Malaga city was overlooked for a long, long time by most visitors to the area. The (somewhat ugly) outskirts of the city shielded the charismatic heart of the city from sight, and many people would arrive and head straight off to the Costa, without exploring Malaga itself.
But not only has it been overlooked, it has also been renovated and promoted, creating a wonderful destination for any traveller. A lot of money has been spent renovating the historic city centre of Malaga, as well as the new and beautifully developed port area.
So now Malaga is firmly on the map and well worth visiting. And if you’re wondering what to do in Malaga city, don’t worry, there’s plenty of variety.
Malaga Old Town
One of my favourite things to do in Malaga is to visit the casco antiguo or old town of Malaga. This district has been slowly renovated over the years and is now a lovely place to go and wander around, do some people watching and enjoy the bustling tapas bars and visit the Malaga Cathedral.
La Plaza de la Merced is a great place to head for, with rows of bars and terraces where you can watch the world go by. It’s here that you’ll find Picasso’s birthplace Casa Natal Picasso and just off the Plaza, you’ll find the Cervantes Theatre.
A two minute walk will bring you to the foot of the Alcazaba, where you can see the remains of the remains of the Roman Theatre and visit the most famous bar in Malaga, Bar Pimpi. The walls of Bar Pimpi are covered in autographed photos of famous people who have frequented the bar over the years since its opening in 1971.
Bar Pimpi is housed in a 18th century Malaga mansion house and has various separate rooms, each with different theme and bar, complete with interior patio Andaluz, plus the outdoor terrace at the foot of the Alcazaba. This is one bar you really should visit even if only to walk through it and admire its vibe.
From there, take a walk to Calle Larios, the main shopping street of Malaga as the walk will take you through the heart of the old town. And don’t forget to visit the Cathedral of Malaga.
Tapas in old town Malaga
One of the most popular things about Spain is the tapas tradition, but if you don’t know what to order it can be tricky to learn the different tapas options. The solution is to go with someone local who knows what’s on the menu, or to take an official tour. Especially if, like me, you can’t eat everything that’s on offer but also for someone who eats everything and doesn’t understand the Spanish tapas options.
There are some really lovely bars in central Malaga and no, I’m not being a hypocrite – I don’t eat most of the tapas because I’m a gluten free vegan, but I still love the tapas tradition. And I love some of the tapas bars in Malaga with their Andaluz character. Personally, I’d keep the tapas tradition just as it is, but convert all the tapas to vegan! 🙂
But most people aren’t vegan and for you guys, knowing which tapas to try – and which bars to visit – can be completely random. So, rather than miss out on the good stuff, either get in touch with us at Explore Andalusia for your own personalised tour, or take a spin on a tour, with a guide who knows which bars and which tapas to order! Tapas and wine from a real part of Spanish culture and it’s worth having someone with you who knows what they’re talking about.
The Alcazaba Fort and Gibralfaro
The Alcazaba fort and Gibralfaro castle make a beautiful backdrop for the city of Malaga, stunning when lit up at night but equally impressive in the daytime.
The Alcazaba and Gibralfaro are Moorish in origin and were designed as a palace and fort, to protect the port of Malaga. Later it was occupied by the Nasrid rule but eventually, when the Christian rule triumphed, the fort was neglected. Restoration work was begun in 1933 and today it is one of the best-maintained forts dating back to Moorish times.
The Alcazaba is a lovely place to visit and even though it may be less impressive than the more prestigious Alhambra de Granada and Alcazaba de Sevilla it’s still well worth dedicating some time to visit the Alcazaba de Malaga. You can walk up to the Alcazaba from the street level but if a steep climb isn’t your idea of fun, there’s a lift to take you to the top. Access the lift from behind the council buildings of Malaga.
From the Alcazaba there’s an even longer, steep trek up to the Castillo de Gibralfaro from where you will get spectacular views over Malaga, all the way to Africa on a clear day. Alternatively you can take the bus to the Gibralfaro and after that, enjoy a drink in the Parador del Gibralfaro with the same spectacular views over Málaga.
The Port, Muello Uno
The port in Malaga is located just opposite from the old town of Malaga so it is easy to access. It has been extensively remodelled in recent years and is now a beautiful, clean area with shops and restaurants as well as a children’s play area, and of course a feast to the eyes with all the ships moored up in the water. The port is also a regular destination for visiting cruise ships.
