Jun 25, 2024City, Cruises, Spain0 comments

If Malaga is a stop on your next cruise you may wonder what there is to see and do in the city. Is it worth a visit or should you book an excursion further afield?

Having spent a couple of weeks in Malaga for learning Spanish some years ago, I knew right away that the city is well worth spending some time here.

Read on to find out what I did and what I have learned.

View of port and bull fighting ring in Malaga

Malaga has a very long history

Shore excursion or spending the day in Malaga?

On many cruise itineraries, Malaga is actually titled Grenada because the main excursion offered by cruise lines is a trip to the Alhambra in Grenada. So should you take a tour of the Alhambra or visit Malaga instead?

Like so often, it will depend on your personal preferences. If you have wanted to see the Alhambra in Grenada forever, then this is your chance to visit. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is of course a wonderful destination and bucket-list destination.

But if your budget is a bit tight or you don’t feel like spending hours on a bus, Malaga is a great option!

For me, the decision was easy. I spent several weeks in Malaga years ago, attending Spanish classes and ever since it has been one of my favorite Spanish cities.

During that stay I also went on a day trip to the Alhambra and even though it is beautiful my memories are mostly of torrential rain and spending hours stuck in traffic. So while I would like to go back sometime – preferably with better weather – I decided to take it easy and enjoy Malaga instead.

And I am glad I did as I had a wonderful time!

My plans for Malaga

Originally, I planned to visit the Alcazaba (an old fortress close to the port) and Gibralfaro (the fortress on a hill above the city) before exploring the city and possibly the botanical gardens.

On my Norwegian Dawn cruise I didn’t stick to my plans very often – in Valencia I completely scrapped my original destination. But Malaga was an exception as I did visit both Alcazaba and Gibralfaro. However, I had hurt my back at the beginning of the trip so decided to go back to the ship after seeing these two main sites, especially as I had been to Malaga before.

Alcazaba walls and trees in Malaga

Malaga’s Alcazaba is underrated

Getting to the Alcazaba from the cruise ship

On my Norwegian Dawn cruise, there was a free shuttle taking passengers directly from the ship to Malaga’s central Plaza de la Marina.

This was of course very convenient as it saved quite a bit of walking. However, on a prior cruise we did have to make our own way into town and while it is a longish walk (about 30 minutes) it is definitely doable as it is quite pleasant with nice views and plenty of restaurants and cafes on the way.

Prior to my trip, there was a bit of a disagreement on forums whether getting to the Alcazaba is hard or not. After this visit I can confirm that getting to the entrance to the Alcazaba from Plaza de la Marina is indeed easy, not very tiring, and only takes about 5 to 10 minutes.

Touring the interior of the Alcazaba does require uphill walking and can be tiring, especially if it is hot. However, this part will remain the same no matter whether you tour on your own or get an expensive excursion.

Wide sidewalk framed by tall trees and garden in Malaga

Paseo del Parque makes for a pleasant stroll

Finding the Alcazaba

After getting off the shuttle bus at Plaza de la Marina, I walked along the park to my left until I got close to the Alcazaba (Google Maps is my best friend).

At that point, all I had to do was cross the street and turn left.

If you were to walk from the Cruise Terminal, you would walk along the harbor and turn right.

Tall outside walls make the Alcazaba a fortress

The Alcazaba is hard to miss and there are plenty of signs

There are plenty of signs pointing the way so finding the entrance is not difficult. When you see the outside walls of the Alcazaba before you (above) left/straight to get to the Alcazaba or right towards Gibralfaro Castle.

Tip 1: Start your explorations early to beat the crowds and the heat

Steps lead up to the entrance to Alcazaba

You can buy tickets right at the entrance

Ticket for the Alcazaba

By the time I arrived at the entrance to the Alcazaba it was about 10:15 am so there were very few visitors in line to buy tickets. However, when I left around 12:15 pm, the line had grown significantly.

I was a bit nervous when I saw that you buy tickets at vending machines as I prefer actual people selling tickets in case of issues. However, it went off without a hitch.

You can choose between buying a single ticket for the Alcazaba (currently €3.50) or a combo ticket for Alcazaba and Gibralfaro (currently €5.50). As the price is fairly low, I recommend buying the combo ticket if there is any chance that you will want to visit both.

Buying the tickets in one go is not only cheaper, but will also save you having to wait in line twice.

You can also purchase the tickets online (at the same prices). Though I did not do this myself, I would recommend buying online if there is a long line at the vending machines.

If you happen to be in Malaga on Sunday afternoons you are in luck, as entry is free then!

Tip 2: Buy the combo ticket if you think you might want to visit both attractions as it will save time and money

The Alcazaba offers an audio guide you can download on your phone. I did not use this as my data plan is more than meagre AND I didn’t feel like a tour. But if you enjoy learning more about history and facts, make sure to prepare by bringing headphones/downloading it before your visit.

