Malaga may be a jump-off point to more exotic destinations like Morocco but you could easily spend several days here exploring the plazas, sipping tinto verano (the local drink) and devouring Andalusian tapas. The mediterranean vibe is relaxed but the city feels vibrant. The city doesn't have that sharp separation between tourist and local that you so often find in more popular Spanish destinations like Barcelona; you'll be eating, drinking and tanning aside locals without having to try very hard.
If you're in Europe, Malaga makes for a lovely long weekend stopover (or midweek if you have the flexibility) to refresh with Spanish cuisine and Andalusian sunsets!
Malaga has all the infrastructure needed for a convenient and relaxing long weekend; there's plenty of lovely accommodation, lots of flights, easy transport.
The food is delicious, the weather is incredible and the people are friendly. I've now been twice and already planning a third trip! It's the type of place that you discover more and more each time you visit. This guide gives you the highlights of both my trips and inspiration for an active holiday with a playful spirit.
Note: This guide focuses on the Central Malaga city area. If you've got the time, rent a car and explore the coastline as well!
Like most beachside cities, Malaga provides the ideal setting for getting your sweat in while traveling. You'll be surrounded by runners jogging on the beach, locals training along the pier and lots of outdoor gym equipment every few miles along the coastline.
Malaga is a beautiful city in its own right but the rich history makes it even more so. One of the best activities we did was a Foodie & Cultural tour with Devour Tours. Our guide led us through the streets, cafes and market stands of Malaga, explaining the history and significance of different cultural and cuisine traditions. It's incredible to learn that for generations only certain families sold almonds or to speak directly with makret vendors about their stands like Jose (pictured above) and his 20 varieties of olives! (Tip: Try the "chupa dedos," these are my favorite!)
You'll also visit the famous Antigua de La Casa Guardia, which is one of those obligatory stops in Malaga.This place has been serving locals and visitors for more than 175 years! Enjoy Spanish wine by the barrel (19 different options when we visited) and on tap. You can drink at the standing-only bar or order wine to go. This is my kind of happy hour!
When I went back to Malaga the second time, the knowledge from this tour made every foodie experience better - from the tapas I ordered to the coffee. I highly recommend booking this tour as a first day activity so you can make the most of your trip!
One of the best views of Malaga is at the top of the lovely and well-restored Castillo de Gibralfaro. This medieval castle is right near the historic center of Malaga and easily accessible via a tourist bus, quick car ride (there is a car park up top) or a semi-intense hike. You can guess which option I took...the hike of course!
The hike is only difficult because of the sharp incline but I saw everyone from the elderly to a woman pushing a baby stroller do it. Also panoramic views are always treasured more when you have to work to get them! Expect to hike for about 25 - 30 minutes. (We did it in 15 but that's because I wanted it to feel like a workout.)
Up top, you can walk around the entire castle perimeter for a 360 degree view of the cityscape and coastline.
The iconic Alcazaba is right next door to the Castillo if you wanted to do them together. There is a small admission fee for both or they're free every Sunday after 2pm.
Just ten minutes by car gets you to Pedrelejos, a cute fishing village that's been polished up with seaside bars and cafés. The beach isn't anything special but you don't come here for that. You come for the incredible sunset and the delicious food! If you eat seafood, you can't go wrong here. If you don't eat it, the crispy eggplant tapas and fresh tomato salads will have your mouth watering just as much. Plan to arrive about an hour before sunset. The grills and restaurants get going for food around 8:30pm or 9:00pm.
This is not your typical hostel. Alcazaba Premium Hostel is sleek and modern with rooms that often cost more than Airbnbs. It's also highly in demand. Book well in advance if you want to stay here! If you don't get a room, definitely do still get a drink on the rooftop in the evening. This is one of the most stunning places to enjoy a cocktail, with a view overlooking Alcazaba.
Malaga is a very family friendly place. You see kids everywhere! There's so many activities for them to do from bike riding along the pier to doing a Wipe Out obstacle course. Whether you have a family or not this is great news because it means...playtime!!!
The floating wipe out is a mini course of slides, ropes, climbing balls and balancing floaties that test your strength and willpower. Located right in the middle of La Malgueta beach (15 min walk from the city center) it costs ten euros for one hour and you'll want every second! We saw local kids climbing like athletes and made the mistake of assuming this would be easy; it took all four of us working together as a team to get on (and stay on) these things! You don't know your true fitness ability until you've had to pull yourself up onto a rolling inflatable ball. I've never walked away from a travel activity (or workout) with so many random muscles feeling sore - including my abs from laughing so hard.
