The allure of Málaga
Málaga’s international airport has great availability and affordability, compared to most other airports in Andalucía, Spain. And thus, this city is sometimes considered little more than a pitstop en route to the famous pueblos blancos (white villages), beautiful Costa del Sol beaches, and/or other historical andaluz cities like Sevilla, Córdoba, or Granada. However, as Spain experts, we’re here to tell you that Málaga is absolutely worth a visit in and of itself.
Despite being the second most populous city in Andalucía (sixth in Spain), Málaga maintains a laid-back, seaside ambiance for those looking for relaxation. Additionally, the city boasts a bustling nightlife and gastronomic scene AND a plethora of historic landmarks that can transport visitors back to Málaga’s diverse history.
One walk through the city center and you’re sure to notice that Málaga bursts with history and varied architecture. There’s a Roman theater that dates back to the 1st century, a Moorish castle and fortress walls (11th – 14th centuries), and a Renaissance-Baroque Cathedral (16th – 18th centuries), just to name a few. You may also find it interesting to know that Málaga is the hometown of world-renowned painter Pablo Picasso and the Hollywood star Antonio Banderas!
As with any location, you could spend as much or as little time in Málaga as you’d like, but we recommend three days to take in the city’s ambiance, visit many of the sites, but also have time to relax and not rush. Depending on your interests, you may want to explore different options but an itinerary for our ideal extended weekend would look like this:
3 Day Malaga Itinerary
Day 1: Focus on the historical city center
We are big advocates of tourism through discovery, meaning that we prefer to spend the bulk of our first day in a new city merely wandering around and noticing what catches our attention. Málaga is a relatively compact city so you can easily cover the historical city center in just a few hours, leaving time to then spend more substantial time at the sites you’re most intrigued by (and plan out optimal times to visit museums and/or partake in any activities you’re particularly interested in).
Kick-off your days with a breakfast sandwich (we particularly recommend “The Roy”) at Roy’s After Work Café and Cocktail. Despite the name, this is one of our favorite places to eat a filling breakfast in Málaga.
Once you’re fueled, start your exploration with a guided walking tour. Free walking tours are common across Europe, and Spain is no exception. We recommend finding a general walking tour to attend on the morning of your first day in Málaga. If you arrive midday, it might be best to research your options and book something in advance, otherwise, you can visit the tourist information desk located in Plaza de la Marina (the square nearest to the harbor) for ideas.
Pro-Tip: Don’t forget, a “free walking tour” means that the tour guides live mostly off of tips, so be sure to show your appreciation at the end of your tour! 5€ per person is a reasonable offering, but you will likely spend two to three hours learning from the person so if you feel particularly moved and can afford it, a bigger tip is always appreciated.
Taking a walking tour in the morning is ideal as you can ask your tour guide for particular up-to-date recommendations for where to eat lunch. We’ve personally loved the bars and restaurants located in Plaza de la merced and Plaza de Uncibay. Bar Pepa y Pepe is a great option for traditional Andalusian food.
Most walking tours will not include access to the Cathedral, but we would recommend touring the Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación (Our Lady of Incarnation) cathedral as well. Locally referred to as la manquita (the one-armed lady), this now-intentionally unfinished religious building has an interesting history and is particularly impressive from the inside.
Alternatively, if you are not keen to view the cathedral from the inside, we recommend circling back to Calle Larios for some shopping and/or ice cream and selecting a cute outdoor café to enjoy a beverage in the sunshine.
Pro-tip: Takeaway coffee is the antithesis of Spain’s coffee culture, so don’t be surprised if you don’t find it everywhere. We recommend you “do as the Romans do” and enjoy your coffee slowly. However, if you’re in need of an American-style coffee to go, we can’t recommend anywhere as much as El Último Mono.
Eat dinner in the center. Perhaps try Beher if you a meat-lover and like the idea of ordering raciones to share and sample lots of different dishes. Round out your night by checking out a rooftop bar for after-dinner drinks (or before-dinner drinks, if you’d like to catch the sunset). Two of our favorites are the Hotel Molina Larios bar (with beautiful views of the Cathedral) and La Terraza La Alcazaba (with lovely views of the fortress).
Day 2: Focus on the seaside
Most people who visit Málaga do so because they love spending time by the water, so we’ve dedicated a full day of our itinerary to that. If you are not someone who enjoys long stretches of time in the sun, we’d still recommend checking out the port and taking a short walk along the seaside promenade. Afterward, perhaps visiting a museum, taking a day trip, or doing a boat excursion would be a better fit for you.
If you plan to stay near the city center, you can start off with a simple but satisfying Spanish breakfast near the beach. We recommend El Gallo Rojo, located directly across the street from La Malagueta.
Before or after your relaxation at the beach, be sure to check out the port, Muelle Uno (essentially “Pier One”), where you can find entertainment, boating, and fine dining. From Muelle Uno, be sure to walk out to La Farola (the famous lighthouse) too. The Malagueta is definitely the most popular beach, especially among tourists, and as such may not be the most relaxing option, but it is sure to provide hours of sun and entertainment.
If you’re interested in a less crowded, more local experience we recommend taking a long walk or renting bikes to travel east along El Paseo Marítimo (the seaside promenade) to further beaches. If you rent bikes, consider getting breakfast near the main bike rental street, Calle Trinidad Grund. We personally love La Bella Julieta as it’s one of the few places you can find (almost) bagels in southern Spain.
