Málaga is the main city on the Costa del Sol, the famously warm southern coast of Spain popular with tourists coming for sea, sun and sand. However, while Málaga can sometimes be seen as merely a functional transport hub to be navigated on the way to the beach towns along the coast, there are actually a lot of great things to do in Malaga for tourists.
To our great surprise (we hadn’t done much research), this surprisingly walkable city features much of the same fascinating classic architecture that has made Seville and Granada so famous, but with the added benefits of beaches, ocean views and some impressive green space.
With medieval fortresses, extraordinary cathedrals and narrow, winding alleys perfect for aimless wandering, Malaga is not just the gateway to the Costa del Sol but an excellent destination on its own.
What is Málaga best known for?
Málaga was the birthplace and home to one of the world’s most famous artists, Pablo Picasso. His most famous paintings and sculptures can be viewed in the Picasso Museum, while many others can be found in different smaller museums and exhibits around the city.
Of course, Málaga is also known for the contradiction of its beautiful and historic Alcazaba overlooking the hedonistic beaches lining the city’s waterfront.
Map for Malaga Sightseeing Spots
We’ve also put together a handy map of all the best Malaga sightseeing spots for reference.
Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)
14 Top Things to Do in Malaga Spain
Narrowing down a list of the best Málaga sightseeing spots isn’t easy, as there are so many to choose from. But here is our personal list of the top Malaga attractions and Malaga things to do.
Marvel at the Alcazaba of Málaga
When deciding on places to visit in Málaga, it all starts with the amazing Alcazaba, a classic Moorish fortress and palace. While it may not be quite as big as the Alhambra in Granada, or quite as lavish as the Real Alcazar in Seville, or quite as stripey as La Mezquita in Cordoba, the Alcazaba somehow manages to combine a bit of each of these famous Spanish landmarks.
Full of lush gardens and extensive enough to occupy a full morning, with elegant decoration and with some very unique design features, the Alcazaba is a fascinating mix of styles and highlights. Throw in the bonus sea views and it is certainly one of the best places to see in Málaga.
With huge walls visible from all over the city, this stunning 11th century Hammudid landmark got its name from the Arabic word for fortress, “al-qasbah”. In its day, it served as both a defensive fortification against the Christians and the home of the Muslim rulers.
It boasts two sets of walls (inner and outer), iconic Roman gateways, various gorgeous gardens, courtyards, patios and fountains, as well as an archaeological museum displaying Moorish pottery and ceramics.
The Alcazaba really is a Malaga must see.
You can buy tickets to just the Alcazaba or Gibralfaro Castle (€3.50 each) or a combo ticket that includes both (€5.50). To really understand the history of the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro you should consider going with a guided tour (€10).
See the Views from Gibralfaro Castle
Connected by a footpath below the Alcazaba, the looming Gibralfaro Castle is also one of the top Malaga tourist attractions. It does involve a bit of a climb, especially noticeable in the midday heat, but most people shouldn’t find it too difficult. If you’re already tired from exploring the Alcazaba, though, or just morally opposed to exerting yourself on vacation, you can also get there by bus from Avenida de Cervantes (#35).
While the current Gibralfaro Castle was built to protect the Alcazaba in the 14th century, there is evidence of fortresses on this site going all the way back the Phoenicians in 2,500 BC. The name Gibralfaro means “mountain of light”, and it served as both a soldiers’ barracks and a lighthouse back in the day.
In 1487, Gibralfaro Castle was subjected to a prolonged siege by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, with the Muslims holding firm for 3 months until they finally ran out of food. You can learn more about the fascinating and occasionally sordid history of Gibralfaro Castle in a room next to the main entrance.
However, the views from the ramparts are what really stand out and make this one of the top Malaga attractions. With views over the city, the distant hills, the beaches, the football stadium, the Mediterranean and the nice courtyards below, the best Gibralfaro activity is simply wandering the walls and soaking it all in.
Sunrise and sunset are spectacular from the ramparts and the entire place is impressively lit up at night.
