Malaga offers an intriguing blend of culture, history and beaches -- with a contemporary vibe. The city is one of Andalusia's greatest treasures. Located on a stunning sweep of bay, with palm trees lining the seafront, this is the dynamic, friendly capital of Costa del Sol, Spain's "sunshine coast."
Malaga is a wonderful place to wander and explore, particularly in the winding lanes of the old town, with their traditional taverns, plazas and pretty squares. It also encompasses fine architecture and has enough ancient buildings to keep history hounds happy for hours. Unlike Costa del Sol's party zones, including Puerto Banus, Torremolinos and Benalmadena, all great for clubbers, Malaga, although cosmopolitan, retains a distinctly traditional feel.
Malaga's wines are worth more than a sip, too, and visitors can try them at Antigua Casa de Guardia, one of the city's few remaining wine cellars. Also, you can explore the region's wine history at the Wine Museum in the historic city center. For a sense of traditional Spanish life, visit the districts of Pedregalejo and El Palo, fishing communities with some of Spain's best seafood.
The city is an ideal base for trips outside town, allowing visitors easy access to explore southern Spain's delights. The surrounding area is a glorious patchwork of whitewashed villages, almond groves and mountain ranges -- including the Sierra Nevada where a particular highlight is the massive Nerja Caves with their 20,000-year-old wall paintings.
The port has 10 quays in use for cruise ships, ferries, cargo ships and recreational boats. Around 700,000 passengers pass through the port each year on 220 cruise ships.
Quays 1 and 2 are used for passenger cruise ships, and a modern cruise terminal building was opened at Quay 2 in 2012. Both quays are close to the historic center of Malaga, about a 10-minute walk. Some lines run a shuttle bus service into the town center. Taxis also are plentiful at the port.
The terminal at Quay 1 is home to numerous restaurants, bars and about 70 shops, boutiques and market stalls. This is where to find the Michelin-starred restaurant Jose Carlos Garcia. The quay also has a marina for luxury yachts. Quay 2 has a beautiful waterfront promenade called "The Palm Garden of Surprises" lined with trees and tropical plants, great for families with children. There are gardens, playgrounds, water features, mini-golf and other activities. You'll also find shops a cultural museum and a cycle rental stand.
Boat trips around the harbor are available, and some operators use glass bottomed boats. You might be lucky enough to spot a pod of dolphins!
As in any city, it pays to be aware of your surroundings and don't flash your cash around. Leave valuables on the ship.
On Foot: Walking is one of the best ways to explore Malaga. Go to one of the tourist information centers to pick up leaflets offering suggested routes. (Calle Granada 70; 952 21 33 29 or Plaza de la Marina 11; 951 92 60 20; open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends and holidays April 1 to October 31, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends and holidays November 1 to March 31)
By Bike: If you are feeling energetic, you can rent a bicycle. Check at tourist information centers. Prices vary, and some bike rental companies offer guided tours.
Try a Trixi. Passengers sit in a small covered carriage, which is towed along behind a bicycle. Your driver acts as a personal tour guide, so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the scenery.
By Bus:Bus services connect you to areas in and around the city center. The main bus station is located on Paseo de los Tilos just to the west of the center of town, next to the railway station. There is also a bus station near the port entrance on Avenida Heredia. Single bus tickets cost around 1.30 euros. A day trip card can be purchased from the kiosk in the center of the Alameda and at most estancos (tobacconists). Most bus stops give clear route information.
A "hop-on, hop-off" red, double-decker sightseeing bus takes visitors round the city. Your ticket is valid for 24 hours. The 12 stops start at the main bus station. The second stop is by the main Post Office (opposite El Corte Ingles department store). Tours start at 9 a.m. and leave every half-hour until 8 p.m. They offer multilingual commentary through headphones. Adult tickets are 18 euros and give free entrance to the Botanical Gardens on the north side of the city. (Gardens closed Mondays)
The national currency in Spain is the euro. Currency exchange can be made in most banks, post offices and train stations. For the best exchange rate, use ATMs found at the port and around town. For currency-conversion rates, visit www.xe.com or www.oanda.com.
Spanish is spoken in Malaga, but most people understand and speak at least a little English. Residents appreciate it if you make the effort to speak a few basic words in their language. If you speak some Spanish, be aware that the local accent can be strong and difficult to understand.
Specialties in Malaga include fresh fish -- fritura Malaguena -- and ice cold gazpacho, a blend of tomato, peppers, cucumber, garlic, olive oil and bread that is refreshing on a hot day. The Malaguenos love their food, and you'll find an enormous choice of bars and restaurants at which to enjoy dinner or lunch al fresco. Most are child friendly. Tipping is appreciated, though there is no expected amount.
Cafe Central: Opening onto a historic square, you can choose to sit inside or outside. This is an all-day dining spot, where you can kick start your day with chocolate and churros (spiral-shaped doughnuts), moving on to tapas and traditional dishes later in the day. (Plaza de la Constitucion 11; 952 22 49 72; open 8 a.m. to midnight Monday to Sunday)
El Chinitas: A traditional restaurant decorated with ceramic tiles. The menu includes local specialties such as sopa vina (fish soup flavored with sherry) and solomillo al vino de Malaga (fillet steak in wine sauce). (Calle Moreno Monroy 4-6; 952 21 09 72; open 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. to midnight daily)
Maricuchi: This restaurant on Pedregalejo beach serves great seafood, including prawns, clams and sardines barbecued on sticks, a local speciality. Also worth a try is the net-fresh fish soup. (Paseo Maritimo El Pedregal 14; 952 20 06 12; open daily 12 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.)
With all the independent shops in Malaga, you'll easily find a special present to take home. Edible treats include turron, a classic confection made with almonds and honey. Sweet Malaga wine, first made in 600 B.C. by Greeks, makes another nice gift. You also can seek out hand-made soaps made from olive oil or high-quality locally made glassware.