7 Days In Spain’s Sunny South: One Week In Malaga Itinerary

One week in Malaga
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So, you’re planning on spending one week in Malaga? Good choice. That’s a great amount of time to really make the most out of the self-proclaimed capital and gateway of the Costa del Sol, with oodles of history, that compulsory bout of sunbathing, and stacks of Andalusian dining and shopping thrown in for good mix.

Yep, there’s a whole load to get stuck into when you jet down to the sun-splashed southern city of Malaga. From Moorish relics to medieval churches, shimmering gold-sand beaches to buzzy nightlife strips where you can karaoke and dance until the early hours, it’s quintessential Spanish Mediterranean stuff.

This guide runs through one week in Malaga, checking off all the must-see sights along the way. But it also offers a few hidden hints and tips for places you might not have heard of, whether that’s an off-beat museum about the city’s budding urban art scene or a day outing to some of the region’s best-loved beaches. Pack the sun cream…let’s begin…

Day 1: Malaga Old Town

Old Town of Malaga
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The Malaga Old Town – also known as the City Center and the Centro Historico – is the epicenter of the city. We’d recommend staying here to be right in the thick of the action. TOC Hostel Malaga ($) is a fantastic budget choice, but the elegant Gr Suites Boutique Alcazaba ($$-$$$) are more spacious and private if the budget allows.

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Both of those put you right there in the midst of the enthralling old area. And it really is old: Malaga was first founded by the Phoenician Greeks way back in 770 BC! You can still spy out relics of that ancient era in the core here, too – be sure to check out the Roman Theater, which sits under the Alcazaba (more on that later) and has free entry.

The real joy of the Malaga Old Town is in simply walking around and getting lost. You’ll see cultural landmarks at every turn. One moment there’s the Malaga Cathedral, a symphony of Renaissance building work that looms up from a pocket of palm trees. Then there’s Calle Molina Lario, an historic roadway laced with Baroque relics.

Don’t forget to take some time to kick back and people watch. There are excellent cafes in this district that are crying out for you to do just that – La Tetería and Baires Coffee & Drinks are two of our personal favorites.

Day 2: Malaga’s beaches

Malaga beach
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There are plenty of chances to hit the beaches during your one week in Malaga, don’t worry about that! In fact, there are even some top-quality beaches in the city of Malaga itself. They are just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Old Town area (AKA – like 20 minutes’ walking or five minutes on public transport).

The most popular of the lot is surely Playa la Malagueta. That’s where the bulk of the tan-topping tourists head when the rays get strong between May and August. It’s a lovely arc of beige sand that’s backed by a vibrant promenade brimming with open-air cafés and hotels – check out iloftmalaga Miramar ($$-$$$), just in case you preferred staying near the sands.

That’s not the only beach option, either. You can push west past the harbor to Playa de Huelin. The waves are a little stronger there and you can watch the fishing folk pulling in their catch. Or there’s Playa Pedregalejo further east, which has quite a good evening nightlife scene and lots of seafood restaurants.

Day 3: Castillo de Gibralfaro and the Alcazaba

Malaga old town
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Some more history beckons on day three of our one week in Malaga itinerary. It begins with the famous Castillo de Gibralfaro. It’s a landmark that you can hardly miss here since it caps off a high coastal mountain on the eastern edge of the downtown. It’s been there since the 10th century and stands on the spot of an even-more-ancient lighthouse built by the Greeks. 

The walk up can be a push for the hamstrings, but the views are spectacular. Enter at the north side of the castle and walk through the winding paths of the Sendero al Mirador de la Costa. Eventually, the citadel itself will come into view. There are some interesting information points telling the tale of the keep, along with vistas that roll out northwards to the sierras.

For the afternoon, we’ve saved perhaps the premier attraction in all of Malaga: The Alcazaba. One of the best-preserved of its kind in Spain (second only, perhaps, to Granada), it’s a great fortress-palace complex that was built during the reign of the Moors in the 11th century. A tour of the whole place is a must, letting you see incredible pleasure gardens, court rooms, and elaborate arabesque doorways and arches.

Day 4: Soho and the Malaga nightlife

Sangria
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Malaga isn’t only about the Old Town area and the historic relics that lie within, you know? There’s also a buzzy new part of the town. That’s capped off by the upcoming district of Soho. This is like southern Spain’s answer to Kreuzberg in Berlin; a place packed with museums and cutting-edge exhibits.