Experience History at the Roman Theatre
Prominently located directly below the Alcazaba, the well-preserved (and free) Roman theater is the oldest Málaga tourist attraction and a firm favourite of amateur photographers. Built by Augustus in the 1st century, it is one of the most intact Roman ruins in Spain, which is surprising since it has had a pretty rough ride over the years.
After a few centuries of being used as originally intended, it was later converted to a cemetery, abandoned for a while, then used as a quarry to build the Alcazaba and, eventually, other buildings were constructed on top of it. The original theatre was only rediscovered in 1951.
Today, the 16-metre-high grandstand looks barely damaged and it regularly hosts concerts and other outdoor performances.
Feel Small at the Málaga Cathedral
This gigantic structure is the second-tallest cathedral in Andalusia (behind only La Giralda in Seville) and one of the most remarkable places to visit in Málaga. The tower reaches a height of 87 metres and the energetic can tackle the 200 steps to the top to enjoy phenomenal panoramic views over the city, Alcazaba and Gibralfaro.
Construction started in the 16th century atop the remains of a mosque and work continued for over 200 years before they ran out of money, apparently because the cash was suddenly needed to help America in their battle for independence against the British. Because of this, the Malaga cathedral was never entirely finished, having just one bell tower instead of the originally planned two, leading to one of its modern nicknames, “La Manquita” (The Armless Lady).
Nonetheless, it is still an awe-inspiring building, with an elegant façade, terrific stained-glass windows, decorative ceilings, intricate chapels and 4,000-pipe organ. It is worth returning for a look at night, as well, when it is beautifully lit up.
Explore the Old City
Despite the big buildings and impressive beaches, for us the most enjoyable part of Málaga sightseeing is wandering the streets of the Old City. With atmospheric alleys, evocative old buildings and plenty of places to stop off for a beer, coffee, gelato, some tapas or tinto verano (local version of Sangria).
Relax on the Beach
What, you thought we forgot that you came to Málaga for the sun and sand, long days spent lounging on beach enjoying Spanish cocktails? Not a chance. While the many historical and architectural highlights of Málaga may surprise many, there is no question that spending a relaxing day on one of the best city beaches in Spain is one of the top activities in Málaga.
Malagueta Beach, located right next to the port, is the most convenient, and still pretty nice even if a few of the others are more classically beautiful. It can get crowded in summer and popular all year-round but is still an easy place to get in some sun, sand and swimming.
However, there are many options to choose from:
La Caleta Beach is just east from the centre – nicer than Malagueta, still fairly convenient and a popular choice.
Families love wide, smooth La Misericordia Beach.
Another good family option is El Palo Beach, located in a traditional fishing neighbourhood.
Young people looking for more of a beach party atmosphere head farther east to Peñon del Cuervo Beach for barbeques and night life.
El Campo de Golfo Beach has perfect conditions for kite-surfing.
Meanwhile, Guadalmar Beach is the place to go if you want to bare it all – this is the only official nudist beach in Málaga.
Hitting one of the many beaches is one of the best things to do in Malaga for families.
All of the beaches have facilities and “chiringuitos”, little food stalls specializing in fish and seafood snacks. Check out the local Malagueño specialty, “espetos de sardinas”, grilled sardines served on skewers.
Hang Out at the Plaza de la Merced
As with most Spanish plazas, the Plaza de la Merced serves as the focal point of local life. While not as memorably picturesque as some other Andalusian squares, it still offers a vibrant authenticity that makes it an enjoyable place to relax and soak in the real Málaga.
Plus, on the north corner (the plaza is sort of on an angle) you’ll find the small, ordinary home where Picasso was born. It has now been turned into a small museum (although the main museum is a few blocks to the south).
Shop at the Atarazanas Market
Located in a sensational 19th century building with Mudejar arches, stained-glass windows and an outstanding glass canopy, the covered Atarazanas market is where the locals go for fresh produce, cured meats and delectable Spanish cheeses, along with just about everything else imaginable.
