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madrid or malaga

Madrid or Malaga? Choose Between These Spanish Hotspots

Choosing between Madrid and Malaga is no easy decision. These are two cities at the heart of Spanish culture, embodying the raw passion and spirit of the country. They are also vastly different, each offering unique experiences to the other.

Madrid is Spain’s energetic capital full of dazzling lights and bright blue skies (for most of the year). Amongst the world-class museums and rich heritage is a buzzing nightlife and a strong sense of tradition. Madrid is all about spontaneity and going with the rhythm of the city. On the other side, we have Malaga – the capital of the Costa del Sol. With a combination of the sea and culture, Malaga offers a lively atmosphere that is guaranteed to impress.

City or beach? If only the decision was that easy when it comes to choosing between Madrid or Malaga. Comparing the key features that every traveler needs answers to for a vacation to Spain, this guide is here to help you make this tough decision.

Madrid or Malaga: Overall Vibe

A young woman enjoying the sun in Madrid
Photo by twenty20photos from Envato Elements

Both Madrid and Malaga offer a unique Spanish experience with warm and welcoming vibes. As the capital of Spain, you can expect to see historical architecture around every corner in Madrid. The city is full of famous museums and art galleries with traditional tapas and independent shops dotted throughout.

While this metropolitan city is bustling and on the go, it still has an air of being relaxed and no one seems to be in that much of a hurry. Then we have Malaga – the main city of the Costa del Sol, home of Pablo Picasso, and completely cosmopolitan. Malaga also has plenty of world-class art galleries and cultural museums. However, it’s the influence of the ocean that sets this very pretty port town aside from Madrid.

Even though Malaga is extremely popular with tourists, Madrid just has that extra spark of magic to it. If you only had one chance to visit Spain, it would be a shame to miss out on seeing the glorious and historical capital.

Winner: Madrid

Madrid or Malaga: Landscapes

Scenery in Malaga Spain at The King's little pathwa
Photo by amazingmikael from Envato Elements

Malaga is in southern Spain and has the famous coastline that the country is generally known for. The beaches are sandy, the cliffs are rocky, and the ocean is ever so inviting. This stretch of coastline is well developed and popular with beach-loving tourists. There are seven beaches in the Malaga region all offering a slightly different experience.

As you venture more inland you will come into mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and national parks that are home to a diverse range of animals in Spain. Generally, the weather in southern Spain is always sunny. Temperatures rarely go below 8 ºC and the summers are blessed with a refreshing ocean breeze.

Madrid, on the other hand, is stifling in the heights of summer. This city embraces the siesta lifestyle more through need rather than desire. But then, the winters are cold and crisp in comparison to the south. Spain’s capital is one of the highest capitals in Europe as it lies at the heart of the Iberian Peninsula. Again, mountains and national parks surround the city. While day trips to the coast are achievable, don’t count on Madrid if you are wanting a sun-bathing beach vacation.

Winner: Malaga

Madrid or Malaga: Hotels

hotels in spain
Photo by twenty20photos from Envato Elements

Don’t be worried about finding somewhere to stay in either Malaga or Madrid. Both destinations have a staggering amount of hotels and accommodations listed on booking.com alone. With just under 3,000 properties to choose from in each, it’s safe to say there is somewhere suitable for everyone.

From swanky hotels to sociable hostels, Madrid has a whole range of good-quality places to stay. The OK Hostel is located right in the heart of the city and has a shared kitchen onsite to help keep costs down while you’re here. For something more upmarket, check out either the Hard Rock Hotel or Hyatt Centric Gran Via. Both are luxurious Madrid hotels that have decent hotel bars and even offer a gym within the room rates.

Apartments and villas dominate the accommodation front in Malaga. Beachfront and swimming pools are a common feature to most of the places to stay in Malaga. ICON Malabar is a fantastic hotel not far from the beach and with a sustainability focus in mind. For somewhere truly special, check out the Gran Hotel Miramar GL, a luxurious and historical beachfront hotel with spa access and indulgent rooms.

Winner: Malaga

Madrid or Malaga: Travel

Red and white metro sign in central Madrid at night
Photo by Martijn Vonk on Unsplash

When you go on vacation you want everything to go seamlessly, and that includes getting there and around the place. Both Madrid and Malaga are popular destinations for tourists, so the access is fairly straightforward.

Madrid airport is one of the largest in Europe and has a number of international arrivals and departures available. Once you’ve landed, you then need to take a bus, metro, or taxi into the city. This takes anywhere between 20 minutes to 1 hour, depending on which mode of transport you go for. Again, getting around the expansive city involves public transport. On a sunny day, it may be more pleasant to walk between the sites than being packed into a metro carriage in one of the warmest places in Spain.

