Main city of the Costa del Sol and home to one of Spain’s busiest airports, Malaga is too often dismissed simply as a transport hub.
But the birthplace of Picasso has one of the loveliest Old Towns in Andalusia, stand-out Mediterranean beaches, and is the only city outside France with a Pompidou Centre.
Start the day with traditional churros and chocolate on Plaza de la Constitucíon. It’s one of the city’s most famous squares and good for getting your bearings before exploring the Old Town.
Walk 10 minutes east to Calle Guillen Sotelo and catch the lift up to Alcazaba for the best views in Malaga. If you feel like going higher, Castillo de Gibralfaro is a short climb east, and another iconic Mediterranean lookout.
Back down in the Old Town, several of the city’s leading museums are within easy walking distance of each other. Doing them all justice in a few hours is impossible, but you could easily fit in two with some careful planning.
For modern and contemporary art, the only Pompidou Centre outside France is on Pasaje Doctor Carrillo Casaux, and CAC Malaga is 20 minutes’ walk away on Calle Allemania.
The Museo Picasso and Museo Carmen Thyssen are five minutes apart on the edge of La Merced, and Malaga Museum is nearby too. The latter is worth a visit for the beautifully restored building alone.
If you decide on CAC Malaga for contemporary art, you can stroll through Soho Malaga and see street art on the way. The gallery is also right next to the Port district. It’s packed with restaurants and cafés, so it’s a good area for lunch if you time it right.
Alternatively, pick up picnic supplies at the Mercado de La Merced, head for Playa de La Malagueta and enjoy the most peaceful part of the day on this famously busy beach.
For breakfast, stroll along Paseo del Muelle Uno and take your pick of waterfront cafés in the Port district.
Then head east to Playa de la Malagueta and make active use of the Mediterranean before the day gets too hot. The city’s best-loved beach is covered with almost as many water sports operators as sun-loungers, and there are schools for everything from stand-up paddle boarding to kitesurfing.
The scent of grilling will tell you when its lunchtime, and time to take a break at one of the many seafood restaurants stretching along the seafront. Chiringuitos are a casual alternative, and as good for salads and sandwiches as fresh fish.
Spend the warmest part of the day in the cool of Malaga Cathedral. Dating back to the 16th century, it’s a mix of Renaissance and baroque grandeur, and rivals the greatest of southern Spain’s churches in size.
Shops stay open until later in Malaga, so have an early evening wander round Muelle Uno, before heading back into the Old Town for dinner at El Pimpi on Calle Granada, one of the most famous restaurants on the Costa del Sol.
On your second day, travel a bit further afield to Torremolinos. Once the chips-with-everything capital of the Costa del Sol, it has been significantly reimagined over the past decade, and is now almost as well-known for pretty promenades and parks as its relentless partying.
If you've got kids, spend a few cooling hours at Aqualand Torremolinos, one of the biggest waterparks on the coast. Or drop in on Tivoli World for rides without the water.
Marbella is just half an hour’s drive west of Torremolinos. The Old Town here is unexpectedly charming, and an early evening drink along the Golden Mile will tick another Costa del Sol icon off your list.
Choose Malaga’s Port district for dinner, and try to get there before dark. A Malaga sunset over the Mediterranean is one of the city’s greatest attractions.
A lazy day on any of Malaga’s Mediterranean beaches is a fine start to the week. Choose Playa de La Malagueta for water sports and beach bars. Playa de la Caleta is lovely too, and less busy. And Playa del Palo, to the east of the city, gets most local attention for its golden sands and great chiringuitos. The beaches are within walking distance of each other, so you could easily test them all in a few hours.
Commit an entire day to the Old Town and you still won’t see everything. The impressive cathedral and Alcazaba fortress are essential viewing. Then it’s down to personal taste. Most museums and galleries are near neighbours in this walkable district, and you're never far from a café for refuelling, or a shady plaza to rest for a moment. Alternatively, you could sightsee with the help of a local tourist bus, or book a guided tour with an actual local. Both options are multilingual.
Drive along the eastern Costa del Sol to the town of Nerja today. It’s famous for the Cueva de Nerja and hiking in Rio Chillar, but you might be just as happy to sunbathe on Nerja's relaxed beaches. Or drive up into the mountains to visit the artists’ enclave of Frigiliana. The journey from Malaga to Nerja takes less than an hour, so you can be back in the city with plenty of time for a trip around the shops at Muelle Uno.
Head west out of Malaga today – you're off to Estepona. This is one of the Costa del Sol's prettiest and most down-to-earth towns, and its best-known beach, Playa del Cristo, has remarkable views of Gibraltar, and several good beach bars where you can sit and enjoy them. The whitewashed old town is worth a look, too, for art galleries and the floral displays on Plaza de las Flores.
Shopping is a favourite Malagueño pastime, with plenty of places to do it. Spend the early part of the morning at Mercado de La Merced in the Old Town and linger on for lunchtime tapas in this colourful area. The Port district is where to go for designer stores, Spanish flagship stores, and fine Andalusian crafts.
Today, make for the waterparks and theme parks of Torremolinos, so close to Malaga it’s practically a suburb. Fuengirola is another near neighbour providing classic Costa del Sol seaside fun. Or, just a little further west you’ll come to Marbella’s beautiful beaches, golf courses and elegant restaurants, separated by the Golden Mile from the luxury yachts and designer shopping at Puerto Banús.
Catch a breath of cool mountain air just minutes from the city in Montes de Malaga Natural Park. Despite being criss-crossed with walking paths and cycling routes, the 5,000 hectares of parkland here feel truly wild and untamed. And the views over the Mediterranean are the longest you can get without a technical climb.