Spain

Is Malaga Worth Visiting? – All The Reasons The Answer Is Yes!

The Costa del Sol is one of Spain’s most popular year-round tourist destinations. This 150 kilometer stretch of coastline on Spain’s southern coast is known for its beaches, golf courses, and sunny climate. Malaga is the largest city along the Costa del Sol, and for many visitors, it’s merely a transit hub and gateway to the area’s coastal playland. But is Malaga worth visiting on its own merits? We spent a full month staying in Malaga during March of this year. And so I had plenty of opportunity to explore that question. Here’s what I discovered.

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An Awesome Old Town Center

Is Malaga worth visiting for its Old Town? Yes!

I spent our first several days in Malaga sick and stuck inside our Airbnb apartment. Travel in winter means more germs on planes…and those germs found me! So Mrs. TT explored Malaga’s central old town before I could. And she returned to the apartment with rave reviews, calling it one of her favorite Old Towns so far in our travels.

A street in old town Malaga Spain with a view of the Malaga Cathedral

Once I was able to wander Old Town’s streets for myself, I immediately understood her enthusiasm. Colorful old buildings, narrow streets made of either marble or cobblestone (many pedestrian-only), centuries-old churches around seemingly every corner…

The Church of San Juan Bautista and colorful buildings in Old Town Malaga Spain

A huge variety of shops and restaurants. Outdoor dining everywhere. And a general energy of excitement that comes with such a place.

Streetside tables at some restaurants in Old Town Malaga

I ultimately spent some time every day in Old Town. Our apartment was only a few blocks outside its boundaries. And I never grew tired of wandering and exploring its maze of streets.

(If you want to learn about another historic Old Town, then check out my post about visiting Cartagena Colombia.)

Ancient History

Is Malaga worth visiting for its ancient sites. Yes!

Malaga was founded by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC, then ruled by the Romans, and then the Moors. All these cultures left their mark throughout this part of Spain. And while Malaga doesn’t have historical sites on the scale of Granada’s Alhambra or Cordoba’s Mesquita, it does have a couple that are still worthwhile.

On the eastern edge of Old Town you’ll find a Roman Amphitheatre. And sitting immediately above it – The Alcazaba of Malaga.

The Roman Amphitheater and the Alcazaba above it help make Malaga worth visiting

Amazingly, entry into the Roman Amphitheatre is free. It was built in the 1st century BC and is still used for performances today. While a good portion of the Amphitheater is blocked off to daily visitors, you can still wander around the interior perimeters and admire its ancient construction up close.

The Alcazaba of Malaga was built by the ruling Moors in the 11th century and is considered one of the best preserved Alcazabas in Spain. Alcazaba is the Arabic word for Fortress, and the sprawling hilltop complex consists of gates, defensive walls, and an inner palace with courtyards.

Interestingly, the Moors borrowed materials from the Amphitheater on the hill below to help build this fortress. So you’ll occasionally come across Roman architectural elements mixed in with the classic Moorish ones. It’s quite a unique site in that regard.

A gateway in the Alcazaba of Malaga with a Moorish arch and Roman columns

The Alcazaba’s interior palace is definitely worth a visit – especially since entry to the entire complex only costs a few Euros. But the palace’s interiors don’t really come close to matching the grandeur of The Alhambra or the Royal Alcazar of Seville (both should be very high on your list of things to see in Spain).

Further up the hill from the Alcazar sits a smaller fortress called Gibralfaro Castle. This fortress is even older than the Alcazaba and was also built by the Moors – in the 10th century. A zigzagging pathway ascends from the Alcazaba up to what still remains of Gibralfaro Castle. From here you can get some of your best views out across the surrounding area. (We didn’t go up to the Castle during our visit.)

If you would like to further immerse yourself in the history of Malaga’s best ancient sites with a guide, then here’s an option on Viator.

Going To Church

Is Malaga worth visiting for its Cathedral and other churches? Yes!

The towers of the huge Malaga Cathedral dominate the Old Town’s skyline and it’s considered one of Spain’s greatest Cathedrals. Construction started in the early 1500s, and it took around 200 years to finish it!

