Malaga is a beachside city within the southern Spanish region of Andalusia. Malaga’s airport is often used as a gateway to the Costa del Sol, with many travellers not setting foot within the actual city itself. And while part of the city is built up of skyrise apartments and hotel resorts where tourists can lounge by the pool and enjoy the year-round fantastic weather, the majority of the city has an incredibly strong artistic and historical past that is very evident in Malaga as it stands today.
As well as the city’s palm trees and soft sandy beaches, Malaga is known as being the birthplace of artist Pablo Picasso who is a world-famous artist from the early 20th century. The Picasso Museum Malaga is housed in a converted 16th-century palace within Malaga Old Town, and the artist’s childhood home is also open and renovated with some early works and restored to how the house might have looked in Picasso’s time. Malaga also has lots of fantastic street art all around the city, often of flamenco dancers and other traditional Spanish imagery.
The tapas scene in Malaga is fantastic and whereas the Costa del Sol is full of clubs selling cheap cocktails, Malaga’s bar scene is lively and thriving but a far cry from the hedonism just down the coast. Malaga is the perfect city break for couples and friends who love the sunshine, sand and beautiful old architecture but prefer a glass of wine on a terrace over rainbow-coloured cocktails in fishbowls.
This ultimate travel guide to Malaga will show you all the most beautiful places in Malaga, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Malaga and things to do in Malaga which will help you in planning a trip to Malaga.
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How to get to Malaga
Malaga Airport (also known as the Costa del Sol Airport) is one of the busiest airports in the country and is mostly connected to large European cities via budget airlines like Ryanair and Jet2. However, some direct flights from Malaga Airport do travel as far as the Middle East and Mexico. It’s very straightforward to get into Malaga city centre from the airport. There are express buses that take around 15-20 minutes and depart very often between 7:00 in the morning and midnight, or taxis are available.
It’s also easy to reach Malaga from elsewhere in Spain by train or bus. ALSA is the main Spanish bus company which connects Malaga directly to Granada, Seville, Cordoba and Murcia. Malaga Maria Zambrano train station is brand new and there are high-speed trains to Madrid which take less than 3 hours. Malaga is also a port city and popular destination for cruises.
What to expect in Malaga
Malaga is a Spanish city and therefore the main language is Spanish. It’s an extremely popular holiday destination for Brits so English is widely spoken amongst service staff and workers in the tourism industry, however, it is common to come across an older bartender or shopkeeper with minimal English.
Spain is an EU country and is also in the Schengen zone. The currency in Spain is the euro and it’s only usual for tourists to leave a tip at Spanish restaurants so you can feel free to leave a few coins or 10% at a nice restaurant for good service. Malaga is a fairly cheap city to visit, especially for eating and drinking. Malaga is a relatively safe city as long as you have common sense (don’t walk down dark alleys alone at night, etc.) and has undergone lots of regeneration in the past few years to become more accessible.
How to get around Malaga
Malaga has also made huge improvements in the last five years to become a more sustainable, environmentally friendly city and this includes a lot of investment into bike lanes and cycle paths. The new cycle lanes have been constructed mainly in the northern part of the city, as the Old Town centre and harbour were already only accessible by pedestrians and cyclists. You can hire bikes from Malaga Bike Tours and Bike 2 Malaga.
If you plan on doing a lot of exploring around Malaga, cycling isn’t your only transport option. Malaga also has a reliable bus service run by EMT charging €1.30 for all single journeys and tickets can be bought from the drivers.
But despite the fact around half a million people live in Malaga, the city is quite compact and flat so it’s very possible you will be able to walk wherever you want to get to.
The best time to visit Malaga
Malaga is such a popular holiday destination, particularly with Brits, because of its wonderfully warm year-round temperatures due to Malaga’s location on Spain’s southern coast. The peak season in Malaga are the months of June, July and August when the sun is beaming, and temperatures are upwards of 30 degrees Celsius. Accommodation and flights will be at their most expensive.
While summer is ideal for topping up tans, for sightseeing it is better to visit Malaga in April, May or September where the weather is warm but not scorching, and it may get cool in the evenings but you will avoid the summer storms. Even in winter, the temperatures hover around 18 degrees Celsius and only average five days of rainfall.
If you’re a fan of cultural events, then visit Malaga during Holy Week in Easter. The city thrives with celebration and there are lots of religious processions and ceremonies.
