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Things to Do in Malaga

Malaga is known as the gateway to the beaches and resort towns of the Costa del Sol, but there’s more to the port city than high-rise hotels and beachfront bars. Many visitors are surprised to discover that Malaga, with its enchanting historic center and thriving art scene—it is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, after all—is more in tune with Andalucia culture hubs such as Cordoba and Seville than the flashy coastal sprawls of Fuengirola and Benidorm. The sloping streets of the Old Town lend themselves well to Segway tours, during which visitors short on time can tick off Museo Picasso Malaga, Malaga Alcazaba, and Malaga Cathedral (Cathedral de la Encarnacion). The urban Malagueta Beach provides opportunity to swim and sunbathe; nearby Mijas, where whitewashed houses tumble picturesquely into the Mediterranean Sea, is a feast for the eyes; and Marbella, home to the affluent Puerto Banus, lures a party crowd with its swanky cocktail bars and star-studded clubs. For farther-flung adventures, Gibraltar, Seville, Granada, with its UNESCO World Heritage-listed Alhambra, and Ronda, home to a historic bullring and the dramatic El Tajo Gorge are within easy reach on day trips. Travelers yearning for a taste of Africa can cross the Alboran Sea on a full-day excursion to Morocco, where a guide reveals the exotic delights of Tangier. If you wish to stay for longer, multi-day trips cover more of Morocco over five or six days.
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Malaga Alcazaba
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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.

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El Caminito del Rey
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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).

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Hammam Al Ándalus Málaga
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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.

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Museo Picasso Málaga
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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.

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Malaga Cathedral (Cathedral de la Encarnación)
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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.

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Málaga Roman Theatre (Teatro Romano de Málaga)
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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.

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Plaza de la Merced
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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.

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Gibralfaro Castle (Castillo de Gibralfaro)
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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.

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Malagueta Beach (Playa de La Malagueta)
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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.

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Pablo Picasso Birthplace Museum (Museo Casa Natal de Picasso)
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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.

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More Things to Do in Malaga

Automobile and Fashion Museum (Museo Automovilistico y de la Moda)

Automobile and Fashion Museum (Museo Automovilistico y de la Moda)

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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.

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Carmen Thyssen Museum (Museo Carmen Thyssen)

Carmen Thyssen Museum (Museo Carmen Thyssen)

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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.

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La Malagueta Bullring (Plaza de Toros de La Malagueta)

La Malagueta Bullring (Plaza de Toros de La Malagueta)

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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.

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Atarazanas Market

Atarazanas Market

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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.

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Centre Pompidou Málaga

Centre Pompidou Málaga

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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.

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Basílica de Santa María de la Victoria

Basílica de Santa María de la Victoria

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Located just outside Málaga’s historic quarter, the Basílica de Santa Mara de la Victoria has a relatively plain exterior. Don’t be fooled by its modest façade — it conceals an interior that’s considered to be one of the most beautiful Baroque churches in Andalusia. Inside, the church is filled with plaster decoration painted with gold accents, and laid out in the shape of a Latin cross. Two chapels come off the central aisle and a cupola tops it all off.

The exhibition hall houses the treasure of the Virgen de la Victoria in a space adjoining one of the chapels. Here, the patroness of Málaga's trousseau is displayed. Among the paintings and sculptures is a noteworthy Virgin of the Sorrows, the ‘Dolorosa’, by Pedro de Mena. At the basement of the church’s tower, a small museum houses the Pantheon of the Counts of Buenavista. This pantheon is considered one of the most unique in Spain because of its macabre decoration, intended to provoke thoughts of mortality (one of the frequent themes of the Counter Reformation).

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Constitution Square (Plaza de la Constitucion)

Constitution Square (Plaza de la Constitucion)

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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.

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El Torcal del Antequera

El Torcal del Antequera

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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.

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SEA LIFE® Benalmádena

SEA LIFE® Benalmádena

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Discover the Costa del Sol’s largest seahorse collection, stroke a starfish or a sea anemone, catch a glimpse of Yellow, the giant green turtle, and more at SEA LIFE Benalmádena. Explore the underwater world first-hand—whatever the weather—in the aquariums several exhibits, and get up close and personal with marine animals.

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Malaga Park (Parque de Malaga)

Malaga Park (Parque de Malaga)

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Covering more than three hectares and centered around three main pathways bordering both sides of the Paseo de Parque, Málaga Park was created at the end of the 19th century on land reclaimed from the Mediterranean Sea. Stretching along Málaga’s seafront from Plaza del General Torrijos to the Plaza de la Marina, the gardens are planted with perfumed roses, orange and cypress trees as well as exotic tropical shrubs and palm trees.

On the north side of the Paseo de Parque are several follies and fountains, including the Fuente de los Niños (Fountain of the Baby Boys) by revered ceramicist Juan Ruiz de Luna (1967). A succession of marble Neo-classical statues celebrate famous figures associated with Málaga, such as poet Salvador Rueda and artist Bernado Ferrándiz, and a cute little bronze of a donkey by Jaime Fernández Pimentel stands near the children’s play area. Pimentel was also responsible for the flying seagulls on the beguiling, open-air Eduardo Ocón Auditorium, which dates from 1962; there are weekly concerts held there on Sunday at noon as well as movie nights and music festivals in summer. Today the park is a popular stop on guided cycling tours of the city and horse-and-carriage rides also pass by the gardens.

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Marina Square (Plaza de la Marina)

Marina Square (Plaza de la Marina)

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The Plaza de la Marina (Marina Square) is one of the main squares in Málaga’s historic city center. Located between two of the city’s most important avenues, Alameda Principal and Paseo del Parque, the square was constructed at the end of the 19th century with reclaimed land drained from the sea. It is a lively square, and is the first sight that visitors from cruise ships see when they arrive at the Port of Málaga.

The Tourist Information Office of the City of Málaga is located in this square, and provides information on things to do in the city during your stay. The Plaza de la Marina also has a large underground parking area, making it a frequent departure point for city tours. Several notable mid-20th century buildings, designed with modern lines, are located around the square. In the center of the square is a dancing fountain with jets of water, and at the back is a sculpture of El Cenachero (“the fish vendor”), a symbol of the city of Málaga.

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MIMMA (Museo Interactivo de la Música)

MIMMA (Museo Interactivo de la Música)

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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).

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Reservatauro Ronda

Reservatauro Ronda

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Situated inside a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Reservatauro Ronda, a bull- and horse-breeding farm, offers curious visitors an alternative way to explore the history and culture of Spanish bullfighting. Learn about each stage of the fighting bull’s life, the breeding process, bullfighter training, and more during a guided tour.

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Museum of Glass and Crystal (Museo del Vidrio y Cristal)

Museum of Glass and Crystal (Museo del Vidrio y Cristal)

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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.

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