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Article by Matt Gibson originally published in one edition of the Atmosphere magazine. Read the latest edition here.
Located on Spain’s temperate Costa del Sol (translation: Sunshine Coast), Malaga is one of the country’s best-loved destinations. The city attracts visitors like a magnet, being the home of Picasso’s birthplace, the Alcazaba, and the Camino del Rey, once known as the “most dangerous trail in the world”. Even though these famous attractions are the most well-known things to do in Malaga, however, they’re certainly not the only ones.
There are so many qualities that make this southern Spanish city special. The historic city centre and old balconied buildings, the unfinished cathedral and narrow streets, the palm trees and the hole-in-the-wall tapas bars all come together to create a city with a truly unique character. It is this character that inspired the city’s nomination for the title of 2016 European Capital of Culture.
Malaga’s rich cultural texture is best explored on foot. The following are some of our favourite places to visit—all within walking distance of each other—in this Andalusian city by the sea.
Visit La Manquita
Every visit to Malaga should include a stroll through the city’s most cherished landmark, La Manquita, which loosely translates to “one-armed woman.” The locals call their beloved cathedral by this nickname because the building’s south tower was never completed.
La Manquita was originally a mosque before architects decided to transform it into a massive cathedral—a plan that took nearly 200 years to complete. The €3.50 admittance fee to enter the cathedral is well worth it. Only once you’re inside can you appreciate why the construction took so long. A 40-metre-tall domed ceiling, grand 18th-century artwork, choir stalls by Pedro de Mena and stone-carved medallions are just a few of the unique features that explain why Malaga residents are so proud of this cathedral.
La Manquita is in the heart of Malaga, and you can see it thoroughly in less than an hour, making it an excellent starting point for a day of strolling through the city.
Picasso Museum Malaga
The Picasso Museum Malaga is just a three-minute walk from La Manquita on Calle San Agustín. The museum is home to a collection of more than 200 Picasso works, many of which were loaned indefinitely to the museum by the wife of Picasso’s son Paul.
Of course, there are numerous Picasso museums throughout Spain. Conspicuously, this collection is missing many of the artist’s most famous works, which are on display in larger museums, but that only adds to the museum’s unique feel.
Malaga is the city of Picasso’s roots, and the city’s collection reflects that. Here, visitors see a different side of Picasso than the one most people are exposed to in textbooks and in the media. This is especially true of the paintings of his family, such as the 1920s-era painting of his oldest son.
The museum’s basement also holds a pleasant surprise: the remains of Phoenician and Roman architecture that were discovered during the museum’s construction. In their own way, they rival the beauty of Picasso’s work upstairs.
The Cuisine of Costa del Sol
One of our favourite tapas restaurants in Malaga is the Bodeguita El Gallo, which is directly across the street from the Picasso Museum Malaga. The traditional Andalusian tapas, affordable prices and cozy atmosphere (it’s a tiny place) make for a memorable lunch after having spent hours on your feet at the museum.
This is where we discovered one of our favourite Spanish dishes, huevos rotos con gulas, or “Spanish broken eggs with baby eels.” Trust us, it tastes a lot better than it sounds.
After lunch, of course, is an excellent time to head back to the hotel for a siesta.
Shopping and Snacking During La Merienda
La merienda is the fourth of five daily meals that Spaniards traditionally eat. Busy schedules have made la merienda—an afternoon snack typically eaten between 5 and 7 p.m.—less popular in recent years. However, this is one of the best times of day for a stroll through the city.
Calle Larios, Malaga’s busiest shopping street, is a prime spot for strolling and people-watching during the bustling evening hours. Visit the alluring designer stores, souvenir shops and boutiques, or settle yourself on a café patio with a cup of coffee and a la merienda snack to watch the churning mix of fashion, culture, tourists and locals. For a treat, stop by the Conico Ice Cream Shop for a refreshing mango ice cream on a warm summer evening.
If you don’t get caught up in the shopping on Calle Larios, head towards Calle Granada and Plaza de la Merced for a snack at an open-air restaurant while watching one of the frequent outdoor performances.
Calle de Bruselas, a Belgian-themed café on Plaza de la Merced, has an elegant terrace and serves excellent cocktails, Belgian beers and tasty tapas. Here, you can listen to lively flamenco musicians and sip drinks right next door to Picasso’s birthplace.
Things To Do in Malaga After Dark
Any day of exploring Malaga on foot should end at Mitjana Square, just a five-minute walk west of Plaza de la Merced. This is where the young, trendy and hip go to hang out in the streets, bars, pubs and nightclubs.
It’s common here to buy a drink in one bar and simply walk out, saunter through the street and socialize before venturing into another for a refill. These leisurely night strolls amongst the gregarious locals are an excellent way to make new friends, learn about the city, and complete your immersion in Spain’s laid-back cultural capital.
Find flight information and more great tips for travelling to Malaga here.