Things to do in Malaga
Picasso Museum and Picasso House
Malaga’s biggest claim-to-fame, especially in terms of culture, is definitely the fact that the city is Picasso’s birthplace. Pablo Picasso was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and he lived in Malaga for the first ten years of his life. The museum opened in 2003 and features over 250 works donated by the Picasso family. The artworks span his entire career and paintings he produced throughout his life so you can see how his art progressed over the years, as well as experimental sculptures and ceramics.
It’s a beautiful building, a renovated 16th-century Palace right in the heart of Malaga Old Town and the exhibit is extensive but not overwhelming. And, if you love admiring art when you travel or are a particular fan of Picasso, then definitely check out the Picasso House Museum which is a quick 3-minute walk from the main museum. It’s the house where Picasso was born and lived during his early years and it’s been renovated into a small art gallery, filled with very early sketches and works of art. The upstairs of the museum has been furnished to represent how the house might have looked when Picasso lived there.
Alcazaba and Castillo De Gibralfaro
Malaga, and the whole region of Andalusia, was a primarily Muslim-occupied area of Spain until they were conquered by the Catholic Monarchy in Spain around the late 15th-century. Before this time, Alcasabas (like castles with forts, but were made with a Moorish Muslim design) were built to help protect the area from invasion.
The Alcazaba in Malaga dates back to the 10th century and though it’s not as big as Granada’s famous Alhambra Palace, it’s still very well preserved and has lots of beautiful courtyards and gardens. The Castillo De Gibralfaro is a short walk from the Alcazaba and is an old Moorish Castle. Both the Alcazaba and Castillo De Gibralfaro offer the best panoramic views of Malaga Old Town and across the harbour.
Cathedral of Malaga
The Cathedral of Malaga is the tallest building in the city. It’s an absolutely stunning church dating back to the 16th-century, just after Catholicism replaced Islam as the religion of the area. The Cathedral took over 200 years to be completed because of lack of funds, and only one of the two planned towers ended up being built, resulting in the Cathedral’s local nickname ‘the one-armed woman.’
Because of the long period of time in which the church was built, it’s a mixture of Renaissance and Baroque styles and it’s a colossal size, well worth the €2 entrance fee. You could also climb the 200 steps to the top of the tower to experience yet another gorgeous panoramic view of the city.
The Pompidou Centre in Paris is a world-renowned contemporary art museum, and if you didn’t quite have your fill of culture in the Picasso Museum, there is a branch of the art gallery (the only branch outside Paris) near the beach in Malaga too.
Its entrance looks like a glass rubix cube, with the museum housed beneath underground. It’s a multimedia museum showcasing works of dance, film, sculpture, design and architecture. Some of the most famous works of art featured in the gallery are Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s The Frame and Pablo Picasso’s The Flowered Hat.
One of the oldest structures in Malaga, and one of the best free things to see in the city, is the Roman Theatre. Built in the 1BC, the outdoor theatre was used by the Romans for 400 years until the Moors came to Andalusia and buried it under rubble when they built the Alcazaba on the hill just above. The theatre was discovered in the 1950s when it was painstakingly excavated and finally, in 2011, the theatre opened to the public.
As well as being a fun, free, place to visit during the day, in the warmer months the theatre is used for its original intention, as a theatre. Outdoor performances are scheduled and it’s just a beautiful setting with the Alcazaba looming behind.
Playa la Malagueta
Of course, one of the biggest draws of visiting a city on the coastline is being able to enjoy the sites and bars, but also the beach. And the Malaga beaches are some of the best city beaches on the southern coast of Spain.
The Playa la Malagueta is 1.2km long and offers many amenities to visitors such as a playground for families with young children, showers and chair and umbrella rentals. There are also lots of restaurants lining the edge of the beach and a fun ‘Malagueta’ sign you can take your picture in front of to commemorate your wonderful time in Malaga!
What to eat in Malaga
Though Spain’s famed tapas culture is a bit hit and miss in northern cities like Madrid and Barcelona, it’s alive and well in Andalusia. Malaga’s Old Town, especially on Calle Granada, is full of amazing tapas bars serving croquettes, Iberian ham, olives, patatas bravas, seafood and lots of local dishes that will leave you stuffed yet hungry for more.
Some bars will offer small plates automatically with drinks, but it’s more likely you’ll find that you can get 3 or 4 decent plates of tapas for €10, especially at lunch time. Casa Lola and Bodeguita El Gallo are both tapas bars with fantastic value for money in this area.
You may have heard of Sangria before, which is a Spanish punch cocktail made with red wine, fruit and often brandy and orange juice, but Tinto de Verano is local to Malaga and Andalusia and much more refreshing. The drink is simply red wine mixed with sparkling water, or more likely lemonade. But it’s exactly what you need to get you through those hot Spanish summers!
