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MalagaMuseo

For most visitors, Málaga is simply a gateway to the beach resorts of the Costa del Sol, with few venturing far from the airport or into the city. Well, they’re all missing a trick because this once-shabby port has undergone something of a reinvention. There’s a sparkling new waterfront and millions of euros have been pumped into the art scene, thanks to mayor Francisco de la Torre’s vision to turn his city into a cultural hub, with a branch of the Parisian Pompidou Centre among the latest museum openings.

The Alcazaba fortress, Málaga’s more modest answer to Granada’s Alhambra, sits proudly in the historic centre – a maze of gardens and fountains – and above it 10th-century Gibralfaro castle stands guard over the coast. Round the corner lies the vast Renaissance cathedral, nicknamed La Manquita (“one-armed woman”) because its south tower was mysteriously left unbuilt.
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While the city beaches are nothing to write home about, the food definitely is. The subtropical climate and maritime location mean there’s plentiful fresh produce, exceptional local wine, melt-in-the-mouth jamón and top seafood – the locals are nicknamed boquerones (anchovies) because of the quantities they eat. There are countless great bars and restaurants, and more opening all the time, but eat late if you don’t want to look like a tourist – Malagueños go out late, and dining after 10pm is the norm.

With dozens of low-cost flights a week, Málaga ticks all the boxes for an alternative city break or a stopover on the way to a beach holiday. It’s just surprising more people haven’t cottoned on yet.

Do
Centre Pompidou Malagadcollection
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Pompidou Centre. Photograph: Alamy
Museums
You can’t turn a corner without finding a museum in Málaga: there are over 30 here. The newly opened Pompidou Centre is that museum’s first foray out of France. It’s entered via a striking, giant glass cube and houses permanent and temporary contemporary exhibitions (€7, under-18s free, centrepompidou-malaga.eu).

The brand new Collection of the Russian Museum in an old tobacco factory is also impressive – five rooms tell the tale of Russian art over five centuries, with works from the state museum in St Petersburg (€6, under-18s free, coleccionmuseoruso.es).
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Next door is the Automobile Museum, which is surprisingly fascinating even for non-petrol-heads as, alongside the vintage and modern cars, high fashion from the 1920s-50s is on display (€7.50, under-threes free, museoautomovilmalaga.com).

Of course, the city is proud of its links with Picasso, who was born here. Besides his childhood home, the Picasso Museum (€7, museopicassomalaga.org, under-18s free) in a restored palace is a must-visit with over 200 sculptures, drawings and ceramics by the artist. A temporary exhibition of Louise Bourgeois (noted for her giant spider sculptures) runs until 27 September, too. If that’s not enough, the Carmen Thyssen (€6, carmenthyssenmalaga.org) showcases 19th-century Spanish art and, for cutting-edge curating, head to the brilliant Contemporary Art Centre (free, cacmalaga.eu) in the Soho district – shows by Brit urban artist D*Face and Korean street artist Shepard Fairey run until 27 September.

Shopping

Marqués de Larios street.
Marqués de Larios street. Photograph: Alamy
Besides the grand, marble-paved main shopping street Marqués de Larios, where shoppers can find high-street and designer names at bargain prices, thanks to the weak euro, Málaga is a treat for those who like discovering little independent boutiques. Calle Andrés Pérez, in what was a run-down part of town, is also a good place to browse. The shops and restaurants clubbed together to clean up the street and pay for street lights. Top finds include organic clothing at ColorHueso (no 7), antiques at Patio Almanzora (no 5) and vintage goods at Quasipercaso (no 1). For beautiful handmade jewellery, try P&C in the old centre (Calle Santa María 13).

Street art

D*Face exhibit.
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D*Face exhibit. Photograph: D*Face Studio
The newly hip Soho district is being turned into an open-air gallery by the Maus (Málaga Arte Urbano Soho) project which has invited big-name international artists to create artwork on the city’s walls. There are giant animal murals by the Belgian Roa, pop-art style creations by D*Face and smaller works by local artists. More work to be added by Kenny Scharf, Aryz and Abraham Lacalle soon. Pick up a map and explore by yourself or join a guided tour by CAC (three free tours at 10, 11 and 12 on Mondays). For another alternative arty experience head to Plaza De Jesus de La Pasion, where artist Valerio “fishes for people” by dangling a rose and a note inviting guests to his studio to have their eye sketched for free for his “Eyecylopedia” or just to browse his work. Valerio is the man behind an alternative “art currency” circulating in the city – “the Valerio”, notes made from his printed etchings are being accepted by a range of “wholesome” businesses, from yoga studios to cafes (valeriogentile.net).
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Hammam Al Ándalus
In the old city centre, this new Arab-style hammam is exquisite – beautifully tiled with candle lanterns lining the corridors, marble floors and hot and cold baths. Massages include the traditional kessa with exfoliation and big bubbly rub down.
• Entrance €30, check website for special deals. Plaza de los Mártires 5, +34 952 21 50 18, hammamalandalus.com
Food tour

