The Andalusian city of Malaga, with its enviable location on the Costa del Sol, is a great place to base yourself while you explore the region. We did three days of day trips from Malaga, but we also made the time to explore the city. Although it is often underrated as a destination unto itself, we found lots of fun things to do in Malaga!
Malaga has transformed itself in recent years into a vibrant, happening place, well worthy of time in your Andalusia itinerary. The city also hosts a number of festivals, so check to see if there is one happening when you plan to visit. And best of all, Malaga is very affordable!
BEST THINGS TO DO IN MALAGA, SPAIN
From museums to Moorish forts and beaches to gardens, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy in Malaga. Here is my list of the six most awesome things to do in Malaga:
#1 Visit the Alcazaba for a trip back in time
At the top of my list of awesome things to do in Malaga is a visit to its historic palace-fortress, the Alcazaba. Malaga’s Alcazaba is not as ornate as Seville’s Royal Alcazar or Granada’s majestic Alhambra. But it makes for a lovely afternoon of exploring nevertheless.
The Moorish palace-fortress was built in the 11th century. Its hilltop location in the middle of the city is stunning, offering marvelous views over the city and the port of Malaga.
The remarkably well-preserved complex is a symphony in brick, stone and tile. We visited in the evening, and the golden light from the setting sun made the rustic colors glow.
You will love wandering the courtyards and patios. There is a reflecting pool in a courtyard, and a small walled garden area where you can stop to enjoy the quiet beauty.
Don’t forget to visit the Roman Theater right below the Alcazaba. Uncovered as recently as 1951, the theater is reported to have been built in the first century. Today, concerts and performances are staged in the ancient theater.
You will be pleasantly surprised by how much there is to see and appreciate in the unassuming Alcazaba. It is definitely one of the most awesome things to see in Malaga!
#2 Enjoy the views from the Castillo de Gibralfaro
If you think the views from the Alcazaba are beautiful, you will be awe-struck when you see the views from the Castillo de Gibralfaro. Set on a much higher hilltop, the castle has a fascinating history. It was built in the 10th century at the site of a Phoenician lighthouse. In the 14th century, the Sultan of Granada added to the structure. He also ordered the construction of the double wall going down to the Alcazaba below.
In 1487, during the Reconquista, the Christian monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella laid siege to the Gibralfaro. It took three months, but the Christian monarchs ultimately won. Ferdinand spent some time in the city, and ordered the Gibralfaro be made a symbol on Malaga’s coat of arms.
If you’re up for a hike, you can walk up to the top. We took a taxicab up and walked down. There’s also a bus that goes to the top from the city center or port. At the top, walk the walls of the fort and admire the 360-degree views of the city and harbor. From here you get a great view of the hexadecagonal bullring of Malaga, the port of Malaga, and the city.
#3 Admire Picasso’s works at the Museo de Picasso
Did you know that Malaga is the birthplace of Picasso? The Picasso Museum is located just a short distance from his actual birthplace in the city! You can see more than two hundred of Picasso’s works in this museum. In 2017, the works were reorganized into a chronological layout, making it easy to see how Picasso’s talent grew over time.
Among the famous works you’ll see here are The Three Graces, Restaurant, and Head of a Bull, a sculpture made from the seat and handlebars of a bicycle.
As visit-worthy as the collection is, the building in which it is housed, the Palacio de Buenavista, is just as stunning. A gracious mix of Renaissance and Mudéjar architecture, the building features beautiful arches, columns and courtyards. It is located in the heart of the old town, so you can combine a visit to the museum with a stroll through the town.
#4 Take a walk on the promenade at the Port of Malaga
You’ll love Malaga’s revitalized port, especially at sunset when the rays of the setting sun make the buildings gleam like gold. With palm trees, fountains, and a lovely promenade, Malaga’s waterside walkway could give any of the towns along the Costa del Sol a run for their money.
Malaga’s port is one of the oldest in the Mediterranean. It’s still in use as a port by cruise ships, ferries and cargo vessels. But now, with the harbor having been revamped, the area is home to a number of excellent restaurants, cafes and shops. It’s a beautiful place for an evening walk, followed by dinner. Great for people-watching as well!
