My Malaga travel guide has the top things to do in Malaga, where to stay in Malaga, and the best places to enjoy tasty tapas!
After many years of turning right when I arrived in Malaga airport, I finally got around to staying in the city. Malaga airport is frequented by millions of international visitors each year, but most use it as a gateway to stay in beach resorts on the Costa del Sol. I was one of those people, and can’t believe what I have been missing for the last 30 years! There are so many great things to do in Malaga, and it is a beautiful city.
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Malaga was a traditional port town to civilisations such as the Phoenicians, the Romans and the Spanish Moors and you can see their influences all over Malaga city centre. Amongst its colourful streets and eclectic mix of architectural styles, you will find a Roman Theatre and a Moorish fortress.
Malaga is the third oldest city in Western Europe after Lisbon and Cadiz, and its historical centre is a pleasure to explore. The streets are covered in marble tiles and there are beautiful buildings around every corner, including the magnificent Cathedral of Malaga. In typical Spanish fashion, the streets are lined with tapas bars where locals gather to socialise – the city is bursting with energy.
It may surprise you to learn that Malaga has over 30 museums – there is plenty to satisfy culture vultures too. Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga and the Picasso Museum is certainly worth a visit. Our trip coincided with Picasso’s 50th anniversary and there are many cultural events planned throughout the city for 2023.
As well as a wide selection of things to do in Malaga, and its gorgeous old town, Malaga is home to a modern port area that is lined with market stalls and international restaurants, as well as the only Pompidou Museum outside of France.
Despite being the six largest city in Spain, Malaga feels more like a vibrant town. Most of the top things to do in Malaga are located close together so you can see most of the highlights in a short break.
Malaga is fascinating, friendly and fun. Check out my top 10 things to do in Malaga below.
Top 10 things to do in Malaga
1. Take a cruise of the bay
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A lovely way to get your bearings of where Málaga is located on the coast line, is to take a cruise of the bay. These leave from the newly developed quays of Muelle 1 on the seafront. Muelle 1 is also a good spot to have lunch or dinner at one of the many international restaurants here. I didn’t spot this cruise until my last afternoon – I’ll have to go back to try it next time!
2. Visit Malaga Cathedral
The most dominant part of the landscape in Málaga is its Cathedral of the Encarnación, known locally as the one armed lady (La Manquita), because only one of its two planned towers was completed.
Work began in the 16th century on the site of the former mosque. Its stunning Gothic exterior is just as impressive as its interior, which has Renaissance and Baroque influences and a spectacular domed ceiling. You can also take a guided tour to the roof to enjoy views of the city, although check mass times before you visit.
3.The Alcazaba, Roman Theatre and Castle Gibralfaro
The Alcazaba is an old Moorish palace and gardens located on the hillside behind the historical centre. The Alcazaba is a smaller version of the more famous Alhambra in Granada. You will find elegant gardens and pretty walkways as well as panoramic views of the city.
TOP TIP: Instead of climbing the long stairs you can get a lift from the street which is located to the right of the building.
The Roman Theatre is another must visit and is located beside the entrance to the Alcazaba. You can take a guided tour or take in the views from the steps.
Castle Gibralfaro is located on a similar height to the Alcazaba, but is not accessible by lift. You need to walk up the steep hill, or take a bus or taxi. The views are even more impressive from here, but I have been told that the interior of the Alcazaba is more impressive, so if time is against you and you can only choose one, the Alcazaba may be more appealing overall.
If you are taking the time to visit Gibralfaro Castle, pop into the luxurious Parador Hotel next door and enjoy a coffee in its elegant cafeteria.
4. Visit one of the 30 Museums in Malaga
Malaga has over 30 museums, but two stand out – the Picassso Museum and the Thyssen Museum. The former is adjacent to the Cathedral and with Malaga being the birthplace of Picasso, it is definitely worth a visit. I recommend you pre-book your visit as it is one of the top things to do in Malaga.
Malaga is a busy cruise destination so when there are ships in town you can come across large groups visiting. However, it is open until 7pm so if there are queues outside, pop back at a later time. Depending on your taste in art, you may find the interior almost as impressive!
