The 7 best things to do with one day in Málaga, Spain (2023)
One day in Málaga. That’s all we had. Málaga was not originally in our plans. On a whim, we canceled our train to Córdoba and booked a flight to Málaga instead. And Málaga did not disappoint.
But then we had to decide what we were going to do with that one day in Málaga.
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What to do with one day in Málaga
With one day to spend in Málaga, you can see a lot of the major highlights of the city.
Some of the best sites you should include in your itinerary are Gibralfaro Castle, Alcazaba, the 1st century Roman amphitheater, the cathedral, and a Picasso Museum.
And of course, you can’t pass up a trip to the beach on Spain’s Costa del Sol!
Enlarge the map above and you’ll see just how close all of these sites are in Málaga!
1. Castillo de Gibralfaro
This is one imposing landmark you cannot miss. Castillo de Gibralfaro, or Gibralfaro Castle, stands high on a hillside, overlooking Málaga. Built during the 14th century, it towers over the city at 433 feet above sea level, in the foothills of the Malaga Mountains.
The name Gibralfaro means “Rock of Light.” The mountain was so named for the Phoenician lighthouse that once stood here.
Today, you can walk the entire perimeter of the walls surrounding this castle. From its walls, you’ll catch a beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea and the port where cruise ships dock.
You can also see many major landmarks in Málaga, including the Alcazaba, the Roman amphitheater, the cathedral, and the bullring.
Within the walls of the castle is the old powder magazine. This building currently serves as Gibralfaro’s interpretation center.
The interpretation center depicts what life was like inside Gibralfaro while it was used for military defense. Military uniforms, weapons, furniture, and more are all on display here.
Be sure to arrive at least 45 minutes before closing, or you may not be permitted entry.
Price: 3.5€, or save a little by purchasing a joint ticket for both Gibralfaro and Alcazaba for 5.5€.
Time: Plan to spend about an hour to an hour and a half here.
When to visit: Open seven days a week, except some holidays. Summer hours are 9 am to 8 pm from April 1st through October 31st. Winter hours are 9 am to 6 pm from November 1st through March 31.
A little further down the hillside from Gibralfaro Castle is another must-see site: the Alcazaba. Gibralfaro Castle and the Alcazaba are connected to one another by the Coracha, a walled passageway.
The word alcazaba is Arabic for “citadel.” Malaga’s Alcazaba is a Moorish palace built between 1057 and 1063, and today is one of Spain’s most well preserved.
Parts of Málaga’s Alcazaba are even older than Granada’s Alhambra. In fact, the Alcazaba may have served as inspiration for parts of the Alhambra.
So if you’re unable to make it to Granada to see the Alhambra, seeing the Málaga’s Alcazaba is an excellent alternative.
Its construction included use of materials from the Roman amphitheater nearby, including columns and capitals. The remains of the Alcazaba now consist of two walled enclosures.
To enter the Alcazaba, you originally had to pass through a series of five gates. This made the complex incredibly difficult to invade.
Within the innermost section are several courtyards and the royal residence, called the Cuartos de Granada.
The Nasrid Palace, a palace within Alcazaba, now houses an archaeological exhibit. The exhibit displays ceramics from the Muslim period of the Alcazaba.
The Alcazaba stopped serving a military or political purpose in the 18th century. However, it was not open to the public to tour until after 1933.
Be sure to arrive at least 45 minutes before closing, or you may not be permitted entry.
Price: 3.5€, or save a little by purchasing a joint ticket for both Gibralfaro and Alcazaba for 5.5€.
Time: Plan to spend about one hour to three hours here.
When to visit: Open seven days a week. Summer hours are 9 am to 8 pm from April 1st through October 31st. Winter hours are 9 am to 6 pm from November 1st through March 31.
3. Roman amphitheater
Today, the Roman amphitheater sits surprisingly in downtown Málaga, right in the midst of restaurants, shops and promenades. The location of these impressive ruins almost makes them seem an understated side note. It’s as if the ruins nonchalantly say, “we’re no big deal.” Except they kinda are.
This Roman amphitheater was built in the first century AD, under Caesar Augustus. With a radius of 101 feet and a height of 52 feet, this is a medium sized amphitheater. It was used for two centuries under Roman rule.
After Roman occupation ended, the amphitheater was repurposed for various uses, including the salting industry, and as a quarry for construction of the Alcazaba. Eventually, it became buried beneath houses and streets leading up the hillside to the Alcazaba.
