Here’s the thing. Malaga is the only big Andalusian city that is on the coast, the Sunny Coast, to be exact. So it has that summer vibe, palm trees and all. The local government is trying to make it attractive, doing that thing where they add wacky art installations to areas that aren’t really that nice. Mentioning their street art as something tourists should want to see. But I don’t know man, I’m not on the Malaga train just yet.
If this is your only stop in Andalusia then by all means, make the most of it. If you are on a business trip there, great, take a look around. They do have some pretty great restaurants. But if you are landing in Malaga and wonder if you should spend a couple days in town before moving on, I’m going to say no. Not unless your plane gets in late and you want to just get to your hotel asap. Then you stay in Malaga for a night and maybe take a stroll.
What’s that? It has the palace and the views? Yeah, and so does every other city in Andalusia. Plus every other city is somehow nicer.
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City of Malaga
Here’s what you can see in Malaga, and below we’ll go over some places to eat, since restaurants are the one thing Malaga has going for it.
To get your bearings, note that the Old Town is located right by the port, which has a promenade. Right next to the port you have the famous but mediocre city beach, Malagueta. The palace is also right there in Old Town, and the hilltop castle complex stands above it all, giving you views over the city and the sea. The ones you see all over Google when you search for Malaga.
Old Town of Malaga
The narrow alleys and marble streets make up a pretty charming Old Town, or Centro Histórico. With many pedestrian zones and very little cars, you do what you would in any Old Town – wander. I would say wander and have a coffee, but, as I mention in my tips to know before going to Spain, the coffee in Spain sucks! Anyway, there are squares with fountains, a cathedral, and many restaurants and shops. Nothing too surprising.
The main shopping street is Calle Marqués de Larios, which is also the most expensive street in Malaga to live on.It is one of the pedestrian streets, so it is pleasant to stroll down. Here you can find all the fast fashion stores you can imagine.
In the summer, it is usually covered by canopies, which is great because they don’t call it the Sunny Coast for nothing. In the winter, the tunnel of Christmas lights is pretty magical. At the northern end of the Calle Marqués de Larios is the Plaza de la Constitución. It’s a square with a fountain. That about sums it up.
With Spain being predominantly Catholic, you can bet your boots that you will find a cathedral in every city. Malaga’s is called Catedral de la Encarnación de Malaga, Catedral de Malaga in short, but everyone calls it “La Manquita”, meaning “the one-armed woman”. It’s the tallest cathedral in Andalusia.
The most prominent feature of the cathedral is what is missing: one of the towers. Apparently when they were building it, funds ran low, and so there is only one lone tower and just a few pillars where the south tower was supposed to be.
Tip: Look for the oval painting on an elephant’s skin.
You can and should also visit the rooftop for some great views. A guide will take you up the narrow spiral stairway of 200 stairs, and then show you the decks of the roof. There are nighttime tours available as well (only in the summer).
For a look inside without the rooftop tour, all you need is 10 minutes.
The Alcazaba with a nice fountain
The Alcazaba is a fortress palace (the name in Arbic means “citadel”) built in the 11th century on a hill in the center of the city during Moorish rule. It is the best-preserved alcazaba in all of Spain.
It is comprised of two walls, the outer one with watch towers. A path leads you through gardens with fountains and courtyards, so it is a pleasant stroll. You won’t spend more than an hour at the Alcazaba.
Right next to the entrance to the Alcazaba is the partially ruined Roman amphitheater that dates back to the 1st century BC.
To walk through the Alcazaba properly, set aside 2 hours.
Up on Gibralfaro
Another remnant from the Moorish times is a castle, or the little that is left of it, the Castillo de Gibralfaro, originally meant to protect the Alcazaba. Built in the 14th century, it stands 420 feet (130m) above the sea. Actually, there was a smaller fortress in the same spot even before this one, but let’s just focus on what is there now.
Back in the day, the Gibralfaro mountain was the only weak point of Malaga. Since gunpowder had just been invented, Yusuf I smartly wanted to make sure nobody can position their cannons on a hill on top of the city. Hence, a castle was built, along with a zigzagging walled corridor, called a “coracha”, providing a safe passageway between the castle and the Alcazaba below it.
The castle is circled by two lines of walls with a total of 8 towers. You can walk along the walls in a circle. In the upper part of the fortress, you will see the main courtyard with ruins of Arab baths, the main tower and a Phoenician well. This is also where the visitor center is. The lower courtyard is where the stables, storerooms and barracks were.