Picasso’s house, Casa Natal de Picasso, where he was born and spent his early years, is an interesting and thought provoking insight in to Málaga life in the early 20th century, and it is quite close to the Picasso Museum.
The Carmen Thyssen Museum brings you in to the heart of old Málaga, but if contemporary art is more your style, the only Pompidou Centre outside of France is located at the port area in Malaga.
Car enthusiasts will love Malaga’s car museum, Museo Automovilístico – this has a spectacular private collection of old vintage cars. Some of these cars are available to hire with drivers for corporate events and weddings. It also has a great collection of vintage designer clothes.
If you are would like a private tour of Malaga’s museums and top attractions, I can recommend Felipe Lopez. Felipe has extensive knowledge of Malaga’s culture and art scene.
5. Spend an afternoon at the beach
Whether you want to go for a swim, or live like a local and go down to the beach for lunch, you should take time to visit Malagueta beach for a few hours.
It is about a 30 minute walk from the city and there are many beach bars offering sardines on a spit – the most iconic dish of the Costa del Sol. These are great value and very tasty with a green salad or a side of calamares!
I loved Pedregalejo – a pretty fishing village about 4km from the centre, but if you want to visit the larger seaside resorts of the Costa del Sol – Torremolinos, Benalmádena or Fuengirola, they are easily reached by the Cercanías train – an efficient and cheap way to travel.
6. Relax at the Moorish baths
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Another great way to relax is to try the Hamaam Moorish baths – these were recommended to me by many people, but I didn’t get the opportunity to try them. This atmospheric building is located in the old Jewish quarter where skilled therapists offer all types of massages.
You can also choose to just bathe in the baths. It is not like a luxury modern Spa, but the setting and architecture captures the essence of traditional Arab baths.
7. Shop Larios Street
Larios street is one of Malaga’s main shopping streets and is named after the Marquis of Larios, a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist in Málaga who founded the Spanish Larios gin.
During the summer the town council covers the street with overhead awnings to protect from the strong sun during the day. You can also choose to shop in the evening time as many shops open until 10pm. Note many shops close on Sunday.
Larios street and its many side streets are lined with traditional and modern shops and boutiques, as well as high street stores like Mango and Zara which are about 20% less than the prices at home.
Do not miss the street vendors selling delicious salted toasted almonds freshly prepared each day, or the many ice cream parlours that are dotted around Malaga’s old town.
8. Bike the city
An e-bike tour is a great way to explore Malaga, particularly if you want to catch the views of the city from the Castle, or cycle to the nearby seaside towns. It was my first time to ride an e-bike and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to navigate the steep hill to the castle.
We also made stops in the historical centre centre too. I booked a 3-hour bike tour with Bike Tours Malaga, there are also two hour options available via the link below.
9. Take a tapas tour
A tapas tour is always a good idea when visiting Spain’s cities, and our tour with WeLoveMalaga was no exception. We booked an evening tour to coincide with dinner and we loved it.
Our first stop was Spain’s oldest wine house – Antigua Casa de Guardia where wine is still served from barrels. This was a unique and interesting experience, although not my favourite on the tour.
We then moved to Las Gatos where we were able to choose two pintxos (tapas usually served on bread with toothpicks) as well as other dishes that were served to our table. There was a wide variety of food available and everything was delicious, particularly the Jamon Iberico and steak burger with pepper sauce.
Our final stop was at the gourmet-style tapas restaurant Los Patios de Beatas. The codfish and pork fillet was sublime, in fact it was so good we returned here for lunch a few days later.
Stops on the tour vary depending on the time of day and your dietary requirements, and quite often include a visit to the main food market.
10. Check out the food market
The old food market in Málaga is another must see. The Atarazanas market is a working market for housekeepers and food businesses alike, and like most food markets in Spain, it has a colourful and diverse range of food stalls and businesses.
The fish counters are always fascinating with their deep-sea catches and shell fish. The fruit and vegetable stalls remind us of the top quality of these products in Spain, a building block of the famous Mediterranean diet. The cheese and cured meats, the butchers counters and the spice stalls all vie for your attention.
