In fact, our visit to Malaga (a city of southern Spain in Andalusia) was not really on the agenda. But for once, we changed our plans a little to visit a very good friend we met in Tenerife at the end of 2018. Plus you start to know us, don’t you? For us, any excuse is good to discover a new destination and go on an adventure 😉 . So today we take you with us through the pretty little streets of Malaga. Especially since this time we had a local guide to give us a lot of good information and addresses (that we will obviously share with you 😉 ).
- a little bit of history about Malaga
- Stroll through the narrow streets of the historical center
- Alcazaba and the Castillo de Gibralfaro
- The Cathedral of Malaga
- The Atarazanas market
- Malaga by night
- The best viewpoints over Malaga
- Museums of Malaga
- The port and the beach of Malaga (and the botanical garden)
- Street art in Malaga’s Soho district
- Hike the Caminito del Rey from Malaga
- Other ideas for activities around Malaga
- Our favorite restaurants in Malaga
- Where to stay in Malaga
- Map of the best things to do in Malaga
A little bit of history about Malaga
Well, we’re not gonna give you a whole history lesson, are we! But the fact is that it is interesting to know a few things before visiting Malaga. Malaga was founded by the Phoenicians in the 8th century B.C. which makes it one of the oldest cities in Europe. From the 8th to the 15th century the city came under Arab control, hence its Muslim influences, which can be seen in the Alcazaba and the Castillo de Gibralfaro (or the cathedral that was built on the site of the old mosque). It was only reconquered by the Christians in 1487. Another interesting fact about Málaga is that it was the birthplace of the famous Pablo Picasso, who made his first sketches there.
Stroll through the narrow streets of the historical center
Enough about history… let’s get down to business (or not 😉 ). The thing we liked the most in Malaga is that almost all the historical centre is pedestrian. It’s like a maze of small streets full of life that go in all directions. There are lots of shops of all kinds, cafés, terraces, tapas and vino bars, Turron shops (a sweet specialty of Andalusia based on almonds).
On the architectural side, you can find all the mixes of Arab and Spanish influences. You’ll see strange red brick buildings, inner courtyards, Turkish baths that blend with the famous Andalusian balconies found on most house facades. As you stroll around you can even admire a Roman theater that testifies to the city’s ancient past.
We especially loved the whole north-western part of the historic centre! In the small streets, we found lots of nice little restaurants, interesting shops or the casa invisible (a kind of social and cultural centre in an old house where young people meet for a concert, a drink and talk about politics or ecology 😉 )
If you don’t have a great guide like us to show you around the historical centre of Málaga, take a free walking tour. It’s a great way to get a first glimpse of the city of Malaga without breaking the bank. The concept? You will leave for a walking tour of the historical centre of Malaga and if you like the tour, you can leave the tip you wish to the guide. We love these tours and we do them in almost every city we discover for the first time.
Alcazaba and the Castillo de Gibralfaro
Málaga’s Alcazaba and Gibralfaro Castle are among the best preserved remains of the Muslim period in Spain. The Alcazaba (which means citadel in Arabic) was both the residence of the Muslim governors and a fortification for the city of Málaga. You won’t be able to miss it since the Alcazaba is built just above the Roman theatre, on the side of the Gibralfaro hill. As for the Castillo, it dominates the city from the top of the hill.
Inside the Alcazaba, you can admire the finesse of Arab architecture with its gates, courtyards, gardens… For the brave who will climb to the top of the castle, you will have a beautiful view of the port and the whole city of Malaga (especially at sunset 😉 )
Price of the visits
The entrance fee for the Alcazaba is €3.50 /pers and €5.50 for a combined ticket with the visit to the Castillo de Gibralfaro. If you want a guided tour of the Alcazaba for more explanations, you can get one from 6€ (not including entrance) on GetYourGuide.
