Malaga, capital city of one of the prettiest provinces of Spain, is often overlooked by travelers on their way to the busy tourism hub known as Costa del Sol. This port city has always been blessed with rich history, culture, attractions, cuisine, style, and year-round sunny weather. These days, deciding where to stay in Malaga is a bit difficult because virtually all districts are fantastic; in fact, some visitors are known to split their vacations just so they can stay in more than one place.
There was a time when Malaga was mostly a point of arrival for tourists on their way to Torremolinos, Marbella and the rest of the beach paradises of Andalusia. These days, the travel sections of The New York Times and the Daily Mail do not hesitate to encourage readers stay in Malaga by describing it as “the new Barcelona.”
Malaga’s full tourism potential was boosted in 2003 by the opening of the magnificent Picasso Museum.
The bottom line of Malaga in the 21st century is that it has emerged as the new capital of the Spanish Costa del Sol. If your idea of a perfect vacation involves traveling to southern Spain, you will certainly want to stay in Malaga. More than a handful of neighborhoods in Malaga have been completely renovated for the goal of making visitors feel truly welcome.
The ambiance in this city is truly unique because it strikes a nice balance between the magical and the magnificent; if you want to get a good feeling of what Andalusian culture is really about, you owe it to yourself to visit and stay in Malaga.
Before going into detail about some of the best neighborhoods in Malaga and what they have to offer, it helps to review a bit of its history. The Phoenicians built a major port here in the 8th century B.C.; the Romans had control until about the year 620, and then it was ruled by various caliphates and emirates until about 1500.
After the Spanish Civil War and during World War II, various European journalists and former soldiers relocated here with the intention of leaving their combat experiences behind, thus paving the way for tourism in Costa del Sol.
Life here has always been considered as being more relaxed and enjoyable when compared to other regions of Spain, and local residents have an impressive sense of creativity and style in just about everything they do.
There are many reasons why foreign real estate buyers have been setting their sights on Malaga in recent years, and quality of life has been the most important.
Where to Stay in Malaga: Best Areas and Neighborhoods
To get an idea of just how much tourism has expanded in Malaga, consider the following: more than 40 percent of the city is occupied by nature preserves, yet there are more than 2,000 lodging options in the tourism districts, and this does not include the new private bed-and-breakfast spots that emerge on an almost daily basis.
About half of the accommodation options you will find across many areas in Malaga are offered on an apartotel basis, which means that they are efficiency or self-catering apartments ideal for longer stays.
You will also find boutique hotels, budget inns, hostels for backpackers, and a few luxury resorts. Compared to the nearby Costa del Sol, your stay in Malaga will be far more affordable, and it can easily be more enjoyable.
1. Downtown Malaga, the Old City
El Centro, as it is known to locals, is one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Malaga. You cannot go wrong by staying close to the Old City, which lies along the western banks of the Guadalmedina River; this is where most of the city attractions are located, including the Picasso Museum and Plaza de la Merced, from which you can walk just a few blocks to find the home where the artist was born.
Staying in Downtown Malaga means being close to everything thanks to the numerous transportation options; the metro line opened in 2014, and it even connects to Costa del Sol in case you want to visit those beaches, but you should not ignore the local and much closer Malagueta Beach.
As for drinking and dining, the Old City is one of the best areas in Malaga; seafood restaurants, local wineries and microbreweries can be found in just about every corner. The nightlife is not as extensive as in Barcelona or Madrid, but it is lively and worth checking out.
One thing you will notice when you stay in Malaga is that many of the hotels have been recently remodeled, and this is related to the ongoing tourism boom. The boutique hotels are stylish and many backpacker lodges have a premium vibe, but the prices are still very reasonable.
2. Calle Larios
Marques de Larios Street is a newer, hipper and more compact version of Downtown Malaga; it is closer to the port and thus ideal for tourists who want to enjoy Mediterranean vistas. The accommodations here tend to be smaller and may cost a little more because this is a highly commercial district.
The nightlife in Calle Larios is trendier, and the abundant number of cafes and pubs with outdoor seating areas makes this a great place for people watching. Calle Larios is highly recommended for travelers who are into shopping, beauty and style.
3. Málaga Train Station – Maria Zambrano
This is a district for tourists on the go. The Maria Zambrano train station is a busy ground transportation hub that is a bit noisier than other neighborhoods in Malaga, but it has quite a few amenities and attractions.
Many local residents come to this district for the affordable shopping and international restaurants; interestingly, Tex-Mex cuisine happens to be quite popular, and there are a couple of cinema bistros in the neighborhood. After the evening rush hour, this area is peaceful enough to get a good night’s sleep.
As one of the best places to stay in Malaga, Soho can be arty, trendy, bohemian, and touristy all at once. If you are into the visual, graphic, performing, or culinary arts, you will certainly enjoy everything Soho has to offer.
Boutique hotel operators in Soho know how to appeal to artistic tourists; many inns feature lavishly decorated roof terraces, and even budget hostels offer plenty of style.
The ongoing Malaga Arte Urbano Soho (MAUS) project has succeeded in turning this district into a neighborhood that doubles as an open-air art gallery, and the results thus far have been very successful. Soho is a lot like Bilbao in terms of artistic sensibility, but it enjoys nicer weather.
5. La Malagueta
This traditional beach neighborhood is perfect for visitors who want to be as close to the Mediterranean as possible during their stay in Malaga. La Malagueta is a very traditional neighborhood where the local eateries serve heartier dishes at more affordable prices.
There’s a bullfighting arena nearby, and the ornate churches are worth visiting. If your Malagueta hotel features a terrace, you may get views of the Alcazaba castle as well as the water. For a beach town near the Costa del Sol, you will find accommodations here to be very reasonable, although they can get booked very quickly.
6. Ciudad Jardin
As previously mentioned, a large part of Malaga consists of nature preserves, and Ciudad Jardin (Garden City) is a good starting point for visitors who are into ecotourism. Hiking the Garden City Trail, which connects with part of the Montes de Malaga Nature Preserve, is a popular activity among backpackers.
Football fans will want to enjoy a match at La Rosaleda Stadium, home of the local football club. Ciudad Jardin is ideal for tourists planning an extended stay in Malaga since the efficiency inns are very affordable and local residents are very friendly.
This fishing village is located less than 15 minutes away from Downtown Malaga, and it is one of the most charming neighborhoods you can find in Spain. There are several beach spots in Pedregalejo, and a few tour operators will provide you with the unique experience of family fishing aboard wooden boats.
As can be expected, the seafood restaurants are phenomenal, and a few of the local inns offer a rural experience at low prices. Pedregalejo is where many local families bring their children to the beach, and there is also a small nightlife district to enjoy.
8. El Palo
Located even further to the east of the Old City, El Palo offers the ultimate local experience. Backpackers and long-term tourists flock to El Palo to enjoy the beaches, ocean views, seafood restaurants, and the small town atmosphere.
Beach fanatics can rent hammocks at seaside pubs located just blocks away from small hotels with beachfront terraces. If you are interested in exploring pristine hidden beaches and playing a few rounds of golf, visit Peñon del Cuervo to the east and the nearby Candado Country Club.