With a well-connected airport consistently offering cheap flights from the UK, Málaga is centrally located along the Southern coast of Andalucía, making it the perfect gateway to explore the history and natural beauty of a region that has so much more to offer than the Brit-focused package holidays of the Costa del Sol.
100km | 75 mins drive | 150 mins public transport
Nestled in the mountainous region between Málaga, Cádiz, and Seville lies a city that’s inspired famous writers such as George Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, and Orson Welles. Dubbed Spain’s Ciudad de los Sueños (City of Dreams), the beauty of Ronda, perched on the precipice of the El Tajo canyon, has to be seen to be believed. Featuring a plethora of iconic architecture, including some of the region’s best-preserved examples of Arab Baths, the colossal Moorish gates, and palaces of former Moorish kings, the jewel in Ronda’s crown is undoubtedly the stunning Puente Nuevo bridge spanning the 120-metre gorge that splits the city in two.
Find out more: 10 Unmissable Things to do in Ronda, Spain’s City of Dreams.
210km | 135 mins drive | 120 mins public transport
Located some 80km North of the coast up the Guadalquivir river that has brought it so much wealth, Seville is a truly spectacular city in Southern Spain. Historically important, the city became the authority on trans-Atlantic trade due to its strategic location, generating much of the wealth that can be seen in the city’s architecture to this day. Make sure to visit the semi-circular Plaza de Espana, as well as the mushroom-shaped walkways of the Metropol Parasol at sunset, but most importantly just wander around the city, especially taking in the neighbourhoods of La Macarena, Alameda, and Triana.
Find out more: What to do in Seville: The Capital of Andalucía.
165km | 100 mins drive | 60 mins public transport
165km North of Málaga lies the city of Córdoba, similar to Seville in that it was built on the banks of the Guadalquivir River. Under Muslim rule, the city grew to be one of the biggest cities in Europe during its time as the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba. Historically significant sites still exist from before this time, including a number of columns from the city’s temple, as well as the famous Roman Bridge, but the crowning glory of Córdoba’s attractions has to be the Mezquita, or Great Mosque of Córdoba, founded in 784 BC on the site of a Visigothic Church on the banks of the river.
130km | 90 mins drive | 150 mins public transport
Home to arguably Andalucía’s most iconic, grand, and inimitable landmark, Granada was the final stronghold of Muslim-ruled Spain. At the heart of the city is the Alhambra Palace, the complex built and resided in by successive rulers of Al-Andalus, and is an absolute must-visit for any first-time visitor to the city. Alongside this, the city also boasts numerous other gems, including the Albaicín and Sacromente neighbourhoods; the fourth-largest cathedral in the world; a traditional Moorish souk; as well as plenty Spanish streets to get lose yourself down whilst exploring the city. Granada also has a thriving food and drink scene, and is one of the few cities in Spain that still offers a tapas dish with every drink bought in most establishments.
60km | 50 mins drive | 60 mins public transport
One of my favourite locations in Southern Spain is the historic town of Nerja. With one of the best climates of Southern Spain, plenty to see, do, eat, and drink, and envious coastal views, it’s easy to see why the town is popular for locals and tourists alike. The hub of the town is the Balcón de Europa, and with a plethora of cafes, bars, and restaurants, it is one of my favourite places in the world to grab a coffee or beer and people-watch. Also in the town you have Burriana beach, one of Southern Spain’s favourite beaches; The Caves of Nerja, discovered by local residents in 1959 and showcasing ancient art and some of the best examples of columns, stalactites and stalagmites; as well as the spectacular architecture of a historic aqueduct.
Find out more: Top Things to do in Nerja, Andalucía.
60km | 50 mins drive | 75 mins public transport
Just a few kilometres North of Nerja is Frigiliana, voted the prettiest village in Andalucía against some stiff competition! The flower-lined cobbled streets and pretty white houses are as archetypically Andalucían as you are likely to find anywhere. The small village has plenty to do to keep you entertained on a day trip, with a popular market on Thursdays and Sundays, as well as the annual Festival Frigiliana Tres Culturas (Frigiliana Festival of 3 Cultures) that takes place each August, celebrating the relationship and coexistence between the three cultures that have lived in the here over the centuries; Christians, Sephardic Jews, and Arabs. For a more relaxed visit, enjoy the views, food and drink in the main square before taking the mini tourist train or, preferably, wandering along the main street up the hill.
Find out more: Exploring Frigiliana, the Jewel of Andalucía.
135km | 100 mins drive | 180 mins public transport
On the Southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, is the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. At just under 7km square, the region may be fairly small and often overlooked, but there’s plenty to do on a day trip from Málaga. Dominating much of Gibraltar is the Rock of Gibraltar, the top of which is located a nature reserve which can be accessed via cable car or by a local tour, and is home to around 300 Barbary macaques, the only wild monkey population in Europe. There is also a popular network of tunnels within the rock itself that can be visited, built primarily by the British Army for various reasons including communication, access, and storage. Wandering around Gibraltar is a great way to get to know the region, and has the slight quirk of allowing you to get up close and personal with the quiet airport, as one of the main roads runs right through the runway!
235km | 150 mins drive | 70 mins public transport
Cádiz, located on the extreme South-West peninsula of Spain, is known as Europe’s oldest city, dating back over 3500 years. Much of the city’s architectural wealth can be traced back to the fact that it’s port location allowed it to monopolise early trade with America, as Cádiz was one of the ports that Christopher Columbus famously set sail from. Modern-day Cádiz has plenty to offer to the discerning tourist, including the stunning cathedral and the iconic views from the bell tower; the star-shaped Santa Catalina Castle; the Torre Tavira watchtower that uniquely projects the city in realtime inside one of the rooms; and a bustling central market.
Find out more: What to do in Cádiz, Europe’s Oldest City.
9. Sierra Nevada
170km | 120 mins drive | 210 mins public transport
It’s crazy to think that just a couple of hours from the Mediterranean heat of Malaga and only 45 minutes from Granada can lead you to Europe’s most Southerly ski resort in the Sierra Nevada. The Pradollano ski resort operates from November to May, and offers over 100km of slopes ranging from easy to difficult. The area isn’t only famous for its slopes though, with the typical Spanish charm of a range of villages in Las Alpujarras absolutely worth a visit on their own.