Malaga in southern Spain is famous for its sunny weather and sandy beaches, but there’s more to Malaga than simply beach tourism.
Sitting on the Mediterranean coast in Andalusia, this multicultural city has everything: an incredible history, sumptuous cuisine, a thriving art scene, and deep cultural roots.
No matter what kind of traveler you are or what you look for in a holiday, you’ll find something that appeals to you in Malaga.
If you’re looking for some inspiration and suggestions, here are the top ten things you need to do in Malaga.
Malaga is famous for much more than the beach.
Explore Malaga’s History in Alcazaba
Malaga is reportedly one of the oldest cities in Europe, with its history dating back to approximately 770 BC when it was founded by the Phoenicians.
Over the years, it was then inhabited by the Romans, Moors, and Christians, all of whom contributed to this city’s diverse, multifaceted history and monuments you can still see today.
Perhaps the best of these is Malaga’s Alcazaba fortress in the city centre. It backs onto a Roman Theatre and sits watch on a hill overlooking the sea.
Built in the 11th century by the Arabs inhabiting the city at the time, this beautiful fortress houses a series of stunning patios and gardens typical of Arab architecture. The building’s defensive nature combines with its palatial character in a visual wonder of marble columns, archways, fountains, and turrets.
You can notice the Moorish-Arabic influence in the architecture
A Roman Theatre dating back to the 1st century AD sits proudly next to this Arab building in a juxtaposition that perfectly reflects Malaga’s multicultural history and heritage.
Finally unearthed in 1951, it’s one of the last vestiges of Malaga’s Roman past and well worth a visit. Over half of its tiered seating remains today, along with its stage. Nowadays, it even occasionally hosts shows as it is so well preserved.
Dive into the City’s Art Scene & Visit Picasso Museum
Patio of the Buenavista Palace
Second only to Madrid in terms of the number of museums, Malaga has made quite the name for itself in the art world. In addition, Malaga is famous for being the birthplace of the widely celebrated painter and sculptor, Pablo Picasso.
The Picasso Museum in this Andalusian city is housed in the 16th-century Palacio de Buenavista, which in itself is a building worth a visit.
The work displayed in this museum spans 80 years of Picasso’s art, while its library and archives contain a vast number of titles on Picasso. The museum also has a bookshop selling various books related to Picasso and art in general, as well as a café in a quaint, leafy courtyard if you fancy a break from your day of tourism.
Or if you would like to learn even more about Picasso, you can also head to the Picasso Birthplace Museum (Museo Casa Natal). Take a tour through the rooms of the home where this great painter was born and learn about his family life and Malaga’s influence on his works.
Experience the Importance of Religion in Malaga
Christmas Lights in Malaga
Spanish people are passionate by nature, and their passion applies to religion too. Here in southern Spain, Catholicism is deep-rooted, playing an integral part in the city’s fabric.
The most iconic religious building in Malaga is undoubtedly its cathedral: the Catedral de la Encarnación.
Construction on this Renaissance-Baroque building commenced in the 16th century, on the site of what was previously the city’s great mosque. Today, it forms an unmistakeable part of Malaga’s skyline.
Affectionately referred to by locals as “La Manquita” (or “the one-armed lady”), it gained its nickname thanks to its unfinished south tower. Some historians believe funds to finish the tower were instead donated to America in its fight for independence against Great Britain; others believe the money went towards construction of a new road to Vélez, a town in the east.
A visit to this religious building will take your breath away, thanks to its finely made stained glass windows, its intricate vaulted ceilings, and its imperious columns.
And if you choose to visit Malaga at Easter, you’ll be able to enjoy all the religious fervour of Holy Week in Spain, and Andalusia in particular, when the scent of incense wafts through the streets.
Easter Holiday Celebration
Religious brotherhoods and associations dressed in robes parade through the streets, carrying ornate religious sculptures and floats (tronas) on their shoulders. They’re usually accompanied by traditional bands that fill the streets with a cacophony of sound in this incredible religious celebration.
Try Local Cuisine
Charcoal smoked sardine espeto
When you visit Malaga, make sure you try the local food. The most famous dish in Malaga is the Sardine espeto (skewer).
You can order Malaga’s espeto speciality at any of the restaurants found along the beachfront.
The sardines are skewered with a stake and then cooked on an open fire in an old fishing boat kept on the sand beside the restaurant. The smoky aroma of these fires will tempt you inside as you walk along the beach promenade.
The Mediterranean diet is lauded worldwide, and Malaga’s location means it can offer up prime land and sea products in its dishes.
While in Malaga, you should also give the tapas culture a try. Tapas are small portions of food that are devised to be shared by diners.
So pick a restaurant or tavern, order a few different dishes, and indulge in Malaga’s wonderful cuisine.
Explore Malaga’s Old Town Like a Local
Malaga’s old town is the perfect place for a stroll at any time of day. Its narrow streets are brimming with typical cafés, bustling bars where you can have churros for breakfast, and charming independent shops among big-name brands.
Among its picturesque streets, you’ll find the city’s main market, Mercado de Atarazanas, which should be on your list of things to see and do in Malaga.
