Calle Marques de Larios is the gateway to the modern yet still typically Andalusian old town centre, one of Malaga’s coolest and most intriguing barrios. The street itself is wide and magnificent, and feels more like a Parisian boulevard than anything else you are likely to encounter in Andalusia, where even main streets can feel narrow and overshadowed. Lined with designer shops and smart cafes and tapas restaurants, it leads up from the port area to old Málaga’s biggest square, Plaza de la Constitución. Off this bright and spacious square, which is frequently used for concerts and shows, Calle Granada weaves through the lively plazas of the old town, all of them great places to stop for a drink and a bite to eat. This area of Malaga is also home to the city’s key monuments, most notably the Moorish Alcazaba fortress, Gibralfaro castle, the stunning Roman ampitheatre and the cathedral.
To the northeast of the old town centre is Malaga’s trendiest quarter, La Merced. The barrio takes its name from the lively Plaza de la Merced, where Pablo Picasso was born in 1881; this square is 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 as you enjoy your tapas, too. Just off the square is the city’s coolest covered market, Mercado de la Merced, where you can enjoy cuisine from all over the world as well as buying some of the freshest meat, fruit and veg available in the city. Venturing off Plaza Merced itself, the streets surrounding the square are a hedonist’s playground: Calle Alamo is lined with super-trendy bars and clubs and gives way to the equally popular Calle Carreteria, on which you’ll find La Tranca, the tapas joint of choice for La Merced’s locals. Pop in and you’ll see why.
Just off the port, bordered by Alameda Principal to the north and the Guadalmedina River to the west, is a now-neglected quarter of Málaga that 50 or so years ago was a desirable residential area. Yet nowadays, Malaga’s Soho is home to one of the most exciting street art scenes in Andalusia. As part of the initiative known as Málaga Arte Urbano Soho (MAUS), some of the world’s leading graffiti artists have enlivened this barrio’s crumbling facades with amazing spray-paint images. Though there is a map of the works’ locations available on the MAUS website, it’s more fun just to walk around, discovering the wonderful murals as you go. And owing to the relative obscurity of Soho for the majority of tourists (who flock to the city’s more obvious attractions and neighbourhoods), you won’t find many other visitors walking around here, which only makes it feel like more of an adventure.
Like Soho, the charm of wandering around Perchel is owed to the fact that it’s only visited by the most curious of tourists. This scruffy and utterly charming barrio is situated between the Guadalmedina river to the east and the Maria Zambrano train station to the west and is one of Malaga’s oldest neighbourhoods. It’s hard to believe that Perchel is in the same city as the smart, sophisticated old town, but for that reason it gives you a true taste of what life was like before Malaga became a major tourist destination. It was – and still is – a working-class neighbourhood, many locals earned their living from the ocean on their doorstep; indeed, the barrio takes its name from perchas – the hooks on which fishermen would hang their catches to dry. Nowadays it’s still the place to head for the freshest fish in the city, sold from stalls at the wonderful Mercado del Carmen.
The high-rise apartment blocks that surround Malaga’s historic bullring are the most modern additions to La Malagueta, an upmarket barrio whose residents literally have the Mediterranean on their doorstep. La Malagueta beach, which runs along the southern length of the neighbourhood to Malaga’s great port, is the most popular stretch of sand in the city and is this quarter’s key attraction. On its western side, leading up to the historic city centre, is the relatively new Paseo del Muelle Uno, a lovely promenade lined with bars and restaurants from which you can watch the huge cruise liners coming and going. La Malagueta also boasts the city’s bullring (which bears the same name as the barrio) – an important arena which stages several bullfights every August during the city’s annual feria.