The top highlight of a visit is surely the MAUS (Malaga Arte Urbano en el Soho). It’s not actually an art gallery in the classic sense. Instead, these guys use the streets of Soho itself as their canvas. There are now marked out graffiti walks that you can take to see the work of some totemic urban painters: Frank Shepard Fairey (OBEY), Boamistura, Cape Town’s Faith47.

On top of that, Soho also boasts the CAC. That’s the leading modern art collection in the town. It specializes in upcoming Spanish installation and plastic art but has a forever-changing series of exhibitions that are sure to entertain the budding culture vulture.

Later on, why not sample a touch of Malaga’s famous nightlife? You can start with a bout of tapas in Soho itself and then move north to the Old Town. That gets positively raucous in the summer months, as bars like Bambu and MALAFAMA start rocking with travelers fresh off the planes.

Day 5: Montes de Malaga Natural Park

The mountains northwest of Malaga in Caminito del Rey
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What better way to cure the hangover from the night before than with an adventure through the Montes de Malaga Natural Park? Spreading north through the Spanish mountains at the top end of the town, this vast reserve covers a 10-mile stretch of the sierras. It’s one of the lesser-known highland parks in the area, which makes it a top place for escaping the crowds of the beaches below.

There are quite a few paths to choose from. They range from easy strolls through the olive groves to more hardcore day treks to mirador lookouts. Alternatively, you could ditch the boots altogether and opt for a scenic drive. But back to the trails…some of our favorite walks here include:

  • Mirador de Pocopan (8-mile loop) – This is probably the most famous walk in the Montes de Malaga park, taking you through eucalyptus and pine woods to a remote hut high above the range.
  • Mirador El Cochino (2-mile loop) – Relatively easy because it’s so short, this route nonetheless offers sweeping views back down to the Costa del Sol and Malaga in the distance.
  • Venta El Detalle (6.5-mile loop) – You start at the gateway village of Venta to complete this loop track that offers amazing views north into the deeper Andalusian mountains.

Day 6: Ronda and Estpona

Ronda
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Day six means it’s time to cruise out of the city and see some of the other towns and salt-washed marinas that await in the greater Andalusia region. One place stands out from the crowd: Ronda. Sat about 1.5 hours’ drive away from Malaga, it’s accessible by either car or on organized day trips, although we would recommend your own set of wheels.

That’s because even the ride in is part of the fun. You’ll want to take the A-357 and then ride north on the A-367. The route will take you deep into the rising sierras of southern Spain, to a land dotted with glinting pueblo blancos (the famous white villages of Andalusia), scored by canyons, and clustered by olive groves.

Ronda itself then comes into view. The city is hailed as one of the most dramatic in Europe. It’s set over a deep gorge on the El Tajo Canyon. You can walk a vertigo-inducing bridge over the river and see an 18th-century bullring (Bullring of the Royal Cavalry of Ronda). Oh, and be sure to fork out for a drink at the Balcón del Tajo, because the views from there gaze all the way into the wild Sierra de Grazalema in the distance.

For the evening, make your way back to the coast through the winding mountain roads. The aim is the small harbor town of Estepona, but you might want to make a pitstop at the hilltop pueblo of Gaucin first – it’s known as something of a culinary hotspot, largely thanks to the acclaimed fine-dining of Hotel Restaurante La Fructuosa.

Day 7: Cruise the Costa del Sol

Costa del Sol
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No one week in Malaga could possibly be complete without stepping out onto the shimmering sands of the Costa del Sol. Welcome to the most iconic stretch of coastline in the whole of Spain; a place long associated with jet-setter living and sun-soaked summertime vibes. It won’t disappoint.

The good news is that after your romp to Ronda and Estepona on Day 6 you should be perfectly placed to start hopping the beaches eastwards up the costa back to Malaga itself. It’s a really well-connected area, with regular local buses and good motorways running the whole way back to the city.

You can pick from a plethora of beaches, too. Either do one for the whole day or jump between a couple. We can recommend the following spots:

  • Playa de Guadalmansa – One of the hidden gems of the Costa del Sol, this one has a mix of pebble and sand and is often totally deserted.
  • Playa de la Fontanilla – The developed but family-friendly beach of Marbella, Playa de la Fontanilla has water sports and sunbeds for rent.
  • Playa Real de Zaragoza – A gorgeous beach backed by dunes topped by sea oats.
  • Playa de Santa Ana – In nearby Benalmadena, this beach is very close to Malaga and great for family travelers.
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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.