Could we live in Malaga (Spain)?
Malaga was the first stop on our 3 month search to find a future home in Spain.
When I wrote about potential places to live in Spain I admit Malaga (the city, not the province) wasn’t very high on my list. But, as I learned during our 6 days in Malaga, it’s one thing to read about a place and another to actually visit and see it on our own.
On paper Malaga meets a lot of our criteria. It is home to an international airport with connections all over Europe, it’s a mid-sized city with plenty of life, it has access to both sea and mountains, it’s not too expensive (compared to a few other Spanish cities), it has good public transport, it’s hot but with sea breezes moderate the heat.
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Impressions of Malaga
Huelin and the coast
Coming from Budapest, Malaga felt like the tropics. It was 22C and sunny when we arrived on February 1st (I spent the first few days walking around in shorts and a t-shirt). Trees were covered with oranges, there were green parakeets squawking among palm trees, and joggers were running along the long promenade that runs down the coast from the city center*.
* Our Airbnb was located in the neighbourhood of Huelin, a middle-class neighbourhood along the coast about 2.5 km from Malaga’s historic center.
Buildings along the coast are mostly highrises, a mix of old and new. Most are not very inspiring. Lissette said it reminded her of Miami. The city branches out from the center, extending east and west along the coast between the sea and inland mountains (you actually see some snow-topped mountains in the distance). You’re never far from nature.
Malaga is a port city and the closer you get to the center, the more unattractive it gets with fenced off port facilities, shipping cranes, and warehouses and silos. The promenade ends, giving way to the port which dominates the coastline in the city center.
Malaga’s City Center and its highlights
Malaga has a very pleasant and – in parts – very impressive city center that will remind you of the city centers of other Andalusian cities. There are lots of squares with historic buildings and tiled promenades lined with palm trees. You can spend a day walking the streets, having drinks and tapas, or walking Calle Larios – the main shopping street.
There are, in my opinion, 3 “must see” attractions in Malaga. The first is the massive Malaga Cathedral (officially Catedral de la Encarnación de Málaga). It is unique for being unfinished: you’ll see only one tower. But it is still a magnificent church and very impressive for its size. The 2nd is the Alcazaba, an 11th century Moorish fortress overlooking the old town. But my favorite attraction was the Castillo de Gibralfaro, a 10th century fortress that rises up the hill behind the Alcazaba. The fortress is situated on top of Gibralfaro hill and has great views of all of Malaga. It’s also a natural oasis in the heart of the city. It’s where I felt the happiest in Malaga.
As I’ve said, Malaga is a port city and unfortunately the port is really ugly. They’ve worked hard though in beautifying the area. There’s whole pedestrian port promenade (Palmoral de las Sorpresas) with palm trees right next to the port. You’ll see stores, restaurants, gardens, and museums along the way including the eye-catching Pompidou Center.
Malaga is a place of contradictions. One the one hand you have some very impressive historical highlights. You have nature all around with beaches (and promenades) not far away from the center. There are mountains in the background. The contradiction is that ugly port which just seems to overwhelm everything, compounded by the modern apartment blocks that dominate the skyline. Malaga is generally a weird mix of old and new, beautiful and modern. It left me feeling perplexed.
A few surprises
I said off the top that what you read and what you actually experience seeing a place for yourself are really two very different things.
- I figured Malaga to be a very busy, bustling city. We didn’t find that. We would take the bus to the center, walk around…and never felt that it was too hectic. And we met a few friendly locals over our few days there who initiated conversations with us. Malaga doesn’t have the “big city” vibe that I half expected.
- I thought the place would be crawling with expats. Again, we didn’t find that. Our neighbourhood was very Spanish. We heard some English walking around (in the center) but most people were Spanish going about their business.
So, could we live in Malaga?
I think we realized pretty quickly that the city of Malaga was not the vision we had for a base in Spain.
