Things to Do in Malaga
One of Andalucia’s top attractions, El Caminito del Rey is a narrow hiking path known for its nearly 2-mile (3-km) stretch of man-made boardwalks and glass footbridges that hug the sides of sheer cliffs and hang over river gorges. The roughly 3-hour hike takes you on paths 350 feet above the Guadalhorce River, offering stunning views of the Gaitanes Canyon (Desfiladero de los Gaitanes).
Spanish architect Joaquín Rucoba built Málaga’s neo-Mudéjar bullring in 1874. Entrepreneur and former president of Málaga Football Club, Fernando Puche Dona, owns it today. The arcaded stadium has capacity for 14,000 spectators, with stables and training grounds for the horses, corrals for the bulls, and a mini-hospital.
One of Málaga’s most popular attractions, the Alcazaba is an atmospheric Moorish palace and fortress with ornamental gardens. Take in panoramic views of the city as you marvel at the ingenious design tricks the Moors used to protect their stronghold.
Museo Picasso Málaga, situated in the city of the master’s birth, showcases a collection of more than 200 pieces donated to the museum by Picasso’s family. While the Blue and Rose periods are missing, the collection highlights the artist’s personal side, with works he painted for his family or kept for himself.
Centuries ago, when Spain was under Muslim rule, Arab baths could be found in locations throughout the south. These hammams are said to have served as places of purification, hygiene and relaxation. Though few remain, you can still get a feel—in more ways than one—for what these tranquil getaways were like by experiencing the Hammam Al Ándalus in Málaga.
Located in a historic building just off Martyers Square and next to an old Mudejar-towered church, this hammam—or Arab bath—features Moorish-inspired architecture. Think details such as horseshoe-shaped arches, colorful tiled walls, and ethereal lighting created by star-shaped skylights in the overhead dome.
As is tradition, the Hammam Al ndalus has cold, warm and hot baths, as well as a steam room, and rest room, where you can relax and sip on traditional mint tea. Lasting 1.5 hours, the sessions allow guests to experience the various pools when not enjoying their massage. The massages themselves can be customized to last 30 minutes (rather than 15), and to include the use of a hot stone and traditional Arabic glove (called kessa) for rubbing soap and red grape into the skin. You can also pick from a selection of essential oils aimed to relax and moisturize.
Malaga’s largest and most iconic public square, the Plaza de la Constitution holds significance in both the city’s past and present. Serving as a public space since the 15th century, it remains an important center of Malaga daily life today. Palm trees sit beside historic Spanish architecture surrounding the fountain Fuente de Génova. Lined with alleyways full of small shops and cafes, it is a largely pedestrian area that’s great for exploring the city’s history.
The square was home to Malaga’s city hall until the 19th century, having since been renamed from Plaza de Cuatro Calles (four streets) and the Plaza Mayor. Once the home of festivals, celebrations, and even bullfights, it is now a central meeting spot for residents of the city. Cultural, political, and religious events still take place here throughout the year, including the impressiveSemana Santa processions and festivities.
It is considered to be the heart of Malaga’s historical quarter and a must-see while in the city.
The innovative Automobile and Fashion Museum is found in a former tobacco factory dating from 1927; it has an entrancing cross-section of exhibits and is the brainchild of Portuguese car fanatic and art collector Joao Magalhaes. The museum’s USP is the unusual combination of vintage vehicles displayed against a background of contemporary art and haute-couture design.
Magalhaes’ 80 vintage cars are presented in light-filled galleries stuffed with modern art and come in all vintages from the late 19th century to present day and beyond. His private art collection covers contemporary photography, splashes of graffiti art inspired by Jean-Paul Basquiat and Jackson Pollock, installations forged from wheel rims and sculpture resembling the anatomy of expensive cars. The museum also celebrates the close historic links of brands such as Ferrari and Aston Martin with exclusive fashion houses; the seven elegant clothing displays show exotic gowns from Balenciaga, Dior, YSL and Schiaparelli.
A recent addition to the mix is the EcoMuseum, dedicated to raising awareness of sustainability and green energy; star exhibits here include a steam car designed in 1910, the world’s first electric car — built in 1916 — and several futuristic prototypes, including a vehicle powered by hydrogen. If you’ve got time when visiting, walk to the museum along the seafront promenade, which takes about 40 minutes.