The original building sited here was an Arabian shipyard. There is one remnant of this history still standing: the market’s main entrance archway. It has since been incorporated into the rest of the market’s structure, which includes an amazing stained glass window at the rear.
Open in the mornings from Monday to Saturday, locals flock here to buy fresh bread, vegetables, meat, fish, and more at amazing prices.
In addition to shopping here for food, many locals take the time to sit in one of the market’s bars for a caña (small beer) and a bite to eat before going on their way.
Hit the Shops in Malaga
With Spain having contributed many of the world’s famous fashion houses, it’s only natural that there are many shopping options in Malaga.
In Malaga’s old town, Calle Marqués de Larios and its neighboring streets are some of the most popular places for shopping. You’ll find a varied selection of shops here to suit all budgets.
Venturing a little further outside of the old town, you’ll find El Corte Inglés. This Spanish department store is a shopping symbol in every city in the country.
Close by are the Larios and Vialia shopping centres, which also have several restaurants. The latter also has a cinema and it’s combined with Malaga’s main railway station, Malaga María Zambrano.
From here, you can hop on a suburban (cercanías) train to Plaza Mayor, a large shopping complex on the outskirts of the city. The journey won’t take longer than 15 minutes and is well worth it for shopping fans.
At this shopping complex you’ll find all kinds of brand names, especially as Plaza Mayor has recently been extended with the addition of the new McArthurGlen Designer Outlet that’s opened. Whether you shop at H&M, Zara, Adidas, or Ralph Lauren, you’ll find something to please you here.
Not only that, there are lots of restaurants to keep your taste buds happy too, and a cinema that often screens movies in the original English version.
Relax at some Arab Baths
Malaga is the perfect place for a spot of relaxation too. One way to explore its Arab heritage is with a visit to the Hammam Al Andalus in the city centre.
A visit to these Arab baths will allow you to enjoy a divine massage with oils, along with a range of herbal teas, a steam room, and various baths at different temperatures.
And that’s not to mention the stunning architecture of the place. Archways and vaulted ceilings leap over the baths and strategically placed candles throw warm, peaceful light along its corridors.
Try Something More Adventurous: El Caminito del Rey
When it comes to adding something more adventurous to your list of things to do in Malaga, you should consider checking out El Caminito del Rey – the King’s Pathway.
This is an 8 KM (5 miles), linear hiking route through mountains and gorges, and passing by reservoirs.
With its origins dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, this previously hazardous pathway has undergone several renovations to become one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions today. It was initially built so workers could reach the hydroelectric power plants at each end of the route, as well as to transport materials, among other tasks involved in these plants.
The pathway itself is built into the side of the mountain, hanging vertiginously 100 metres above the ground and only a metre wide.
Along the way, you can sneak a peek at the ground or river below through glass floors if you dare, and enjoy incredible views of the surrounding landscape, before finally crossing the hanging bridge at the end.
Go Hiking in Montes de Malaga Natural Park
Photo by Marcos Cortes Troman CC BY-SA 4.0
Further inland, five kilometres north of the city, you’ll find Malaga’s green lung, Montes de Malaga Natural Park. Covering almost 5,000 hectares, it features mountains (some of whose peaks stretch up to 1,000 metres above sea level), the basin of the Guadalmedina River, and rolling valleys.
During your holiday to Malaga, you should take the time to go for a hike here as this area is rich in flora and fauna, and it offers several signposted walking routes and cycling options.
There are also places of archaeological value within the park, including a rock painting, as well as a visitor center that also acts as a museum that explains wine culture, and how bread and oil are made.
Once you’ve finished your hike, make sure you finish with the area’s traditional dish, the Plato de los Montes. This calorific bomb is a hearty dish containing pork loin in lard, a fried egg, and several other fried foods, which usually include potatoes, blood sausage, chorizo, and peppers.
Discover the Surrounding Region with a Cultural Day Trip
Lastly, if you’re visiting Malaga over the last weekend in August, make sure you head to the neighboring town of Frigiliana to enjoy its Three Cultures Festival.
Located to the east of Malaga, Frigiliana is one of Andalusia’s famous White Villages. Its Three Cultures Festival celebrates the Christian, Muslim and Jewish populations that have inhabited this village over the years and helped to build its traditions. It does so in a spectacle filled with lively music, dancing, culinary delights, art, fireworks, and more.
Over the course of four days, the streets are packed with people there to enjoy street performers, workshops, and storytellers, in addition to the official concerts arranged for the event.
One of the most popular aspects of this festival is its ‘Ruta de la Tapa’ (Tapas Route). This tour will take you on a gastronomic adventure around the town to try different tapas in several local establishments.
Malaga’s Attractions are Varied
An old bridge
Ultimately, there are so many things to see and do in Malaga that you’ll be hard-pressed to find the time to manage them all in one trip. That way, you’ll have the perfect excuse to return to this Mediterranean city in the future.
Rhian MacGillivray is a content writer, translator, and blogger (www.malagamama.com). When she’s not busy helping companies to communicate their message with content and translations, she can be found at the beach by her home in sunny southern Spain.