Is Malaga Worth Visiting? 9 Reasons Why, Beaches To Sierras

Is Malaga worth visiting
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Is Malaga worth visiting? Why are you even bothering to ask? This is one of the most-visited tourist towns in Spain. It’s the gateway to the Costa del Sol, arguably the most iconic run of coastline on the planet (soz, Big Sur). And it’s one of the great urban centers of Andalusia, with totemic art and culinary history bursting from its pores.

Let’s put it another way: Malaga is a town that will not disappoint. At least, it won’t disappoint if you like sun-splashed beaches with perfect cinnamon sands, see-through Mediterranean Sea waters, glimpses of priceless art by the likes of Picasso, and old Moorish palaces with grandiose arabesque architecture.

Tempted? We can hardly blame you. But, just to make sure, we thought we’d put together this guide. It answers, ‘is Malaga worth visiting?’ with nine of the top reasons why it 100% is, ranging from the award-winning shoreline of the city to the glorious art and culture that’s in the mix. Let’s get started…

Because it’s easy to get to

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Malaga is now one of the most accessible beach towns in the whole of Spain. That’s largely down to the presence of Malaga Airport – also known as the Costa del Sol Airport (AGP) – just to the southwest of the town center. It’s now officially the fourth busiest airport in the whole of Spain, with three terminals and a yearly passenger count of nearly 20 million people!

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That translates into a whole range of flight options. You can jet in from London on BA but also budget carriers like Ryanair and Wizz. There are links to a huge array of European cities, from Bucharest to Berlin to Bologna. Plus, there are now even some seasonal long-haul connections that link over from the USA and Canada.

And your access options don’t end there. Malaga is linked up to the Spanish high-speed rail network, meaning you can whiz down on 300-mile-per-hour AVE connections from Madrid in just 2.5 hours. And there are regular ferries across the Med to the town from North Africa. Loads of options!

For the Old Town

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Prepare to be enchanted by the Malaga Old Town. This is the ancient and medieval core of the city. It’s where the first blocks of the first buildings were laid way back when Greek settlers started the town sometime in the 8th century BC – yep, that’s more than 2,500 years ago! Malaga is old!

The Old Town stretches all the way from palm-topped Malaga Park on the seafront to the Guadalmedina River. As it goes, it unfolds in a maze of lanes and alleys that shoot this way and that past coffee-clinking plazas and handsome churches. You’ll want to have the camera fully charged. Oh, and set aside plenty of time for people watching from the charming cafés.

There are some sights that you simply cannot miss while touring the Old Town:

  • Alcazaba – On the southeastern side of the Malaga Old Town, this great Moorish citadel is considered to be on of the most magnificent Arabic buildings left in Spain. It’s a must.
  • Iglesia de San Juan Bautista – This grand church has black-and-white monochrome ceilings and a Baroque tower.
  • Cathedral of Málaga – Check out the amazing exterior of this stunning cathedral that dates back to the 1520s.

For the beaches

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It’s no secret that Malaga is the gateway to the Costa del Sol. Now, if that’s conjured images of pristine runs of daffodil-yellow sand backed by dunes and bar-filled promenades, then that’s because it’s precisely what you get here. The region is replete with all sorts of beaches, some of which are considered the very best in Spain…

Cruise east and you can go to laze on Guadalmar Beach, where it’s possible to watch the planes jetting into Malaga Airport. Keep going and the big blooms of royal palms at Playa de los Alamos mark the divide between the lively resort town of Torremolinos and its award-winning bay. Keep going further, some 40 minutes west of Malaga, and you can hit the iconic strands of La Cala de Mijas and Fuengirola.

Feeling lazy? Don’t worry, you don’t have to leave Malaga to get great beaches. The town itself has the fantastic stretch of Playa de la Malagueta. It’s just to the east of the marina, offers sunbeds, volleyball courts, and beach bars, and fronts a vibrant neighborhood where you can catch some nightlife once the evening sets in.

For the mountains

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Malaga is in Andalusia. It’s a region that covers a great swathe of southern Spain and is really defined by two things: The mountains and the sea. The first of those creep super close to city limits. They begin with the lush hills and wooded valleys of the Montes de Málaga park. That spreads nearly 11 miles inland, offering sweeps of scented pine forests and trekking paths that clamber up to miradors.

There’s more in the way of soaring peaks if you cruise east down the highway to the Parque Natural de Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama. That’s a land of gushing waterfalls and craggy limestone ridges. There are some downright fantastic hiking routes, too, like the Rio Verde Trail that reveals emerald pools of water in the forest, or Pico del Cielo, which has lookout points over the Med.

And there’s even more to the west. About 1.5 hours out of Malaga and you can enter the Sierra de Grazalema. The summits there are verdant and open onto wide plateaus covered in olive trees and farms. The gateway to it all is the amazing town of Ronda, which has long been a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage Status.

For the history

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They tell us that Phoenician sailors first established Malaga way back in 770 BC. That’s a whopping 2,700+ years back, making this one of the oldest cities in the whole of Spain – which is saying something! The age tells in the Old Town area, but more so in the Roman ruins that speckle the urban landscape and the surroundings…

Check out the Teatro Romano. It’s a vast remnant of an ancient theatre that carves right through the side of the historic Alcazaba. A small historical exhibit is attached today, including a film that details the history of Roman rule in the region. There are even more Roman-era ruins to be found in nearby Acinipo (a whole city founded by Roman soldiers) and Yacimiento (the remains of a few grand Roman villas).

