Year of Picasso - Malaga is Spain´s top Cultural City Break in 2023

Picasso Celebration 2023 exhibitions Malaga

Post updated April 2023.

The Guardian (UK) and Vogue magazine have included Malaga in its “Where to go in 2023” list of the best places to travel in Europe this year.   

And it´s all thanks to the famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, who was born in Malaga in 1881 and died in Mougins, France on 08 April 1973. So this year marks the 50th anniversary of Picasso´s death and Spain, together with France (his adopted home), have put together an impressive year of 50 special exhibitions to celebrate his life. 

In Spain, “Picasso Celebration: 1973-2023” features exhibitions in Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga, A Coruña and Bilbao, with many more in France´s key galleries (including the Musée Picasso and the Pompidou in Paris) as well as a range of cities worldwide from New York and Cincinatti, to Basel and Berlin. See the full calendar of exhibitions through 2023 and on into 2024 for Picasso Celebration: 1973-2023, in Spain and worldwide.  Read about Spain´s special Picasso exhibitions in the Guardian: "Picasso pilgrimage: a Spanish art trail marking 50 years since his death". 

In Malaga, as the Guardian Travel writes, “The Picasso Museum Málaga – also celebrating its 20th anniversary – has Picasso: Matter and Body (8 Aug-10 Sept) and Echo of Picasso (2 Oct-24 March 2024), and the Picasso Birthplace Museum is showing The Ages of Pablo (21 Jun-1 Jan 2024). Fans can also visit the church where he was baptised, the site of his school and the Malagueta bullring, where he watched bullfights with his father.

But Málaga has more to offer art lovers than Picasso, though. Its 40 museums and galleries include the Pompidou Centre of Málaga, opened in 2015 in a striking cube by the waterfront; the Carmen Thyssen Museum of 19th-century Spanish painting; and the free Contemporary Art Centre of Málaga. The latter is in Soho, the city’s vibrant street-art district, which also has independent restaurants and shops, and a monthly makers’ market.

Photo: Malaga´s  old town, Roman Theatre, Alcazaba and Gibralfaro castle.

Art aside, the capital of the Costa del Sol has 16 beaches; historic sights such as the “one-armed” cathedral, Gibralfaro castle and the 11th-century Alcazaba; and local favourite espetos de sardinas (sardines on a skewer)”. Article by Rachel Dixon in Guardian Travel 14 January 2023.

Read on for more on the Arts scene in Malaga and some ideas for the best places to visit inland from Malaga.

So, for the perfect trip to Spain in 2023, combine Picasso in Malaga with a slice of rural Andalucia in the unspoilt Sierras Subbéticas at Casa Olea - for peaceful white villages, hiking or biking in the mountains and olive groves; plus day visits to other cultures highlights including Granada (for the Alhambra) and Cordoba (the Mezquita). 

MALAGA - one of Spain´s top cultural city break destinations
Founded by the Phoenicians, the historic city of Malaga has for so long been overlooked as simply an airport gateway, or written-off entirely - tainted by its proximity to over-developed, package-holiday neighbours like Torremolinos. And yet, this vibrant port city is undoubtedly now one of Spain´s top cultural destinations for the Arts and should be added to anyone´s bucket-list of must-see attractions in Andalucia – even if it´s for a night before or after venturing inland to explore the Moorish wonders (Granada, Cordoba & Seville), countryside and white villages of the region´s stunning interior. 
Befitting the birth-place of one of Europe´s great Modern Masters, Pablo Picasso, Malaga has enjoyed an incredible cultural revival over the past decade, with the opening of the Museo Picasso, Carmen Thyssen Museum and the Contemporary Art Museum (CAC). Adding to this already impressive list, the first ever “Pop-up Pompidou” opened in Malaga in 2015. The Pompidou Centre Malaga was the first international branch of the French museum and is located in The Cube, a striking €5m glass building in the city’s new Muelle Uno harbour development, with permanent and temporary exhibitions including works by Picasso, Ernst, Bacon, Magritte, Attia and Frida Kahlo.


Photo: Malaga´s Muelle Uno harbour development, with the Pompidou Centre Malaga (The Cube) in the distance.


Pablo Picasso, Paris 1936, Museo Picasso Malaga, Donacion de Bernard Ruiz-Picasso (MPM2.138).

Plus, there is now an emerging Street Art scene in Malaga, with giant murals being created (by big names in the urban art scene) on buildings in the once run-down, now up-and-coming Soho district. Read more here.

Photo: Urban Street Art Murals in Soho Malaga, Andrew Forbes (Andalcuian Diary). 