Tip 3: Bring headphones and download the audioguide before your visit if you are interested in learning more about the site.

Many doorways give the Alcazaba a mysterious atmosphere

Step back in time when you visit Malaga’s Alcazaba

What to expect from the Alcazaba in Malaga

The Alcazaba is an urban fortress that was originally built as fortification and evolved into a mix of fortress and palace that served as the government seat of the city.

It is located on the side of a hill that has been inhabited since around 600 BC. The Alcazaba itself was first mentioned in the 8th century but its heyday was probably from around 1050 to around 1350.

Due to its hillside location you will follow fairly steep, cobble-stone paths as you walk upwards through various gates and courtyards.

If you take a tour or use the audioguide you are sure to learn more of the site’s history. But if you feel lazy like me, you can just enjoy the beautiful old architecture, serene atmosphere (if you get there early before too many other tourists arrive), and sweeping views.


Uphill path to gate at Alcazaba

The paths within the Alcazaba are pretty steep

Everyone is different but I absolutely love this Islamic building style so very much enjoy the Alcazaba. With its many gates, narrow paths, and hidden corners it has a very serene/mystical air.

Large courtyard at Malaga's Alcazaba

Main Courtyard/Plaza of Malaga’s Alcazaba

After a bit of a climb I eventually got to Plaza de Armas which has a beautiful little Hispanic-Arabic garden. Just as important (or even more to tell the truth) you will also find a public bathroom here. So this is a great place for a bit of relaxation.

In one of the surrounding palace courtyards I also found a vending machine selling water. Very welcome as I once again neglected to come prepared (you’d think I had learned my lesson after getting badly dehydrated at Lake Como a while ago).

View from Alcazaba over large buildings to port

The Alcazaba is high enough to offer a good view over town and port

My back was still hurting quite a bit on that day so I spent most of my time finding shady spots to sit in and enjoy the view or read a bit. I don’t regret this at all though as it was a very pleasant experience and probably nicer than just rushing through to get to the next sight as I might have done if I had felt better.

View of Alcazaba Gardens through barred window

From the Alcazaba you can see Gibralfaro up on the hill

I believe, Gibralfaro and Alcazaba were originally connected. However, at this time you can not walk from one to the other. So even though you are already halfway up the hill once you are on the upper part of the Alcazaba, you will just have to go back down and climb the entire hill to get to the hill top.

Tip 4: It gets hot in Malaga so make sure to wear sun protection and bring some water to stay hydrated!

Courtyard with shallow rectangular pool at Malaga's Alcazaba

Beautiful courtyard

Shady courtyards, water features, geometric designs, and elaborate stonework make the Alcazaba a beautiful and restful space.

During the main summer season it may get too hot and crowded to enjoy this fortress but on an early May morning it was a wonderful experience!

Beautiful green space with bushes and trees, Malaga

I just loved the way this little garden looked

After walking back down towards the entrance of the Alcazaba, I still checked out the area to the right of the entrance (left when going down).

I had noticed this green oasis earlier through a window and really wanted to see it. At least in May, it was a wonderful place and here you will find a second bathroom as well as a place to buy drinks and snacks.

Getting from the Alcazaba to Gibralfaro

On our last visit to Malaga as a family we visited the Alcazaba but ran out of energy before climbing up the hill to Gibralfaro. So I definitely wanted to check it out this time!

From my stay in Malaga many years ago I remembered that you have stunning views from the top and I wasn’t wrong!

The path to Gibralfaro is well sign-posted

The walkway from Alcazaba to Gibralfaro is easy to find

As mentioned above, it would be great if you could walk onwards from the highest point of the Alcazaba to Gibralfaro. But unfortunately you have to return to the entrance and retrace your steps uphill outside the walls.

On the plus side, there are plenty of signs right outside the entrance and you can’t miss the path (you could also just follow all the other tourists).

But even though finding the path is easy, climbing up is quite challenging. It isn’t at all difficult in the sense of any difficult segments. The entire path is in fairly good order, consisting of steep streets, pavements, and stairs.

However, it is a longish and steep climb and especially on a hot day may be more than is comfortable.

Tip 5: Wearing decent shoes is helpful both within Alcazaba and on the way to Gibralfaro.

Wide walkway along outside walls of Alcazaba to Gibralfaro in Malaga

The walk up to Gibralfaro is quite exhausting

To be quite honest, about halfway up the hill I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to manage it. Now, keep in mind, I was having issues with my back and was climbing right around noon so during the hottest part of the day.

If you plan to walk up I recommend to do Gibralfaro first and start before the day heats up, especially in the summer. Also, make sure to wear sun protection and take some water with you for this part.

On a more positive note, you do have great views over the city and out to sea as you make your way up the hill. In May many plants were blooming so the walk was quite pretty.

