Malaga is the epicenter of Spain's Costa del Sol, the beach region along the southern coast named for its perpetually sunny weather. Tourists from all around Spain, Europe, and the world flock to this prime beach destination along the azure waters of the Mediterranean, especially during the summer to escape the scorching temperatures with Malaga's refreshing ocean breeze. Malaga dates back to ancient times, and the city's rich history and culture round out a trip otherwise spent eating fresh seafood on the beach.
Malaga is one of Spain's best-connected cities, with a high-speed train route directly to Madrid that gets you from city center to city center in under three hours. The plane ride is even faster—before you take into account arriving at the airport and checking in—and is often cheaper than the train as well. For the most economic transport, even same-day bus tickets shouldn't set you back more than $20. If you want to explore the white-painted coastal towns peppered along the Costa del Sol, rent your own car to explore around Malaga.
How to Get from Madrid to Malaga
- Train: 2 hours, 30 minutes, from $33
- Flight: 1 hour, 15 minutes, from $28
- Bus: 6 hours, from $17
- Car: 5 hours, 330 miles (530 kilometers)
Touted as the most comfortable and convenient way to travel across Spain, the high-speed AVE train brings you from Madrid's Atocha Station to Maria Zambrano Station in downtown Malaga. The trip takes less than three hours and both stations are centrally located in their respective cities, so getting to and from your train is a cinch. Trains have reclinable seats, cafeteria cars, and Wi-Fi available, plenty to keep you happily accommodated on your short journey.
The only snag about using the train is its cost. Tickets start around $33 when they are first released but quickly shoot up in price as the date gets closer, possibly costing over $100 for high-demand times. Spain's national rail service normally opens up train schedules 90 days in advance, so make your reservation as soon as you know your travel plans to avoid paying a premium on this otherwise trouble-free transport.
Flying from Madrid to Malaga takes a little over an hour, making it the fastest way to get between the two cities. Of course, the speediness of the short flight is significantly hindered when you add in travel time to the airport, checking in baggage, going through security, and waiting at your gate. Taking into account all of the hassles that come with flight travel, the train ends up being just as fast—if not faster—as traveling by plane. For example, taking the subway from Madrid's city center to the airport takes up to an hour. Add on an additional 30 minutes for travel from Malaga's airport to downtown on public transit.
However, flights can often be cheaper than the train. Prices soar during holiday times and the busy summer season, but if you're flexible with your travel dates and times it's usually possible to find amazing deals. While last-minute flights also jump up in price, don't discount them when you're looking for ways to make a quick escape to Malaga; you can often find short-notice plane tickets for a fraction of the price of the train.
Whether you're a budget traveler or just a spontaneous traveler who hasn't planned ahead, the most affordable option for moving around is always the bus. Tickets start at $17 when you purchase on Interbus, and you can usually find tickets at that price even when you purchase them at the station for travel on the same day. The buses are comfortable, but the six-hour travel time is not ideal when compared to the speediness of plane or train travel. Buses depart all throughout the day, but make the most of your trip by booking an early morning trip that gets you to Malaga by lunchtime or even an overnight bus.
Buses in Madrid depart from the Mendez Alvaro bus station in the south of the city, easily accessible via the metro. Passengers are dropped off in Malaga right next to the city's train station, conveniently located downtown and with easy connections to the rest of Malaga.
Renting a car and driving to Malaga likely isn't the fastest or cheapest way to get there, but it's potentially the most fun and gives you the freedom to explore the entire region of Andalusia. If you're traveling with a family or group of friends, then the shared costs that come with a car—such as gasoline and tolls—begin to balance out with individually-priced tickets for other modes of transportation. Most cars in Spain are stick shifts, so if you only know how to drive an automatic, expect to pay more for the rental.
The best part of driving is being able to stop and explore along the way. Cordoba and Granada are two cities between Madrid and Malaga that are especially worth visiting, and you'll have to drive through one or the other along your route. Cordoba is a city full of charm, most famous for its superbly maintained mosque from the Moorish era. If you take the more eastern route down to Malaga, you'll drive right by Granada, a beautiful city tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountains and guarded over by the remarkable Alhambra building.
The exploring doesn't stop once you arrive in Malaga, which is the region's largest city but not the only one worth visiting. The Costa del Sol is known for its picturesque white-washed villages that line the Mediterranean coast and any one of them would make for an excellent day trip or intimate getaway from city life in Malaga. Nearby towns that are popular with tourists include Torremolinos, Mijas, and Marbella.
What to See in Malaga
The biggest draw to Malaga is, without a doubt, the beach. While the rest of southern Spain is baking in the summer months, the coastal climate around Malaga protects it from the unbearable heat afflicting its neighbors. Apart from the beach, Malaga is also a historical and cultural treasure. It's one of the oldest inhabited cities in all of Europe, and you can still find relics from all chapters of its far-reaching history of nearly 3,000 years. The city has 28 museums to visit when you need a break from the beach, including the Centre Pompidou Malaga and a museum dedicated to the works of Pablo Picasso, who was born in Malaga.