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One Day in Malaga | A Guide to the Perfect Day

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Malaga, Spain is a vibrant and historic coastal city in southern Spain, known for its beautiful beaches, delicious cuisine, and rich cultural heritage. Málaga is one area’s most beautiful cities, and is the capital of the Costa Del Sol (Sun Coast in English). From the wonderful cuisine full of fresh fish to the ancient ruins to the beach, there is no shortage of things to do here. This post will walk through everything you should do if you only have one day in Malaga.

This guide also includes some of my perspectives while traveling there. While it is a short amount of time, if you plan carefully, you can still hit many of the city’s highlights. Note, this will one day itinerary does appear intense, but you can certainly choose the items that best suit your desires.

Brief History | Malaga

Malaga is a city in southern Spain with a rich and varied history that dates back more than 2,800 years. The city has been inhabited by a range of cultures, including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and Christians. Each left their mark on the city’s architecture, art, and culture. The Phoenicians established a settlement in Malaga around the 8th century BC, and the city was later occupied by the Greeks and the Carthaginians. It then became a Roman colony in the 3rd century BC. Under Roman rule, Malaga flourished and became an important center for agriculture and trade.

Plaza de la Constitución in Málaga
Plaza de la Constitución in Málaga

During the Islamic period, which began in the 8th century AD, Malaga was transformed into a thriving commercial and cultural center. The Moors built many of the city’s most impressive structures, including the Alcazaba fortress, the Gibralfaro Castle, and the Great Mosque. The city’s strategic location on the Mediterranean coast made it an important port for the Moorish kingdom of Granada. It grew to be the center of trade and commerce between Europe and Africa.

In the late 15th century, Malaga was conquered by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, and the city became part of the Kingdom of Castile. The city experienced a period of decline in the centuries that followed, but it was revitalized in the 19th century with the advent of the industrial revolution. Today, Malaga is a thriving city with a rich cultural heritage, beautiful beaches, and a vibrant art scene. It remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain for all of these reasons.

Know Before you Go

Lodging & Logistics

Getting There: If you are coming in from a relatively far distance, you are most likely to arrive to via the Malaga airport. This airport does currently serve as the main international airport on the Costa del Sol and the busiest international airport in all of Andalusia. If you are already in Spain and in a city close by, you should consider arriving by train as the María Zambrano Railway Station is pretty centrally located and train travel within the country is quite affordable.

Where to Stay: For your first time in Málaga, I recommend staying in the Old Town area. Here, you will be within easy walking distance to most of the locations that are mentioned in this post. When I was there, I stayed at both the AC Hotel Marriott and Soho Boutique Urban. Both are great options and are located with the Old Town.

Hotel recommendation

AC Hotel Marriott Palacio

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This 4-star hotel is conveniently located right in the city center of Malaga, between the Málaga Cathedral and Paseo del Parque. I features a rooftop pool and restaurant which offer stunning views of the city and the Alcazaba Castle, which is also just a short walk away.


Hotel recommendation

Soho Urban Boutique

⭐️⭐️⭐️

This 3-star hotel offers comfortable rooms, a free and delicious breakfast, and rooms with balconies. It is located in the Old City Center, and is nearby to the major shopping area in the city as well.

Getting Around: As mentioned above, if you stay in the main tourist area of the city, walking / getting around on foot is quite easy. In addition, you’ll find Uber is readily available to you. There is also a metro, but you are unlikely to need to use it unless you plan to visit areas further out than what is covered in this guide.

Daily Considerations:

When to Go: Malaga gets the most sunny days of any city in Spain at about 300 days of sunshine a year! This makes it an ideal place to visit both in the summer months and the winter months. During the summer months (high season), weather is usually in the upper 80s with lows in the upper 60s. And during the winter you can expect highs in the mid-lower 60s with lows in the 40s.

Language Considerations: As you know, the official language of Spain is Spanish or Castellano as it is called there. Outside of major cities like Barcelona and Madrid, it can be difficult to find people who speak English. I recommend brushing up on the basics before your trip. Note sure where to start? Check out my post on the list of top Spanish phrases for travel.

Currency Situation: Like most countries in Europe, Spain uses the Euro. As of today, the currency exchange rate is €94 to $1.00. Please check here for the latest exchange rates. Additionally, for the Americans reading this post, I recommend taking more cash around with you than typical as it is still more commonly used that it is in the US.

The Itinerary | One Day in Málaga

Morning

Mercado Central de Atarazanas

Start your day by visiting the Mercado Central de Atarazanas and have breakfast while you are here. The Mercado Central de Atarazanas (or Atarazanas Market) is a historic market located in the heart of Málaga, Spain. It was built in the 14th century and was originally used as a shipyard, or “atarazanas,” for the construction and repair of ships. In the 19th century, the building was converted into a market, and it has been a popular shopping destination ever since. Today, the Mercado Central de Atarazanas is one of Málaga’s most iconic landmarks and a hub of activity, with over 60 stalls selling fresh produce, seafood, meats, cheeses, and other local specialties.

