What springs to your mind when someone mentions Málaga? Sun, sea and sangria perhaps?
Well, here’s the thing. This thriving port city on the southern tip of Spain is so much more than a beach destination for sun-starved Northern Europeans.
Málaga has a rich history and is crammed with art galleries and museums. It has a charming old town and is home to a monumental cathedral and a majestic castle.
All this and sandy beaches too. It’s the perfect recipe for a rewarding city break.
Make the most of your weekend in Málaga with this tried and tested 2-day itinerary that includes the best things to do in the city where the sun shines for more than 300 days a year.
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The Best Things to Do in Málaga in 2 Days
>>> Do you have just one day in Málaga? Perhaps you are visiting as part of a cruise or on a day trip? If so, check out my self-guided walking tour of Málaga which will allow you to see the best the city has to offer in a shorter space of time.
The Perfect 2-Day Málaga Itinerary
DAY 1: DISCOVER MÁLAGA’S HISTORY
As this is one of Spain’s most historic cities, let’s start your weekend in Málaga with a wee history lesson. I’ll keep it brief; honest.
Although Málaga was founded by the Phoenicians in the 8th Century BC, it prospered as a trading port for the Romans from 218 BC. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th Century AD, it was held by the Vandals and the Visigoths until the Moors invaded early in the 8th Century.
Once again, Málaga flourished as the main port for the nearby city of Granada.
In 1487, the city was taken by Christian forces, after which it went into decline. It was not until the 19th Century that Málaga would see its fortunes reversed.
Castillo de Gibralfaro
The Gibralfaro Castle (Castillo de Gibralfaro) dominates the city of Málaga.
The original 10th Century castle was enlarged by Yusuf I of Granada between 1344 and 1354 to protect the Alcazaba and to house troops. Following the reconquest, it acted as a temporary residence for the Catholic monarchs.
From its lofty height, there are magnificent views over Málaga, its port and the Mediterranean. It’s said that you can see Morocco on a clear day.
Crowning Gibralfaro hill, Málaga’s magnificent Alcazaba was built by the Moors between the 8th and 11th Centuries on the site of the former Roman town. It served as the residence of the Arab Emirs, who created an independent kingdom upon the break-up of the Western Caliphate.
Wandering along the Alcazaba’s pathways, lined with orange trees and bougainvillaea, is a delight.
To reach the inner palace, you walk through a succession of graceful gates, designed to keep intruders at bay. Some of these used recycled Corinthian columns from the Roman theatre in their construction.
The tinkling fountains in the Spanish Arab Gardens are fed by narrow canals from the upper levels of the palace. Although extensively reconstructed, the Nasrid Palace is a younger, more peaceful cousin of its more famous namesake at the Alhambra in Granada.
And if that’s not enough, there are spectacular views across Málaga, the sea and to the countryside beyond.
The Roman Theatre
In the shadow of the Alcazaba is the oldest monument in Málaga.
Built during the reign of Augustus in the 1st Century AD, the Roman Theatre. was only discovered as recently as 1951. It remained in use until the 3rd Century.
Next to the Roman Theatre, there’s an interpretation centre that houses a few archaeological discoveries from the site.
The Roman Theatre is particularly attractive when it is lit up at night.
Don’t leave town before paying your respects to the One-Armed Lady.
Málaga’s unfinished cathedral lacks a tower on its west side, earning it the popular nickname La Manquita. It has an outstanding collection of paintings and sculptures and a sublime 17th Century wooden choir.
It’s well worth paying a few more euros to join one of the escorted visits to the cathedral’s roof for the views across Málaga.
READ THIS NEXT: 10 Things to Know about Málaga Cathedral Before you Go
Palacio Episcopal (Bishop’s Palace)
Facing the cathedral’s main entrance is the 18th Century Bishop’s Palace. This landmark building has a colourful Barque façade facing the Plaza del Obispo.
Go to a flamenco performance
Few things capture the spirit of Andalusia than flamenco. With its pulsating rhythms, the yearning songs and expressive guitar playing, the passion is almost palpable.
When you are visiting this region of Spain you must go to a flamenco show. Forget the image of frills and castanets, the slightly kitsch flamenco used to promote Spain during the Franco era. This is the real deal.
I went to one in Granada and was captivated.
If Málaga is your only stop in Andalusia, do attend a flamenco show on one of your evenings there. This tablas (flamenco venue) has been highly rated by other travellers.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR FLAMENCO TICKET
DAY 2: PICASSO AND THE BEACH
The second day of your Málaga weekend itinerary is a little more relaxed.
