Málaga is the main city of the Costa del Sol and the capital of the Andalucian province of Málaga with a population approaching 600,000. Despite its importance many of the millions of holidaymakers who pass through Málaga airport each year on their way to and from the Costa resorts never visit the city, which is their loss.
Málaga city and cathedral from the port.
The city is of ancient origin, on a defensive site on the coast with a fertile plain nearby, and there are Phoenician, Roman and Moorish remains. The city then developed into an industrial centre, processing and exporting the produce of Andalucía. Following decline and stagnation in the Franco era, in the last 30 years Málaga has developed from a poor, rundown and overcrowded city, albeit full of character, into a modern city, with an economic focus on new technology, education and tourism. Though redevelopment has destroyed some of the old quarters and the city has sprawled across the surrounding plain, sympathetic renovation of the historic city centre and the port, together with successful promotion of the city as a cruise liner and city break destination, have meant that it is now a major tourist destination in its own right.
The main street and focal point of Málaga is the tree-lined and busy Alameda Principal (usually referred to simply as the Alameda). To the west the Alameda becomes the Avenida de Andalucía and to the east the Paseo del Parque. The main railway and bus stations and the modern shopping centres are on the west side of the city. Beyond the western suburbs are the airport and the Western Costa del Sol (Torremolinos, Benalmádena, Fuengirola, Marbella and other resorts).To the east the main road leads past the city beaches to the fishing village of El Palo and on to the Eastern Costa del Sol and resorts such as Torre del Mar and Nerja. To the south of the Alameda is the port area, rebranded SoHo and becoming trendy. To the north is the historic city centre and the cathedral. From the Alameda, Calle Marqués de Larios (usually shortened to Calle Larios) leads to the square at the heart of the old city, Plaza de la Constitución. Above the city centre are the Moorish Alcazaba fortress and Gibralfaro castle.
Sunset, El Palo beach
GETTING TO MALAGA
The Costa del Sol tourist industry means that there are regular flights to Málaga, many by low-cost airlines, from airports throughout Europe. From the airport there is a suburban (cercanías) train to Malaga, every 20 minutes daily. There are two stations in central Málaga. María Zambrano is the first, and is the main station for all trains from elsewhere in Spain – the cercanías trains call at low level platforms beneath the main station. The second and final station is Málaga Centro Alameda, the station for the historic city centre. From the airport there is also a regular bus service which calls at the bus and train stations, the Alameda and terminates on Paseo del Parque.
From the main Costa del Sol resorts, the cercanías trains also serve Fuengirola, Arroyo de la Miel and Torremolinos. Buses from Benalmádena and Torremolinos terminate at Muelle de Heredia, in the city centre, by the port. Bus services from most other areas terminate at the main bus station, close to María Zambrano railway station. There are bus and coach services to Málaga from throughout Andalucía, from the main cities of Spain and international services.
Plaza de la Constitución
GETTING AROUND MALAGA
The easiest way is to walk as most attractions are within walking distance and the city centre is flat. However, it can be a tiring walk (particularly with baggage and/or in hot weather) to the city centre from the main bus station and María Zambrano train station and a taxi or bus may be necessary. Climbing the hill to the Gibralfaro can be a struggle. Local buses are frequent and almost every route starts from or passes along the Alameda. Bus and metro routes which may be of use to tourists are listed below, in blue text.
Steve at Malagueta beach (who would have guessed), close to the city centre
Bus services. Single fare 1.40€. Transbordo cards for 10 journeys (including transfers within an hour) can be bought from tobacconists and kiosks which bring the price down to 0.84€ per journey.
From María Zambrano to the Alameda – C2
From the Alameda to María Zambrano – 1, 3, 5, 9, 10
The Alameda to and from:
Bus station (estación de autobuses) – 4
El Palo and Pedregalejo – 3, 11
Muelle Uno and the lighthouse (Farola) – 14
Tabacalera museums – 7
Gibralfaro castle – 35 (every 40-50 mins, but much cheaper than the open top bus)
The Tabacalera, home to two museums.
