From its bright historical center to the nearby beaches, these are all the Malaga attractions, highlights, and day trips you cannot miss on your next visit.
The city of Malaga is often forgotten in the shadows of other more iconic Andalusian cities such as Granada, Seville, and Cordoba. On my first trip to Andalusia, I didn’t even plan on visiting Malaga but the city’s airport gave me the best flight options. So I decided I would check it out since I was passing through – and I am so glad I did!
I quickly learned that there is something special about Malaga. Its classy old town and lively beach vibe mixed with its Andalusian character make for a very unique city.
Since that first trip almost 10 years ago, Malaga has become one of my favorite cities in Spain and I make sure to include it in all my trips to the region. It’s a city that I am always happy to go back to and sad to leave.
Here are my top 7 reasons to love Malaga.
- 1. Malaga’s historic center
- 2. The gorgeous beaches near Malaga
- 3. It’s Moorish fortresses
- 4. Malaga’s culinary scene
- 5. The avant-garde port area of Malaga
- 6. Malaga’s vibrant art scene
- 7. Some of the best day trips from Malaga
1. Malaga’s historic center
The top reason to love Malaga is without a doubt because of its historic center, made up of quaint narrow streets and elegant 19th-century buildings. But what gives this neighborhood its distinctive character is the local marble that covers most streets and some facades.
The buildings that we see today were mostly constructed in the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution, with the money coming from a new bourgeoisie. Although it might be difficult to imagine today, by the end of the 20th century the neighborhood was, unfortunately, falling apart. Luckily, the government did a great job rehabilitating the area starting in the 1990s and today the historic center is immaculate.
At the center of Malaga’s old town is the emblematic Calle Larios, which has become a symbol of the neighborhood, if not the whole city. With a variety of shops, bars, restaurants, there is always something going on at Calle Larios.
Right next to Calle Larios stands Malaga’s cathedral. Its construction started in the 16th century over the remains of what used to be the city’s mosque. However, the cathedral was never finished and still today it is missing one of its two towers. The malagueños colloquially refer to it as “la manquita” (the one-arm lady) and it is a Malaga must-see.
Related read: Barcelona for architecture lovers
2. The gorgeous beaches near Malaga
As the capital of the renowned Costa del Sol, Malaga is surrounded by beautiful beaches. But the best part is that you don’t even need to get out of the city to enjoy the beach.
La Malagueta beach
Malaga is home to 14 km of sandy beaches, with La Malagueta beach being the closest to the city center and the most famous. From the old town, it’s just a 15-min walk to get to La Malagueta. This makes it very easy to combine a busy morning of Malaga sightseeing with a relaxed afternoon at the beach.
La Malagueta is a beautiful golden sand beach, very popular among locals and visitors alike. As you would expect, it has access to all kinds of facilities and amenities (lifeguards, showers, umbrellas, loungers for rent, etc.). It is also surrounded by a promenade with a variety of bars and restaurants.
Caleta and Pedregalejo beaches
Past La Malagueta is Playa de la Caleta and, after that, Playa de Pedregalejo. As you get away from the center, the beaches get less crowded and have more of a small-town vibe. Perfect to explore Malaga surroundings with kids!
3. It’s Moorish fortresses
Although Malaga isn’t home to a super impressive Moorish palace like Granada’s Alhambra, it does have the Alcazaba (fortress) and Gibralfaro castle. These structures stand testimony of the Al-Andalus era when the Moorish inhabited Malaga for almost 8 centuries (711-1487). And unlike the Alhambra, you can actually wander around in peace without having to fight through the massive hoards of tourists.
Both the Alcazaba and the Gibralfaro are located on the same hill right next to the old town, with the Gibralfaro being at the top and the Alcazaba underneath.
The Alcazaba was erected as a fortress-palace around 750-780 on the ruins of a Roman fortification. Today, it’s possible to explore the complex, crossing a series of gates and thick fortified walls before arriving at the top and finding a few ornate palace rooms and tranquil patios.
To get to the Gibralfaro castle, it’s about a 20-min walk uphill from the Alcazaba’s entrance. The walk is beautiful and offers great views of the city but it can be a bit strenuous if you are doing it in the middle of a hot sunny day. Once you arrive at the top there is a small exhibition room but the main thing to do is to stroll around an elevated walkway along the perimeter of the defensive wall. The city views from here are simply amazing!
