For years, Málaga (alongside many other coastal destinations in Spain), has been the summer playground for many sun-seeking northern Europeans, and because of that Málaga has earned a bit of a reputation for being too touristy, clubby, and not entirely reflective of traditional Spanish coastal towns.
But maybe that’s not the entire story.
While planning my trip in Andalusia, I was choosing between Cádiz and Málaga to base myself because of Málaga’s reputation, which wasn’t entirely my idea of a good time.
I was told to head to Málaga anyway for the fact that Málaga is a much bigger city, and offers more varied experiences, and would therefore make more sense as a base for a couple of days.
They were absolutely right.
Of course, Seville too is another option if you’re looking for somewhere to be based in Andalusia due to the ample connections with the rest of the country.
And make no mistake, I loved Cádiz.
I loved the small town feeling, I loved roaming the streets and hearing more Spanish around, and I loved not having to shuffle my way through endless crowds of tourists getting pictures.
The views from the bell tower at the Cathedral was gobsmacking and I could’ve spent all day gazing out into the distance.
And for a day, Cádiz was magnificent.
For a home base for a couple days exploring Andalusia’s beautiful white villages (‘los pueblos blancos’) though, Málaga proved more than sufficient thanks to it’s geographic location and easy access to well-paved highways, making driving up or down to many villages in the hills a peach.
But this guide is for Málaga itself, and while it wasn’t my favourite city, it wasn’t as overrun with tourists as I thought it was going to be.
The old town’s streets, don’t get me wrong, is chock full of tourists, not to mention hen parties and stag dos, but it is still beautiful, and reminded me a lot of my time in Barcelona, especially when we got to the marina.
What to See
VISIT THE ATARAZANAS MARKET
Known colloquially as ‘Mercado Central’, the Atarazanas Market isn’t just another Spanish fruit and food market with tapas bars abound.
The building started life as a shipyard built by the Arabs, with the arched hallways reflecting it’s rich culture and history.
It then became a convent and a military fort, before turning into the bustling market it has become today.
Strolling through the aisles of spices, fruits and food is a treat for the eyes and the nose, but perhaps the most beautiful thing about it is the light pouring in through the stained glass windows which reflect the history of the building.
WHERE | MERCADO CENTRAL DE ATARAZANAS, CALLE ATARAZANAS, 10, 29005
WALK ALONG THE NEW PIER OF MUELLE UNO
This is what reminded me the most of Barcelona.
The new waterfront promenade located next to the marina with many shops and restaurant lining the streets was reminiscent of the Marina and Barceloneta area in Barcelona, and many times I thought Málaga struck me as a mini Barcelona.
Opened in 2011, Muelle Uno features a new walkway that certainly looks completely new, and offers a complex of retail and food and drink, and houses Málaga’s Michelin-starred restaurant.
Beyond having a great meal, come evening time, Muello Uno and the surrounding port is a lovely place for a romantic stroll with loved ones.
WHERE | PASEO DEL MUELLE UNO, 29016
GRAB SOME RAYS AND WAVES AT PLAYA LA MALAGUETA
This is the reason many flock to the streets of Málaga, to head to the sands of Costa del Sol.
Playa la Malagueta is by far the most popular thanks to its proximity to downtown, and the views of the beach, the hills and mountains in the background is one that I’ll always find lovely about southern Spain.
As always, do as the locals do and bring your own beach essentials, including your beach towels, umbrellas, and sun loungers.
Trying to rent any of these things in the height of summer is nigh on impossible by noon, and many locals skip the headache of trying to get one by bringing one themselves.
And certainly, if you’re looking to spend a good amount of time at the beach, buying your own might turn out to be just as cost effective if not more, than renting.
WHERE | PASEO MARÍTIMO PABLO RUIZ PICASSO, 29016
ENJOY GRILLED SARDINES BY THE SEA
Any chiringuito (a small beach shack selling beach bites, tapas and drinks) will feature this on the menu, as it is the local specialty.
The best area to enjoy these grilled sardines is said to be in Pedregalejo, one of Málaga’s oldest fishing neighbourhoods.
In front of many a chiringuito is a small stand where sardines and fish are grilled on embers on the sand, and is said to be the traditional way of cooking and eating grilled sardines and fried fish.
WHERE | PLAYA LA MALAGUETA / ANY CHIRINGUITO
HAVE A DRINK AT A ROOFTOP BAR WHILE THE SUN GOES DOWN ON THE CITY
I’m an absolute sucker for rooftop bars.
Seeing as I’m one to seek out good views and enjoy a sunset, this was the first thing I wanted to do when we arrived in Málaga.
Enter AC Hotel by Marriott.
This big hotel bookmarks the end of the main shopping street of the old town a stone’s throw away from the cathedral, and features a lovely rooftop bar and pool.
The views from the open air roof were sweeping, and from here we could see the port and marina out front, and the city centre to the right.
We had an unblocked view of the Cathedral as well.
As a non in-house guest though, a minimum drink order of 8 euros per person is expected.
AC Hotel isn’t the only place that offers a rooftop bar though, but is certainly one of the highest vantage points in the city.
WHERE | CALLE CORTINA DEL MUELLE, 1, 29015
SHOP TILL YOU DROP AT CALLE MARQUÉS DE LARIOS
Málaga’s most popular shopping street with plenty of familiar (read: Spanish) brands lining both sides runs like an artery through the city centre, and expect to see local favourites like Zara, Desigual, Pull&Bear, Mango, Massimo Dutti and the like all pulling in shoppers by the droves.
