Cultural Exploration Destinations Europe

Malaga, Spain: The City of Sun

In the heart of the Costa Del Sol is the sunny city of Malaga. This is one of the most visited cities by Europeans for vacation in the summer. We scheduled our trip for November, during the low season, when the weather was a mild 70 degrees. And it was perfect! With trendy tapas bars and fresh food markets, Malaga is full of culture, art, and history. Malaga is surrounded by communities of white villages, vineyards, and soft, sandy beaches.

Getting Around

The city is designed for walking with ancient cobblestone streets and sidewalks. Although we rented a car from Hertz, we used it rarely while staying in the city. If you prefer not to walk, buses, Uber and taxis are available to get you where you need to go throughout the city.

Where to Stay

Malaga offers many hotel options that are located in the downtown area. We rented an Airbnb, which was beautifully designed and very comfortable. We enjoyed that on the street level of our apartment was a small market where we would go to pick fresh vegetables, milk, eggs, and other staples for breakfast.

History

With over 3,000 years of rich history, each generation left their stamp on the culture and traditions in Malaga. In 7 B.C., the Phoenicians founded a commercial center called Malaca. In its Roman stage, a remarkable amount of development took place in the city. In the 8th century, Spain was ruled by Muslim Arabs who expanded and developed the trade market. In one of the Iberian cities, where Muslim rule persisted the longest, Malaga was retaken by Christian forces in 1487. Much of the architecture and style of the city was formed during the Moor’s time period which you will see as you visit many of the historical sites.

Markets

Throughout the city of Malaga, you will find open markets to shop for produce and other homemade goods.

The Mercado Central de Atarazanas is the most well-known market in Malaga. We lucked out because our apartment was right around the corner, which made it easy to find and explore each day. The entrance into this facility has the most impressive horseshoe archway in an off-white marble, the only remaining part of what was once a grand seven-arched shipyard. “Atarazanas” translates to “arsenal,” a place where military ships were constructed and repaired which is precisely what the original building functioned as in the 1800s. At the back of the market is a massive stain glass display illustrating the history of the city of Malaga.

Locals, as well as tourists, walk from stall to stall admiring the produce and products being sold. Depending on what you want to cook you can find fresh fish, meats, eggs, cheeses, and vegetables to make a delicious meal. Also, you will see vendors selling prepared food if you want to eat there or take it home.

Open 8 am – 2 pm Monday- Saturday
Address: Calle Atarazanas, 10

Shopping

Malaga’s city center is the place to fulfill your materialistic needs. Due to the boom in tourism, they have added many modern designer brand stores along the main streets. Although I am not into trendy brands, you will quickly notice popular international brands that locals shop. With the numerous options in shoe stores, I made several purchases of Italian and Spanish leather shoes. They have become some of my most favorite shoes to this day!

One of Spain’s most famous dancing performances is the flamenco. Flamenco dancing performances occur throughout the city at various venues or on the streets. If you desire to learn the flamenco, you can sign up for lessons. I admired the gorgeous dresses the dancers wear during their shows. Throughout the city, there are flamenco dress shops with colorful pattern dresses on display in the window. I was tempted to make a purchase but chickened out!

If you are looking for souvenirs, purchase one of the beautiful Spaniard fans or a colorful shaw with fringe that is worn during the evening. Many souvenir shops are available to find that unique item you want to purchase.

My husband found several men’s designer dress shirt stores. We found a pair of stylish black leather men’s boots for my son.

My suggestion is to bring an empty suitcase because you find many cute, quality items you will want to bring home.

Walking the Streets

As you wander through the old city, you will see that the streets are still made of cobblestone and have limited car access. Locals in Malaga spend a great deal of time at outdoor cafes and bars, socializing and enjoying tapas, wine, and music. Calle Larios is the main road in the city center and also hosts many events. During November, Calle Larios was decorated with holiday lights as Christmas was fast approaching.

As you make your way through streets, you may come across a sculpture created by Tony Cragg called the “Point of View” which is located at the junction of Calle Larios and Calle Strachan.

In the evening, creative mime artists, magicians, and musicians line the streets and entertain onlookers.

Plaza de la Constitucion is a central area where you may see a protest, an arts & craft show, or theatrical performance.

An excellent ending to an evening is visiting Plaza del Obispo. Grab a table outside, order a glass of wine and observe the impressive façade and marble of the Cathedral of Malaga while listening musicians perform.

Explore the History

Cathedral of Malaga

Cathedral of Malaga was built in 1530 but wasn’t completed due to lack of funds. The building is missing a tower and therefore is known as “La Manquita,” which means one-armed woman. The Renaissance architecture is full of beautiful details and amazing design. Grand artwork fills the sanctuary. Pieces such as the Gothic altarpiece of the Chapel of Santa Barbara and the 16th-century tombs of the Chapel of San Francisco reside there. One of the most important works of craftsmanship are the 42 carvings in the choir. Two functioning, 4,000 pipe organs are beautiful examples of the 18th century musical instruments to witness.

