Provided you’re reasonably fit you can see most of the highlights of Malaga on an independent walking tour. Just use the following notes together with a local street map to help find your way around. If you don’t think you’re fit enough just avoid the walk up to the Gibralfaro which is quite a steep climb. And if you’re really not keen on a walk you can hire a driver and tour guide for a Private Malaga City Tour or a City Tour with Tapas.
There’s also a Hop-on Hop-off Malaga Bus Tour which gives you the best of both worlds as you are driven between attractions but can stroll around at your leisure once you arrive. For those happy to walk around the city here are the highlights:
It’s best to start a tour of Málaga at the earliest historical monument in the city – the Roman Theatre. It was built in the first century AD, but later enriched to apparently luxurious effect with imported marble. After the fall of the Romans, there was a period of decline and instability from which there are no existing monuments. But significant parts of the Roman arena were used in the dramatic building that sits directly above it – the Alcazaba, the greatest remaining monument of Muslim Málaga.
Alcazaba & Gibralfaro
After crossing from North Africa, the Muslims took Málaga in 713, although the Alcazaba wasn’t built until the eleventh century, then further developed in the thirteeth and fourteenth centuries. With its position on a hill looking over the city and the sea, the building held an important strategic role in the Kingdom of Granada, but its role was both military and residential. You can walk up to the former palace or take a lift and there you will discover elegant patios and fine carved arches, as well as great views over the city. For those with lots of time on their hands, a climb further up the hill, following the defensive walls, leads you to the Gibralfaro, a largely ruined castle with even better vistas of Malaga and its stunning position between mountains and sea.
Just a short walk from the Alcazaba is the greatest of Málaga’s Christian buildings, the Cathedral. The present building has led a tortuous life. An early incarnation was abandoned and from this survives a wonderfully ornate Gothic doorway, now part of the Sagrario church on Calle Santa María, next to the Cathedral proper. The dramatic difference in the style of this door and the Cathedral, which was begun in 1526, reflects the huge shifts in culture in the early sixteenth century, as the Renaissance took hold in Spain.
Work on the cathedral continued in fits and spurts for more than 250 years but was finally abandoned in 1782, as funding dried up in an increasingly desperate Spain. The building was left incomplete. Most notably, the south tower of the building was never constructed, leading Malagueños affectionately to refer to the building as La Manquita – the one-armed lady.
A short walk from the Cathedral brings us to the Palacio de Buenavista, a Renaissance Palace that now houses the undoubted jewel in Málaga’s cultural crown – the Picasso Museum. The twentieth century’s most celebrated artist was born in Málaga and lived here for the first ten years of his life. There are more than 200 Picassos on view and they cover most of his working life, from works painted when Picasso was just fourteen to those created at the very end of his life. It’s Málaga’s undoubted must-see museum.
Around the corner is the church where the artist was baptised, the oldest in the city – the Santiago. Look out for its lovely doorway and tower, both in the Mudejar style – Muslim craft in a Christian context.
Plaza de la Merced
Nearby is the Plaza de la Merced, the square most beloved of the people of Malaga. It was here that Picasso was born in 1881, and you can visit the Casa Natal, a small museum on the site of his birthplace, on the corner of a long and stylish nineteenth-century terrace. The square is also the site of an obelisk in honour of General Torrijos, a liberal who organised a small rebellion against the king Ferdinand VII, only to be duped, immediately arrested and executed along with his companions on Málaga’s beach.
From the Plaza de la Merced, walk back into Calle Granada, passing numerous distinguished eighteenth-, nineteenth- and twentieth-century buildings on the way to the city’s more official main square, the Plaza de la Constitucíon.
Plaza de la Constitucíon
For centuries the square has been the site of all the main public events, from the infamous autos-da-fé organised by the Spanish inquisition, to fiestas and even bullfights, before the bullring was built in 1874. The balconies evident on the older buildings around the square were the prime spots from which to enjoy such events.
Turning west of the square takes you to the authentic old town of the city, with several churches hidden in its narrow, bustling streets. The recently restored Los Martíres is an old gothic church built to honour the city’s patron saints, third-century Christian martyrs Saint Paola and Saint Ciriaco. The church of San Juan, a short walk through more decayed streets, has some interesting and recently restored patterned murals, as well as a tower which is one of the city’s chief landmarks.
Another highlight is the nearby Atarazanas Market whose entrance, dating back to the fourteenth-century, was the gateway to the busy Muslim shipyard. A little way from the market is the Alameda Principal, Málaga’s eighteenth- and nineteenth-century promenade, on which you will find Casa La Guardia, the city’s oldest bodega, where you can enjoy the authentic sweet wine of the city, in an atmosphere that one imagines has changed very little since it opened back in 1840.