Spain travel guide: Málaga and Andalusia region
A regular traveler to Spain, before I came to Málaga I have to admit I wasn’t that impressed with the big cities. I have done some islands, resorts, beaches, mountain regions etc but before Málaga, I only came across Madrid and Barcelona. They didn’t impress me. When I came to Málaga, I wasn’t getting my hopes up high. However the second biggest city in the Andalusia region really did surprise me. Located on Spain’s Costa del Sol with a population of half of million people, this city had it all. Beach, sea, nightlife, culture, dining out, it had charm, it had character and above all, it’s also a great base to be when exploring the surrounding area. I had the pleasure of visiting this city twice and would consider going back for the hat-trick.
For visitors, the main appeal is that the city has around 300 sunny days a year. This is true, I have been here in the summer months and every day was a sunny day and in December when I came here for a mini-break so that I could run a marathon, every day was sunny. Marvellous. The main airport for the city is located to the north-west and is easy to get to and when you look at the main departures-arrivals board inside, there are a lot of flights to the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. A lot of Northern Europeans come to Málaga. This is because of the areas all year round sunshine and the amazing resorts with its beaches all along the coastline. Málaga is the gateway to the Costa del Sol. However, a lot of those passing through the airport will hit up the resorts and tend to miss this amazing city. Málaga has to be explored and here is what visitors can do and see.
Old Town of Málaga: I loved walking around the cobbled streets, checking out squares, walking down the main shopping street with shades above me. There are plenty of eating options as well as fantastic bars to check out. Check out the Roman amphitheatre as well as the oldest remains of the city, which are parts of the city walls which can be found in the cellar of the Picasso museum. Don’t forget to check out the cathedral which was built in the 16th century and has stunning Renaissance architecture plus the nearby bullring.
Gibralfaro Castle: located on top of a 130 meter hill (known as Mount Gibralfaro) which is a Moorish castle and still stands in very good condition to this very day. The fortifications were first laid in 770BC but the castle I saw on this trip was ramped up in the 14th century. What I loved whilst exploring is the ramparts which overlooks everything in the area and I mean everything. Even the tall pine and eucalyptus which grow here. However my favourite thing to do here is to check out the amazing views of Málaga down below. Best time to come is before sunset and check out the sun going down over the Mediterranean and the city. Alcazaba Fortress: this is probably Málaga’s top landmark to check out. Whilst checking out the fortress, this reminded me of a smaller version of the Alhambra in Granada. Another great place for views, however take a stroll around the gardens and see the beautiful fountains. A short cut to get there from the Roman amphitheatre is to tackle the steep slopes from there to the fortress or take the elevator from Ayuntamiento de Málaga.
The beaches: there are so many beaches within the city limits however the main one Olga and I kept hitting up is the Playa de la Malagueta. It was a little bit busy when we came in the summer months but it’s understandable. Short walking distance from the centre, lots of restaurants and bars in the area, golden sands and a calm city (however the water can still be cold here in the hot months due to the closeness of the cold Atlantic Ocean waters which come into the Mediterranean). On the days we weren’t exploring the city or road tripping in the region, we would hit up the beach.
Port of Málaga: I know adding a sea port to this guide might sound a bit crazy but after redevelopment many years ago, but head to Muelle Uno (Port One), this is a trendy place to hit up especially in the summer months. There are plenty of tapas and cocktails bars amongst others to check out, however walking along the seafront is also a pleasant thing to do. We spent a lot of time here in the early evenings and we had the pleasure to check the place out when it first opened in 2011.
Ronda is a small town located over 100km (60 miles) west from Málaga in the Sierra de la Nieves National Park. The drive (which takes about ninety minutes) to Ronda was amazing, there were small mountains, rolling hills, beautiful scenery to see and probably one of the most relaxing drives I have done in the country. Ronda is built on top of the El Tajo Gorge and with the town’s white buildings and the surrounding mountain landscape, this is one of the photogenic places I have come across in Spain. When walking around the top of the gorge, every angle for me was a photo opportunity. I didn’t come here just to take good pictures, I was embraced with the local culture, the fine fresh food and wine and loved walking up side streets whilst saying hello to the locals.
The top place to hit up has to be the Puente Nuevo which in English means ‘New Bridge’. However the bridge has stood here since the 18th century so it is not really new now. The bridge goes across the gorge and the Guadalevin river which stands over 100 meters tall. Along the top of the gorge there is the Jardines de Cuenca (the Cuenca Gardens) where there are a few terraces which we caught amazing views of the gorge and the bridge.
To the east of Málaga is the resort of Nerja which takes about one hour to drive to. Whilst walking around it just felt like another seaside resort with its shops, beaches, restaurants and I didn’t get the feel of any culture (if any) like the other places I have visited in the region. However on the day trip here we did check out the beach and walked around taking in amazing views of the sea. Don’t get me wrong, if visitors are just looking for a beach, eat, drink and shop, then come to Nerja. However, I am not giving Nerja a bad name. As mentioned earlier, visitors will either come for the sun, sea, sand, food and drink or they will also come and do sightseeing, embrace the culture and create memories. Sounds strange. Well, Nerja for me was the first lot but there is one place which has to be experienced and that is the caves.
The Cuevas de Nerja is one of the most visited places in Southern Spain and with 80,000 years of history, I can see why. Going on a tour and checking out the stalactites and stalagmites was truly breathtaking. Visitors can only explore a third of the caves (it is huge!) but that is just enough to be honest and I think I was down there for over an hour checking out the place. Remember to take a light jumper or jacket as it can get a bit cold down there, even in the summer months when we went.
The resorts of the Costa del Sol are a big draw here for people looking for sand, sun and sea with food and drink a plenty. As a British person, I just had to check out some of the places along the coastline located to the west of Málaga. One day we took a train to Torremolinos (the train line from Málaga to Fuengirola also goes to the airport, so when arriving at the airport, visitors can take the train either into Málaga or to the resorts like Torremolinos, Churriana and Fuengirola). Now for me, this was the day where we didn’t want culture and history and to just chill on a beach, have greasy food from a cafe nearby and to look for souvenirs at the shops. It was actually enjoyable. We don’t do this often but once in a while it was nice to do.
Another place we hit up for another day by the beach and do nothing is Marbella. I have heard about this resort since I was a young child and was a top place for British people to hit up in the 1990s and still is. The town is bigger than Torremolinos, the beaches here are nice, plenty of eating places and shops. However I don’t remember hearing anyone speaking Spanish. It was either Russian or English (and we speak both languages amongst others). I remember seeing some Russian women (who were tourists) walking (or should I say having trouble to walk) along the beach in long fashionable dresses whilst wearing stilettos, whilst other European people were in bikinis or next to nothing should I say. Will always carry that memory.
A bit further a field is the Alhambra on the outskirts of the city of Granada. This took us about ninety minutes to drive but my advice would be to start early if doing this as a day trip. The palaces, gardens, the views at the Alhambra would take at least half a day to explore, maybe longer and then the city of Granada is a nice place to take a stroll around. This is one sight not to be missed. The culture, the architecture and the history alone makes this a place worth exploring.
Ok, there are other places to hit up in the region like Cadiz and Seville but I haven’t been there yet, so when I do, I will tell you all about it. The region has so much to offer and despite the touristy beachy aspects which is a huge draw for Northern European families and sun-seekers, there is a lot of history and culture to embrace. Málaga for us was the ideal base and probably would go back again to use it. As we had a car, all the places in the region were a quick and easy drive due to the highways. Andalusia is one of our favourite regions of Spain and will always be a big draw for us.