The Cathedral of Malaga
Even if you are “not very churchy”, we still recommend that you take a look at Malaga’s impressive cathedral. As I told you earlier, it was built on the same spot where the mosque was when the Catholics took over the city at the end of the 15th century. It is nicknamed “la Manquita” (or the One-armed lady in english) because only one of its two towers could be built due to lack of financial resources.
You’re going to tell me… it’s just a cathedral with one tower! But believe me, the inside of this monument will blow your mind! The dimensions of the hall are simply impressive and richly decorated with huge works of art. But I think the most beautiful thing for me are the two huge organs that rise on either side of the Hall. There is no need to say, they knew how to build churches at the time! On the other hand, we have to admit that we didn’t listen to the audio guide for very long with Fabienne because it was quite boring…
But we’re saving the best for last, as it is also possible to climb on the roof of the cathedral. As you can imagine, the view of the city is impressive and you can also admire the domes! But like all rewards, you have to deserve it since you still have to climb 200 steps to get there 😉
Price of the visits
The entrance inside the cathedral plus the audioguide costs 6€ per person and 10€ if you want to climb on the roof to admire the view (which we warmly recommend).
The Atarazanas market
During your walks you may pass in front of a huge coloured stained glass window showing ships in the water in front of the city of Malaga (or opposite a huge Arabic-style gate). You will then find yourself in front of the central market of Atarazanas, which also has a special history. During the Muslim period of the city, this building was actually a shipyard where boats were built/repaired. At that time, part of what is now Málaga was under water and the shipyard was on the seafront. With the arrival of the Christians, the yard fell into disuse but was revived at the end of the 19th century when it was turned into a food market. The architects of the time had the good idea to preserve the main door. Today, the market is an excellent place to buy local products or to taste some tapas (near the entrance there are several stalls selling them).
Malaga by night
Málaga and its pedestrian streets are even more charming at nightfall… especially as all the historical monuments are beautifully illuminated. I particularly liked the building in the Plaza del Siglo with its colourful windows or the square in front of the cathedral.
And if you come during the month of December, you will have the (bad)luck 😉 to see the Marques de Larios calle completely illuminated… with a kitsch sound and light show several times a night with Mariah Carey and Feliz Navidad at full power… Personally we would have rather done without it 😉
The best viewpoints over Malaga
If you are like us, you certainly like to take a little height at the end of the day and enjoy a nice view with the evening glow. As this is one of our favourite pastimes when travelling, we have a few suggestions for you if you’re in Malaga (which you’ll also find on the map at the end of this article):
Mirador of Gibralfaro: This is not the most famous sunset spot in Malaga for nothing. This spot is actually an observation platform that is practically at the top of the path that goes up to the Gibralfaro castle. The view is splendid at sunset… the disadvantage: it is crowded of course 🙂
Remark: If you continue to the top of the path to the castle, there is another platform less crowded with a beautiful view of the whole coast. There is also another hill just behind with a nice view on the castillo.
The cathedral roof: as I mentioned before, it is a magnificent viewpoint in the heart of the city and if you take a visit in the late afternoon, you will certainly not be disappointed by the view. The only drawback is that the visit is not free and you will not be able to stay more than about 30 minutes on the roof.
The mirador of Alcazaba: A nice viewpoint (free of charge) just above the Roman theater, offering a beautiful view of the cathedral and the city. Maybe not as impressive as the first two, but it’s worth climbing the few stairs to get a look.
The rooftop bar of the hotel malaga palacio: Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do this one but considering the location of the hotel and the height of the building, there is no doubt that the view at sunset is worth it (even if the price of the drinks must be a bit higher).