The Metro links El Perchel (next to the bus station and María Zambrano station) with the western suburbs and is due to reach the historic city centre by 2022. The red line runs to the university campus (Universidad) and the main hospital (Clinico). A single fare is 1.35€
For tourists, a hop-on hop-off open top bus runs regularly from the main bus station and María Zambrano railway station and links the main tourist sights. It costs 22 euros for 24 hours and provides an introduction to the city with a commentary in English.
PLACES TO VISIT
The Cathedral – The cathedral (pictured) looks slightly unusual as one of the planned towers was never built. Worth a look round, it is not as grand or ornate as some of the other cathedrals in Andalucía, (which can be too boastful about their riches).
The Alcazaba is a former Moorish palace, much rebuilt and extended over the years. It is linked to the Gibralfaro fortress, used from Moorish times until the Civil War to defend the city. There are excellent views from both sites (and from the walking route between them) over the harbour and the city. At the foot of the Alcazaba hill, near the entrance stairway is the Teatro Romano (Roman Theatre) discovered in 1951, excavated and restored, and now used for outdoor performances.
The Casa Natal de Picasso in the Plaza de la Merced is Picasso’s birthplace and childhood home includes some of his works and rooms furnished in the style of the late nineteenth century.
Much of the port area has cleared of dock facilities and it is possible to walk round to Muelle Uno and the lighthouse (farola), with good views back to the city, the cathedral and the Gibralfaro.
The nineteenth century, wrought iron Mercado Central (central market) has been beautifully restored and is well worth a visit, particularly in the morning when the market is at its busiest.
Málaga has become well known for its art galleries and museums, with many opening in recent years as part of a city council policy to promote culture and attract tourists.
- The Museo Picasso, in C/San Agustin near the cathedral, opened in 2003. There is a permanent exhibition of Picasso’s work and temporary exhibitions by Picasso and other artists. In the basement are Phoenician and Roman remains discovered by archaeologists during the conversion of the building from a 16th century mansion to a museum. See museopicassomalaga.org .
- The Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC), which does what it says, sits by the Rio Guadalmedina riverbed on C/Alemania. cacmalaga.eu .
- The Museo Carmen Thyssen, housed in the sixteenth century Palacio de Villalón on C/Compaňia, opened in 2010 and focuses on Spanish art from old masters through to the late 19th www.carmenthyssenmalaga.org .
- The Centre Pompidou Málaga, centrepompidou-malaga.eu , in El Cubo (the Cube) at Muelle Uno, focusses on 20th century art loaned from the Paris museum
- The Russian Museum, www.coleccionmuseoruso.es , in the old tobacco factory (tabacalera), features Russian art from the XV to the XX century and exhibitions loaned from the parent museum in St. Petersburg. The Ukraine war has resulted in the suspension of the agreement and the Russian works returned. The museum remains open with other exhibitions. June 2022.
- Also in the tabacalera building is the Museo Automovilístico de Málaga, with a collection of 90 classic cars (plus a collection of haute couture fashion and hats!). museoautomovilmalaga.com .
- In 2016 the Museo de Málaga opened in the Palacio de la Aduana, by the Paseo del Parque, with fine art and archaeological collections.
PLACES TO DRINK AND EAT
Málaga is a good place for tapas and, rather than eat restaurant meals, it is more fun to visit several bars trying the tapas in each. It is worth noting that many of the traditional bars and restaurants close between about 1600 and 2000, though you’ll always find somewhere open, and many places in the tourist areas stay open all day. The following are all worth a visit.
- Antigua Casa Guardia. On the north side of the Alameda, a fine old bodega (pictured) with Málaga wines served straight from huge wooden barrels plus seafood tapas. It’s now on the tourist trail, but much of the atmosphere is still there…..not to be missed, and within staggering distance of Málaga Centro station when you emerge into the light.
