Malaga and Granada are two wonderful Spanish vacation destinations, renowned for their glorious climates, incredible historical sights, and delicious food. But if you can only visit one, which should you choose?
Malaga is no longer just the gateway to the Costa Del Sol, but a vibrant, modern city of culture. It boasts an elegant marina, multitude of museums, contemporary art district, and Michelin-starred restaurants. And that’s without mentioning its beaches or historical charms! But Granada holds some of Spain’s most fascinating history plus one of the country’s most incredible landmarks. It’s a city of blended cultures, of Spanish bars and Moroccan tea shops, flamenco shows and Arabian bazaars.
Well, let’s take a look at what you can expect from each city so that you can make an informed decision of which one, Malaga or Granada, will suit you best!
Malaga Or Granada: City Highlights
Most visitors to Malaga plan to do little other than sunbathe. But there’s plenty more to do in this city than just lie on the beach!
- Explore the Alcazaba. This 11th century fortified palace is the most recognizable landmark of the city and it’s connected to the remains of Gibralfaro Castle, from whose ramparts you can enjoy spectacular views of the city and coast.
- Architecture lovers should visit Malaga’s many churches and cathedral, which showcase a blend of Christian and Islamic influences.
- Visit the ruins of the recently discovered Roman amphitheater.
- Wander the redesigned marina area which is now a stylish hub of shops, bars, eateries, and galleries.
- Soak up some culture at the many museums and galleries. Don’t miss Pablo Picasso’s birthplace and museum and the funky street art project MAUS.
Most visitors to Granada come for the Alhambra, but they might not know quite how many other wonders this Andalusian city has to offer.
- The Alhambra itself contains many more sights than we could possibly list, including several palaces and endless intricate architectural details. Don’t miss the Generalife, the summer palace in beautiful gardens where Moorish rulers went for a tranquil retreat.
- Wander the city’s distinct neighborhoods like the Arabic quarter Albaicín, with its maze of alleys and squares. Or Sacromonte, where whitewashed cave houses are carved into the cliffs, and flamenco music can be heard at all hours.
- Visit the many churches and cathedrals constructed over remnants of mosques and Islamic monuments.
- Get your art fix in one of the city’s many art galleries or by hunting out the gritty street art in Realejo, the Jewish quarter.
- Go shopping at Bib-Rambla square and Alcaiceria market, you won’t know if you’re in Spain or Morocco, but you’ll leave with beautiful souvenirs.
Conclusion: you can get your fill of history, art, architecture, shopping, and culture in either of these cities. But Granada’s UNESCO-listed Alhambra is the biggest highlight of them all.
Malaga Or Granada: Natural Wonders
When you think of the Costa Del Sol, it’s beaches that spring to mind, and Malaga has plenty of those. Whether you’re looking for a vibrant strip lined with cafes and bars, a rugged surf spot, or a quiet cove, one of Malaga’s 16 beaches will be perfect for you. But you can also explore the majestic Montes de Malaga park. This vast expanse of pine forest, mountains, and valleys is a hikers, cyclers, and birdwatcher’s paradise. Nature-lovers should also visit the botanic gardens, where they can wander amidst palm trees, black bamboo groves, and waterfalls.
It’s impossible to visit Granada and not notice the imposing Sierra Nevada mountains. They form an incredible backdrop to the Alahambra and provide a veritable playground for walking, mountain biking, climbing, paragliding, and wildlife watching. And if you visit in winter, you’ll find a ski resort in those mountains too. Within the city, explore the varied gardens of the Alhambra, stroll along the banks of the Darro River or visit the beautiful Carmen de Los Martires Gardens.
For those craving the coast, there are beaches less than one hour from Granada, and while they might not contain the buzz, bars, and crowds of Malaga’s, they are dramatically beautiful thanks to the mountains whose rocky arms stretch right down to the coastline.
Conclusion: if you’re after a beach holiday it has to be Malaga, but for mountainous splendor, you should visit Granada.
Malaga Or Granada: Food
Malaga is known for serving some of the best tapas in Spain. And you’ll find all manner of venues and varieties here, from old-fashioned tavernas serving traditional fare to Michelin starred eateries where fusion is the name of the game. Be sure to try:
- Espetos – skewered fish, most often sardines, cooked over open flames at beachside restaurants.
- Malaga Salad – a unique and refreshing dish made with potatoes, cod, and oranges.
- Paella – can you visit the Costa del Sol and not sample this signature seafood dish?
- Ajoblanco – this cold white soup made with bread, almonds, garlic, and olive oil is a delicious traditional dish.
- Tarta Malaguena – almonds and sweet wine are specialties of the region, and they both feature in this delicious cake, best enjoyed with afternoon coffee.
One of the best ways to spend your time in Granada is by exploring the many tapas bars where the little dishes come free with each round of drinks. You’ll find Granada’s complex cultural heritage at play in the food, which is unlike that found elsewhere in Spain. Look out for:
- Habas con Jamon – A simple, hearty dish of ham and beans sauteed in olive oil, garlic, and onions.
