If you thought Malaga, Spain, was just an airport gateway to the Costa del Sol in southern Spain, think again. Malaga has undergone a complete transformation in less than 10 years ago.
Today, you’ll find Malaga is renewed and one of the easiest cities to navigate — with boutique shops, museums, cafes, local sweet wines, cathedrals, historic sites, a range of high end hotels – including Gran Hotel Miramar, the Mediterranean sea and the sunshine of Andalucia.
Malaga and Spain have invested significantly into the city’s revitalization and it shows. Still, Malaga has retained the charm of Spain’s famous old town cobblestone streets and walkways and storefronts that showcase local quality brands while progress has introduced national brands and modernization. I liked wandering its streets and being surprised by what’s around the next corner wherever I walked. And it’s definitely a city that’s worthy of a return visit.
Malaga is Spain’s sixth largest city, with more than 850,000 people living in this metropolitan area. And your money will go far here in comparison to some of the more expensive locations in Costa del Sol.
Malaga is the gateway to Costa del Sol and one of Spain’s largest cities, so you’ll find hundreds of hotels. But the historic city center is an ideal place to stay with more than 30 hotels in the four and five star categories. A couple to consider:
- Gran Hotel Miramar is the city’s new five star hotel. It’s historic and lovely and situation right on the Bay of Malaga.
(See our review Gran Hotel Miramar Review for more information.)
- AC Hotel Malaga Palacio by Marriott is popular and perfectly located right in the old town. (Tip: Enjoy dinner or host a private event at Atico Bar and Restaurant located on the rooftop level of the hotel; it’s trendy and has amazing views of the city and access to the terrace and pool.)
- Parador de Malaga Gibralfaro is peacefully perched above Malaga city and has amazing views.
(See our review Paradores of Spain for more information.)
The Barcelo Malaga is another popular hotel. It’s a four-star modern hotel with 224 guest rooms. There is a slide for ALL ages and sizes that goes from the level above, right down to the lobby. When you ride the slide you come out near the front desk. But the other super cool thing about this hotel is that it is attached to the train station.
Things to Do in Malaga, Spain
There are plenty of options to do in this city, from walking and exploring to dining and music. Malaga is a port city and it’s easily accessed by cruise ships. And the harbor offers its own range of recreational activities. And it’s located within a few minutes walking distance to the city center. Here are some of my best suggestions (and each of these are excellent for private events):
- Charter (or join) a catamaran.
This is a special activity that will allow you to relax and view Spain’s beautiful coast at the same time.
- Stroll and shop along the Malaga port.
It’s a modern shopping complex and promenade that has shops, restaurants and bars. And shop its flea market on Sundays with a good range of quality items!
- Book a (private) food tour with Spain Food Sherpas.
They have several different tours and cooking classes in Malaga. My guide strolled throughout the city center, showcased shops, walked us through the Malaga Ataraznas Food Market (I love wandering through European food markets and this one is historic and quite impressive), relaxed at several local restaurants to taste tapas and wine, explained the local cuisine and took us through the most hidden streets of the city. (Private tours are available.)
- Dine at El Pimpi.
I think this was one of my favorite spots in Malaga. It is the bodega bar in Malaga not to miss. Located in an 18th century mansion, you can enjoy local food and wine. And they offer a range of workshops and events. Live music and entertainment is located upstairs — and you’ll find Encarni Navarro performing there every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. She’s amazing and works the entire room to get people to sing, dance and have a great time — even I joined her for a rare moment of taking the microphone and joined her on the stage.
- Dine at Los Patios de Beatas.
Located in the historic center near the Picasso Museum, you enter through an impressive doorway that brings you into two 18th and 19th century houses that were converted into this restaurant (and architecturally interesting how the space uses its inside patios). They have an impressive menu and a range of local wines — don’t miss that Los Patios de Beatas also offers a shop with local wines, liquors, olive oil and more (it’s quite subtle).
- Dine at El Ambigu de la Corchia.
Specializing in Mediterranean dishes, this restaurant is in the heart of Malaga perched above the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro walls. You’ll find a mix of local cuisine in a modern and relaxed environment. But you’ll be treated to fine dining service. It could be a bit challenging to find, but it’s definitely worth the trip with stunning views.
- Visit museums in Malaga. The city has more than 35 museums — a few highlights include:
- Carmen Thyssen Museum Malaga: Reflects Carmen Thyssen’s personal collection, housed in a 16th century Baroque building (and potentially a good contender for private events).
- Museum of Malaga: Opened in 2016, it has eight rooms, including five rooms with an archaeology collection and three rooms with a fine arts collection.
- Picasso Foundation, Birthplace House & Museum. The artist was born here, and 285 of his works were donated by family members when it opened in 2003 — definitely worth a visit (and a special place to host a private event, including cocktails in its courtyard).
- Collection of the Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg/Malaga. Located in a converted tobacco factory, this museum has 2,3000 square meters of space and is dedicated to Russian art and culture. It’s also located on the same campus as the Automobile and Fashion Museum.
- Automobile and Fashion Museum. This is a beautiful space where you can experience a collection of cars, including those from the late 19th and 20th centuries. The fashion rooms take you back to the era when people dressed for the experience (definitely worthy for private events).
Noteworthy for Special Events in Malaga, Spain
Hacienda del Alamo is located about 15 minutes outside of Malaga. You pull up to a mansion that was built in 1800, and you can use that space as an intimate setting. But it’s grounds are extensive, wooded, rustic and with modern touches — you can definitely organize memorable indoor and outdoor dinners and receptions here.
It’s also worth noting that CITITRAVEL is a leading destination management company that has served Spain and Portugal for more than 30 years. Key client director Ana Charters Jessen shared some insights with me about how to qualify for VAT-free events in Spain.
Logistics in Malaga
You can easily get around most areas by foot, but this is still a city. Taxis are easily accessible.
Malaga-Costa del Sol Airport. It is located about five miles from the city center, and most people know it because this is the gateway to other tourist destinations within Andalucia. It’s one of the oldest Spanish airports, with connections throughout Europe and Spain. More than 12 million passengers pass through Malaga-Costa del Sol Airport each year.
Malaga Centro Train Station. Opened in 2007, the train station is located in the hub of the city and is easy to navigate. It’s deceiving when you’re there, but there’s actually has 30,000 square feet of shopping — more than 120 stores, and it’s connected to a four-star hotel. The AVE is operated by Renfe, which offers the high speed AVE to Malaga service.
The weather in Malaga is extremely moderate in winter (rainfall is highest during the months of November to March), and the weather is expectedly hot during the summer months. It seems the best months to visit are fall through spring, although there’s no reason to skip this city in the summer.
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