On the shores of the Mediterranean with year-round sun, Málaga has tempted everyone from Roman emperors to sun-loving Brits. Enjoy urban beaches, charming streets and local vermouth with our guide to the best things to do in Malaga Spain.
Recently reinvented with fresh urban spaces, Málaga has emerged from its reputation as a mere jumping-off point for some of Spain’s best beaches, to become a cultural destination in its own right.
With a history rich in conquest and occupation, explore a host of interesting things to do in Malaga from its Roman, Arab and Christian past. Visit the imposing defensive fortress of the Alcazaba; take an archaeological lesson from the Roman theatre; and stroll the ramparts of the Castillo de Gibralfaro.
Closer to modern times, take a break from Málaga’s excellent beaches to explore the art scene in Picasso’s hometown; dine on tapas in charming squares under the shade of orange trees; and stroll the tightly packed alleyways of the old town.
Enjoy a great mix of fun and sun with our guide to the best things to do in Málaga.
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ABOUT THIS GUIDE
BEST THINGS TO DO IN MALAGA
This guide includes the best attractions in the Spanish seaside resort of Malaga including our top tips, useful information and a map to help plan your trip.
1 – CATHEDRAL OF MÁLAGA
Malaga’s Cathedral rises imperiously over the old town. Built on the site of a former mosque after the city was conquered by the Christian Monarchs, construction began in 1500 but halted several times until it was finally completed in 1588.
Work resumed in the 18th century to build two imposing bell towers. However, money was diverted to support America’s War of Independence and only one was built, earning Málaga Cathedral the nickname of La Manquita – one armed woman.
Inside, the Gothic altarpiece of the Chapel of Santa Barbara dominates the space, with the 17th-century mahogany choir stalls set below two organs with 4,000 pipes.
Don’t the incredible stained glass windows.
Malaga Cathedral Rooftop Tour – One of the best ways to see the Malaga Cathedral is on the rooftop tour where English and Spanish guides point out interesting features while you take in sweeping views of the city.
Hours – Monday to Sunday 10am – 6pm | Sunday 2pm – 6pm.
HOT TIP | CATCH THE CATHEDRAL GLOW
Get a table in one of the bars on Plaza del Obispo late in the afternoon and watch the main facade of the Cathedral glow in the fading light.
2 – ROMAN THEATRE
Built during the reign of Emperor Augustus in the 1st century BCE, the Málaga Roman Theatre is one of the only remaining Roman ruins in Andalucía. It was in use as a theatre until the 3rd century and later as a quarry and burial ground by the Moors.
The theatre was rediscovered in 1951 and, following a large-scale restoration project, eventually opened 27 years later. Today the theatre is used for summer open-air performances where 220 spectators can be entertained Roman style.
Sitting under the Alcazaba fortress, the Teatro Romano de Málaga cuts an impressive figure in the city. It’s free to enter and the modern visitor centre connects directly with the ancient grandstands.
Roman Theatre Visitor Centre – Don’t miss the modern visitor centre which provides free access to the site as well as information about the archaeological finds. It’s also an impressive building.
Roman Theatre Tour – Entrance is free, but learn more about the history of Malaga on this guided tour which also includes access to the Alcazaba.
Hours – Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 6pm | Sunday & holidays 10am – 4pm | Closed Monday.
3 – ALCAZABA OF MÁLAGA
The Alcazaba of Málaga is a defensive fortress built by the Moors in the 11th century. It occupies a strategic location on the slopes of the Gibralfaro mountain overlooking the port.
Entrance to the Alcazaba passes several fortification gates and a ramp that doubles back on itself twice to slow the progress of attacking forces.
Once inside, lush gardens and opulent Moorish-style courtyards with water features surround a series of residential palaces known as Cuartos de Granada – lavish homes to kings and governors.
The entrance to the Taifa Palace contains the horseshoe arches from the same style as the Mosque in Córdoba and throughout the site, you’ll find architectural details similar to those used in Alcázar of Seville. Keep an eye out for the Roman columns re-purposed from the theatre.
Alcazaba Tickets – Skip the line + tour
Hours – 1 Nov to 31 Mar 9am – 6pm | 1 Apr to 31 Oct 9am – 8pm.
