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.

 

Looking down from the Gibralfaro Castle with view of the Malagueta bullfighting ring and the Mediterranean Sea.  Keep going straight south across that sea and you’ll soon hit Africa.

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.

We took the bus up to the Gibralfaro Castle which looks down 400 feet to the city below.  This 800 year old castle was built during the time the Moors ruled much of Spain.

 

Great views of the city from up here!

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.

Downtown Malaga near the Tobacco shop that sells bus passes on Sundays.

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.

Malaga has a beach within walking distance of the tourist center of town and just a few blocks from the city bus route. First time we’ve visited the Mediterranean Sea!  I would never visit Malaga just for this beach but it was a nice break for the kids.

 

Food

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.

The Alcazaba.  Built around 1,000 years ago, it’s a prime example of Moorish architecture.

The Alcazaba (with Gibralfaro Castle up the hill in the background).  We started at the upper castle and walked downhill to the Alcazaba.  Hint: don’t do the opposite route unless you’re a fitness warrior or you really enjoy punishment.

Lodging

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!

Our upstairs master bedroom suite in the Malaga Airbnb rental. We had a private balcony and full bathroom just for us!

 

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.

Looking at the 2,000 year old Roman Amphitheater from the street level entrance to the Alcazaba.

The Roman Amphitheatre was undergoing restoration when we visited in June of 2017.

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.

Strolling through the Alameda Park. Paralleling the harbor for half a mile, this park offers a scenic detour around the bustling downtown tourist area.

Malaga Cathedral. It’s massive!

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:

 

 

Have you ever been to Malaga or elsewhere in southern Spain?  Any favorite spots?  Did we miss anything in Malaga?

 

 

43 comments

  • Those castles walls overlooking the city remind me of Girona 🙂

    I can believe it was pretty hot when you got there. It got hot when we drove down from the Pyrenees to the southern wine regions of Catalonia, and that was still way north of Malaga. At least the Mediterranean was brisk and made for a nice break from the heat.

    The “free tapas” is something I also heard a lot about, but never saw on our entire trip through Catalonia. They did serve some olives with drinks at most bars, but you had to pay for the tapas. It didn’t matter much since everything was so cheap, but I’m not sure why you hear so much about the free ones. We did stay out of the touristy areas, so maybe it’s just something they do at tourist spots?

    • We didn’t seek out the tapas all that much so maybe it’s more common than I think. With 3 kids we didn’t find ourselves out in bars in the evening, so maybe that’s where they are. We found it pretty easy to recreate some of the tapas with bread, jamon iberico or prosciutto, cheese, olives, etc for very little from the grocery store.

      • Hello
        I’m from Malaga, I just wanted to let you know that the free tapas is not common in this area, it’s in Granada where in most of the bars you will get a tapa with every drink that you get!
        Winter is not really cold, maybe only a few days during the whole season, but this is only on the coast, in the interior it gets colder !
        Spain is very nice, but it’s true that on Sundays it’s really hard to find any open stores…. it’s not like in the USA.
        I’m living in Madison, WI , it’s going to be my first winter here so hopefully I’ll survive!!!!

      • Free tapas as the norm is only in Granada. If you’re anywhere else and you get a free tapa, it’s probably inspired from the practice in Granada.

        The places I know in Barcelona that give a free tapa are/were run by Granadinos. During the tough years of the crisis there were more bars that started offering free tapas (in very small portions, compared to Granada), but it was to attract customers and seems to have died down recently (along with the 33cl San Miguel beer for one euro).

        In my experience the way it works is each bar has its own “roster” of tapas, one for each round of drinks, and usually each round is more elaborate than the previous. I’ve had some fun evenings getting to the prized 8th round prawns.

  • Wow, super pretty city! How hot was it?

    The only city in Spain we’ve been to is Barcelona and it was pretty frustrating to figure things out without being able to speak Spanish. They added a 20-30% fee to our bill simply for “sitting outside” instead of inside. Had no idea why charge for Vitamin D 🙂

    Malaga sounds like a great place to visit! Especially if can speak Spanish! That frustration you had trying to find the bus pass on Sunday was exactly what it was like for us trying to find a local bus map in Merida. We kind of piece things together from the online site but it was not obvious at all.

    Glad you enjoyed your time there!

    • I think it was 85-90F the whole time we were in Malaga. Which is 30-32C I think. That was actually one of the cooler places in the southern Iberian peninsula that we visited. Lisbon, Granada, and Seville had 100F+ temps which is 38-40C. But it was a dry heat generally. 😉

      Re: the bus maps – I’ve found them easy to get online in general in Europe but in Mexico there’s just not that much info on the little local buses since they’re sort of independently operated.

    • I speak Spanish and was frustrated in Barcelona as even the bus schedule was in Catalan.

      • While I understand the frustration if one speaks Spanish and it comes as a surprise, Catalonia has a very rich history and cultural identity. The local language is Catalan, so naturally everything official is in that language (with Spanish versions usually available. For example, regarding bus schedules, the website and paper leaflet versions are at least bilingual, sometimes in English too).

