Today everybody seems to love Málaga for more than one reason.
Málaga airport is the main flying destination in the South of Spain for almost 17 million travelers yearly, from where the area of Andalucia and the Costa del Sol can easily be reached by tourists and lots of (second) home-owners. Málaga is an easy destination to find cheap airfare tickets for, domestic or international, especially if you search them well in advance.
But in the past, many travelers used to leave Málaga for what it was and rate it only as a transit place traveling on to their (beach) destinations in Southern Spain.
A real shame.
Luckily that has changed as Málaga has been rediscovered as a very attractive chill beach city full of culture, history, luxury and lots of character and is absolutely worth spending some time and euros to dive into.
Málaga has always been a city of superlatives.
Θ During the industrial revolution, Málaga became the most industrialised city in Spain, more important than Madrid and Barcelona.
Θ The first international scheduled flight in Spain took off from Málaga airport in 1919.
Θ Málaga experienced a sudden and speedy economical tourism boom at the Costa del Sol in the 196o’ s, on a scale never seen before, and was one of the first cheap airfare tickets destinations.
In our minds, a summer beach holiday means blue sky and white sand. With its mild climate, the sky in Malaga is mostly blue but the very fine sand on the beaches in and around Málaga is grey. Personally, it took me no longer than 10 minutes to get used to.
The reality about the better beaches of Málaga is that they are outside the city. But Málaga’s city beaches are no real tourist beaches and are brilliant to stretch out the exhausted body after your walks through the hot city, or make the blood flow again after the long party night with a good swim in the Mediterranean and meet with people for the hair of the dog – a drink or two at a chiringuito. Again, the best spot to chill in a beach city.
Playa de la Malagueta
is the obvious beach to get to in walking distance from the city centre. This man-made beach with grey sand has got it all if you are looking for good restaurants, bars, shops and facilities and is very much a family beach. On the whole, not a beautiful beach but great for its easy access.
Playa de la Caleta
is the continuation of the beach eastwards on the Paseo Picasso and very much a beach for all sorts of sports
The Balneario – Baños del Carmen is a half kilometer stretch of sand where the first mixed public bath still stands, it was opened in 1918 and has always been proudly protected against real estate development by the inhabitants of Málaga – Malagueños or Boquerones if you want to call them that. The place was always very popular with the city’s bourgeoisie and lots of parties, football playing (Málaga’s first football field), regattas, and the National Hippic Concourse were held here. It is still a popular spot for special events and concerts.
El Balneario restaurant (open till 2:30 in summer) with a great seafood kitchen and good cocktails has the largest terrace in Málaga with fantastic views.
The beach is very popular with students from the nearby university.
Playa de Pedrogalejo
starts behind the Balneario and the two tennis courts on prime location and sea view, and is the seafront area of the neighbourhood Pedrogalejo, one of the most traditional and popular areas of Málaga, full of great restaurants and bars and very popular with a mix of locals and internationals.
The beach is busy at night time also and Monday is Ladies night in most bars.
Playas Del Palo, El Dedo and El Candado
continue eastwards as if beach life in this city never ends and are equally filled with great bars and restaurants.|At the very small Playa El Candado is the harbour El Candado with its Club Nautico (learn to kitesurf and hire kites and boards at Coolhot). Check out restaurante Marisquería Las Palmeras on the Paseo Maritimo for lunch or the great chiringuito El Tintero (open till midnight) at the eastern end of the beach for great fish and more.
Playa Peñon del Cuervo
is the beach further on with its famous rock, popular with young sun, sea and other lovers crowds, but without any facilities or bars, very much BYO, and a beautiful beach.
And a bit further on are the beautiful beaches of
La Cala del Moral
is another great (and clean) city beach to enjoy with lots of bars and restaurants and arguably the most enjoyable beach still close to the city for good swimming and watersport facilities.
