The vibrant capital of the Costa del Sol, Malaga brings to mind beaches and breaking waves.
But, although it is the heart of sun, sand, sea and sangria, the city also has culture in bucketloads.
The Spanish outpost of the Pompidou Centre is to be found here as well as a brilliant collection of fine art at the Museo Carmen Thyssen and Museo Picasso Malaga — the abstract artist was born in the city in 1881.
A map showing the tourist hotspots in Malaga, the vibrant capital of the Costa del Sol
Where to stay
Hotel Soho Boutique
A great place to hole yourself away, just around the corner from the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo. Rooms are neat and elegant and minimalist, with pictures of local scenes converted into wall murals. There are 44 rooms, plus a seventh-floor roof terrace bar open from 6pm to 2am. Doubles from £85, en.sohohoteles.com.
A treat for food lovers, as it is just across the street from Mercado Central de Atarazanas, Malaga’s best market. Rooms are well-designed, again with minimalist decorations. Sweets and a glass of wine are provided in reception to welcome guests. Doubles from £89, hotel-atarazanas-malaga.com.
Alcazaba Premium Hostel
At the foot of the hill leading to the ancient citadels of the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro, do not be put off by ‘hostel’. Yes, there are dorms, and very good they are at £18 a night; some groups exclusively book rooms with eight bunks. Doubles with private bathrooms, however, are smart and comfortable. Brilliant views from the rooftop bar and restaurant. Doubles from £77, alcazabapremiumhostel.com.
Airbnb in Malaga
Many 19th-century apartments have been converted into places for short stays. My studio near Museo Carmen Thyssen was excellent with a good little kitchen, a large shower, and a sofa bed (the studio sleeps four). Doubles in the centre from £90, airbnb.co.uk. Prices can fluctuate.
What to see and do
See the cathedral
A glorious manifestation of Renaissance/Baroque architecture. Marvel at the stained-glass windows and domed ceilings, then pay £3.50 extra to join a rooftop tour (on top of the £5.35 for general admission, malagacatedral.com).
Pablo Picasso lived until the age of ten in Malaga. He vowed never to go back to Spain during Franco’s rule, but died in 1973 two years before the dictator. Museo Picasso, opened by the king and queen of Spain in 2003, has many excellent works (museopicassomalaga.org; entrance £7.20).
More art museums
The works at Museo Carmen Thyssen provide glimpses of everyday life in bygone centuries
Museo Carmen Thyssen (opened in 2011; entrance £9) and Centre Pompidou (opened 2015; entrance £8) make Malaga — along with Museo Picasso — a major art destination. The works at Museo Carmen Thyssen provide glimpses of everyday life in bygone centuries, while Centre Pompidou offers avant-garde modern works (carmenthyssenmalaga.org; centrepompidou-malaga.eu).
Walk up the hill
The Alcazaba and the Gibralfaro castle date from Spain’s Moorish period. Both show the Arab mastery of living in a parched climate, with fountains, irrigation channels and cool courtyards. Entrance to both is £4.50.
Picnic on the beach
Playa De La Malagueta (above) is busy, though you can find a picnic spot near the lighthouse
Playa De La Malagueta is busy, though you can find a picnic spot near the lighthouse. Try a glass of cava (£7.15) in the Gran Hotel Miramar’s lovely garden bar (granhotelmiramarmalaga.com).
Vroom off to the car museum
Petrolheads — and fashionistas — will love the Museo del Automovilistico. It combines vintage cars (including Rolls-Royces, Jags and Cadillacs) with costumes from the same era: Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and much more (museoautomovilmalaga.com; entrance £8.50).
Where to eat
Bar No 1
This marvellous little bar/seafood brasserie is in the middle of the Mercado Central de Atarazanas, with grilled prawns, tuna skewers, red mullet and seafood paella among the offerings. My grilled octopus and (spicy) padron peppers were first rate. Each portion is about £3.50.
It can get pricey at this tapas bar/restaurant on Calle Pinzon if you order the lobster, caviar and catches of the day. Or go for some olives and a drink (£2.70 combined). Soak up the atmosphere and enjoy this locals’ favourite.
Freiduria Marisqueria Chupytira
Reserve a table at this lovely seafood restaurant or risk being turned away. A two-mile walk from the centre, it’s worth it. Locals settle down to grilled prawns, clams, calamari and crab legs. I recommend the spicy mussels. About £9 for a main dish and a drink (chupytira.es).
Down a narrow lane by Mercado Central de Atarazanas, Casa Aranda is the place to go for breakfast. Tables are usually full, but turnover is quick. The churrios (tubular-shaped doughnuts) and coffee here are perfecto. Try the pan tostada con tomate (tomato and olive oil on toast). About £3.50pp.
British Airways has returns from Gatwick from £44 (ba.com); a metro ride from the airport to the centre takes about ten minutes and costs £1.60.