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When going to new places we always wonder what we should do and see. Often people ask for recommendations for off the beaten path. But personally, I love to see all the famous touristy stuff while I am trying to orient in the new place. You will find that there are plenty of things to do in Malaga and if you have time you can explore the area around too. For art lovers, there are a surprisingly large amount of museums. For history lovers, there are Gibralfaro, Roman Theatre, and Alcazaba fortress. For food lovers, there are plenty of restaurants. For sun and sea lovers there are excellent beaches and so on. There is something for everyone. And whatever you decide to do and see in Malaga, I am sure you will love it. Let us start with a quick introduction to the city’s history to show you why it is such a diverse, historical place with a mixture of old and modern architecture and culture.
Facts about Malaga
The first datings that are found about Malaga are around 3000 years old and go back to something called Phoenicians. You will see some artifacts from the Phoenicians beneath the Moorish Castle Alcazaba (later about this one). In the 6th century, B.C. came the Greeks.
In 218 B.C. Málaga was colonized and further developed by the Romans, who stayed for more than six centuries. Under Roman rule, Málaga prospered as a trading port, with exports of iron copper and lead from the mines in nearby Ronda (which you should visit on a day trip). Romans also exported olive oil, wine, and garum (a relish of pickled fish) – would you dare to taste it?
Around 490 AD Malaga was invaded by one of the Germanic Goths tribes – the Visigoths. Malaga put up a fierce fight, and when the Goths finally entered the city, they found it half deserted.
The Byzantine Emperor Justinian force captured the city for a time, and marble and stone were exported for the construction of Sancta Sophia church in Constantinople. When the Byzantine enclaves were eradicated by 630 AD Malaga (unlike Cartagena) was not destroyed.
In 711 A.D. the Moors invaded Spain and called it Al-Andalus. Málaga became a major Moorish city and port – it was the main port for Granada too, which was famous for Figs and Wine. Moorish ruler Yusuf I built the Gibralfaro as a defense against the Christian conquerors Isabella and Ferdinand. However, the defenses were not enough to keep them at bay, after a bitter siege Málaga fell to the Christians in 1487. It was one of the last cities to be taken by the Christian conquerors. After the conquest Moors in the city were persecuted, and their belongings confiscated. The city mosque was converted into a Cathedral, which you will see in the middle of the old town Malaga. At this point the city fell into decline, followed by a revolt in 1568 by the Moors, which resulted in their complete expulsion from the region.
In a Golden Christian period, Malaga was in decline and nobility deserted the city. Their escape was probably one of the biggest reason you will see little Christian architecture in Malaga from that period. The town also suffered from several lethal diseases.
The modern history of Malaga
At the beginning of 1800 Malaga was invaded by Napoleon and had several Spanish guerillas fighting the French army. You will find the statue of the most famous two, General Jose Maria de Torrijos and Robert Boyd, on Plaza de la Merced.
In 1833 freedom and prosperity truly returned to Málaga. Wealthy middle-class families returned to Malaga and invested in factories, shipyards, and sugar refineries. Málaga´s dessert wine had become the favorite tipple of Victorian ladies, and thus, wine exports soared. Because of the climate, Malaga became an ideal foreign residence for wealthy English invalids from around the middle of the 19th century. However, prosperity was short-lived. In the early 20th century the phylloxera virus (also known as the blight) struck the vineyards and wiped out entire crops, and other industries succumbed to global competition and collapsed. The city lost its reputation in the lead up to the Civil War, when several groups of radicals started some revolts.
During the Civil War Malaga was republican, and the population of the city was subjected to mass executions by conquering Nationalists leaving an emotional scar on the town.
In the 1960’s things finally started to pick up again for Málaga. The city’s big break came in the form of mass tourism made possible by the airliner. Franco who was often accused of starving the south of industrial recourses was quick to develop tourist infrastructures such as Malaga Airport and high rise hotels in Torremolinos (which was a district of Malaga until 1988). The AVE high-speed train connected Malaga to the capital Madrid in just 2 and a half hours in 2004.
