From the Alcazaba to Sea in Malaga, Spain
Now that we’re back in Raleigh I’m planning on releasing a more regular stream of trip reports from our nine week summer vacation in Europe. After we spent five nights in Lisbon, Portugal, we took a short turboprop flight to our second destination of Malaga, Spain for a quick two night stay. What started out in the planning stages of the trip as a pit stop in Malaga on the way to Granada turned out to be a surprisingly interesting city to spend a few days.
Getting around town (with some frustration)
We arrived at the airport several miles outside of town. From the airport, we took a train to the main train station downtown. Our airbnb was a 15-20 minute walk from the train station so we set out on foot. It was hot! Eventually we located our home for two nights. It turns out that our airbnb host spoke no English so I put my Bachelor of Arts in Spanish Language and Literature to work and navigated my way through the tour of the apartment (how the A/C works; where to take the trash; signing a two page rental agreement in Spanish).
Soon after arriving in Malaga on a Sunday I learned how reverently Spaniards take their rest and relaxation. The short version of the story is that after much wasted effort I learned that not much happens on Sundays in Spain.
The long version: I researched the local public transit system ahead of time and found out that buying a bus pass with ten trips pre-loaded was the way to go for cheap bus tickets at about half the cost of paying for each individual ride. And the bus pass offers a free transfer within 60 minutes whereas paying cash gets you a single ride sans transfer.
Since we had a few days in Malaga, I wanted to go the economy route of buying a bus pass for the five of us. Mrs. Root of Good and the kids were tired but I had plenty of energy so I set out on foot searching for a convenience store or tobacco shop that sells the city bus cards. I figured I would be chilling in the Airbnb’s cranked up A/C within 10-20 minutes, bus passes firmly in hand. After inquiring at several of the local stores that were actually open on Sunday afternoon, the shopkeepers led me to believe the only place that sold bus passes on Sunday was the main bus station downtown. Fortunately I had already walked 10 minutes toward the main bus station by the time I figured this out so I figured it was only an additional 15 minute walk to the main station. The afternoon sun was exhausting but I persevered and made it to the main bus station where I eventually learned that they do not sell the city bus pass.
Disappointed but not deterred from the mission, I visited the main train station next door to the bus station. Another strike out – no bus passes there either. Eventually I resigned to the fact that bus passes weren’t happening and I’d be paying full price to ride the city bus (after a long, sweaty 1.25 mile walk back to our Airbnb to reunite with the family). I can’t complain too much as this was probably the most frustrating part of our entire nine week trip.
I still find it strange that neither the main train station nor the main bus station sold the city bus passes on Sundays. But this was Spain and sometimes you have to wait till tomorrow to conduct business.
I eventually found a tobacco shop in the center of town that was open on Sunday and I picked up a bus pass that would carry us through the rest of our stay in Malaga. The bus service is pretty reliable with frequent service so wait times are minimal for most routes. With the bus pass it’s just under USD$1 per person per ride.
I didn’t have any good food pics for Malaga unfortunately. For dinner for the adults one night, I grabbed a whole grilled fish and Spanish tortilla (which is full of egg and potatoes) from a bar around the corner from our Airbnb. The fish was grilled five feet away from me while I watched. Once cooked, the chef topped the fish with a flavorful lemon garlic olive oil sauce. They sent me on my way with salad and bread to accompany the fish and tortilla.
While waiting on the fish I chatted with the bartender for a bit and inquired if they offered free tapas when you order a drink. He let out a little chuckle before explaining the tapas menu to me (everything was USD$2-3 for a small serving). Apparently free tapas aren’t common in the non-tourist part of town where we stayed. However, the menu prices were still reasonable, with the fish, salad, bread, and Spanish tortilla setting us back only USD$12 and it was enough to feed two.
Other meals were picked up from the grocery store a block from our apartment for about USD$20 per day. We enjoyed quick foods like refrigerated pizzas, meat and cheese with bread, flan and yogurt, fresh fruits, pastries, cereal and milk. And lots of jamon iberico which is basically the Spanish version of prosciutto – thinly sliced cured smoked ham.
Most days we would have breakfast at the apartment, pack a lunch of sandwiches and snacks, and then have something more substantial for dinner once we were back at the apartment in the evening. During the day we might pick up some treats as we explored the city.
We stayed at an Airbnb about 0.75-1.0 miles from the tourist center of town and about the same distance from the nearest train station. If it was just me and Mrs. Root of Good we would probably walk into town each day. With the kids tagging along, the bus was an easy alternative that saved limited leg endurance for exploring the stairs, hillsides, castles, and narrow alleyways of Malaga.
Lodging is generally inexpensive in southern Spain and Malaga offered a lot of value-conscious accommodations. For USD$62 per night we found a small, two bedroom apartment with full kitchen, clothes washer, air conditioning, and two full bathrooms. The kitchen was tiny but we weren’t planning on cooking a lot during our short stay in Malaga.
Interested in trying out Airbnb? Want to save $40 off your first stay? Here you go!
Thoughts on Malaga
I enjoyed Malaga a lot. I originally planned on two nights in Malaga simply because it was easier logistically to fly from Lisbon to Malaga (instead of to Seville or Granada) due to the availability of a short, free one-way flight from redeeming United Airline miles. Seville and Granada were our main destinations in southern Spain. Malaga turned out to be a worthwhile destination in itself and an even better place to visit than Granada (home of the renowned La Alhambra) since there was more to see in town.
Outside the tourist center of town, the streets were slightly gritty and unpolished. It reminded Mrs. Root of Good of Mexico (another place we’ve spent a lot of time). Outside the tourist center is great if you’re seeking value, however. Accommodations and food are very inexpensive and it’s an easy walk or short bus ride to the center of town from where we stayed.
Overall, Malaga is worth a visit of a few days if you’re headed to southern Spain. Like many other cities in the south of Spain, it exudes history and culture from the Roman era to the Moorish era to the colonial era to modern day Spain.
Check out the whole series (so far) of our nine week European family vacation:
- Summer Vacation for 5 in Europe: 9 Weeks, 8 Countries, 14 Cities, $10,000
- Surprising Finds in Lisbon, Portugal
- From the Alcazaba to Sea in Malaga, Spain
- Exploring La Alhambra and the Narrow Alleyways of Granada, Spain
Have you ever been to Malaga or elsewhere in southern Spain? Any favorite spots? Did we miss anything in Malaga?