Make every second count in gorgeous Malaga with our itinerary and essential guide of things to do in three perfect days on Spain’s Costa del Sol.
Vibrant Malaga has never rested on its laurels. Once the gateway to the sun-kissed Costa del Sol, it has now morphed into a thriving city break destination. Pairing old-town charm with vibrant new areas has given Malaga an aesthetic to be proud of, while its picture-perfect beaches offer an idyllic location for kicking back in the sun next to the glistening, calm sea.
The challenge in Malaga is working out just how you’ll manage to fit everything in, especially if you’re on a short city break. Our three-day itinerary for Malaga steers you through the choices, taking you from the major sights and attractions, to some wonderful hidden gems we’ve discovered. Dip into the restaurants the locals love, and settle down at cafes where you can watch this world pass by.
Day One: Step Into the Past
Start your three days in Malaga by throwing yourself into its Andalusian core. In the old town –centro historico – you’ll find authenticity in an area that buzzes not just with visitors, but also locals going about their day, shuffling off to churches, cafes, and shops.
History is around every corner – whether it’s the cathedral or the palace-fortress of Alcazaba. The former is a Renaissance Roman Catholic creation with one tower (the other was never built as the authorities ran out of money). Climb to enjoy sensational coastal views. Before you head up, don’t forget to look at the stunning Gothic altarpieces and dramatic religious artwork and iconography inside.
Perhaps even grander still, the Alcazaba is the city’s Moorish fortress. Built in the mid-11th century, it’s loomed over the city for 1,000 years, protecting it from sea and land attacks alike until Spanish forces wrestled Malaga back. Take a look inside and you’ll find a dungeon awash with historic woe, or wander around the outside in the shadow of the once grand Roman citadel.
Mere yards from the Alcazaba is the area’s most significant remnant of Roman occupation: its theater. Discovered during excavations in 1951, it’s since been restored to give an accurate impression of its former glory. Performances and concerts are held regularly in the shadow of the Islamic fortress. It’s a fascinating way to get a glimpse of the city’s history.
With some of the most important things to see in Malaga already under your belt, it’s time to settle down for dinner. El Pimpi is the city’s most celebrated restaurant, and if you can squeeze in, you’ll find it to be high quality, atmospheric, and fun – especially on Flamenco night.
Alternatively, try Uvedoble Taberna for local tapas given a slightly modern spin. It’s reliably busy, and you’ll understand why when you tuck into the smoked sardines on focaccia, or cumin-roasted scallop. You can order many of the dishes in a range of sizes, depending on your appetite.
Day two: Bask on the Beach
After all of day one’s sightseeing, you’ve earned a leisurely second day. Pack your sunscreen and towel before heading to the city’s beach – La Malagueta. While there are quieter, prettier, and more serene stretches of sand and sea along the coast in either direction – along with busier tourist resorts you’ll probably want to avoid – there’s something special about a city’s own beach.
Along with visitors both Spanish and foreign, you’ll find locals on their day off or enjoying a sun-soaked siesta. Even in high season, you’ll be able to find a spot to call your own, while the bars and restaurants lining the promenade beckon with their shade and cool drinks in the height of summer.
Art fans will love visiting the multi-colored cube of the Centre Pompidou: the coast’s own branch of the famous Parisian temple of modern art and design. Enjoy a bit of respite from the sun inside, as well as a superb collection of contemporary art. With workshops and exhibitions aplenty, it’s fast becoming another great reason to head to the city.
Walk back into town through the storied port, brimming with history. In operation for centuries, it has a tale to tell at every turn – but has also recently been refreshed and renovated to become a destination in its own right. The addition of hundreds of palm trees and plants has given the space texture and aesthetic beauty – it positively gleams in the sunlight. There are few better places to eat the city’s famous seafood, so dip into a seafood restaurant for fried anchovies or grilled sardines on a skewer to taste the best.
Day Three: Son of the City
Malaga isn’t afraid to shout a little about its most famous son, Pablo Picasso. The city’s residents celebrate his life, work, and legacy in numerous ways, most notably with the Museo Picasso. The museum opened inside the old Buenavista palace in 2003, showcasing works loaned and gifted by some of the artist’s surviving relatives. Highlights include his playful re-imagining of classic works by old masters and some notable Cubist pieces. Follow the audio guide in English for greater insight into the art, as well as the man behind it all.
One of the city’s more original museums, the Museo Automovilistico, somehow weaves together two strands you wouldn’t necessarily think to put together – cars and fashion. Housed in a former tobacco factory, it showcases vintage cars from the first half of the 20th century with couture from the same period. It works – a hymn to glamor and style, where you might find a Bentley or Bugatti juxtaposed with clothes from Balenciaga or Galliano.
You may want to don your fashionable best for dinner on your last evening. Restaurante José Carlos García is probably the city’s finest, with an enviable port-side location and tremendous modern cuisine. Alternatively, head to Óleo. Located in the excellent contemporary art museum, it has the best sushi bar on the coast, making the most of the region’s fresh catches. You can’t leave Malaga without a taste of its spectacular seafood.
Have you been to Malaga recently? Tag us on Instagram with your most stunning shots of Malaga.