4. Malaga’s culinary scene
Another great reason to love Malaga is its food. With its seaside location, Malaga offers a vast array of fish and seafood. And its excellent climate is perfect for growing high-quality produce.
Malaga’s food market
The perfect place to immerse yourself in Malaga’s gastronomy scene is the Atarazanas Market. Apart from fish and seafood, this lively market also has a large selection of meat products, fruits, and vegetables.
The olive stands are very traditional and one of my favorites. Local vendors are happy to let you sample the different varieties – so take advantage and find your favorites!
Related read: An olive-oil infused trip to Korcula, Croatia
Where to eat in Malaga
With such a gorgeous market, it isn’t a surprise that you can eat very well in Malaga. Although there are always new restaurants opening their doors and offering all types of food, there are some establishments with a very long tradition in the city, such as El Pimpi or Antigua Casa de Guardia.
While El Pimpi is the place to go for some tapas, Antigua Casa de Guardia specializes in the local sweet wines which Malaga and the area are famous for. Huge barrels of wine are stacked up and line the entire wall of the bar. The wines are very affordable and it’s easy to sample them all!
Read also: What is Spain known for
5. The avant-garde port area of Malaga
Located between the historic center and the Malagueta beach stands the modern port area Muelle Uno (Pier One). To get there from the old town, you can follow a beautiful seafront promenade lined with palm trees called Paseo del Muelle Uno.
Inaugurated in 2011, this open-air leisure complex is packed with a variety of shops, bars, and restaurants. But if there is a building that stands out in Malaga’s Muelle Uno that is the Pompidou center. This cuboid structure is made of glass panels in a multitude of colors. It houses a permanent collection of impressionist art from the 20th and 21st centuries.
Around Muelle Uno, you will also find a lot of interesting activities for visitors such as bike and segway rentals, boat trips, etc.
6. Malaga’s vibrant art scene
The above mentioned Pompidou Center is just one of the latest additions to Malaga’s art scene. However, art has a long history in Malaga.
It was in 1881 when the über famous painter Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga’s Plaza de la Merced located in the historic center. Today, the house of his birth is occupied by the Museo Casa Natal de Picasso. Moreover, there is a second Picasso museum in Malaga, aptly named Museo Picasso. Occupying the marvelous Buenavista Palace, the Picasso Museum is made up of 12 rooms of permanent exhibition.
The Thyssen Museum, also in Malaga’s center, is the little brother of Madrid’s famous museum with the same name. It exhibits the personal collection of Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, one of the world’s most eminent art collectors. It is made up of 230 works, mostly by 19th-century Spanish artists such as Zurbarán, Sorolla, Zuloaga, Romero Torres, etc.
Malaga’s Contemporary Art Center
The Contemporary Art Center is located in what is known as the “Soho neighborhood” for its artistic and bohemian vibe.
Russian State Museum
The list of Malaga’s art museums goes on and on, and even includes the Russian State Museum, which is the first branch of the museum to open in Europe.
Although it all depends on your tastes and preferences if you were to visit only one art museum while in Malaga, it should be the Picasso Museum.
7. Some of the best day trips from Malaga
Although it might seem contradictory, the last reason to love Malaga is actually its proximity to a variety of interesting sites. There are so many possible day excursions from Malaga and the city can be a great base for exploring the surroundings.
For example, you can get from Malaga to Granada in 1 h 30 min by either car or bus. This means that even without having your own means of transport, you could get to Granada, visit the Alhambra, and the Moorish neighborhood of Albaicín and be back in Malaga for dinner.
Another great day trip from Malaga is Cordoba. Although by car it takes 1 h 45 min, by train you can get there in under one hour. That would give you plenty of time to visit the Great Mosque and wander around the Jewish neighborhood.
If you are looking for a less well-known destination, the white village of Ronda is just 1 h 20 min away by car and makes it for the perfect Malaga day trip. Famous for its massive New Bridge, this quaint town still retains the charm that once attracted famous artists and writers such as Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway.
Now, how about combining them all in a 1-week Andalusia road trip adventure?
Patricia Palacios combines her profession as a web and software developer with her passion for writing and traveling. She is the co-founder of España Guide, a travel guide dedicated to promoting her home country of Spain.