While visiting Malaga, it is hard to figure out why it’s not usually mentioned alongside Barcelona, Madrid and a handful of other prominent Spanish destinations. I found it every bit as charming as any standard Mediterranean getaway, but with a fascinating blend of beauty and history that set it apart.
It’s fair to say the city isn’t quite the party or nightlife destination that Barcelona or Madrid is known to be. But for pure relaxation, I couldn’t imagine a better place to visit. Here are a few of the most important things I’d point out to anyone traveling to the area.
For starters, the food scene in Malaga absolutely lives up to the standards of Spain. Generally the entire country is known for tapas, fresh seafood, and top quality wines. And in Malaga, you’ll find some of the best of all of these features. As a little bit of a travel foodie, I researched the food scene in Malaga before visiting and found out that it actually hasn’t been a noteworthy destination for dining for very long.
We recommend reading this article, which has a pretty fascinating write-up that can give you an idea of how the culinary scene emerged in Malaga, as well as what it entails now. But to summarize, the Andalucian region of Spain has somehow, for years, supplied some of the best ingredients in the world (goat cheese, olive oil, fresh fish, wine grapes, etc.) without actually developing its own restaurant reputation. In recent years, local chefs have made greater efforts to showcase the food, and the results are delicious.
As far as Malaga itself, I can’t stress enough that it shouldn’t be thought of purely as a city destination. Yes, it has a certain urban component and there’s plenty to see in the city itself; but it’s best to think of Malaga as a region, rather than just a city.
For a lot of people, one of the best parts of visiting the area is to explore the hilly hiking trails outside the city limits, including El Caminito del Ray, which Hiking Lady labeled as the single scariest hike in the world. If you’re like me and prefer hiking without a death wish though, a walk through the Montes de Malaga National Park is pretty serene.
The beaches nearby also make Malaga particularly inviting. Spain has more than its fair share of incredible beaches, particularly in the Canary Islands. The beaches on Fuerteventura and Tenerife are legendary. However, the distance to the islands makes it impractical for a shorter getaway. Thankfully, there’s Malaga and the Costa del Sol.
There are a lot of Mediterranean destinations at which the beauty of the sea is kind of a tease. For example, if you’ve ever been to Athens or Monte Carlo, it almost seems hard to find a place to lay out on the beach or swim. I’m by no means suggesting such places can’t be found, but I’d still argue it’s a little easier in and around Malaga.
Almost any guide to Malaga recommends visitors go ahead and rent a car (despite parts of the city being pretty walkable) in order to have easier access to Costa del Sol beaches just a few miles away, and I’d second the tip. The city does have its share of bus tours and routes to various beaches, but a car gives you the key to the beaches! I’d first direct you toward La Cala del Moral – maybe the best beach in the area, and only about nine miles away from downtown Malaga.
Finally, I have to point out some of the incredible artistic appeal of Malaga. Most every major European city has its share of interesting (or often ancient) architecture, as well as a collection of popular museums. But I found Malaga to have unique appeal in these areas. For museum visits, the highlight is the Pablo Picasso Museum, which houses a huge collection of the iconic artist’s original works, largely due to the fact that Picasso was actually born in Malaga.
But even better than what you can find in a museum is what you can see around the city. There’s a Roman-style theater in the center of the city, a beautiful cathedral, and best of all, the Alcazaba—an 11th-century fortress left over from the Hammudid Muslim dynasty and various medieval Spanish and Roman occupations. You can actually taking hiking trails around the Alcazaba ruin, which I highly recommend.
All things considered, I’d have to rank Malaga, Spain among my favorite European destinations. If you’re looking for nightlife, massive crowds, and a true big city, you’d be better off looking elsewhere. But for an accessible Mediterranean destination built for relaxation, it’s definitely an option to keep in mind!