The vast region of Andalusia is one of Spain’s most fascinating places to visit. Its rich history is reflected in its wonderful cities and architecture, with world-famous attractions such as Granada’s Alhambra and Córdoba’s Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral. While these cities are worth a visit, we’re heading towards Andalusia’s coast, towards one of its most popular provinces. Renowned for its fantastic beaches and lovely weather, Malaga is home to the aptly named Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun). You’ll find world-class beaches, exciting attractions and some of the freshest Mediterranean seafood. If you can peel yourself off the sun lounger, you’ll also find incredible culture and history amongst the many high-rise resorts.
Malaga has a lot to offer, whatever your plans may be, and really, the only question left to ask is…where do you stay? Cue the travel experts at Plum Guide (that’s us). Having visited the region plenty of times over the years, we know a thing or two about where to stay in Malaga. So here’s a rundown of the top areas you’ll want to consider.
Aerial view of the downtown area and bullring, Malaga
El Centro is the local name for this neighbourhood right in the heart of Malaga city. Also known as downtown or the Old Town, its central location is home to all of the main attractions, making it perfect for tourists and first-timers. Within easy walking distance, you’ll find the Picasso museum (a fascinating museum dedicated to one of the world’s most famous painters who was born here) as well as the Catedral de la Encarnación de Málaga—the city’s famous Renaissance cathedral that dates back as far as the 16th century. Around the Plaza de la Merced (a public square that’s been part of the city since Roman times), you’ll find the birthplace of Picasso, while in Plaza de la Constitución, you’ll be surrounded by bars, cafes, restaurants and of course, plenty of tapas. It’s the perfect blend of Malaga’s history and its vibrant nightlife.
Every great city has a trendy, artsy neighbourhood, right? Malaga is no different, with Soho being its go-to arts district for everything from cool street art to street performers, food vendors and a thriving underground culture. This colourful, head-turning street art you see everywhere is part of a project, the Malaga Arte Urbano Soho project (MAUS), which has transformed this area from a relatively rundown part of the city to the vibrant open-air art gallery you can enjoy today. Not only is Soho very cool and bohemian (perfect for culture vultures), but it’s also really well-connected. It’s close enough to the train station and intercity bus terminal while still within walking distance of La Calle Larios and the rest of El Centro, where all the main attractions and amenities lie. Well worth considering, given the lower prices you’re likely to find.
Aerial top view of luxury yachts in Puerto Banus marina, Marbella
The oh-so-fashionable Marbella is another wonderful resort town on the Costa del Sol. This is where the chic crowds gather, with plenty of exclusive golf courses to keep you busy when you’re not living it up at the fancy beach clubs. Marbella's Old Town feels like another world if you’re craving a break from all the glitz and glamour. The historic Moorish centre is full of charming whitewashed houses, cobbled streets and vibrant bougainvillaea tumbling down from romantic balconies. Head to the Plaza de los Naranjos for an alfresco lunch amongst blossoming orange trees. Come sundown, enjoy strolls along the city’s palm-lined promenades, the sun lighting up the Sierra Blanca mountain range in an orange glow.
Sandy La Malagueta beach with palm trees at sunrise, Malaga
Let’s face it. The reason you come to Malaga is for the beaches. You were perhaps starting to worry we’d neglected this important fact as you scrolled through the list, but fear not—we have you covered. La Malagueta is a lovely and peaceful residential beachfront neighbourhood built right on top of some of the best beaches Malaga offers. Playa de La Caleta would be our pick here, the glorious Mediterranean sun and sand being no more than a 10-minute walk from wherever you’re staying in the La Malagueta neighbourhood. The beach is popular for paddle boarding and windsurfing, as well as having all the amenities such as sunbeds, beach umbrellas, hammocks and parasols. What’s equally great about this area is that it’s quieter than some of the more touristy areas mentioned above. Everything is aimed at the locals so prices are a bit more reasonable and you’ll find some nice surprises with the traditional cuisine on offer.