The main draw are the views. There are more viewpoints than you might care for, so just go and stop as you please. For the best experience, walk up the hill starting at the back of the Alcazaba, roughly at the end of Paseo Don Juan de Temboury. It is a little strenuous, and in the summer, incredibly hot, but in about half an hour, you will have reached the top. You walk by the coracha through gardened terraces, and you will work up a sweat! Seriously, it can be scorching HOT, so go in the morning or late afternoon if you are visiting in the height of summer. Otherwise, just take a taxi.
If you continue towards the Hotel Parador, you will find the best sunset viewpoint. The one with the port, the bullring and the high-rise buildings.
The one thing Malaga has that other cities don’t is the claim to Picasso’s birthplace! He didn’t live there very long, only during his childhood, but it’s the birth that counts for the marketing, right?!
If you are an art enthusiast or if it’s raining outside, visit the museum! You will see pictures by and of Picasso housed in a nicely renovated building from the 16th century. There are over 200 pieces on display over 2 floors, though his most famous works are in other, more famous, museums of the world. There is a café in the charming courtyard as well (though it is temporarily closed at the time of writing).
An audio guide is included in the ticket price, or you can take a guided tour.
Malaga is a coastal city, so it’s only reasonable to expect a walk on a promenade. The local government finally caught up to this idea and has focused on sprucing it up in the past few years. The port used to be closed to the public, but it is now open and part of the (limited) fun!
Muelle Uno is called “a new shopping center concept” and “heaven on Earth” on its own website, so you know they’re really trying. Indeed, it is pretty inviting, especially at the end of a hot day. The shops, restaurants and frequent events are all you need to wind down. At the end you can take a peek at the La Farola lighthouse.
The white roof structure covering part of the promenade and the huge, colorful glass cube are the boldest features of the Muelle Uno. Is the cube really an art piece? Yes and no. It is an artistic skylight that lures you into the Centre Pompidou underneath. This gallery isa branch of the famed contemporary art museum in Paris.
Selfie time! Image source: www.visitcostadelsol.com
Malagueta is a popular beach right in the city center, north of the port. It’s great mainly because it is a beach and everyone loves beaches! If beaching is your primary reason to visit Spain, you will not be happy at Malagueta, or any city beach honestly. For some nice alternatives, head over to the area around Nerja. Or hop on a flight to Mallorca for beaches galore!
I have nothing particularly bad to say about it, it’s just nothing special. There are palm trees, restaurants close by, and you can rent a chair and umbrella if you want. And take a selfie at the Malagueta sign.
Ah, finally, the street art! Soho is an up-and-coming neighborhood west of the harbor with lots of murals and other urban art. If this is something you are interested in, you can download a map of all the works on the website of the MAUS project (Málaga Arte Urbano Soho).
You can also visit the Museum of Contemporary Art or Alameda Theater, as well as many art studios, quirky establishment and cool cafes.
Tip: There are many places not far from Malaga that are worth a visit on a day trip. Some, like the terrifying hikes at Caminito del Rey, more than others. Ronda, a nice little town perched up on a huge rock, sliced in half by a deep gorge. It was actual very picturesque, but be ready for some crappy restaurants!
Seafood is so typical for Spain
A list of tips for Malaga would not be complete without some great restaurants. Malaga might even be the place you eat the best seafood in all of Spain!
This place is an institution, and when you ask for seafood restaurant recommendations, it will come up more times than not. But don’t expect anything fancy – it’s a chiringuito, one of many beachside restaurants. What is lacks in class, it makes up in fun. The waiters walk around with all the dishes they can hold, yelling out their names, and diners just wave them over, grabbing whichever plate sounds the most delicious.
You will be sitting in a large hall with marine paraphernalia dangling from the ceiling, or sitting on the large outdoor terrace on plastic chairs.
El Tintero is about 6 km east of the Old Town, beachside. Address: Av. Salvador Allende, 340
For a place with table clothes that are not made out of paper, choose this award-winning restaurant. Their produce is caught fresh each morning, so there is no set menu. They create a menu each morning based on the day’s catches. Alternatively, there is an ice display where you can choose the creature that will get turned into your lunch.
The service is top notch, though so are the prices. There is also a wide selection of wines.
Los Marinos José is located 25 minutes west of Old Town on the coast. Address: P.º Marítimo Rey de España, 161, 29640 Fuengirola, Málaga.
