Thinking of a city break in Spain? Why not take a trip to Malaga – it’s a relaxed city with a lot to offer!
When you think of a city break in Spain, which destinations spring to mind? Madrid perhaps, or maybe Barcelona?
There are lots of smaller cities in Spain worth exploring and one of these is the Andalusian city of Malaga. It sits on the south coast of Spain, and is the location of the gateway airport for the Costa del Sol.
But this city is the perfect location for a long weekend or as a base for exploring this beautiful region of Spain. Mark and I have visited Malaga twice now, and are already planning our next visit!
So read on to find out why you should consider Malaga for your next break in Spain.
How to get to Malaga
It’s really easy to get to Malaga by plane. Flights from the UK to Malaga leave from several UK airports, and the flights take around 3 hours.
Once you get there, you can get a taxi from the airport to the city centre. The journey should take under 30 minutes.
If you’re travelling around Spain by train, it will take around 2.5 hours to get there from Seville via Cordoba.
When you arrive in Malaga, you’re likely to find that the weather is comfortably warm. In the summer, you’ll enjoy 11 hours of sunshine per day, but without the searing temperatures that you find in inland cities like Seville. That makes it a much more comfortable spot for a summer city break.
The city is also perfect for some winter sun. Even as early as February you’re likely to enjoy temperatures around 20C during the day. The nights are still chilly though, so do take warm clothes for the evenings.
Fall in Love with the City Spirit
Malaga has a typically Spanish relaxed feeling about it. And if you’re out and about before 10am, you’ll find that the city is pretty quiet.
So as you may have guessed, the city is fairly lively well into the night. In the warmer months, you’ll find plenty of people hanging around in the city centre well past midnight.
And even in the colder nights (if 14C at night can be called cold!), they’ll still be out. But they’ll be wrapped up warm in their winter coats!
Malaga’s city centre is an eclectic mix of classical Spanish architecture and modern buildings, with plenty of little alleyways to explore.
You’ll find great shopping in and around Calle Marqués de Lario , the city’s main shopping street. And the Plaza de la Constitucion is the perfect spot to indulge in a coffee and some people watching.
And you’ll spot lots of statues dotted about as you wander through the streets.
Spoil yourself in Foodie Heaven
Foodies will find themselves in heaven when they visit Malaga.
Wander down any of the little calles off the main shopping street and you’ll soon find a wide range of restaurants and tapas bars to choose from.
As well as typical Spanish eateries, you’ll find everything from pizza and pasta, to vegetarian restaurants and Indian curry houses.
We enjoyed a relaxed tapas lunch at L’Experience in Plaza del Obispo. In the spring and summer you can admire the view of the Cathedral, while in winter the terrace is sheltered by a marquee with toasty warm heaters inside.
In fact, your main problem may be that there’s too much choice! So why not sign up for a walking tour of Malaga which calls in at tapas bars around the city.
Cafe Central has been serving delicious smooth coffee in the Plaza de la Constitucion for the last century. It’s the perfect place to start your day with a relaxed breakfast of churros and hot chocolate. Sit back, relax and watch as the city slowly comes to life.
Malaga is also well known for its delicious ice cream, and you ‘ll find many heladerias around the city centre. Casa Mira on the Calle Marqués de Lario is one of the best, and its always very popular with the locals.
There’s a wide range of flavours for you to choose from. You’ll soon discover that wandering through the streets with a cone is a perfect way to round off your evening.
And the Atarazanas food market is well worth a visit. Indulge all of your senses as you stroll through the stalls, sampling foods, stopping for some tapas, and buying your favourite produce.
Visit the Unfinished Cathedral
Malaga city centre is dominated by the impressive cathedral which was built between 1528 and 1782. Even though the buildings in Malaga city centre are tightly packed, you can spot the single tower of the cathedral from all around.
The official name of the cathedral is la Catedral de la Encarnación de Málaga. But Malagueños affectionately call it la Manquita, which means ‘the one-armed lady’.
That’s because the second tower remains uncompleted. A plaque at the foot of the tower explains that the funds raised to finish the building were diverted to help the British colonies in the American War of Independence!
This may be a slight embroidering of the truth, as the parish registers seem to show that the money was actually used to renovate a roadway called the ‘Way of Antequera’.
Take a Seat in the Roman Theatre
Malaga’s Roman theatre is the city’s oldest monument, and lies in the cultural heart of the city.
It was built in the first century BC and used until the 3rd century CE. It was then left to ruin for centuries, before being used as a quarry by the Moors. You can see some of the stone columns in the Alcazaba.
Now it is one of the only remaining Roman ruins in Andalusia, and one of the only ancient ruins left in Malaga after the civil war.
Over time, the theatre became buried in dirt and rubble, and it was rediscovered in 1951. A restoration project began in the 1990s, and el Teatro Romano reopened to the public in 2011.
Entry to the theatre is free of charge, and there is a small visitor centre on site as well. In the summer months, the theatre once again hosts open air events, seating 200 spectators.
Walk up to the Alcazaba
There’s plenty to interest fans of history in Malaga, and one of the must-visit sites is the Alcazaba.
This is a Moorish fortified castle built in the late 11th century on the orders of Badis, King of the Berber Taifa of Granada . A series of concentric walls and over 100 towers make up this citadel on the slopes of the Gibralfaro hill.
