19 Things to Do in Malaga, Spain – Costa del Sol
Malaga, and Southern Spain in general, is sort of like the gift that keeps on giving. Birthplace of Pablo Picasso AND Antonio Banderas (the greatest actor ever to walk the earth) this city on Spain’s Costa del Sol also gives us 300 days of sun a year. As a result it has the mildest winters in Europe. It is also home to historic cathedrals and castles, delicious tapas, a vibrant party scene, and some of the coolest street art we’ve seen since our time in Colombia. What’s not to love?
We recently spent six weeks living in Malaga, and using it as a base of exploration for Costa del Sol and Andalucia. Malaga’s location makes catching trains or buses to Granada, Seville, Ronda, Cordoba, and Cadiz super easy and super convenient. Those who would like to explore southern Spain will find Malaga to be a great base.
Malaga also boasts all the trappings of modern life, making it a convenient base of operations for digital nomads and people with a location independent lifestyle.
When to Visit Malaga
We were in Malaga from January to March, and we absolutely loved it. Winter in Malaga is like Spring in most other European regions, and we experienced mild weather and plenty of sunshine during our time. There were a few days of rain, and occasionally windy conditions, but for the most part we basked in sunny days, and blue skies.
The summer months from June to September can get brutally hot in Andalucia so if you are sensitive to 40° C/90° F temperatures you might want to consider visiting during Winter or Spring.
The weeks surrounding Easter, or Semana Santa, can be very hectic, so if you want to avoid crowds you shouldn’t visit between Palm Friday and Easter Sunday.
We reckon January to March, and October to November are perfect times to visit Malaga if you want to dodge huge crowds and scorching sun.
Things to Do in Malaga
Among the many things to do in Malaga there are a few that are so obvious we don’t even think they are worth mentioning much. Tapas tours, wine tasting, exploring the old center, shopping, visiting the beach…these are pretty much staples of life in Malaga, and are going to be taking up a deal of your time. So we don’t really have to discuss them in any great detail.
Here are the other things you need to do while in Malaga that might not be as obvious (and a couple that ARE).
Visit the Alcazaba of Malaga
Constructed in the 11th Century by Berber King Badis visiting the Alcazaba of Málaga (which means citadel in Arabic) is one of the most important and historic things to do in Malaga.
The Alcazaba originally served as both a defensive fortress and a palace for royalty, which is apparent by its design. Its intimate and peaceful gardens, patios, fountains, and pools are encased by thick walls, turrets, and battlements meant for defense. Grim reminders of Spain’s bloody past are also readily explorable such as a dungeon where slave girls were locked away after a long day’s work.
Today, the Alcazaba is an excellent place to spend a sunny afternoon exploring, and enjoying sweeping views of the Malaga and its bay.
Enter Málaga Cathedral
Malaga’s Cathedral, officially named Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación (Our Lady of Incarnation), is an Roman Catholic Church located a few streets from the Roman Theatre. The imposing cathedral was built between 1528 and 1782, and although it is in the Renaissance architectural tradition the facade is in the Baroque style.
Sandwiched between more modest buildings, admirers run the risk of straining their necks while gawking at the impressive structure’s north tower (soaring at 276 feet tall) which makes it is the second-highest building in Andalusia. Additionally, guests can enjoy the building’s exterior from one of its quaint little gardens.
The devout and lovers of architecture and will be handsomely rewarded for paying the modest €6.00 entrance fee, as the interior of the church is nothing short of stunning. It contains many treasures, including two massive organs with over 4,000 pipes, Gothic and neoclassic altarpieces, and biblical sculptures and artwork.
Catch Views from Mount Gibralfaro
From the ramparts of Castle of Gibralfaro you get commanding views of Malaga’s Old Town, its shore line, and the mountains in the distance.
