Málaga: Spain’s Sleeping Giant of Tourism

There’s a lot of buzz around Málaga these days. With a newly christened port, a thriving arts scene and enough Spanish charm to bring native son Antonio Banderas back yearly, my neighbor city to the southeast is being touted as one of Spain’s up-and-coming tourist destinations.

Why Visit Malaga

As one of the most interesting destinations in southern Spain and a true Mediterranean getaway, Málaga deserves mention among Spain’s best spots for international travelers. It’s not a bursting metropolis like Madrid or a renowned party spot like Barcelona—but it’s full of the kind of visual delights and general comforts that make the south of Spain a desirable location in the first place.

Perhaps the best thing about Málaga is that it’s situated closer to the sea than most might guess given that it’s a fairly large city. There are actually Mediterranean beaches within the city limits, though most tourists seeking beautiful coastline will likely opt to venture 15 or 20 miles beyond Málaga to some of the truly amazing beaches of Costa del Sol. Visit Costa Del Sol has a comprehensive guide to the beaches of the entire southern Spanish coastline, including options like La Malagueta, La Caleta, and San Andreas—all within very reasonable driving distance of the capital of the Costa.

It’s also worth noting that Málaga is particularly accessible as Mediterranean cities go. The drive from Madrid only takes about five hours (and from Seville, just over two!), and coastal highways make it easy to reach Málaga from just about any Spanish city near the water—or from Portugal, for that matter.

archidona malaga pueblo

The city is also large enough to merit an international airport and sometimes attracts very favorable travel deals from outside of Spain. Getting around is also easy once you’re in the city—a rental car gives you access to all of the beautiful surrounding areas and beaches with ease – as well as mountain towns and activities for outdoor enthusiasts.

But so far we’ve only covered Málaga’s surrounding beaches and how easy it can be to get there. The actually city itself is also filled with interesting perks for tourists. It’s one of the most fascinating visual and architectural areas in the whole country, thanks to its links to Moorish, medieval, and Roman culture. The Alcazaba palatial fortress is absolutely a must-visit attraction, and the Roman theater at city-center is also pretty fascinating. Really, Malaga is an interesting city to just look at, which might be one reason that there are multiple hiking trails in the hills and areas surrounding the city.

a cooking day food collage
And finally, there’s the food! I’ve written about a day of culinary preparation in Malaga, and while that was a great experience, it only touches on the vibrant culinary culture that has sprung up in the city, revolving around all the traditional elements of Spanish cuisine: tapas, fresh fish, olives, citrus fruits and of course, fine Spanish wine!

Sardine month is approaching and I can’t get enough sweet vino de pasas, so between defying death on the Caminito del Rey and the beckon of the beach, I may be finding myself close to home, savoring the city’s renewed experiences for a traveler.

Have you ever been to Málaga? What do you like or recommend visiting in the capital of the Costa del Sol?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. Melanie Murrish says:

    I can’t believe it’s been so long since I visited…..1998!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I had to check with my hubby that I haven’t been in a fast-forwarding time machine. Gosh, I need to rectify this quickly. We were staying in Nerja and we visited Malaga on a local bus; we absolutely loved it and it probably sounds stupid, as we were in Spain, but it was soooo Spanish after Nerja (even though we loved it there too)!

  2. Christine says:

    Ahhhhh, as my heart swoons. I feel in love with Màlaga back in the early 90’s while studying in Madrid and after several vacations, I swore one day I would live there….one of the best decisions of my life. The city is not too small and not too big and despite what most think there is plenty to do. I may be back in the states now but Plan B is in the works. :-) From the center take the #15 or 16 bus and explore west. There some great chiringuitos and playa Misericordia is a pretty decent beach and very local. Go east to El Palo and try El Pimpi Florida (not to confuse it with El Pimpi in the center) for an amazing night with singing, drinking and the best seafood. Warning there is a cue and you have to show up at least an hour before opening and wait but it is so worth it.
    Thanks for posting Cat.

  3. I was really surprised by how much I liked Málaga! My coworkers bash on it all the time, so I had really low expectations when I went this past February. However, parts of the city blew me away! I also went during Carnaval, which was great because the celebrations were in full swing without being as overwhelming and chaotic as Cádiz’s celebrations. I’d really like to go back to Málaga when it’s warm enough to go to the beach… and relish ice cream along their swanky boardwalk multiple times a day 😉
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    • I admit I haven’t been to spend time there in years (seven, to be precise!). A lot has changed, so it’s high time I return!

  4. Mi Malaga querida! My second home. I kinda don’t like all of this buzz these days though; I want to keep it all to myself!

  5. Nedra and I actually studied abroad in Malaga (girl in the comment above mine) at the same time since we both went to the same college for undergrad. We recently saw each other at our college reunion and were laughing that we both read the same Spanish blogs! You forgot to mention the Picasso museum since the city is the birthplace of Picasso, though I don’t think he ended up spending much time there.

    And I lived in El Palo neighborhood and near the paseo maritimo with all the chiringuito bars! I don’t have much nostalgia for the city itself but it was a great introduction to living in Spain for an extended period of time. Somebody mentioned the El Pimp restaurant above, I’ve been there too. :) I guess the city would be up and coming, but the beaches aren’t that great, just okay.
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    • El Pimpi, not El Pimp. Ha!
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    • Cat Gaa says:

      I agree with you on the beaches – I’m far more fond of Cádiz’s beaches between the capital and Tarifa and Huelva’s, which are less windy and the sand is better. I was recently in Málaga for my bachelorette party, and while we didn’t do much exploring, I was surprised at how much the city had changed (for the better). I remember being very ‘meh’ about it o my first visit, but would like to explore more soon!

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