Being the capital of Costa del Sol with 300 sunny days in a year, the first thing Malaga makes you think of is probably beaches. But there is so much more to do there than just playing a beach potato! From the rich historical background to some usual local experiences, I cover everything in this full Malaga guide. Stay with me while I tell you all the different things you can do on your Malaga trip, seasoned with my super useful personal tips for the best time ever!
Go on a free walking tour
If you are not familiar with this idea, here is what a free tour is. It is a guided walking excursion which usually takes around 2 hours and doesn’t require any advance payment. You just come to the meeting point, meet your guide and only after the tour decide how much it is worth paying. According to the level of your enjoyment, the guide’s professionalism and sometimes your financial situation, you might leave however much you want in tips.
To look for free walking tours I usually go to Google. There are plenty of sites for each country (at least European ones) that do this kind of tours. Having so many options allows everyone to find something suitable in terms of specific dates, times and language. For example, a lot of tours in Malaga are provided in Spanish, so make sure to check it before you register. In some cases you are not even required to register, you can just show up. However, I recommend to always register as sometimes tours get canceled if none or too little people have expressed interest in them.
Those sites that offer tip-based tours mention the tips range from 5 to 50 euros, but there are no actual limits. You might even leave the tour at any moment if the guide sucks and not tip anything at all. This never happened to us, though. Also please keep in mind that in some cities legally employed guides are required to pay a 3 euros fee for each person who has registered for a particular tour, so we usually make sure to leave at least 5 euros each to not be a liability.
Particularly in Malaga, I had great experiences with GuruWalk. They have plenty of other destinations too, definitely check them out before your next trip!
Important: please be aware that legit free tours don’t require any credit card information from you for registration. If they do, it’s either a scam website or they offer some extra feature you’ll be paying for which you should be able to skip.
One great thing about free walking tours is that you never know how many people will be there. We’ve had very different cases from 60 people showing up for the same tour (we were divided between two guides into 30-people groups) to only us showing up and actually getting a personal tour which allowed us to make stops for photos wherever we wanted! On the other hand, a more crowded tour gives a great opportunity to meet other travelers from all over the world and make new friends, which is cool too.
In capitals and smaller touristic cities, there are always more options other than the usual city-center-focused historical tour. You might find super exciting ones like city legends, sunset picnic on a secluded beach or hidden viewpoints some locals not even know about! Sometimes tours even include a free tasting of local food, sweets, or drinks. Always put some time into discovering your options when planning your trip to get the best experience possible.
Check out local museums
Malaga has lots of different museums and you probably won’t be able to check them all during one trip. However, most of them are located in the city center and are walking distance from one to another, so you can visit a few of them in one day if you’re up for a challenge.
If you are into art, your first destination should probably be a Picasso museum. Pablo Picasso is the main figure in Malaga as he was born and raised in this wonderful city. Locals are very proud of this fact, that’s why besides this museum in his name you will also see his Birthplace museum, a monument to him, a great deal of street art inspired by his artwork, and much more. Several local restaurants and bars have cocktails named by him and even photos of his daughter Paloma Picasso visiting their grounds.
For contemporary art, you can go to the Contemporary Art Centre or The Pompidou Centre. Among more classical places you might find interesting Museo de Malaga, which is more focused on archeology, or Museo Carmen Thyssen that showcases the Thyssen family’s art collection that mainly consists of Andalusian 19th-century paintings.
If you happen to have some spare time, I recommend visiting the Wine Museum. The ticket costs only 5 euros, but it includes tasting of two typical local wine choices in the end. The museum is quite small and won’t take much time, but you will see a lot of old wine labels some of which can be considered art themselves and get to know some historical facts behind them. One of the things I’d never expected to see on a wine bottle were children! Turns out, at some point in the past wine was used in Spain for medical purposes to treat children from bad diseases. This is one unusual kind of advertisement, right?
Another cool museum is The Car and Fashion Museum. It has a big collection of unique cars together with high fashion exhibitions. It hosts a lot of interesting events (check if there is something cool going on during your trip’s dates!) and even is often used as a venue for weddings. This is definitely a place where you can go with your significant other and find something fascinating for each.
Cool tip: If you are not sure you would like some of these museums or if you are on a budget, go on Sunday! Most of the mentioned places are open for free visits after 4 or 5 pm on Sundays. You might even get an audio guide with no extra cost!
Climb the famous castles
Unlike most of the castles you usually want to visit as a tourist which require a long drive, Malaga’s most ancient structures are right there in the city center. Start from the Roman Theatre which was only discovered by accident in 1951, then climb the stairs of the Alcazaba fortress (not hard at all if you are not in shape, especially with a 1,5-hour slow-paced guided free tour), and finish with the castle of Gibralfaro. The last one often hosts some instrumental concerts and has the best views in Malaga.
All of the above are much better with a live tour guide because you get to know the history behind those old walls and which significant events took place at what point. Also, they might show you some tiny details in architecture that you’d never notice by yourself. Anyway, even without a guide, it’s worth just wandering around and embracing the ancient atmosphere and cool meaningful ornaments.
Personal tip #1: if you are tired after climbing the Alcazaba fortress, there is a lift that’ll take you all the way down. Free of charge!