Malaga airport also has a large number of international routes with a variety of airlines to choose from. The airport is then only 8 km away from the center of Malaga, so a quick bus or taxi ride will get you to your accommodation in no time. Most things in Malaga are within walking distance, like the beach, bars, and restaurants. However, if you do want to explore further afield, renting a car may be a good idea so you can save time with bus stops and so on.

While both Madrid and Malaga are on par when it comes to getting around the place, Madrid simply has more options with it being the capital. If flying isn’t for you, check out the train options available from Paris or Leon.

Winner: Madrid

Madrid or Malaga: Price

euros on table
Photo by Balashmirzabey from Envato Elements

Overall, Spain is not considered an expensive place to visit, but nor is it super cheap like other European destinations. If you are considering moving out to Spain permanently, then you may want to do more research into where are the cheapest places to live in Spain. However, for general vacation purposes, here is a rough estimate on expected costs for your trip:

MadridMalaga
€107Average daily cost€106
€59Accommodation (1 person)€54
€15Local transport€25
€27Food per day€27
€27Entertainment€25
€16Alcohol per day€18

Comparing travel costs between Malaga and Madrid does show that Madrid is more expensive which is expected with it being the capital. However, the two cities are actually relatively comparable with the price difference being somewhat minimal. Therefore, this means that you could travel with the same style and level of luxury in each place with very little difference in cost.

Winner: Both!

Madrid or Malaga: Nightlife

Arena concert with hands in the air
Photo by twenty20photos from Envato Elements

Looking to experience that classic Spanish fiesta and nightlife? Both Madrid and Malaga bring life and soul to the party. As the capital city, Madrid is one of the best places to party in Spain with a range of lively disco bars and a diverse mix of music. Whether you are after techno, hip hop, or the good old ’80s mixtape, you’ll be able to find a suitable dance floor to suit your tastes.

There are several districts around Madrid to head to for great nightlife, all offering something different:

  • Fuencarral – the liveliest part of Madrid at night.
  • Salamanca – a little more elegant and sophisticated.
  • Malasaña – the rock and pop district.
  • Huertas – multicultural and great for meeting people from all round the world.
  • Chueca – known for its gay scene, as well as its techno clubs and designer bars.
  • Gran Via and Sol – celebrity and VIP guest lists.

Now for the contender… Malaga’s nightlife is world-renowned and competes with other European destinations, like Ibiza and Mykonos. From boat parties to the main strip adjacent to Playa de la Malagueta, Malaga truly comes to life when the sun goes down. One of the best things about partying in Malaga is that everything is close together, so you don’t need to take any long taxi rides to get back to your hotel.

Winner: Madrid (although Malaga gives it a run for its money!)

Madrid or Malaga: Things To Do

Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain, in a beautiful sunset a summer day
Photo by twenty20photos from Envato Elements

Of course, there is more to do on vacation than enjoy the nightlife. Some people may want to hit the relax button, find one of the best beaches, and spend their days behind the pages of a book. Others may want to discover the rich history and culture through museums and art galleries. Or perhaps you are a more adventurous type who can’t sit still for long.

If museums and culture are your things, then you are going to want to head to Madrid. The Prado is one of the best and most popular art museums in the world featuring works by El Greco and Rembrandt. Just steps away from this significant attraction is the green heart of Madrid, Retiro Park, perfect for an afternoon stroll through the gardens. You’ve then got places such as the Royal Palace and Real Madrid’s stadium to tick off, with traditional markets lining the streets in between. From Madrid, you can take day trips out of the city heading to places like Barcelona or into the wine country.

Malaga, on the other hand, is for beach lovers and adventure seekers. The sandy beaches on the Costa del Sol offers water sports, sunbathing, swimming, and even whale watching a short drive away. Malaga also has some world-class museums and art galleries, including the Picasso Museum. Road cycling is popular in southern Spain and a great way to see more of the historically significant landmarks of the region.

Winner: Malaga

Madrid or Malaga: The Conclusion

Madrid's most famous door and beautiful gardens
Photo by fabirydel from Envato Elements

Overall, our decision sways towards Madrid as the better place to visit. However, judging by the overall vibe, hotels, prices, and things to do, Madrid and Malaga actually come up even. They are both fantastic places to vacation to and explore in Spain.

In the end, it comes down to what sort of holiday you are looking for. If you want a city break full of culture and flavor, then Madrid is the place to go. But, if you are in need of feeling sand between your toes, a beach vacation to Malaga wins every time.