Roman Theater

Built in the 3rd Century is one of the oldest monuments in Malaga. Hidden under the dirt for decades, it has been unearthed and is today used for what it was initially designed for, providing entertainment to all. With technology and lights, this has become a home to many outdoor performances in Malaga

Alcazaba

At the top of the hill, behind the Roman Theater is one of the remains of the Moorish fortresses, built 756-780 A.D., that overlooks the city, called Alcazaba. It was designed to protect the city from pirates and allow them to see as far as Africa for oncoming intruders. I would suggest going on a guided tour as you will not find any markers to explain areas of the fortresses and what purpose it served. You will walk through various rooms and gardens throughout the grounds, but once you reach the top and overlook Malaga, you will appreciate the view. Below you will see Malagueta Beach, the port, and the Plaza de Toros, Malaga’s bullfighting ring. This historical building will give you a genuine appreciation of the people that designed and built such a fort without modern day tools.

Gibralfaro Castle

When you purchase your ticket to Alcazaba, you can include the Gibralfaro Castle as these two are connected. The walk up the hill is steep and excruciating and will require several breaks along the way, so wear walking shoes and bring water. Gibralfaro Castle dates back to 929 A.D. It was enlarged in the 14th century to protect the Alcazaba. The castle is famous for withstanding a three-month siege by the Catholic Monarchs that ended only when the inhabitants ran out of food. Narrow pathways align the outer walls where you can walk and admire the view of Malaga below. Seeing the city from all sides of the castle put the size of Malaga in perspective. Again, you will not find markers to explain areas within the Castle, so I suggest going with a guide.

Picasso Museum

One of the most world-renowned artists of the world, Pablo Picasso, calls Malaga home. Throughout this museum are many pieces of his artwork. Eight decades of Picasso’s art can be viewed, created between in the 1890s and 1972. Open daily 10am-7pm, $10 per person.

Parks

Located between the old town and new port is Malaga Park. The park is full of exotic and tropical plants. At the base of Gibralfaro, the view above looks like a jungle below with towering palm trees covering the park. Built in the 1890s, this park was designed by a refugee from the hustle and bustle of the city. You may also come across many native birds making this park their home. Throughout the park are beautiful bronze water fountains with colorful Spanish style benches.

Pier Walk and Beach

Malaga is a port city with many visitors that cross the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to shop, socialize, or vacation. For decades they have imported and exported goods for Spain. The city of Malaga completely transformed the area, called Muelle Uno, with restaurants and shops to attract tourists.

Located at Quay 2, or Pier 2, is a stunning architecturally designed pergola called The Palm Grove.

If you are lucky, the El Zoco may be happening, which is a monthly market day event, selling handmade crafts, jewelry, and art along with organic foods.

Visit the Pompidou Centre, which is a colorful cube structure that is a gallery of modern art. Next to the Pompidou Centre is a small outdoor artesian exhibit where we discovered some fascinating art pieces.

This city has it all. Not only does Malaga have historical sites, you can also experience cultural exhibits, salsa music, a variety of restaurants, as well as beautiful beaches. Playa de la Malagueta is one of the most popular with locals.

Many people take a break during their busy day and kick off their shoes and walk in the sand. A seven-mile boardwalk aligns the beach area for those that just want to go for a walk or if you a runner like me, you can jog to get in your workout for the day. The city takes great pride in providing a clean beach and offering facilities for washing feet and restrooms.

Midday Breaks

Don’t expect to get much service from any shops or restaurants as it is common to take a midday break from 2 pm to 5 pm. The most important meal of the day is lunch. Most people travel home during this time and rest and return to work until 7 pm or later. Having time to rest during the day is essential because most Spaniards enjoy staying out late to socialize. Plan your itinerary accordingly.

Dining Experiences

Be prepared to eat late. Lunch is typically served around 2:00 pm which means tapa bars and restaurants open around 8:30 pm. Usually, Spaniards eat dinner around 10 pm. We were surprised at how many people are enjoying food and drinks past midnight. Don’t be surprised if you see families with small children out after 11 pm on a school night.

Street Art

I quickly discovered various locations of street art while in the city. Most of the street art is located in SoHo, also known as Art Neighborhood, which is along the Guadalmedina river.

Since the river is dry, the graffiti artists have taken up camp here painting murals along the river walls. You can learn about several of the artists on the MAUS website. Walk around the Center for Contemporary Art, and you will find murals in many different locations.

Skateboarders have utilized the dry Guadalmedina river, and you can watch them perform tricks, too.

Monuments and Statues

Located at the Plaza de la Merced is Torrijos Monument, the towering obelisk built to commemorate General Jose Maria Torrijos. At the base of the monument is the crypt of the general and his soldiers’ remains in honor of them as they were executed when General Torrijos and his men rebelled against Ferdinand VII in the 19th century.

While visiting Plaza de la Merced, we discovered a bronze sculpture of Pablo Picasso sitting on a stone bench, sketchbook in hand, looking out over the square. We found that this is the area where Picasso grew up, and his home was a short distance away. Many tourists sit alongside Picasso to have their photograph taken just as Omar did here.

All in all, Malaga, Spain, gives you entertainment in the form of art, history, and culture around every corner. This coastal city is one of our favorite stops in Spain and we can’t wait to go back!

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