Malaga is now a tourist destination in its own right, with the city center including pedestrian zones, the Picasso museum, and Carmen Thyssen Museum and other museums, the Muelle Uno port development with a beautiful white promenade and the Pompidou center. If you want to read more about Malaga’s history, you can do it here
Malaga airport transfer
There are several ways to get to Malaga city from the airport – bus, train, taxi, car rental or pick-up service. Outside the Terminal 3 on arrival level, you will find wheeled transportation – buses and taxis. You can get your bus tickets near the exit in Terminal 3 in the ticket machine – CC or cash. Malaga Airport Express Line (bus) costs 3 euro and can also be purchased on the bus – cash only. The bus journey will take around 15-25 minutes and the last bus leaves at 00:00 am. The bus stops in the city center.
The airport express C1 will take you to the city center of Malaga in 12 minutes. Be sure to get off the train at the last station, which is Centro-Alameda and not in the previous one (Málaga – RENFE), which is the main railway station and located 20 minutes to walk to the city center. The train station at the airport is located beneath Terminal 3. The airport express runs every 20 minutes. The ticket cost 1,8 euro, and you can purchase it in a vending machine. There is staff you can ask for help if you need it.
You will find taxis just outside of Terminal 3. The fare will vary slightly on the day and time of arrival. Check the final price of the route with the ones showed in the taxi’s area.
If you are hiring a car use your GPS. The airport is located about 8 km from the city of Malaga and is connected to the section of the Mediterranean Highway A- 7 / E -15 MA-21 and MA-21 road (old N -340).
You can also book a pickup service and driver will be waiting for you in the arrival hall with a sign with your name on. The price will depend on the company but will start at approximately 40 euro.
Things to do in Malaga
No matter the season you are visiting there are always some things you can see and do. Museums are open, the Cathedral is open, walking around the city is for free, unless you want a guided tour to learn more about the city and its history, the fortress is open, shopping, day trips out of the city and restaurant visits. During spring, summer and early fall season you can relax on the beach if you can find a spot. Or take a Ferris Wheel and enjoy beautiful views over Malaga and the Mediterranean Sea. Did you know that you can take a ferry over to Africa too? Or visit the white and blue villages, or take a day trip to Madrid with a high-speed train, or visit Gibraltar on a self-drive tour? Here are 5 must-dos in Malaga Spain no matter the season.
1. Malaga Cathedral
According to the history of Malaga, the Cathedral is located within the former walls of the Moorish fortress and where the Mosque used to be. Malaga Cathedral was build between mid of 1500, and mid of 1700 and the architecture is influenced by the Rennaisaince and Baroque styles. The Cathedral has only one Bell Tower because of the lack of funds (due to different reasons which are not agreed on) and is called “La Manquita” – one-armed woman. The Cathedral is the second highest building in Andalusia and will provide you with great views over Malaga and the sea. We climbed all 200 steps and found it all worth it. There are two stages to climbing, so you will have a little break if you need it. This tour is guided, and your guide will tell you a little bit of the Cathedral’s history. The entrance cost 6 euro, and you buy tickets at the Cathedral entrance. If you only want to visit the Cathedral and the museum, the ticket costs 5 euro. The gardens of the Cathedral have free admission. You get all the tickets at the entrance of the Cathedral. Whether you will go inside or not take a walk around the Cathedral and you will see it in all its pride and glory. There are also many restaurants around the Cathedral where you can have a glass of Cava or Sangria and watch people rushing by.
You can go on a guided walking tour if you want to learn Malaga’s history and see a few places that tourist might not find on their own. The tour with Viator includes entrance to the Cathedral. You can find availability and prices for the tour here.
2. Segway tour – see Malaga’s highlights
If you want to get a quick overview of the city, take a segway tour. You will learn a little bit of history of the town and pass by some of the main attractions that you can explore later. The journey we took started next to the Cathedral and guided us through the Alameda Park up the top of Alcazaba. You will not be able to enter the fortress on the segway tour, but you can always come back for it. You can check availability and price for segway tour here. The tour is the same as we took. Or you can try a scooter tour with Get Your Guide (same route).
3. La Alcazaba Fortress
Alcazaba is a Moorish Fortress located at the foot of Gibralfaro hill. The fortress dates back to the Muslim ruling in Malaga and is a popular tourist attraction. What makes Alcazaba special is the chance to observe Roman, Arab and Renaissance culture, all within a few yards of each other. Alcazaba combines its defensive purpose with the beauty characteristic of an Arab palace and is organized around rectangular patios and spaces around gardens and pools. According to the traditional architectural tenets of Granada, the rooms attempt to combine the play of light and shade that the Arab master builders achieved so well. The building’s military components make it one of the most important Muslim works in Spain today. And perhaps its most effective defense was its location, overlooking the city and bay. You can get the tickets to the Fortress near the entrance just behind the Cathedral. The ticket cost a few euros. Put on some good walking shoes because this place is worthy of exploring.