The market is a true feast for the senses, with vibrant colors, tantalizing aromas, and the sounds of vendors calling out their wares. It is a great place to sample some of Málaga’s delicious cuisine, for all the foodies out there.

Roman Theater

Next, head over to explore the historic Roman Theatre, an ancient amphitheater that dates back to the 1st century AD. It is one of the most significant ancient monuments in the city and a testament to its rich history. The theater was built during the first century AD and was capable of seating over 8,000 spectators. It was used for performances of plays and gladiatorial games and was a major cultural center for the Roman community in Málaga.

Despite being buried for centuries, the theater was rediscovered in the 1950s and underwent extensive restoration. Today, the Roman Theater is one the main attractions in the city and is open to the public. Entrance into the theater is 100% free as well.

Malaga Roman Theatre
Inside the Roman Theater

The Alcazaba

Right next to the Roman Theater entrance is the entrance of the Alcazaba, an 11th-century Moorish palace that sits atop a hill in the heart of the city. It is the best-preserved alcazaba in Spain, and was one of the last strongholds of the Arab empire here before defeat by the Spanish. It was built in the 11th century and served as the residence of the Muslim rulers of the city, and is one of the best examples of Moorish military architecture.

The castle is built on a hill overlooking the city and offers spectacular views of Málaga and the Mediterranean Sea. The interior of the Alcazaba is equally impressive, with beautiful courtyards, gardens, and patios that showcase the intricate decoration and skilled craftsmanship of the Moors.

Gibralfaro Castle

Next door to the Alcazaba you’ll find Gibralfaro Castle, a historic fortress located in Málaga, Spain. It was built in the 14th century on a hill overlooking the city and was designed to protect Málaga from attacks by sea and land. The castle has a rich and storied history, having been the site of many battles and sieges over the centuries. Today, visitors can explore the castle’s well-preserved ramparts, towers, and fortifications, and admire the stunning views of Málaga and the surrounding countryside.

The castle also houses a museum that showcases the history of the castle and its role in the defense of Málaga, as well as exhibits on the history of the city and its cultural heritage. When visiting the top, you’ll get audioguides that are offered in many languages that you can use to learn more about the history as you walk around.

Be prepared, walking to the top of the Castle is not for the faint of heart. Particularly on a hot day – I was personally surprised at how long it took to arrive at the top! But the views from the top make it completely worth it. I do recommend you do this before midday, if you are visiting Malaga in the summer.

One day in Malaga
Views of Malaga from Gibralfaro Castle

Cathedral of Málaga

After you walk back down from the castle, take a stroll along the city’s charming old town, where you’ll find narrow streets lined with colorful buildings and traditional Spanish architecture. Stop by the Cathedral of Malaga, a stunning 15th-century cathedral that features a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles that is located in the historic center.

The cathedral was built in the 16th century on the site of a former mosque and is one of the most important religious landmarks in southern Spain. The cathedral’s exterior is a stunning example of Gothic architecture, with its towering spires, intricate carvings, and ornate stained-glass windows.

La Manquita in Malaga
Views of La Manquita from above

The interior of the cathedral is equally impressive, with its high arched ceilings, richly decorated chapels, and ornate altarpieces. Visitors can admire the beauty of the cathedral’s stained-glass windows, which depict scenes from the life of Christ, as well as its impressive altarpieces, which are some of the finest examples of Baroque art in southern Spain.

Locally, it is known as “La Manquita” as it is missing an “arm” or one of the towers that was part of the original plan. I’ll note, if you are short on time, you may want to stick to experiencing the cathedral from the outside. It’s still really quite impressive!

Afternoon

After a morning of sightseeing, it’s time to take a break and enjoy some delicious Spanish cuisine. Malaga is known for its fresh seafood, so be sure to try some local dishes such as fried fish, paella, and tapas. Stop to grab a quick bite in one of the many restaurants found in Old City. I recommend eating at Casa Lola, but try to get there for an early lunch to beat the crowds.

Picasso Museum .

Málaga is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, which is why you’ll find a museum dedicated to him there. The museum is dedicated to the life and work of Pablo Picasso, who was born in the city in 1881. The museum’s collection includes over 200 works of art, including paintings, drawings, prints, and ceramics. It truly showcases the full range of Picasso’s creative output. Visitors can explore the artist’s formative years in Málaga, as well as his later works in Paris and other parts of Europe.

The museum is housed in the beautiful 16th-century Palacio de Buenavista. Its exhibitions are curated to provide a comprehensive and engaging introduction to Picasso’s art. The are featured there really shows his move from a more traditional art style to cubism. The latter is what we all know him for today.