There are also a number of tapas bars nearby using ingredients sourced from the market.
Visit the Picasso Museum
Undoubtedly one of the best things to see in Malaga, the Picasso Museum features over 200 of his most famous works. While there are many Picasso-themed spots around Málaga, this is the most comprehensive.
There are informative plaques in the Museo Picasso all the way through or you can use the free audio guide to learn a lot of fascinating background and history about Picasso’s work.
Of course, not everything has to be about Picasso. There are also several other interesting museums found throughout the city:
The Centre Pompidou Málaga is branch of the world-renowned Pompidou Centre in Paris that features Delauney, Kandinsky and Saura as well as an ever-changing set of contemporary displays.
Meanwhile, for something a little different, the Carmen Thyssen Museum Málaga has a unique private collection of Spanish paintings unlike anything else in Málaga.
If you’re into vintage cars, definitely stop off at the Automobile Museum of Málaga where you’ll find close to a hundred beautiful, classic vehicles including Maseratis, Bugattis and Aston Martins.
And, finally, fashion-lovers can browse seven different galleries scattered around Málaga featuring haute-couture fashion.
Walk the Streets After Dark
More so than other Andalusian cities like Seville and Granada, Málaga is known for having a lively nightlife scene. It really gets hopping in the summer months but even in winter, there is no shortage of things to do in Málaga at night in the city center.
And even if you’re not so much into the bar scene, you’ll find Málaga loves to light up their biggest attractions, offering a completely different side to them at night. Walking the streets after dark is one of the best things to do in Malaga at night.
Wander the Málaga Park
An oasis of greenery sandwiched between the classic buildings, expansive beach and modern port, a stroll through Málaga Park is just the thing to finish off a hot, sunny day of Málaga sightseeing.
Thanks to the giant palms there is plenty of shade and lots of room for walkers on three different paths, as well as a compelling collection sculptures and fountains. While there, be sure to have a look at the grand Málaga City Hall, its splendid architecture fronted by a nice rose garden.
Head Out to the Málaga Port
Huge, functional and yet still surprisingly picturesque, the Málaga port is one of the best places to visit in Málaga. Located right in the middle of all the most important Malaga tourist attractions, it is impossible to miss.
Even though it is actually one of the oldest ports in the Mediterranean, you wouldn’t know it to see it today, with modern high-rises overlooking a harbour full of expensive yachts, plus many lovely restaurants, trendy bars and innovative fashion boutiques.
Seek Out Street Art
Once you’ve had your fill of all the formal Málaga tourist attractions, head to the Soho District (also called the Art District) near the Contemporary Art Centre of Málaga. Here, you’ll find a glorious assortment of street art covering the walls and buildings of this rejuvenated old neighbourhood alongside the Guadalmedina River.
Of course, there are also fascinating murals scattered all over the city, so keep your eyes peeled for one of the more unusual things to do in Malaga.
Take a Break from Malaga Sightseeing
Not everything in Málaga has to involve endless walking, watching and photo-taking. Some of it should involve sitting, eating and drinking. Málaga is a culinary hotbed, with fantastic cafés, bars and restaurants around every corner.
So when you are ready to take a break from Malaga sightseeing find a place to sit, relax, indulge and watch the world go by.
Best Places to Visit Near Málaga
With a bit of extra time and maybe a rental car, there is a wide range of terrific day trips to be had near Málaga.
See the Other Amazing Andalusian Cities
Of the famous Andalusian triumvirate – Seville, Cordoba and Granada – amazing Granada is the closest to Málaga and the easiest to visit on a day trip (just 1.5 hrs by car on easy highways). Granada’s central area isn’t quite as perfect as the one in Seville, or compact as Córdoba, but it has some fascinatingly gritty neighbourhoods and a long list of awesome viewpoints. And, of course, the Alhambra, which just might be the coolest historic site we’ve ever visited.
