Confession: Malaga may have been an afterthought when planning our Spanish adventures in the past. But who can blame us when big boys like Granada and Seville have hogged the limelight for so many years? All we can say now is, Malaga. Has. ARRIVED. Not only is it the warmest city in mainland Europe, it is also–shocker–100 years older than Rome. Meaning, there’s Gothic architecture and historic relics hidden all over the gaff. That along with (several) dope hostels, fewer tourists, and some of the best tapas you’ll find in Spain, means it’s even giving Barca and Madrid a run for their money. AND it’s cheap as chips to get to with a one way ticket costing a mere £24 from UK airports, or you can go for an £81 return from Manchester and London (find your cheap flights here). So without further delay, here are the top things to do in Malaga…
1. The street art
We’re in awe of Malaga’s artistic reinvention over the years. Once a dodgy part of town, Malaga’s Soho district is now a canvas for mind-blowing street art, thanks to MAUS, a grass root movement set up by a group of street artists. Vast masterpieces decorate the area’s rundown buildings, painted by world-recognised artists such as OBEY, D*Face and ROA with his signature endangered animals (below). Check out the website for the art map.
2. The freshest food & wine
Mediterranean climes call for Mediterranean food, and Malaga has a sh*t tonne of it. The locals eat so much seafood here that they are nicknamed boquerones (anchovies)! Lol. That’s why you should make a beeline for the port for some legendary “espeto de sardinas” aka ginormous bbq’d sardines fresh from the sea.
The Mercado Atarazanas is another one of the best things to do in Malaga–it’s pretty much buzzing every day of the week. Stalls are lined with buckets of roasted almonds, glistening olives and all the ingredients you need for your DIY tapas attempt. If it’s a wine kinda day, pick up an 85p glass from Ke Bocata, and a bowl of gambas pil pil (sizzling prawns in garlic, chilli and olive oil – a total Spanish classic FYI) from Bar Mercado Atarazanas. And there is no shortage of party vibes in Malaga. No one goes out until 10pm here, so start your night with a G&T fish bowl and some deep house at Oasis Backpacker’s Hostel.
Now before we move on, we need to talk about churros. Casa Randa is casa to maybe the best churros we’ve ever tasted: fat, long and with just the right amount of crisp for only 40p each. It’s also a local fave with the “Malagueños” visiting after work for an evening treat. Just don’t miss it, okay?!
3. Its tropical-goth vibe
There are many spots in the city you can soak up Malaga’s subtropical vibes, but our faves are La Concepcion Jardin Botanico (Botanical Garden) and the English Cemetery. Here, Lion statues welcome you to a walled botanical garden of tombs and graves overlooking the sea. From Swedes to Spanish Americans, more than 1,000 people are buried within the cemetery’s 8,000 square metres, including the remains of 41 castaways of the German frigate Gneissenau which sank in 1900. It was the first Protestant cemetery built in the whole of Spain in 1831, and legend has it that the last person buried here becomes the official guardian of the cemetery to ensure the safety of the souls buried there.
📷 Daniel Mera Fernandez & @alvaroooh
4. Hilltop castles with unreal views
Follow the winding paths lined with Spanish oranges to the top of the Alcazaba fortress and you’ll discover a labyrinth of viewpoints and Moorish archways. It’s just £2 entry or free after 2pm on a Sunday, and you can stroll to the Roman Theatre afterwards. South of the Alcazaba is the just-as-beauts Gibralfaro Castle (Castillo de Gibralfaro). Spend a few hours wandering in the lush gardens of the area and read about the history of the Catholic seige, which was the first conflict where gunpowder was used by both sides.
5. Ahoy! Nature!
The mountainous landscape of Malaga lends itself to 40+ hiking trails – slopes, plains, rivers, Canyons–you name it, Malaga has it. Don your sexiest hiking boots and head to Montes de Malaga National Park, or check out the famous Caminto del Rey path. At 7.7km and 105 metres high, it was once coined one of the world’s scariest hikes. The stone cliffs and turquoise waters of the Gualdalhorce river beaneath are simply awe-inducing.
