Malaga. Not just a convenient airport or ‘Gateway to the Mediterranean’ from where many British families can easily reach the ever popular resorts along the Costa Del Sol, but a holiday destination in its own right, the port side city of Malaga is a worthy contender if you are looking for some winter sun in a traditional yet sophisticated setting.
Living in Gibraltar, a relatively short drive along the coast to Malaga (approx 1 hour 20 mins), we have visited this city on several occasions over the years, and had already fallen in love with the refined beauty and underlying charm of the place.
However in recent months, it really seems to be coming alive, with the opening of new art galleries, museums, and a gourmet food market attracting a whole new crowd of people, searching for a more cultured and somewhat edgy alternative to the high-rise beach resorts in nearby Torremolinos and the glitz and glam of Marbella.
Where to Stay
As this was our first attempt at a ‘proper’ city break with our pre-schooler and toddler in tow, we rented a light and airy apartment via spain-select.com with colourful, modern decor and a boutique hotel feel, overlooking the busy Calle Nueve in the city centre. This had 3 large bedrooms (with extremely comfy beds!) a fully equipped kitchen with fridge, hob, microwave, kettle and cutlery, along with a highchair and travel cot.
The apartment also had comfy sofas, a dining table and a large tv (with Spanish children channels), WIFI and a DVD player, which all really came in handy for us during the early mornings (we are blessed with very early risers!) or if our three-year old was feeling tired and just wanted some downtime after a busy morning/afternoon exploring.
Bearing in mind the central location, the apartment wasn’t at all noisy from the streets below, with lift access and a roof terrace open in the summer months, with a hot tub and lounge area.
What to do
I love nothing more than to simply get lost in Malaga, amongst the hustle and bustle of the local ‘malaguetas’ (It is a very authentic ‘spanish city’ with the majority of tourists appearing to be from other areas of Spain). I explored the cobbled streets of the old town and took in the most striking of monuments, the cathedral with its elaborate and somewhat gothic looking exterior.
I enjoy stopping to observe the colours of the tiles adorning the old church walls faded in the sun, wandering down the alleyways opening onto squares full of busy wine bars and pausing in the doorways of the surrounding tapas venues, with the smell of grilled meats and fish lingering in the air, listening to the hubbub of laughter and raised voices, and trying to interpret familiar spanish words in the conversation going on around me.
Alternatively, If you wish to spend an afternoon immersing yourself in the arts and culture, there are a vast range of galleries and museums to visit, and Malaga being Picasso’s hometown, of course hosts an impressive museum showcasing his works. In addition to these, is the new Pompidou museum, the first of its kind outside of Paris holding over 80 pieces of art, to name a just two.
Though your shopping time may be somewhat limited with young children in tow, Calle Marque de Larios and the surrounding streets are a shoppers heaven with all the well-known spanish brands present, along with smaller independent stores dotted around, and a huge selection of childrens shops selling unique and stylish clothing and accessories.
A good distraction for our children after we attempted a mad dash around the shops on this trip, were quick stops at the popular spanish toy outlet, “Imaginarium” and the shop best known for selling all sorts of random knick-knacks “Tiger” (although I cant guarantee it will be easy to leave either of these without buying something!)
As everyone knows, most children are only willing to be confined to the pram and/or buggy board for short periods of time, therefore we thought it was only fair that during our exploration of the city, we took time to find places that they would also enjoy…because I mean, what toddler is really interested in taking in the beauty of their surroundings if it doesn’t involve, some kind of food or err.. Peppa Pig….
So, here is a list of activities we found to keep our children entertained whilst we roamed around the city…
- A Boat Trip – This was a great distraction for the kids, a short trip out to sea (I think we were back within an hour) on the search for pirates according to my 3-year-old, via one of several boats moored in the port. Great views, and a spacious and secure inside area with tables and benches for our 1-year-old to crawl around.
- Parque de Malaga – Though we did come across a few very small play areas scattered around the city centre, our favourites were the ones within the botanical gardens a short walk behind Calle Marque de Larios. We enjoyed the peace and quiet, along with the shade during the late afternoon sun, whilst our two had a chance to really burn off some energy in the playground.
- A ride on the Big Wheel – What is known as the ‘Mirador Princess’ is located on the port side, a smaller version of the London Eye. With easy pram access into the air-conditioned pods, and stunning views across the sea and the city, this is a must do when visiting Malaga city.
- Alcazaba and Castillo de Gibralfaro – I imagine this would be an experience older children would enjoy and appreciate, however with a weary 3-year-old and pram bound 1-year-old bursting with energy, we decided a hike through the Alcazaba up to the Castillo at the top would not be a good idea, as much as we would have liked to! The architecture and lush green gardens within are apparently stunning, with the most amazing views of the city from the top.
- Horse and Cart journey – Often found waiting on the outskirts of the city centre, something as simple as sitting in the back of a cart whilst the horses trot along the roadside, can help cheer up the grumpiest of 3-year-old horse lovers!
- Principia – Centro de Ciencia – We were hoping to visit this child friendly science museum just outside the city centre, however we didn’t get there in time. It is worth a mention here though, as it looks like there is a lot of fun to be had with over 80 interactive exhibits, especially if you need an indoor activity to pass the time if the weather is bad.
- Trampolines – Always a winner, if the kids are fed up with strolling around the city and need a bit of high-flying excitement, there is a set of trampolines next to the Pompidou centre.
- Beach – Ok, so living in Gibraltar we are lucky to have quite a selection of beaches to choose from within driving distance (not to mention the beaches on our immediate doorstep) so maybe you wouldn’t travel to the city of Malaga specifically for a beach type holiday. However, our children love the sand and the sea, so though we didn’t have time to visit on this occasion we would definitely consider it next time. I guess one of the great reasons for visiting Malaga is that if you do get fed up of roaming around taking in all this traditional spanish city has to offer, there is always the option of a day or two spent at the beach, the nearest being a 10 minute walk from the city centre (Malagueta beach).
Where to eat
Malaga presents so many choices as to what to eat, whether you fancy a traditional Andalucian spread or a simple pizza, however our favourite place (or should we say easiest place!) for eating out with the kids on this trip was Taberna del Pinxto.
Our 3-year-old enjoyed picking her own food, from the massive selection of dishes available so there was of course no long wait for food, as opposed to us usually having to try to entertain the children after we have ordered! This restaurant is just at the bottom of Calle Marque de Larios, and also had high chairs, a changing table and plenty of room inside and out for prams and children to play.
The recently opened Gourmet food market on Calle de la mercado, is a new addition to Malaga’s developing food scene, based on similar under cover gastro markets in Madrid and Barcelona. An exciting change from the traditional eateries within the old city centre, this is a stylish yet inexpensive haunt which stays busy late into the night, and a great place for people watching.
We also loved the food in El Pimpi, one of Malagas oldest tapas bars, however don’t be put off by the queues, they move quickly and it is worth the wait, however if you are too impatient, then just try the tapas on offer at La Plaza next door, which boasts enchanting uninterrupted views of the Alcazaba, especially when its lit up at night.
Have you been to Malaga with your kids? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on November 28th 2015.