For more ideas, see The 17 Best Things to Do in Granada
Check out How to Visit Córdoba on a Day Trip from Seville
A somewhat bizarre bit of Britain dropped right on the edge of Spain, Gibraltar has some pretty compelling sites (i.e. Rock of Gibraltar) and historic WWII attractions. The border crossing is straightforward and Gibraltar is easily visited on a day trip, although the sites are pretty spread out so if you want to see everything it wouldn’t hurt to stay a couple of nights.
Much smaller and more manageable than Madrid, Barcelona or Seville, cute Córdoba has the world-famous mosque-cathedral, La Mezquita, which is definitely worth the visit alone. There is also a fascinating Jewish quarter, vibrant old town and impressive bridge (that also featured in Game of Thrones). It is just 40 minutes from Seville by high-speed train.
Classic Seville is one of the gems of Spain, with a beautifully walkable old town, many amazing churches and, of course, the world-famous Real Alcazar. Hopeless romantics will also love the street and balcony that inspired Romeo and Juliet.
Check out our guide to the Best Things to Do in Seville
Although it lacks the one big, incredible site of the other major Andalusian cities, Cádiz was among our favourite cities in Andalusia for its beaches, atmosphere and old town ambience. With balmy weather (even by Andalusian standards) and perfect for wandering, Cádiz is the kind of place where the days slide by and you’ll always wish you could stay a bit longer.
The 15 Best Things to Do in Cadiz
Tour the White Villages
The famous pueblos blancos of Andalusia are an absolute must-see if you have any spare time during your visit to Málaga. These ludicrously picturesque white villages each have a unique personality and feel, the only hard part is deciding which ones to see.
For an overview of our white villages road trip, check out 12 Spectacular Pueblos Blancos in Andalusia
Setenil de las Bodegas is famously built under a massive rock, making it extremely unique among all these hilltop fortress and soaring views.
Ronda is both the largest town in the region and the crown jewel of the pueblos blancos with its stunning El Tajo gorge and fabulous Puente Nuevo (New Bridge).
Check out Ronda: A Guide to Spain’s Best Pueblo Blanco
Pretty Casares is close to the Costa del Sol and is considered the gateway to the white villages. It also features a photogenic castle atop a rocky outcropping, a griffon vulture colony and a fun via ferrata.
Algodonales boasts an impressive location next to the Sierra de Lijar mountains and is famous for a) having the largest hang-gliding school in Andalucia and b) making great guitars. I kid you not.
Grazalema is known for its many amazing hiking areas.
Check out Grazalema: A Guide to Spain’s Hiking Pueblo Blanco
Olvera has some of the best viewpoints in the area from its impressive castle.
Tiny Villaluenga del Rosario has an awesome little bull ring and fantastic cheese.
Zahara de la Sierra features an impressive Moorish castle on top of a huge, rocky hill located next to a beautiful blue lake.
Arcos de la Frontera is all about the arches, many obvious and others hidden in the least likely spots.
Medina-Sidonia is the oldest pueblo blanco and features an understated elegance perched atop a hill not far from Cádiz.
Of all the amazing white villages we visited, Vejer de la Frontera was our favourite. Great vibe, beautiful place and the nicest main square in Andalusia.
Jerez de la Frontera is the sherry and flamenco capital of Andalusia. So if those are things you are into, Jerez is a must-see. If not, well, it’s still a very beautiful place (and much larger than most other towns on this list).
Hike the Alpujarras
East of Málaga, tucked between the coast and the central plains, you’ll find the dramatic Sierra Nevada mountains. Delightfully cool in summer and photogenically snow-capped in winter, the hiking is exceptional. The Alpujarras region, in particular, running along the foothills has a fantastic collection of fabulous white villages, as well as some of the best hiking trails in Spain.
Check out our 5-day village-to-village trek through the Alpujarras:
Hiking the GR7 in the Sierra Nevada
How to Get to Málaga
Málaga has an international airport and is easily accessible by car from the other main centres in Andalusia. It is also a main bus and train hub, with routes heading out in all directions.