That is, until a portion of the ruins were unearthed during a landscaping project in 1951. The Casa de Cultura that was being constructed here was eventually torn down to begin excavating the Roman ruins.
The amphitheater is now open to the public to view. Plus, since 2011 it’s hosted various open air concerts and performances in the summer months of July and August. It now seats up to 220 people.
A visitor’s center here gives a brief history of the amphitheater. It makes for a quick stop as you’re wandering through Málaga, easy to fit into any itinerary.
Be sure to arrive a minimum of a half hour prior to closing, or you may not be permitted entrance.
Price: Entry is free.
Time: Plan for a half an hour here or less.
When to visit: Open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm, and Sundays 10 am to 4 pm. Closed Mondays and some holidays.
4. Catedral de la Encarnacion de Málaga: The One Armed Lady
Like many churches in Spain, Malaga’s cathedral is a Roman Catholic church that was built over the top of an Arab mosque. Its construction spanned from 1528 to 1782. It displays a Renaissance style with Baroque elements, owing to its lengthy construction.
This cathedral is dedicated to Saint Maria of the Incarnation. However, it was nicknamed La Manquita, or the “One Armed-Lady” for its unfinished state. It was intended to have two towers. The south tower was never completed though, as funds were spent elsewhere.
The finished north tower houses fourteen bells and stands 285 feet tall, making it the tallest cathedral in Andalusia. Today, you can climb more than 200 steps up a spiral staircase to the roof tops for a beautiful view of the port city.
Price: For the general public, admission to the cathedral only is 8€, and to the cathedral and roof tops is 12€. The admission price includes an audio guide.
Various discounts are offered for children, students, seniors, and groups. Purchase your tickets in advance online to avoid the lines.
Time: Plan to spend about an hour and a half here.
When to visit: The cathedral is open to the public Monday through Friday 10 am to 6:30 pm, Saturday 10 am to 6 pm, and Sunday 2 pm to 6 pm.
Be sure to arrive at least 45 minutes prior to closing or you may not be permitted entrance.
You can climb to the roof tops Monday through Saturday hourly from 11 am through 6 pm, except 3 pm. Sundays, you can climb to the roof tops hourly from 4 pm to 6 pm.
Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga in 1881 and lived there as a boy until 1891. He later came back to visit several times over the years.
The two museums are only about a five minute walk from each other. If you only have one day in Málaga, you can probably visit one of these museums, but maybe not both, depending on what other sites you plan to see.
5. Museo Picasso Málaga
The Museo Picasso Málaga is located in Buenavista Palace on Calle San Agustin in Málaga’s historic quarter. This 16th century palace was declared a national monument in 1939, and opened in 2003 as the museum it is today.
This museum is the larger of the two and displays 285 pieces of art donated by Picasso’s family. The collection includes a sketchbook, drawings, paintings, sculptures, engravings, and ceramics. Picasso’s artwork here covers some of his early studies to cubism, as well as some of his later works studying Old Masters.
In the lowest level of the museum is an archaeological site discovered while renovating the palace to become a museum. It displays Roman and Phoenician traces buried beneath the palace. Some of the ruins you can see include part of the city wall built in the 6th century BC and parts of vats from a Roman salt fish factory.
Price: General admission is 9.5€. Children under 17 years old and people with disabilities receive free admission. There is also free admission for the general public every Sunday, two hours prior to closing, as well as on some holidays.
Time: Plan to spend about an hour and a half to two hours here.
When to visit: Open seven days a week, 10 am to 6 pm.
6. Museo Casa Natal Picasso Málaga
The smaller Museo Casa Natal, otherwise known as the Picasso Birthplace Museum, is located on Plaza de la Merced. Picasso was born in this building and lived here from 1881 to 1883, when his family moved to another location on Plaza de la Merced.
This museum explores Picasso’s childhood, his time in Málaga over the years, and the influence the city had on him.
The collection includes some of Picasso’s work, as well as works by some of the artists who taught and influenced him.
Be sure to arrive at least 15 minutes prior to closing, or you will not be permitted entrance.
Price: Admission is 3€ for the birthplace museum and 3€ for the temporary exhibit, or 4€ for combined admission to both. Free admission is offered to children under 18 years old as well as people with disabilities. Free admission is also offered to the general public every Sunday from 4 pm to 8 pm, as well as some holidays.
Time: Plan to spend less than an hour here.
When to visit: Open seven days a week, 9:30 am to 8 pm.