Start your day by paying homage to Málaga’s favourite son. Soak up the sun by spending quality time around the port area and on Málaga’s best city beach.
Finally, as the sun goes down, round off your day with a sunset catamaran trip.
Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga in 1881 and lived there for the first ten years of his life. The Picasso Museum fulfils the artist’s wish to return some of his works to his home city.
Covering the 80 years of Picasso’s prolific career, his artworks are displayed in thematic and chronological order over 11 small rooms. I also learnt a lot about the women in his life; two wives and three partners, with the exception of his second wife he outlived them all.
Centre Pompidou Málaga
Walking from the Picasso Museum to the port, it’s not hard to miss Málaga’s Pompidou Centre.
This contemporary art museum, which opened in 2015, is known as “The Cube” thanks to its steel and stained glass skylight that resembles a Rubik’s Cube.
Inside, its permanent collection comprises 70 works selected from the Pompidou Centre’s collection of 20th and 21st Century art. These pieces are rotated every two or three years. There are also temporary exhibitions.
This delightful pedestrian promenade, lined with bitter orange and palm trees, flanks the port of Málaga. It’s a lovely spot to stop for a drink or something more substantial.
La Malagueta is the closest beach to the city centre.
This dark sandy Blue Flag beach stretches for 1.2 km between the Port of Málaga and La Caleta Beach. Its oceanfront promenade is lined with towering palm trees that are occupied by vocal parrots.
It’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy grilled fish.
Take a sunset catamaran cruise
Taking a one-hour boat cruise is one of the most popular things to do in Málaga. What could be a better end to your weekend break than watching the sun set over the sea whilst sipping a chilled glass of Cava?
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKET
Other Things to Do When Visiting Málaga, Spain
Ultimately, what you decide to do in Málaga will depend on your tastes and interests, how relaxed you wish your itinerary to be and the length of time you spend there.
So what else can you see if you have 3 or 4 days in Málaga or if you just want to squeeze in more sights?
I was lucky to spend five days in Málaga and managed to visit more of the city’s attractions. Here is my pick of the bunch.
Visit Iglesia de Santiago
The Church of Santiago is the oldest Christian building in Málaga and is a testament to the city’s rich history.
Established in 1490 on the ruins of a former mosque, it is an excellent example of a Gothic-Mudéjar building. This architectural style, born from a fusion of Christian and Islamic elements, can be seen throughout Andalusia.
Inside, it features highly decorative side chapels and artistic treasures by Alonso Cano and Niño de Guevara. The magnificent Baroque altar is an 18th Century addition.
Turn around to look at the outside of the church as you leave.
The blocked-off central door is from the original Mudéjar church, as is the square tower. Following the tradition of minarets, this tower was designed to sit separately from the church but was attached to it in the 16th Century.
Pablo Picasso was christened at the Iglesia de Santiago in 1881.
Address: Calle Granada, 62
Explore Málaga’s street art
Since 2013, Málaga has offered its walls as blank canvases for artists across the globe.
The brainchild of MUAS (Málaga Arte Urban Soho), it has transformed previously rundown neighbourhoods into an urban outdoor art gallery. This initiative has attracted some of the world’s best street artists.
READ THIS NEXT: Must-See Málaga Street Art: Spain’s Outdoor Art Gallery
Shop for fresh produce in Atarazanas Market
The striking Atarazanas Market started life as a Nasrid shipyard in the 14th Century. It was then used as a barracks and as a military hospital until it became a market at the end of the 19th Century.
Its monumental entrance is a Moorish keyhole-shaped arch, whilst its rear façade features a stained glass window that wouldn’t look out of place in a church.
With its multitude of food stalls and small bars, this is an excellent place to stock up on fresh produce or to stop for lunch.
The Atarazanas Market is open from Monday to Saturday, from 8 am to around 2-3 pm
Address: Calle Atarazanas, 10
Relax in the Arab Baths
If you need a break from a hard day sightseeing in Málaga, relax at Hamman Al-Andalus
Soak up the ambience of Moorish Málaga, whilst sipping on mint tea, before selecting your preferred massage.
This oasis of tranquillity is open from 11 am until 10 pm daily.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR VISIT
Visit Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón
Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón is Gothic revival in all of its pointy perfection.
This hidden gem in the middle of the historic city is new compared with many other sacred spaces in Málaga. Commissioned by the Jesuits and designed by Fernando Guerrero Strachan, the so-called Gaudí of Málaga, it dates from 1920.
Its façade is built with a biscuit-coloured stone, featuring Gothic tracery that glows in the late afternoon sunlight. However, inside it is relatively plain.