From there onwards you can follow the coast to Rincon de la Victoria, Torre del Mar and eventually to the beautiful Nerja – Playa de Burriana, with its beautiful and very popular town on top and its fishing village with a great beach to relax. Best advice is to book a place to stay in advance, as you may find accommodation here in busy season or weekends can cost you more than your cheap airfare tickets coming down to Málaga.
starts south of the Puerto in front of the district Carretera de Cádiz, and is a long beach with lots of bars and Chiringuitos (with great names like Bare Nostrum) and good seafront eating spots.
Which again made me realize the joy and luxury of being in a beach city with plenty of places to hang out for an hour or so and the open sea at your feet.
Few things beat that in my opinion.
The small Playa de Sacaba is at the south end of Misericordia, with Bar Paco for good seafood directly on the beach.
Playa del Campo de Golf – San Julian
is popular with kite surfers and can be considered the last city beach of Málaga.
It starts further south just after the northern mouth of the Guadalhorce river, the longest river in Andalucia province. The river delta (Desembocadura del Guadahorce), made by agricultural activity, consists of artificial ponds and scrubland and the lagoons and banks on the island created a paradise for bird spotting with lots of migrating bird varieties and rare bird species.
Marbella – Puerta Banús
Don’t be scared off by the stories of mass tourism. Honestly, it is not that bad, it just has a long history, dating back to the ’60’s tourist boom which partially made this region prosperous.
It is true that from here further south is where the high rise area’s start at Torremolinos and continue to fill the coast. But you can find great beach spots outside the main tourist areas and for example, the town of Estepona is totally different from Torremolinos and Fuengirola and attracts tourists and young travelers staying for season work and mixing easily with the locals.
Marbella is a very beautiful small city and has become a Mondaine and upmarket tourist resort with time, with many expats and foreign home-owners living in the area, much to the financial joy of the real marbelleros (of which today only 15 % are born in the city).
Nearby Puerto Banús is most prestigious marina on the Costa del Sol and the highest valued location to show your latest yacht, Rolls Royce, Lamborghini or Mercedes-Benz purchase. Port charges for prime locations mount up to half a million euros per square meter. It attracts around 5 million tourists yearly and is very popular amongst wealthy Arabs.
The place was built in 1970 by Jose Banús who was an intimate friend of general Franco. The spectacular opening of the Hotel Marbella Club in May 1970 was attended by the highest guests, the Monaco royalty, the Aga Khan and also by Christiaan Barnard, the first heart transplant surgeon, possibly invited also to save lives of the other inhabitants of the region from the shock of witnessing shameless luxury at the time, but I doubt it.
The hinterland mountains of Málaga and the Costa del Sol are stunning and once you leave the tourist areas, you won’t experience the sudden grins of those unfinished skeletons of megaproject apartment complexes any more, when turning a curve on a beautiful mountain road, that were built driven by hubris and greed and now look like stuck with cello tape onto the hills, scaring the joy out of your expectations.
Look at it as a warning that economic crises do exist.
Málaga the vibrant city
Two men from Málaga.
A city has all right in the world to be proud of famous inhabitants, there is nothing super nationalistic with that and especially in the case of the multi-talent cubist painter Picasso, who was born in Málaga and lived here for his first 10 years, before he left with his family for A Coruña in the north of Spain.
The other famous Malagueño is the actor Antonio Banderas, but he was actually born in Benalmádena, a bit south of Torremolinos.
Málaga has much more to be proud of, but as we mentioned more often, there is no use in rewriting the overload of good travel apps and travel guides on this website, so I stick to with an impression of what I have seen.
The best and very enjoyable fact about this very vibrant city is that it seems as if it hasn’t been taken over completely by tourism (as has sadly happened to Barcelona) and at the same time, it caters for everybody.
Just realise how many monuments and historical places this city has got.
Can anybody nót be impressed with the overwhelming size of Málaga’s cathedral, locals call it La Manquita – the one armed lady – which entrance is situated on a small square with the bishop’s palace next to it, or who isn’t surprised passing the Teatro Romano, discovered in the 1950’s and only completely excavated in 1995, on the Calle Alcazabilla in the midst of the city center, a street with main traffic at the time?
