by train, while it also connects the city centre to important suburbs.
In the historic city centre itself, you’ll enjoy simply strolling around the streets and walking from sight to sight. Malaga also has an increasing focus on cycle lanes, and you’ll be able to comfortably travel by bicycle to get around the city.
Budget things to do in Malaga
Pablo Picasso Museum
Malaga is the home of famed Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, who was born in the city in 1881, although he would die in France in the 1970s.
Pablo Picasso is one of Malaga’s most famous former residents because the artist is known for his unflinching depictions of life in the 20th century, including the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Picasso became a celebrity in his lifetime and his work is still renowned today, as he became known as the pioneer of Cubism and Surrealism.
At the Pablo Picasso Museum in Malaga you can see first hand some of his best works, and learn about the talented artists’ life and work, through some of the 20th century’s most climactic events. Tickets aren’t free, but this is one of the best things to do in Malaga, so it’s well worth the entrance fees which start from around 8 Euros upwards, depending on the exhibitions.
If you’re a big fan of Pablo Picasso, then another must-visit while you’re in Malaga is Picasso’s Birthplace. Located just a short walk from the Picasso Museum, the famed artist’s birthplace is a treasure trove of personal items that will give you a fascinating insight into his early life in the city.
The house itself dates back to 1861 and is found right in the historic centre of Malaga. For budget travellers, the ticket price is great too, costing just 4 Euros per person from Monday to Saturday and costing absolutely nothing on Sundays.
Teatro Romano de Malaga
The Teatro Romano de Malaga is another fantastic sight in the historic centre of the city. The Teatro Romano is one of the oldest and most historic buildings in Malaga and this important archaeological site dates way back to the Roman era.
The Roman Theatre is one of the best-preserved examples of Andalucia’s ancient history, and its origins can be traced to the time of Emperor Augustus, who reigned in the First Century BC. Despite being in the centre of the city, the theatre wasn’t ‘rediscovered’ until 1951, when it was first unearthed. Entrance is free, making this one of the best things to do if you’re visiting Malaga on a budget.
The Alcazaba is Malaga’s imposing Moorish style fort, and it’s an incredibly important historical site to visit in the city. The Alcazaba is a lasting legacy of the Moorish era because this is the fortress that was built to control the city and to control the wider Muslim Kingdom of Andalusia.
The Alcazaba was built around a thousand years ago in the 1tth century, and it was built on top of the ruins of a former Roman fort, demonstrating the wealth of cultures and empires that have conquered and made Malaga their home over the centuries.
Castillo de Gibralfaro
The Castillo de Gibralfaro is located at the summit of the Monte Gibralfaro, a small but important hill that stands tall over the city. This is Malaga’s most well-known castle, and it’s important enough to be depicted on the seal of the city, and on the city’s flag too.
There are spectacular views from the crumbling ramparts of the castle, and you can find out more about the city’s long history here. The Castillo de Gibralfaro is older even than the Roman Theatre and the Alcazaba because its origins can be traced back to the 7th Century BC when Phoenician sailors founded the city.
If you’re also visiting the Alcazaba, then one of our top travel tips is to purchase a combined ticket to both historic sites.
No budget guide to Malaga Spain can be complete without including a visit to the Atarazanas Market. This is Malaga’s iconic covered market, and although it can be busy and full of tourists, it’s also managed to retain a surprising level of authenticity despite its popularity.
You can wander through the stalls, trying and tasting local tapas dishes, local wines and much more. You don’t have to buy anything if you’re trying to keep your travel costs down, but if you do, you won’t find that your purchases break the bank either.
Playa de la Malagueta
The south coast of Spain isn’t called the Costa del Sol for any old reason, and even if you’re in Malaga for a city break then you’ll want to take a trip to the beach to see what could be Spain’s most famous coastline.
You don’t have to go far either, because Malaga City has its own great beaches, close to the centre. Playa de la Malagueta is one of the best and most popular, and of course, it’s completely free to visit.
If you’re wondering, what is there to see in Malaga that’s free to visit, then look no further than the Malaga Cathedral. This historic place of worship is also an important part of the historic centre of the city, and it’s long been the primary meeting place for Malaga’s Roman Catholics.
Construction of the Malaga Cathedral began in 1528 when the city was at the height of its riches when money began flooding in from the new colonies in the Americas.
