If you asked me to think about a Spanish city where the weather is sunny and warm almost all year round, with an international airport a few kilometres away, not too big but large enough to be home to all my favourite kinds of restaurant, with a lot of history but not too touristy, I would come up with Malaga!
I would define Malaga, in fact, as the right compromise between wonderful cities with jaw-dropping historical landmarks, such as Seville and Granada (have a look at my article about Granada clicking here), which get too hot in summer (and too cold in winter as well in the latter case) and packed with tourists, and cheerful little towns like Marbella, where the weather is mild all year-long but there is little to see history-wise and less variety food-wise.
Furthermore, being an Andalusian city, Malaga has all the benefits that this entails culture, tradition and food-wise with the big plus of being a city by the sea, less busy and more human-sized. Besides, it’s easy to reach, thanks to the Malaga-Costa del Sol international airport at 10 km (6.2 mi) from its city centre.
Malaga, after all, is only two-and-a-half-hour away by car from Seville (215 km/ 133 mi) and at a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Granada (133 km / 82 mi).
So, if you asked me “Is Malaga city worth a visit?”, my answer would be not to leave Andalusia without taking a look at it!
As a matter of fact, it’s worth your while and you will know why if you keep reading this article specifically designed to help you get an idea on how to get the most of Malaga in 1 sensational day.
What is Malaga famous for?
Malaga is famous for two things:
- Being the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and Antonio Banderas;
- Being one of the busiest commercial ports on the Mediterranean Sea and the second busiest cruise port of the Iberian Peninsula.
Is Malaga expensive?
Quite the opposite! Malaga, as most of Andalusia, is quite cheap, especially for food and drink.
What is the best time to visit Malaga?
June and September are the best time to visit Malaga. If you happen to be there on the night of June 23rd, the night of Saint John (Noche de San Juan), don’t miss the celebrations on the Malagueta beach.
Be amazed by this combination of bonfires, smoked fish (such as sardines on skewers, known as “espetos de sardinas”), free live concerts, fireworks, and rituals of pagan origin. Those include:
- Jumping over the bonfires to scare away bad spirits;
- Diving into the sea at midnight;
- Burning in the bonfire pieces of paper you’d write a wish on;
- Burning in the bonfire traditional Johns (Juans or Juas in the local dialect), rag dolls stuffed with sawdust and paper.
Is Malaga worth visiting in winter?
Its temperate climate makes Malaga a city worth visiting every month of the year. If you go to Malaga in the winter expect the temperature being around 10℃/50℉ and around 5 days of rain out of 30.
Has Malaga got a beach?
Malaga has 4 sandy beaches pretty close to its city centre:
- La Malagueta, the most famous, closest to the city centre and easiest to reach, thus the most touristic;
- Playa del Palo, at 7 km/4 mi east of the city centre. You can rent a bike or take the bus and be there in 20 minutes;
- Playa Peñón del Cuervo, at 9 km/5.6 mi east of the city centre;
- Playa de la Misericordia, at 4.6 km/2.8 mi west of the city centre. This neighbour is the former main industrial area of Malaga. That is the reason why you can see old chimneys still standing by and it’s not very famous among tourists.
What food is Malaga famous for?
Malaga is famous for its:
- Malaga style fried fish (fritura Malagueña or pescaíto frito in local dialetct): a variety of fish, including anchovies (boquerones), baby squid, octopus, horse mackerel, and red mullet fried in extra virgin olive oil. Locals love enjoying it in beach kiosks called “chiringuitos“;
- Sardines on skewers (espetos de sardinas): sardines skewered and roasted over a barbecue pit, traditionally in the shape of a fishing boat standing in the sand;
- Fresh anchovies in vinegar (boquerones en vinagre): anchovy fillets marinated in vinegar or a mixture of vinegar and olive oil, and seasoned with garlic and parsley;
- Garlic Soup (Ajo Blanco): a cold soup made of peeled and toasted almonds and white bread mixed with olive oil, vinegar and garlic, and some white grapes on top as a garnish;
- Pipirrana: a cold salad made from finely chopped red pepper, green pepper, tomato, onion, cucumber, octopus and shrimps dressed with extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and sea salt;
- Gazpachuelo: a hot version of the more famous Gazpacho made of fish (such as red mullet, hake or sole), prawn, mayonnaise, potatoes, and lemon;
- Victoria beer (cerveza): a refreshing lager beer with a balanced body and taste, perfect for any time of day. It is 100% made in Malaga and paired beautifully with the sunsets over the city bay;
- 10 different ways to drink coffee: illustrated on two tile mosaics (one inside and one outside) the legendary Café Central, located in Constitution Square (more information below).
