13+ Brilliant Things to do in Malaga, Spain (Tips from a Local Expat)

Are you wondering what are the best things to do in Malaga?

That’s probably the first thing many of us do when planning a trip to this Andalusian city.

Many guides have been written on this topic, but this one will aim to show you the highlights from a perspective of a local expat, not a holidaymaker who spent 5 days in the city following the same routes all other tourists take.

Malaga is very close to where I live so I visit regularly, and each time try to discover something new and wander off the beaten path.

This guide is a summary of what I’ve found over the last two years of exploring Malaga.

Best Things to do in Malaga

This is by no means an exhaustive list of Malaga has to offer, but more of a sample of the best activities you might enjoy on your trip.

The list is regularly updated and reviewed, so you can be sure never to miss a local gem or activity to enjoy.

Dive in and get inspired!

1. Cultural Heritage: Picasso Museum

Malaga is the birthplace of Picasso and it’s only appropriate that he has a museum dedicated to his life’s work. In addition to the museum, you can visit also the house where he was born, but from what I’ve read it’s not very informative or educational, compared to the museum.

The museum is located close to the cathedral and tends to be quite popular especially in the summer (expect to spend some time queuing up if you didn’t get tickets in advance). It holds 44 paintings, 49 drawings and 40 different graphic works, together with a limited selection of sculptures.

There are small information boards next to each artwork, and a few photographs from Picasso’s life.

While the artworks themselves are pretty impressive, I was hoping the museum will offer a bit more insight into his personal life, in addition to focusing on his professional work, but that’s not the case. I didn’t take the audio guide, perhaps that tells you more about his life in general.

The museum is very spacious and hosted in a gorgeous old building, and even if you are not a huge fan of art, it’s such an important part of Malaga’s cultural heritage that it shouldn’t be missed.

READ MORE: Full blog post from Picasso Museum in Malaga

Picasso Museum Essential Information

Tickets: The entry to the museum is 9 euro and you can also get guided tours or just use an audio guide. you can book your tickets in advance

2. A Catamaran Cruise from Muelle Uno

There are a few companies in Muelle Uno that allow you to book different boat trips in and around Malaga.

They offer sunset cruises, dolphin watching cruises, 60 minutes cruises or catamaran cruises. You should check these in advance as they usually run on a set schedule and there might be a long waiting time if you just walk in.

I took the 60-minute catamaran cruise in September (pictures below), on a lovely summer day with a calm sea and we even saw some dolphins and baby dolphins (the guide said that we were very lucky, as in September they’re normally not anywhere around this area).

The second time I took the same cruise was on a glorious sunny day, but a bit windy with some waves.

It turns out even small waves can make the catamaran trip a very unpleasant experience and you’re just praying for the boat to turn around and go back. Lessons learned – only venture on the boat in very good weather.

One thing that’s still on my to-do list is a sunset cruise – will report back here once I checked that one.

Companies offering boat trips in Malaga port

  • Fly Blue – this is the company I used, their tickets start from 10 euros per person. For the 60 minute catamaran cruise we paid around 12 euros, might be more expensive in high season.
  • Catamaran Mundo Marina – offering sunset cruises and bay cruises
  • Sail and Fun Experiences – they also do nautical training, parties & celebrations
  • Boat charter – if you are an adventurer, try a yacht charter and explore undiscovered beauties around this city in the autonomous community of Andalusia

3. Visit Alcazaba

Probably the number one attraction with the Gibralfaro Castle, Alcazaba is an old fortress that became synonymous with the city.

It used to be connected to the Gibralfaro castle but now there are just ruins remaining from the old walls.

Alcazaba was built between 1057 and 1063, and since 1279 it was part of the Nasrid Kingdom. It has undergone a number of transformations and upgrades and has some structural similarities to the architecture you would see in the Alhambra Palace – although certainly not as impressive.

The fortress is accessible from the old town, next to the Roman Amphitheater ruins and it gets very busy most of the year. As far as I could see, you cannot buy tickets in advance online and they can be purchased from one of the ticket machines by the entrance.

READ MORE: Full blog post about Visiting Alcazaba

Alcazaba Visit Essential Information

Opening times: Summer hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and winter hours from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. It’s closed on bank holidays.

Tickets: The tickets to Alcazaba cost 3.50 euros per person (reduced rates available). If you want a combined ticket to also see the Gibralfaro Castle, the ticket costs 5.50 euros.