One thing that I found really cool about this museum is that below it are ruins dating back to the time of the Phoenicians. A little off topic perhaps, but really quite cool for history lovers. Note, the lines to the museum can be long, so I recommend that you save time and purchase your tickets in advance. I did this while there and it was a lifesaver. Click this link to check prices!

Check prices for Picasso Museum entry here!

Botanical Garden in Málaga

The Botanical Garden in Málaga is a tranquil oasis located in the heart of the city, offering visitors a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life and connect with nature. The garden was established in 1855 and features a diverse collection of plant species from all over the world. This collection includes exotic flowers, succulents, cacti, and palms. The garden is divided into several sections, each showcasing a variety of plants and landscapes, from lush jungles to arid deserts.

Visitors can stroll through the well-manicured paths and enjoy the serenity of the park’s tranquil surroundings. You’ll find plenty of palm trees lining the area and places to sit and relax. The Botanical Garden is also a popular spot for picnics and outdoor activities, as well.

Note, this is the one place on this itinerary where you will need to likely catch transport to travel to.

One Day in Malaga
The Mirador in Málaga’s Botanical Garden (Jardin Botanico La Concepcion)

Stroll Muelle Uno

Before the sun sets, head to Muelle Uno for a little stroll. Muelle Uno is a contemporary shopping and entertainment complex situated in Malaga, a coastal city in southern Spain. Located at the end of the port, Muelle Uno boasts stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea and Malaga’s skyline. This open-air complex offers a diverse range of shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, and cultural attractions, all set amidst modern and stylish architecture.

Visitors can enjoy browsing fashion and accessory stores, sampling local cuisine and international flavors, and taking in art exhibitions, live music performances, and theatrical shows. Muelle Uno also features outdoor areas for leisure and entertainment, including a large playground for children and a scenic promenade for walking and jogging. I thought this area was a beautiful place to explore while there and honestly wish I spent more time here.

Muelle Uno at night
View of Muelle Uno from above at Night

Malagueta Beach

As an alternate to the above, instead head to the Malagueta Beach for some sun and relaxation. Malaga offers many beaches to choose from, but this popular beach is one of the best for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports.

End your day with a visit to the Malaga Museum, which is dedicated to the city’s art, history and culture. The museum is housed in the 16th-century Buenavista Palace and features an impressive collection of artifacts and works of art.

Evening

As dinner time approaches, I recommend heading to El Pimpi for dinner. This is a restaurant owned by Antonio Banderas, who is a local there. It is quite popular, so try to book reservations in advance if you can! (You may need to do this 3-4 weeks beforehand). The food here is delicious, although it is a bit of a chaotic restaurant given how busy it is. But I don’t mean that in a bad way.

Depending on your interests, here are some ideas on what to do for the rest of the evening:

  • Flamenco Show: Flamenco is something that you should definitely see while in the region of Andalusia. It is a style of dance and music that was born from a mix of cultures between the ostracized gypsies, arabs, and jews in the area, and is beautiful to see.
  • Rooftop Bar or Restaurant: There are plenty of places to get expansive views of the city at night. One place that I would recommend is the ATICO Bar & Restaurant at the AC Hotel in Málaga.

Málaga City Map

This map outlines every landmark that is found in this itinerary. As you’ll see, everything is in walking distance (save for the Botanical Gardens).

  1. Mercado Central de Atarazanas
  2. Roman Theatre
  3. The Alcazaba
  4. Gibralfaro Castle
  5. Cathedral of Málaga
  6. Casa Lola
  7. Picasso Museum
  8. Botanical Garden of Málaga
  9. Muelle Uno
  10. Malagueta Beach
  11. El Pimpi

Best Tours to Explore Malaga

If you would like a guide to help you visit the sites listed on this itinerary in an expedited fashion, here are some options that I would recommend:

  • Hop-On Hop-Off Bus: This bus comes with commentary on each site and will get you to each one in a speedy fashion.
  • A great way to explore the city is through free walking tours. With this option you get a local guide who will walk to each of the main sites and explain the history and context of each one. I did this while in Málaga and truly enjoyed the experience.
  • Malaga Tuk-Tuk Electric Car Tour: For a unique experience, this tour will take you around the city by Tuk Tuk and also comes with a local guide to show you the way.

The Malaga Pass

If you plan to spend a lot of time visiting museums such as the Carmen Thyssen Museum, this combined ticket would be a great option for you. It provides discounts to over 20 museums in the city, as well as discounts in certain shops, restaurants, and hotels! Check it out here.

In Summary | One Day in Malaga

With so much to see and do, one day in Malaga may not be enough to take it all in, but it’s a great way to get a taste of what this vibrant city has to offer. If you have visited Málaga before, let me know in the comments below!

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