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When we stopped at Málaga on our Spanish road trip, I must admit we were a little apprehensive. To us, it brought up images of drunken hen parties and over bronzed Brits drinking in the sunshine.
To our delight, and to our surprise too, we saw none of this. Instead we discovered beautiful architecture, fantastic food, clean beaches and more artwork than we could shake a stick at.
We couldn’t replace a local expert’s list of the top things to do in Málaga. But we did discover a lot of great things that tourists like us can enjoy when they visit Málaga too.
Things to do in Málaga
#1 Explore Picasso’s Málaga
Home to one of Spain’s most famous sons, Málaga is full of Pablo Picasso museums and memorabilia. It’s evident that the city is hugely proud that Picasso was born in Málaga.
You’ll find bars and souvenir shops named after the artist. You’ll even find items on the tapas menu sporting his name! Málaga has more museums than any other city in Andalucia.
By far the most popular is the Pablo Picasso Museum. Some of Picasso’s most famous works are on display at the museum. There’s a lovely shaded courtyard beside its café to cool off with a glass of something cool.
The Pablo Picasso Museum is one of the top things to do in Málaga, despite being quite expensive and popular. You’d be well advised to carry water for your hunting expedition to find the entrance and the admission queue!
Top tips: Arrive early to avoid the queues. Plan to visit the Pablo Picasso Museum on a Sunday afternoon when entrance is free for the last 2 hours of opening. Get there early though as it’s a popular time.
If the Pablo Picasso Museum doesn’t satiate your appetite for Picasso you can visit the house where he was born. It’s a museum now and like the Pablo Picasso Museum also has set times where entrance is free.
For what it’s worth, unless you’re a huge Picasso fan, it’s not that exciting so wait for the free entry.
#2 Free street art in Málaga
The Soho area of Málaga is brimming with amazing street art.
There are murals almost everywhere and many are by well know street artists. Even in the historic quarter, you’ll find some interesting artwork.
Just keep your eyes peeled. It’s free, some of it is incredible and it’s definitely one of the top things to do in Málaga.
#3 Eat! Eat! Eat!
For appeasing the inner foodie in you, Málaga has fantastic sea food on offer. Espetos-sardines skewered on a bamboo stick and grilled over a fire on the beach are to die for!
Fine, fresh simple fare with a glass of vino and you’ll be in heaven! Head down to the eastern quay for great food at affordable prices. For something a little more pricey, don’t miss the best Spanish bar in Málaga, El Pimpi’s. It’s somewhat of an institution in Málaga.
#4 Soak up the sun on the fabulous beaches
Public beaches stretch far to the east and west of the port, so you definitely have your pick. La Malagueta is the best and safest choice. I love a good beach, but I hate a packed one.
And once the school holiday’s starts Málaga’s beaches get packed! There are more umbrellas than sand.
There are some lovely, clean beaches a short distance from Málaga. Either take a long stroll along the promenade or jump on a bus to Pedregalejo Playa.
It’s clean, family friendly and relatively quiet . And if that isn’t enough, you’ll find the most amazing fish dishes we ate in Spain, served right on the beach. Sigh.
#5 Visit the One Armed Lady that is Málaga’s Cathedral
Málaga’s cathedral is also known as la Manquita or “the one-armed lady”. This is because only has one of it’s two towers are completed. It may not be everything it was meant to be but it’s beautiful just the same.
Graham’s not a big fan of cathedrals and churches but I can’t help myself. I’ll always pop in, light a candle and check out the fabulous architecture.
Málaga’s cathedral was no exception and with it located right in the heart of the city, it’d be a crime to miss it.
#6 Visit Costa Del Sol’s answer to Alhambra
Ok so Alhambra is the most visited attraction in the whole of Spain. And rightly so! But it’s in Granada not Málaga.
If you don’t have time for a day trip to Alhambra, then you shouldn’t miss a visit to the best preserved Moorish fortress in Spain. Alcazaba sits on a hilltop over looking the city of Málaga.
It’s almost 3000 years old and is the next best thing to Alhambra. Below the fortress is an immaculate Roman amphitheatre, Teatro Romano.