The best part for me was that most of the trail is framed by a low wall so you can sit and rest as often as you like. The climb took me about 30 minutes but it could be done quite a bit quicker if you are in better shape than me!

When you get close to the top, there is a platform with a great view over town. Ideal for taking pictures!

Map of El Castillo de Gibralfaro

Gibralfaro is positioned high above town

Castillo de Gibralfaro

When I finally made it to the top, I saw a long, long line of people waiting at the entrance. This came as an unpleasant surprise and for a moment I even wondered whether it would be worth waiting.

Sure, I had climbed up all that way but really didn’t feel like standing in line for an extended time as I was exhausted and hot. But then I remembered that I had bought the combo ticket earlier and decided to at least check out the actual entrance.

Feeling slightly guilty I walked by all the people waiting. This turned out to be the right decision – the line was for buying tickets. If you had yours already, you could get it scanned and just walk in.

Tip 6: If you already have your ticket you do not need to wait in the long line but can get it scanned at the entrance (I assume the same is true at the Alcazaba).

Restroom next to large tree and a small cafe at Gibralfaro, Malaga

Inside the Gibralfaro you will find a restroom and a cafe

A definite plus of going inside the castle area (instead of just taking in the view from outside) is that here you will find both a bathroom and a small café.

I got myself a soda which was on the pricey side but hit the spot after the long, hot walk.

Narrow walkway along Gibralfaro's walls with view over Malaga

Gibralfaro’s main draw are the views

Built in the 14th century, Gibralfaro Castle sits at 132 m above sea level. This once impregnable fortress housed troops to protect the Alcazaba.

There is a small interpretation center and you can explore the fortified walkways and marvel at the impressive walls. But the biggest draw of Gibralfaro is undoubtedly the view over the town out to sea and the surrounding mountains.

Compared to the Alcazaba it is a lot more rustic and bare, a castle rather than a palace.

I spent a bit of time enjoying the views and the atmosphere but was running out of steam by that time so didn’t explore all the nooks and crannies. Again, if you would like to learn more about the castle’s history you can download a free audioguide.

People waiting for bus next to Gibralfaro

The bus stop for Gibralfaro is right in front of the entrance

Return to Malaga’s seafront

When I left the castle grounds, I noticed the bus stop (which I had been vaguely aware of) right across the street.

If you are visiting Malaga in the summer or don’t really fancy a steep uphill climb, taking the bus would be best. There are several bus routes that will take you between the sea front and the castle in 20 to 30 minutes for a small fee (currently €1.40).

If you do take the bus, I recommend walking a couple minutes down the hill along the path I took to get to the viewing platform unless you have trouble walking.

Tip 7: You can take the public bus to/from Gibralfaro, saving you an exhausting climb.

I generally dislike waiting for a bus so decided to just walk back down. This was a lot easier than going uphill and took me about 15 minutes.

Once I got close to sea level, there was a pretty park with steps leading down to the main streets. This park/garden would make a great place to enjoy the scenery and relax if you had some time left after touring.

Garden on steep hill with walls and steps

This garden offers great views in a peaceful environment

More stuff to do in Malaga

By this time I had been exploring Malaga for about 4.5 hours and just wanted to get back to the ship to lie down and rest my back.

However, if you are in better shape and/or manage to see Alcazaba and Gibralfaro in less time (quite easy to do as I was taking it very easy), there are more things to see and do in town.

The Alcazaba is located very close to downtown so you could easily still visit the old town with Malaga’s Cathedral, the Picasso Museum, the Market, and the shopping area.

What is better to visit – Alcazaba or Gibralfaro?

Alcabazaba and Gibralfaro can easily be seen in one day (or in half a day). But if you have other things planned as well, you may only have time for one of these fortresses.

Hopefully, this post has given you a pretty good idea of what you can expect from Alcazaba and Gibralfaro. But if you are still unsure which one to visit, here is my opinion:

Both are worth a visit but Castillo de Gibralfaro is harder to get to as you either have to walk up the hill or take the bus.

Gibralfaro is for you if you want to see a castle/fortress and are looking for the best views over Malaga.

The Alcazaba is prettier, with courtyards, ornate decorations, water features, and gardens.

Personally, I prefer the Alcazaba, especially as its style is quite distinctive and something you don’t see everywhere in the Mediterranean.

But you are sure to enjoy either one!


Malaga is a great port for a cruise stop. While it is often used as a base for exploring other famous sights in Andalucia, the city is definitely worth spending a day there!

Visiting Gibralfaro, Alcazaba, and the old town is easy, inexpensive (I spent about €10 in total), and a great experience.

Steps leading down through gardens to port in Malaga. NCL Dawn in the distance

Hi, I am Kitty and I love to travel! Welcome to my blog, where I share all I have learned on my trips - good and bad - to help you have a better, cheaper, and more perfect vacation!


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