Where to stay in Malaga
Budget – Malaga has lots of accommodation options to suit all travellers, including ones on a budget as there are plenty of fantastic hostels right in the city centre. Alcazaba Premium Hostel is an extremely modern hostel in a beautiful old building. It’s situated right by the Alcazaba and the rooftop bar looks out over the city and right onto the old Moorish palace. There is an onsite restaurant and private rooms available if you prefer them to dorm rooms. Alternatively, Feel Hostels City Centre is near all the best bars and has its own little Andalusian style courtyard for guests to hang out in, too.
Mid-range – Ibis Hotels have a few Malaga hotels to choose from with views of the river and they are a fantastic option if you want value for money. Their modern hotels are around €60 per night and have thought of all the modern amenities all good hotels should provide like plug sockets near the beds and great breakfasts on offer. If you would prefer to stay in a boutique hotel, Hotel Soho Los Naranjos is right on the beach with beautiful views of the water and their suites are tastefully decorated and traditional.
Luxury – Malaga isn’t short of some stunning and luxurious hotels if you want to splash out on somewhere really nice. Hotel Molina Lario is a 4-star hotel with a rooftop pool right next to Malaga Cathedral. The interiors are ultra-modern yet cosy and some rooms have freestanding baths and double sinks. Alternatively, Mariposa Hotel Malaga is an eclectically designed hotel with a monochrome theme to reflect its location near all the best modern art museums and street art murals.
Tours to do in Malaga
Malaga is one of the best cities in Spain for tapas, so if you’re a real foodie you should definitely try to consume the best tapas in one of the best cities! This tapas tour will ensure that you’re not wasting stomach space with subpar food.
You’ll visit the Atarazanas Market, one of the best produce markets in Malaga, with a local food expert as well as some amazing tapas bars and artisanal food shops and devour all the best local olives, seafood and wine.
Since Malaga has improved it’s cycling lanes and bike infrastructure massively, the best way to see as much of Malaga as possible is via a cycling tour. If you don’t normally bike at home or don’t know Malaga very well, then this is a fantastic way to relieve any worries about when and where you can cycle in the city, as you’ll just need to follow the guide!
Explore Malaga’s port, all the landmarks in the pedestrianised historic centre, the city’s bullring and stop at a beach bar to chat and get to know the rest of your cycling tour group and guide.
Of course, nothing beats a good old-fashioned walking tour. If you’d prefer to see Malaga at a slower pace and take the time to see landmarks like the Malaga Cathedral, the Roman Theatre and the Alcazaba in detail and learn about their history from a local, knowledgeable guide as well as spot some amazing street art murals, then this walking tour is for you.
Day trips from Malaga
Caminito del Rey
Just an hour’s drive north of Malaga is Caminito del Rey, also known as ‘King’s Road’, situated in the town of Ardales. It’s the perfect place to take a day trip from Malaga if you want to do something adventurous during your trip.
Caminito del Rey is a walkway that has been built 100m up a huge gorge above the Guadalhorce River, and it’s a 7km walk around the gorge where you are treated to sensational views across the river, mountains and rows of olive fields in the Andalusian countryside.
Ronda has gained notoriety over the last few years on social media because of its breath-taking bridge built into a huge gorge, but there’s so much more to see in this beautiful village in the Malaga province nestled in the Sierra de las Nieves mountains. Visit the Arab baths, sample some local wines at a wine tasting and wander through the quaint village on this day trip as a slower change of pace to the up and coming modern city of Malaga.
The Alcazaba in Malaga is a beautiful Moorish building and if you want to see more Moorish palaces while in Andalusia, the town of Cordoba is the perfect place to take a day trip. The whole town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the varied architectural landscape and it’s just such a beautiful city. On this day trip, you will visit the ancient Roman Bridge, the Great Mosque of Cordoba and wander through the Jewish Quarter and visit Europe’s oldest Synagogue.
Recommended tours in Malaga
- Full-Day Tour of Caminito del Rey from Costa del Sol
- Tangier, Morocco Day Trip from Costa del Sol
- Gibraltar Sightseeing Day Trip from Costa del Sol
- Jeep safari experience
- 2-hour E-bike Tour of Malaga
- Day trip to the Alhambra from Malaga and Costa del Sol
- Paragliding and paramotor flight
- Panoramic Buggy Tour from Malaga
- Gibraltar Dolphins Full Day Trip from Costa del Sol
- Paella Cooking Class in Malaga
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