You can relax afterwards by trying some of the produce at the many bars and food stalls around the outside of the market – this is where locals take a break after their daily food shop.
Make sure to check prices and ask for a menu – people have been known to order huge seafood platters assuming the prices would be cheap – this isn’t always the case!
In this area you can find some older businesses such as the crisps and snacks shop, Paco José, as well as traditional tailor businesses and shoe shops. Note the market is closed on Sunday.
Day Trips from Malaga – Visit The Caminito del Rey
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From beach days to city strolls, Malaga city has so much to offer, however, the region of Andalucia is packed with possibilities too. There are seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites located here, as well as the beautiful cities of Seville and Cordoba.
There are many day trips from Malaga to choose from. Tours to Rhonda, the Alhambra in Grenada, as well as Tangier in Morocco are the most popular, but I urge you to visit one of Spain’s best kept secrets – the Caminito del Rey.
The Caminito del Rey was on my bucket list for many years and I finally got to walk it recently. It was even more impressive than I imagined and is something I highly recommend everyone to do when visiting Malaga or the Costa del Sol. The views are spectacular from beginning to end, with stunning gorges, canyons and cliffs around every corner.
This 7.7km cliff path walk was once considered highly dangerous – but not anymore. The Caminito del Rey was originally built to bring materials and maintenance workers to the local hydroelectric dam. In 1921, King Alfonso XIII officially opened it, and since then it has been known as the King’s little walk – Caminito del Rey. After a complete restoration process it was reopened to the public in 2015.
Despite walking on walkways that hang over a sheer cliff face, I never felt scared at any time. It is not too challenging either, the walk takes approximately 2.5 hours, and you don’t need to be particularly fit to walk it.
Located just an hour from Malaga city, it can be reached by train or by an organised tour. Tickets need to be booked well in advance as numbers are restricted, and you can go with or without a guide.
If you take the train, you will need to get off at El Chorro station and catch a shuttle bus to the start of the Caminito del Rey. Allow plenty of time (I suggest 90 minutes) to get to the starting point from the train station. Although the shuttle buses go every 30 minutes, you may need to wait for an hour or more if one of the buses is full.
An organised tour from Malaga city or selected pick up points on the Costa del Sol may be a better option and I have linked the most popular small group tour below. Note, children under 8 are not allowed on the walk and it is not suitable for anyone with a fear of heights.
Read: Top Tips for walking the Caminito del Rey cliff path walk.
Where to stay in Malaga City – My top 10 picks
4 Star Hotels in Malaga
I stayed in the Soho Boutique Hotel Colón, a contemporary boutique hotel located in the Soho area of the city. It is just five minutes walk to the market and a further five minutes walk to the historical centre and port area. It doesn’t have a bar or sun terrace, but does have spacious rooms with all mod cons, friendly staff, and offers good value for a central stay in Malaga.
I spotted the luxury boutique Hotel Palacio Solecio during my trip and immediately put it on my bucket list. It is located on a stunning street in the heart of the old town, close to the Roman Theatre and Picasso Museum.
This 18th century building belonged to a noble family and has been beautifully reconverted in to a spacious urban hotel. I have since learned that it has been awarded a Conde Nast prize for Best Urban Hotel, and is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World . I’m also told both the service and breakfast is fantastic, but it is one of the more expensive four-star hotels in the city.
The AC Hotel Málaga Palacio by Marriott is another centrally located hotel close to the port and around the corner from the Cathedral. It has a rooftop swimming pool and offers great sea and city views.
The Hotel Molina Lario is situated across the road from the AC Hotel Málaga Palacio, around the corner from the Cathedral and beside the port. It is housed in a 19th century building and boasts a sun terrace and rooftop pool.
The Petit Palace Plaza is in a great central location a few minutes walk from the cathedral and the popular Larios Street. This chain of hotels is located in old refurbished buildings and are generally located in the historical part of city centres. The Petit Palace Plaza is no exception and is housed in a 20th-century palatial residence.
5 Star Hotels in Malaga
The new Only YOU hotel on the Plaza de Marina is located close to the seafront and just minutes from the main commercial centre. This hotel has a top class restaurant on street level as well as a roof top terrace offering great views of the city and coastline.
