Málaga is often considered little more than a gateway airport to the sunny beaches of the Costa del Sol, but there's more to it than that - this is a city that oozes culture, history and Spanish style
Perhaps it’s the architecture (ironwork balconies replete with potted bougainvillea) or the attractive squares lined with palm trees (such as Plaza de la Constitución), or maybe even the suntrap beaches of La Farola and Pedregalejo, but wherever you look, Málaga embodies so much that is Spain. Here are some reasons why you should squeeze in a stop in Málaga on any trip to the region.
Málaga’s fantastic mix of architecture makes the city a visual treat. The Alcazaba was started by the Moors in the 8th century but wasn’t completed until the 11th century. The fortification was built on the foundations of a Roman fort and was home to the city’s governors. The Roman influence is still evident at the entrance, where a 2nd-century amphitheatre has been unearthed. Málaga’s Alcazaba is one of the best preserved in Spain and features double walls and defensive towers, stunning archways and gardens.
For spectacular views over the city, head up from the Alcazaba to the Gibralfaro castle. Back in the city, Málaga’s Ayuntamiento, or town hall, features neo-baroque architecture and faces onto Paseo del Parque, which is full of tropical plants.
Time for coffee
Forget frothy cappuccinos and milky lattés - Málagueños like their coffee with coffee, and it's drunk most heartily at Café Central in Plaza de la Constitución, a family-owned café that dates back to 1895. Freshly ground coffee is served in a glass and customers can choose from a menu of different strengths from solo (black) through to sombra (just a shadow of coffee in your milk). It’s a place to sit and watch the world go by, while served by bow-tie-clad waiters.
Few could argue with Málaga’s claims to artistic renown. The city’s most famous son, Pablo Picasso, was one of the founding fathers of cubism. His birthplace in Plaza de la Merced now houses an exhibition of his works, and the Museo Picasso Málaga (in Calle San Augustín) is one of the city’s most visited attractions. Though Picasso’s influence is obvious, this isn’t where the local art scene ends – Málaga buzzes with creative excitement, and the Centre of Contemporary Art (Calle Alemania) features a host of challenging modern works.
The spectacularly verdant botanical gardens of La Concepción were created in 1857 for an aristocratic family and lie in the city’s outer reaches. More than 800 tropical and subtropical plants, including 100 types of palm tree, thrive in the garde's Mediterranean climate. There are various routes around the garden, all of which offer superb views and amazing shrubs and trees, many of which you’d normally expect to find in the warmer climes further south of Spain.
Shop till you drop
Fashionistas should head to Calle Marques de Larios for the trendiest clothes on the high street, with Mango and Hekai among its stars. But don’t miss great boutiques hidden in the small, winding streets near the cathedral, such as Albero, in Calle Cister. Then head to Avenida de Andalucía for El Corte Inglés, Spain’s favourite department store.
Sweet, sweet wine
A Málagan speciality, sweet wine is served with grace and respect, and nowhere more so than at Antigua de Casa Guardia, in Alameda Principal. It has been serving the best Moscatel and Pedro Ximen wines and sherries since 1840. Shuffling sawdust underfoot at the bar, you can sense its history as you mix wine with raw seafood. As they serve you, waiters chalk up the prices on the bar before you. It’s a place to really mingle with Málagueños, popping in for a lunchtime tipple or early evening shot of the sweet stuff.
The one-armed woman
Málaga’s stunning cathedral, built between 1528 and 1782, is known as La Manquita — the one armed woman — as it’s the only cathedral in the world with one tower. The other tower was never completed, owing to a shortage of funds. But this has not affected its beauty. The interior reflects both baroque and Renaissance styles. Grab a drink at one of the restaurants in Plaza del Obispo, and take in views of the cathedral as the early evening light displays it in all its glory.
Food for thought
Food is an art in Málaga, and the humble cod is king. Tapas are beautifully served in contemporary style at El Pimpi (Calle Granada), La Barra (Calle Bolsa), or in the more rustic setting of Lo Güeno (Calle Marín García). Lo Güeno is a place where you’re more likely to find hard-working locals than tourists, but that’s its charm. Try porra, a type of gazpacho, there, and Málaga salad made with cod, potato, orange and olives.
Dance from the soul
Fiery flamenco courses through the veins of many a Málagueño. It is learned and performed across the city. You can catch shows at the Onda Passadena Jazz Club, next to the Teatro Cervantes, on a Thursday. Alternatively, try Tablao Flamencio Vista Andalucía (Avenida de los Guindos 29) on Tuesdays to Sundays.
Where to stay
A more than comfortable four-star hotel in the centre of town, just perfect for a shopping or cultural break in the city. The hotel also has a rooftop terrace bar with great sunset views of the cathedral.
Hotel Molino Lario
Another great, centrally located hotel, with a swimming pool, garden terrace and top-notch service.
Room Mate Lola
Sexy design and interiors personify this hotel. It’s very cool and service is good, with a free breakfast buffet.
Hotel Silken Puerta Málaga
Another great design hotel with large rooms near Malaga’s port.
Ibis Centro Málaga Ciudad
A cheaper stay in the centre of town, offering wi-fi, a bar and underground parking.