Málaga, ES: Everything You Need to Know
Explore the Costa Del Sol capital!
Everything that you need to know about the city of Málaga from an expat who previously lived there!
Málaga offers far more than just sun and sand, the beautiful Andalusian city is of historical and artistic relevance to the Mediterranean region, as you will discover in this guide. Whether you're planning a family holiday, a couple's getaway or a solo adventure; you will find something worthy of your attention here.
Phoenician: Malaka; Latin: Malaca; Arabic: Mālaqah.
Founded in BC 770 by the Phoenicians.
Counties: Málaga City and Province of Málaga.
Region: Andalucía, Costa Del Sol.
Regional Population: Over 1.62 million.
Most noted: renowned for street art, history
Picasso museum, tourism and mediterranean cuisine.
With an international airport located just 25 minutes away by car, millions of holiday makers flock to it's bustling, winding streets and sandy beaches every year. It is estimated that the number of visitors to Andalusia as a whole, will reach 30 million by the end of 2018! A good proportion of these tourists, will no doubt visit Málaga. So why exactly has it become such tourist hot spot?
When I first relocated to Málaga, one of the things that stood out for me most - aside from the intense June heat and sunshine, was the amalgamation of remarkable architecture that reflected different time periods and cultural influence.
Not only do you have ancient structures stood opposite modern ones, those ancient structures vary greatly due to turbulent history of the city: there was the initial conquest by the Romans from the Phoenicians. Then of course, the Roman Empire fell and the city was claimed by the Visigoths, then by the Byzantines and finally the Moors until the time of the Reconquista, where the city was claimed by Christian armies. Málaga's history is far more complex than most realise, which only adds to it's intrigue.
You really get a feel for the country's history and a sense of it's age when you come across the remnants of the Phoenician Castle of Gibralfaro and just beneath it, the Moorish fortress: the Alcazaba of Málaga.
In complete contrast to these structures, there are new infrastructures catering for modern day tourism such as the giant international department store Él Corte Inglés and the harbour.
You'd think the scattering of such structures would be a real eye sore, but it's not. The separation between these structures is enough to avoid conflicting associations from those who visit them. Even more so when take it account that the structures account for very different activities i.e. sightseeing, shopping and dining.
In terms of modern day living, if you walk down any street you will find apartments with Spanish-style blinds, arched window frames and small balconies. The buildings are often painted in flamboyant colours such as pink, orange, yellow, green or blue. A similar aesthetic is often applied to the villas perched high on the hill tops.
The streets themselves are often tiled, which can get some getting use to. Particularly when walking downhill. If the ground is wet, do be careful as it's very easy to slip - especially if you are wearing sandals or flip flops. The last thing you want to do on holiday is fall flat on your face!
The great thing about Málaga is that it's easy to travel around the city and even go further afield. The bus links for travel around the city are frequent and fairly efficient. However, it's worth noting that there is a reduced service in the evenings; from about 8pm, they run every 20 minutes rather than every 10 minutes. However, it's usually fairly easy to hail down a taxi or to come across a small, roadside rank. If you're staying in the centre of town, why not go for an evening stroll? It can be really pleasant on a mild - warm evening.
For travel to and fro the airport, you can get a taxi, bus or train. Both the bus and train will take you to city centre and are very reasonable in price. Speaking of train journeys, if you would like to explore nearby towns such as Benalmadena, Torremolinos or Fuengirola, there are trains that run approximately every 10 - 15 minutes from Málaga Centro.
Car hire is available in advance when booked online or via one of the kiosks at the airport, as you exit the baggage claim area and walk into the arrivals hall.
It's important to be aware that during the morning (8 - 9am), lunch time (12pm - 2pm) and evenings (6pm - 9pm), there can be a build up of traffic on the motorways and congestion in the city centre. If you are traveling at these times, do give yourself extra time allowances to account for potential traffic jams. It's not always the case, but it's far from uncommon.
In the first section of my travel guide, I already mentioned a couple of noteworthy places to visit in Málaga. If you enjoy exploring historical sites, do check out the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro castle.
Is exploring a natural environment more to your liking? If so, you really must visit the botanical gardens, La Concepción. It's a particularly beautiful location for a laid back summer afternoon. There are also several small squares with gardens, hilltop foot paths with small garden areas and shrubbery etc.
I can almost see several of you staring at the screen, frowning while asking out loud "what about the beaches? Soft sand? Water?!" There is a beach, just on the other side of the port called Malagueta, however I wouldn't recommend it in the busy periods - it gets quite dirty, quite quickly. We often found the beach littered with plastic drinking bottles and cigarette butts. You will have a much more pleasant experience if you walk just a bit further down the coastline or alternatively, you can take transportation to an area called Rincón de la Victoria. It's rather quaint costal town with a great Ice cream parlour, small shops and a far better beach. The great thing is, it's only 5 - 10 minutes away by car.
The harbour i.e. Puerto de Málaga (port of Málaga) is very much built with tourism in mind; there you will find stores selling designer labels, sportswear, candy shops, coffee stalls including a Dunkin Donuts, bars and restaurants. The port is actually quite beautiful during the summer time. I have enjoyed many afternoon strolls and evening meals there while watching the sun set over the city.
Food and Drink
Foodies, you may want to pay extra attention to this section... One of the best things about Málaga is without doubt the food! Honestly, it's home to some of the most delicious, fresh seafood you will find in Spain.
Some of the most noteworthy dishes are:
Fish: sardines, red tuna, anchovies, sea bass, swordfish etc.
Meat: Iberian beef steaks, steak tarte, BBQ ribs, Iberian ham, roasted duck.
Vegetables: mediterranean stir fry, caesar / mixed salads.
Various fruits including seasonal fruits (strawberries, melon, kiwi), smoothies and juices.
