Málaga has established itself as Andalusia’s most culturally dynamic and exciting city and, as such, it should be on everyone’s list of places to visit. From its stunning port and beautiful old town to its unrivalled gallery scene and lovely beaches, there is something for everyone in this sophisticated, modern metropolis.
Málaga’s capacious port is the oldest continually operated port in Spain and has undergone a stunning modernisation in recent years with the addition of the ‘Palm Garden of Surprises’. The promenade is now lined with gardens, sculptures and bars with fabulous outside seating areas, making it a lovely space for an early evening stroll or to watch the enormous cruise ships coming and going. At the far end, near Málaga’s historical bullring, the Paseo del Muelle Uno is another lively thoroughfare, packed with bars and restaurants, that leads to the Malagueta beach. No other port in southern Spain has been turned into such a pleasurable place to visit, so put it high up on your itinerary when visiting Málaga.
One of Málaga’s key monuments dates from Andalusia’s period under Arabic rule, from the 8th to the late 15th centuries. The Moorish rulers of southern Spain built the intriguing Alcazaba on the remains of a Roman fort around the middle of the 8th century, and it makes for fascinating couple of hours’ visit. It was extensively rebuilt by the Sultan of Granada in the 11th century and connected up to the nearby Gibralfaro Castle by a Nasrid King in the 14th. Viewed from the port, this understated masterpiece of Moorish architecture blends in effortlessly with the hillside, while inside it a maze of secret courtyards, open-air corridors and battlements command amazing views out to sea and over the rooftops of Málaga.
Málaga’s old town, which surrounds the sleek shopping street of Calle Marques de Larios near the port, combines tradition and modernity in a way quite unlike any other major Andalusian city. The ambience is friendly and inclusive, as you’ll find when you stroll up Calle Granada, the old town’s central thoroughfare. This charming street snakes through squares and in between terraces packed with both Malagueños and tourists enjoying the sun, drinks and tapas. Calle Granada takes you past Málaga’s most famous restaurant, El Pimpi, and brings you out onto the lively and spacious Plaza de la Merced, where Pablo Picasso was born in 1881. This square is also a great place to hang out, packed as it is with bars and restaurants with sun-drenched terraces; the fact that it’s favoured by street performers of all kinds means there’s likely to be live entertainment.
Plaza Merced, Málaga; Pablo Picasso’s birthplace | Encarni Novillo
Málaga has the best gallery scene in southern Spain, so you could quite easily spend a whole weekend here looking at great art. The city’s most famous son, Pablo Picasso, was born on Plaza de la Merced, just a ten-minute walk from Málaga’s most popular gallery, the Museo Picasso. This superbly maintained gallery has a permanent collection of over 200 of the artist’s works, and between 2016 and 2019 it will be showcasing a further 166, some rarely seen in public before. Elsewhere in Málaga, every conceivable style of art is on offer in its dozens of galleries, but another particularly exciting space is the Pompidou Centre, Malaga’s version of the famous Parisian gallery.
One of the new works being displayed by the Picasso Museum over the next three years | Rafael Lobato, courtesy of Picasso Museum
Sitting at the heart of Málaga’s old town is the city’s great cathedral, known locally as ‘La Manquita’ or ‘The One-Armed Woman’, due to its uncompleted second tower. Along with the Moorish Alcazaba fort, this is one of Málaga’s most important monuments and it’s worth setting aside an hour or so to visit it properly. It was built between 1528 and 1782 near to the site of an early Almohad mosque. Original plans for this huge Renaissance and Baroque-style cathedral included two towers, but due to lack of funds the second was never built. Its chief architect was the Burgos-born Diego Siloe, who also designed the cathedrals of Gaudix and Almería, whilst the exquisite choir stalls are the work of Pedro de Mena, pupil of the designer of Granada Cathedral’s impressive facade, Alonso Cano.
Málaga province is home to some of Spain’s most stunning coastline, so a visit to its capital city means you’re never far from a beautiful beach. The city has two stretches of sand just a ten-minute walk from the port area, via the restaurant-packed thoroughfare Paseo del Muelle Uno. La Malagueta is the most popular with the locals, whilst a little further eastwards down the coast is Playa Caleta, known for being one of the cleanest and most well maintained beaches on the south coast. Both are fairly small, but offer great views of the rugged scenery that surrounds Málaga, as well as a range of water sports and cool little chiringuitos for those tired of sunbathing.
Not only is Málaga home to Andalusia’s best art museums, the neglected neighbourhood of Soho has the most exciting street art scene in Andalusia. Forming the initiative known as Malaga Arte Urbano Soho (MAUS), some of the world’s leading graffiti artists have enlivened Soho’s crumbling facades with colourful spray-paint images that completely transform an otherwise uninspiring urban space. There is a map of the works’ exact locations available on the MAUS website, but it’s much more fun to walk around Soho, discovering these wonderful murals as you go: at any moment, something amusing, edgy or downright bizarre is likely to leap out at you from a dilapidated facade.
Street art in Málaga’s Soho district | Encarni Novillo