On our recent jaunt through Spain, Mark and I decided (well, ok, I decided) to add a two-day stop in Malaga. Spain is a big country, and it only made sense for us to break up the long travel days by exploring a new city. Malaga seemed like a good choice – it offered shopping, beaches, castle ruins, and interesting museums. It also seemed like a good home base to use for a day trip to Alhambra, one of the most famous palaces in the world.
Not so, as it turned out. But I’l get to that in a minute.
We arrived in Malaga via train from Seville, which took about 2 hours. Seville was brutally hot and stifling, so we were looking forward to the relief of some ocean breezes.
Once we got to Malaga we walked to our hotel from the train station to check in. The desk clerk excitedly told us that we chose a great day to arrive. We just happened to show up in time for la Noche en Blanco – White Night. La Noche en Blanco is a cultural initiative which started in Paris in 2002. Malaga joined the initiative in 2008. Malaga had music, art and cultural events taking place all over the city from 7pm until 1am, and all the museums had free admission. She asked us if we had something similar back home. While we do have a free admission day at our local museums in Edmonton, we didn’t have anything quite like this. But it sounded amazing!
Not so amazing was the part she told us next. We were staying in a boutique art hotel, which had a small courtyard/exhibit area. As part of la Noche en Blanco, the hotel was hosting an art exhibit in this courtyard. Which just happened to be directly in front of our hotel room. Ok, we said, that’s cool, it’s fine.
But then we checked into our room to discover that the only window looked directly out into this exhibit area. Which meant that everyone visiting the exhibit could also look in.
Needless to say, we immediately drew the curtains and vowed to partake of the White Night festivities until the party ended at 1am.
We also found out that la Noche en Blanco had a phone app, which we promptly downloaded so we could plan our evening.
A Failed Attempt to Book a Day Trip to Alhambra
Before we could orient ourselves and explore Malaga, we needed to sort out the day trip I’d planned for the second day of our stay – Alhambra. I’d tried to secure tickets online about a month before our trip, but all the tickets had already sold out. Apparently, tour companies snatch up all the tickets as soon as they’re available. In order to get tickets, you basically need to plan at least three months in advance! That’s not our usual travel style, so we decided to wait until we reached Malaga, then we’d book a day trip with a tour company. Not ideal, but at least then you get your transportation and admission tickets all sorted out.
I debated booking two nights in Granada instead, where Alhambra is actually located. It looked like a fascinating town. But it was also a smaller hub to get into and out of. So we chose to stay in Malaga, a larger city with better connections to cities like Madrid and Seville.
We walked to the tourist information office and I inquired about booking a day trip to Alhambra. The man I spoke to said there were no tours going to Alhambra. Instead, he gave me the email address and phone number for the Alhambra ticket office, which we already knew wasn’t an option. It was a bit strange, as I had seen tour companies offering day trips to Alhambra out of Malaga online. Maybe the official tourist information office didn’t endorse those companies?
At any rate, we tried to book a tour company online ourselves, but alas, all the spots sold out by then. We could have tried making our way to Granada on our own, as buses did connect Malaga and Granada. But we ended up deciding to forego the day trip altogether and stay in Malaga for the two days. It was disappointing, but Malaga had a lot going on, so we weren’t going to be bored.
Exploring Malaga’s Old Town
We spent the day exploring Malaga’s old town, which included sites like Alcazaba, Gibralfaro Castle, and a stroll through Malaga Park.
Upon exiting Malaga Park, we spotted this colourful cube of a building – the Center Pompidou. This is Malaga’s modern art museum! It’s actually underground, which is pretty cool. The cube is just the entrance. (The sign for Van Gogh Alive was a different attraction further down the promenade.)
This year, the White Night festival also coincided with the International Day of Museums, where all the museums are free to enter. So even though White Night didn’t technically start until 7pm, all the museums were free all day. We really hit Malaga on a great day!
Sometimes we enjoy modern art museums, if only for the discussion factor over “what is really art.” And since they had free admission, we took it in.
The White Night festival’s theme was Around the World, so the Center Pompidou had special exhibits related to this theme – A trip to the Utopias. My favourite exhibit was probably a giant sardine can made into a bed, while one of the stranger displays was a “herd” of stuffed sheep, as some of them didn’t have heads.
On our walk back towards the old town city center, we came across this beautiful street lined with little hot air balloons overhead. I assume this was only for the White Night festival, but it should be a permanent fixture!
We also noticed many stores advertising White Night sales. So it was also a great day to shop!
La Noche en Blanco Begins
We grabbed some supper, and by then, it was after 7pm and the official start to the White Night festival. We pulled up the phone app to try and plan a few things we really wanted to see. I really wanted to see a flamenco show, so we added it to our list of favourites. The phone app was cool, as it listed what was happening and when, and how to get there. You could organize the events by type (music, art exhibit, dance, outdoor installations, etc) so you could sort them based on your interests. My only complaint was that everything was in Spanish, and rightfully so. I can read enough Spanish to get by, but for some tourists, an English option would help immensely.
One of the cool outdoor art installations involved city scapes from around the world, hung upside down along one street. This was Cities in the Air:
It looked great during the day, but looked even cooler after the sun set and the street lights came on:
We also stumbled across this awesome car on display – “the Alien.” It’s a prototype that runs on hydrogen. It looks like it could speed through time!
We did find a few flamenco shows to attend, but they were in such small venues, that we couldn’t see anything through the throng of spectators. This was one downfall of the festival. Luckily there was enough going on that you could just find another event to attend. You actually had to register in advance for some of the more exclusive events, which made sense from a seating/space perspective.
They also offered outdoor venues for the bigger musical acts, which really gave the event a party atmosphere. David Otero, a singer/songwriter from Madrid, performed on the grand stage. Just look at the crowds of people! It made it a bit hard to walk through the crowds, especially in the narrower streets. But how often do you just show up to a new city on festival day?
Juan Pablo Gamarro, an award-winning concert pianist, performed in front of the Malaga Cathedral. This crowd was a lot more subdued, and the music was beautiful!
As you can imagine, there were long lines to get into some of the smaller museums – up to a half hour or more, in some cases. But we did pop in to see the gold and silver parade floats used in the Holy Week procession. All the touchy-feely people grabbing, stroking and rubbing the floats irritated me though. But I realize that the security guards can’t monitor everyone when so many people are allowed in at one time.
The 1st Century BC Roman Theater was another small venue with a long line-up of people waiting to get in. We decided to just enjoy it from the exterior.
One of the other cool features of the la Noche en Blanco phone app was the ability to collect “passport stamps” at the venues you attended. Each site had a QR code to scan, which satisfied the competitive collector in me, even though we only managed to snag a few codes!
This was a really awesome event, and we were so happy to get to experience it. It was a great excuse to stay out late, take in the local scene and immerse ourselves in the Malaga atmosphere. I only wish it lasted longer than just one night!