I’d done all my shopping in Madrid so I didn’t quite spend much time ducking in and out of stores trying to snag clothes off the shelves and racks, but it was a nice stroll to have down when leaving the old town.
Be sure to be in town for Rebajas, a massive sales period for Spain in the summer and winter.
WHERE | CALLE MARQUÉS DE LARIOS, 9, 29005
STROLL THROUGH THE OLD TOWN AND VISIT THE CATHEDRAL
Just about every Spanish city and town has an old town, and Málaga is most certainly no different.
I first visited Málaga’s old town in the evenings, which made it a pleasant walk, and the streets were bustling, vibrant and had patrons hopping from bar to bar, enjoying a fine sit-down meal at many fantastic restaurants lining the alleys, or getting some retail therapy.
Seville, the capital of Andalusia, though a big city, had an old historic centre that felt very small town, but Málaga’s streets felt wider and less closed in, and thus felt a bit more like a big city, and every square, street and corner was busy, and in my view, added to the atmosphere than detract from it.
Of course, the Cathedral stands proudly in the old town, and costs 6 euros to enter, with an additional 4 euros for roof access.
Normally, I would’ve, but seeing as we were coming to the tail end of our Spanish trip, I was kind of cathedral-ed out by the time we hit Málaga.
I mean, we did visit every single big cathedral in every city and town we visited up to that point, so I didn’t feel like I missed out on much.
Still, the cathedral is as grand as it is majestic, and is one of the must-sees in Málaga for a good reason.
WHERE | CALLE MOLINA LARIO, 9, 29015
GET CULTURED AT ONE OF THE MANY MUSEUMS
Perhaps as a way to balance the stigma of being a haven for the frivolous drunken sun-starved crowd who come to party in the summer, Málaga is home to a surprising number of museums and cultural institutions, including the Centre Pompidou, the first foray outside of France for the cultural centre featuring contemporary works of art.
The Picasso Museum is also another popular museum, which houses a collection of more obscure pieces of work by Málaga’s own renowned artist Pablo Picasso and is laid out in chronological order.
For fans of art and Picasso, this isn’t one to be missed.
Set in an old building modelled after a palace, the Málaga Museum is one for the art and archaeology fans, and offers free entry for citizens of the European Union, taking you through thousands of years of local history.
WHERE | VARIOUS LOCATIONS
A true testament to how much Málaga can offer to a visitor is the fact that I ran out of time even before I managed to cover the following below, which I’ll definitely make a point to visit, but if you do find yourself with a bit of extra time, Málaga also has a Roman Theatre with a visitor centre contextualising this Roman amphitheatre and life back then, and sits right in front of the Alcazaba Castle.
I only chose to skip over this with the limited time I had in Málaga because I’d previously visited Roman Theatres in the country in Tarragona and Cádiz, and didn’t feel a need to make a third visit.
The Alcazaba Castle is also a huge draw of Málaga and deservedly so, it being a hilltop Moorish fortress from medieval times with fountains, gardens and courtyards.
But seeing as we’d just come from Seville (and visited the Alcazar) not long ago, and were headed on to the Alhambra in Granada next, I too chose to skip over this.
Oh, and I also visited Moorish hilltop medieval fortresses in Portugal last December.
However, it’s said that even though it is less expansive and a scaled back version of the Alhambra in Granada, the Alcazaba doesn’t have the crowds that the Alhambra does.
Of course, take from that what you will, but I never found the crowds in the Alhambra to be too invasive, and the Alhambra absolutely blew me away, and for any monument to do that at the end of a 3 week trip of visiting must-see monuments from city to city, I think that’s saying something.
If you’re up for some uphill hiking during your stay in Málaga though, don’t miss the Gibralfaro Castle, famed for it’s 360 degree views over the city and sea.
From my trip to Spain this summer, I've turned some of my photography into my brand of everyday products which you can check out below. Worldwide shipping is available so if you're looking for a tote bag or postcard to take home to remember your travels if you too have been to these parts of Spain, and if you'd like to support this passion project of mine, look no further!
View the full product catalogue at the shop here.
When in Seville, we went on a walking tour to get ourselves familiarised with the city.
I've fallen hard for walking tours after this summer, and I'm so glad I went on 2 in Spain alone.
Across the Guadalquivir River lies the neighbourhood of Triana, so called the neighbourhood of gypsies and outcasts, where inhabitants used to identify as being from Triana before Seville.
The draw of Triana though, apart from the flamenco flair, is Calle Betis, the riverfront promenade lined with restaurants and bars which turns into a hotspot in the evenings.
In the sleepy late afternoon though, the buildings shine in the sun as workers of each restaurant start slowly setting up for a busy evening ahead.
View the rest of the collection here.
Barcelona wasn't on the itinerary this summer, but as you can imagine I have plenty photos from my stint 2 years ago.
One of my favourite neighbourhoods in Barcelona is El Born, which is basically the Gothic Quarter except lined with local boutiques instead of kitsch tourist souvenir shops, which lends itself to a really nice bohemian atmosphere.
Not to mention some of the best tapas bars in the city can be found here, which is a major plus.
El Born's also where you get all the beauty of the Gothic Quarter, and I particularly like the doors and façade of shops and houses here.
So here's a photograph of a coffeehouse in El Born, and I think this is quintessential Barcelona in a photograph.
View the rest of the collection here.