Most people arrive in Malaga then rent a car to explore the area. With so many great towns and villages near Malaga we highly recommend renting a car for at least a few days to cover more ground and set your own schedule. We find Discover Cars usually have the best deals in the area.
Nearby Main Centres by Car:
Granada to Málaga: 125 km / 1.5 hrs
Gibraltar to Málaga: 135 km / 1.75 hrs
Córdoba to Málaga: 160 km / 1.75 hrs
Seville to Málaga: 205 km / 2.25 hrs
Cádiz to Málaga: 235 km / 2.5 hrs
Nearby pueblos blancos:
Setenil de las Bodegas to Málaga: 95 km / 75 min
Ronda to Málaga: 100 km / 75 min
Casares to Málaga: 105 km / 75 min
Olvera to Málaga: 110 km / 1.5 hrs
Algodonales to Málaga: 125 km / 1.75 hrs
Grazalema to Málaga: 130 km / 2 hrs
Villaluenga del Rosario: 135 km / 2 hrs
Zahara de la Sierra to Málaga: 135 km / 2 hrs
Arcos de la Frontera to Malaa: 175 km / 2.25 hrs
Medina-Sidonia to Málaga: 200 km / 2.25 hrs
Vejer de la Frontera to Malaga: 200 km / 2.5 hrs
Jerez de la Frontera to Málaga: 230 km / 2.5 hrs
What is the best time to visit Málaga Spain?
The best beach time is in summer between June and September when Málaga is sweltering and the beaches are hopping. At this time of year the daily highs are over 30C and the days are long and sunny.
This is great for lying on the beach and enjoying water sports but may be a bit warm for hiking or sightseeing. Spring and fall are the most moderate, with mid-range daytime highs in the 25C range and still very little of the rain that shows up in winter.
Also, Easter in Spain is a huge holiday and Malaga has some of the biggest and most impressive celebrations in the country. If you can handle crowds and love a good procession, this can be a great time to visit also (just be sure to book rooms well in advance).
Despite the occasional rain shower, though, winter is still a terrific time to visit Málaga, especially if you hail from farther north. Even in January the average daily temperature is15-20C, which is why Málaga is such a popular winter destination.
Where to Stay in Málaga
Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro
The Parador is located on the top of the hill beside the Gibralfaro Castle so the views of the coast and city from the roof terrace, complete with a fabulous swimming pool, are truly impressive.
Your room will have a similar view as well. Since it is up high on the hill it works best for people with cars.
Click here for Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro prices.
If a rooftop terrace with bar, pool and stunning views of the Málaga Cathedral interest you, Molina Lario is the place to stay. It features contemporary boutique style in a fabulous central location.
Click here for Molina Lario prices
Hotel Boutique Teatro Romano
For a good midrange option, look no further than Hotel Boutique Teatro Romano. Located opposite the iconic Roman Theatre you will be within walking distance to all the best things to do in Málaga. And, even though the area outside is hopping, you’ll still get a good sleep in your quiet room.
Click here for Hotel Boutique Teatro Romano
Málaga has a lot of international flights and is a common entrance point to Andalusia. Mainly known as a transport hub and beach/party town, we found Málaga to be a pleasant surprise. It has some nice old streets, good pedestrian areas and the Alcazaba, a phenomenal ancient medieval Moorish fortress that is comparable to the big attractions in Seville, Granada and Córdoba.
The what do in Malaga list is much longer than we realized and, in hindsight, should have given ourselves more time to enjoy this underrated Costa del Sol gem.
Other Posts You Might Like:
The 15 Best Places to Stay in Ronda
Guide to Lanjaron: Spa Town of the Alpujarras
Guide to Soportujar – Where My Witches At?
Guide to Pampaneira: Gateway to the Poqueira Gorge
Guide to Bubion: Little Known Gem of the Poqueira Gorge
Capileira: Our Favourite Poqueira Gorge Village
Orgiva Spain: The Crossroads of the Alpujarras
Trevelez: A Guide to the Ham Capital of Spain