Let’s Go Exploring! Malaga, an Ancient City with Castles and Beaches

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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is a world-travelling early retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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Ever since we started exploring Europe, I’ve wanted to find a place that had the unique combination of warm weather, beaches, hiking, and castles.

Luckily we didn’t have to look for long. That place, my friends, is Malaga, Spain.

When we arrived in Malaga, we were immediately greeted by sunshine, oceanside views, and of course, that famous Andalusian friendliness and hospitality.

Our Airbnb host thoughtfully left helpful little notes all over the apartment anticipating our every need. (“extra blankets in here, just in case you get chilly”, “an extra heater in case you need it”, “bought some groceries for you since you’re getting in late”, “here are some guidebooks to the best restaurants and sights in Malaga”).

He even went as a far as doing a full survey at the end of our stay to make sure everything was perfect and took notes on how to improve the next guests’ stay. I was impressed.

Everywhere we went, people were super kind, smiling, and friendly. No wonder, it’s pretty hard to get grumpy when you live in a place with views like these:

Especially when you can sit by the seaside, watch the sunset while eating freshly caught fish grilled on an open flame (called “Espetos” in Spanish):

Add a spritz of lime, some tapas, a pitcher of Sangria and you’re in heaven.

Fun fact: Did you know that Malaga was also once known as “Malaka” which means “salt” because of the popularity of salting fish near the harbour? *singing* “the more you know!”.

After our seaside lunch, we explored some of the many exceptional sights Malaga had to offer:

La Alcazaba

Even though Malaga has a youthful, beach-resort vibe to it, it’s actually one of the world’s oldest cities, with nearly 3 thousand years of history! And what better way to complete your first history lesson than by going to La Alcazaba, the Moorish palace that sits at the foot of Mount Gibralfaro.

Marvelling at the exceptional ocean views, you can wander around the gardens in peace and quiet.

Rumomo [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Castillo de Gibralfaro

Hiking up from La Alcazaba, leads up to Gibralfaro castle, with more brilliant views and historical architecture:

manuelfloresv [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Since we are big fans of hiking, we enjoyed this 45-minute relatively steep walk up the hill, but you can also take a cab or bus up and walk down instead. Wanderer was a big fan of the latter, but I felt it was too easy and “cheating.”

As usual, when we disagree on something travel-related my rule is to make fun of Wanderer until he gives in (“who’s acting like a little princess? You are. Yes you are.”), I’m glad he eventually did because I felt like the views at the top were the perfect reward for our workout:

Malagueta Beach

When we came back down from the castle, we strolled along the beach, which thankfully wasn’t crowded at all.

The water was a bit too cold for swimming, but we loved sitting on the sand and enjoying the perfect weather and people watching. Apparently, Malaga is one of the best places in Europe to escape from the winter, with a mild December to February temperature of 17 degrees C or 63 degrees F, and a comfortable, never sweltering temperature of 25 degrees C or 77-degree F.

No wonder it’s the 2nd second most populated city in Andalucia with 570,000 people.

Parque de Málaga

As you walk along the beach toward the marina, you’ll also pass through a palm tree lined walking path. Wander down the path, take a look to your right and you’ll notice all sorts of beautiful ornate statues and fountains.

This was the perfect place to relax, enjoy a moment of tranquility, and escape from the cars, tourists, and the general hustle and bustle of the main street.

Málaga Cathedral

Having been to enough churches, we weren’t super enamoured with the idea of going to another one. But this church had a somewhat interesting backstory.
Known as “La Manquita” (The One-Armed Lady), this church got this weird name because it’s missing a second tower so it looks a bit asymmetrical.

Supposedly, the funds for the tower were donated to the American Revolutionary War or used for road-building within Malaga so the church was left “one handed”.

I like the “donated” to the American war explanation better. Once again, America’s influence is everywhere, even in this weird looking church. But yeah, it’s a nice church. If you’re into churches, go visit it, but if you’re not missing much by skipping it.

Ataranzas Market

This market wins for the prettiest stained-glass window we’d ever seen.
So of course, we immediately ruined it by taking this super dorky selfie right outside:

Once inside, you’ll notice that this isn’t so much of a ready-to-eat food market as a fresh grocery for cooking type of market. So we mainly just went for the architecture and people watching.

Picassos Museum

For all the Picasso groupies out there, there is one and only one reason to come to Malaga:

To visit Picassos’s birthplace.

In the Picasso Museum you’ll find 230 of the famous artists’ work, donated by his family members. What’s really interesting (and compared to other museums in Europe with Picassos’s works) is that they were created during his younger years and you’ll get a glimpse into how his developed his style and evolved his artistic skills over time.

Llecco [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
We enjoyed our time in Malaga because of it’s relaxing vibe, and just like the other cities in Spain, it was relatively easy on the wallet, compared to the rest of western Europe.