Fresh bread and pastries (for those who aren't allergic, unlike me!)
If you wish to try authentic Spanish cuisine, I recommend visiting one of the tapas-style restaurants in the heart of the city centre, you will discover many on the main streets and various, winding side alleys.
For those who suffer from allergies and would like to dine somewhere that specifically caters for this, there's a restaurant in the far right corner of Plaza de la Merced called Restaurante Citron. It's definitely worth grabbing a bite to eat there.
The city has American-style diners and the chain Fosters Hollywood. Plus, there's also a German restaurant, but it's a little more expensive, located in Larios shopping centre called the Block House; I personally recommend the ox tail soup, steak and baked potato - it's really good!
If you're seeking fine dining, there are two names that immediately come to mind: Hotel Paradores and Restaurante Montana; both offer a superb menu. The Paradores is a chain of hotels. I visited the establishment close to where I use to reside; it rests on top of a foothill in the upper section of the city. If open, do select seating on the terrace as you will have a breathtaking view of the lower city - the heart of Málaga city.
If you are drawn to the art world, there are regular exhibitions at several art galleries and museums, there's of course the two Picasso Museums; home to numerous artworks of the iconic painter Pablo Picasso, who was born and resided in Málaga city. In fact, one of the museums was the very home he grew up in!
There are also several other museums and two main theatre halls that host stage productions and live performances; perfect for those with a passion for the performing arts.
You can't discuss a major Spanish city and not mention the regional dance performances! Every so often, there are live Flamenco shows as well as other styles. Usually, such performances take place in the local bars or theatres, so it might be worth taking a look online to see if anything has been advertised or ask the bar owners.
If you like shopping, there's a number of centres as well as street markets that sell all manner of things. There's a particularly charming market that usually opens on Sundays down by the port.
Just outside the city, there is a huge stadium that host basketball tournaments as well as large shows called Palacio de Deportes José María Martín Carpena. Not forgetting - for football fans, Málaga FC home games are played at La Rosaleda.
Then there is the nightlife, if there's one thing that Málaga has no shortage of, it's bars. There are so many! From small, traditional Spanish cafés to Irish pubs and swanky concept bars. Simply take your pick.
Like in most popular destinations, there are a number of options to choose from when it comes to 'where to stay'. It seems most visitors opt for a hotel room or rent an apartment for the duration of their stay. There are a number of holiday lets available in the city; many of which, are likely to be listed on websites such as airbnb.com
Hotel rooms can vary greatly in quality, distance and price. I would recommend opting for at least a 3* hotel to ensure general cleanliness and that you have the facilities available that you are likely to require. Generally, I found the price to be fairly reasonable when I first arrived in Malaga back in 2015. It's best to use comparison sites such as booking.com or trivago.com in order to get the best deal.
Of course, there also villas which can be rented, which may be a better option if you are travelling in a large group (over 5 people). You'll have all the amenities to hand and can easily spilt the cost between you, meaning that you could spend far less on accommodation.
For solo travellers and backpackers, if you just need a bed for a night or just a few days, it might be worth looking into the city's hostels. Created with soloists and students in mind, many offer cheap accommodation, with access to the basics and free WI-FI.
If you plan to visit in the summer and prefer being out in nature, you'll need to venture out of town and into the rural surrounding areas. There's a few camp sites located between Málaga, Torremolinos and Nerja.
One thing that's very important to be aware of, is that unlike Marbella, the majority of the general public in Málaga do not speak English - at all.
When it comes to accommodation, most of the hotels will have members of staff that speak English. Some service providers such as shop attendants will speak or at least understand a little English, but it would help if you learn just a few basics before you travel. At least, just enough to be able to make a purchase or order something from the menu.
My Spanish was non-existent when I arrived, so I had to learn some basics very quickly! If you're keen to learn the language, it's a great incentive to begin before you embark on your journey.
Generally, I found people to be reserved but not unpleasant. I have had very few of what could even remotely be referred to as 'bad experiences' with locals. The bus drivers can be moody and impatient, the same goes for taxi drivers and shop assistants, but I didn't have any problems as such.
The Southerners can be very loud and expressive, but it's just a part of their nature and the way they communicate with one another - fairly typical for Mediterranean regions.
One thing to be mindful of is that tourists generally don't have the best reputation in Spain, especially groups of friends, so please try to be respectful when you're hitting the town and be aware that while you are on holiday and having the time of your life, people actually live there and do not want to be confronted by a group of people who is obscenely drunk, being rude, disruptive, messy or even aggressive.
Málaga's crime index is relatively low, given the current economic uncertainty that has been created in the welfare state. As with all cities, you need to be aware of who is around you and that you have your belongings with you at all times. There are known pickpockets and groups of thieves operating in the city, so do be aware of your surroundings.
During my year and half that I was living in Málaga for, I never felt threatened or unsafe. Though, there was a moment during my brief trip two weeks ago where two men were tailing me, as I was walking along the coastline taking photos on my SLR. They were acting suspiciously and when I turned around to look at them, they both stopped and started taking photos of the surroundings at the same time.
I moved on and my partner made a point of walking closer to me as he saw what they were doing also, he told me to be careful with my camera as they might try to snatch it. While thievery does occur here, it was the first time I was confronted with such a situation. My advice is just to be cautious and try to limited the amount of valuables on display.
Now that I've given you all the important details, how does the city fare in my overall review?
Excellent Summer Weather
High (Sub-Tropic) Temperatures
Great Art Exhibits
Garbage pile ups
Dirty Main Beach
Overall slay Rating
3.5 / 5
If you've already visited Málaga, I would love to know your thoughts on the destination.
For those who are about to visit the city, I hope you have a fantastic time and do share a bit about your experience. Enjoy your trip!
Thumb Photo: Brenda Adiyiah.
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