Museums of Malaga
So I’m not going to lie to you, with Fabienne we’re not really into museums (except history museums in my case)… and even less art! But it so happens that in the city centre of Malaga there are more than 30 museums, a good part of which are dedicated to art! So we thought that if we’re going to visit Pablo Picasso’s hometown, we might as well do it right! We were quite surprised to find so many activities dedicated to art… I don’t know about you but when we thought of Malaga, we thought “Costa del Sol” (beach and party) and therefore not so much about museums 😉
the Picasso museum of Malaga
So we visited Malaga’s unmissable Picasso Museum, which is located on a beautiful street between the Roman Theatre and the Cathedral. The museum is housed in a beautiful palace that is well worth a visit. As soon as we arrived, we were given an audioguide in French to take the tour (you’ll have to excuse us for the lack of pictures as they were forbidden inside the museum and I was scolded like a child as soon as I dared to lift my camera…). #EverythingToSellPostcards)
Once again, we quickly got off the hook with the good old audioguide that almost put us to sleep in 10 minutes (there are so many better things to do with smartphones in 2020). So we quickly focused on Picasso’s works. Thanks to this museum, we were able to realize the diversity of the artist’s work and the evolution of his style throughout his life. Of course, we knew Picasso mainly for cubism and we could discover other facets of the artist.
For the Picasso museum, we recommend you to get your tickets on GetYourGuide because the prices are even a little bit cheaper and you won’t have to queue (that’s what we did and you just have to show the QR code in the app). You can either buy a ticket for the permanent exhibition (8€) or a combined ticket with the temporary exhibition (12€).
The Carmen Thyssen museum
We have not visited this museum but if you are interested in art in general, you have certainly already heard of the Thyssen family (or the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid) who have one of the most important art collections in existence. You should know that the last wife of Baron Thyssen (Carmen Thyssen) also had her own collection which is now on display in this museum in Malaga. So if you are interested in Spanish painters of the 19th century, don’t hesitate to take a look at this museum! (admission 10€)
The Pompidou center of Malaga
If you are more into modern and contemporary art, Malaga even has the first foreign branch of the famous Pompidou Centre in Paris. The museum is located in a large multicoloured glass cube towards the port and the entrance will cost you 9€.
Other museums in Malaga
As I told you before, there are plenty of other museums in Malaga (the list is quite impressive). Here is a small non-exhaustive list to give you an idea:
- Malaga museum: collection of archaeological objects and art from the city of Malaga. A mix between history and art museum.
- Malaga car museum: an impressive collection of old cars combined with fashion pieces
- glas and cristal museum
- Malaga contemporary art center
- Jorge Rando museum: museum of the expressionist painter and sculptor Jorge Rando
You can find a complete list of Málaga’s museums onthe Tourist Office website.
The port and the beach of Malaga (and the botanical garden)
This is not necessarily the part of Málaga that we preferred because it is not the most typical…it has to be said that this is also where the cruise boats arrive. So the restaurants and other shops are clearly less interesting than in the historic centre (understand that there are a lot of tourist attractions).
But if we disregard that, the modern architecture of the muelleuno is rather nice. And if you come for a walk at sunset, you could be rewarded like us by pretty colors with the cranes of the port in the background.
And for the Malagueta beach, as we were there in December, we have to admit that it was quite nice… If we leave aside a few fishermen, we had the beach all to ourselves 🙂
Street art in Malaga’s Soho district
Soho is the neighbourhood behind the CAC (contemporary art centre) and was one of our big favourites in Malaga. This area is experiencing a real revival since an initiative called MAUS (Malaga urban arts Soho) has transformed it into a street art district. Just one piece of advice, keep at least 2 hours to walk around this area, taking the time to admire the different graffiti that decorate the buildings (there is a map to find them more easily on the MAUS website).
Hike the Caminito del Rey from Malaga
Less than an hour by train from Málaga there is a trail that has long had the reputation of being “the most dangerous trail in the world”: its name is Caminito del Rey. In fact, this path was originally simply an access road used for the construction of hydroelectric dams. But as it is located in a rather impressive gorge, hikers who are not afraid to walk it (or via ferrata fans, as you wish) have started to use it more and more, unfortunately causing some fatal accidents (hence the reputation of the caminito).
