Malaga is the home of Pablo Picasso (it seems like everyone claims Pablo Picasso) and the beautiful Antonio Banderas, also known as Zorro and Puss in Boots. But Malaga has a long and illustrious history filled with individualism and survival. Like every major city in Andalucia, it was occupied by the Moors until the 15th century, and later suffered from pirate attack, though not as much as many Andalucian coastal towns. It became a great merchant center, which can be seen if you look around La Alcazaba, the archaeological museum of the town that once was a Moorish fortress.
The castle nearby, today a parador (state-owned hotel), was rebuilt by the Moors, and has the commanding views of the area you might expect. In the 19th century, Malaga was a winter resort, famous for its sophistication and Spanish elegance. The park near Calle Alameda contains one of the best botanical collections in Europe, and was first built during this time. In winter, you’ll see open air concerts here every Sunday.
While walking around town, you’ll also see galleries featuring Picasso’s works, including the Museum of Fine Arts near the cathedral. Plaza Merced is where Picasso’s birthplace is located, today an archive honoring his life and his work, and free to the public.
The main theater here is the Teatro Cervantes. Antonio Banderas started his career here, and if you’re lucky you’ll run into him during one of his visits home.
Malaga’s restaurants are excellent, too. Most socialization takes place at eating establishments, and the prices are quite reasonable at most of them. Tapas are common. Pescaito frito (fried fish assortment including sardines and red mullet) is the most common dish. You’ll get the freshest at El Palo, a typical fishing village.
On Calle Larios, you’ll find all the best shops and modern parts of Malaga, but it’s also one of the best places to begin exploring, as most of the small streets and plazas are easy to reach from here. The Renaissance cathedral here offers guided tours every day. And this is where you’ll find the Alameda Gardens as well. The Jardines de la Concepcion are also close by.
Tropical and subtropical plants abound, with spectacular palm trees and brilliant flowers. A walk through these gardens can be cooling and relaxing. If you would like some venerability with your gardens, try El Retiro de Fray Alonso de Chirriana, the oldest gardens around Malaga, dating from 1669. La Sirena and La Cascada and Ria are other public gardens, filled with exotics like avocado trees and tall cypresses. La Retiro, another garden, is privately owned now and no longer publicly accessible.
To the north, you can find the Hacienda de San Jose, dating from the 18th century and holding a royal palm tree from Cuba. And Finca de La Concepcion also holds exotic plants from the New World, including a Chilean Palm, ficus, and subtropical flowering plants.