Bonus tip: if you visit on Sunday after 2 pm, you get free entrance. There is a lovely cafe up the hill on the right side when you get in, from where you get some of the best views while you can enjoy a cold drink. Toilets are also located next to the cafe.

4. Visit Gibralfaro Castle

If you want to continue your visit from Alcazaba, the Gibralfaro Castle is the next obvious choice – you can get the combined ticket and just continue walking up the hill to see the castle itself.

The climb to the castle is partly shaded by trees, but in the summer months it can be quite a challenge, so make sure you have water with you.

Unlike the Alcazaba, the castle is pretty basic as it served mainly as a defence structure.

It consists of outer walls with build-in walkways, and a central courtyard where you will find a small building with a museum.

Just behind the museum is a small cafe where you can get some simple food (sandwiches, pasta, small tapas) – this was one of my favourite places in the castle. You can sit down and watch the tourists stroll past, and the squirrels chase each other on the roof of the cafe.

The castle has even better views of Malaga and the coastline than the Alcazaba, and if you time your visit for the sunset or later afternoon hours, you get some pretty amazing photos too!

READ MORE: See full blog post from Gibralfaro Castle

Gibralfaro Castle Visit Information

Ticket prices: 3.50 euros for adults, students, kids & retired: 1.50 euros. The combined ticket for Castillo + Alcazaba costs 5.50 euros.

There are self-service ticket booths by the entrance to the castle, where a friendly lady helps you to purchase your tickets. The languages available are English, Spanish and German.

Practical tips: It may be obvious, but I will state it anyway – comfortable shoes are a must to climb the stairs and navigate the cobbled paths. If visiting in summer, make sure you take water with you and a hat to shelter from the summer heat.

5. Shopping at Calle Marques de Larios

If you’re in the mood for a bit of shopping, one place you can’t miss is Calle Larios.

This long pedestrian promenade with shops lining both sides is one of the most popular places for shopping in Malaga.

On the last weekend of November, the street is decorated with spectacular Christmas lights and turning on the lights is an event in its own right.

The street is pretty long and wide, but it does get very busy over the weekends.

It spills into the small alleyways of the old town where you will find gorgeous cafes, tapas bars and local restaurants.

Location:

6. Visit the Roman Amphitheater

Right under the entrance to the Alcazaba, you will see the ruins of the Roman Theater.

I haven’t paid a visit yet as you can see the whole structure from the Alcazaba entrance, and also from the small pedestrian plaza next to it.

Next to the ruins on the left side is an Interpretation Centre, where you get a chance to experience the history of the building through the use of modern technology.

The ruins were only discovered in 1951 as they lay hidden under the Cultural Building of Malaga. The amphitheatre is thought to have been built at the time of Augustus, at 1 AD.

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7. Stroll through Malaga Park

Dating back to 1897, Malaga park is a piece of a green oasis just outside of the old town.

It’s not just a park, but it also contains a botanical garden and an outdoor amphitheatre. It has three promenades, each 800 meters long and runs alongside the Guadiaro Pier (which connects to Muelle Uno).

I have fond memories of this place as it’s where I watched Flamenco for the first time when I visited Spain over 10 years ago.

The park does not have any cafes or other establishments, but it’s a very pleasant place to explore, especially if you’re visiting with kids. There are benches where you can sit and rest, and enjoy a break from the scorching heat in the summer

Location:

8. Explore Modern Art at Centre Pompidou

If you’re in a mood for a bit of culture, head to the multi-coloured cube at Muelle Uno – it’s the home of Center Pompidou.

This modern art museum is an extension of its more famous sister in Paris and was supposed to have been only a temporary project that has been extended for a number of years.

If you’ve visited the Picasso Museum earlier, you will find this one much less impressive in terms of the number of works exhibited, but they do have some nice gems like the work of Miro.

I personally found it fairly limited in terms of the exhibitions, the space looked almost empty and most of the work I didn’t find very inspiring. Perhaps the most exciting part was the gift shop with a very cool selection of art books and other gifts.

Centre Pompidou Visitor Information

Opening Hours: every day except Tuesdays, from 9.30 am to 8 pm.

Tickets: the combined ticket is 9 euros for adults, cheaper tickets are available for temporary exhibitions. Free entry is available every Sunday from 4 pm until closing time. You can get your tickets online here.

9. Shop for Souvenirs

If you’re planning to take home some souvenirs, there are a few places you can look at – Calle Larios is one of them, but they also have lots of souvenir shops in the old town – these mostly contain magnets, cups, T-shirts and some other items.