Although easily manageable by bike, on foot would take quite a lot of time and energy so, if you opt for that, we recommend taking the number 11 bus to El Palo to enjoy the sand and sun there, then walk back afterward.
When at the beach, enjoy a sack lunch if you have packed one or experience the quintessential Andalusian seaside restaurant experience and eat at a chiringuito. These beach restaurants are well-known for their seafood, especially boquerones, sardines cooked over an open flame on the beach. If you opt for a beach further away from the city center, we specifically recommend stopping in the Pedro Galego neighborhood for lunch.
If you’re like us, you’ll simply want to return to the sun and sand post-midday meal, but if you’re in the mood for something else, re recommend checking out the Emilia Izquierda Art semi-open-air gallery located in Muelle Uno. While you’re there, sit and enjoy a drink while you take in the ambiance and/or continue on with a walk down the Paseo de Muelle Uno (in the port) or the Paseo del Parque (in the green area across the street), where you can find foliage and birds from all over the world.
If you’re feeling like getting dressed up and splurging on dinner, we recommend opting for dinner in Muelle Uno. The restaurants there are definitely more expensive, but the location can be worth it. Restaurante Toro is a nice steak place and Amigos Muelle Uno is another great option as patrons can choose from the Greek, Indian, or Mexican menus. If you’d like to experience the port at night but are on a budget, Cervecería La Sureña is a much more affordable alternative.
Day 3: Focus on the museums and sites
Spend your morning climbing up to tour the Alcazaba and Castillo de Gibralfaro. Depending on your hunger level, grab something to eat beforehand, or hold out to enjoy breakfast with a view at the Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro.
Determine if you will trek the full way up to the eleventh-century castle (Castillo) first or if you will stop off halfway up at the fortress (alcazaba) first, then trek the winding upward path to the castillo. While buses and taxis are available to get you to the castle, the look-out point and amazing view of the port and city should not be missed, so we recommend that everyone (who can manage) make the hike.
Pro-Tip: If Sunday is one of your days in Málaga you may want to rearrange this to visit Gibralfaro in the afternoon, as the entrance is FREE Sundays after 4 pm.
Once you make your way down from the castle (and stop to take in the Roman theater and ruins nearby if you haven’t already), treat yourself to a slow lunch near the base of the Gibalfaro. If you’re in the mood for a lighter lunch, we recommend crepes and a smoothie at Café con Libros.
We will leave this last afternoon mostly up to your own discretion. Málaga is well-known for having dozens and dozens of museums so we believe there is truly something for everyone and you should choose one or two you’re most interested in. Some of our favorites include the Picasso Museum (of his artwork, better than his childhood home), the CAC (Centro de arte contemporáneo, free entrance), the glass and crystal museum, the dollhouse museum, and the wine museum.
Pro-Tip: Again, if your trip includes a Sunday you’re in luck! Many of these museums will have FREE entrance after 4 pm, ask your tour guide or check their website to plan accordingly.
Alternatively, if you are not a big fan of museums (or only want to spend a handful of hours touring one), you can have a beautifully relaxing experience at the Hammam Al Ándalus. These modern baths are built in the traditional Arab bath style. There are numerous options to choose from and we are certain that you’ll leave feeling zenned out.
Note: This experience is also available in other cities so if you are visiting multiple cities in Spain plan accordingly to your itinerary.
For your last dinner in Málaga, we recommend enjoying a traditional meal on the outdoor terrace of Alcasbar. Take your time to enjoy the food and drinks, then round out the night with after-dinner drinks at El Pimpi. A trip to Málaga would not be complete without trying the city’s famous sweet wine, Málaga virgen. Depending on how many people are in your group, order a bottle and sip for hours among the lively decor of this famous restaurant. We saved this stop for last as it’s a great way to encapsulate your trip and reminisce on your newly-formed memories.
Pro-tip: Although sitting outside where you can take in the mood-lit Roman theater is nice, we love to sit inside! The restaurant/bodega is filled with Andalusian decor, wine barrels, and countless photos of the famous people who have frequented the bar. Antonio Banderas and Barack Obama are among them, see if you can find them!
We hope that this guide helps you plan out your stay in Málaga and feel more like a local while you visit. If you have more time to spend with Málaga as your “home base” we recommend planning a day trip as there is so much to see in the local area. Check out our post on that very topic for ideas to decide what would be the best fit for your interests.
And, of course, if you have any more specific questions, check out our blog for further details, connect with us on social media, or reach out directly. We love to be of service!
-Dani and Claudia
About the Authors
Dani and Claudia (both originally from the US Midwest) met in Granada, Spain and decided to share their love of life abroad and many years of experience in Spain through a blog. For nearly four years, the girls have been sharing an “insider’s look” at life in Spain—the language, the culture, the places, the people—and the ups and downs of life abroad. Dani never expected to catch the travel bug when she studied abroad in Spain, but now she can’t imagine living anywhere else. She returned to Spain long-term to teach English and is now a full-time writer. After years living abroad with her family, studying an undergraduate and Master’s degree, and working in Spain, Claudia was not convinced that Spain is the forever place for her, so she’s actually trying out Finland at the moment and loving it! No matter where in the world the girls find themselves, their love for Spain and international adventure keeps them connected. You can find them on their website, www.sincerelyspain.com, as well as on Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest.