With its cool granite streets, aromatic orange trees, shopping and beaches galore, fresh seafood and grilled meats, the southern Spanish city of Malaga offers its visitors plenty of appeal. This city on Spain’s Costa del Sol is a highly underrated (and yet very well-connected) city to visit in southern Europe. In addition to being convenient for a day trip to Granada or Seville, Malaga itself offers plenty of things to do. After spending our first family vacation of 2022 here, these are our picks for top Malaga attractions to visit.
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A Brief History of Malaga
As far back as the 8th century, there are records of Malaga being a Phoenician port city. First ruled by Romans, and then by a number of different Moorish caliphates and emirates, the city didn’t evolve into a more European city until around 1500. Malaga was one of the last Moorish cities to fall to Christianity in the late 1400s.
Following the Spanish Civil War and throughout WWII, there were numerous journalists and soldiers from Europe who relocated to Malaga. The stunning seaside beauty was enough to serve as a distraction from former combat experiences. It was this migration that paved the way for the tourism in Costa del Sol that would inevitably follow.
Today, the city is a unique melting pot of its history and the different cultures that have taken part in its creation. Our top Malaga attractions give you a little taste of everything – culture, history, art, food, and more.
Getting to Malaga
Malaga is a very well-connected city in southern Spain. It has its own international airport (AGP), a central train station, and many bus depots.
The Hungarian company Wizz Air flies through Malaga on many of its routes. We were able to fly directly from Cluj-Napoca (Romania) on a four hour flight.
British Airways also has a stop in Malaga. There were soooo many British tourists while we were there in early March, I assumed the airline must have had a special going on or something. This was my first international trip after COVID lockdowns in early 2020 (and my first time leaving Romania since then), so I welcomed hearing the English language with open arms (ears?).
If you are arriving by plane, the best way to reach the city center is to take the train from the airport. A single ticket for one person costs €2,30 from the airport to Malaga Maria Zambrano station. There is another station a little closer to the center (Malaga Centro Alameda). Depending on where you are staying in the city, you’ll likely get off at one of these stops.
Upon leaving the airport, follow the exit signs and across the way you’ll see the train station.
Be sure to save your ticket! You need to scan the QR code to enter the station, but you also need to re-scan it to exit at your arrival station. You don’t need to validate, however.
Where to Stay in Malaga
Malaga has a ton of great neighborhoods in which to stay, most of which include at least some of our top Malaga attractions. From the areas we spent exploring on this past trip, here’s the rundown of the best places to stay in Malaga.
There is a lot of contention with apartment rental companies such as VRBO and Airbnb, so we can’t recommend that you book one for your stay. Try a local hotel or hostel instead.
Downtown & Calle Larios Malaga – Best for First-Timers
El Centro is the heart and soul of Malaga. This area includes the picture-perfect Old Town as well as Calle Larios, the main shopping street. The hotel rooms and rented apartments here are on the smaller side as this is a very commercial area. It’s walking distance to most of the top Malaga attractions..
(€€) Room Mate Valeria
(€) Hotel Don Curro
Near Maria Zambrano Train Station – Best for Travelers on the Go
This is where we stayed, on Calle Eslava at a friend’s vacant apartment. This area is more affordable with a lot of shopping opportunities, a couple of international restaurants, and cinema bistros. It didn’t seem as dangerous as many other areas surrounding train stations (though we were back to the room by 10pm nightly).
(€€) Eurostars Málaga
SOHO, Malaga – Best for the Trendy, Urban, & Artistic
SOHO is a neighborhood that is on the route if you walk between the train station and the Old Town. It’s really quite pretty, with huge palm trees, brick buildings, stunning street art, and outdoor terraces.
(€€€) Only YOU Hotel Málaga
La Malagueta – Best for Beach-Goers
This is the perfect area to stay if you plan on spending most of your time on the beach. It’s a more traditional neighborhood, and you can expect to find a lot of fresh fish at restaurants cheaper than you’d find in the Old Town. Even the accommodations in the neighborhood are relatively inexpensive.
(€€€) Gran Hotel Miramar GL
El Palo, Malaga – Best for the Non-Tourist
El Palo is another beach neighborhood, but more of a fisherman’s village than La Malagueta. It’s located further east than La Malagueta, on the outskirts of the city limits. The area seemed to be filled with people who’d rather hang out on a hammock and chill at a local restaurant than spend an evening shopping and tapa-hopping. Is tapa-hopping a term? Going from restaurant to restaurant to enjoy different plates of tapas? I hope so, since we did it enough.
Best Time to go to Malaga
Malaga has a Mediterranean climate, meaning you can enjoy subtropical sunshine all year long. Expect hot summers and mild winters, with spring and fall both boasting pleasant weather as well. One recurring phrase I heard over and over from locals and tourists alike was that Malaga has over 300 days of sunshine a year.
