Spain’s Little Secret: Viva Malaga!

Malaga, Spain
Malaga, Spain

I was studying at a language school in Malaga, Spain when September 11, 2001 occurred. A German student approached me that morning. “Your Twin Towers, they’ve fallen down,” she told me.

After that moment, my first solo travel experience abroad, and everything I thought and felt about Malaga was overshadowed, a blur. I returned home a week or so later. I did make lasting friendships with a few of the international students I met there — awfulness yields exceptional kindness, I learned.

Nearly 14 years later, I returned. After spending a few days in Marbella, on the Costa del Sol, Ayaz and I made a side trip to Malaga to explore the city. I wanted to see what I might remember, and what might have changed.

Malaga Cathedral
The Malaga Cathedral, also known as the “one-armed lady.”

I only remembered generalities. Fourteen years ago, I firmly believed Malaga to be wildly underrated by tourists visiting Spain. In fact, most travelers use it as a transportation hub (there’s an international airport here), and bypass it entirely.

But Malaga actually has a helluva lot to offer. It’s filled with culture — museums, Picasso’s birthplace, churches out the wazoo, a Moorish fortress. Plus, it’s a university town, which means cheap, tasty food.

Malaga, Spain
Waterfront snacks and sunset drinks in Malaga.

I was super impressed to see vast renovations to the old city’s infrastructure, as well as the addition of a sprawling harborfront filled with boat tours, shops, restaurants, and bars — plus the opening of the Centre Pompidou Malaga. It all made significantly more sense when I realized that Malaga has been designated Spain’s European City of Culture 2016. Whatever the reason, visitors benefit.

Malaga, Spain
One of the many urban beaches in Malaga.

We found a gem of a hotel/hostel, the tiny and funky Dulces Dreams Boutique Hostel, which also houses a great bakery and a rooftop bar (open on weekends). I’d like to make special note of the absolutely uh-maze-ing soundtrack playing in the lobby/bakery. Bangin’!

Dulces Dreams Boutique Hostel
The rooftop at Dulces Dreams Boutique Hostel.

While there is beach in the town’s center, there are better spots further afield. We took the bus from the town’s center to Pedregalejo, a neighborhood near where I studied. The beach here is lined by a promenade filled with bustling seafood restaurants, which dish up tasty grilled fish and my new obsession, coquinos, or tiny clams in a heavenly buttery, garlicky sauce.

Git in mah belly, coquinos!
You too, boquerones!

So, heck yeah, Malaga is worth more than a stopover en route to your Costa del Sol vacation. It’s actually way more interesting than a lot of other towns (I’m looking at you, Marbella). Plus, there’s a heckuva lot going on here in terms of food, drink, culture, music, and general cool vibes. In fact, after a few days, Ayaz and I looked at each other knowingly.

Don’t be surprised if in a few months we’re calling Malaga home for a stretch. It’s just that awesome.



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