#5 Go shopping at Calle Larios
Next on your list of the most awesome things to do in Malaga: shopping! Calle Marques de Larios and Plaza Constitución are bustling hubs in the city of Malaga. Calle Larios is lined with trendy stores and paved with marble. It’s a pedestrian-only street, and in the evenings it can seem like all of Malaga is out here, enjoying the hustle and bustle. It’s an excellent place for a stroll, window shopping, actual shopping, and people watching.
I loved the architecture of Calle Larios. The buildings are all of uniform height, making it pleasing to the eye. The street was opened to the public in 1891, so it’s been around for a while!
If you visit in the holiday season, you’ll love the lights. But it’s a nice place for an after-dinner stroll any time of the year. Get some ice cream, or some almendras tostadas (toasted almonds from the town of Alfarnate)…you’ll see lots of street vendors hawking them on Calle Larios. They are fresh, warm, and crunchy…delicious!
#6 Visit the Cathedral: Another Awesome Thing to Do in Malaga!
Malaga’s cathedral is located in the middle of the old town. You’ll hear locals sometimes refer to it as La Manquita, the one-armed lady, because only one of its two towers was completed. Story has it that the money reserved for the second tower was diverted to fund supplies for the Spanish Army in America. Regardless, the unique cathedral is a must-visit sight in Malaga.
Like other cathedrals in the region, the Cathedral of Malaga stands on the remains of older buildings, including an early Almohad mosque. The architecture of the cathedral is stunning, as are the gardens, with many fountains and lots of palm trees. Don’t miss the two magnificent organs inside! They are still played in concerts.
So there you have it: my list of the six most awesome things to see and do in Malaga.
Day Trips from Malaga
Especially if you have a car, you can explore the surrounding regions very conveniently from Malaga, returning to the city each evening. From the famous white villages of Spain to the sparkling resort towns of the Costa del Sol, many beautiful destinations are just an hour or two away. Consider the white villages of Frigiliana, Mijas, Antequera, or Casares. Explore Gibraltar, with its views across to Africa, or even venture into Africa with a day trip to Tarifa in Morocco.
We didn’t have a car in Andalusia, but even just using public transportation, we did day trips to Ronda, Frigiliana and Nerja, and Estepona and Casares.
Getting to Malaga
High-speed trains connect Malaga with many large Spanish cities, including Seville, Madrid and Barcelona. You can buy tickets in advance at Renfe. We took a bus from Granada to Malaga. The bus was comfortable, and it took a little over two hours to get to Malaga. Buy tickets in advance at Alsa.
Where to Stay in Malaga
We stayed at the Vincci Selecion Posada del Patio, located in the historic center. With a rooftop pool and stunning contemporary rooms, this hotel makes for a lovely home base when in Malaga.
An equally wonderful alternative is the Gran Hotel Miramar, a palatial property set right on the beach. It’s on our radar for our next visit to Malaga!
Where to Eat in Malaga
In recent years, Malaga has developed quite a reputation as a gastro-destination. Whether it’s tapas bars you’re looking for, or food markets bursting with quality products, or chic fine-dining destinations, you’ll find them in Malaga.
Jose Carlos Garcia’s Michelin-starred restaurant is located at the port of Malaga. The multi-course tasting menu is an experience, each plate carefully crafted and presented. Reservations are recommended.
If you go: Jose Carlos Garcia Restaurante
Puerto de Malaga, Plaza de la Capilla, 1, 29016 Malaga
For traditional tapas, try Tapeo de Cervantes. The ambiance is casual, and it’s a bustling space with great-tasting food.
If you go: Tapeo de Cervantes
Calle de Carcer, 8, 29012 Malaga
As a vegetarian, I found that of all the places we visited in Andalusia, Malaga offered the best options. Vegetariano El Calafate is hugely popular and always crowded. They offer soups, stir-fries and curries, with a couple of vegan options.
If you go: Vegetariano El Calafate
Calle Andres Perez, 6, 29008 Malaga
Where to Next in Andalusia?
If you fly into Malaga’s international airport, and it’s your first stop, then after you are done exploring Malaga and the surrounding region, you have choices on where to go next. You can take a train or bus to Granada, to see the world-renowned Alhambra. Or you can take a fast train to Seville, the jewel of Andalusia.
Our itinerary had us flying out of Spain from Madrid, so after Malaga, we traveled to Córdoba, our final destination in Andalusia, where we spent two days before heading back to Madrid.
If you have only 3 days to visit Andalusia, click here to see the top five monuments you must visit!
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