On our 2nd day we had walked several kilometres down the coast from Huelin, heading in the direction of the airport. The boardwalk is beautiful. The beach is wide, with clusters of palm trees and toilet and shower facilities. You’ll see restaurants everywhere along the way. We stopped and had fried fish in one (the food specialty in Malaga is fried fish) with a few glasses of wine. We continued on, looking at the highrises that lined the beach…and the rows upon rows of highrises that continued inland beyond the beach and wondered out loud “what would we do if we lived here?”. I guess we would spend a lot of time walking the beach and suntanning. But that’s not us. We’re not beach people. Lissette made the comment “I think people come here to retire…permanently”. She was kidding. But only half kidding. We just found the neighbourhoods outside the center a little depressing, not so much neighbourhoods but rather this collection of uniform-looking apartment blocks.
There are many good things about Malaga. It is cosmopolitan. It is a good hub in the region. It has nature. I think the city is worth visiting. But I guess the bottom line is that we just really didn’t develop any feelings for the city. As far as comparisons with Seville (the other large city in Andalusia): We had lived in Seville for 2 months a few years back and comparing the two cities there’s no doubt we prefer Seville.
Related: Valencia (Spain): could this be the place we choose to live in Spain?
Related: Granada (Spain) as an expat – could we live here? The Pros and Cons
Update: Why we chose Nerja as our new home in Spain (and why it’s perfect for the times)
Have you been to Malaga? What do you think of it?
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I am a Romanian who has lived in the US for the last 18 and something years. After visiting 42 different places in Spain (including Nerja), we (my husband and I) are still undecided whether to choose Malaga or Santander. We both are 54, are fluent in Spanish (understanding, reading and writing), and have full time jobs in higher education. If everything goes according to our plan, we intend to move at the end of June next year to Spain. Looking online for information about moving to Spain, I discovered your website and found it very useful and interesting.
If it’s possible,I would like to know how much are your average monthly bills for utilities (electricity, gas, water, internet). I know that they dramatically fluctuated during the last year, but I would like to have and idea about it in order to figure out a monthly budget. I assume that Malaga couldn’t be much more expensive than Nerja since they belong to the same comunidad autonoma.
Other questions would be about the US taxes as I understand that Lissette, your wife, is an US citizen, too. In order to avoid entering here in too many private details, I would highly appreciate if you could give me the chance to write you privately or to talk to you over the phone, Whatsapp, Skype or Signal.
Thank you very much for your help and I wish you the best of luck with your blog and your life in Spain!
Thanks for the kind words 🙂
Our costs here: 800 Euros for rent for a 3 bedroom townhouse, 1 1/2 bathrooms, huge yard. Average rent in our complex is about 700 Euros (with no yard but balconies). We pay average 50 Euros/month for electricity and 25 Euros/month for internet. Pay 12 Euros every 3 months for garbage and about 30 Euros every 3 months to recharge our gas tanks.
Water is included in the rent.
I can’t give you tax info because we haven’t had to file taxes here yet. But it’s definitely a difference with the US. Here are tax rates. I think there’s a 5,500 Euro personal exemption/pp. But I’m sorry, at this point don’t know much more. I’ve got a tax advisor if you need a recommendation?
Thank you for your answer and apologize for my late response. I don’t know how I didn’t see your answer until now. Many thanks again and the best of luck in Nerja. I hope you are still excited of living there.
I have enjoyed holidays in Malaga, for all the reasons you have mentioned. I have a Spanish friend who lives in this area and loves it. I think once you decide to put roots down in a place you get into the groove of life as a resident, you make friends, join clubs, find a gym etc. There are certainly worse places to live than Malaga, but you did not connect with the city, sounds like it is not for you. Keep looking 🙂
Just not our kind of place Gilda but I can see why some people would like it. Just depends on one’s interests…
Sevilla in summer is empty as it’s too hot ..40 degree without coast . Malaga is on the coast and got lot of villages as Torremolinos, Benalmadena , Fuengirola , Marbella , Nerja , Ronda, and etc
I will definitely choose somewhere by the coast . Malaga airport is an international airport that will save you lots of money and time .
You’re right about the heat. But our experience (having spent several months in Seville in summer and now living in Nerja) is that it’s a drier heat in the interior, a humid heat on the coast. I’m sorry, but there’s absolutely no relief from the heat along the coast in the summer: you sweat just rolling out of bed. And most locals I’ve spoken to mention they have a harder time with the humid heat of the coast to the heat in the interior.