Much of the rest of the history coalesces around that aforementioned Old Town, where you’ll be able to unravel the story of Arab rule across Andalusia and Malaga Province. The Museo de Málaga – a place that chronicles the history of the town itself – is the perfect place to start with that.

For the food

Market in Malaga
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Is Malaga worth visiting for the food? This is southern Spain! This is Andalusia! Of course Malaga is worth visiting for the food! Welcome to the home of tapas. Rustic, earthy, flavorsome dishes that are served on small plates are the name of the game across the whole Malaga region. And there are plenty of cracking spots to sample the local cuisine in this buzzy town…

Scoot down to the middle of the atmospheric Old Town to find El Pimpi. It’s a celebrated dining spot with a menu that reads baked cod, Iberian hams, and chopped king prawn in potato-mayo salad. Also check out La Taberna del Pintxo Larios on the other side of the neighborhood. There, the chefs specialize in Basque and Catalan staples that have plenty of spice.

On top of the tapas, Malaga also has oodles of cracking seafood. The best place to go for that is the marina area, which is where the boats come in each morning with the catch of the day. Alternatively, you can buy your own goods – including fresh fish – at the Mercado Central de Atarazanas and cook for yourself, but you’ll need accommodation with self-catering facilities.

For the nightlife

Malaga city
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Okay, so Malaga isn’t quite as wild and edgy as some of the other towns on the Costa del Sol (Marbella, we’re looking at you!). However, it’s still got loads of after-dark energy about it. We also love that the city offers a mix of local vibes and visitors, with a touch of student energy thanks to the local University of Malaga.

So, where to go? The Old Town is the obvious choice. That’s got the biggest array of different bars and clubs. Ones that we think are worth a special mention include The Pharmacy, a noir-style speakeasy that summons Chicago circa 1925, and Mojito Bar, an uber-friendly cocktail spot with a Caribbean vibe to it.

Alternative areas to party in Malaga include the Marina – a more family-orientated spot that’s got sushi bars and beer halls – or Playa la Malagueta – home to a buzzy promenade that’s packed with sunset joints. Oh yea, and you can always cruise down the costa to hit resorts like Fuengirola, which get super lively in the summer months.

For the Pueblos Blancos

White villages of Andalusia
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

The pueblos blancosof Andalusia are one of the treasures of the whole southern part of Spain. Translating to “white villages” in English, these do exactly as their name implies: Shimmer a perfect hue of brilliant white on the dusty and rugged hillsides of the sierras all around Malaga.

We’ve already mentioned the beautiful town of Ronda. It’s 1.5 hours’ drive from Malaga through the mountains to the west but is well worth the trip. You’ll get to dine on the side of a craggy gorge between white-painted tapas bars and bullrings. Even closer to Malaga is Mijas, a diamond-shaped village perched on the hills above the beaches of the Costa del Sol.

Then you get the lesser-known pueblos blancos that you might need to venture a little further into Andalusia to discover. They include Casares, with its towering homes, and the rustic village of Gaucin, which is known for its cooking and high-class restaurants.

For the art

Malaga tower
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One of the main draws of Malaga is the rich art scene. We’ve already spoken about the incredible architecture that rises from virtually every corner in the Old Town, from the Moorish castles to the Christian-Gothic cathedrals. Well, that’s backed up by a whole array of museums and some downright edgy urban art displays besides.

First, museums. One stands out from the rest: The Picasso Museum Malaga. That chronicles the groundbreaking painting of the city’s own son, Pablo Picasso. It’s packed with mind-boggling and priceless pieces of art. Across town, the Museo Carmen Thyssen Malaga has pieces by Spanish masters from the 1500s. Then there’s the Malaga Museum, which fuses archaeology finds with fine art from the last seven centuries.

Modern art buffs might prefer to head to the southern side of the town to where the edgy Soho district awaits. That’s become something of a graffiti hub, with well-known urban artists working in conjunction to turn the whole area into a mishmash of murals and installations.

Is Malaga worth visiting? Our verdict

Is Malaga worth visiting? You bet it is! We can only wax lyrical about this lovely town on the eastern edge of the Costa del Sol. Not only is it the gateway to some of the finest stretches of sand in the whole of Spain – nay, Europe – but it’s also packed with rich culture (think paintings by Picasso) and history (it was founded more than 2,700 years ago!). On top of all that, it’s eminently accessible, coming armed with the fourth-largest airport in Spain and plenty of great road and rail links to the capital and the rest of Andalusia. It really is a top choice for your Spanish holiday this year, folks.

How long do I need in Malaga?

You could spend up to a whole week in Malaga and not get bored – the town has a vibrant nightlife scene and a whole string of beaches to laze on. However, we’d probably say it’s worth spending a few days touring the surrounding region, the sierras, and the nearby white villages too, so set aside two or three days to do that.

What’s the best time to visit Malaga?

The best time to visit Malaga is in the early spring and then again in the mid- to late-fall. The town becomes very busy in the peak of the summer months, plus it’s hot then. To dodge the crowds and get better prices, months like May and September are better options.

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.