Each way has a different name and it’s all based on the ratio of coffee to milk:
- Black (Solo): A short single espresso without milk;
- Extra strong (Largo): A double espresso with a little milk;
- Strong (Semi Largo): 70% coffee, 30% milk;
- Expresso (Solo Corto): 60% coffee, 40% milk;
- Half and half (Mitad): half coffee, half milk;
- Semi-short (Entrecorto): 40% coffee, 60% milk;
- Short (Corto): Just under half a glass, or “short” on coffee;
- Cloud (Nube): 25% coffee, 75% milk;
- Shadow (Sombra): 20% more coffee than a Cloud;
- Don’t bother (no me lo ponga): 0% coffee, 0% milk.
How many days do you need to visit Malaga?
One day would be more than enough if you are a walking person.
What should you not miss in Malaga and how do you get the most of it?
Disclaimer: The following list has not sorted in order of importance or beauty. On the contrary, I drew this list according to logistic criteria.
Throughout the next few minutes, in fact, I will bring you first to the Atarazanas Market in the west part of the city centre. We will then explore other landmarks of the city centre and go all the way up to the hill of the Castle of Gibralfaro on the east side of the city. Finally, we will go back to the old town to enjoy the Quay one (Muelle Uno) and its view over the city and the sea.
All because I think this is the easiest way for you to get an idea on how to get the most of Malaga in 1 day and plan your sensational day there.
1. Atarazanas Market
Atarazanas Market (Mercado de Atarazanas), in the homonymous street, presents itself to the eyes of the present-day visitors as a striking 19th-century iron building.
Its origins, though, date back to the reign of Mohammed V (1354-1391), when it was one of the largest shipyards and one of the most impressive buildings of its time.
The name “Atarazana” actually comes from the Arabic and means “the place where ships are repaired”. Although hard to believe now, the Atarazanas was right on the sea’s edge at the time of the Moorish domination. The only remnant of that era is a horseshoe marble arch engraved in Arabic calligraphy at the main entrance (southern façade).
Later, after the Reconquista, it served as a convent, military barracks, hospital, garrison and medical school.
In the 19th century, the original structure collapsed, therefore it was turned into a market and completed in Arabic style, with slatted, arched windows and panels finished off with iron.
Its main attractions are the beautiful stained-glass windows of neo-Arabic origin that let the sun floods the market with its light, giving it the feel of an art museum.
Today the market is not only a place where you can buy local products, but also a popular area for eating tapas.
Atarazanas market is open from 08.00 hrs to 14.00 hrs.
From the Atarazanas Market take Calle Atarazanas, then Calle Martínez and you will arrive in Calle Marqués de Larios.
2. Marqués de Larios Street
Marqués de Larios Street, known by the locals as “Calle Larios”, is the most emblematic, representative and elegant pedestrian street in Malaga.
Opened to the public in 1891, it owes its name to Manuel Domingo Larios y Larios, the second Marquis of Larios, who contributed to developing the textile industry in 19th-century Malaga and was the main investor in the project. As a sign of gratitude, the City Council erected a statue of Marqués de Larios, which you can still see at the beginning of the street looking toward the Alameda and the Marina Square. Coming from Calle Martínez you will find it on your right.
Walking through the street you can marvel at its prestigious businesses, elegant shops, hotels, cafes and solid symmetrical buildings with curved corners.
In addition, Calle Larios serves as a focal point in any kind of festivities. At Christmas, for instance, it is decorated with a profusion of LED lights decorating for its entire length. In summer, it is covered with awnings to make walking along the street more bearable in the intense heat.
At the end of this street (heading north), you can find the Constitution Square.
3. Constitution Square
Constitution Square (Plaza de la Constitución) got many different names over the years. It was known as Four Street Square (Plaza de las Cuatro Calles) at the time of the reconquest, and as Main Square (Plaza Mayor) until 181.
It is the home of many beautiful buildings, that once served as seats of the city government, and the Genoa fountain, on the south-west side.