If you want to learn more about Alcazaba history, you can go on a private walking tour which includes Alcazaba Fortress. You will find availability and prices for the tour with Viator here.
4. Roman Theatre
The Roman Theatre is the oldest monument in Malaga and is located at the foot of the La Alcazaba Fortress. The theatre was built in the first century BC, under Emperor Augustus, and was used until the third century AD. Subsequently, it was left to ruin for centuries, until the Moors settled in Andalucía. Now the site is accompanied by the Centro de Interpretación (visitors center) which teaches visitors about the history of the ruins and its subsequent excavation. In the summer it is used for open-air performances. It seats 220 spectators. The Roman Theatre is closed on Mondays and public holidays which are 1st of January, 1st of May, 24th, 25th and 31st of December. The Theatre has a free entrance.
5. Castillo de Gibralfaro
Gibralfaro Castle was built in 929 AD by Abd-al-Rahman III, Caliph of Cordoba, and enlarged in the 14th. Century to house troops and protect the Alcazaba. Today it is one of the most visited monuments in Málaga. The views of the city from Castle’s walls are spectacular. You can also visit the Interpretation Centre to learn the site’s history. The Castle is divided into two parts. The upper part is called the main courtyard and houses the Interpretation Centre. Here you will also find the Main Tower (Torre Mayor), 17 meters high, the Phoenician well and the baths in this section. The Airón well was dug in solid rock to a depth of 40 meters. The lower part, or courtyard, held the troop barracks and stables. The watchtower or White Tower (Torre Blanca), facing the North East, is one of the most visible ones and inside you will find a water tank, auxiliary buildings, and storerooms. Remember to bring water and snacks as there are no coffee shops here.
You can reach the Castle through Alcazaba fortress, to climb up the zig-zag steps which lead up from the Plaza del General Torrijos at the east end of the Alameda Gardens to join the same cobbled path or take a taxi up. If you prefer to stay the night to take in the stunning views, or you want to have a drink or meal, the Parador Hotel Gibralfaro is conveniently located near the entrance. We stopped here on our segway tour for the views. Gibralfaro Castle is open for public every day with a free entrance on Sundays after 2 pm. If you buy a combined ticket for the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro, you will save 0,6 euro. The price for the Gibralfaro alone is 2,20 euro while combining for both places 3,55 euro.
6. Museums in Malaga
Malaga has quite a few museums, and art galleries and Spain have fostered several well-known artists such as Picasso, Rando, Gaudi, and Pedro Mena among others. In addition to the collections of works of these famous artists, you will find several museums that exhibit handcraft. Here I include the top three museums but there are more than you would expect, for any interest.
Museo Picasso Malaga
If you are a fan of Picasso or art, in general, a Picasso museum is a must. The museum has a collection of Picasso’s work from all the periods, but also an exhibition of Olga Picasso, his first wife, where she had shared her story of rough times with the Russian revolution and very special husband. You can watch home movies about Picasso’s childhood, and there is an audio commentary available for the visit. You should visit it early to avoid the crowds. The museum itself is housed in a beautiful 2 story building which itself is almost worth the visit. Entrance in reasonably cheap so there is no reason not to go. The museum is open every day with varying opening hours depending on the season. The prices are 6 euro for the Picasso gallery, 6,5 for Olga Picasso exhibition and 12 euro for both. The museum is located behind the Cathedral. You will find more information on the museum’s official site.
Museo de Malaga
Museum with a focus on Malaga and Andalucia and it gives free entrance to EU visitors. The art collection is mostly from late 19C – 20C and the exhibition is representative of this period. The pre-1900 paintings cover the usual subjects – portraits, religious, genre, Orientalism and the sea. The 20C collection is divided into the relevant periods – fin de siecle, the avant-garde (Picasso and Villa), the Franco period and post-1950. The other collection takes up the second floor and is strong on the Roman and Al-Andalus periods. The art collection is on the first floor and archaeology collection is on the second floor. There is also free security boxes where you can leave your bags. Museo de Malaga is located near Alcazaba and the Cathedral and housed in the beautiful old Customs House. The museum is closed on Mondays and has varying opening hours depending on the season. Admission cost is 1,5 euro. You will find more information on the museum’s official site.
