The Port of Málaga is Spain’s oldest continually operated port, having brought wealth and prosperity to the region since the 10th century. Following an ambitious renovation project, it’s been revitalised for the 21st century as a major cruise ship destination. A dramatically undulating white pergola provides welcome shade for those taking a waterfront stroll through El Palmeral de las Sorpresas (Palm Garden of Surprises), a new public space full of fountains and palm trees. The numerous shops, bars, and restaurants here include the sublime José Carlos García, the city’s first Michelin starred restaurant.
The port’s flagship attraction however is Centre Pompidou Málaga. Open since 2015, the first international outpost of the renowned Parisian art museum occupies a huge subterranean space topped by a colourful glass cube. Having amassed over 120,000 works, Centre Pompidou in Paris can only display a fraction of its epic and important modern art collection (93% remains in storage), so this new Spanish Pompidou provides more space, enabling the public to see and enjoy more of the artworks. This is also the first in a planned international expansion, to be followed by Pompidou’s in Brussels and Shanghai.
The Pompidou wasn’t the only major international museum to debut in Málaga in 2015. The city also welcomed the first overseas branch of Saint Petersburg’s State Russian Museum. Located a short distance from the centre, in a former tobacco factory built in the 1920s, it’s the world’s biggest museum dedicated to Russian art outside of Russia. Previous exhibitions here have covered everything from Russian Orthodox icons of the 15th century to powerful examples of socialist realism from the Soviet era.
Also located within this redeveloped tobacco factory complex is Museo Automóvil y la Moda, displaying almost 100 vintage and classic cars by makers such as Bugatti, Packard, and Jaguar, alongside over 200 items of fashion and 300 vintage hats. There’s a pink Cadillac, a ‘pimped out’ black Rolls Royce embellished with Swarovski crystals, plus exceptional examples of haute couture by the likes of Chanel, Dior, and Balenciaga. So there really is something for everyone in Malaga’s eclectic range of museums!
It’s worth noting that these and other museums are free to visit every Sunday afternoon.
It’s not just fine art hanging on a pristine gallery wall that’s helped to transform Málaga. Street art is being used as a catalyst to revitalize once-deprived corners of the city. Adjacent to the port, the Soho quarter has many magnificent buildings from its 19th century heyday, but it became rundown. But not any more. It’s now promoted as Málaga’s Arts District. Belgian graffiti artist ROA, known for his huge paintings of wild animals, is one of several international street artists invited to take part in the MAUS (Málaga Arte Urbano Soho) initiative, which aims to turn the streets and façades of Soho into a vibrant urban canvas. ROA’s larger-than-life chameleon in Calle Casas de Campos joins other street artworks, including the badass sevenstory high mural of a fighter pilot by British street artist D*Face.
This injection of creativity and culture helped give Soho a new identity. Now you can take a self-guided street art tour of Soho, then enjoy drinks or dinner in one of many hip new spaces. These include La Fábrica, a microbrewery, craft brew pub, restaurant, and live music venue open by renowned Spanish brewer Cruzcampo, in what was until recently a multi-story car park. Or there’s La Deriva, a hip Spanish gastronomic restaurant in a renovated historical building.
A cool spot on the edge of Soho is Room Mate Valeria. Behind an historical façade, this gay-friendly boutique hotel embraces its city-by-the-sea status with bold and tropical décor. Featuring walls striped like a beach towel, each of the 61 rooms and suites has a fun summertime vibe. Up on the roof terrace is an azure-blue plunge pool, plus a sundrenched cocktail bar with views across the port to the Mediterranean Sea.
As well as delivering a stylish yet affordable boutique experience, the concept is that each Room Mate hotel has a unique personality, with each one named after an imaginary host. Since opening their first Room Mate in 2004 in Madrid, this Spanish-based chain has maintained an ongoing partnership with the Fight AIDS Foundation, with guests able to make a voluntary contribution at the end of their stay.
Just a few minutes away, in a grand building on the city’s premier shopping street, is Valeria’s stylish and sophisticated sibling, Room Mate Larios. Taking inspiration from the building’s original Art Deco features, it’s like being onboard an ocean liner from a bygone era. Featuring a grand piano and black & white checkerboard floor, the hotel bar is popular with local and visiting celebrities: world famous actor and born-and-bred malagueño Antonio Banderas is often spotted here whenever he returns to his hometown.
Another recommendation is Hotel Molina Lario. This smart and chic 4- star hotel comprises three interconnected buildings around a central patio. The best of its 103 rooms occupy the renovated 19th-century section, as these boast French windows, ornate wrought iron balconies, and views of Málaga’s stunning cathedral, which stands directly opposite. Even better views of the cathedral can be enjoyed from the hotel’s rooftop pool and bar.
Malaga’s most popular hotel rooftop however belongs to the AC Hotel Málaga Palacio, now part of the Marriott group. Standing 15 floors high, this 4-star hotel is one of the city’s tallest buildings. Its rooftop bar provides unbeatable 360-degree panoramas. It’s such a popular spot for sunset cocktails, that access can be restricted to hotel guests at busy times to avoid overcrowding. If in doubt, book a table at their rooftop Ático restaurant and enjoy amazing views as well as delicious Mediterranean-inspired food.