A view of the Malaga Cathedral - well worth visiting

While there is usually a line to get in and a fairly steep 10 Euro entry fee, I think it’s definitely worth going inside. High vaulted ornate ceilings, an intricately carved wooden choir, and a beautiful 18th century organ are some of the features that really stood out to me.

Looking up inside the Cathedral of Malaga Spain

As you wander Old Town, you’ll come across several other churches that date back hundreds of years. These are all free to visit if you get the chance to pop in. They aren’t always open to the public, but we were in Malaga long enough that I eventually found my way into most of them. Each has a different interior style and are worth visiting briefly.

The Church of San Juan Bautista in Old Town Malaga Spain

One of our favorite ways to admire the Church of San Juan Bautista was from a rooftop bar directly across from its tower. La Terraza de San Juan sits atop a boutique hotel called Hotel Malaga Premium, and is a great place to spend an hour or two on a sunny day in southern Spain.

The tower of Malaga's Church of San Juan Bautista from the rooftop bar La Terraza de San Juan along with a couple drinks

Beach Time

Is Malaga worth visiting for its beaches? Yes!

While the entire Costa del Sol features one beach after another, Malaga’s own Playa de la Malagueta and Playa la Caleta are definitely worth some time. These adjacent beaches are only a short walkable distance from Old Town and stretch along the eastern side of town. We loved strolling the long beachside promenade, and we felt that this was the prettiest part of Malaga altogether.

The beachside promenade in Malaga Spain

Since we were visiting in March, weather wasn’t beach-perfect all the time. But we did have days that reached into the 70s, and on those days, we headed straight down to Malagueta.

And we far preferred Malaga’s own beaches to the beaches at two other nearby Costa del Sol cities called Torremolinos and Fuengirola. While these cities are easy to reach via Malaga’s suburban rail line, we thought they were too touristy and overdeveloped…and lacked Malaga’s charm. Not our vibe. But this is what they look like if it’s your vibe…

A beach club in Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol near Malaga
A Beach Club in Torremolinos

The main beachside promenade in Fuengirola Spain on the Costa del Sol
The Main Beachside Promenade in Fuengirola

But, one of the universally great things about all the beaches throughout the Costa del Sol are the Chiringuitos. A Chiringuito is a beachside seafood restaurant and they are common. Walk along Malagueta Beach in Malaga for example, and you’ll pass a Chiringuito every few hundred yards.

Chiringuitos universally feature a small boat, set off from the main restaurant, where a Barbecue Master grills fish using olive wood charcoal.

A grillmaster gives the thumbs up from the grill station at one of Malaga Spain's Chiringuitos

The most popular and famous item to eat at a Chiringito is the Espeto. This is a skewer of sardines, grilled to perfection next to the burning wood. You can see my first Espeto grilling in the photo below (along with the seabass we ordered).

An Espeto of sardines and a sea bass cooking next to wood flame at a Chiringuito in Malaga

Absolutely delicious!!

Grilled Sardines in Malaga Spain

So What About The Food?

And speaking of delicious…Is Malaga worth visiting for its food in general. Yes!

You can find great seafood throughout Malaga – not just on the beach. One of our favorite places was our neighborhood seafood restaurant called Marisqueria Liñan. This amazing place is only open for lunch, is inexpensive, absolutely requires a reservation (you can make one via WhatsApp), and served me one of the top 5 best things I’ve ever eaten.

A plate of Grilled Octopus from Marisqueria Liñan in Malaga Spain - a restaurant definitely worth visiting

Yes, this plate of perfectly grilled octopus is one of the best 5 things I have ever eaten! It was cooked perfectly – tender and sweet. Simply garnished with olive oil, garlic, sea salt, and citrus. I am haunted every time I look at that photo. (When you make your reservation, be sure to also reserve your octopus too, as they usually run out towards the end of lunch service.)

Tapas are a big deal in Malaga – as they are in much of Andalucia. In fact, I’ve written an entire blog post about eating tapas in nearby Seville and Granada. While we thought the tapas was generally better in those two cities, we still found a couple of great tapas bars in Malaga.

