The historic Andalusian city of Malaga offers a wonderful mix of art, architecture, nature, and charm to spare. Though Malaga’s must-sees can be enjoyed over a weekend, a lot of the highlights can be spread out over a longer period or even crammed into one very busy day. These are some of the things you should see and do in Malaga.
Explore Alcazaba de Malaga
If you have to pick one thing on this list to see in Malaga, it should be the Alcazaba fortress. The vast hilltop structure is a former Moorish palatial fort that overlooks the sea and features intricate gardens and fountains. In addition to being an impressive example of Moorish architecture, it has some of the best views of Malaga’s port and city center. The inner part of the citadel was the former palace that once housed the city’s former Muslim leaders. If the name rings vaguely familiar, it’s because it comes from the Arabic term al-kasbah.
A ticket is just a couple of euros and can be combined with a ticket to see Castillo de Gibralfaro for a small savings – though it’s probably best to avoid visiting both on the same day if you can. Your legs will thank you.
Check out the Roman Theatre
Adjacent to the Alcazaba fortress, you’ll find one of the best-preserved examples of Malaga’s Roman influence. Though it’s fully visible from Calle Alcazabilla, which it faces, it’s also free to visit and sit in. The archeological remains beneath the site are visible from inside the one-way path through the theatre and through the glass pyramid on the street that allows you to look down into the site.
Go to the beach
Though Malaga is primarily a port city and the busy port makes up a big part of the main ocean-facing city center, it is surrounded by beaches. The closest beach is Playa de la Malagueta which is just 10 minutes’ walk from city center. The urban beach has beachfront restaurants, umbrellas and loungers for rent, and a slew of ocean-view hotels to better situate you if the primary purpose of your visit is the beach.
Though Malagueta is its main beach district, several other beaches can be found west of the port, and they’re likely to be less busy than Malagueta. These include Huelin and Playa de la Misericordia.
Hike up to Castillo de Gibralfaro for the views
The remains of this 14th century castle are located high up on Malaga’s skyline. Unlike Alcazaba, Gibralfaro Castle is not quite as intricate, though it does have walkable walls and vast grounds that include an outdoor café where you can get refreshments after the steep hike up. The good news is that the hike is worth it for the views. Located 132 m above sea level, from atop the castle and the viewpoint just below the peak (Mirador de Gibralfaro), you can see around for miles.
Visit the Malaga Cathedral
One of the most iconic structures in the historical center of Malaga is the cathedral, also known as Catedral de la Encarnacion de Malaga, though that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily. The technically unfinished cathedral was constructed atop a former mosque in Baroque and Renaissance style. You can visit its interior and/or climb up to the roof, which requires walking up over 200 steps. If you enjoy religious architecture, its carved wood choir and massive central nave are certainly worth the cost of admission. When you’re done admiring the cathedral’s monolithic stone pillars inside, you can enjoy the peace of the gardens that surround it.
Brush up on your Picasso
As the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, you can imagine that there are a lot of Picasso-related must-sees in Malaga. The Picasso Museum is the main attraction, featuring almost 300 works donated by his family. Of course, many of his famous works are scattered throughout other museums in Spain and Europe, so if you’re looking for Guernica, you’ll have to go Madrid.
If you’re interested in the artist’s life in addition to his works, you can also visit the Picasso Birthplace Museum, housed in the building where he was born. The collection includes some drawings and personal belongings of the family.
Hang out on the port promenade
If you fancy a little sea breeze and a drink, you can plant yourself at any of the bars and restaurants along the modern Palmeral de Las Sorpresas. This popular happy hour location offers great sunset seating in spite of the somewhat unsightly structures that clutter the port. Like many of the main avenues in the historical center of town, you’ll also find a lot of buskers performing on the promenade along with a lot of people selling you everything from bracelets to flowers.
See live flamenco
When in southern Spain, might as well catch a show. Flamenco has long been associated with the Andalusian Roma, or gitanos. The traditional Spanish music and dance is based almost entirely on guitar and hand-clapping. Flamenco shows usually feature one or two dancers who will sweat their life out in traditional dresses tapping away for your enjoyment. Flamenco is as moving as it is fun, and it’s sure to be a memorable part of your visit. There are a several restaurants and theaters around town where you can catch nightly flamenco shows including CalYCanto, Los Amayas, and Alegria.
Entry is around €25 but includes a drink and small snack.
Eat and drink!
There may only be so many touristy spots to hit up on your visit to Malaga, but the places to eat and drink in town are basically endless. This is how you can easily plan to stay a week in Malaga and never get bored.
Though busy, there’s no better place for tapas in town than La Tranca. This tavern is packed pretty much all day long, thumping with the sounds of traditional Spanish music, but if you manage to get a table (or barrel), you can sit there for hours and just never stop eating. Which is fine, because you’ll need your stomach full so their house vermut doesn’t kick your ass into tomorrow morning.
For a traditional local breakfast, I recommend Casa Aranda (which Google Maps identifies as Churros de Malaga for some reason). In fairness, you definitely don’t want to miss their giant churros. Just get like six of them, don’t be shy. The food is cheap and comes out fast.
If you’re looking for a nice sit-down dinner, head to Restaurante Matiz, a swanky Mediterranean restaurant where you can try the tasting menus or order a la carte from a solid lineup of delicacies from land and sea. Just be sure to make a reservation.
But those are just a jumping off point – the all-stars of our visit. The take-away is that eating in Malaga is one of the best things to do there, and you almost can’t go wrong no matter where you go.