For something closer to old town, try this restaurant. The produce at DeHuelva is a little different, because it comes from the Huelva province, which is by the Atlantic Ocean, not the Mediterranean Sea. The menu is extensive, but the star are the white prawns. Wines, though not a very large selection, are available as well. The portions at DeHuelva are predominantly small and meant to be ordered in higher quantities and shared.
Service is great, the atmosphere is friendly, the interior is pleasantly beachy. Outdoor seating is aaillable. Address: Antonio Soler Street, 5, local 3.
Tapas is a social thing
Tapas can be found in many restaurants, even if they aren’t explicitly called tapas bars.
This bodega is a tapas legend. Located in a charming building (owned by Antonio Banderas, no less) is popular among visitors and locals alike. You might even meet some local celebrities here (but you won’t know it, since I’m guessing you won’t recognize any local celebrities).
The food is amazing and the surroundings are very Spanish – tiles, courtyard and a bull head included.
Located in the Old Town around the corner form the Picasso Museum. The streets around it have a huge selection of tapas bars. Address: Calle Granada, 62.
There are three Casa Lolas in Malaga, but the original one is the best. This is a bustling tapas bar, always full and with a huge range of tapas on offer. The wooden tables with bar stools out front make for a great place to people watch and enjoy some food and conversation.
In the evenings especially, make sure to have a reservation or be ready to wait in line. Address: Calle Granada, 46.
This is a traditionally Spanish place with old-fashioned styling. A really popular tapas bar (get in early for dinner or you will wait for an hour outside), only fits up to 30 people and has no outdoor seating.
The service is friendly and lively, the selection of tapas is huge. You can expect music and an energetic atmosphere. The staff here sings!
On the northern end of Old Town. Address: Calle Carretería, 92.
This place is da bomb! It’s trendy, clean, friendly, and high-quality. What more can you ask for. The food items are great for a brunch – they serve Buddha bowls, smoothies, crepes, sandwiches etc. Everything looks and tastes fresh.
There is some outdoor seating, and there are two locations in Malaga. One right behind the Malaga Cathedral on Calle Strachan, 5, and one a little further north on Plaza de la Merced (no. 22).
Tucked away in a little street in the west part of Old Town, this is a place that serves well-presented dishes. They have food of all sorts, so you might have trouble choosing if you roll in at 10am, not sure if it is breakfast or lunch (because they do both really well!). Great if you want something healthy for a change, maybe after that suckling pig you had for dinner last night.
Address: C. Calderón de la Barca, 6.
The coffee at these places is less than awesome, so if you’re like me and enjoy a great coffee, see my tips for cafe’s below. You will get truly good coffee there. Plus, at Next Level, you can also have a solid breakfast.
Time for lunch!
Hidden gem alert! A small place with minimalist design, run by the owners that are super friendly, and with food that is a delight. The menu is… special, in the best way possible. They serve well thought out dishes, from octopus to steak tartar.
Located in Old Town close to the Picasso Museum. Address: Calle Santiago, 4.
In a prime location right next to the one-armed cathedral, this restaurant isn’t cheap, but it is yummy and seemed worth the cost. Especially if you like eating pigs! But you will find most typically Spanish food here. The service was cheery when we visited.
Address: Calle Cañón, 13.
As we all know, I’m a bit of a coffee snob. Generally, I think the coffee in Spain is really crappy. Awful. So I try to find places that give me my coffee fix without making me cringe. Here are a couple of coffee places that I can recommend in Malaga:
Yes! A real espresso that doesn’t taste like watered down dirt! They have a good flat white and offer batch brews, cold brews, the works. There are also some cakes on offer, but they are vegan and I couldn’t care less about those. But the coffee was great.
It’s a tiny place and you will probably just take your order to go, but they have a few tables. In the NW part of Old Town. Address: Plaza de los Mártires Ciriaco y Paula, 4.
Obviously I had to try this place (look at its name very carefully… and then look at the name of this blog), and I was not mad at it! With a cool café vibe with minimal seating, it is inviting and makes good coffee. They also serve bagels and some other brunch-type foods.
Located off one of Old Town’s busiest streets, Calle Puerta del Mar. Address: C. Panaderos, 14.
Excuse me, sir, can you recommend a good restaurant in Malaga?
If you are looking for superb quality, ask the big puffy white guy, Michelin! There are 5 Michelin restaurants in Malaga:
As a conclusion, I think you can have a great couple of days in Malaga if you have to. If you don’t have to, move on elsewhere. Or at least eat at some of the great restaurant that Malaga offers.
And now I am hungry.
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