        On the street, everyone can speak Spanish, and, depending on the neighborhood, can be the main spoken language. I’ve never encountered anyone consciously rejecting or discriminating a Spanish-speaking person. A friend once recounted an exchange with someone on the street who refused to speak in Spanish, but everyone present was shocked and considered that person to be an asshole. I have seen people who will revert back to Catalan after a few sentences, but that’s because they’re not used to speaking Spanish, and it’s subconscious (and they will then switch back to Spanish).

        The only bus schedules solely in Catalan that I can think of are the commuter buses’ summaries at each bus stop, and it’s probably due to space and lowest common denominator issues. Each bus line has a paper strip showing the list of stops and its schedule. Bus stops are either shelter types (roof and two walls) or lamp-post types. The bus line paper strip is the same on both types, and space is at a premium on lamp-post stops, where the strip is basically stuck vertically on the post, and there’s often two or three bus lines that stop there. I can imagine this was the driving factor for having only one language (but it is conjecture on my part).

        Tourist bus summaries (and information, in general), as far as I know, are always in Catalan, Spanish, and English.

    • That fee is known as the “suplemento de terraza”, and kind of makes sense because bars are charged by the council for using the pavement so some bars pass the cost on to customers that use the terrace, although 30% is high and I’d probably get up and leave once I saw it on the menu/window.

      • Ahh, good to know. Yeah, I totally would’ve left…except there was no sign. It was written in tiny font in Spanish on the back of the menu. And only when it was time to pay, did they point to it and mention it to me. By then it was too late. Oh well. Lesson learned.

  • I wonder what the weather is like in the Winter? Perhaps a better time to visit (tough with kids and school schedules – but something to consider later). Loved the pictures. Thanks for the trip report and keep them coming. It is a nice and interesting break from a day of working for the man. Wait, I am the man. 🙂

    • It gets chilly in winter but spring and fall is probably the best time to visit in terms of weather. And it’s cheaper versus the summer too. Kids’ school schedule is the only thing making us go during summer.

  • Although I am sure it was super frustrating at the time, it is kind of refreshing (and very Spanish) to hear about how hard it was to find a bus pass on Sunday. It’s a day for rest🙂.
    I went to Spain on a high school trip. Would love to give back sometime as an adult. Looking forward to more travel reports!

    • Yes, they love their rest on Sundays. I went into one store searching for the elusive bus pass and the shopkeeper was asleep behind the cash register! That’s taking rest seriously.

  • Hey great pics and every time I read one of these travel posts, it feels as if I’m there. I never been to Spain but its on the bucket list of places to visit. I will 1 day see some of what Spain has to offer. Good luck.

  • We loved Malaga when we went, sadly it was also a short stop on a tour of Spain. I’ll definitely have to go back someday. I think when we reach financial freedom a long road trip through Europe is one of the first things on the agenda. Sadly, even though I’m from the UK, we never had the means of visiting much of Europe and I moved to Canada before I had the opportunity. Now it’s so far and expensive it’s difficult to justify when pursuing FI.

    Maybe one day I will move back to the UK for a while for easy access to the rest of Europe for traveling.

  • These Europeans certainly take their Sunday as rest day pretty seriously. In southern Europe they also take the daily siesta quite seriously too. I’ve been to some smaller Italian towns and literally the whole town shuts down in the afternoon for a few hours. Makes sense though, as it’s simply too hot to do anything around that time.

    I remember when I lived in Hanover Germany back in 2004, on the Sat the whole downtown area would be booming with people walking around. Then on Sun there would be nobody around and 99% of the stores were closed. Whenever I went on weekend trips, I would always need to make sure to stock up on food before hand so I wouldn’t come back home on the Sunday without any grocery for dinner and the next day. Gotta plan ahead!

    • We suffered through that no groceries on Sundays thing in Germany, too. I once went to the grocery store a few minutes before closing time on Saturday night and it was packed!! I guess the locals knew that was their last chance to shop till Monday morning.

  • In many areas of France, shops close around 1 PM on Sunday and don’t re-open until Tuesday morning, probably not in the very touristic areas but everywhere else. It is very frustrating at first and then you just get used to it. I wonder if it is common in all European countries?

    • In Germany, a lot of stores were closed on Sundays. It was a little difficult for us since we moved from city to city on Sundays for a month in Germany. Had to wait till the 2nd day at a new airbnb apartment to go grocery shopping. Elsewhere in Europe we didn’t see as many closed stores on Sundays, not even in Spain.

  • Would love to hear from the kids about their perspective on the trip, especially the girls. What was their favorite/least favorite things?

    • Just asked the 11 year old girl. Worst part = climbing about 40 stairs to get to the front entrance of our Airbnb apartment in Lisbon (it was pretty hot!). Best part = caves and rivers, which were mostly in Slovenia (also where it was nice and cool!).

  • Hi Justin! I enjoy reading about your travels. It seems like you do a lot of research before your trips. How do you keep the amount of time you spend researching under control? How firm/detailed are your itineraries before you leave for the trip? I find it difficult to keep the research and optimization (finding the “best” experiences for the lowest price) on the reasonable side. Thanks for your posts!