Mount Gibralfaro is barely a large hill, standing at 130 meters, but the hike up along a paved road can get a little steep, so if you are in poor condition and it’s a super hot day you might want to take it slowly or not at all. Otherwise, this is a fabulous place to catch daily sunsets. If you get lucky the skies might explode in a riot of golden colors, as you can see above.
The castle itself costs €3.00 to enter, and we recommend you do it at least once. There isn’t THAT much to see inside, but the walls are cool to walk along, and the small museum provides some interesting facts and exhibits related to military warfare in Spain.
Spend Time at the Beach
Undeniably the beach is going to be high the list of how to spend your time in Malaga. Best of all you can do this about 9 months out of the year. Even in the deep winter months of January and February you’ll be able to take a walk along the coast and take in the views of the Mediterranean.
You can range up and down Costa del Sol, finding beaches just about everywhere. Malaga itself is home to a few sandy beaches as well, with Playa de la Malagueta positioned a very short walk from the very center of Malaga.
Beach Bars and Restaurants (Chiringuitos)
Spending time at the beach in Malaga isn’t just about sun, sand, and sea. It involves chiringuitos, as well. These beach bars/restaurants offer up seafood, sangria, and shelter from the sun. There are tons of them all along the beaches of Costa del Sol, and if you are looking for a seafood lunch you should seek out any one of these many establishments.
Enjoy Tapas and Sangria at the Plaza de la Merced
We spent most sunny afternoons sipping sangria and snacking on tapas in Plaza de la Malaga. It’s a lively square buzzing with activity, and an excellent location for people watching.
This historic square, which is one of the most grand and beautiful in Malaga, is said to be where Pablo Picasso took his first steps as a child. It’s no surprise considering the apartment where Picasso was born in is located in one of the buildings surrounding the square. If you fancy a photo op with the famous Spanish artist, visit the bench in the west corner of the plaza where a life-size bronze sculpture immortalizes him, making him a permanent resident of the city.
The center of the square is devoted to an imposing obelisk monument dedicated to the Spanish military figure José María de Torrijos y Uriarte, who died in battle in Malaga. Surprisingly this stunning pillar also serves as a crypt for his body.
In the 15th century the square was home to a public market, and today visitors can enjoy delicious tapas, sangria, wine, or beer from one of the many restaurants and bars lining its exterior. Additionally, on Sundays the square is home to a number of artisan booths selling a variety of goods like jewelry, art, and clothing.
Browse the Museo Picasso Malaga
The Museo Picasso Malaga is a tribute to the master painter himself. With hundreds of works by Picasso on display any art lover would be remiss to not devote an afternoon to perusing the museum.
Prepare yourself for long lines, however. Even in the off season this is an extremely popular destination for tourists in Malaga. Don’t worry, it’s well worth it!
There are over 30 other museums and art galleries to visit in Malaga, so if you are a lover of history and the arts you’re in luck!
La Concepción Botanical Garden Malaga
Escape the city and head north to Malaga’s impressive and historic La Concepción Botanical Garden where you can feast your eyes on over 2,000 plant species, some of which are over a hundred years old.
The diverse flora includes everything from palm trees, fruit trees, water plants, and cacti that come from all over the globe. Additionally the botanical garden is home to a vast array of bird species.
Some notable exhibits include a section called “Around the World in 80 Trees”, as well as a host of indigenous plants, cacti, subtropical fruit trees, and citrus groves.
You can reach the botanical garden by car or by bus (line 61) which departs from Alameda, the main boulevard in Malaga, every hour.
Visit the Centre Pompidou Málaga
Housed in a large and colorful glass cube, the Centre Pompidou Málaga, is a little piece of Paris in Andalusia.
The museum is the first of the Pompidou brand to open outside of France, and is composed of three sections: one with a collection from Georges Pompidou National Centre of Art and Culture with art from the 20th and 21st Centuries, a second space devoted to temporary exhibits, and a third with workshops for kids.
If you’re in Malaga and an art lover the Center Pompidou Málaga is a must, especially since it’s currently only guaranteed to be open until 2020.