So maybe that’s a personal choice and based on what your body can take. But my personal opinion is that summer on the coast is horrible. July and August are unbearable. Love the rest of the year, hate summer.
Great update Frank. And as always I’m looking forward to more.
Gah! You make me frustrated with our life right now. I love it (our expat life here in Kyiv) and your blog of course ;0)
But, I’ve gone and complicated us. We can’t go places for extended visits. Just me. Not the kids. Not my spouse. Not all of us together.
I’m heading back to Canada to visit Kid 1 for her Spring Break. She came here the last two times. So it’s my turn for that long flight. (I think its awesome she wants to spend time with me again so soon.)
And then, I have a stopover in Valencia on my way back to Kyiv to meet up with Rob and Kid 3. We only have a week there before we fly out back to Ukraine.
What are the chances we have some overlap?
When will you be in Valencia Colleen? We have no definite plans but might be later this month…
The last week of February. I’m looking forward to some warm weather. I won’t be getting that in Ottawa.
We might overlap Colleen, if so would be nice to meet you. We have to get our dates in order and I’ll send you a private email when I know for sure.
hard to know as I havent been there. It might be an interesting choice but you guys seem to have made a decision on it. Will be interesting to see where you finally choose!
We were in Malaga last year for a “could we live here tour”. The only thing is had on Seville was the weather and airport. I found it to be a very pleasant city with some decent food, interesting museums and friendly people. In the end, there is just not enough to do to make it a full time living destination. Are you considering Valencia? It was where we finally decided on and has a great deal going for it.
Thanks Allan. Fully agree with what you say about Malaga.
Everyone says Valencia, including our Mexico friend who moved there last summer and who wrote me a long email yesterday singing the virtues of the city. Yes, we will be there in a few weeks.
Thanks for the comment, looking forward to visit Valencia.
Anita @ No Particular Place to Go
Your photos of the historic area show a beautiful part of the city and I loved learning that there are parrots in Malaga as well as Seville. Unfortunately, it rained buckets in Malaga the whole week I was there (late January) but I’ve already decided that I’ll go back when the weather is better to do more exploring. A great place to visit but you’ll know when you find the right place to call home. There’s a huge dif between being a tourist and feeling like a local!
We missed each other by a few days Anita and the weather turned because we had great weather.
I totally agree about being a tourist vs looking at a city as a possible place to live. Still, we were impressed by certain aspects of Malaga.
Perhaps, only a nice place to visit but from what I gather from some travelers past experiences – it is not a nice place for even a short vacation.
And I agree with you with regard the rather depressing looking apartment blocks that are found in some other parts of Spain as well.
I think Malaga interesting for a day or two Wendy..the Gibralfaro quite spectacular and happy I got the chance the see it. I don’t feel the need to rush back to Malaga but there are certainly a million other worse places 🙂
By the way, were you affected by Storm Gloria?
Not at all.
Yes, we have been to Malaga, as you know. We thoroughly enjoyed our 10-day visit but we did not go with the idea of living there. Our goal was to meet up with friends and just totally chill out for 10 days. Lots of tapas, Sangria, walking the beach promenade and exploring the historic fortresses while taking in the views. Pretty much what you found, right? It’s a lovely vacation destination.
You must go to Cadiz! It’s beautiful and it would be a perfect place for you guys!
Why Cadiz Vicki? (a friend of mine also mentioned Cadiz but never mentioned why…)
It’s the one of the oldest cities in Europe and so historical and beautiful with a modern side and old city side. The people are very nice and the food was delicious. My daughter spent a summer there with a host family and we spent 2 vacations there and revisited her family 5 years later and they were so friendly and hospitable!
Nice story Vicki. Must have been a great experience for her.
We r heading to Granada in 2 weeks for the first time so your post was great timing for us! Keep posting as I enjoy your honesty soooo much and telling it like it really is sometimes isn’t done by travel writers trying to be PC!
Granada is very impressive, clean, people are friendly. We enjoyed walking around and having drinks at different places and getting free tapas. I’m sure you’ll enjoy.