Though the majority of the Thyssen- Bornemisza family collection resides in their namesake museum in Madrid, Carmen Cervera (formally Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza), an avid art collector, decided to open her own galleries in Malaga. Situated in its galleries is perhaps the finest visual representation of Andalucian art, featuring noted artists ranging from Sorolla to Zuburán and Ezquerra, and spanning the 13th to 20th centuries.
The Carmen Thyssen Museum (Museo Carmen Thyssen), which opened in 2011, is partially located in a 16th-century baroque palace—el Palacio de Villalón—a site worth seeing in its own right. In fact, the palace and its art aren’t even the most historic items here: when undergoing construction for the museum, Roman ruins were discovered below.
It is in the building’s old chapel where you’ll find the “Old Masters” collection, a display of works by the collection’s most prized artists. The palace portion of the museum is also home to a picturesque colonnaded courtyard, a quintessential architectural element found in southern Spain.
Other collections – including Romantic landscape and Costumbrismo, Précieux and Naturalist, and Fin-de-siécle – reside in the adjoining building, which was constructed specifically for the museum. Meanwhile, various rotating exhibitions go on display too.
Built between 1528 and 1782, after Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand expelled the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula, Málaga Cathedral (Catedral de la Encarnación de Málaga) is one of the city’s top historic landmarks. Designed by architect Diego de Siloé, the cathedral is a unique combination of Gothic, Renaissance, and baroque styles.
Picasso’s birthplace is located on the elegant Plaza de la Merced barely 200 yards (180 m) from the awesome Museo Picasso Malaga, which holds over 150 of his artworks. Standing at the end of Calle Alcazabilla, the sweeping square is dominated by an obelisk honoring General Torrijos, an aristocratic revolutionary who fought against French invasion of Spain and was publically executed here for his pains in 1831.
This bourgeois, tree-fringed piazza was once site of Málaga’s main produce market and is today lined with smart, shuttered and balconied townhouses, cafés and top-end restaurants. It lies at the very heart of the city and each night locals gather here to promenade and chat in the tapas bars. The last Sunday of the month sees Málaga’s main craft market held in the square, where local delicacies such as Serrano ham and tortilla are also on sale.
Perhaps surprisingly there is only a rather low-key statue dedicated to the world’s most famous artist in one corner of the square, but Picasso’s house is given over to the Museo Casa Natal (Picasso Birthplace Museum), which has three rooms on the first floor given over to his ceramics and drawings. The five-story mansion is also headquarters to the Fundación Picasso, which holds thousands of paintings, sculptures and drawings by Picasso and his contemporaries.
More Things to Do in Malaga
The oldest monument in Málaga, the Roman Theatre (Teatro Romano de Málaga) was built in the first Roman emperor Augustus’ reign. The amphitheater was unearthed as part of a civic building project in the 1950s and has since been excavated and restored.
One of the cleanest, sparkliest urban beaches in Andalucia, Malagueta is blessed with a soft, sandy sweep of 0.75 miles (1,200 m) in length and a spectacular backdrop across Málaga’s smart waterside apartments to stumpy hills inland. Lying just east of the fishing port, it is one of 15 beaches within the city limits and is completely manmade on reclaimed land.
With only a moderate tide typical of the Mediterranean Sea and clean, shallow water, the beach is well served by lifeguards, shady spots under palm trees and several play areas, making it perfect for families spending the day there with young children. The calm waters of Malagueta are ideal for swimming and facilities for adults include sunbed and parasol hire, showers and workout stations along the Promenade of Pablo Ruiz Picasso.
The curve of the beach is lined with a series of shops selling swimwear and beach necessities as well as chiringuitos (simple bars offering drinks and tasty tapas) and upmarket seafood restaurants. Although it gets very popular with local families in the height of summer, there is ample parking nearby.
Perched high up on Mont Gibralfaro, Castillo de Gibralfaro offers commanding views of the city of Malaga and the Mediterranean Sea. Originally built by the Moors in the 10th century, the castle is one of Malaga’s best-known sights and is featured on the city’s flag.