But since 2015 it is ancient history since the caminito del rey has been completely renovated and secured to welcome the general public. So it is certainly less impressive than before but it allows you to discover these beautiful landscapes in complete safety. Fabienne and I did this hike and we tell you all about it in a detailed article:
Update 2022: This year we went back to the area! But we did not hike the caminito a second time, instead we did lots of really amazing hikes in the surroundings. You can read more about them in this blog post
Other ideas for activities around Malaga
As we only stayed 5 days, we obviously didn’t have time to see everything! However, there’s no lack of things to do around Malaga (we’ll have to come back here one day)… So if you have a little more time than us, here are some ideas of other interesting activities around Malaga. Enough to keep you busy for a few more days 😉
- Nerja caves are located about 45 minutes away by car from Malaga. Read our blog post
- Visit Frigliana: a stunning white village above Nerja. See our post about Frigliana
- Go for a hike in el Torcal de Antequera
- Hike to el Saltillo suspension bridge from the pretty village of Canillas de Aceituno. You can read more in our blog post or book this tour on Civitatis
- Ronda (or other white villages typical of the region). See our post about Ronda
- The city of Granada and its famous Alhambra (which was the most beautiful palace of the Muslim governors in Spain): There are day tours from Malaga if you don’t have the time to spend a few days in Granada.
- Overall in the La Axarquia area east of Malaga there is a lot to see.
And if you’re looking for even more inspiration, you can take a look at the GetYourGuide page about Malaga. There’s something for everyone!
Our favorite restaurants in Malaga
As I told you, we had our private guide in Malaga since we were at our friend’s house. And she showed us a lot of nice places to eat and drink a drink that we will be happy to share with you.
- Vegetarian restaurant el Calafate: If you are looking for a good vegetarian restaurant, we recommend this placet which has a very nice small menu and very affordable prices. It is also located just in front of the “casa invisible” if you want to visit it.
- La taberna del Pintxo: A tapas (or pinchos) restaurant with an original touch, as the waiters constantly move to tables with different tapas trays. You simply take what you feel like and at the end you count the different peaks of the pinchos you ate to calculate the bill.
- El Pimpi: It’s a kind of institution in Malaga. Located in the heart of the historic centre, right in front of the Roman theatre, we really recommend that you at least come and have a drink (with tapas) to discover the inside of this wine bar/restaurant. El Pimpi is actually huge inside and consists of several rooms or patios with different atmospheres. On the other hand if you want to eat inside, it is better to book or not to arrive at rush hour 😉
- Casa aranda churros: We were told that this is THE PLACE TO BE to eat churros con chocolate in Malaga. So indeed the churros were delicious but if you want our opinion, we found that the chocolate was too sweet and not incredible (but we’re a bit complicated with chocolate 😉 #swissPeople )
- Café Massimo: I went there almost every morning to work 1-2 hours and eat something. The wifi works very well, the atmosphere is calm and it’s the kind of place I like to sit down to work a little.
You will find all these addresses on the google map below
Where to stay in Malaga
Well, this time we didn’t have to look for accommodation in Malaga as we were sleeping at our friend’s place. But as usual, if you’re looking for a cheap hotel in Malaga, compare prices on Booking or check the map below to see apartments and hotels available at your desired dates:
Map of the best things to do in Malaga
That’s it for Malaga! We have to admit that we still know very little about Spain and that this first glimpse of Andalusia has really wet our appetite. It’s not impossible that we’ll come back very soon to explore this country which has everything we like. Especially since it would allow us to improve our Spanish!
So we hope that our article will be useful and above all, if you have already been to Malaga, do not hesitate to share with us your good plans to complete this information.
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Note: This article contains some affiliate links to sites like GetYourGuide or booking. If you go through one of our links to book an activity, we’ll get a small commission (and you won’t pay anything more)… This helps us to continue our work on novo-monde to create this kind of free and independent guide.