It’s free to enter and a lovely place to relax after lunch. Above Alcazaba sits Castillo de Gibralfaro. This fine castle is definitely worth the climb for the views of Málaga and the Mediterranean, if nothing else.
#7 Wander around Málaga’s Old Town
Most of the major attractions and top things to do in Málaga are in and around the Old Town of Málaga so you’d be hard pushed not to see any of it at all.
It’s such a pleasant and compact city, so it’s easy to spend some time discovering what’s hidden down the narrow alleyways.
The cobbled street are pedestrianised and squares are surrounded with cafés and restaurants. The alleyways are dotted with street artists, musicians and shops selling Ibérico hams.
We fell in love with Málaga thanks mainly to this area of the city. It’s a must see place in Málaga.
#8 Day trips from Málaga
So you’ve done all these things in Málaga and you don’t want to laze away the rest of your holiday on the beach. If you have a spare day or three, you’re in a perfect location for a plenty of day trips.
Here’s just a few ideas for 1 day trips from Málaga. You can easily get to all the these places and back, especially if you hire a car. And you won’t need to be rushing too much either!
Better still, take a few days and have yourself a mini road trip. If you don’t fancy taking an independent day trip, you can always book an organised tour.
While we drive our own vehicle, we appreciate that many people will want to fly into Málaga and hire a car. Book with a reputable firm because you need assurance the car is well maintained and your insurance is valid.
If you want to take your hire car across to Gibraltar, make sure you let the rental firm know at the time of booking so they include it on your insurance.
You may be charged extra at the time of collection if you don’t tell them at the time of booking.
We’re not loyal to one rental firm, and will simply go with the one that offers the best value – and that means using a comparison website. For us, Rentalcars is by far the best, and our first choice, every time. They even do camper van rentals!
Gibraltar is only 80 miles west of Málaga and well worth a day trip. The sights high up on the rock are fantastic, especially St Michael’s Cave.
You can arrange an organised tour for each from Málaga and while they make planning easier for you, they can be a little expensive. It’s much cheaper and far more fun to hire a car and drive yourself there.
The small town of Ronda is in Málaga province and less than 65 miles northwest from the city. Ronda is just beautiful with spectacular landscapes, incredible bridges and steeped in history. A truly memorable day trip.
Read: A town called Ronda
The most popular attraction in Spain is less than 85 miles from Málaga city. Alhambra is a Moorish complex of palaces and fortresses dating back as early as the 9th century.
It’s a beautiful place; the grounds are sprawling and the history oozes from every crevice. If you’ve hired a car, then you’ll get the most out of your rental by driving to this Granada, just make sure you book your Alhambra tickets well in advance.
Failing that, you can arrange an organised tour of Alhambra and Granada from Málaga.
It might be stretching it a bit to get to Seville and back on a day trip. It’s 130 miles away from Málaga so if you do choose to visit in just 1 day, it’ll be a long one.
But Seville is our favourite city in all Spain and we just had to add it to the list. If you haven’t hired a car and would prefer someone else does all the driving, you can again book an organised tour to pick you up from Málaga.
Ok so not our favourite place in Spain. But as day trips from Málaga go, this is one of the closest. Marbella is only 35 miles from Málaga so perhaps worth a visit, even if it is just to check out the luxury yachts.
Or maybe shopping is your thing. In which case, Marbella is one of the best things to do in Málaga.
There are tons of top things to do in Málaga. As Spain’s 6th largest city maybe that comes as no surprise. It was a surprise to us though and Málaga completely won us over!
There is more to the Costa del Sol than sunny beaches and hen parties! Visit Málaga for a combination of sun, sand and culture. Because Málaga has it all!
Don’t forget to pack…..
Travel guide – if you plan on venturing outside of Málaga, a handy guide book for the Andalusia region will be worth its weight in gold.
Spanish phrase book – its always a good idea to learn a few basic phrases of the local language before you travel. But for Spain, it’s even more important.
English is not widely spoken outside of the major tourist regions and the locals will welcome your efforts to speak even a little Spanish.
Comfortable walking shoes – does this go without saying? Your beach sandals are appropriate for the beach, not for the hot pavements of a city centre. Don’t allow aching feet stop you seeing the best of the city.