This is worth a visit. So much fun, laughter and you can even practice your Spanish while asking local kids for help. Just go with a friend because this is a two (or four) person job!
This is hands down the best 4 euros I've ever spent. I couldn't stop smiling after jumping and flipping alongside the palm trees. Don't be intimidated by all the kids in line, even the guy who runs it says he straps up and does some flips from time to time!
You can find these trampolines down at the Pier. This is about a fifteen minute walk from the city center. If jumping isn't for you, skip it for the many restaurants, bars and views to experience right in the same spot!
According to the famous Cafe Central, there are twelve ways to have your coffee in Malaga. (One way is "no coffee at all" but as a coffee lover I think that one can easily be discounted.) It's impressive to go into these cafés and see the baristas deftly preparing trays of coffees - each made a different way. How do they do it!?
Many places will automatically make your coffee as you want it but I prefer the small hole-in-the-wall places that give you your own saucer of steamed milk and let you pour according to your taste. To date, the best breakfast I had in Spain was outside a small bar in Malaga, in the middle of a narrow alleyway. It was a coffee served exactly this way with a piece of pitufo (local bread,) spread in olive oil and tomato paste. Nothing has beat that yet!
No matter which way you choose to have your coffee, be ready for a serious energy hit because these are some strong brews!
Perhaps just as iconic is the morning tradition of having some churros (pictured) or tejeringos (more circular) for breakfast along with your coffee or dipped in some hot chocolate. Even for the coffee drinkers among us, the hot chocolate is a real treat. I caught myself ordering the it just as much as coffee. It's thick, creamy and delicious.
I've had both the churros and the tejeringos and found the tejeringos to be lighter and easier to eat but make sure you try both! I've been to several places but would highly recommend Tejeringo's Coffee. They're quick, efficient and the food as well as the chocolate were on point. Just be prepared for a line if you come after 10am.
Wear what you would on a typical beach holiday. Just be sure to bring a jacket and jeans if you're traveling during Spring or Winter. It does get chilly even with the sun shining bright!
Malaga is rumored to get 300 days of sun a year. If it's just sun you're looking for, well then you can pretty much go whenever! I've been in April and in August. August was exceptionally hot but really enjoyable at the beach. April, on the other hand, was much more tolerable weather wise but not quite hot enough. In researching for my next trip, I'm planning for either a September or early May trip in order to skip the busy season but still get in a bikini.
There's so much accommodation available in Malaga. The only advice here is to prepare for less sleep. The best places to stay are centrally located and the streets are loud until the late hours. You might think no one comes home at 2am on a Tuesday...but you'd be very wrong!
The food is surprisingly hit or miss in Malaga. You can have the same dish a dozen times and it's never the same. Take patatas bravas for instance (Spanish potatoes.) These are my favorite and I was frustrated to discover that I make them better at home in London than many of the restaurants we explored.
My advice would be to definitely get local tips and recommendations for food before coming or while you're exploring the city. The Devour Foodie tour was perfect for this. Also, something to beware of is that you'll need to make reservations for the most recommended places. Make the call to guarantee yourself a table; we missed out on a bunch of good food experiences because we didn't do this!
Finally, for some of of the best patatas bravas in Malaga, try Zahara. This was a local recommendation that did not disappoint!
You can get around with just English in Spain. However, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basics of ordering, greetings, etc. as there is an instant warmth to the service you get when you try to communicate in Spanish vs. English. On our second trip, we arrived during Holy Week and the entire city center was closed off to cars. Our taxi driver wasn't too thrilled about taking us anywhere near that area until I spoke in Spanish. He then got on his radio and found out the closest point to drop us, apologizing many times that he couldn't go closer. Some knowledge of Spanish serves you well here!
Ah the pace of Spanish life...it's why many of us go to Spain. Just be prepared for a pace that's even slower than what you might like. Many businesses close during siesta afternoon hours in Malaga. Also be prepared to embrace slower restaurant service. Usually you'll get your drinks immediately (priorities right?) but you may be waiting for that food and don't ever expect it to come at once. My advice is to just embrace it; take your siesta and order that extra glass of wine if your food still hasn't arrived yet!
If you have any questions about Malaga, leave them in the comments or email me firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to help you get this one off the bucketlist!
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