Spain Food Sherpas tour.
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Spain Food Sherpas tour.
Málaga’s coming into its own as a culinary destination and a tour (group or bespoke) with the recently launched Spain Food Sherpas takes foodies off the beaten track to discover everything from traditional crisp makers to the best churros (doughnuts) and hidden restaurants. From the buzzing Mercado Atarazanas (the main food market), to the specialist ultramarinos (traditional, family grocery stores), visitors learn about – and try – the best local fare.
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Highlights might include a picnic of the best Iberian jamón, cheese and local wine in the courtyard of the 17th-century Cardinal’s House (lacasadelcardenal.com), now a high-end antique shop, or a stop at La Recova (Pasaje Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de San Juan 5, la recova.es), a ceramics and secondhand shop with a cafe where locals linger over breakfasts of bread, tomatoes, crema (delicious flavoured lard) spreads and coffee – all for €2.20.
There’s tasty tapas too – olives marinated with oranges and lemons, cheese with homemade marmalade and salchichón salami, great paired with local Moscatel wine.
• Three-hour Tapas Tour €65, spainfoodsherpas.com

Eat
El Cabra, Pedregalejo beach

sardines, Malaga
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Ten minutes east of the city centre, the old fishing village of Pedregalejo is the place to eat fresh fish and seafood at one of many beachside bars. Cooked on embers in boats on the sand, the must-try is espeto de sardinas (just-caught grilled sardines on a stick, €4.50). El Cabra on the promenade is a favourite for families for juicy mussels, clams in garlic and mixed fried fish – and great for people-watching. Afterwards, take a peek at the boat building workshop near the entrance to the beach.
• Paseo Marítimo Pedregal 17, Playa Pedregal, +34 952 29 15 95, restauranteelcabra.es

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Bodega Bar El Pimpi
El Pimpi is a Málaga institution. With a big terrace right opposite the Alcazaba, it is a tourist hotspot, but remains authentic and popular with locals, too. Inside it’s all old tiles, wood beams and barrels signed by visitors including celebrities such as local boy Antonio Banderas and Paloma Picasso. The food lives up to the hype – plates of the best Iberian ham, simple but delicious tomato salad and marinated fish (mains €10). Finish with a glass of typical Málaga moscatel wine. The new section next door is all glass and white walls, attracting a younger crowd.
• Calle Granada 62, +34 952 22 54 03

Gorki
There are tapas bars galore but one that won’t disappoint is Gorki, which uses local ingredients with a twist (small tapas €3.50, larger plates are served, too). Seating is in stalls in the shabby-chic interior and dishes include tangy cheeses, smoked cod with crushed tomatoes and baked salmon with gherkins on mollete (soft white bread). It’s all fresh and delicious, and there’s an extensive wine list.
• Calle Strachan 6, +34 952 22 14 66, (second branch at Muelle 1, Puerto de Málaga)

Los Patio de Beatas

Los Patios de Beatas.
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Tucked away on a side street, two 18th-century mansions have been converted into this restaurant with tapas and wine bar, with original features such as a stained-glass ceiling making the setting rather special. There are over 200 wines – a four-course tasting menu pairing each course with a different vintage costs €50 (€35 without wine). Head chef Christopher Gould (a UK Masterchef quarter-finalist) puts his own stamp on traditional Spanish fare with the likes of mushroom-and-truffle croquettes and suckling Málaga goat with couscous.
• Calle Beatas 43, +34 952 21 03 50, lospatiosdebeata.com

Mamuchis
There are lots of cool restaurants popping up in arty Soho. Mamuchis (meaning mother – owners Marcel and Leiticia want guests to feel like they’re in “mama’s kitchen”) serves healthy sharing plates featuring such delights as courgette burger and dim sum, influenced by their travels around the world (from €5). All mismatched chairs and upcycled furniture and paintings by Leiticia’s father, it’s like stepping into someone’s front room.
• Calle Casas de Campos 27, +34 951 99 45 17, no website

Drink
Piscina Lounge Terraza, Hotel Molina Lario.
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Piscina Lounge Terraza, Hotel Molina Lario.
Roof-top terraces
Nothing beats a breezy roof terrace and a gin and tonic after a day of culture, and there are plenty of places to imbibe high above the heat of the city. Some of the best are on the top of hotels, but open to non-guests. Try the two-storey La Terraza at Alcazaba Premium Hostel or the poolside terrace at Molina Lario (see where to stay, below, for details).

El Rincón del Cervecero
The craft beer movement has found its way to Málaga, and El Rincón, which opened a year ago, is the place to try Spanish brews. There are 185 beers there and owners David and Juan Francisco even make their own ales for Semana Santa and the August Feria. It’s a bright, simple space with wooden tables and high stalls and offers tastings and beer-making workshops.
• Calle Casas de Campos 5b, + 34 644 300 458, elrincondelcervezero

El Muro

El Muro Indie Rock Bar, Málaga
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Opened last summer, this small bar (couple of tables inside, mostly standing) is a hit with younger locals, who spill out on to the streets until the early hours.

 

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