- Bar Lo Güeno (the bar…not the adjacent restaurant) in C/Marín García is a fine old tapas bar with an excellent range of tapas. Small, and packed from when it opens.
- Orellana. Another fine old tapas bar in C/Moreno Monroy with an interesting range of tapas.
- Donde Carlos tapas bar close to the Mercado Central in Pl. Arriola
Ted, behaving as usual
- El Jardin. An upmarket café and restaurant close to the cathedral in C/Caňón. Open, airy and relaxing place for coffee, cakes, beer, tapas or a meal.
- El Pimpi. Well known and touristy place in C/Granada near to the Picasso Museum, but worth a visit for the décor, prints and ambience.
El Ríncon del Cervecero. Bar with outside tables in a shady street, C/Casas de Campos, close to Muelle de Heredia bus station. Vast selection of bottled beers from around the world, including 53 from Spain (some brewed in Málaga itself) and eight draught taps, mainly featuring Spanish beers. Also in the SoHo area is La Fabrica, C/Trinidad Grund 29, a huge bar of a place where Cruzcampo brew craft beers.
- Birras Deluxe (formerly Cervecería Arte y Sana) on Plaza de la Merced. Another craft beer bar with a vast selection of bottles plus up to 10 beers on draught. A welcome change from fizzy lager, as is Central Beers, nearby at C/Carcer 6.
- The brewery at La Fabrica
- La Mesonera, C/Gómez Pallete. A fine tapas bar by the Teatro de Cervantes.
- Be Happy, C/Capitán 4, lively little side street bar, worth seeking out.
- Colmado, C/Carreteria 93, busy and friendly bar, specialising in vermut (vermouth), as is La Trancha, across the road at C/Carreteria 92.
- La Casa Invisible. Relaxing and peaceful open air bar in a tiny courtyard. Part of a community social centre occupying an old building to prevent unsympathetic development. Access from a tiny lane called C/Arco de la Cabeza. Only a five minute walk from Plaza de la Constitución but a different world. Re-opened in 2021 following attempts by the city council to close it down.
- Casa Aranda. Takes up most of a lane (C/Herreria del Rey) close to the central market. The place to go for churros with coffee or chocolate in the morning or early evening.
There are plenty of other perfectly good places around the city and in the Vialia and Larios shopping centres.
In El Palo and Pedregalejo there are plenty of chiringuitos, bars and restaurants along the seafront selling excellent fresh and fried fish and seafood at very reasonable prices. Most of Málaga heads there on Sunday afternoons.
The main shopping areas are:
- In the historic city centre Calle Larios has major fashion stores and the surrounding streets have a wide range of small, traditional shops.
- Vialia María Zambrano. A shopping and leisure centre built around the main railway station, with a wide selection of fashion stores, a Mercadona supermarket and a large Media Markt for electrical items and computing.
- Close to both the rail and bus stations is the Larios Centre. It includes the Málaga branches of Primark and Dunne’s Stores
- El Corte Inglés is Spain’s prime department store chain, and the huge central Málaga branch is difficult to miss, just across the bridge linking the Alameda to Avenida de Andalucía and on the way to the Larios Centre.
- Muelle Uno. A new line of shops (mainly fashion) and restaurants in the port, designed to part cruise ship passengers from their money.
Málaga celebrates in a big way. Easter week (Semana Santa) sees major processions every night of floats prepared and carried by the various religious brotherhoods to the cathedral. The annual feria takes place in August with activities during the day in the city centre and the action moving to the feria ground in the suburbs at night. The christmas lights in C/Larios, the Alameda and surrounding streets and on the façade of El Corte Inglés are worth seeing. The festive season culminates in the Cabalgata de Los Reyes on 5 January, when the Three Kings distribute presents to kids. Note that buses and local trains run all night during the feria and Semana Santa.
Version 2.4. Text, photos and plan © Copyright Steve Gillon, 2022. Updated January 2022.