4 – CASTILLO DE GIBRALFARO
Dominating the city, Castillo de Gibralfaro is a fortress connected to the Alcazaba, situated on a crest of the Gibralfaro Mountain, 132 metres above sea level.
The castle was built in 929 AD by emir Abd-al-Rahmann of Córdoba when Málaga was the main port for Granada. It was a key defensive fortification in the Siege of Málaga when the Catholic Monarchs took the city from the Moors.
The castle is just a shell, but the ramparts provide an interesting walk through the lush pine forest with excellent views over Málaga.
How to get there – The walk up to the Castillo is very steep but you can save your legs by getting a taxi or bus 35 from el Parque de Málaga to Camino de Gibralfaro and walking down through the Alcazaba.
TIP | VISITING THE CASTLE & THE PALACE
The best way to see both the castle and the palace is to catch the 35 bus up to Castillo de Gibralfaro, then walk down via the Alcazaba to save you doing too much uphill walking.
5 – MÁLAGA OLD TOWN
As the capital of the Costa del Sol, Málaga is a sun-drenched city that has been coveted by ancient civilizations since 770 BCE. The urban heart of the city was defined by the Romans and later amended by everyone from the Byzantines to the Islamic caliphates.
Today, Málaga Old Town is a beautiful network of marbled pedestrian streets, Moorish-inspired laneways and hidden squares dappled with the shadows of orange trees.
The best area to explore is around the church of Iglesia de San Juan Bautista with its baroque tower and stunning vaulted ceiling. Make an improvised path towards the Picasso Museum and you’ll discover some of the most atmospheric corners of the old town.
LOCAL DISCOVERY | SPANISH VERMOUT & TAPAS
Tapas La Recova is a small, very traditional bar which will give you an authentic taste of the region. Order a vermouth, a slightly sweet aperitif, and you’ll be enjoying one of the best things to do in Málaga.
6 – MERCADO CENTRAL DE ATARAZANAS
The Mercado de Atarazanas is a bustling market in the centre of Málaga that dates back to the 14th century. It was used as a Moorish shipyard and later renovated in the 19th century using the existing monumental archway entrance.
Bursting with fresh produce and the typical vibrant character of Spanish markets, Mercado de Atarazanas is where locals do their shopping and tourists come to savour the environment. In addition to piles of fruit and vegetables, the market displays its Moorish roots with dried fruits, spices, jellies and salted fish.
Hours – Monday to Saturday 8am – 3pm.
Eat like a local – The best way to experience the market is by eating at one of the local tapas bars that line the fruit and vegetable section. Fried fish is the regional speciality.
7 – MÁLAGA MUSEUMS
Take a break from the heat of the day in Málaga and cool off in one of the city’s many great museums. Here are 3 we recommend.
Picasso Museum // The Picasso Museum contains over 200 works donated by the Picasso family. It has a semi-chronological layout so you can track the development of his work over his career – entry ticket + audioguide.
Museo Carmen Thyssen // 19th-century Andalusian paintings dominate the Carmen Thyssen Museum with a collection that includes masters such as Zurbarán as well as modern temporary collections in a renovated mansion of the nobility – entry ticket.
Glass & Crystal Museum // The museum of Glass and Crystal is a surprise winner in Málaga with a fascinating collection of historic glass and other artefacts in a beautiful building – read reviews.
8 – TEA, COFFEE & A SCRUB
To break up your Málaga sightseeing, stop at La Teteria and try one of their 150 artisanal teas. Tucked into a quiet backstreet, enjoy your brew under the backdrop of the San Agustín’s church or in their charming teahouse. While you’re deciding on a tea, be seduced by their incredible selection of mouth-watering cakes.
If coffee is more your jam, head to the nearby (6-minute walk) Mia Coffee House. They do well-crafted coffee with perfectly textured fresh milk in a cosy little spot. They will also tempt you with a daily assortment of delicious cakes and other sweet treats.
Round out the indulgences with a session at Hammam Al Ándalus just around the corner. The recently renovated space is one of the finest Arab baths in Málaga. Rejuvenate with the cold, then warm, then hot thermal baths and finish with an invigorating scrub. Book your entry ticket + massage.