Of course, on our brief trip in early March, it rained about half the time. Still, the rain showers were brief and we were still able to enjoy the weather.
If you like hot weather and lots of sun, the best time to visit is between June and September. You can also expect high prices and accommodation to fill up fast during this period, as it’s the high season.
If you want to experience nice weather but aren’t such a fan of the heat, then fall, winter, or spring would be great. January, which is the coldest month, has an average daily temperature of 17°C (62.6°F). In other words, it’s perfectly pleasant.
Top Malaga Attractions
Free Walking Tour
A free walking tour is always my favorite way to start any trip. Not only does it allow you to get the lay of the land, so to speak, but you also learn so much about the place you’re visiting. Depending on how good your guide is, you can learn a lot, have some laughs, and even meet some interesting people to hang out with. A particularly nice bonus if you’re traveling solo!
Your guide will likely take you by some of the top Malaga attractions during the tour – you can always come back and see them more in-depth afterward!
Really, you could take any type of tour in order to get this sort of experience. Even a Malaga food tour would be nice, as you’re able to learn about the culture and history, taste some delicious authentic cuisine, and figure out where you’ll be going for dinner during your stay!
Guruwalk has some great free walking tours of Malaga. Some are general and others cater to a specific interest. At the end of the tour, you pay your guide however much you’d like.
Gibralfaro Castle & Alcazaba
Castillo de Gibralfaro is a Moorish palace dating all the way back to the 10th century. It’s best known for the siege by Catholic monarchs in 1487. The Muslims who once inhabited the city endured for three months before surrendering to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella when they ran out of food.
It’s been beautifully preserved and offers many miradouros, or viewpoints, from which to look down on the beautiful Costa del Sol capital. There is also a military museum on site if that type of thing interests you.
It’s quite a climb, but even Szilard with bad asthma and carrying a baby could manage. You can take a bus if you’re not feeling the walk or if you have mobility issues. But if it’s possible, I recommend walking, as there are some amazing photo opps along the way.
The Alcazaba, which is adjacent to Castillo de Gibralfaro at the foot of the hill, is the city’s most iconic landmark. It is also the most beautifully-preserved Moorish fortress in all of Spain.
Built-in the early 8thth century it underwent expansion and renovation for the next 500 years until reaching its final form. It, too, was captured by Ferdinand and Isabel after the fateful siege of Malaga.
If you’re visiting during the summer months, try to head to both places relatively early, so as to avoid the afternoon heat.
The entire palace and its surrounding grounds are a sight to behold, with two sets of citadel walls, stunning gardens, and replete with Arab gateways constructed out of ancient Roman columns.
You can either explore independently or take a guided tour. I highly recommend taking the guided tour as you are able to learn exponentially more about its turbulent history.
Tickets cost 3,50€ for either the Alcazaba OR Gibralfaro, or 5,50€ combined. Entry is free on Sundays. Both of these are definitely the two top Malaga attractions and best things to do in Malaga.
If you have been reading The Migrant Yogi for a while, you’re probably well aware of how much I love seeing Roman ruins outside of Rome. I was absolutely elated when, after already having booked our plane tickets, I learned about the Roman ruins in Malaga.
This Roman theater is nestled at the foot of the Alcazaba. It dates all the way back to the first century CE after being commissioned by Augustus. It was used for the next few hundred years until it was converted by the Arabs into a quarry for building materials.
In 1951, the amphitheater was discovered and fully excavated. The spectator’s circle has different seating tiers and is 16 meters high. There’s a small visitor center where you can find some relics and artifacts that were found during the excavation.
There’s a Louvre-looking pyramid in the middle of the square, where you can look down below to see the holding cells from Roman times. This is where the gladiators would wait for their turn to enter the ring and fight. The guided tour we took of the Alcazaba (linked above) also included a guided tour of the Roman Theater, and an interesting look into the somewhat dark history of Malaga. The Roman theater is one of the best things to do in Malaga.
Picasso Museum & Picasso’s House
Spend an afternoon fully immersing yourself in all things Picasso. Picasso was actually born in Malaga, so you’d be remiss to not check out some of the places that celebrate the famed artist. His birthplace, Casa Natal, is located in a corner of Plaza de la Merced. If you arrive at the Plaza from the Old Town, go to the top left corner to find Picasso’s birth house. This is where his parents rented a flat for a few years in the 1880s.
At Casa Natal, you will see a small collection of his art as well as some memorabilia from his childhood. For a more extensive display of art, you will have to go to Museo Picasso.
Many of his paintings are on display at the museum, including a great selection from his formative years and early works.
A compilation of the top Malaga attractions would be sorely lacking without including these two iconic tributes to Picasso! They are two of the best museums in Malaga.