Here’s how much we spent in Malaga:

Category Cost in USD/couple Cost in CAD/couple Notes
Accommodations: $46 USD $60 CAD Malaga was surprisingly affordable for a beachy destination. I suspect maybe it's upstaged by the more popular Seville.
Food: $12 USD $16 CAD ($10 for eating out, $6 for groceries) We spent almost no money on food in Malaga because we were still sick from Madrid and subsisting on mostly crackers and soup. I suspect your stomach actually shrinks after food poisoning, so there wasn't much we could fit in there.
Transportation: $15 USD/day $19 CAD/day Transportation consisted of the train ticket from Madrid which only cost us 45 Euros for 2 people because I managed to catch an early bird special. Other than that the city was very walkable so spread over the cost of 4 days the cost was minimal.
Entertainment: $2.3 USD/day $3 CAD/day Entertainment consisted of the entry to Gibralfaro, which is only 3.5 Euros per person.
Total: $75 USD/couple/day $98 CAD/couple/day You could easily spend much more than us, but we didn't end up blowing much money on Malaga because a) we were still too sick to eat much and b) there were many free entertainment options like the beach and hiking. Overall, Malaga is a pretty budget friendly destination–probably the least expensive one we've been to in Andalusia.

What do you think? Have you ever been to Malaga?


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31 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Malaga, an Ancient City with Castles and Beaches”

  1. I flew into Malaga and stayed about an hour north in a small village called Nerja. Just opposite was the most amazing hill town called Frigiliana. Nerja however was seemingly full of fish and chips and fellow Brits. Checking us in at the front desk was a beautiful Spanish speaking girl– from Manchester. At breakfast there were twenty tables, nineteen of which were occupied by English speaking Brits. Eating at the table next to us were some of the workers– who were (playfully) warned by the hostess not to speak bad about the English because she knew my partner and I spoke Spanish lol.

    Anyway we were laying out at the beach and saw all these lovely cats around. I said oh how cool to have so many cute cats– a few dozen at least. Right about then one of them started digging in the sand, followed shortly by said cat copping a squat. In that instant I looked around and realized I was sitting in the middle of a giant litterbox.

    Overall thought Spain was remarkable though, great infrastructure, friendly people, great beer and pinchos, just no veg. At all (well except potatoes). After two weeks my body was jonesing for greens so bad. C’mon baby, give it to me, just one piece of broccoli, I’ll do whatever you want, I’m a dirty girl..

    1. Ha ha. That’s a great story.

      Yeah, I feel you on the veg. I found that to be an issue in Mexico too. Lack of veggies. But damn the sangria is so good–they did add a sprig of mint on it, that still counts as veg right ;)?

    2. Nerja is one of our favourite places for a relaxing holiday. Yes, we’re British too. But there are plenty of other nationalities there, and Spaniards too. In fact, Nerja is a popular weekend destination for people living in Granada. It’s great for free tapas – there are dozens of tapas bars dotted around the town. We usually have a menu del dia for lunch – go to Los Trillizos, which is packed with locals every day – and then do a tapas crawl every night. It’s perfect!

    1. Thanks, Leeric! Appreciate your support! (FYI, keep your receipt to get pre-order goodies which we’ll be announcing in May)

    2. If you really wanna drive traffic to your blog Leeric, write a review about the book after you finished reading it. It’ll help engage your audience deeper. And don’t be afraid to add your opinons – feelings in the posts too. Do you agree, FIRECracker? 🙂

  2. Haha, I do the same thing when seeing anything on a hill I feel like I have to “earn” it by hiking to the top like I imagine they used to back in the day. If I have a couple weeks in Southern Spain coming in June, how many days would you recommend in Malaga? Thanks for the Friday escape

    1. You are my kind of person 🙂 It doesn’t count until you earn it.

      I would say stay in Malaga for 3 days, that should be enough to enjoy the sights. Enjoy your time in Southern Spain!

  3. Malaga sounds like my kind of city. We’ll check it out the next time I’m in Spain. Malaga used to be super popular for Europeans when they need a quick getaway, right? I wonder if it is less popular now that there are so many more destinations to visit.

    1. It definitely looks like a beachy resorty type place that would popular with the locals. I think you’re right. Now with so many cheap flights offered by Ryanair, I suspect the locals are choosing to fly to other destinations.

  4. Ah…. Spain! The more I read about your adventures there (besides the food poisoning), the more I want to go.

    It just seems to have the right mix of all the things I want in a travel destination — Good food, affordable prices, nice weather (+beaches), and interesting things to see and do.

    Malaga sounds like a great seaside town to visit! Definitely putting this one on my “Spain” list.

    1. Yes, please do go visit! I absolutely love the Andalusian region. Some of the friendliest people in Europe and the best weather. I think your kiddos will like it too–lots of kid-friendly parks, play structures etc all around.