9 – DINNER ON CALLE STRACHAN
Calle Strachan is a bustling street in Málaga, just off the main thoroughfare, Calle Larios. It’s packed with restaurants and entertainment venues spilling on to the street and it’s a great destination for a night out.
Blossom // Blossom is a smart restaurant with a contemporary tasting menu of exquisitely presented regional delights with thoughtful and innovative vegetarian options. It’s a wonderful dining experience for a special occasion and a nice diversion from traditional tapas.
Gorki Selección // Gorki prepares traditional tapas with an innovative twist to provide some of the tastiest small bites in Málaga. They have excellent produce, some of which is sourced from the owner’s farm. The service can be a bit sketchy, but it’s worth it for their excellent dishes.
10 – ANTIGUA CASA DE GUARDIA
Antigua Casa de Guardia (the Old Guard House) is an old-school taverna offering a great selection of local Málaga wines, sherries, and vermouths.
With old sherry barrels stacked against the wall, orders scratched on the bar with chalk, and a regular vibrant hubbub, it’s an authentic experience and one of the best things to do in Málaga.
They have a small selection of tapas which you can order and eat standing at the bar, or at the old barrels with stools.
It’s very popular with both tourists and locals, so expect a bit of a crush.
Hours – 10am – 10pm daily.
MALAGA’S PROTECTED PAJARETTE
Try a Pajarete, the sweet wine from Málaga which is now a protected term. It’s aged for at least 2 years in American Oak, silky smooth and delicious with a small savoury bite.
11 – CENTRE POMPIDOU & MÁLAGA PORT
Pompidou Centre Malaga is a modern art gallery at the Port of Málaga with a focus on making art accessible to a wider audience. Descending from the colourful glass cube, a small permanent collection and rotating temporary exhibitions are laid out in subterranean galleries.
They have a regular program of modern installations as well as a few masterpieces, borrowed from their Paris gallery (read our Paris itinerary), as well as experience-focused workshops for younger audiences. Group or individual tours are available run by art and history experts to help explain the story behind the works.
Depending on the exhibition, you may not need a lot of time at Centre Pompidou, but it’s worth a visit and you may just stumble across a gem.
Hours – 9:30am to 8pm every day except Tuesday.
Tickets – skip-the-line entry
12 – PLAYA DE LA MALAGUETA
The palm-lined promenade of Playa de la Malagueta is a lovely beach, just 10 minutes from the centre of Málaga. After a day soaking up the historic centre of the city, spend a lazy afternoon soaking up the sun on the sands.
As a popular urban beach, there are plenty of facilities available including showers and toilets, some outdoor gym equipment if you’re feeling energetic, and sun lounges that you can rent for the day for around €7 if you’re not.
There are a few chiringuitos where you can eat with your feet in the sand, or restaurants on the Paseo de la Farola which sits on a spit of land between the port and the Pompidou Centre.
13 – VISIT THE BEACHES CLOSE TO MÁLAGA
Playa de la Malagueta is a great city beach, but there are more options for hitting the beach near Malaga. Here are some great beaches in order of their proximity from Malaga.
La Caleta Beach – Just past Malagueta Beach, Caleta is an excellent city beach with wide stretches of sand and mountain views in the background. There are a few beach bars and water sports available.
El Palo Beach – The next beach along past La Caleta, El Palao is a smaller family-friendly beach with calm water and a relaxing sandy front. It’s popular with local fishermen.
San Andrés Beach – A popular beach with a promenade containing restaurants, bars and cafes. There’s a children’s play area plus pedal boats and kitesurfing equipment to hire.
La Misericordia – The 2-kilometre stretch of sand at Playa La Misericordia is famed for waves caused by the high-speed ferry that arrives at Malaga port every night, creating an unexpected surfing opportunity.
Playa Peñón del Cuervo – Peñón del Cuervo is a quiet beach with no bars or restaurants just a few tables and benches if you decide to build your own barbecue. It’s 7 miles from Malaga and has free parking.
14 – FLAMENCO SHOW
The flamboyant, seductive art of flamenco has been practised in the Andalucía region for over 500 years. While Seville is considered the cradle of the flamenco, there’s a lively scene in Málaga, particularly throughout the summer months.