We spent virtually every night in Malaga’s Old Town. I was in awe of the gorgeous pale granite streets, even on the last night of our trip. There is no shortage of cafes to people watch or grabsome tapas and a drink. The mild climate means we could eat outside with our five month old on even the chilliest of Malaga nights.
There are a number of large-scale art installations, including statues and the interesting decorations of Calle Larios. Calle Larios is the main shopping district of Malaga, often equated with Paris’ Champs Elysees.
We arrived on a Sunday in early March as Carnival was just coming to an end. It would be great to be able to explore Malaga during such a fun and festive weekend!
Head to the Beach
There’s no way to visit Malaga and not at least take a small walk to the beach. La Malagueta is the main beach of the city, though there are actually 15 beaches within city limits. In March it was quiet and relaxed, but in the summer months, I can only imagine how busy it gets.
El Palo is another beach district that’s a bit more local-oriented than the tourist haven of La Malagueta. Closer than El Palo is Playa de la Caleta, which is a popular beach for local folks to relax away from the throngs of tourists.
This was Olly’s very first beach trip of his life! He was not loving it as much as I’d hoped, considering I grew up in the Ocean State (Rhode Island).
Heading to one of the many beaches is by far among the best free things to do in Malaga.
I love to indulge in local cuisine as much as possible when I travel. Unfortunately, Szilard has some terrible combination of not liking seafood and also getting sick from it. When we spent a weekend in the Danube Delta, he wanted to be polite and ate all of the seafood our hosts prepared for us. The entire night was spent with me listening to him in the bathroom, taking turns sitting on it and hovering over it. Not a pleasant sound, let me tell you.
So I did not try any espetos (grilled sardines), since the local chiringuitos (beachfront bars) seemed to exclusively serve seafood. I won’t lie, sardines aren’t really my thing anyway.
These are classically prepared by digging a large hole in the sand and making a fire, where you can roast the sardines over the hot embers. I saw a number of old boats used to house the fire instead of the sand, which looked much cooler!
And all the other Food…
By far the best way to experience a place, for me at least, is to eat my way through it. Particularly after spending the last two years of my life in the same country (like most others), I was in dire need of new cuisine when I arrived in Spain. Not that there’s anything wrong with traditional Romanian food – sometimes, you just need a break.
We ate a ton of steak, charred peppers, grilled artichokes, more steak (can you tell I can’t find good steak in Romania?), more grilled veggies, and all of the croquettes we could get our hands on. I enjoyed some calamari and cod, since I do eat seafood. The cod pil pil was really delicious!
Taking a food tour can be a great way to explore different dishes and ensure you are eating at the best of the best restaurants. Try El Pampo for great grilled meats or Casa Lola for all the tapas.
Centre Pompidou Malaga
The very first Centre Pompidou outside of France was in Malaga. Given Malaga’s artistic nature, it’s completely appropriate. While it’s home to a lot of fine art and artists, you don’t need to be art savvy in order to appreciate your experience.
Here you’ll find a lot of great contemporary art by famous artists. You’ll see work by artists such as Frida Kahlo, Antoni Tapies, Damien Hirst, and more modern artists as well.
Take advantage of the free admission on Sundays! A few of the Malaga museums have free admission on Sundays, making it one of the best things to do in Malaga.
Catedral de la Encarnación de Málaga
This is by far (in my humble opinion) the most beautiful building in Malaga. Located in the Old Town, it is one of the city’s most iconic buildings. The Cathedral of Malaga is a stunning composite of Renaissance and Baroque styles that was built over the course of 150 years, beginning in the early 16th century.
Thanks to limited funds, only one tower was completed. This garnered the cathedral the nickname ‘la manquita,’ which means the ‘one-armed woman.’ The funds intended for the other tower were actually re-allocated to help Americans gain independence from Great Britain.
It’s easily one of the top Malaga attractions.
Jardín Botánico – Histórico La Concepción
The botanical garden in Malaga spans almost 270,000 square feet (over 25,000 square meters). Its convenient location just outside of the city center means you can reach the botanical garden in about thirty minutes by bus.
It was built in the mid-19th century by local aristocrats. Today, the gardens house over 2,000 different plant varieties from all over the world. There are also an impressive number of bird species that call Jardín Botánico their home!
Mercado Central de Atarazanas
If you’re staying in Malaga and have rented an apartment with its own kitchen, you absolutely must go to Mercado Central de Atarazanas. This market is without-a-doubt one of the top Malaga attractions if you’re at all into food (and, who isn’t?).
With reasonably priced fresh food in a beautiful building made of iron and glass, it’s no wonder the locals flock here to do their grocery shopping. You can find unbelievably fresh produce, cured and raw meats, local cheese, freshly baked bread, and other artisanal goods such as honey or sherry wine at the market.