7. Go to the Beach
Málaga has long sandy beaches shaded by palm trees. With winter highs in the 60s°F (~17°C) spring and autumn in the 70s°F (~21°C) and summer in the 80s°F, (~28°C) there’s never a bad time to visit the beaches in Málaga. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.
Many of Málaga’s beaches are just a five minute walk from downtown, located along Pablo Ruiz Picasso Promenade. You’ll also find a plethora of restaurants and bars along the promenade. Some of the beaches you can access from Pablo Ruiz Picasso Promenade include La Malagueta, Banos del Carmen, and Playas del Palo.
Three noteworthy beaches include La Malagueta, Las Acacias-Pedralejo, and Guadalmar. All three beaches offer lounge chairs and beach umbrellas for rent, and showers, among other amenities.
- La Malagueta is the closest beach to downtown Málaga, the city’s cultural center, and the Málaga port. It is also one of the city’s busiest beaches. Several chiringuitos, or beach bars, offer tapas and drinks. This beach also offers toilets, a children’s play area, and disabled access.
- Las Acacias-Pedralejo is a Blue Flag beach. Blue Flag beaches meet several eco-friendly and sustainability criteria, including environmental education, environmental management, water quality, and safety and services. This beach is very clean and family friendly. It also offers a children’s play area, lifeguards and a first aid station.
- Guadalmar is Málaga’s only official naturalist, or nude beach. This may be an important bit of information, whether you’re specifically looking for a nude beach, or looking to avoid one. This beach also offers beach bars, toilets, and lifeguards.
There are several ways to reach Málaga’s beaches. You can take the five minute walk from downtown. Or if you’re driving, park along Pablo Ruiz Picasso Promenade. You can also take bus #11 from Paseo del Parque.
A short history of Málaga
Málaga is one of Europe’s oldest cities, having been continuously inhabited by various civilizations for almost 3,000 years.
The Phoenicians first settled here around 770 BC, naming the colony Málaka. Around the 5th or 6th century BC, the settlement passed into Carthaginian hands.
Then, the Roman Empire took control of the city around 205 BC. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Málaga switched hands a few times between the Visigoths and the Byzantine Empire.
The area then came under Islamic rule around the 8th century, until Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the city in 1487.
Over the years, Málaga has been an important port city in both local trade, as well as for trade routes from the Mediterranean to the North Atlantic.
Málaga lies on Costa del Sol, Spain’s southern coast. The city opens to the bay and is shadowed by Mount Gibralfaro. This Mediterranean city remains an important port city today, a popular stop for cruise ships.
The Málaga mountains lie northeast of the city, and two rivers course through the town. The historic city center lies on the left bank of the Guadalmedina River. And the Guadalhorce River lies west of Málaga, near the airport.
Málaga is the second largest city is Andalusia and the sixth largest city in Spain. The city’s economy thrives on tourism, construction, and the technology industry.
How to get to Málaga
You can reach Málaga by plane, boat, train, or bus.
Flights to Málaga
The Málaga-Costa del Sol Airport lies near the Guadalhorce River. This international airport is the fourth busiest in Spain and is the main airport serving the Costa del Sol. This airport has flights connecting to over 60 different countries around the world.
Flights from Madrid to Málaga are about 1 hr 15 minutes long and start at 30€ one way.
Port of Málaga
The Port of Málaga is the oldest port in Spain and one of the oldest ports in the Mediterranean Sea. Today, the port has three cruise ship terminals. This international port sees an average of 220 cruise ships and 211,000 cruise ship passenger embarkments per year.
The Port of Málaga is very conveniently located. It’s about a 20 minute walk or a 7 minute drive to Málaga’s city center. Its about a 15 minute drive from the airport. And its only a 7 minute drive from the main bus station and the Málaga-Maria Zambrano train station.
Trains to Málaga
High speed trains are available from Barcelona (6 hr), Madrid (2 hr 30 minutes), Seville (2 hours), and Córdoba (50 minutes) to Málaga’s main train station. Trains from Madrid to Málaga start at 60€ one way.
The main train station in Málaga is the Málaga-Maria Zambrano station. Maria Zambrano station is a 9 minute train ride from the airport via line C1.
The closest train station to downtown Málaga and many of the historic sites is Málaga-Centro-Alameda station. It’s about a 10 minute walk from here to the city center. Take the 3 minute train ride from Maria Zambrano to Centro Alameda via line C1.