The 18th-century Baroque Palacio del Conde Navas is found at the heart of the Málaga’s historic center. Once home to Spanish aristocrats and later a school, the palace fell into disuse in the late 20th century, but after decades of neglect it was restored between 2010 and 2013 and became the home of the city’s museum of music. MIMMA belongs to a new generation of ‘smart’ museums; it’s totally interactive and many of its instruments are available for visitors to play. With over 400 musical instruments on display from one of Europe’s biggest private collections, the museum examines the role of music in world culture down the centuries.
Children will love the chance to try out violins, guitars, drums or wacky instruments like didgeridoos from Australia and ancient Celtic bagpipes, and in the themed rooms, screens offer up information about the history of each instrument. Prototype instruments of the future can be discovered in MIMMA’s Living Lab and family-friendly workshops are held at weekends with the aim of introducing children to music at a young age. Be sure to catch the stirring flamenco performances each weekday at 1:30pm, and 2pm on Saturday (additional cost).
Covering more than 250,000 square meters of landscaped lands, the Malaga Botanical Gardens are home to hundreds of tropical and subtropical plants from around the globe. Palm trees, vines, water plants, bamboo trees, and citrus trees can be seen throughout the extensive grounds. As open air pathways pass through the greenery, fountains, ponds, and streams complete the scenery. With the many varieties of palm trees and waters, the gardens have an oasis feel. Its mirador still has some of the best views of Malaga and the surrounding sea.
Designed by aristocrats in the 19th century, it was often a meeting place for important figures in Malaga at that time. Artists, politicians, and high society often gathered there. For these reasons, the gardens have been officially recognized for their historical-artistic importance. They are often cited as one of the best botanical gardens in Europe, and are considered a must-stop on most city tours.
Málaga’s Museo del Vidrio y Cristal (Museum of Glass and Crystal) showcases 700 pieces of glass and crystal that date from the 6th century BC to the 20th century. Located in an 18th-century Casa Palacio (“palace house”) in the center of town, the decorative arts museum is one of the few dwellings from this era to be preserved in Málaga. With spacious patios and gardens, the museum is furnished like a home and has an intimate atmosphere. Antique sofas, rugs, mirrors, and paintings take their places alongside the glass pieces displayed in cabinets.
The collection is divided across two floors into various historical eras, with period furniture from each era to complement the glass. On the ground floor, visitors will see English pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows. The first floor has several sections, starting with the Ancient Civilizations: Egyptian, Phoenician, Greco-Roman, Islamic, and Byzantine. Keep an eye out for the pretty, brightly-colored Phoenician pieces that date from the 6th century BC. The 16th- and 17th-century exhibits feature Catalan, Dutch, Bohemian, and Venetian lead glass; the 18th-century exhibit has glass made in La Granja; the19th-century exhibit shows English cameo glass by Thomas Webb; and the 20th century showcases Lalique and Whitefriars pieces.
The Málaga Ferris Wheel – also known as the Noria Mirador Princess – is a 230 foot (70m) high observation wheel located in Málaga port, near the city center. The ferris wheel offers unparalleled views over the port area, the buildings in the Plaza de la Marina, and all the way to the Málaga Cathedral and the castle of Gibralfaro. In fact, when visibility conditions are good, riders can enjoy panoramic views of almost 20 miles (30km) on all sides.
A ride on the ferris wheel is 15 minutes long, during which time the cabins rotate three times. The wheel has 42 air-conditioned cabins, each of which holds eight passengers — meaning more than 1300 passengers can ride the wheel each hour. In practice, families, groups, friends, and couples will often have a cabin to themselves. In the evening, the sun shines on the cabins at the top of the wheel, while those at ground level are in the shadow of the city-center buildings. At night the wheel is lit up with 20,000 LED light bulbs.
Opened in 2008, the Malaga Museum of Wine (Museo del Vino) celebrates one of Spain’s most important wine regions, famous for its muscatel. Housed in the eighteenth century Palacio de Biedmas, the museum traces the history of wine-making in the province through a collection of wine labels, posters and artifacts.
Visitors to the museum will learn about the province’s five districts and three wine-growing regions (Denominacion de Origin), as well as the types of grapes grown in each. A tasting room allows museum goers to sample wines produced in Malaga.
Málaga’s Contemporary Art Museum—or CAC Málaga (Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga)– is a 20,000 sq ft (6000 square meter) multi-use space, with about ⅓ of its size given over to art exhibits and ⅔ to conferences and cultural events. It is located in the former Málaga Wholesale Market, a historic building designed in 1927 by Luis Gutiérrez Soto. Built in 1939, the building has a two-story, triangular floor plan, defined by cubic spaces and straight lines.