Depending on the hour you visit, you may also luck out and find some open bars to sample snacks and drinks.
Accept any and all samples that vendors are passing out to you – my personal favorite were the candied spiced nuts. I wish I had thought to take a photo (or purchase some to take home), but Olly was getting cranky.
If you like olives at all, you will be in absolute heaven.
Head to the Hammam
Seeking a spa day in Spain? One of the top Malaga attractions and best things to do in the city is to visit an Arab bathhouse, a traditional hammam.
Here you can enjoy a plethora of spa services, including massages, baths, tea, and more.
With this pass, you can enjoy a luxurious and relaxing hour and a half at Hammam Al-Andalus in Málaga. This includes time for the baths, which are temped at cool, warm, and hot water. You get a locker, towel, complementary mint tea, and bath gel. In addition to the baths, the hammam also offers a steam room. Massages are not included but you can purchase one for the beginning or end of your session – I recommend at the end!
If you’re in need of a relaxing morning or afternoon, the Arab Baths are among the best things to do in Malaga.
Automobile & Fashion Museum
Malaga is home to a number of eclectic museums in addition to the standard art and culture houses. One interesting museum to visit and a top Malaga attraction is the Automobile and Fashion Museum. This is one unique place that (most) guys and girls will be able to enjoy together. I’m not so into fashion, and Szilard is more into motorcycles, but it was still a very interesting and worthwhile visit.
There are over 100 classic cars displayed. You’ll see everything from Aston Martins to Bugattis and more. There are also a number of galleries that are exclusively dedicated to fashion and haute couture.
Both of these display a different type of art than you’d find at Centre Pompidou, but art nonetheless.
Other interesting museums in Malaga worth stopping by include CAC Malaga, the Glass and Crystal Museum, Museo Carmen Thysen, the Interactive Music Museum, Museo del Patrimonio, and Museo del Vino (my personal favorite). These are all unique things to do in Malaga.
Plaza de la Merced
Plaza de la Merced is one of the main squares in Malaga. There is a large obelisk at its center, the Monument to Torrijos. The phrases on the base of the obelisk served as a common reference from Pablo Picasso’s childhood. In fact, it is said that he took his first steps in the square.
The happenings in the square date all the way back to the 15th century, when it served as a hub of leisure and relaxation for local residents. There were morning markets that also took place here (and do to this day) where locals stock their pantry shelves. Head to the market on Saturday morning (early) for one of the top Malaga attractions.
This stunning esplanade that runs adjacent to the Malaguena shoreline offers shade and a gorgeous reprieve from the sweltering heat on sunny afternoons. Walking down the esplanade is almost like walking through a jungle, the lush vegetation reaching out and grazing against your arms as you walk by.
Small, mini-parks line the three main walkways. Some with fountains, some with playgrounds for children, and nearly all with statues or monuments of some sort. The smell of citrus tree and cyprus is prominent no matter where in the park you go.
One of the more conventional museums in Malaga, this is the largest museum in all of Andalusia. It’s actually the fifth biggest in Spain!
It opened fairly recently, in 2016, with the merger of two older museums – the Provincial Museum of Fine Arts and the Provincial Archeological Museum.
The museum houses over 2,000 works of fine art and almost 20,000 relics and artifacts from ancient Malaga.
The museum is closed on Mondays.
Palmeral de Las Sorpresas
The Palmeral de Las Sorpresas is the long, iconic promenade that welcomes visitors to Malaga’s port area. Lined with palm trees and chic restaurants and filled with locals going for their daily run, the area is quintessentially Malaga.
The designer canopy overhead is one of Malaga’s most iconic sights and one of the top Malaga attractions. The wavy, white Palio, though desperately in need of a good washing, provides the perfect amount of shade in the spring sun.
You can find a number of chain restaurants at the end of the walkway, right as you are approaching the port. As you progress further down the port toward La Farola (the lighthouse), the restaurants get less touristy and a bit more authentic.
Port of Malaga
After walking down Palmeral de Las Sorpresas, you’ll reach the Port of Malaga. With a few shops and a myriad of restaurants, the port has a very modern vibe with a backdrop of yachts and high-rise apartment buildings.
Enjoy a cocktail or a bite to eat (or both) at one of the restaurants here as you watch the world go by. Also be sure to check out Zoco – an outdoor market with multiple vendors, selling all sorts of handmade wares that would make for perfect souvenirs.
La Farola de Málaga
La Farola is one of only two Spanish lighthouses that have a female name. If you walk to the end of the Port of Malaga, you will come to one of the top Malaga attractions.
There’s not much to do here besides take photographs and admire its grandeur. Still, it’s an iconic landmark of the city and we would be remiss not to include it on our list of top Malaga attractions.