Living in Malaga
We hear a lot of people saying that they’re considering living in Malaga. Most of them have never been to Malaga but they’re attracted by promises of sunny weather, a lively city life, lots of nature, as well as a vibrant expat community.
When we came to Spain in search of our new home Malaga was one of the cities we explored. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the city just wasn’t for us.
I go through our impressions of Malaga in this post.
First impressions of Malaga
People come to Malaga for the weather and the natural environment. When we came here it was early February. It was 22C and the sun was shining. People lay on the beach and flocked to the cafés and seaside restaurants. Parakeets screeched overhead. It honestly felt as if we had arrived in the tropics. Behind the city mountains stretched, on some (in the distance) you could see snow-topped peaks.
The city stretches along the coast between the sea and mountains. The old town is pretty with some beautiful historic buildings (including the beautiful Malaga Cathedral). There are some beautiful plazas, tiled promenades, and lots of palm trees. But for a city this big the old town is small. Wander a block or two and you encounter ugly 1970’s style apartment buildings. And just next to the old town, blocking any sea views, is an unattractive fenced off port. Behind the fences are warehouses, silos and shipping cranes. There is a harbour which they’ve tried to beautify: they have a pedestrian promenade (Palmoral de las Sorpresas), some museums (including the colourful Pompidou Center) and lots of restaurants and stores.
There are some impressive sights. Rising on a hill next to the old town is the Alcazaba, a Moorish fortress. Further up the hill is the Castillo de Gibralfaro (Gibralfaro Castle) which overlooks the whole city. The hill is like a natural oasis in Malaga, a beautiful city park. It’s my favorite thing about the city.
Malaga at its heart is an industrial port city that the government has worked to gentrify and beautify. And they’ve done a good job, from what I hear Malaga is a much prettier place than it used to be. But in all honesty the center of Malaga is just a confused mix of styles and I’m not sure if it really comes together.
The Coast and Beaches outside Malaga Center
On this first visit , we stayed about 2 km west of the city center in the Huelin*. Again, the neighborhood is a mix of old and new: 2 or 3 story traditional buildings painted in typical Andalucian colors (white and yellow) sitting next to an ugly monstrosity of an apartment complex. We would often walk the seaside promenade west, seeing row upon row of identical apartment buildings. We’d look at the drab beaches (Malaga has beaches but they’re nothing special) and the omnipresent port facilities in the background and ask ourselves “who lives here? And what do they do?” It struck us as terribly depressing.
*Note: We’ve been back many times since and have stayed in various parts of the city. It hasn’t changed our overall impression of Malaga though.
Why you have to see places for yourself
On paper Malaga sounded good to us as I’m sure it does to a lot of people thinking of moving to Spain. It is a medium sized city that’s neither too big nor too small, it has great weather and beautiful geography, it has an international airport with connections all over the world. It is cosmopolitan, cultured, and not expensive. It has good public transportation. It has a lot going for it. But we just couldn’t shake the feeling. Everything in our hearts told us that Malaga wasn’t the place for us.
The Lesson in all this? Places may sound great on paper but you have to visit them in person to see if they’re the place for you. We learned the same in Alicante (another place we had high hopes for but didn’t like) and Valencia (a place we hadn’t considered but which became a quick favorite). Where to live – Alicante or Valencia? Also check out: Alicante…and the importance of the scouting trip
Have a look at our post Where to Live as a Retiree in Spain? Places…and comparing Theory vs Reality
And check out our “Ask an Expat” section where people tell us what’s great (or not so great) about places where they’ve chosen to live.
Live in Malaga? If you don’t agree with the above, tell me what you love about the city
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I hope that anyone that reads your blog takes it as a very personal point of view and not the words of any expert in “finding the best place where to live in”. Judging a city by just one of its neighbourhoods is rather poor in my opinion. If I had judged London by the first place where I lived for 2 months I can assure you that I wouldn’t have stayed here for 15 years.
Good luck with finding that place that is “for you” using a not so thorough approach for your assessment.
We were in Malaga a week and although we had an apartment in Huelin we had more than enough time to explore Malaga and it’s different neighborhoods. As I say in the post, we now live in the region and pass through Malaga regularly. If anything it’s only confirmed our feelings for the city.
I’m happy for you if you found your perfect place. But thankfully we don’t all love the same places otherwise we’d be fighting over the same places 🙂
Of course it’s subjective. And this is a blog so of course it’s a point of view. Some people will agree, some won’t…
Oh, my poor heart. Have you been East of the city centre? The Paseo de Sanchez, Balneario de Carmen the fishing village of Pedregalejo with the small pedestrian streets, where local families have lived for centuries. And El Palo, where the Calle Banda de Mar has all the bustling chiringuitos, local small businesses and indeed some awful apartment blocks in it’s centre. Where people start to know your name in your favourite sunset bar ! It is my happy place for every 6 months.
I’ll admit that we haven’t explored all the neighborhoods in-depth, although we did walk the Paseo de Sanchez and made it as far as Pedregalejo beach. It is pretty walking the bay.
But as I say to James on his comment, it just isn’t reason enough to want to make Malaga home. It didn’t pull on our heart-strings at all. Maybe we’re just not beach people (although we fell spectacularly in love with Split (Croatia) where we lived for over a year). But Malaga just didn’t do that for us.
“We’d look at the drab beaches (Malaga has beaches but they’re nothing special) and the omnipresent port facilities in the background and ask ourselves “who lives here? And what do they do?” It struck us as terribly depressing.”
This makes it sound like some decrepit and decaying, or quite frankly, dead, port town. I understand the cranes might not be the prettiest, nor the sand the best (by a long way) but ‘terribly depressing’ seems quite hyperbolic. Beyond the mixed architecture, poor beaches and cranes, it’s a lot of fun living here. And there are plenty of pretty little corners, and many pretty little interactions.
Thank you for the feedback.
I think the 1st step in calling a place home is feeling something in your gut. You need something that draws you to a place and for us Malaga just didn’t draw us. The Spanish are wonderful people and I can understand, with time, being drawn into a neighborhood and falling in love with it. But again, what makes someone not necessarily fall in love with a place but decide to give it a chance as being possibly home?
It sounds that you recognize some of the downsides that I’ve described but that something about Malaga drew you in initially. It didn’t for us. I just don’t know what to say except that I don’t get it.
The same for us .. and this is the reason why we choose CASTELL DE FERRO. . the hidden paradise in the COSTA TROPICAL 🌴
Not any more 🙂
that’s your point of view..and I’m very happy about it .. if fewer people come here and nobody knows this place as it really is , the better is for us
I was kidding Marie Michelle. What I meant was that it’s no longer a hidden paradise since you’ve announced it to the world 🙂
Thank you for making me laugh out loud during a dark time.
‘But in all honesty the center of Malaga is just a confused mix of styles and I’m not sure if it really comes together’
Malaga, one of the oldest cities in the world, at nearly 3000 years old. I think it’s only ISIS that haven’t occupied this city!
I’m sorry you take offense. History has nothing to do with it. I’m talking about the many unattractive modern buildings in the center and the port facilities. Fortunately it has attractive historic buildings but it DOES all comes together as a “confused mix of styles”.
I’m always looking for contributors to my Ask an Expat series. If you live in Malaga, maybe you’d be interested? You could write about all the things that make the city a great place to live as an expat and in doing so put me in my place 🙂