Our favorite was Bar La Tranca on the northern edge of Old Town. It was always packed, so be sure to get there early if you want a seat. And not only will you enjoy some great tapas at La Tranca, but a few of the friendly servers also sing along with the traditional Spanish music blaring from the speakers.

Tapas on the bar at Bar La Tranca - a Malaga tapas bar worth visiting
Tapas of fried Padrón Peppers and Pork Loin in Malaga Wine Sauce

And Malaga is famous for its various fortified sweet wines. One of the best places to try these is at Antigua Casa de Gaurdia on the the southern edge of Old Town. Here’s you’ll find huge casks lined up behind the bar, each containing a different type of sweet wine.

Two glasses of Malaga sweet wine and barrels of wine behind the bar at Antigua Casa de Gaurdia in Malaga Spain

Choose one and the bartender will pour you a small glass for just a few Euros. He’ll also keep track of your tab in chalk on the bar in front of you. And you will have a tab, because you’ll definitely want to try several.

Picasso’s Hometown

Is Malaga worth visiting for its museums? Yes! Especially since Malaga is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso.

Picasso’s presence is felt everywhere you go in Malaga.

A sign announcing an Picasso exhibit in Malaga Spain

Restaurants and hotels are named after him. Postcards and T-shirts with his art spill out of souvenir shops. His cubist style is reflected in lots of other directed-to-tourists crafts. You can even visit his birthplace.

And then of course, there is his actual art. Malaga’s Museo Picasso is one of the most visited sites in town. (Note the lines below. From personal experience, I wouldn’t recommend showing up to the museum without a ticket. Buy your timed-entry ticket online ahead of time, or risk finding a sellout when you arrive.)

Lines of visiting tourists outside the Picasso Museum in Malaga

Inside, you’ll find a broad range of Picasso’s works from throughout his long and productive career. I’ve always been a Picasso fan. And I gained an even greater appreciation for what a Mad Genius he really was after visiting here. The museum does a great job of helping you understanding his style evolution, and the motivation behind some of his most famous pieces.

Picasso's Still Life with Rooster and Knife displayed in the Picasso Museum in Malaga
Picasso’s Still Life With Rooster and Knife

But there is a lot more to the Malaga museum scene than just Picasso. In fact, Malaga’s own website calls Malaga the City of Museums, and provides a list of over 40 museums throughout the city.

We visited several of these including the Carmen Thyssen Museum’s collection of 19th century Spanish art.

But one that really stood out was the Automobile and Fashion Museum.

Cars lined up inside Malaga's Automobile and Fashion Museum - a museum definitely worth visiting while in Malaga

This museum is actually the #2 ranked Thing To Do in Malaga on Tripadvisor (the Alcazaba is currently #1).

I was a little skeptical of such a high ranking at first. But after visiting, I get it. It’s one of the most unique museums I’ve ever visited.

The museum features a collection of about 100 cars, covering the full spectrum of the automobile’s existence. Each car is then matched with pieces of haute couture fashion representative of the car’s time period in the 20th century. All very fascinating!

Holy Week and Easter in Malaga

Is Malaga worth visiting during Semana Santa? Yes!

The week before Easter is certainly one of the busiest times to visit Malaga. But if you ever have the opportunity, do it! Malaga is known for having one of grandest Semana Santa celebrations in the world.

We had the good fortune of being in Malaga during Semana Santa (Holy Week). And we’ll never forget it!

A float being carried through the streets of Malaga during Semana Santa

Over the course of this week, 45 different Catholic religious organizations (called Brotherhood Houses), representing the various parishes around town, slowly march in procession through the streets of Malaga. Each procession features two highly decorated floats topped with each parish’s two holiest icons – one of Jesus, one of the Virgin Mary.,

As you can see in the photo above, these floats are huge and very heavy. And they are carried on the shoulders of the faithful. Generally around 250 faithful are needed to carry each float!

But each procession is larger than just the two floats. Hundreds of parishioners called Nazarenos, dressed in traditional robes and coned hoods, march in the procession as well. They cover their heads in penitence. And I know what they look like – but this style of outfit has been used during Semana Santa for centuries.