One of the cooler places to find souvenirs is the place I will mention in detail below, the Paco Jose store, where you have a better selection of food gifts – they have gorgeous vintage-inspired chocolate tins, organic chocolates, a selection of candy and lots of other cool food items.

Alternatively, a good place to look is also the main municipal market where you can find some hidden gems from the local produce.

10. Taste of Malaga: Local Tapas

It would be a sin to visit Malaga and not taste some of the local cuisines.

Tapas dining is an establishment in Southern Spain and something you will get used to very quickly – locals nibble all day long, till late hours of the night.

Tapas varieties are different from place to place, but there are a few staples you will find almost everywhere, which I listed below.

As a non-meat eater, choosing from tapas can be a bit of a struggle, and if you’re a vegan it will be even more challenging – having said that, Spain is known for amazing quality vegetables and even if you don’t see any veggie options on the menu, they’re normally happy to recommend and make some alternative for you.

Traditional Local Tapas

  • Gambas Pil Pil – prawns cooked in spicy chilli and garlic oil, served with fresh bread or baguette. If you taste them once, you will find yourself asking for them in each restaurant. The quality can vary a lot!
  • Sardines on a Skewer – a local classic especially for the area of Malaga, these are sardines cooked over a fire just outside the restaurant
  • Boquerones – fresh anchovies in vinegar
  • Spanish Omelette – eggs and potatoe omelette, a Spanish classic
  • Jamon – in all shapes and varieties, Spanish people are obsessed about their Jamon. Its usually served on a piece of bread or as a sharing platter.
  • Patatas Bravas – my choice of tapas usually, these fried potatoes are served with a spicy sauce with distinct flavour. The sauce flavour vary from place the place, the best bravas I had were in Casa Blanca in Marbella.

Free Tapas?

There is an old-fashioned tradition of serving free tapas with a drink when you sit down in a restaurant in Spain, unfortunately, this custom doesn’t extend to Costa del Sol. You might get plain bread that lots of restaurants will charge you for (and I’ve been charged also for the use of cutlery & napkins!!!).

If you want to enjoy free tapas, you will have to head to Seville or Granada.

11. Jungle in the City: Botanical Gardens La Conception

Fancy a bit of an escape from the crowds and city life?

La Conception is the place you want to be!

Only a short drive out of Malaga (took about 10mins with a taxi), this historic botanical garden is massive and so lush, you will feel like you’re visiting a private jungle.

If you’re staying in Malaga with kids, they will love this place too – it’s perfect for safely running around and exploring nature, and most importantly – it provides the welcome retreat from the sun in the summer.

READ MORE: Check the full blog post about Botanical Garden La Conception

La Conception Botanical Garden Visitor Information

Opening Times: From 1st April to 30th September 9.30 am to 8.30 pm, from 1st October to 31st March 9.30 am to 5.30 pm.

Entrance fees: 5.20 euros per person, reduced rates available. You can visit the garden for free on Sundays between 1st October & 31st March, between the hours 2 pm and 5.30 pm and between 1st April & 30th September in the hours of 4.30 pm and 8.30 pm.

12. Pacos Jose Pasteleria

My very recent discovery on a day trip to Malaga – this gorgeous old shop is striking from a distance with its vintage-inspired facade and a shop window filled with trinkets.

Wanting to see what was inside, we wandered in to find a wonderland filled with hundreds of types of candy and the old fashioned charm of a traditional shop.

They have a large selection of nuts and chocolate covered nuts, and we ended up going home with 5 bags of these. The shop is also a great place to look for original souvenirs from Malaga, they have vintage-inspired chocolates, cookie tins and much more.

If you’re visiting with kids beware – there is a risk they won’t leave without a meltdown and a full bag of candy!

Location:

13. Enjoy Sunset at the Beach

Malaga has plenty of beaches that will allow you to enjoy a summer holiday at its best.

Best visited at sunset time when most people left back to their hotel, take your own snacks & drinks to hold a private farewell to the sunset!

If you want a better glimpse of the sunset, I recommend booking a sunset cruise from Muelle Uno.

14. Visit the Cathedral

Malaga Cathedral, known under the official name as Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación (Our Lady of Incarnation), is one of the most important landmarks in Malaga.

The cathedral dates back to 1530 and the last finishing touches were added in the 17th century. The cathedral remains incomplete and unfinished to this date, earning it a nickname ‘La Manquita’ (one-armed).