I love visiting the port. It has a cosmopolitan feeling and it’s enjoyable even just to walk up to the end and look at view of the ships, and do a spot of people watching at the same time.
There are loads of bars and restaurants to choose from. The best thing I can say is, go ahead and give it a try and you’ll see why it’s such a popular place to spend a few hours just ambling around soaking up the atmosphere.
And by the way, many people don’t realise it, but right at the very end of the port, if you keep walking round the corner, you’ll come to a quiet Malegueño beach with a traditional Chiringuito (beach bar) where you can eat or drink authentic Spanish fare and look out over the beach.
Where to Stay in Malaga
Whenever I stay in Malaga, I like to stay in the very centre of the old historic centre. It’s perfect because when you walk out of the door you have everything around you; the atmosphere, the bustle, the tapas and the life. And while I love walking, I don’t like walking to go out in the evening, and even less to go home at the end of the evening! And what about if I just want to pop home to grab something? Oh no, I’m not into walking for kilometres to get into town!
So whenever we stay in Malaga we stay in an apartment in the very centre. The best one so far that we’ve stayed in was this one. If you’re unsure of the area, anywhere reasonably close to the Cathedral or to Plaza Merced is fine.
Art Museums in Malaga
No visit to Malaga would be complete without visiting the Picasso Museum in the heart of the old town. Picasso was born in Malaga and spent his early years here before the family moved up north when Picasso was ten.
You can visit his birthplace, Casa Natal Picasso, a house on Plaza de la Merced, where you will see a some of his work, and then walk to the official Picasso museum, just round the corner from La Merced.
The Picasso museum itself is housed in the beautiful 16th century Palacio de Buenavista, which was built on the grounds of an old Nasrid Palace. Now you can see the Andalusian Palacio and the archaeological site below it, preserving the evidence of the ancient ruins of the Nasrid Palace, dating back to the late 7th – early 6th century BC.
The museum was first opened on the 26th October 2003 and has been a attracting visitors from all over the world ever since.
The CAC Museum
The CAC (contemporary art centre) in Malaga is free to enter and well known in the world of modern art for the quality of works. The CAC houses not only the ever evolving permanent collection but also at least two temporary exhibitions, making it somewhere you can visit time and time again.
The CAC is housed in an old wholesale market building dating from 1920, which has since been declared a building of national interest and is located in the up-and-coming area of Soho, an interesting area brimming with street art and graffiti.
The CAC has a shop and a café-restaurant and is closed on Mondays.
Museo Carmen Thyssen
The Museo Carmen Thyssen, which opened its doors in 2011 is based in a 16th century palace, called Palacio de Villalón in the centre of Malaga. The museum focusses predominantly on 19th Century Spanish art and houses a total of 285 works.
In the Port, Muello Uno you’ll find the Pompidou Centre, an offshoot of the Pompidou centre in Paris, displaying a selection of works from the famous mother museum in Paris.
Other Things to Do in Málaga
In reality, there are too many things to fit into one post! Málaga has 36 diverse museums including the Flamenco Museum and el Muso de Málaga, the largest museum in Spain, which is is housed in the old Customs House and tracks the history of Málaga from prehistoric times to today.
If you’re interested in the local fortified white wines, a visit to the Antigua Casa de la Guardia is a must. In this raw bodega, with barrels lined up behind the bar, you get to choose which locally brewed wine you fancy tasting, and the little white chalk line on the bar in front of you serves as the bill. Each time you order another taster, you get another chalk line marked up to your section of the bar.
Also worth a visit, though not actually in the centre of Málaga, are the botanical gardens, Jardin Botánico Historico la Concepción. And let’s not forget the beaches of Málaga! You can walk from the city centre to the beach or drive to the outskirts for outer beaches. As you can see, Málaga is a rich cultural destination, so often overlooked but now firmly on the map for visitors to Andalusia.
If you want to come to Andalusia and have us as your friends abroad, here to help you get the most out of your visit, just contact us at Explore Andalusia and we will create a holiday just for you, especially designed to suit your preferences and personality. Contact us for a no obligation chat about your holiday in Andalusia.
If you have any comments or questions about what to do in Málaga, please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you a.s.a.p.