Turning into Calle Santa María and then into Calle Molina Lario, you will get to the Cathedral.
The Cathedral of Malaga, dedicated to Our Lady of Incarnation (Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación) was built between 1528 and 1782 on the site of the former Aljama mosque.
While original plans called for two towers, only one of them (the north one) was completed due to lack of funds, donated to American Independence. A feature that earned it the name of “one-armed” (Manquita). The north tower is 84 metres (276 ft) high, making this building the second-highest cathedral in Andalusia, after the Giralda of Seville.
Its 3-century protracted construction results in completely eclectic building architecture that combined Gothic structures with Renaissance ideas.
Don’t miss the stunning “Beheading of Saint Paul” painted by the Spanish painter, Enrique Simonet, in 1887. You can find it in the Virgen de Los Reyes Chapel.
Entrance to the Cathedral: 6.00 €.
Return in Calle Molina Lario, turn right into Calle Santa María, and then left into Calle San Agustín. There you will find the Picasso Museum.
5. Picasso Museum
If you are a fan of Picasso’s works of art, don’t miss the Picasso Museum. It is hosted in the Buenavista Palace (Palacio de Buenavista). It displays 285 works donated by members of Picasso’s family.
Admission fee: 9 €
From the Museum continue on Calle San Agustín and turn into Calle Granada. This latter will lead you straight to Merced Square.
6. Merced Square
Merced Square (Plaza de Merced), also known as Market Square (Plaza del Mercado) or Riego Square (Plaza de Riego), is one of the most beautiful squares in the city.
Its main features are the Monument to Torrijos, a large obelisk in the centre, Pablo Picasso’s childhood home, located at number 15 and now home to the Picasso Foundation, and a Picasso’s bronze statue sitting on a marble bench taking notes with a pencil. You can find it in the northern part of this square, where it was installed in 2008.
The square operated as a public market in the 15th century, that’s why Market Square. Besides, until 1931 in the north-west corner of the square you could find the Merced Church built by Mercedarian friars. It was named “Merced Square” after the friars’ order and the church name, as one can easily imagine.
In the 1820s they started calling it Riego Square after General Riego, who resided in one of its buildings.
The obelisk honouring General Torrijos, an aristocratic revolutionary who fought against the French invasion of Spain and was publicly executed here in 1831, was placed in the middle of the square in 1842.
From there, take Calle Victoria and then continue onto Calle Alcazabilla, where you’ll find the Roman Theatre.
7. Roman Theatre
The Roman Theatre (Teatro Romano) is the oldest monument in Málaga and stands at the foot of the Alcazaba.
You can see most of it from Calle Alcazabilla, although I recommend entering it and climbing to the top row of seats to get a much better and whole perspective.
The theatre was built in the 1st century BC, under Emperor Augustus, on the structure of ancient baths, and used for religious representations, generally promoted by the rich personalities of the city, until the 3rd century AC.
Subsequently, it was left to ruin for centuries, until the Moors settled in Andalucía and started using it as a quarry to excavate the stone and build the Alcazaba.
Over time it became buried under dirt and rubble and remained hidden there for almost 5 centuries until 1951 when it reemerged totally by chance during some digging works. It then took several decades of excavation work and restoration to bring the Theatre to almost its former glory.
Eventually, in 2011 the Theatre reopened to the public and held its first stage performances for millennia.
From there just walk to the end of Calle Alcazabilla and you will find the entrance of the Alcazaba on your left.
The Alcazaba (from the Arabic “al-qasbah” meaning “citadel”) is a fortress-palace from the Muslim period. It is located at the foot of the Gibralfaro hill and the homonymous castle, to which it is connected by a walled passage known as the “Coracha”.
According to Arab historians, it was built between 1057 and 1063 by order of Badis Al-Ziri, King of the Berber Taifa of Granada, on the ruins of another Roman bastion. This makes it three centuries older than its more famous, younger neighbours, the Alcazar of Seville and the Alhambra of Granada.
It consisted of 110 main towers and some smaller ones and its original purpose was as a defence against pirates, thanks to its commanding position with views over the city, down to the sea and across to Africa. In addition, it was originally ringed by three concentric walls, only two have survived to this day, as well as over 100 towers and three palaces.