Drink Till You Drop – Malaga Wine Museum
Spain is bursting at the seams with incredible wine. Seemingly anywhere you go you can find an excellent bottle that’s usually so reasonably priced you’ll be tempted to buy at least a few. So it’s not surprise that Malaga has an entire museum devoted to wine.
The Museum of Wine Malaga exhibits prize wines. Visitors can tour the museum at their leisure for only €5.00 or as part of a 40 minute guided group tour for €25.00 per group. Either way, two wine tastings are included and additional tastings can be purchased for a mere €1.00. We reckon this is an great way to spend the afternoon!
Explore El Mercado Central de Atarazanas
The central market in Malaga, although popular among tourists, is one of the best places in the city to experience a slice of local life. Even if you don’t buy a thing (which we highly discourage) visiting the market gives visitors a peek into the bounty of incredible products this region in Spain has to offer.
The central market, officially the Mercado Central de Atarazanas, was originally the location of the Nasrid shipyards until the 14th century, and later the space was used for weapons storage, and as a barracks and military hospital. Today it’s home to one of the most bustling and exciting settings in all of Malaga.
The market includes hundreds of stalls with fresh Spanish fruits and veg, fish, meats, cheeses, olives, nuts, and spices on offer. Strawberries as big as a baby’s fist, ripe and succulent avocados, salty almonds, and woody mushrooms are all for the picking. This is, hand down, the best (and often cheapest) place in Malaga to get your groceries.
The market can be overwhelming, but don’t worry if you need a break or feel faint there are plenty of little tapas stalls to grab a quick snack and drink before heading back in to finish your shopping.
DIY Street Art Tour in Malaga
Central Malaga has some very cool pieces of street art, which you can easily find just by walking around the Old Town.
For a deeper dive into urban art venture into the streets to the north and north-east of Plaza Merced to uncover some of the many amazing works of man-made beauty found in this city. There are literally hundreds of murals and paintings to be discovered, ranging from small and simple to sweeping works of pure street art magic.
Here’s a look some of the street art we found in Malaga.
Spend Time at the Beach
When in Malaga spend some time at the beach. Pretty much a no-brainer, especially if you are visiting in the summer and melting to bits. Head south along the coast towards Marbella to find some of Malaga’s greatest beach destinations.
You don’t have to venture far from the center of Malaga to find a perfectly acceptable beach, however. Playa de la Malagueta is a literal 10 minute walk from Malaga’s center and is a pretty great beach for relaxing, sun bathing, and swimming.
Things NOT to DO in Malaga – DON’T Visit the Bull-Fighting Ring
Look, we understand bullfighting is a long standing tradition in Spain. History blah blah blah.
It’s an antiquated example of human brutality, and it needs to end. Some of you won’t agree, and that’s fine, but that is where we stand on this issue. As such we boycotted everything that had to do with bull-fighting while in Spain. You can do as you wish, but we urge you to at least re-consider your opinion of this “sport”.
Simply put – say NO to bullfighting!
Best Day Trips From Malaga
Malaga is ideally situated for further exploration of Andalucia. The city is very well linked via train, bus, and plane to all sorts of wonderful places in Southern Spain (and Portugal, Morocco, France). Here’s a short list of places you should consider visiting for a day trip (or longer) while in Malaga.
Day Trip From Malaga to Ronda
We almost decided not to include Ronda on this list. It’s not because we think Ronda doesn’t deserves visitors. On the contrary, we LOVE Ronda and want to keep it all to ourselves.
So stay away.
DON’T take the two hour train from Malaga to Ronda, DON’T enjoy the amazing clifftop views you will find in this grandly situated town, DON’T sample some of the unique tapas you’ll find here, DON’T drool over the Puente Nuevo Bridge…
Stay away and just forget all about Ronda.
We won’t even give you directions how to get there by bus or train. Google them yourselves.
Day Trip From Malaga to Granada
Granada surprised us with its vibrant Old Town and the views it provided of the Alhambra.