  5. First, it’s great to hear that there was no food poisoning incident for you two during this new stop you made in Spain. It is also super refreshing to see a lot of pictures of you two on these posts. Can we get more in the future? We want to remain semi-anonymous on our own blog but since you guys are pretty open about your identity I think it make your travel posts much more personal IMHO.

    As for our summer trip to Europe our latest thinking about Spain is to spend most of our time on the west coast (in part to meet with some friends). Now, I’m wondering if we also make a stop by Malaga as this location seems to have a lot of common with the places we like to travel to…

    A nomadic lifestyle can be really hard with all these options we can choose front can’t it? 🙂

    1. I know right? So many options, such a hard knock life 😉

      And yes, there are more selfie pics in this post because I discovered the “portrait” mode on the phone. How very millennial of me 😛

      Enjoy your time on the west coast! I’m excited to see more of your travel videos 🙂

  6. tried living in Benalmadena . lasted only 4 months .. its so different when you live in a place compared to visiting as a tourist
    language was a problem .. my Spanish is good but not good enough to get by every day with complicated needs etc

    a few times being ripped off at supermarkets .. the worst was an a airbnb above us . every week drunk very drunk Brits . yuk . so loud and obnoxious .

    i do love Spain but not to live in . and too hot in summer months ,for me .

    1. Interesting. Never heard of Benalmadena until now. I do think that living in a place isn’t the same as travelling there…but you’ll never know until you try it 🙂

      Yeah, Spain is too hot in the summer, maybe go up north to the UK? Or Poland? UK was chilly enough in Aug that I still managed to catch a cold 😛

  7. Never heard of Malaga before. Where is this place on the map? This sounds like Christmas Island, a place where it’s only a dot and unrecognized. L 😛 L

  8. First time I visited Malaga was on a cruise stop. I was impressed with the location and city so much that we planned a vacation there a few years later. Rented a VRBO apt for 6 weeks across from the beach in Malagueta. We went to all the places you mentioned plus day trips to Rhonda and Gibraltar. Too bad you didn’t have appetites as the tapas are delicious all over! Also not to be missed is experiencing a Hammam spa & massage.

  9. Can’t go wrong with tapas in Spain! Luckily we got our fill of it before the food poisoning.

    We went to a Hammam in Turkey several years ago. Very “interesting” experience. I was given a tiny cloth to cover myself and Wanderer got a deep tissue massage by a big hairy guy. He screamed a lot. I never laughed so hard in my life. Good times.

  10. Hi FC,

    Nice beach and the view is awesome. It seems that the beach is not crowded and I believe that it will be terrific just to walk along the coastline and enjoy the cool breeze.

    A leisurely way of enjoying a day.

    WTK

    1. Definitely nice when the beaches aren’t crowded. Though I did wonder if it’s because it’s low season. I’d imagine it would be more popular during Dec and Jan.

      1. Hi FC,

        I personally prefer the beach to be quiet and secluded. Such beach will give a sense of peace and the feeling of owning the whole venue. One can have the great time relaxing and enjoying the tranquillity which I yearn for.

        I am not sure whether you and Wanderer have the same preference as me. This is one of the best atmosphere as per my perspective. One can look around and have the abundant amount of time and leisure of enjoying the atmosphere.

        My two cents worth of views.

        WTK

  11. We visited Malaga during our trip to southern Spain, Granada, Sevilla, and Cordoba. All beautiful places and welcoming people. Each had its own charm and amazing character. It’s a mind altering to experience.

    So glad you wrote this about Malaga! We walked up the hill to the Alcazaba and pretty much all over town. La Alcazaba has so many great features and fountains.

    That picture of the fountain with the lions (posted above) is from the Alhambra, which is in Granada. With such great moorish fountains at the Alcazaba it would be a shame not to post a snap of one of them instead!

    1. Thanks, Frank! My bad. I’ve updated the picture.

      We didn’t get a chance to visit Granada and Cordoba, but from what our Airbnb host told us, many travellers come to Malaga as a home base when they travel out to those to other cities. Will have to see them the next time we’re in Spain.

  12. Thanks for the introduction to Malaga! I had no idea this place existed, and it looks affordable to boot. It’s going on my (very long) list of places to travel when my partner and I hit up Spain.

    Also super happy to hear you guys didn’t have any food poisoning there! 😀

      1. Thanks FIRECracker! You and Wanderer are such an inspiration. 🙂

        After we sold our condo last year, your blog helped convince us to not buy a house. We ran the math and found that we would need to work for decades to pay down our mortgage. Instead, we invested the condo proceeds and happily rent. Our landlord is awesome, we are stress-free….and *drumroll* we are one year away from FIRE!

        So all is that to say – thank you and Wanderer for your blog. You guys are doing a great service!

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