Málaga is a port city in the southern Costa del Sol region of Spain and is often overlooked by travellers heading to the flashier cities of Andalusia. It is one of the oldest cities in Europe and has been a vital part of the region's success over its history. As a city undergoing regeneration, it's a fabulous city for budget travellers to explore.
Málaga is a perfect blend of old and modern, with trendy bars and markets neighbouring Gothic Cathedrals, stunning Arabic architecture, an 11th-century castle, Roman ruins and modern beach promenades. There is plenty for all to enjoy: art, culture, history, beauty, and an amazing food scene.
The city was originally named Malaka by the Phoenicians who created a prosperous commercial area. When the Muslims invaded in the 8th century they put their imprint on the city as it became part of Granada's Nasrid Kingdom and an even more important centre of commerce and culture.
During the 19th Century, iron, steel, and wine production became the most important industries but suffered economic challenges in the first half of the 20th Century until locals began to rapidly develop the tourism industry. Today, tourism is a vital part of the local economy.
As a budget traveller, staying in the historic centre of a city is often a good choice. Old cities tend to be walkable and are usually well-served by public transportation. I'm quite fond of private rooms in hostels. Mady and I did our usual dive into checking amenities, location, and reviews and chose Hostal Vidamia as our base for our time in the city.
The hostel offered several options for private rooms with ensuite bathrooms. The rooms were comfortable and pleasantly decorated. Vidamia has a common TV lounge and dining area. Breakfast was included.
The location in the historic center worked well for us. It was less than 10 minutes walk from our digs to the must-see items on our list: the Catedral, Picasso Museum, and the Alcazaba.
Malaga is a city of charming sidewalk cafes, grand historic plazas and fascinating architecture. The creative community has been drawn to this area for centuries. Reminders of Picasso are common here in his birthplace. Huge murals, mosaic floors, and street art are common sights.
Catédral de Málaga
The Cathedral of Málaga is located right in the centre of the historic area and can be seen from all directions. Construction began in 1528 on top of the former Mosque of Málaga and took more than 200 years. Because of the time it took to build, it is built in two distinctly different styles. It remains unfinished today. Locally known as La Manquita (one-armed lady), it is the second largest cathedral in Southern Spain.
The Cathedral is open to visitors weekdays and Saturdays at 10:00, closing at 18:30 on weekdays and 18:00 on Saturdays. To accommodate religious services, the cathedral delays visitors until 14:00. An adult ticket that includes a visit to the roof costs €12. It costs nothing to attend services on Sunday mornings.
We have discovered as we travel we are learning more and more about art and artists. Málaga was the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and is the perfect location to learn about Picasso's life and work. Prior to this trip, I have to admit I really didn't know how to view Picasso's works but after a trip to the Museo Picasso Málaga, I really gained an appreciation and understanding.
The Museo Picasso Malaga showcases over 250 works of art donated by the Picasso family. It is housed in a former 16th century palace, on the same street where young Pablo attended school. The audio guide is excellent and full of interesting information.
The Museum is open daily from 10:00 to 19:00 and admission is a bargain at only €8.00. If visiting in high season, you may want to book your tickets in advance.
Málaga Museum The Museo de Málaga is another outstanding Spanish museum and a true bargain -- it is free for EU citizens and only €1.50 for non-citizens. This museum is the result of the amalgamation of two former museums and continues to divide its exhibition into two separate sections: The Museum of Fine Arts and the provincial Archaeological Museum.
The museum is closed on Mondays but is open from 09:00 - 21:00 Tuesday to Saturday, and from 09:00 to 15:00 on Sundays. Winter hours (mid-September to mid-June) are slightly shorter.
The first Pompidou Centre outside of France is in Malaga. After being established in 2015, it was originally intended to be in place for only 5 years but has been extended until 2025. The colourful cube structure is a stunning building that has ever-changing and unusual exhibitions. There are many interactive, avant-garde multi-media and multi-disciplinary exhibits and it is a fascinating visit for everyone.
Alcazaba The Málaga Alcazaba is a stunning 11th Century Moorish fortress located in the heart of the city intended to be both a residence for local leaders and a defensive structure. Built in the 11th century by the Hammudid dynasty using materials from the nearby Roman Theatre, the Alcazaba is a testament to the rich history and cultural heritage of the region.
The fortress was later expanded and renovated by the Nasrid dynasty, who added many of the beautiful architectural features that can still be seen today. Unlike the Alhambra Alcazaba in Granada, which is often the first fortress that comes to mind when thinking of Andalusian castles and palaces, the Alcazaba in Malaga is lesser known but no less impressive.