The view over Málaga from Castillo Gibralfaro is fabulous, and in spite of the amount of tourism, walking the busy avenida’s and calle’s day and night will get you to other parts of the city off the beaten track, where the bars are local and people are proud to introduce you to their food specialties.
The crowds in bars and restaurants in the centre are a mix of locals and tourists, and keep on surprising you with all kinds of food and drinks at very low prices.
If you are looking for a prime location check out the hotspot lounge terrace and restaurant Batik on the 4th floor of the Premium Hostel with a stunning view over the Teatro Romano, Alcazaba and more. Or try the tastes of the religious Semana Santa themes in the food, served during the holy Easter week if you happen to be in the city around that time.
The Semana Santa Easter week is likely the most special week of the year to visit, so try at least one time to experience its religious atmosphere and aromas. It can be almost confrontational to see how tradition continues to be of value during this week and it made me question if inheritance and history are facts that belong to the past or do they belong more to the future as we (you and I) carry it with us and pass it on in the short stay of time that we are around, regardless if they interest us or not.
Ok, too much thinking can be a trap when traveling or maybe that is what traveling is for.
Museo Picasso and much more
Of course and rightly so, the Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga, and the Museo Picasso and his place of birth get a lot of visitors, and if art is of your interest don’t miss the Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) north of the harbour.
Or cross the dry river with banks full of graffiti next to the Contemporary Art Centre towards the Paseo del Matadéro and walk through Mármoles and other quarters of Carretera de Cádiz to the south to the city beach of Playa de Misericordia for a beer at chiringuito Campana Playa and a swim. Stay there for the rest of the day, or continue and cross the street from the beach to La Térmica, the Cultural Arts Centre opened in 2013 in a former hospital and orphanage, that stays open till 22:00 at night.
MAUS (Malaga Arte Urbano Soho) is the Street Art project initiative by the municipality of Málaga as an attempt to concentrate graffiti in one area of town, instead of spreading out all over the city as it used to be. The area of Soho is between the CAC, Alameda Principal and the harbour, and the project boosts some famous artists such as Roa, Dadi Dreucol, Frank Shepard, Dal East and more.
The scale and redevelopment of the whole Marina area gain a lot of respect from visitors and officials from other cities worldwide. As a result, the port of Málaga is now one of Spains largest. Málaga’s centre and main highlights are in walking distance, which is great for cruise ship passengers. The port has been extended to 11 docks and cruise ship terminals, sailing in around 700,000 passengers yearly.
Two quays have been developed, the Muello (Pier) Uno with commerce centres full of shops, bars and restaurants and Muello Dos, which is the surprising Palmeras promenade, as it is named with gardens and facilities. A fabulous idea was to create a temporary dépéndance of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, with art by Magritte, Bacon, and Giacometti etc. Hopefully, the exhibition will obtain a permanent character in future.
Most visitors to Málaga come for a short stay, some remain longer, for holidays or language studies, millions of foreigners own a house on the Costa del Sol or elsewhere in Andalucia (an increase of over 30% since 2015) and with so many airlines flying to Málaga, it is easy to find cheap airfare tickets, especially if your travel dates are flexible.
Like with any other city, there is another side to Málaga. The economic situation in the province of Málaga with an unemployment rate of 25% January 2017 (in the whole of Spain 18,5 %) is slowly getting better but clearly visible in some parts of the city. The growing number of visitors and home owners in and around Málaga and Andalucia can play an important role here.
But what counts is no matter if you have come here to see the highlights, enjoy tapas and cheap drinks in the bars and party through the night, or dwell in or outside the tourist areas, it is an amazing surprise to discover how much this popular destination has managed to remain a great place full of character to visit or to live in.
Looking for a chill beach city? Try Málaga – you love it!
Get the Andaluzcard for great discounts and tips (valid for 1 year)
Visit the CircusBar in Calle San Juan de Letrán
South of Granada – by Gerald Brenan for the real Spain and a bit of history
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