Buses to Málaga
Málaga’s main bus station is directly next to the main train station. Buses from Cordoba to Málaga take about 2 hours and 30 minutes, with ticket prices starting at 13€. Buses from Seville to Málaga also take about 2 hours and 30 minutes, with tickets starting as low as 20€.
Where to Stay in Málaga
Two great places to stay overnight in Málaga are the Vincci Seleccion Posada del Patio Hotel and the Gran Hotel Miramar GL.
Vincci Seleccion Posada del Patio is located close to the historic city center, about a third of a mile from the cathedral and the Picasso Museum. The hotel has great amenities, including a rooftop swimming pool. And beneath the hotel, you can view archaeological ruins of the city’s Arabic walls.
Gran Hotel Miramar GL is the place to stay if you’re visiting Málaga for the beach. This beachfront hotel is just feet from La Malagueta Beach. Plus, it’s only a ten minute walk from the city center. Amenities include a spa and a seasonal pool. Relax on the rooftop terrace with a beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea.
Weather in Málaga
Málaga has a subtropical Mediterranean climate. Summers tend to be warm and humid, with August being the warmest month. The city averages an amazing 300 sunny days per year.
The winters tend to be mild, with January being the coldest month of the year. In fact, Málaga averages Europe’s warmest winters, with the Málaga Mountains blocking cold winds. Winter tends to be the rainy season, averaging 40 to 45 rainy days per year.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, Málaga is worth visiting. The city has a lot to offer and interest visitors. For starters, the city has beautiful weather and amazing beaches.
Plus, Málaga’s rich history and culture is evident through the architecture and its 40-some-odd museums. The city also has some of the best tapas in the country.
The two main things Málaga is famous for are its beaches, and for being the birth place of Pablo Picasso.
Málaga boasts a total of 16 beaches along its coastline. Plus, with its Mediterranean climate on Spain’s Costa del Sol, its almost always good beach-going weather.
Málaga is famous for being the birthplace and childhood home of the artist Pablo Picasso. There are two Picasso museums in Málaga. You can also visit the Church of Santiago, where he was baptized, among other sites important in the artist’s life.
Yes, one day in Málaga is enough to see a lot of the city’s highlights, but maybe not all of them. One day should be enough time to see the sights mentioned in this article.
Those sights include Castle Gibralfaro, the Alcazaba, the Roman amphitheater, the cathedral, and a Picasso museum. There should even be a little time left over to lounge a while on the beach.
However, if you want to see all of Málaga’s sites, plan for at least two days. Some other points of interest in Málaga include La Farola Lighthouse, the Museo Carmen Thyssen Malaga, the Plaza de Toros (La Malagueta), and the Jardín Botánico Historico La Concepcion.
A Hop On Hop Off bus tour can help you see many of these sites in a fairly short time at a glance.
The best time of year to visit Málaga is in the spring. The weather is still warm, with highs in the 60s to 70s, and the crowds are not as big as during the summer. The busiest months in Málaga tend to be June through September.
If you visit during early spring, you may be able to catch the orange blossoms, but run more risk of a rainy day. By May, the rainy season is subsiding, but crowds have not reached the height of the summer season yet.
Yes, Málaga is a very walkable city. The historic city center is compact, and many of the major sites of interest are all within a 20 minute walk of each other. Plus, much of the historic center is pedestrian only.
However, there are some hills and sharp inclines in some areas. So good, comfortable walking shoes are a must.
Day Trips from Málaga
Nerja is another coastal town on the Costa del Sol, about 45 minutes east of Málaga. Its rugged coastline is broken up by sandy beaches. One of the major attractions in Nerja are the Nerja Caves that extend for three miles underground.
Ronda is a romantic Pueblo Blanco in the Andalusian hills of Southern Spain, about an hour and 15 minute drive from Málaga. The Tajo Gorge divides this village in half, offering dramatic scenery. Sites of interest here include the Plaza de Toros, the Puente Nuevo (new bridge), and the Arab baths, among others.
Caminito del Rey is an exciting 6.4 mile hike located about an hour northwest of Málaga in the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes Natural Park. If you love the outdoors, this is the perfect day trip for you. It’s highly recommended to make reservations for this hike in advance, to make sure it’s not sold out.
Final thoughts on one day in Málaga
Málaga is a warm and welcoming city full of history, culture, and beautiful beaches. The largest town on Spain’s Costa del Sol, it’s beautiful to visit any time of the year. And with so many things to do here, it’s definitely worth spending at least one day in Málaga.