Malaga, Spain is one of those cities that initially seems rather nondescript, even forgettable. But the second you start to explore its nooks and crannies, you find a very surprising, even unusual Spanish city.
Here are just a few highlights as to why Malaga deserves more than a passing glance:
Alcazaba is palace fortress built by the Hammudid dynasty in the 11th Century. To give you some idea of its original size, it once had 110 main towers! It consisted of three defensive walls, including an escape route for the ruler to use in case of an invasion.
2. The Roman Theatre
This Roman theatre in front of Alcazaba’s fortress wall is the oldest building in Malaga. It dates back to the 1st Century BC. It was used until the 3rd Century AD before falling into ruin. Moorish settlers took some of the stone from the theatre and used it in the construction of Alcazaba. The theatre is quite small by Roman theatre standards, only seating about 220 spectators. But it’s still in use today for various open-air performances.
3. Castillo Gibralfaro (Gibralfaro Castle)
We followed the walking path up Gibralfaro Hill to reach Gibralfaro Castle. The castle dates to the 10th Century AD, and was built on top of ancient Phoenician fortifications dating to 770 BC.
It’s famous for being the site of a three-month siege in 1487 headed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
It’s mostly just a ruin today, but you can walk the ramparts, view the small museum, and get spectacular views of Malaga from the top.
4. Malaga Park and Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso (Pedro Luis Alonso Garden)
One of the paths leading from Gibralfaro Castle takes you to a green space called Malaga Park. It straddles Paseo del Parque. This is a nice shaded area to walk along, especially if you’re trying to escape the afternoon heat.
Pedro Luis Alonso Garden is a smaller garden on the east end of Malaga Park. It’s filled wth over 75 rose bush varieties from around the world:
You’ll also find fountains, ponds and colourful tile work on the walls and benches:
5. Center Pompidou
Center Pompidou is a fascinating modern art museum with constantly-changing exhibits. The building itself is unique, designed like a colourful cube:
This is the interior of Center Pompidou, underneath the cube of colourful panels. It’s an art exhibit in itself!
6. The Port of Malaga
If you walk past the Center Pompidou towards the ocean, you’ll find the Port of Malaga. This port is the oldest continuously operating port in Spain. The Phoenicians founded this port way back in 1000 BC! Malaga was a major hub of trade in the Roman era, exporting olive oil, wine and garum, a type of fish-based sauce.
There are over 70 shops and restaurants along Quay 1, as well as additional interesting attractions.
This is the Chapel of the Port of Malaga. Originally an oratory built in 1531, it was destroyed in the siege of the Armada of Flanders. It was rebuilt in 1649, then converted into a chapel in 1719.
And of course, no port can be without a lighthouse. This 19th Century beauty is la Farola:
Quay 2 is the site of the beautiful el Palmeral de las Surpresas (The Palm Grove of Surprises). This promenade is lined with palm trees on one side, while the concrete pergola provides shade on hot days.
7. Malaga Cathedral
The Malaga Cathedral is especially eye-catching. A Spanish Renaissance sculptor named Diego de Siloe designed most of the cathedral. Construction lasted between 1528 and 1782. Due to the constructions’ lengthy duration, the church displays multiple architectural styles: primarily Renaissance, with gothic and baroque elements.
Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that the two towers don’t match. This is because a lack of funds halted the construction, leaving it unfinished. This is the completed north tower:
The south tower is incomplete – note the third tier of columns on top, reaching toward the sky. Because of this lopsided appearance, locals nicknamed the cathedral La Manquita, or the “one armed woman”.
But it was so close to completion! Why wasn’t it ever finished, you may wonder? As with many building projects, the cost of the cathedral exceeded the expected budget. So, in 1782 José Moñino y Redondo, the 1st Count of Floridablanca, cut off his financial support. Interestingly, a plaque on the cathedral thanks Malaga’s 1780 donation for assisting the British colonies to gain independence from Great Britain. Those British colonies became the United States. So it would seem the funds the parish raised to complete the church were used for a greater purpose.
The inside is beautiful and ornate without looking garish:
8. The Automobile and Fashion Museum
Malaga’s Automobile and Fashion Museum is a really unique museum mash-up that sounded kind of weird on paper. But somehow the two concepts really complement each other. The museum inhabits the former Royal Tobacco Factory called la Tabacalera, built in the 1920s:
The Tabacalera Factory consisted of several buildings, including those for fermentation, manufacturing and sales. The factory closed in 2002, but the buildings are now restored and re-used for various purposes.
The Automobile and Fashion Museum manages to express a rather complex and interwoven tale – how clothing and fashion, art, and automobile design reflect different periods in history. Often, clothing trends and automobile trends seem to parallel. It’s not a comparison I ever considered before visiting this museum.
The first exhibit as we entered the museum was Gold Mine; a gold haute couture Escada gown from the 1980s next to a handmade filigree car:
Note the tree – the ornaments are headlights!
The museum does a lot of extensive restoration work on many of the vehicles it acquires. But this Belgian-built Minerva is completely original. This car suffered from bombing and gunfire during World War 1 (1914-1918). There are even bullet holes in the back seats!
Here are some of the more outrageous gowns in the museum’s collection:
The museum also has some wildly decorated automobiles – art pieces, really. I loved this 1987 Rolls Royce decorated in Swarovski crystals:
The collection also includes rare concept cars, like this 2009 German-built solar car:
Or how about this 1932 prototype, built with an aviation engine? Apparently only two exist in the entire world!
Oh, hello. Haven’t we met before at la Noche en Blanco? This “Alien” prototype runs on hydrogen!
Mark and I both loved this museum. The intermingling of cars, clothes and interpretive art was something unique.
9. The Food
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the food in Malaga. I mean, we never had a bad meal anywhere in Spain, but we had some particularly memorable meals in Malaga. For one thing, some of the restaurants along the beach BBQ in wooden or metal boats. We saw this in the Algarve in Portugal as well. But something about using a sand-filled boat as a grill is just next-level beach-bummin’.
Since this is the Mediterranean, the seafood is fresh, the veggies are crisp and flavourful, and don’t even get me started on the wine.
At one outdoor restaurant, I ordered a goat cheese salad with walnuts. This is what they brought me: spinach, walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, a quarter of a golden apple, an entire round of goat cheese, some fried pita, and topped with bean sprouts all drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It was so crazy good I couldn’t believe it.
One of the more interesting meals I had was in a busy restaurant along the beach. It was a grilled pepper salad. It sounded amazing. And it was…except that it was, literally, only grilled peppers. No cheese, no other veggies, no side dish. Just a plate of grilled peppers seasoned with olive oil and salt. But oh my gawd it was so good. Mark ordered avocado and egg salad. At least he got a few more toppings than mine:
He also ordered the mussels. I’m not a seafood fan so I can’t vouch for them myself. But Mark said they were really good:
Try espeto while you’re here – a traditional Malagan way of BBQing sardines on a stick! Probably in a boat.
10. The Beach
Of course I can’t leave out the beachfront in Malaga! There are huge stretches of really nice beach to frolic along. You can find a list of beaches here.
We didn’t have a lot of down time in Malaga to really appreciate the beaches, but there’s no shortage of sand and sea here! Malaga’s average temperature year round varies between 13 and 25 degrees Celsius, with temperatures as high as 31 in July and August. So there’s never a bad season to visit Malaga and relax on the beach!