With beautiful architecture, an eclectic gastronomy scene and good weather all year round, Malaga is a gem of a city, one that is too often overlooked by the travellers who pass through its airport en route to the party spots on the Costa Del Sol.
Like the neighbouring Marbella, Malaga can offer you plenty of beaches and nightlife; unlike Marbella, it can also offer you a cathedral, constructed between 1528 and 1782. (It’s a fine cathedral, although not among the marvels of Europe. Worth checking out but only if you have the time.)
Malaga dates back nearly 3,000 years, making it one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Founded by the Phenocian civilisation around 770 BC, the city’s ownership passed through Ancient Catharge, the Roman Republic, the Byzantine Empire, the Visigoths, and various Islamic caliphates before the Spanish conquered the city in 1487.
You’ll see the legacy of this tumultuous history all around the city – most notably in the juxtaposition of the Alcazaba fortress and the Roman amphitheatre beneath its walls. Modern Malaga is a thriving destination that recently hosted the Davis Cup, with the eight finest tennis nations in the world battling for glory in the indoor Jose Maria Martin Carpena Arena.
Here’s our guide for a weekend in Malaga – what to do, where to eat, and the best hotels.
What to do?
Malaga has a host of fantastic art galleries but the finest is undoubtedly the Museo Picasso Málaga, an extensive and exhilarating tribute to the city’s most celebrated son. Follow Pablo’s artistic journey from prodigiously talented boy to bonafide genius to the old master still capable of showing off new tricks. Beneath the museum are archaeological ruins dating back to the Phoenicians. A few minutes down the road is the Picasso house, also open to the public. Go get your art on.
Wandering the city, you’ll notice a sizable fortress dominating the skyline. This is the Alcazaba, built during a period of Muslim rule in roughly the 11th century. Numerous factions have contributed to the Alcazaba over the past 900 years and the citadel is remarkably well preserved: travel its battlements, through ancient gates and gorgeous pavilion gardens. Fight the urge to pretend you’re a medieval knight. The view isn’t bad, either. Nor are the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre down front.
And yes, it’s a little basic but you can’t really go wrong with a sunset cruise. (Maybe if the weather plays up but it’s called the Costa del Sol for a reason.) Head to the seafront and choose from any number of boats that will take you into the bay and serve you as much booze as you can handle over an hour and a half. Remarkably cheap – they cost less than a tenner each – and surprisingly good fun.
Where to eat?
OK, you’re in a Spanish coastal city – that means tapas and seafood. For seafood, the best place in town is probably La Peregrina Centro. Secure a spot at the bar and order as much as you possibly can. This is seafood of the highest quality, a meal so good that you’ll find yourself licking your lips the next time you watch Finding Nemo.
What of tapas? El Pimpi is a Malaga institution, having served the city for more than 50 years. The signatures of past celebrity visitors are scrawled on wine barrels all around the restaurant – can you spot Antonio Banderas, also a partner in El Pimpi? Inside, it seems to go on forever: there’s a delightful little courtyard and also a bar if you fancy a pit stop rather than a full-on feast.
For the ultimate Malaga experience, head to La Tranca: a tapas bar the way your mother remembers them. It’s decorated with old photographs of Spanish singers and invariably packed every night. The menu is simple, delicious and incredibly good value for money. Don’t expect large dishes: this is food to be eaten with your fingers and washed down with mosto, the local sweet wine. Wash it down with anything, really – the booze is even cheaper than the food.
Where to stay?
Need to be amid the action? Hotel Palacio Solecio is bang in the centre of Malaga’s historic town, within minutes walk from all the sights and spots listed above. As the name suggests, the hotel was originally an 18th century Andalusian palace owned by one Félix Solesio, a Genoese who settled in Málaga. It’s a stunningly beautiful building and in-house Balausta restaurant is also superb.
If you want something equally evocative but a little more secluded, try Hotel Castillo Santa Catalina. Situated in the neighborhood of El Limone – we’ll let you decipher that one – the hotel from the Smith Collecion is a 1930s Moorish Revival villa constructed on the site of a 17th-century hilltop fortress. Not so much steeped in history but submerged in it. There’s a swimming pool and spa for those days when you don’t fancy the walk into town. The garden bar and courtyard restaurant will take care of the evenings.
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