Traveling to Europe with younger children can be challenging, no matter how well adjusted or behaved your pint-sized explorers are. It becomes especially challenging when the destination you’re visiting is a bustling city filled with historical sites and museums. This is one reason Málaga, Spain, the country’s fifth-most populated city, is worth a closer look.
Sure, well known cities like Madrid and Barcelona have plenty to offer and should be on the bucket list of any first-time visitor to Spain, but Málaga offers an excellent mix of activity and relaxation in a near perfect year-round climate. Consider it as a stand-alone, several-day trip, or as a place to unwind after touring other cities in the country.
The Rich History of Málaga, Spain
Málaga, the capital of the same-named province, is in Spain’s Andalusia region, in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. It’s situated on the Costa del Sol, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Málaga Mountains, which together regulate a mild climate, complemented by more than 300 days of annual sunshine.
Though overlooked by many tourists until recent years, Málaga has attracted centuries of inhabitants – beginning with the Phoenicians more than 3,000 years ago, followed by the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and Christians, as reflected by architecture and sites throughout the city. With more than 30 museums, plenty of historical sites, and a wealth of shops and restaurants, it’s easy to cram more into a day than younger travelers may be able to handle. Forgo the whining and dragging feet; plan an itinerary filled with things everyone can enjoy.
Where to Stay in Málaga, Spain
Step 1: start with a great home base. A good hotel, loaded with creature comforts, makes for a restful night and a place to regroup after touring. The Gran Hotel Miramar Resort & Spa is the city’s only five-star property, situated in the La Caleta area of Málaga, close to the beach and local attractions. The hotel opened in January 2017, complete with a full-service spa that includes a thermal circuit, two swimming pools (kids will love the colorful light changes in the main pool), fitness center, rooftop terrace bar and lounge, two restaurants and a snack bar (the breakfast buffet is extensive enough to satisfy even the most finicky of eaters), and a kids’ club (available during the summer).
Across the street from the hotel, guests can access the beachfront promenade, where it’s possible to stroll, jog or bike. Málaga boasts a more-than-8-mile stretch of 16 beaches, including La Malagueta, Pedregalejo and San Andres in the center of town. The sand is studded by a host of bars and restaurants serving up local specialties including fried anchovy and sardine skewers as well as more mainstream dishes to keep your group fueled up during a day in the sun. Farther down the beachfront esplanade, the Port of Málaga features restaurants and shops as well as sightseeing and sunset catamaran sails.
Family-Friendly Sightseeing in Málaga
When it’s time to get down to some serious sightseeing, a standout kid-friendly option that comes to mind is to tramp around the stoned walls of Gibralfaro Castle, which was built in the 14th century to protect the Alcazaba fortress at the base of the same named hill. The 11th century fortress was built by King Badis of Granada near the ruins of a Roman Theater and Aduana Customs Building. Take in the expansive view of the city and the Mediterranean Sea from the walls, and then learn about the site in its interpretive center. A snack bar and restroom facilities are conveniently located not far from the entrance.
Young children may not appreciate visits to the Picasso Museum or the Pompidou Center, but the Automobile and Fashion Museum Málaga and the Interactive Museum of Music are sure to hold their interest. After spending part of the day at these and other museums, consider heading outdoors to stroll along Calle Larios, the pedestrian-friendly main shopping street heading out from Plaza de la Constitución in the historic quarter.
Satisfy hungry bellies in one of the many restaurants, taverns or city markets, making a point to walk through the Atarazanas Market, first opened in 1879 at the site of the Nasrid Shipyards (only the main door to the shipyards remains). You can pick up fresh produce and local products, such as olive oil, jamon, and wine. Tapas are a local staple and a great way to sample many things in one meal. El Pimpi, a longtime fixture in Málaga, features an extensive menu and lively atmosphere for lunch and dinner, with both indoor and outdoor seating.
Take a day trip from Málaga to visit three great, family friendly nearby spots in the Costa del Sol. Just 20 minutes away, the Benalmádena Butterfly Park features more than 1,500 of the delicately-winged creatures from around the world. Walk through an indoor tropical landscape of waterfalls and flowers to learn about their lifecycle and view them up close. Look closely to spot a wallaby, large tortoise, iguana, birds and koi fish. Restrooms, a gift shop and cafeteria are on site. Nearby, the largest Buddhist stupa (temple) in Europe is open to the public for a look inside, and the view of the coastline from here is breathtaking.
Also, in Benalmádena, take the cable car up to the top of Mount Calamorro, where you can find six hiking trails, incredible views, and the Valley of the Eagles, featuring daily exhibitions with birds of prey, such as falcons, owls, vultures and eagles. There is a main cafeteria at the entrance to the cable cars, as well as one located at the Calamorro peak. A kiosk at the peak also sells an assortment of quick snacks.
Ten minutes by car from Benalmádena, in Torremolinos, the Crocodile Park is worth a quick visit to see these different species of descendants from the Triassic period. Consider a guided tour, and time your visit for a live demonstration, take a picture with a baby croc, and visit Big Daddy – or Paco, as he is locally known – one of the biggest crocodiles in Europe. Restroom facilities and food are available on site.
Getting to Málaga, Spain
When it comes to making Europe more manageable for the younger jet set, Málaga provides a way to sample a bite-sized portion of Spain or a great place to start or end a whirlwind trip. Even the high-speed AVE train from Málaga to Madrid serves as an adventure for young travelers. The train departs from each direction 14 times daily, taking two-and-a-half hours to complete the journey.
Photos courtesy of the Tourist Office of Spain, Costa del Sol Tourist Board and photographer Wayne Chasan.