Most people know that there is an airport in Malaga but not much else about this city in the south of Spain. For those with a base in Marbella or Fuengirola, Malaga is the airport they will probably use, although Gibraltar is also another option. It is a real pity when this is all that Malaga is associated with because it has so much more to offer.
Malaga has a character all of its own and it’s a real pleasure to wander round its pedestrianised centre without dodging the traffic. It’s got an enviable blend of architecture, castles and churches along with a modern approach to museums and a vibrant night life. There are many top class restaurants and bars here, including one with a Michelin star, and the roof top terraces should definitely be tried at the end of a busy day’s sightseeing.
Like most parts of Spain it has its own unique identity and traditions. For example, watch out for the distinctive clothes of the biznaga sellers. The biznaga is a floral arrangement comprising dried thistle with fresh jasmine attached to it and it perfumes the streets in the summer months.
Malaga has over 30 museums and in fact, you’ll find a museum for every occasion; cars, fashion, glass, wine and dolls houses. Whatever your passion it’s likely to be reflected in history here. It’s difficult to know where to start or finish when there’s such a rich city to explore. Here we try our best.
The Pompidou centre
You might associate the Pompidou Centre with France rather than Malaga, but this satellite art museum can boast a range of interesting collections too. It’s housed in El Cubo, a cuboid glass structure in Malaga port, almost worth a visit itself.
‘Metamorphosis’ includes the work of Picasso and the ‘Faceless man’, the ‘Body Politic’ and ‘The Body into Pieces’ all have interesting pieces on display. Alongside its collections different exhibitions are housed there over periods of time.
The focus is on twentieth centuries with almost 90 selected works. The collections featured there are renewed regularly. The Pompadou Centre likes to think of itself as being at the centre of a creative community with workshops and training accompanying their exhibits.
This museum, which honours one of Malaga’s most famous children, was opened in 2003. It’s positioned right in the heart of Malaga as befits it being the birth place of the artist. It has 12 exhibition halls that include many of his paintings as well as sketches and ceramics.
You’ll also find close by the Casa Natal or birth place of Picasso and this includes exhibition rooms and displays focussed on Picasso’s life in the city.
The building itself is of interest. If you go to the level below the ground floor you’ll find Roman and Phoenician ruins which were discovered when the building was restored. There’s a surprise around every corner in this city.
The cathedral in Malaga was built between 1528 and 1782 and like many of these buildings it was constructed on the site of a former mosque. An interesting feature of the cathedral is that it was originally planned to be built with two towers. However, the money ran out and one tower was as much as the local area could afford.
The inside of the cathedral is baroque style with 17th century choir stalls made from mahogany and cedar wood. The cathedral also houses forty thousand carved statues of the saints.
The Castle was built around 929 AD by the Caliph of Cordoba. It was built on an old Phoenician lighthouse and its name gebel-faro means rock of the lighthouse in Arabic.
A three-month siege was held there by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella and saw the first use of gunpowder by both sides. The ramparts of the castle remain and have been restored, allowing visitors to walk round them. As you might imagine from a castle, the view is spectacular and includes that of the La Malagueta bullring.
The Glibralfaro castle isn’t the only fortress monument in the city. The Alcazaba is a Moorish fortress overlooking the city and dates from the eighth century. Like other local buildings it was constructed on the ruins of a Roman fortification and was originally a defence against pirates. It is a little reminiscent of the Alhambra in Granada, not as grand but with something of the feel of the place.
The Alcazaba in Malaga is still being restored after the restoration work began in 1933. It is a large building with over 100 towers and three palaces and is worth a day’s visit. On the top of the fortress there are three courtyards to explore and you can enjoy the views from the Torre de Maldonaldo with its original marble columns and balconies.
Malaga might be renowned for its beaches but it does have a surprising number of them offering a whole range of services and facilities. Most of them benefit from being close to bars and restaurants and the two most popular beaches are Malagueta and La Caleta.
La Malagueta is a man-made beach with views of the fishing area. It is the closest to the city centre and located to the east of the port. La Caleta is adjacent to it and is well known for its cleanliness. If you like diving or fishing you might like to visit El Palo and, as you might expect, fish restaurants are in abundance here and well worth sampling.
Malaga’s big wheel
This wheel, opened in September 2015 after a little controversy as to its location. It’s quite a generous size, being 70 metres high with 42 air-conditioned cabins and a ride lasting 15 minutes. Each of the cabins holds eight passengers. The wheel hasn’t always been in Malaga it also featured in the Fallas of Valencia.
When visibility is good it offers panoramic views across Malaga. At night the wheel is lit up and makes quite a stunning sight against the night sky. If you are tempted to have a go it’s open from 11.00 until 24.00 daily and is situated near Malaga Port near the Plaza de Marina.
Soho art district
No, it’s not just London that has its very own Soho. There is in Malaga a Soho district which, like the London version, is vibrant with lots of cafes, galleries and art displays. It is particularly famous for its street art and graffiti and is the centre of a lively cultural and arts agenda.
The area has its own website if you would like to browse through what’s going on there or just have a look at some of the art work on display: SOHO Malaga
On this site you can find information about the street artists themselves and some examples of what they do and where to find them: Malaga's urban street art – MAUS
If you are tempted by a little shopping you might want to try the Muelle Uno which is a modern development next to the promenade. Its position on the water front means that it’s not only a good way of stocking up on your presents for home but you can also enjoy the sight of the luxury boats and yachts that are moored there.
The posh shops in Malaga are located on the Marqués de Larios which is a pedestrianised area boasting all the brands. It’s a good place to browse and window shop if you can’t afford to buy and you can also meander through the alleyways and tiny squares that lead from it.
If you’re looking for little boutiques rather than high street shops then Calle Andres Perez is a good place to start your search. The area has been improved and is now home to a number of small, independent businesses.
Malaga’s Roman theatre
El Teatro Romano is the oldest monument in the city. It was lucky to escape the bombing that Malaga suffered as one of the centres of republican resistance during the civil war. It dates back to the first century BC, being left undisturbed below dirt and rubble for almost five centuries.
It was rediscovered in 1951 and has been under reconstruction ever since. It can never be fully restored, however, as so much of it was used in constructing other buildings such as the Alcazaba. The theatre is open to the public and hosts open-air performances in the summer.
This is just a taster of what’s available in Malaga. If you have the opportunity, it is probably worth several visits to fully appreciate the range of what you can do here. The variety and mix of traditional and modern make Malaga an ideal site for a family holiday, no matter how much time you can invest.