The museum has a permanent collection comprised of approximately 400 works, many of which are on loan to the museum from private collectors for anywhere between 3-5 years’ time. Though the permanent collection is constantly evolving, the CAC Málaga is particularly notable for its collection of mid-20th century works by modern artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella. The museum also hosts a regular program of temporary exhibitions dedicated to up-and-coming Spanish artists, as well as guest lectures, courses, and workshops for all ages.
Atarazanas Market (also known as Mercado Central de Ataranzanas) is a Málaga landmark that served as a shipyard, warehouse, and barracks before becoming the city’s leading food market. The Moorish-influenced building has been refurbished, and it’s once more a warren of stalls set amid delicate wrought ironwork below a domed stained-glass window.
If you’ve heard of the Centre Pompidou before, it’s likely because it’s one of the most famous art museums in Paris. The first one to exist outside of France opened in the heart of Malaga, Spain — a modern building that sits strikingly as a cube with multicolored and clear glass windows. The contemporary space contains both a large permanent collection and smaller temporary exhibits.
The museum houses nearly 100 unique works from the 20th and 21st century, all of which are grouped in one of five themes: Metamorphosis, Cubism, Politics, Self Portraits, and The Man Without A Face. Famous artists featured include Picasso (who was born in Malaga,) Frida Kahlo, Francis Bacon, and René Magritte, among others.
Dedicated solely to modern artists of this time period, it operates as a smaller scale design of its sister museum in Paris. Though it is newer than other sights, it has received high acclaim and is already part of most of the city tours of Malaga.
With its peculiar stacked rocks and knobbly karst towers, the otherworldly landscape of El Torcal de Antequera is one of Spain’s most unique natural landscapes, formed over 150 million years ago, by the movement of tectonic plates beneath the ocean. Now a protected nature reserve, El Torcal’s unusual terrain is celebrated both for its remarkable geology and its diverse wildlife, and the rocky landscape is home to around 700 different plant species and a colorful array of nesting and migratory birds.
The starting point for most visitors is the El Torcal visitor center, but three color-coded walking trails also take in the park’s highlights – the 1.5km green route; the 2.5km yellow route, which climbs to the ‘Las Ventanillas’ (The Windows) lookout point at 1,200 meters; and the 4.5km red route, which reaches a height of over 1,300 meters.
Picasso’s life in Spain spanned nearly all of the country’s corners, from the northwestern region of Galicia to big-city Barcelona, and, of course, Andalucia, where he was born in 1881. Indeed, it is in Malaga at the now-titled Pablo Picasso Birthplace Museum (Museo Casa Natal de Picasso) — Picasso’s former family home, located in the heart of Malaga’s old town — where he spent his first, and perhaps most formative years.
Today, you can visit the artist’s childhood house, which is now the headquarters for the Fundación Picasso, a foundation that studies and promotes the artist’s work. The museum features more than 4,000 pieces by some 200 artists, including Picasso, as well as other contemporary artists. It also houses a variety of objects related to Picasso’s childhood, family, and his connection to Spain and the south.
Designed by Málaga’s civic architect Gerónimo Cuervo in the late 19th century, the Cervantes Theatre (Teatro Cervantes) was built in imposing Neo-classical style to replace an earlier theater destroyed by fire. Its exotic interior was created by local artists Antonio Muñoz and Bernardo Ferrándiz and the theater opened in 1870 with a performance of Rossini’s opera William Tell. However, by the 1950s, the building was largely decaying and it remained in a poor state until 1984, when it was bought by the city council and restoration began.
Reopened in 1987, the interior of the Cervantes is still true to its original design, with an ornate painted ceiling and gilded detailing on the horseshoe-shaped boxes and stalls. It has a seating capacity of 1,104 and is the city’s cultural heartbeat for opera, ballet, rock and orchestral concerts, big names in jazz and flamenco performances. Subtitles in English accompany some productions. The Málaga Spanish Film Festival is held here every March.
The Cervantes Theatre is included on walking tours of Picasso’s Málaga, along with his birthplace and the fabled Picasso Museum.
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