Malaga’s Great Vibe, Cathedral, and Alcazaba

This week our roving retirement trip to Spain saw us go from Almeria to Malaga. Malaga is a place that we bypassed on our previous trip to Spain. I do recall visiting Marbella before and not thinking much about it. But this trip has an objective besides sightseeing. We are looking for places we might like to live in, even for a short time. Malaga is now on the shortlist, we really liked it. Our criteria include warmth, vibe, enough to do, proximity to the beach, and good food. Malaga’s scores are high on all of those items.

Malaga Vibe

The city has a large old town with tons of restaurants, people and energy. With more than 600,000 people in the greater Malaga area, there are lots of cultural and sporting things to do. There is also the Alcazaba, quaint squares, shopping, and beaches. Avenida Larios is the main shopping street that runs from the harbor to the main square. They have covered it with loads of shade sails and we were told it gets decorated for every season. The street was nearly empty during the day and really crowded at night. It is named after Senor Larios, the merchant who financed the street and many of the buildings on it. He also paid for a statue of himself to be placed at the end of the street.

Malaga also has a beach but it is a little north of town so you don’t see any of the little beach stores selling floaty toys. Along the harbor is a promenade that ends at a very beautiful, lush garden that sits between the Alcazaba and the sea. Then the road narrows around the hill and you can see the beach, which was quite a bit more subdued than other places in Spain.

Old Town

From Constitution Square (Plaza de la Constitución) and Avenida Larios, the old town opens into a maze of little streets and squares filled with shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, and lots of people. The old town is bordered on the east by the Alcazaba (castle on a hill) and on the south by the harbor and the Mediterranean, so the town has expanded to the north and west. That said, the old town of Malaga is larger than most of the places that we have visited so far. We walked into old town every evening for dinner from our hotel, which was across the river.

We also visited a small Arab-influenced Catholic Church called Parroquia Santiago Apóstol Málaga that was really beautiful. There is also a unique dome at the top that reflects blue light, beautiful.


One of the shining features of Malaga is the partially restored Alcazaba, the walled fortification with palaces in the middle. This area of Spain was ruled by the Moors for about 500 years starting in the 8th century. Their significant buildings are still standing in most places and the Alcazaba was already fortified so they were of value to Spanish kings. If they weren’t torn down for materials, they were variously used as Christian forts or prisons or storage, etc. Right in front of the Alcazaba sits the remains of a Roman theater.

The Alcazaba in Malaga is the second largest remaining, after the Alhambra in Granada. It has been partially restored so we could see the plaster and paintwork of the Moors who built it. To get in, we stood in line for quite a while, and then we climbed the hill through the complicated entry designed to thwart enemy attacks. Then we visited the gardens and the old walls.

Finally, at the very top are the preserved palaces that featured Moorish doorways, fountains, and rectangular architecture. Many of the ceilings and the plasterwork can still be seen as they would have been when they were built. We also got a good view of the penthouse condo of one of Malaga’s favorite sons, Antonio Banderas.


We had been walking by the Cathedral for the first five days we were in town but it was never a good time to go in. Finally, we had an opportunity where the line wasn’t too long and since cathedral visits don’t usually take too long, we jumped on it. While Malaga’s cathedral isn’t as grand as the ones in Barcelona or Seville, it was pretty impressive. Especially the ceilings. The organs and the choir section were also very grand.

The Malaga Cathedral is unique because it only has one bell tower that is complete, the other one just looks like it is missing its top. That’s because it is, lack of funds has prevented its completion. Apparently, there was some deal made to loan money to the state to support the American war of independence but the money was never returned to Malaga so the Cathedral was never finished. The people of Malaga are very proud of their unique “La Manquita” so it will likely never be finished.

Picasso Museum

Earlier the same day we stood in line for the Cathedral, we stood in line for the Picasso museum. Picasso was born in Malaga, so they have a big claim on his artworks. This was the second time we stood in the line, but this was half as long as the last time. Even so, it took nearly an hour to get into the museum, which isn’t that large. However, it was very well organized with excellent commentary on the various phases of Picasso’s life and his many relationships with women over the decades. This Picasso museum was definitely worth the wait and much better than the one in Barcelona, just in case you have to pick. The museum is housed in a former palace built by a rich merchant (not Picasso’s family) and the building itself is really beautiful.


One day during our Malaga visit, we decided to take the 40-minute drive to Marbella to check it out. As expected, there is definitely more money in this town, as represented by the price of food and drinks. On the way, we saw many golf resorts spread for about 15 or 20 miles along the coast. There were also plenty of the requisite beach towns and high rises. However, it seems the expectation is that you stay in the town and drive to the course to golf as there aren’t many accommodations or houses around the golf courses. They don’t seem to have “golf course developments” here.

On this visit, we actually followed the signs to Centro and found the old town. After getting a look at the beach promenade and a little lunch we took a walk through the old town. We both thought it was a little too clean and perfect. Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty but quite small. Mike thought it had a Disney-esque quality to it. There were flower pots mounted on walls, which we haven’t seen anywhere else in Spain. We decided that for us, Marbella was good for a short visit but we wouldn’t want to live there.

Andalusian Specialties

As usual, we visited the “Municipal Market” in Malaga. Honestly, it was very similar to all of the others in Spain, but it was smaller and seemed to have vacant stalls. From this, I can only conclude that as people have moved out of the center, there is less business for the traditional market and more business for modern supermarkets.

We found the food in Malaga to be similar to the rest of Spain except for one local delicacy, the Loca (crazy) pastry. It is a glazed round puff pastry egg custard “sandwich”. As with many European desserts, it is less sweet than what you get in the US. The “Locas” got their name from a hit song, “Life is better acting crazy”. In fact, when got to Seville, we saw a Pastelería selling  “Locas de Malaga“.

Other Food in Malaga

As for the other food in Malaga, we usually had tapas for lunch and we were the first at the restaurants for dinner, arriving at 8 pm. At several restaurants, as we were finishing our dinner at 9:30 or 10 pm, there was a line at the door to get in. Our loyal readers mentioned that they were curious about the cost of food here in Spain, so here goes. Starters are usually between $5 and $10. The main course in a good restaurant is usually less than $20 and a bottle of nice wine is between $15 and $20. I don’t think even our nicest dinners have been over 60 euros. Lunch is usually $20 to $30.

You should also know that we call about 3 pm “beer o’clock”. In the heat, with the sightseeing, we definitely need a break by then and our break almost always includes beer, sangria, or tinto de verano (red wine, with lemon or orange soda and a slice of lime, very refreshing).

What food or drink do you want to try when you visit Spain?

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