I rolled up in Malaga late one Friday evening having researched only the bus schedule. After a few days in Granada, I'd planned to go to Córdoba and Ronda, but because of unseasonably miserable weather, I switched things up and headed to the coast. What I knew about Malaga consisted of this: It's a little beach town with a Picasso museum.
I arrived late in the day, so I grabbed a quick bite to eat and called it a night. In the morning I headed to El Último Mono to get a coffee and my bearings.
Per usual I started chatting with my barista who told me Malaga is a lot like Barcelona, just a little smaller. I kind of chuckled to myself thinking, “Really? Is it? Really?,” but okay, I'll go with it.
Victor told me that if I had just one day in Malaga I had to go to the Alcazaba, the Teatro Romano, and the Contemporary Art Museum.
Feeling a little dumb for having distilled the city down to a beach town with one museum, I started planning out my day in Malaga.
Your Malaga Walking Tour
I did my research (El Último Mono's coffee and wifi were fantastic!) and created my walking map. I'd start at the Plaza de Constitución, walk by the Malaga Cathedral, hit up the Alcazaba (and nearby Teatro Romano), then walk through the park to the central Market where I'd grab lunch supplies. With my picnic in tow, I would wander along the beach up to the Gibralfaro castle and then end my day at the CAC (Contemporary Museum of Art), which is always free.
As expected in a Spanish city, Malaga has a beautiful cathedral. The entrance fee is 5€, and I've long stopped paying to see the inside of every cathedral I pass by, but the outside filled with palms and a view out to the Mediterranean (if you squint) is quite stunning.
Now on to the Alcazaba. Buy the combination ticket to the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro for 3.55€ (the biggest steal ever!) and head inside. The Alcazaba is an 11th century fort built around the royal family's quarters. Having just come from a visit to the Alhambra, the Alcazaba felt much more raw and I appreciated that you really got to choose your own adventure. The visit didn't include perfectly laid out walking paths or fully manicured gardens, but you could climb up and around the fort's walls, through gardens, and through mini museums.
As you exit the Alcazaba, to one side is the Roman Theater and to the other is a small pathway leading up to the Gibralfaro (Googlemaps doesn't register this route, but it will save you a ton of walking!).
Instead of heading straight up to the castle, I chose to stop by the Roman Theater (from 100 B.C.!), head through the park, and grab lunch at the Mercado Central Atarazanas (open Monday-Saturday until 2PM).
The market has the typical meat, cheese, and produce stands that you would expect and also a few restaurant-type establishments if you'd like to sit down to eat. It's no boqueria, but it's still a solid market.
Now, I didn't realize that the path to the right of the entrance to the Alcazaba went up to the Gibralfaro, so I created my own path that included walking all of the way around the mountain and up the backside.
I quite enjoyed strolling along the beach and taking in the views of the city as I hiked up the mountain, but if you're looking to save ~2km of walking, take the path by the Alcazaba. ↓ ↓ ↓
As I got near the top of the mountain, I hopped off of the main road and onto a small trail with ridiculous views of the coast. I kept on walking thinking, “This is pretty cool, I wonder what else it up here.” I made it to an official lookout point where I finally ran into civilization (people who had taken the main path) and I took a seat and roughly 100 photos. I was about to continue on the main path down to the Alcazaba when I thought...
“But there's supposed to be a castle! Where's the castle?!” The answer: another 10 minute walk up the mountain. It's literally at the very peak, but the visit is so worth the effort.
As a ran around the castle grounds with the ~20 other tourists who had made it all of the way to the top, I couldn't help but feeling like Jon Snow surveying the land, protecting the wall (except the whole beach to one side was throwing me off. I don't think there's a beach at The Wall).
You can walk the whole perimeter of the castle area inside the wall getting views of the coast, the city, the mountains, and the Alcazaba, which looks ridiculously small from the height of the castle.
I couldn't believe the combined entrance fee for the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro was only 3.55€. It's one of the coolest things I've seen.
So now that my ancient history lesson was complete, it was time to visit something a bit more contemporary. I'm not normally one for museums, but I also don't know why I would pay for activities when I can check something out for free. So I set off towards the Contemporary Art Museum. The museum is very close to the water in Malaga's Soho district, which has been run down over the years and is being revitalized through art. As you wander towards the official museum, make sure to admire the area's graffiti art, much of which is pretty impressive!
The CAC was a very pleasant surprise. There are some permanent displays which include pieces by Andy Warhol and there are also visiting exhibitions that I found quite engaging. It is a contemporary art museum, so there are those “weirder” pieces (like the display of different framed chunks of hair...), but overall I was impressed and relatively enthralled. The museum is open 10AM-8PM Tuesday-Sunday and it's definitely worth your time!
“That was a pretty bomb day in Malaga,” I thought to myself as I headed to the train station. I wished I had more time, but such is life. I thought back to what Victor had said as I started my day and I guess he's kind of right.
Malaga is like Barcelona, there's a beautiful beach, museums, gorgeous architecture, and the city is filled with narrow cobblestone streets that beg to get lost in. What I loved about it most is that it's big enough to hold your attention, but just small enough to feel familiar during a quick visit.
Until we meet again, Malaga!
P.S. Don't forget to grab this walking map for your visit.
Have you been to the Picasso Museum or the Museum of Glass and Crystal? They're on my list for next time!