Bienal de Flamenco // The month-long open-air festival, Bienal de Flamenco, attracts some of the biggest flamenco names in Spain. The event is held every other year with the next one taking place in 2023.
Tablao Algería // Tablao Algeria has daily authentic flamenco performances with traditional Andalusian food and drinks in the Port of Málaga. The rousing show last for 1 hour and usually features 5 performers. Guided tours of the Interactive Flamenco Centre can be booked separately.
El Gallo Ronco // Catch a passionate performance at El Gallo Ronco, a charming traditional space in the centre of Málaga. The genuine old taverna feel is matched with traditional Andalucian-style food. They also have a large outdoor terrace for a drink after the show.
15 – DAY TRIPS FROM MÁLAGA
Málaga is perfectly located to enjoy some of the great attritions located in Andalucía. Here are some day trips we recommend from Málaga.
Caminito del Rey // The Caminito del Rey is a 7-kilometre hike through a stunning gorge, suspended on an aerial path, 100 metres above the ground. The mostly flat trail can be completed by anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. All the details are on our guide to the Caminito del Rey walk.
White Villages // The White Villages of Andalucía make a great day from Málaga where you can explore charming, white-washed villages perched on top of scenic hills. Ronda is one of the closest to Málaga but there are other smaller villages which you can read about in our Pueblos Blancos guide.
Marbella’s Golden Mile // The Golden Mile is a seaside promenade stretching from the town centre of Marbella to Puerto Banús. It’s the most exclusive residential area on the coast, but it also has several great locations to enjoy a day on the beach.
Córdoba // Córdoba was the capital of the only caliphate in Western Europe and today it’s a fascinating city to visit. The Mezquita-Catedral with a mix of Muslim and Christian influences is one of the most important buildings in the world. Read more in our guide to visiting Córdoba which is easily reached by train from Málaga.
Granada // Granada is a historic town at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, around 1.5 hours’ drive from Málaga. As an important centre during the Moorish occupation of Spain, Granada is known for the sprawling hilltop fortress, Alhambra. Book a day trip from Málaga to Granada.
Gibraltar // Gibraltar is a British territory around 1 hour, 45 minutes’ drive from Málaga. Dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar which can be seen from miles away, Gibraltar is a great day trip from Málaga with UNESCO World Heritage Sites and several museums and art galleries. Book a bus tour from Málaga to Gibraltar.
WHERE TO STAY IN MÁLAGA?
Málaga is a popular spot for good reason, so it pays to book your accommodation well in advance. Here are some places we recommend.
SMART & MODERN
This smart, contemporary property is well-appointed with clean bright rooms in an excellent location for exploring Málaga. Free bike hire makes it easy to get around.
In an excellent location just 300 metres from Málaga Cathedral, Gr Suites is a 1-bedroom apartment with a dining area and kitchenette. It’s a great place to stay in Málaga for couples.
This colourful modern property just a few minutes’ walk from the old town has well-equipped rooms and friendly helpful service. Some rooms have balconies with city views or inner courtyards.
MAP – THINGS TO DO IN MÁLAGA
All the Málaga attractions we listed in this guide are included on the below map so you can plot your plan of attack for conquering one of the best cities in Andalucía.
HOW MANY DAYS IN MÁLAGA?
Málaga is the perfect weekend break and in 2 days you’ll be able to visit all the main highlights and have some time to check out the bar scene and scoff plenty of tapas. If you have 3 days to spend in Málaga, you’ll also have time to laze on the beach or take a day trip into Andalucía.
BEST TIME TO VISIT MÁLAGA
The best time to visit Málaga is April and May when the temperatures average a very pleasant 19°C to 24°C and the city is not yet busy with mid-summer travellers. However, sea temperatures are still on the chilly side.
The busiest period is between June and August when the city will be buzzing with tourists and the warm evening temperatures are ideal for a night out finding your favourite tapas bar. Expect days to average 31°C, the beaches to be busy and the water lovely and warm.
September and October are between mid and low season in Málaga when the temperatures are back to being more pleasant and the sea is still warm. It’s a lovely time to visit but don’t expect it to be especially quiet.
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