The 5-star Gran Hotel Miramar is a relatively new hotel built in the old Customs House. It is beside the bull ring and has a spectacular, though pricey, rooftop terrace bar that offers great views of the bay.
The Vincci Seleccion Posada del Patio is one of the best rated 5 star hotels in Malaga. Its central location combined with a a rooftop terrace, rooftop pool and a poolside bar make it the top choice, particularly during the summer months. The historical centre, Cathedral and the Picasso Museum are just 500 metres away.
Budget friendly hotels in Malaga
The 3-star Hotel Don Curro is centrally located in one of the narrow old streets in the commercial centre. It is an old established hotel in Málaga, but has been refurbished, and its bar and restaurant are regularly frequented by the local residents.
The 3-star Atarazanas Málaga Boutique Hotel is another popular choice right in the heart of the old town. It is located across the road from the old Ataranzas food market, so it is in a great, central location full of the bustle of shops and market traders.
Self catering apartments in Malaga
The Apartamentos Pinar Málaga Centro are centrally located and are ideal for a family or group stay in the city. They are highly recommended on Booking.com and TripAdvisor, and are just five minutes’ walk from the main Square and the famous Larios Street.
Where to eat in Malaga
I highly recommend taking a good tapas tour on your first day, it is a great way to get insights into Malaga’s food scene. Here are some other restaurants that I can recommend or that have been highly recommended to me:
El Pimpi is one of Malaga’s most popular restaurants and a must visit. It is owned by Antonio Banderas (who was born in Malaga and has a house around the corner), and the interior is packed with memorabilia from various celebrities.
The food is good, not superb, but it is worth going to experience the ambiance. Book a table inside to make the most of your experience. A pre-dinner drink would be ideal too, but make sure you pre-book as it gets booked out very quickly.
Las Gatos is a lively restaurant that offers a wide selection of tapas to suit all tastes. It is packed with locals, which is always a good sign, and it is a stop on all of WeLoveMalaga’s tapas tours. Make sure to have the steak burger with pepper sauce!
Casa Lola is a tapas bar that I didn’t get a chance to visit, but it came highly recommended to me by numerous people. Located in the heart of the old town, beside the Picasso Museum, put it on your list for great tapas and atmosphere.
Los Patios de Beatas offers gourmet-style tapas but if you get a chance opt for one of the tasting menus that is paired with various wines from their own winery. We had a magnificent five-course feast here and it cost just €50 including wine.
The carpaccio of shrimp with mango ice cream and ajoblanco was divine, as was the tuna lasagne, and codfish with African spices. We also had a large pork fillet with vegetables and panna cotta – I suggest having the taster menu at dinner time rather than lunch!
Restaurant Jose Carlos Garcia is Malaga’s Michelin Star restaurant overlooks the luxury yachts in the Muelle Uno port. It showcases the local flavours of Andalucia in a contemporary yet elegant setting.
TORO Muelle 1 offers great Spanish tapas and seafood in the same location.
Lunch in Taberna Lo Güeno offers a very traditional Spanish menu with staples such as bean stews, seafood and roast lamb, as well as excellent steaks. This is also a great option for tapas, and you will find it hard to choose from all their freshly prepared dishes. Lo Güeno is off the main pedestrian shopping street, Larios.
Best time to visit Malaga
The sea is the constant backdrop to Málaga, so even in the hot summer months you can escape the city and enjoy some relaxing beach time. For sightseeing in Malaga, Spring and Autumn are the best time to visit, although the city enjoys a temperate climate during the winter, with average temperatures of 18 degrees, so it is a destination that is suitable all year round.
We flew directly from Dublin to Malaga with Aer Lingus who offer daily flights all year round from Dublin airport, and daily flights from Cork from the end of March.
I hope my Malaga travel guide will help you plan a visit to this beautiful city soon. My top things to do in Malaga are just a snapshot of what is available, and with a super train service, Andalucia’s pretty towns, villages and cities are just a short ride away.
I was a guest of the Spanish Tourism Office on a press trip to Malaga. All views, as always are my own.
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