Completing the cultural circuit in Malaga, the long-awaited Malaga Museum is housed in the Palacio de la Aduana (Customs House) on the slopes of Gibralfaro hill. It finally opened in 2015, marking the culmination of a 20-year project to combine the two vast collections - Fine Arts and Archaeology - in one striking new home, bang in the centre of the city and a stone´s throw from the other key cultural attractions in Malaga. 
Everyone´s talking about Malaga...! 
Thanks to all the exciting openings of the past 10 years, Malaga is at long last starting to get the attention it richly deserves and is being touted as one of the Top City Break Destinations in Europe. Check here some of the travel articles featuring Malaga, where the Pompidou Malaga opened back in 2015:
Top 40 Hot Destinations for 2015 – Where to go in 2015 (The Guardian, 03 Jan).
Top 20 Destinations for 2015 (Daily Telegraph, 29 Dec).
Top 10 European City Breaks for 2015  (Sunday Telegraph, 04 Jan).
Top 21 Best Cities to visit in 2015 (Conde Nast Traveller, article in Spanish).
Top 10 Cities for 2015 (Rough Guides).
Photo: Malaga´s Roman Theatre and Alcazaba at night.
Looking beyond the Arts, here are some of our other favourite Things to See & Do in Malaga...
* Moorish Alcazaba & Roman Theatre 
Perched on a ridge above the city, this majestic Moorish fortress (Castillo de Gibralfaro) and palace (Alcazaba) are reminiscent of the Alhambra in Granada. Although less well preserved than the Alhambra, the Alcazaba is still impressive and has some nice patios and gardens to go with the wonderful views over the city and port. Sitting directly below the Alcazaba, next to the vast Cathedral, is the Teatro Romano which makes for a surprisingly impressive view (see above) when you emerge out of the warren of old town streets!
* Beach, Fried Fish & Sundowners
For the city´s best beaches and a laid-back Mediterranean vibe, head out to Malaga Este along the palm-lined Paseo Maritimo. This route makes a really nice walk or cycle ride too (bike rentals in the centre and Muelle Uno), for an afternoon on the beach and scrummy, fried-fish lunch at a chiringuito in Pedregalejo or El Palo. Stop off on the way back at El Balneario Baños del Carmen - not for swim but a sundowner! This old, ruined public baths (established 1918) has more of a feel of Havana´s peeling Malecón than forward-looking Malaga. Since the 1970s, the once-glamorous baths for Malaga´s well-to-do has fallen into disrepair, becoming semi-abandoned ever since. Today, there is an informal terrace bar/restaurant set among the broken columns and crumbling walls, boasting spectacular views across the bay to Malaga´s port. Expect slow (or no) service, but if you´re in no rush and looking for a lazy sundowner, then that shouldn´t bother you! And a bit like Havana, go soon before it changes for ever – plans are in the pipeline for a major restaurant renovation project.  

Photo: sundowners at El Balneario in Malaga
* Tasty Tapas & Local Malaga Wines
Malaga´s foodie scene has also improved dramatically over the past few years, with countless great places to eat out, from tiny street tapas bars to swanky, highly-rated restaurants. It´s a real pleasure wandering the streets of the Old Town, dropping in on a few places to try the tapas. There are now loads of great options, with our favourites being the excellent Uvedoble restaurant near the Teatro Romano, for very tasty, creative modern tapas; and the atmospheric Bodega Antigua Casa de Guardia bar for a glass of sherry/fortified wine on the tree-lined avenue, the Alameda. It´s one of Malaga´s oldest bars and is home to a wonderful selection of local “sherry” wines poured from the rows of oak barrels behind the bar. The (often grumpy) men in white coats pouring them only add to the experience! 

* La Concepción Botanic Gardens

Rated as one of Europe´s finest botanic gardens, La Concepción is a tropical oasis combining formal gardens with lush green forest. Created in the mid-19th century by an aristocratic Anglo-Spanish couple, the gardens fell into decline but have recently been restored to their former glory by the Malaga City Council. There are several walking trails through the forest and a nice café to enjoy a drink or bite to eat. Located close to the A-45 motorway (Junction 140, signed La Concepcion and Embalse Agujero) a few miles out of Malaga, this makes a good stopping-off point if you have a few hours to kill before an evening flight out of Malaga.

Photo: La Concepcion Botanic Gardens, Malaga
So, if you haven´t  been for a few years, or just didn´t fancy it before, then why not include some time in Malaga the next time you head to Andalucia. And for a Spanish City Break with a difference, combine Malaga with a few nights inland at a rural retreat like Casa Olea for a winning combination of city, beach, culture, great food, the worlds-best olive oils, R&R and walks in the countryside.
Photo: the pool terrace at Casa Olea 
* Casa Olea is a 6-bed boutique B&B situated in the beautiful Sierra Subbética mountains close to the historic cliff-top town of Priego de Córdoba, just 90 minutes´drive inland from Malaga and ideally placed for day trips to Córdoba (Mezquita) and Granada (Alhambra). Rated as one of the Top 25 Best B&Bs/Inns in Spain on Tripadvisor from 2010 to 2020. 

Photo: Casa Olea B&B, surrounded by olive groves near Priego de Cordoba.



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