Museo del Vidrio y cristal
This museum contains extraordinary collections of crystal from different parts of the world from Roman times to these days. The collections include handmade porcelain, stain glass windows, unique pieces, and various portraits. Visitors will experience a charming and welcoming atmosphere with personal attention. The visits are guided by the staff that speaks different languages and is very friendly and knowledgeable. The architecture of the Museo del Vidrio y cristal is breathtaking with original tiles and beam ceilings. The museum is closed on Mondays, public holidays and the whole month of August. The admission price is 6 Euro and visits can be arranged Spanish, English, French and Italian. You can send them an e-mail before your visit to make sure they have staff who speak your language (one of the four mentioned).
7. Parque de Malaga
Parque de Malaga is a lush green oasis located just off the Cathedral towards the beach and sea and towards and along the promenade. There are 3 walkways in the park, each 800 m long and 10 m wide – one on the north side and the other two are on the south. It covers an area of 30,000 square meters if you count the rose garden surrounded by orange and cypress trees. These gardens are located next to the City Council building and called Jardines de Puerta Oscura. Take a stroll, a jog or a seat on the bench and let it all sink in. Seeing beautiful ornate pieces of baroque and renaissance sculptures and fountains surrounded by subtropical plants gives you a surreal feeling.
8. The Beach – Malagueta
Malagueta beach is located in the center of the city and gets its name from the neighborhood La Malagueta. The beach is popular with both locals and tourist. You will find all necessary amenities such as showers, toilets, waste bins, lifeguards, playgrounds for kids, sunbeds and umbrellas rentals, snack bars, and sports and water activities and equipment. Malagueta beach is a blue flag beach which is an eco-label award, meaning the beach has pure water, clean coasts, safety and access for all.
9. Puerto de Malaga
The newly renovated port of Malaga is one of Malaga’s best attractions during any season. It is also one of the free things you can do in Malaga. Start at Muello Uno – the waterfront promenade. The promenade is very modern and elegantly designed. There are many recently planted palm trees lining the walkway and further thousands of trees and tropical plants that make up the gardens. There is no better place to enjoy an evening’s stroll and do people watching. At the end of Muello Uno, you will find the Pompidou center “El Cubo”. You can get skip the line tickets to the Pompidou center from Viator. Next to the Cube or just in front and beneath of it you will find a quirky restaurant and bar Artsenal with contemporary art all over the place. It is worth stopping for at least a drink and a gaze at the works of different artists. There are also performances here from time to time, so you may be lucky and walk on a jazz jam.
10. Mercado Atarazanas
One of the free things to do in Malaga is to visit Mercado Atarazanas, the city’s most famous food market. It is located in Calle Atarazanas, 10, just off one of the busy thoroughfares leading from the Guadalmedina river to the old town. This market is where the people of Malaga come to buy fresh food. The visitors come for the tapas and fresh “pescaíto” (typical small fried fish) in the bars in the market, or to stroll through this building which has been able to preserve its traditional essence. The building the market is located at is originated from the 14th century and has luckily has preserved its architectural heritage from the Arabic and Moorish ruling. Mercado Atarazanas is open Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 3 pm.
Where to stay in Malaga
We rented a one bedroom apartment in Oldtown Malaga. The bedroom with a kingsize bed and a French balcony was spacious. The living room had a dining table for 4 with a kitchenette, foldout couch, a flatscreen, a recliner, and a little terrace. The street would be nice and quiet if it weren’t for the Semana Santa processions, which was kind of cool. We were met by the stuff that explained everything we needed to know. The apartment was located on the top floor. The building had an elevator. On the floor above us, it was a roof terrace with several sunbeds, high tables and high chairs, and umbrellas. Overall good value for money. We rented with a company called Living4Malaga, and you can check availability and prices on bookings.com
If this apartment doesn’t fulfill your needs, you can find something else below.
There are many things you can do in Malaga. Some of them are season based such as Feria de Augusto, the celebration of the return to the Christian ruling in the 14th century which takes place every year on the third week of August. Semana Santa celebration with processions takes place every year on Palm Sunday and last until Easter Sunday. You can read about the celebration of Semana Santa in Malaga in my article.