A procession of white clad Nazarenos during Semana Santa in Malaga

Plus, each procession includes three full marching bands – one at the beginning, one in between the two floats, and one at the end.

So, add it all up and you get well over 1000 parishioners per procession!

Each procession starts at the respective parish, goes through the streets of Malaga, into Old Town, through a bunch of grandstands, and ultimately to the Cathedral. And then back!

And the march is a slow march, with very frequent stops to rest. After all, the floats are heavy. Depending on the location of the processing parish, the total procession time can last up to 10 hours!

And remember there are 45 of these. About 6-7 each day, starting at various locations throughout town, but choreographed so they hit the Old Town grandstands one after another.

Looking down at a Semana Santa procession in Malaga

Crowds of people line the streets along the entire route of each procession. And we did view several from street level.

But we also had good fortune in that our Airbnb was located along an important processional route (not a coincidence – that’s why we chose it). So we also had a birds eye view for several – a perspective we loved! As you can see in the photo above, we couldn’t help but gain an extra appreciation for the number of people required to carry the floats.

It truly was an awesome experience! And I’ll be writing an entire blog post about Semana Santa in Malaga at some point.

Exploring the Region

Is Malaga worth visiting as a hub to explore Andalucia? Yes!

Because Malaga is a transportation hub for this part of Spain, you’ll find plenty of easy day trip opportunities.

We took the suburban train out to visit one of Andalucia’s famed White Villages called Mijas Pueblo. (An eventual blog post coming on that)

A street in the village of Mijas Pueblo Spain

We took a comfortable coach-style bus to a town called Antequera, where we visited some of the world’s oldest manmade structures – the megalithic Dolmens of Antequera. (A blog post coming on that too)

The entrance to the Menga Dolmen in Antequerra Spain

And we also took a comfortable bus from Malaga’s main bus station out to explore some of the scenic towns along the eastern Costa del Sol, including hilltop Salobreña pictured below.

The town of Salobreña Spain up on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean

Plus you can reach Cordoba via train in about 45 minutes and Granada in about 80 minutes. We’d visited both during a previous trip, so didn’t this time.

Here’s a good look at few other day trips from Malaga written by some blogger friends of mine.

Getting Around Malaga

Is it easy to get around Malaga? Yes!

Malaga is very walkable, and most of the major sites are located centrally. Most visitors probably don’t ever need to use public transportation in Malaga.

Uber is available in Malaga and is fairly inexpensive. We used it to get back forth from the train station to our apartment with our luggage.

Malaga does have a subway system. But it consists of only two lines that go to the western suburbs, and so it is used mostly by locals. We did use it to go to the Automobile and Fashion Museum, which is located a few stops out of the center (though Uber would be another good way to get there.)

The Guadalmedina metro stop in Malaga

Malaga has a good intercity bus system that’s easy to use (you purchase prepaid cards at Malaga’s ubiquitous tobacco shops). Google Maps is great for showing you routes and times. We would use the local bus to take us to the far end of Malaga’s beaches (and then we would walk back).

And then I’ve previously mentioned the suburban train line. In addition to connecting to the closer coastal towns west of Malaga, it also connects central Malaga with the train station and the airport.

Also Malaga is easily connected with Madrid, as you can see in my blog post about Riding the Iryo High Speed Train from Madrid to Malaga.

Final Thoughts

So is Malaga worth visiting? 100% Yes!

We had a great month in Malaga. The sites, the vibe, the food, the beach, the day trip opportunities. Plus Semana Santa!!

Go check it out yourself!

If you want to learn about a couple other places that are also worth visiting, then take a look at these posts:

Is Cartagena Colombia Worth Visiting?

The Best Things To Do In Ljubljana Slovenia

2 Comments

  • Joan Schacht

    Thanks for the memoires. We did a different twist and spent 3 weeks in Antequerra and used it as a hub to spoke out. Glad to see you visited there. I will be looking forward to reading your future blogs.

    • thethoroughtripper

      I wish we would’ve had a little more time to explore Antequera more than we could in just a day. We almost didn’t go and that would have been a big mistake. Did you have a car? I would think you’d need one if Antequera was your hub.

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