When you hear "Malaga," what's the first thing that comes to mind?
You might be thinking of the beach. And while the Costa del Sol capital is definitely within reach of some of Europe's best beaches, there's a lot more to Malaga than surf and sand.
Settled first by the Phoenicians and then the Romans, Visigoths, Moors and finally the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, Malaga's history is one of the most diverse and fascinating in all of Spain. These iconic civilizations have left their mark on the city's architecture and culture, making Malaga an absolute must on any Andalusia itinerary.
If that all sounds like your cup of tea (or glass of Malaga wine), you're ready to start exploring. Here are just a few of our favorite things to do in Malaga to start you off.
Step Back in Time at the Roman Theater
Start your Malaga adventure by walking in the footsteps of one of the most iconic civilizations to ever rule the city: the Ancient Romans.
As the oldest surviving monument in Malaga proper, the Roman amphitheater was built in the first century AD and used for more than 200 years. Some of its stones and columns were later taken to be used in the Alcazaba on the hill overlooking the Roman theater.
The theater is free to visit and located on Calle Alcazabilla right in the city center. To learn even more and gain a deeper understanding for this fascinating gem, check out the Interpretation Center right next door.
Continue Exploring History at the Alcazaba
Keep moving through history as you make your way up the hill to the palatial fortress known as the Alcazaba.
Built by Moorish rulers in the 11th century AD, the structure remains one of the most important examples of Muslim architecture in Spain today. You could easily spend hours getting lost in its myriad rooms and courtyards, or marveling at the views of the city and the harbor as you make your way higher and higher up.
Be sure to get a combined ticket for both the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro Castle. You won't want to miss either of these two historic gems.
Check Out the Views from Gibralfaro Castle
Even higher up on the hill than its counterpart the Alcazaba, the Moorish-era Gibralfaro Castle is easily the best place in Malaga for a breathtaking view.
While you can buy a joint ticket to visit the two monuments, they aren't connected. To get to the 14th-century castle, you can either take the bus (line 35 from the Paseo del Parque stop) or walk. It's quite steep, but there are plenty of views to marvel at along the way if you need to stop for a quick break.
Walk in Picasso's Footsteps
Everyone knows Pablo Picasso as one of the most iconic artists of the 20th century, but did you know he actually hails from Malaga?
Whether you're into art, history, or just want to walk in the footsteps of a legend, a self-guided Picasso tour through Malaga is a must. Start with a visit to the home where he was born—today a small museum housing some of the family's old belongings—in Plaza de la Merced.
Before you leave the plaza, be sure to say hola to the great man himself—or in any case, the statue of him that sits on a bench. It's said that if you rub the statue's head, Picasso's creativity will rub off on you!
Finally, make your way to the Malaga Picasso Museum. The permanent collection here showcases some of the most important works from Picasso's formative years.
Try the Local Wine
With a winemaking tradition dating back nearly three millennia to the time of the Phoenicians, it's safe to say that the vino love runs deep in Malaga.
The area is home to two of Spain's prestigious denominación de origen wine regions. The first, D.O. Málaga, is the region's signature ebony sweet wine. There's no better place to try it than Antigua Casa de Guardia, the oldest wine bar in the city, where they serve it straight from the barrel.
The second of Malaga's major wine-producing regions is D.O. Sierras de Málaga. These are your more classic reds and whites. Light in body and easy to drink, they encapsulate the sunny spirit of the city in every sip.
Hit the Beach in Pedregalejo
Let's face it: weather permitting, you can't spend time in Malaga and not visit the beach.
Beaches in Malaga are a dime a dozen, and some of them, such as La Malagueta and La Caleta, are within walking distance of the city center. But for a more authentic experience (read: a beach that's not overrun by tourists), go a little further afield. The quaint, old-school fishing village of Pedregalejo, home to Las Acacias Beach, is a much more charming alternative. Take bus line 3, 11, or 34 from the city center, or rent a bike and cycle out to the beach.
Try Espetos, Malaga's Signature Tapa
Of course, no trip to a Costa del Sol beach would be complete without trying the regional specialty, espetos.
There's not much to espetos, really, and that's what makes them so great. They're simply skewers are sardines that are barbecued to perfection over a grill fashioned out of an old fishing boat. The only seasoning they need is a bit of sea salt, though some people also prefer to give them a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Order a refreshing glass of white wine to wash it all down, and you've got all the makings of a perfect beachside meal.
Most locals agree that the best espetos in Malaga are found out in Pedregalejo. Try them at a typical beachside bar like El Cabra or Miguelito el Cariñoso.
Marvel at the Malaga Cathedral
Malaga's stunning Holy Cathedral of the Incarnation is easily one of the most unique churches of its kind in Spain.
Locals affectionately call the cathedral la manquita ("the one-armed woman") thanks to its single tower (two were originally planned). Step inside and you'll be struck breathless by its fascinating mix of Renaissance and Baroque styles with a touch of Gothic influence.
Prices for the cathedral run around 6 euros for general admission, though youth and senior discounts are also available.
Stroll Along Muelle Uno
For a few thousand years, Malaga's port was exactly that: a port—nothing particularly attractive or interesting.
That all changed in 2011, when the rejuvenated port area opened to the public. Known as Muelle Uno ("Quay One"), it's now a sleek shopping and dining destination right on the waterfront. What better spot to take a stroll and grab some ice cream on a sunny day?
Discover Art in the SoHo Neighborhood
Malagueños are obviously pretty proud of the fact that they share a hometown with Picasso, but the local art tradition doesn't end there.
For those looking to explore some of Malaga's contemporary art scene, the SoHo neighborhood is calling your name. This onetime no-go area has been brightened up with street art and colorful storefronts housing locally owned small businesses. It's also the home of the Contemporary Art Center, a must-visit if you're looking for a gallery experience.