The cathedral offers visits with an audio guide and you can also book a tour of the rooftops to enjoy the stunning views of Malaga.

READ MORE: Check the full blog post from Malaga Cathedral

Malaga Cathedral Visitor Information

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10 am to 6 pm, Sunday 2 pm to 6 pm

Practical tips: no flash photography allowed, also no selfie sticks. The tour of the roof may be cancelled without prior notice due to weather, and it is recommended only for people who can scale the steps without any issues. If you’re wearing heels it might not be the best idea to try to climb the tower.

Entrance fees: general admission is 6 euros, tickets that include a tour of the roof are 10 euros. You can also visit the cathedral at night, the tickets cost 10 euros. Tickets can be bought on the spot by the entrance, or online on their website.

Free entrance: there is a free entrance to the cathedral from Monday to Thursday, from 9 am to 10 am.

15. Wander in the Streets of the Old Town

Get lost in the streets of the old town and explore cute narrow streets filled with tapas bars, old tavernas and gorgeous historic buildings.

The old town is very easy to walk around and almost impossible to get lost!

Some of the prettiest locations in Malaga old town include:

  • Plaza del Obispo – small plaza right next to the cathedral with charming restaurants and the best views of the cathedral
  • Calle Molina Lario
  • Calle Alcazabilla – with glass pyramid, view of Alcazaba, the Roman Amphitheater and Park of Manuel Atentia Garcia
  • Plaza de la Mercedes – one of the main plazas of the city, especially beautiful in spring with blooming wisteria trees

16. Eat at a Michellin Star Restaurant

Still on my to-do lists, the Michelin star restaurant in Muelle Uno – Jose Carlos Garcia – will catch your eye with its striking appearance from outside, stunning simplistic design inside and an innovative menu inspired by local flavours.

The restaurant stems from the well established older sister of Cafe de Paris, which was also run by Jose Carlos Garcia.

As expected for such a place, you will have to book a bit in advance to secure a reservation (especially in summer), so if you’re coming for a holiday and don’t want to miss the chance, book your spot very early on.

I can’t wait to visit and report back here!

Jose Carlos Garcia Restaurant Information

Opening times: from Tuesday to Saturday, for lunch and dinner

The menu: set menu with the price of €126.50 (contact them before booking in case of food intolerances or dietary preferences)

Reservations: Book online here

17. Local Wine Tasting

Malaga may be better known for sunshine and beaches than its wines, but it’s certainly an area worth exploring, especially when combined with the local tapas!

The wine production in Malaga is gaining momentum and the local wines are starting to get recognition around the country and the world.

There is a small Wine Museum where you get some wine tasting included in your ticket and you can buy some of the local wines directly in the museum.

Another popular way to experience the local wine is booking a wine & tapas tour in the city, visiting one of the wine cellars, or booking a meal at restaurants specialized in local wine, like the Casa de Vinos la Odisea in the old town.

Some of the local wineries are also located just a short drive out of Malaga, and you can book wine tasting in advance. Few options include:

18. Visit the Local Market

The main Municipal Market in the old town of Malaga is a charming place to visit, especially at the weekend.

The market is divided into a few sections, selling anything from meat, fish, fresh vegetables, nuts and even has a few tapas bars. It’s also a great place to hunt for unique culinary souvenirs.

Locals love to sit just outside the main building and enjoy a quick bite with a drink over the weekend.

Visiting Mercado Central de Atarazanas

Opening times: 8 am to 3 pm, from Monday to Saturday, closed on Sundays

Location: C. Atarazanas, 10, 29005 Málaga

19. Visit Soho Neighbourhood

As you head off from Malaga Centro station, you’re entering the Soho neighbourhood – a modern, artistic and cool part of the city. The neighbourhood stretches from the port north towards Alameda Principal, and it’s very easy to walk around.

This neglected neighbourhood was developed as part of a city-funded project, which aimed to bring tourism and interest back to this area by supporting and funding art projects, which you can now admire on the many buildings in Soho. The project transformed this part of the city into a real-life art gallery.

In addition to the street art, you can admire modern art at the CAC Gallery – the Contemporary Art Centre.

Soho is known for its street art, cool cafes, restaurants and unique shopping options which include comic book stores, concept stores, and lots of independent small boutique brands.

On the first Saturday of each month, there is a Soho market where you can shop for local artisan items and independent brands.

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