In 1487, after the three-month-long Siege of Málaga (one of the longest sieges in the Reconquista, which ended when hunger forced the Arabs to surrender) Ferdinand and Isabella freed Málaga from the Moors and raised their standard at the Tower of the Honoring (Torre del Homenaje) in the inner citadel.
After the reconquest, though, it fell into decay until 1933 when restoration work began.
Allow about an hour and a half for your visit.
Entrance: €3.50 or €5.50 if you buy a combo Alcazaba-Gibralfaro ticket. Free admission on Sunday after 2 pm.
See next point on how to get to Gibralfaro Castle, your next stop!
9. Gibralfaro Castle
The magnificent Gibralfaro Castle (Castillo de Gibralfaro) sits on the homonymous hill and overlooks Malaga city and port.
It was built in 929 AC by Abd-al-Rahman III, Caliph of Cordoba, on a former Phoenician enclosure and lighthouse. Its name actually derives from a mix of Arabic and Greek “jbel-faro”, which literally means “rock of the lighthouse”.
Afterwords, in 1340 AC Yusuf I Sultan of Granada enlarged the Castle and added the double wall down to the Alcazaba, to improve the defence of Malaga from the kingdom of Castilla that surrounded its border and to which it had to pay a tribute to maintain its lands safe.
Allow about an hour and a half for your visit.
Entrance: €3.50 or €5.50 if you buy a combo Alcazaba-Gibralfaro ticket. Free admission on Sunday after 2 pm.
How to reach the Gibralfaro Castle?
From the Alcazaba entrance, make your way towards Paseo de Don Juan Temboury. Take the stone stairs, located in Paseo de Reding, and follow the panoramic trail along the fortress outer wall. You will be at the top in 30 minutes.
Take the number 35 from Paseo del Parque and you will be at the Castle in 15 minutes, during rush hours and weekends 35/40 minutes. Get off the bus at the last stop at the top, called “Castle” (Castillo).
Bus one-way ticket: 1,30 €.
From the Roman Theatre, it takes 10/12 minutes.
By car, you have two options:
Option A (shortest but busiest): Take Calle Victoria, Calle Ferrándiz, Paseo Calvo Sotelo and later Camino Gibralfaro.
Option B (less busy): take Paseo de Reding, Paseo de Sancha, Paseo Salvador Rueda, Calle Ferrándiz, and later Camino Gibralfaro.
From the Castle you can walk all the way down and then turn left onto Calle Campos Eliseos. Take Calle Carrasco, Paseo de Reding, Plaza de Torrijos, Calle Maestranza and finally Paseo de la Farola, you will find the next stop on your left.
Otherwise, you can catch the 35 again and get off at the stop called “Paseo de Reding- Plaza de Toros”. From there, head to Calle Manuel Martín Estévez (next to Plaza de Toros), turn right onto Calle Maestranza and finally Paseo de la Farola, you will find the next stop on your left.
10. Quay One
Quay One (Muelle Uno) is a leisure and cultural space opened at the end of 2011. It is one of the most symbolic spots of the city of Malaga.
Only a few metres from the city centre, it provides a wide range of options to enjoy sunny days chilling out or hanging out with family and friends. It actually offers a great variety of shops and restaurants with a view on the sea and the city’s main attractions, thus combining its modern layout with the historical landmarks of the city and the natural beauty of the sea. Besides, it hosts concerts, cultural events, children’s activities, outdoor cinema on a hot summer night and, from 2015, the Pompidou Centre in a cubic glass building above underground parking called “El Cubo”.
On the top of that, on the second Sunday of every month, it accommodates a market with nearly 100 stalls selling handmade crafts and jewellery, vintage and children’s clothing, home decorations, organic foods and locally-produced olive oil and meats.
So, pick a spot and enjoy this experience!
Malaga is a city steeped in history and beauty that you don’t expect. Its charm takes you completely and abruptly over. Nonetheless, people tend to consider Malaga like Seville and Granada dinky half-sister, underestimating it. Thinking of it as a city worth visiting only if you have some spare time.
When they come and visit the city, though, they pretty soon realize that is not the case and that comparing the three doesn’t make any sense. They are all beautiful in their own way. And Malaga, for sure, doesn’t have an Alhambra or a Giralda, but it does have many other things to offer from many angles. I hope this article helped you to get an idea of the layout of the city and on how to plan your visit in order to make the most of it!
Be that as it may, do yourself a favour and give Malaga a chance. You won’t regret it!
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