The 13 best things to do in Malaga

From brilliant beaches to cool contemporary galleries, check out the very best things to do in Malaga
MALAGA
MALAGA
By Mary Ann Gallagher and Kate Lloyd |
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Malaga might be the capital of the Costa del Sol, but it’s long been overlooked in the race to the beaches and resorts. That started changing in 2003, when the long-awaited Museo Picasso finally opened, kick-starting a cultural resurgence that has led to a whole slew of fancy new art museums, including the only outpost of the Centre Pompidou outside of France. Add a couple of cliff-top Moorish castles, a pocket-sized Roman Theatre, a winsome little old town full of tapas bars and quirky boutiques, plus a newly primped-up port and no less than 16 fabulous beaches, and this exuberant little city on the Med can truly boast it’s got the whole package.

Best things to do in Malaga

1
Alcazaba
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Michael Bertulat

Alcazaba and Gibralfaro

What is it? The clifftop Gibralfaro castle and the Alcazaba fortress and royal residence both date from the eleventh century and are linked by a stunning battlement walk. The Alcazaba is all delicate Moorish gardens and archways, while the Gibralfaro exudes military might.

Why go? It’s a hot and sweaty scramble uphill (you could take the lift, but where’s the fun in that?) to the Alcazaba, but you can dawdle under Moorish arches and soak up the views from the terraces. From the Gibralfaro, the views are even more spectacular.

2
Museo Picasso
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/ Yoona L.

Museo Picasso

What is it? Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, and his childhood home is full of family photos and personal items. Follow it up with a visit to the Museo Picasso, which, despite a smallish collection, reveals the artist’s extraordinary versatility, and hosts excellent temporary exhibitions.

Why go? One of the greatest twentieth-century artists, Picasso is Malaga’s most famous son (tied with Antonio Banderas). Get an insight into his early life at his birthplace, and admire the range of his works in the excellent Museo Picasso (which has a charming garden café).

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3
Centre Pompidou Málaga
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Andreas S.

Centre Pompidou Málaga

What is it? You can’t turn around without bumping into another art museum in Malaga these days. The Pompidou Centre’s seaside outpost (and only branch outside France) occupies a multi-coloured cube overlooking the port.

Why go? The building already existed before Daniel Buren transformed it into a kaleidoscope of colour, perfect for displaying the Pompidou’s modern and contemporary masterworks from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. (The nearby Café de Paris, French only in name, is a good spot for lunch.)

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Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Oscar H.

Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga

What is it? Part of the vast art collection of former Miss Spain and billionaire art collector Carmen ‘Tita’ Thyssen is on display at this elegant sixteenth-century palace. The focus is on nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Spanish paintings, supplemented with some Old Masters, including a superb portrait by Zurbarán.

Why go? There are some charming depictions of festivals, bullfights and other scenes of traditional life in the nineteenth-century collection, while, among the early twentieth-century art, Sorolla’s Impressionist beach scenes stand out. Also check out Mercedes Lasarte’s bubblegum pink portrait of Carmen Thyssen.

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Cine Abierto

What is it? What could be nicer on a summer’s night than hanging out on the beach and watching a movie? The Cine Abierto, part of the Festival de Málaga, has a crowd-pleasing programme (blockbusters, kids’ films, Spanish movies), screened in parks and beaches across the city.

Why go? If you’ve got some Spanish (films are either Spanish or dubbed), this outdoor cinema event is a great way to catch some top films from Spain. Bring a picnic, a bottle of chilled wine, and relax under the stars!

6
Teatro Romano
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Joaquin C.

Teatro Romano

What is it? This pocket-sized first-century Roman theatre was discovered in the 1950s and has been thoroughly restored. Beautifully set on a hillside, with the walls of the Alcazaba zigzagging behind it, it’s a gorgeous spot to catch one of the summer performances held here.

Why go? A rare survivor from Roman Malaga, this small and perfectly formed theatre was in use until the third century AD. The sleek little interpretation centre offers a glimpse into life under the Romans.