There are plenty of coastal routes and beaches in Malaga too. Playa de Araña is a quiet spot where you’ll find fishermen catching their dinner, and city beaches Malagueta and Pedregalejo are heavy with beach bars and seafood restaurants.
6. World-class Contemporary Art
Begin your Malaga art fest at the CAC (Centre of Contemporary Art), just minutes away from the central station. You won’t believe this spacious gallery packed with cutting edge art is totally FREE. Legends such as Anish Kapoor and Andy Warhol have graced these pristine white walls, plus lesser-known rising stars like Jia Aili (below). From Spanish sculptures to neon wall art, you’ll find something for everyone here, and there’s even a riverside cocktail terrace to kick back with an Aperol later on. When in Spain…
Further downtown near the Alboran Sea, a futuristic multi-coloured cube sits on the surface with a goldmine of art beneath it. This is the Pompidou Centre, a five year pop up and the first of its kind outside of the iconic French museum. It’s open daily from 9:30am to 8pm except Tuesdays, and exhibitions range from €4-7.
7. The father of all museums
There might be 30 museums in Malaga but you simply cannot pass up the Picasso Museum. Touristy sure, but where better to experience the works of the godfather of modernism and creator of Cubism than his birthplace? The galleries of the Palacio de Buenavista are packed with eight decades of Pablo’s oeuvre – intimate portraits, cubist classics, posters and sculptures. After seeing all those masterpieces you may want to wind down in the courtyard with a coffee or purchase a memento in the two gift shops.
8. Mysterious churches and crypts
Sticking with things to do in Malaga that have an exotic goth vibe, make sure to visit the Crypt of Santa Maria in a 17th century Basilica. The decor is intense with black and white baroque from floor to ceiling and skeletons playing the drums on their altars. The Crypt was originally built for Condes de Buenavista to house their family vault, because a more noble family took the last burial space at the altar…#awkward. You can visit from 10am–1pm, Monday to Saturday.
Next, head to the Malaga Cathedral, an opulent focal point of the city, and conveniently located next to the Alcazaba. It was built between 1528 and 1782, but never completed due to lack of funds. It is also named La Manquita – the “one armed lady” – the cathedral whose phantom second tower was never built.
9. This creepy AF abandoned house
Cortijo Jurado is just a short drive from the city centre and totally abandoned. It was built by the Heredia family in 1900s and rumours of rape, murder and libertine happenings quickly spread through the town, giving the home an evil reputation. It is said that the victim’s bodies are buried at the mansion, and you can hear their sobs and moans at night. Chills!
📷 Francisco Salido Ruiz
10. And let’s not forget the incredible hostels…
This sociable hostel is just around the corner from the CAC and in the middle of the bohemian Soho district. With a spacious lounge, paella nights, and free top ups of sangria, you’ll be singing praises like this customer: “This is one of the best hostels I have ever stated at! The energy, the vibe, the music, the people. All I can say is AMAZING!”
- Rating: 9.0
- Dorms: £13/night
- Private: £54/night
Looking for comfort, fun and a good night’s sleep? It’s all about bringing people together in Lights Out, with perks being dinners every night on the roof terrace and Nutella for breakfast!
- Rating: 9.2
- Dorms: £16/night
- Private: £75/night
“Amazing place! The terrace is wonderful and everything is very modern and fresh.” This renovated 100+ year old house clearly has a certain charm for you travellers. It is within short walking distance of Malagueta beach, Museo Picasso, the Alcazaba and yeah….basically everything.
- Rating: 8.9
- Dorms: £20/night
- Provate £41/night
A hostel with a luxurious twist! Prosecco o’clock happens at dusk on the rooftop with their bar and restaurant (Batik), the perfect indulgence before heading out into Malaga’s historic centre. The 9.5 location rating means you’re within walking distance of many bars and La Malagueta beach.
- Rating: 9.1
- Dorms: £13/night
- Private: £62/night
Hopefully we have covered what to do in Malaga, but if you want more info read about the best places to visit in Spain here.