The Málaga Alcazaba is strategically built on the Gibralfaro mountain on top of Phoenician ruins. Experts believe that it was orginally at least twice as large as it is today.
The Alcazaba opens daily at 09:00, with last entry at 19:30. Entry tickets can be purchased for visiting the Alcazaba (€3.50) or combined tickets (€5.50) that include entry to Gibralfaro Castle are also available. Gardens
Don't miss the lush gardens of the Alcazaba. We enjoyed strolling through the gardens which felt fresh and cool in the heat of the summer sun. There are many benches scattered strategically, allowing an opportunity to sit and relax while admiring the flowers and fountains.
Castillo de Gilbralfaro
Next to the Alcazaba is another must-see historical site, the 14th century Gibralfaro Castle, offering breathtaking views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea. It is a bit of tough hike but the views from the ramparts make it all worthwhile.
The Castle is most well-known for protecting the citizens during a 3-month siege that took place here when the Christian Spanish forces attacked the city, determined to flush the Moors. After the fall of Málaga, the Emirate of Granada surrendered, ending the period of Moorish occupation of Spain.
We are huge fans of Roman amphitheatre.. and goodness knows, those Romans got around and built plenty. Not surprising, there is a Roman Theatre in Málaga located just below the Alcazaba. The Theatre was lost for many centuries, only being rediscovered in 1951 underneath the House of Culture (since demolished). Since then, it has been lovingly excavated and a museum has been added to the site. In addition to the Roman theatre, pools used for food preservation were uncovered.
The theatre was built in the 1st Century under the rule of Augustus and was used for two centuries as a theatre. When the Moors moved in, the materials in the Theatre were used to build the Alcazaba and eventually the theatre was buried under centuries of construction.
Today, the theatre is occasionally used for theatrical performances, especially during the summer months. It costs nothing to tour the site making it a perfect excursion for the budget traveller.
Meander the Streets My favourite way to explore a city is to simply wander. Málaga has much to explore along the streets. I especially enjoyed the sculptures and murals seen all over the city.
Beaches If you're a beach lover, you'll definitely want to spend some time at one of Malaga's many beaches. The city has over 20 kilometers of coastline, so you're sure to find a spot that suits your preferences. Some of the most popular beaches in the area include La Malagueta, El Palo, and Huelin.
Playa de la Malagueta is one of the closest beaches, lined with shops and restaurants specializing in fresh seafood. Playa de la Caleta is another beach popular with locals.
The beachfront is great place to meander, take a swim, or eat freshly grilled sardines cooked right on the beach. In typical beach town fashion, there are plenty of souvenir kiosks, street performers, and activities to enjoy.
Málaga is known for its cuisine and is home to many restaurants offering a wide choice of Andalusian specialties to more modern fusion offerings. Specialties of the area include gazpacho (cold tomato soup), tortilla de patatas (a potato pancake), jamón ibérico (cured ham), as well as local tapas.
Dinner service is late with locals waiting until after the sun sets before setting out for dinner. La Salita is a well-reviewed spot for budget yet delicious local meals. We enjoyed tasty tapas at Casa Lola Unicbay but there are tapas to be found on every corner.
Wine This area is known for producing red and white wines, as well as sherry. There are several local wineries that offer tours and tastings (surprisingly we didn't visit any of them) or ask your server for some suggestions.
I love visiting city markets, whether they are food, craft, or just general markets. Málaga has several. Our favourites were the Central Market and the Merced. They are open from morning to early afternoon and are closed on Sunday.
Mercado Central de Atarazanas is a busy market in a beautiful historic building. Mercado Central de Atarazanas is fronted by a huge archway that was once part of a shipyard, the building combines Moorish architecture with 19th century design and a huge stained-glass window. Merchants inside include local cheese, meats, fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and uncountable varieties of olives as well as small bars and restaurants.
Mercado de la Merced is also found in the city center. The Merced is a more sophisticated gourmet market with tasty tapas and alcoholic drinks. This market is a happening place in the evenings.
Malaga is a city with something for everyone. Whether you're interested in history, nature, or food and drink, I'm sure that you'll find plenty to keep you entertained during your visit.
Thanks for meandering with me! What are you looking forward to seeing in Malaga? Tell me in the comments below. Support the blog by sharing the link with a friend or on social media. If you've found yourself reading posts on the blog on multiple occasions, please consider becoming a member to receive notifications of new content, access to our members' forum, and a monthly newsletter.