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7
Centro de Arte Contemporáneo
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Angi M.

Centro de Arte Contemporáneo

What is it? Malaga’s centre for contemporary art is full of twentieth and twenty-first-century art that will delight serious culture buffs. It’s the lynchpin of the Malaga Soho neighbourhood, which is full of Insta-friendly graffiti, shops and bars.

Why go? Along with the Centre Pompidou, this is one of Malaga’s major hubs for contemporary art and culture. Get your culture kicks inside, then stroll around the nearby Soho neighbourhood to check out the street art, vintage markets and cafés (our favourite is the Café de Estraperlo).

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Alcazaba Premium Hostel Chill-out Terrace

What is it? This funky, colourful hostel has a badly kept secret: its fabulous roof terrace. Perfect for sunset cocktails, you can soak up the views over the old city’s rooftops to the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro castles.

Why go? There are lots of rooftop hotel bars in this city, but this one has the edge for its relaxed, friendly vibe and excellent cocktails. Plus, the views of the Alcazaba can’t be beaten. It’s dinky, so get there early to be sure of a prime spot on one of the lounge beds.

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9
Jardín Botánico-Histórico La Concepción
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/vreimunde

Jardín Botánico-Histórico La Concepción

What is it? Escape the hustle and bustle in the city centre and enjoy a quiet stroll along shady paths here, pausing in the little pavilions and bowers for a breather. These cool and elegant botanic gardens are spread around a nineteenth-century villa, and there’s always something gorgeous in bloom.

Why go? These lovely gardens are slightly run-down – and all the more romantic for it. Pack a picnic, hop on the bus, and cool off among the trees, pools and fountains. Look out for the stunning wrought-iron bower, densely covered with wisteria in early spring.

10
La Malagueta
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Karen Bryan

Playa Peñón de la Cueva

What is it? Malaga has lots of beaches – 16, in fact – which all have the same rather gritty, dark sand, but are mostly clean and well equipped. La Malagueta and Pedregalejo are the busiest, but you should make for the little Peñón de la Cueva beach if you’re looking for some hippy, offbeat charm.

Why go? This beach, one of Malaga’s smallest, is easily one of the prettiest. A double arc of sand, punctuated by a craggy rock in the middle, it packs out in summer thanks to the (public) barbecues. But get there very early or later on, and you’ll enjoy blissful peace.

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11
El Tintero
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/N i c o_

El Tintero

What is it? At this boisterous, ear-splittingly noisy chiringuito (beach restaurant), waiters swerve confidently among the packed tables shouting out what they’re bringing fresh from the kitchen. Don’t expect anything fancy – there are paper tablecloths and plastic cutlery – but the seafood is as fresh as it gets.

Why go? Probably the most famous restaurant in town, El Tintero offers a superb beachfront location, a big, breezy terrace, and a raucous, fun atmosphere. Just stick up your hand if you want to claim a platter of pescaíto frito (small fried fish) or freshly barbecued sardines.

12
Uvedoble Taberna
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Angi M.

Uvedoble Taberna

What is it? This modern tavern by the cathedral is full of blonde wood and tasteful modern art. Pull up a stool at the bar if you can’t get a covetable spot on the terrace and tuck into some of the freshest, most imaginative contemporary tapas in town.

Why go? You won’t want to miss out on food this original, so get there early to beat the crowds. The delectable little bites change seasonally but often include toasted squid ink noodles with tiny squid, swordfish ceviche, or duck magret with mango.

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Kir

What is it? This modern tavern by the cathedral is full of blonde wood and tasteful modern art. Pull up a stool at the bar if you can’t get a covetable spot on the terrace and tuck into some of the freshest, most imaginative contemporary tapas in town.

Why go? You won’t want to miss out on food this original, so get there early to beat the crowds. The delectable little bites change seasonally but often include toasted squid ink noodles with tiny squid, swordfish ceviche, or duck magret with mango.

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