Feria de Agosto
The best time to travel to Malaga Spain is in August, when you can catch the vibrant and exciting events that are held during the Feria de Agosto. This is Malaga’s famous carnival and it goes on for the entire month.
Many of the events are free of charge, and you’ll be able to enjoy everything from cultural shows and Flamenco dancing – Malaga is the home of the Flamenco, after all! – to food festivals and late-night parties.
Where to stay in Malaga on a Budget
Accommodation in Malaga can be great value, particularly in comparison to more popular Spanish cities such as Barcelona and Madrid. The cheapest accommodation to book will be a hostel, and there is a great range available in the city from basic dorm beds through to more luxury minded hostels aimed at the discerning modern traveller. Many of the hostels will have great value private rooms, if you’re not interested in sharing a room with other travellers, but love the hostel social life.
The Alcazaba Premium Hostel is the perfect upmarket hostel for those looking for privacy, while if you’re looking for the best value, then a great place to stay is the Lights Garden or the Oasis Backpackers Hostel.
One of the best budget hotels in Malaga Spain is the Hotel Ibis Malaga Centro, which offers no-nonsense rooms and basic amenities, but a clean and modern space to stay. You can also find a huge array of small, family-run guest houses and lots of AirBnB rooms and apartments.
Of course, all along the Costa del Sol coast, there are lots of excellent value beach resorts, complete with swimming pools if you’re looking to escape the city itself and enjoy the sunshine in summer.
Accommodation in Malaga can go up in price during the summer months, and particularly during August when the city hosts its month-long Fiesta. You can save money by travelling in the winter months when visitor numbers are much lower. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how nice the weather still is, even December!
Budget Eats in Malaga
Malaga is home to some great local food, and for budget travellers, the best food can also be some of the cheapest. Learn a little Spanish and you’ll be able to visit the local taverns and tapas bars, where alongside a plentiful flow of cheap wine and beer, you’ll have a plentiful flow of classic Spanish tapas dishes to keep you fed while you enjoy your drinks.
A real local tradition though is to head to the beach bars, known in Malaga as Chiringuitos. These beachside restaurants and bars offer cheap eats and cheap drinks, but again, it helps if you know a little Spanish to get the best deals. Local favourites include grilled fish, and especially sardines, which are somewhat of an institution in Malaga.
In the historic city centre, you can also visit the famous Atarazans, which while touristy, is still great value. Each suburb and district will also host its own market, or Mercado, through the week where you can find great, cheap local eats and plentiful groceries.
If you really want to save money, then book yourself into an apartment or a hostel that provides kitchen facilities, then you can try your hand at cooking up your own tapas or sardines once you’ve been to the market or supermarket.
Cheap tours to do in Malaga on a Budget
Free Walking Tour
If you’re worried about cash and wondering, is Malaga expensive to visit, then for peace of mind, you can easily join a free walking tour. This is one of the best ways to keep active and to save your hard-earned cash too.
Free Walking Tours are tips based, so that means you only ever have to pay exactly how much or how little you feel the experience was worth. You’ll see all the best free sights and attractions in Malaga, while you’re given an insight into the history and culture by an enthusiastic local guide who needs to impress to get paid!
Hop on Hop off Bus Tour
If you’re not down for walking, then don’t worry, because you can also purchase a Hop on Hop off Bus Tour ticket for your stay in the city. These are surprisingly good value, providing not only transport to Malaga’s most important tourist attractions, but also giving you great information and discounts for many museums and sights too.
Caminito del Rey
The Caminito del Rey is a spectacular walkway that’s located outside of the city, and the best way to visit is on a guided tour. It won’t be the cheapest activity that you’ll do in Malaga, but it’s well worth the cost.
This old walking route was originally used to connect remote villages in a nearby canyon to the outside world, but it involved walking on perilous wooden planks which were strung up on high cliffs. The Caminito del Rey was in recent years totally refurbished and redesigned, to make it safe for both locals and visitors, and now it’s become a premier tourist attraction in the region.
Recommended tours in Malaga
- Kayak & Snorkeling Tour in Natural Park ‘Acantilados de Cerro Gordo – Maro’
- Full-Day Tour of Caminito del Rey from Costa del Sol
- Gibraltar Sightseeing Day Trip from Costa del Sol
- 2-hour E-bike Tour of Malaga
- Paragliding and paramotor flight
- Ronda & Setenil from the Costa del Sol
- Mijas Panoramic City Tour by Electric Tuk Tuk
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