After visiting 30,000 castles in Europe of the last two years we thought we were a little castled out…and then the Alhambra happened. While not exactly a castle in the typical Medieval European sense this Moorish fortress is absolutely stunning, inside AND out.
We recommend at least one night in Granada to not rush anything, but if you are low on time a day trip should be sufficient if you leave early and return late.
Pro Tip – Book your Alhambra tickets in advance online. The ticket purchasing process when you buy Day Of tickets is a total cluster-fuck. We learned that the hard way. Be better travelers than us.
Check out our guide for things to do in Granada for more info on this spectacular city!
Day Trip From Malaga to Seville
Seville deserves far more than a day, and more than a week if we are to be brutally honest. Andalusia’s capital city is spectacular, and holds more beneath the surface than first meets the eye.
A stunning Old Town area based around the Alcazar and the Plaza de Espana is just the start of what Seville has to offer. The city continues to surprise us, and we’ve been there three times now. In fact we would recommend Seville as a base of operations over Malaga if Seville wasn’t landlocked because we just love the water too much.
Go to Seville. Explore Seville. Fall in love with Seville. Here is our guide to all the best things to do in Seville Spain!
If you are traveling on a budget, or backpacking, here is a handy list of the best hostels in Seville.
Day Trip From Malaga to Cordoba
Cordoba is one of Spain’s most beautiful cities, and the perfect place for a culture-filled city break. It also makes for a very easy day trip from Malaga, although we would recommend spending at least one night in Cordoba. Check out our article on things to do in Cordoba, and start planning your visit!
Where to Stay in Malaga
Picnic Dreams Boutique Hostel
Located half a block from Plaza de la Merced, the Picnic Dreams Boutique Hostel is one of the best places to stay in Malaga.
The boutique hostel has a variety of cozy private and shared rooms to chose from, some of which have a lovely little balcony. Rooms are decorated with light colors, natural materials, and up-cycled items. All rooms include air conditioning and heating, so you’ll feel comfortable no matter what the season.
Picnic Dreams Boutique Hostel also has a fantastic vegetarian and vegan restaurant on-site that’s open from 8:00 am to Midnight so an excellent breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack is always an option.
The Light’s Hostel – Best Budget Hostel in Malaga
If you’re a young traveler, budget traveler, or backpacker the Light’s Hostel in Malaga is an excellent option. This uber lively hostel is located in Central Malaga and surrounded by loads of bars and restaurants. The dorm rooms have wooden bunk beds (no clanking ladders) with privacy curtains, comfy mattresses, and individual lockers. The hostel offers guests a free linens, discounted scooter rentals, free wifi, a cheap breakfast buffet, and free Sangria every evening!
Additionally, it’s the only hostel in Malaga with a rooftop terrace. So if you’re looking for an excellent budget hostel option with a super social atmosphere, check out the Light’s Hostel.
Want more options on where to stay in Malaga? Check out our guide to the best hostels in Malaga Spain!
Final Thoughts on Malaga
Simply put, we really enjoyed Malaga. We liked it on Day One and our appreciation only grew as the weeks went by. Folks in Malaga are quite relaxed, social, and festive. Waiters are pleasant, the city feels safe even as it parties until dawn, and the general ambiance is open and inviting.
Foodies will find a great selection of delicious dishes, vegans and vegetarians will be pleasantly surprised by the options available, nerds will geek out on historic stuff, art aficionados will affectionately affectionate, and wine lovers will drink liter upon liter of delicious fermented fruit.
Some might find the city a bit too busy in the center, some might say there are too many tourists, some might say there are better Spanish cities to towns to spend time in. Fair enough. We still recommend Malaga as a destination for tourists, backpackers, and digital nomads looking to spend some time on Spain’s Costa del Sol.
Go to Malaga. Enjoy it as much as we did. Tell us what you thought in the comments below. And as always, travel well friends.