Málaga is a fascinating city that dates back to 770 BC when the Phoenicians founded it as Málaka. Later occupied by Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, and finally recaptured by the Christians during the crusades, it has buildings that reflect all these varied cultures. Richly decorated in a classical style due to its prominence during the renaissance, Málaga still somehow blends a Modernist counterpoint that is entirely consistent with being the birthplace of Picasso. Today, Málaga has become one of Spain's cultural and gastronomic hotspots with Michelin starred restaurants and fashion boutiques. It's about 20 minutes from your apartment to downtown Málaga, either by car or as we prefer, by the cheap, fast, clean, and convenient commuter train that runs every 15 minutes from the station at the top of the hill behind the Benal Beach complex. There is no real advantage to bringing a car, most of what you will want to see can easily be seen on foot from the center and parking in Málaga isn't particularly fun. Below we've highlighted some of our favorite sites.
Right behind the town square, you will find the remains of a Roman Theater. The theater was originally built in the first century BC, under Emperor Augustus. When the Moors settled, they raided much of it for stone to build the Alcazaba Fortress, which you can see as the backdrop behind the theater. Rediscovered in 1951, it has been painstakingly reconstructed and was opened to the public in September 2011 - it is used for open-air performances and can seat 220 people.
Admission is free.
The most well preserved Moorish fortress in Spain, the Alcazaba was built by the first Emir of Cordoba, Abd-al-Rahman I, between 756 and 780 AD as a defense for the city against attacks by pirates. It sits on top of the ruins of an earlier Roman fortress, and when you see the view from its walls, you can see why this was the obvious choice for both Roman and Moor alike. The Sultan of Granada, Badis Al-Ziri, extended it in ~1060AD, and later Yusuf I connected it to the neighboring Castillo de Gibralfaro in the 14th century by building a new outer wall surrounding the two.
Be aware that the climb is a bit of workout if you choose to see it, but we think you'll be glad you did. Once you do reach the top of the hill, you will find a complex that is vast, full of intricate carvings, grand towers, Moorish palaces, and surprisingly delicate water gardens. It is quite stunning, so give yourself at least an hour to enjoy the whole site - perhaps a little longer if you have the time.
There is a small charge to visit either Alcazaba or Gibralfaro and a joint ticket that will let you see both. As of 2020, the cost was only €3.50 for either one or €5.50 for both.
A sister to Alcazaba, the fortress of Gibralfaro (Rock of the Lighthouse) is actually inside the same outer wall, but there is no direct path from one to the other. If you have just seen Alcazaba, then return to the Plaza Aduana, turn onto Calle Juan Temboury and follow the track up the side of the hill. The climb to Alcazaba may have seemed long, but the road to Gibralfaro is much longer and steeper (see the picture below of Gibralfaro at the top of the hill, behind Alcazaba). Allow at least 40 minutes for the climb, and be sure to take water with you in the summer months. If you'd like to see Gibralfaro (and we recommend you do), but you just aren't up to the walk, there's a bus that will get you there via a different route. Head back to the town hall, grab the #35, and enjoy the view in comfort. If you do walk up and you run out of water on the way, don't worry, there's a cafe waiting for you when you get there with ice-cold water bottles and various other refreshments.
If you think of Alcazaba as a fortified palace, then Gibralfaro is a full-on castle! It was built in 929AD by the Caliph of Cordoba on the site of a Phoenician lighthouse (hence the name). Yusef I, the Sultan of Granada, enlarged it when he surrounded it with the wall that connects it to the Alcazaba in the 14th century. The castle has never been breached in battle (and when you get there, you will understand why). It ultimately fell to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain after a 3-month siege that starved the occupants out. The view from the top is breathtaking.
There is a small charge to visit either Alcazaba or Gibralfaro and a joint ticket that will let you see both. As of 2020, the cost was only €3.50 for one or €5.50 for both.
Architected by the famous Renaissance architect, Diego Siloe, and built between 1528 and 1782, the cathedral
Inside, 42 intricately carved statues of the saints decorate the choir, which was part of the original design by Luis Ortiz, but ultimately completed sometime after his death by arguably Spain's most
The cathedral is surrounded by attractive gardens that are dotted here and there with iron sculptures, which collectively make up the Museo al Aire Libre (Open Air Museum) of Jorge Rando. If you are up for some exercise, you can buy tickets (at the Bishop's Palace) for a rooftop tour. This tour will lead you up the tower and along the roof - it's a 50m climb via 200 steps, so be prepared for a workout, but the views from the top are all the reward you could hope
Entrance to the gardens (and the Museo al Aire libre) is free, but there is a small charge for both admission to the cathedral (Adults €5, Children €0.60) and the rooftop tour (€6).
If soaking up some history would be better while you are sipping mint tea and soaking in a warm bath, or perhaps relaxing in a steam room, then you will want to head to Calle Tomás de Cózar to find the 18th century Arabic Baths. Alongside the saunas, steam rooms and baths, they also offer traditional Turkish Massage. It isn't suitable for really young children, but they are happy to take kids from 5 years old and up. It is popular and space is limited so it's worth booking ahead.
Cost varies depending on which services you add and how long you stay, but typically will be in the range of €30-80
Down by the port, you will find and odd, multicolored glass cube (El Cubo) which marks the Pompidou Centre in Malaga. It host works of art by Picasso, Francis Bacon, Frida Kahlo, René Magritte and many others.
While not as large as the original in Paris, this 6,000m2 exhibition space is well worth a visit if you have the time.
Entrance was €7 for adults in 2020
Just a few steps away from the cathedral in the Palacio de Buenavista is a museum which contains over 200 of Picasso's original works, together with biographical stories that will bring his life into context with his art. On the sub-ground levels, there are ruins from the original palace buildings which date back to the Roman and Phoenician eras, which are well worth seeing and there is a café with a charming terrace to sit out on - we found the food to be quite good, but a little pricey. A couple of minutes away in Plaza de la Merced (the old Roman square), you will find Casa Natal, which is his childhood home. You can buy a single ticket which will cover both museums.
Entrance in 2020 was €10 for both (€5 for seniors & students)
There probably isn't much in Spanish culture that divides popular opinion more than bullfighting. Some say that it is a test of a brave Matador's skill and fearlessness as he uses grace, speed, and agility to avoid the sharp horns of an angry bull. Others will decry it as just the officially sanctioned torture of a captive animal. Whether you are for or against the sport itself, you may enjoy a visit to the building, La Malagueta, as it is known locally. It's a 14,000 seat bull ring that has been declared both an Historic Artistic Monument and an Official Site of Cultural Interest. Built by Joaquín Rucoba in 1874, it is still in use today. The season runs from April to September. Special events occur during Semana Santa (Easter Week) and the Málaga Feria (Málaga Fair) in August. Inside the main building is a fascinating museum dedicated to the history of bullfighting. Even if you don't have the time or perhaps the inclination to visit, you will still get a great view of it as you walk up the path to the Gibralfaro.