    • We do the big picture planning first. Which countries might we want to visit? Then figure out some rough route in between the cities in terms of where can we feasibly visit in our timeframe? Are there easy bus/train/plane/ferry connections between those cities? Develop the route in more detail then narrow down Which transatlantic flights into which cities. Some of this is iterative, as we went through several drafts of the route and list of cities we wanted to visit.

      Once we have a starting and ending point, route, and flights booked, then we fill in the details. Lodging is an obvious one along with intercity transportation. And both of those are usually cheapest when booked well ahead of time. We booked airbnbs about 6 months before the stay and bus/train tix about 3 months ahead (as soon as the seats opened up for booking). Beyond that there was only one other booking we made months in advance – La Alhambra tickets in Granada, Spain since they sell out 1-2 months ahead during summer peak season.

      Then we focused on the smaller details like figuring out transit passes, where the grocery store is, building a list of places we might want to visit in each city. We never plan out a detailed itinerary for each day of the week in a given city, but rather keep our options open to adjust for weather, special events that might pop up, tiredness levels, and days of the week that might have free park/museum/castle admission.

      So I have all the accommodation and big intercity travel booked well ahead of time and a very loose idea of what we might do in each city. Then once we’re in country, we’ll look at the list of stuff to see/do and at night we would make a plan for the next day or two (what to see, how to get there on foot or on transit, or by car if we have one). Maybe research places to eat if we’re planning on going out to eat.

  • What a wonderful level of annoyance for a trip. Bus stations and when they sell things & if they’ll inform you are fascinating all over the world.

  • Signing an agreement in Spanish would freak me out a bit. Really nice photos and post.

  • Great trip report! This is an area of Spain I haven’t heard a lot about, but it seems beautiful.

    It looks very hot from the photos. Couple that with all the walking, hills, and stairs and I bet it was exhausting. (but fun)

    It sounds like you spend about $100 per day (roughly)… is that accurate?

  • I lived in Malage June July 2017. The scaffolding at Malaga’s Roman amphitheater in June 2017 was not for restoration work. It was the beginning of the construction of an open air theater stage and back stage area for a succession of classical drama performances over the summer. A marvellous annual event. Temporary restoration of the use of the building to its original purpose. The glass box Interpretation Centre to the left of the site has an excellent virtual reconstruction of the original site in action.

  • I visit the south of Spain rather frequently and love it. Next time you visit the south of Spain, make sure to visit Ronda and surroundings as well. Much smaller than Malaga, but lovely.

  • Glad you enjoyed your visit to Spain, been following your blog for a year or more, was excited to see you were coming over. I fell in love with Andalucía when I visited, I was in awe of the Moorish architecture. My favorite town was Córdoba, the old quarter is amazing, the Alcázar and its gardens beautiful, the terraces in the squares had a great atmosphere.

    If you’re ever in Barcelona I’d be happy to give you some tips, just send an email.

  • I really hate Spain and its arrogant people so forgive me for not even read it..
    I’m still your fan RoG

  • Great pictures – looks like a great time for you and the family!

  • Thanks for this report as we are headed near Malaga with our 3 year old in two weeks! We are staying in the Costa Del Sol area close by, but might make a trip into Malaga for a day or two. We started in Barcelona and we are currently in Majorca right now for a week. Next we head to Seville and Cordoba before taking a train to Malaga. We will finish the trip in Lisbon.

  • Aw I did hope for more food pictures. How were the frozen pizzas there? Are they different from the ones in American grocers? I hope so, ours just doesn’t taste very good.

    • Pizza seems to be like religion – everyone has different tastes and preferences. The frozen pizzas we had in Europe were pretty good. The ones I referenced in this article were actually refrigerated and not fully frozen, so I felt like the crust was fluffier and lighter. They had a nice barbeque flavor pizza with shredded pork and the sweet American BBQ sauce. I loved it, Mrs. Root of Good didn’t think much of it. The kids loved the pizza but of course they are kids and love things like hot dogs and pizza.

  • Justin, do you have someone check in on the house when you’re gone on longer trips or is this something that you’re not really concerned about? What a great trip and such good experiences for the kids.

    • We shut the water off, had several security measures in place, and had several different people checking on different things, driving our minivan, etc. We also let someone park his boat in our backyard so he was in and out pretty often. Our house looked like it was lived in 🙂

      • Ah, I see. That was good planning. We live in the city and we were burglarized once already. We’ll have to come up with a plan before any extended trips.

        • Our house is kind of out in the open on a busy street. Neighbors on either side look out for us and keep in touch. We have several motion-activated security lights too (dirt cheap solution – like $20-30 at Lowes). And of course lights inside on timers.

          We did have family stay here one summer as well, but that didn’t work out this past summer.

  • Is everyone too young to remember that most of the Southern states had blue laws and everything was closed on Sundays. We just had a legal debate this year about allowing grocery stores to sell liquor on Sundays. It failed.

    Sounds like a great place to visit, loved your pictures as always.

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