Address: Pl. de San Ignacio
People watch in Plaza de la Merced
This large square has been part of the city since Roman times. A market has operated from here since at least the 15th Century.
In the centre of the plaza is the Monumento a Torrijos, dedicated to General José María Torrijos and 48 of his companions who were shot to death on the order of Ferdinand VII. The remains of the men are laid to rest in the base of the monument.
If you are a Picasso fangirl or fanboy, you can also visit the house where he took his first gulps of air. Casa Natal de Picasso on Plaza de la Merced is now a museum dedicated to his family background.
Visit Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga
Housed in a 16th Century palace, the Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga displays late 19th and early 20th Century artworks from Baroness Carmen von Thyssen-Bornemisza’s personal collection. These are on loan to the museum until 2025.
The museum is closed on Mondays.
Address: Pl Carmen Thyssen – C Compañía, 10
Day Trips from Málaga by Train or Bus
Málaga is not just a superb city break destination. Thanks to its good rail and road links, it is also a good base for day trips to other wonderful places in Andalusia.
Most of these suggested destinations are doable as day trips from Málaga using public transport, but I have indicated where an organised day trip is a better option. if you are hiring a car so much the better
The cheapest way of booking train tickets in Spain is through Renfe, its national rail operator. However, the Renfe website doesn’t always play nice (on more than one occasion it refused to recognise major destinations for me).
If this happens, book via Omio. There’s a small booking fee attached but it’s a clear booking engine and hassle-free.
Beloved by the glitterati for decades, Marbella is one of the swankiest resorts in Spain. Boasting a pristine Andalusian old town, it feels a million miles from the vast holiday resorts blighting the Costa del Sol.
Marbella also has a spectacular natural backdrop, good beaches and an extensive seafront promenade.
Just don your largest pair of sunglasses and a floppy hat.
Lovely Córdoba is my favourite city in Andalusia.
Its long and illustrious history is encapsulated in one of the most extraordinary buildings in the world – the Mezquita. Wildly extravagant flower-filled patios provide further evidence of its Moorish legacy.
How to get from Málaga to Córdoba: Train
Journey time: From 50 minutes
Rivalling Córdoba in the charm and history stakes, the beautiful city of Granada is best known for the Alhambra and Generalife that crown the hill above the city.
Set against the backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada, Granada has one of the most dramatic locations in Spain. If that’s not enough it has a labyrinth of Moorish streets, a cluster of Christian monuments and a gipsy quarter.
READ THIS NEXT: The Best 2-Day Granada Itinerary
Charm, vibrancy and history are sunny Seville’s calling cards.
With its flower-filled Old Town and UNESCO-listed Cathedral & Giralda and the Royal Alcazar, Seville is one of the must-see destinations in Spain. It also offers plenty of opportunities for tapas tasting and cultural activities, including some of the best Flamenco shows in the country.
How to get from Málaga to Seville: Train
Journey time: From 2 hours
El Caminito del Rey (El Chorro Gorge)
One of Spain’s geographical wonders, El Chorro Gorge is a 180-meter-high gaping chasm that slashes through a limestone mountain. Known as “the scariest path in the world”, the Caminito del Rey is a walkway that links the two sides of the gorge, 100 meters above the river.
Although I chose not to visit El Chorro Gorge – I am terrible with heights – it is a hugely popular day trip from Málaga.
How to get from Málaga to El Chorro Gorge: Although it is possible to make this journey by train and bus, an organised day trip is a better option. For further information and to book your excursion, click here.
Duration of the day trip: 6 hours
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR DAY TRIP
Plan Your Weekend in Málaga
When is the best time to visit Málaga?
Thanks to its balmy climate, Málaga is a year-round destination.
I visited in February when the orange trees were groaning with fruit, afternoon temperatures were in the low to mid-20s and the city was gearing up for its Carnival celebrations. With fewer visitors than in peak season, seeing the best that Málaga can offer was a delight.
If I was returning to Málaga, I’d be tempted to visit between March and May. Not only are temperatures warmer, including the sea temperatures, but trees will be in bloom.
The autumn (fall) months have similarly comfortable temperatures.
If, like me, you are not keen on intense heat, avoid the summer months (June, July and August).
Are 2 days in Málaga enough?
Don’t underestimate this city. There are a surprising number of things to do in Málaga, and you will also want to factor in time to soak up the sun.
However, two or three days in Málaga will allow you to see the city’s main cultural and historical highlights with enough time left for the beach.
If you have more time to spare, venture out of town. Thanks to Málaga’s excellent transport connections, it is easy to take easy day trips to Marbella, Cordoba, Granada and the like.
How to get to Málaga
Málaga is well served by train, bus and air.