View of the Andalusian white village of Comares, on top of a hill in the mountains, Malaga
This region of Malaga is often thought of as the ‘real’ Andalusia with its soaring mountains, lush valleys, cheerful coastal towns and remote villages. It’s the perfect place to slow things down, somewhere you can escape the bars and beach clubs of other cities along the Costa del Sol. Days here are best spent exploring the area’s beautiful scenery, including the whitewashed hilltop village of Comares and the azure reservoir of La Viñuela. If you’re the type of person who likes to stay active when travelling, be sure to take a hiking or cycling trip into Axarquia’s surrounding mountains. If, like us, you’re more inclined to stay horizontal with a chilled glass of wine in hand, then there’s plenty of opportunity to do that too.
Geological formations in the famous Nerja Caves, Malaga
Also found within Axarquia is the seaside town of Nerja. This is a lovely place to stay in Malaga, with a friendly, village-like feel, a great range of independent shops and restaurants, and (most importantly) stunning beaches. Despite its size, there are plenty of things to do to keep you busy. The Caves of Nerja, home to the world’s largest stalagmite, will blow you away with its jaw-dropping rock formations. Neanderthal remains and artwork from 42,000 years ago have also been found here. Continue the exploration to Rio Chillar, the best walk around Nerja, which takes you along a river up into the hills, where you’ll find waterfalls and rock pools. Back in town, time your visit to Balcon de Europa for sunset and to admire the magnificent views over the coast.
Pedregalejo is one of our favourite options when it comes to where to stay in Malaga. It boasts some of the best beaches on the coast, stretching from Playa de Pedregalejo through Playa de Las Acacias all the way to Playa de el Palo. Along this stretch are nine man-made coves offering the perfect place for swimming in the warm, startlingly blue waters of the Mediterranean. Despite its popularity, Pedregalejo has maintained its charm, offering visitors a quiet, more authentic Spanish break. It’s still very much a traditional village that’s centred around fishing. Naturally, you'll find some of the best seafood restaurants in all of Malaga right here. Whether it’s the sardines grilling on little boat-shaped barbecues right on the beach at sunset, or some of the town favourites such as Restaurante El Caleño or Pez Tomillo, you’re in for a good meal here. Just what you need after a long, hard day of lounging around doing precisely nothing.
View over the treetops with El Palo beach in the distance, Malaga
Right next door to Pedregalejo, you have the equally charming El Palo. This local beachfront neighbourhood offers you a slow, relaxing beach getaway. As previously mentioned, its beach (El Palo) is one of the best in the region, boasting beautiful palm groves and shallow waters that are perfect for all-day swimming. The village retains its strong fishing traditions amid a burgeoning dining scene. You’ll find a lovely mix of trendy seafood bistros next door to chiringuitos (beach bars), all serving deliciously fresh seafood and some of the most classic Mediterranean dishes. Strong recommendations include Restaurante Hermanos Alba and Restaurante Antonio. In the evening, you can take a stroll or cycle along the seaside promenade, watching the sun disappear below the Mediterranean.
Elevated view across the treetops towards Guadalhorce lake and mountains, Malaga
Those looking for something a little different when it comes to where to stay in Malaga should consider the splendid Guadalhorce river valley. With its fertile plains, this is a largely agricultural area nicknamed ‘the garden of Malaga’, dotted with peaceful towns like Alhaurin el Grande and Coin. Many people stay in this area to hike the famous Caminito del Rey trail, an eight-kilometre path once considered one of the most dangerous in the world. Although it’s much safer today, the experience of strolling along a walkway hanging 100 metres on a sheer cliff face is still unforgettable. However, if you’re not a thrill-seeker, perhaps spending a day at the El Chorro lakes sounds like a better option. Bordered by pine and oak forests, these three turquoise-coloured lakes are a peaceful place to swim, kayak, fish and enjoy a picnic on the shores.
Ciudad Jardin is Malaga’s most northern region, a quiet residential district that sprawls up from the northern suburbs along the River Guadalmedina all the way into the mountains and the Montes de Málaga park. Translating to ‘garden city’, it’s certainly more detached from the rest of the city and a long way from the coast, so bear that in mind. On the other hand, if you love hiking and biking in nature, this place is heaven. You’ll find plenty of trails weaving through the pine-forested mountain slopes, with stunning views across the city and the Mediterranean Sea. There’s also the Historic Botanical Garden Of La Conception, a 23-hectare botanical garden that dates back to 1855 and is home to tropical flora from five continents. Well worth a visit.