In the 13th century, the castle became part of the Nasrid kingdom. Redevelopments around this time give the castle a familiar Nasrid appearance which you may recognise if you’ve been to the Alhambra de Granada.
The Alcazaba is not on the same grand scale as the Alhambra. But with its Islamic decorations, shaded courtyards and pretty paradise gardens, it’s probably in better condition. A visit to this castle gives you a great idea of what a Nasrid palace would have looked like in the 13th century.
The Alcazaba is well worth a visit. A ticket for the Alcazaba costs 3.50 euro or 5.50 euro for both the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro. Entrance to both is free if you go after 2pm on a Sunday afternoon.
Drink in the View from the Gibralfaro
Carry further on up the hill and you will eventually reach the Castillo de Gibralfaro at the very top.
The 130m Monte de Gibralfaro is one of the foothills of the Montes de Malta. It has been the site of fortifications since the Phoenicians first founded Málaga city around the year 770 BC.
In the14th century, Yusuf I expanded the fortifications and ordered the building of a double wall down to the Alcazaba.
Walking up the hill to the castle of Gibralfaro is a lung-busting, leg-burning endeavour. But it’s well worth it for the views out over the harbour and the mountains behind the city.
If the walk isn’t for you, you can take a bus, taxi, or join a Segway tour to the top.
Art Galleries and Museums Galore
Or if you fancy getting out of the sun for a while, why not visit one of Malaga’s many museums. There are museums covering every taste from cars and fashion, to glass and even wine!
You could also visit the museum of Pablo Picasso,who was born in Malaga. The city is very proud of its association with the famous artist, and you’ll also spot a statue of him sitting on a bench in the city centre.
And Malaga is also home to the Pompidou Centre, the only branch of the museum outside France. There are over 80 works in the gallery, including pieces by Frida Kahlo, Francis Bacon and of course, Picasso.
Take a Walk in the Park
Malaga also has some beautiful parks to explore. The main city centre park is the Parque de Malaga, which opened in 1897.
This park is close to the seafront, with beautiful tropical trees which offer cool shade from the afternoon sun.
There are also botanical gardens, fountains and sculptures, and you”ll see and hear parrots as they fly in and out of the trees!
There’s a band stand with open air performances, and a small arts and crafts market at weekends.
If you love gardens then the Historical and Botanical Gardens are definitely worth a visit. You’ll find a greenhouse of orchids and carniverous plants, an ‘Around the World in 80 Trees’ trail, subtropical fruit trees and much more.
The gardens are a short distance from the city centre, so you can either take a bus or a taxi over there.
Relax on the Beach
And of course when you think of Malaga, you always think of the beaches!
Playa Malagueta is the closest beach to the city centre, just a gentle 10 minute stroll down the promenade. It’s a man-made sandy beach around half a mile long. And although it’s very popular with tourists, it doesn’t feel overcrowded and has a lovely relaxed atmosphere.
The beach has plenty of restaurants. and the smell of fresh fish grilling on barbecues will definitely give you an appetite after you’ve spent some time in the sun.
There are plenty of other beautiful beaches around Malaga, just a short drive away from the city centre. You’re bound to find one that’s perfect for you.
Take a stroll along the Marina
Or if you don’t fancy eating on the beach, why not try one of the excellent bars and restaurants on the Paseo del Muelle Dos promenade overlooking the marina.
The marina is full of shops, restaurants and of course, you can spot some fabulous yachts there as well.
And at night, it’s a great place to eat. But if you go to Malaga early in the year, remember to take an extra layer to wrap up in. Being by the waterfront makes it a little chiller than the city centre, but it’s worth it for the views!
A Different Way to see Malaga
Because Malaga is so compact, you can easily explore most of it on foot. Or you might decide to hire a car if you feel like going further afield.
But there are all sorts of other ways to view the city as well.
You could see the city on two wheels by hiring an electric bike, either on an organised tour or by yourself. Or if you fancy something a little different, why not take a tour of Malaga on a mini Segway.
A boat tour out into the harbour from the Marina will allow you to see the city from the sea. Or you could see the city from above by going for a ride on the 70 metre high Malaga Big Wheel.
And a tour in a horse-drawn carriage is perfect for a more traditional view of Malaga.
Visit the Alhambra de Granada
There’s plenty to do in Malaga, and you could easily spend your whole break in the city itself.
But if seeing the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro has whetted your appetite for the history of Andalusia, why not hire a car and take the drive to the Alhambra de Granada.
This fortified palace complex is a simple drive from Malaga, taking around 90 minutes. An in-car GPS will guide you there easily, and there’s plenty of parking.
You’ll be able to explore the Nasrid palace, which is full of beautiful Moorish architecture, as well as the Renaissance style palace of King Carlos V. After that, there are stunning gardens to explore around the grounds.
The Alhambra de Granada is the most visited tourist attraction in Spain. So if you plan to visit, it’s a good idea to book tickets in advance on the Alhambra website.
You can book tickets up to three months before your visit, and they do sell out quite quickly. You’ll need to pick the time that you plan to go into the Nasrid Palace as it’s on timed entry.
It takes a couple of hours to look around the Nasrid Palace. So choosing a time slot around 1-2pm is ideal if you want to avoid the heat of the afternoon sun.