Getting to Málaga by train
Thanks to Spain’s AVE high-speed trains, arriving in Málaga by rail is a breeze.
For example, trains run to Málaga from Madrid (from 2 hr 30 minutes), Seville (from 2 hours), Valencia (from 5 hours) and Barcelona (from 6 hours). Book in advance for the best fares.
Málaga’s main Maria Zambrano station is located a mile southwest of the Old Town. There is also a second station – Málaga Centro Alameda – which is the terminus for the C1 line to Fuengirola and the C2 line to Álora.
Getting to Málaga by bus
When travelling in Spain, using a bus is sometimes quicker than taking a train, and it can pay to examine your options.
Málaga’s bus station is located next to Maria Zambrano train station.
Getting to Málaga by air (+ getting from Málaga Airport to the city centre)
Málaga Airport is the main air hub for the Costa del Sol and is served by a number of airlines. It is one of the easiest airports to get to and from, located a mere 8 km from central Málaga.
The cheapest way to get from the airport to the centre of Málaga is to take the C1 train, bound for Málaga Centro Alameda. Alight at the last stop unless you are changing trains at Maria Zambrano station.
The journey between Málaga Airport and Málaga Centro Alameda takes 11 minutes and trains run every 20 minutes. Purchase your ticket from the machine.
It couldn’t be easier.
If you prefer to catch a taxi from Málaga Airport to the city centre, this will set you back around €25.
How to get around Málaga
If you stick with this Málaga itinerary, you shouldn’t need to use public transport. The city’s main attractions are scattered across a very walkable area and the best way of getting around is on foot.
If you prefer, there is the inevitable hop-on-hop-off (HOHO) bus service.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR HOHO TICKET
Where to stay in Málaga
When it comes to accommodation in Málaga for your first trip, base yourself in the Old Town area or the trendy Soho district. These adjoining areas are close to the city’s main attractions, have plenty of accommodation to suit all budgets and there are lots of restaurants and bars from which to choose.
Here are my top choices:
Mid-range apartment: Suites del Pintor
This sunny, well-designed apartment in the Old Town is a great self-catering choice in Málaga. The washing machine, Nespresso machine and roof terrace were bonuses, and there were a few good supermarkets close by.
>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK
Luxury hotel: ICON Malabar
I also stayed in this wonderful new hotel in Soho. It is stylish, is in a superb location and its staff could not have been more helpful.
>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK
>>> None of these take your fancy? Click here for other great accommodation choices in Málaga.
Where to eat in Málaga
There is a seemingly endless choice of bars and restaurants in Málaga. You won’t go hungry.
Here are a few places that I tried and can recommend. But wherever you eat, do try the fried fish, for which Málaga is famous, at least once during your stay.
Café Bar Moran
This friendly breakfast spot in Soho serves cheap coffee and tostada with a smile.
Address: Calle Tómas Heredia, 12
If you fancy a break from tapas, head to this hidden gem of a French restaurant in Soho. It is open for breakfast and lunch daily and for dinner on Friday and Saturday.
Address: Calle Casas de Campos, 31
This was an excellent suggestion from the reception staff at the ICON Malabar hotel. This Old town restaurant provides excellent food and service. Try their squid rings in a black bao bun.
Address: Pl. de Uncibay
Another top recommendation was this cosy tapas restaurant in the shadow of the Roman Theatre.
Address: Calle Alcazabilla 1
This cosy traditional tapas bar on the edge of the Old Town served one of my best meals whilst I was travelling in Southern Spain. Service is friendly but just take care about which wine you choose. Some of the wines by the glass are extremely pricey.
Address: Calle Álamos, 11
Is Málaga Safe for Solo Travellers?
Spain is one of the best countries for solo travellers in Europe, especially if you are travelling alone for the first time. I will go as far as to say that it is one of the best global solo travel destinations.
Not only does Spain have a rich history and a vibrant cultural scene, buzzing nightlife, it also has an excellent travel infrastructure. This is never so true when it comes to Seville.
Keeping safe when travelling alone is a key concern of female solo travellers. Málaga is a relaxed destination full of people of all ages, locals and visitors alike, enjoying its attractions, bars and restaurants. Even after dark on weekdays, I felt safe.
That said, like some other major cities, watch out for pickpockets, especially in popular tourist areas and transport hubs. Remain vigilant and keep your belongings close to you. If you have a safe at your accommodation, use it to store valuables.
Is Málaga Good for a Weekend Break?
If you want a taste of Andalusia for very little effort, spend the weekend in Málaga. It has history and culture in spades, a balmy climate, a sandy beach and many bars at which to get your tapas fix.