- Tortilla del Sacromonte – this might not appeal to everyone since it’s an omelet made with lamb brains, but it is one of the most traditional dishes of the region.
- Jamon de Trevelez cured ham and Queso Montefiore goat’s cheese – both specialties are made in high-altitude villages above Granada, and sampling them is a must.
- Quisquillas de Motril – tiny shrimps, caught off the Granadan Coast in Motril. Look for them grilled for tapas or cooked in a traditional Spanish shrimp stew.
- Arabic sweets made with puff pastry, pistachios, almonds, and honey and served with fresh Moroccan mint tea. Head to La Calle de Las Teterias – the street of tea houses- to sample these in atmospheric surroundings.
Conclusion: excellent traditional food can be had in either city, but since tapas comes free in Granada while restaurants in Malaga tend to charge by the dish. Granada wins this one!
Malaga Or Granada: Events and Nightlife
There is always something going on in Malaga where the year’s event calendar is filled with celebrations. One of the most spectacular of these is Holy Week, a Roman Catholic festival celebrated in Malaga for the last five centuries. But Malaga also has festivals for food, music, art, and film, and there are not many months go by without a party or two.
If there’s no scheduled festival on, Malaga is home to many theatres, performance spaces, and live music venues, and the vibrant nightlife scene has a global reputation. Head to the atmospheric Old Town, sleek Marina, artistic Soho, or beachfront La Malagueta for the liveliest nightlife. You’re never far from a party in Malaga.
Granada’s events calendar is pretty full too and it’s great for music lovers. This city hosts festivals for tango and jazz and holds classical concerts in the Alhambra’s palaces. And of course, a visit to Granada is not complete without seeing a Flamenco show or two!
And you’ll find Granada has a youthful, vibrant nightlife scene thanks to the large student population. Head to University Square or Calle Pedro Antonio for a night out on a student budget. Or stick around the center near the Cathedral and at Plaza Nueva for the best late-night tapas bars and clubs with a distinctly Spanish flair.
Conclusion: An equally packed events schedule awaits you in either city. But if you want Flamenco, head for Granada, and for beach parties and super clubs, go for Malaga.
Malaga Or Granada: Climate
Andalusia is one of the warmest regions of Spain, and both Malaga and Granada enjoy a glorious climate with hot summers and mild winters, but there are some differences you might want to note.
Summers in Malaga are long, with warm temperatures stretching from April to October. It gets truly hot in June to September when daily high temperatures are in the low to mid 30’s and have been known to reach 40°C. Granada enjoys a similar summer climate, but its inland location can make it feel hotter since there’s no beach to cool off on. Many locals will head into the Sierra Nevada mountains during mid-summer, seeking the cool of altitude.
In the winter, Malaga is one of the warmest cities in Europe, with average daily temperatures a balmy 17°C. In Granada, the winter days are mild but cooler than Malaga, with temperatures sitting between 8°C and 13°C in the day. But the nights can be cold with temperatures at 0°C or below overnight, so frost is expected. It also rains more frequently than on the coast, and snow is not uncommon.
Conclusion: both of these cities offer hot hot summers and Granada might be too hot for some. Malaga is the milder, drier choice for winter.
Malaga Or Granada: Access, Cost and Accommodation
Part of Malaga’s appeal has always been the easy access afforded by its international airport which has regular, cheap flights from all over Europe. But arriving in Granada is a little trickier. Its small airport mainly deals with domestic flights and only a few costly international ones. So you can connect through Madrid or Barcelona, or fly into Malaga and then transfer via train, bus or taxi, which takes between 90 minutes and two hours.
When it comes to budget, the cost of a week’s holiday is very similar in either city, although Granada is a little cheaper. A great thing about both places is that you can choose to spend as little or as much as you like, with bars, restaurants, rooms, and activities running the full spectrum from student prices to high-end rates.
You can also choose from a wide variety of accommodations, from sleek modern highrises to boutique hotels in historic buildings, sprawling resorts to hostel dorms. You can find something to suit all styles and budgets in either city. However, you will have more choice in Malaga, which has triple the amount of accommodation options on booking.com than Granada.
Conclusion: It’s a draw for budget, but Malaga wins for easy arrivals and an abundance of accommodation.
Malaga Or Granada: Conclusion
Hopefully, you’ve noticed that although these two cities have a lot in common, there are several key differences. The most obvious is that coastal Malaga remains the best destination for beach lovers. While inland Granada holds more of a city-break vibe.
We would also recommend Malaga for those who like their cities to have sleek modern areas and anyone with a penchant for Picasso, a love of high-end food, or an urge for wild nightlife. It should also be the choice for anyone wanting an easily accessible winter warmth destination.
We would recommend Granada to history and architecture lovers. Although Malaga too has hilltop fortresses and Christian-Islamic monuments, Granada’s examples are superior, and the Alhambra is simply phenomenal. We’d also suggest it for anyone wanting to experience the Arabic-Andalusian culture or explore the old neighborhoods, flamenco lovers, and foodies who want the best traditional tapas experience. Oh, and anyone who wants to ski in the Sierra Nevada Mountains!