Personal tip #2: as we were secretly told by a local, you can skip the Gibralfaro and go see the viewpoints with the very similar views for free. Start at the small passage to the left of the Roman Theatre and go all the way up from there. It’s hard to to get lost there as you can always see your target above! And there is almost no people at all if you choose that path, we were told that a lot of locals don’t even know about that road!
Personal tip #3: if you are not in a good shape and don’t wanna climb anything, but still curious about those breathtaking views, take a bus 35 from the city center (costs EUR 1.30 same as all of the city transport). It’ll take you right to the Gibralfaro castle’s entrance. You can either go inside or go to the viewpoint nearby, which has one of the best city views in Malaga.
Spot all the cool monuments
Malaga has plenty of interesting monuments you might wanna see by yourself, here are a few of them:
- Picasso Statue (Plaza De La Merced)
- Hans Christian Andersen with a cute “ugly duckling” in his bag (Plaza de la Marina 4)
- El Cenachero or The Fish Seller, a traditional profession in Malaga (Plaza de la Marina | Avenida Manuel Agustín Heredia)
- Larios Monument which represents hard work and charity (Alameda Principal, 1)
- Galvez Family (Av. Ingeniero José María Garnica, 7, close to the train station)
- Dove/Hand Sculpture (Calle Bolsa)
…and many more to discover by yourself!
Unwind on a beach
As I already mentioned, there are 300 days of sunshine in Malaga, which is why I just couldn’t not mention this. The most popular beach called La Malagueta is near the center of Malaga, close to the port. But if you want something less crowded, go to the Pedregalejo area or even all the way to El Palo. More locals, fewer people, and still many cool and clean beaches.
Extra info: all the beaches in Malaga are open and free, but rented stuff is available only till around 8pm. In most places all-day rent of one sunbed costs EUR 4 and there is usually a deal that includes two sunbeds and an umbrella for EUR 10. (Prices relevant for October 2019)
If you aim for the best, go to Nerja! It’s known for the best beaches in Costa del Sol and it’s worth checking out. Takes a 1-hour bus trip to get there. Besides the seashores, there are other things to see in Nerja like the Balcony of Europe from which they say you might see Africa on a good day!
Useful tip: make sure to buy both way tickets in advance in Malaga as Nerja is a small village and the ticket window closes around 7pm. I guess you can pay directly to the bus driver, but there are a lot of people like that and we saw a lot of them not getting inside because there were no places left. Keep this in mind.
As an alternative, book a tour to Nerja from Malaga or wherever you stay and don’t care about all of these trouble!
Visit a farmer’s market
To feel like a real malagueño don’t go to the supermarkets all the time. Support local businesses by going to farmer’s markets. The best one in the central area is called Atarazanas. It has a beautiful facade and it’s own interesting history which you’ll hear all about if you take any guided city tour.
The main foods to try in Atarazanas are Jamon (choose between Serrano and Iberica, some sellers might give you a piece of each to taste before you buy!), local cheeses, olives, olive oil, fish and seafood, and last, but not least, fruits. We actually tasted 3 different fruits for the first time when we were in Malaga!
- Don’t touch the food, especially fruits. This is an important unspoken rule. The whole farmer’s market experience is about interactions with locals. A seller chooses something for you according to your preferences: for example, they might ask if you want a mango for today: if you say two days from now, they’ll choose a less ripe fruit so it gets perfect for you in two days.
- There are places where they can cook the fish and seafood that you just bought right away and you can eat it on their terrace outside. Fresh and delicious!
- Most sellers can’t say a word in English – keep this in mind and be prepared to use gestures if you don’t know any Spanish.
Go shopping on main shopping streets
This one doesn’t require an explanation. The main places for shopping are the following:
- Calle Marqués de Larios
- Calle Nueva
- El Corte Inglés (shopping mall close to the city center)
- Centro Comercial Vialia (another shopping mall right at the María Zambrano train station)
- Muelle Uno (open-air shopping mall with shops and restaurants and a nice sea view)
Walk by yourself and enjoy the Malaga’s beauty
In Malaga literally everything is in the center. I’ve already mentioned castles and beaches so here is how you can go for a nice walk without any guides!
Tip: you can rent a motorized scooter and ride it through this path instead of walking, They are very common in Malaga!
Start at Plaza de la Marina where you can rent a scooter if you want. Go along the Avenida de Manuel Agustín Heredia until you see the Iron Bridge. Proceed to the south to explore the beautiful Malaga’s port. This is also the right place if you want to take a 30-min ferry to Africa! Coming back from the port, there is time to enjoy Parque de Málaga, a long (3 bus stops long!) and super green botanical garden with many benches, monuments, and trees. It ends near the La Malagueta Bullring, which actually looks much better from one of the viewpoints. Being there you will not miss a Centre Pompidou, which has an eye-catching colorful glass cube on top of it. Finish your walk exploring Muelle Uno, the nice waterfront open-air shopping complex with lots of restaurants to have lunch and rest after your long walk. Don’t miss La Farola – a popular lighthouse which is called by feminine name (usually lighthouse is masculine in Spanish) because of its shape.
Well, this is it for my Malaga full city guide. Now you know what to do and where to go for however long you’d be in Malaga. I spent there a whole month and there are still so many things I haven’t seen that I could easily spend another month wandering around this wonderful city! Hope to be back one day for more. Please tell me in the comments if you found any of my tips useful and save it to your Pinterest or bookmarks in case you need a refresher during your trip!