As holiday locations go, it doesn’t get much better than Malaga. A fabulous year-round climate, stunning beaches and cultural history in spades make it the perfect place to spend your vacation.
Another point in the city’s plus column is its location: it is surrounded by some of the most beautiful and interesting towns Andalucia has to offer. The good news is that many of these are close enough to visit on a day trip from Malaga.
Want more good news? Many of these villages are also small enough that you can double up and visit two in one day, ensuring you get the most out of your day trip and cover as much ground as possible.
We’ve rounded up our the best places to visit near Malaga and provided you with our rundown below. Happy day-tripping!
1. Acebuchal & Frigiliana
Frigiliana is widely recognised as one of the most beautiful white villages – or pueblos blancos – in Andalucia. It even had the title bestowed on it in 2018 by El Pais newspaper – claiming first place in poll entitled “The 40 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Spain”.
Set in the hills with views down to the coast on a clear day, Frigiliana is postcard pretty. Elegant white houses with brightly painted doors line its cobbled streets, which open onto sweeping viewing platforms and immaculately tended public gardens.
There are plenty of restaurants in Frigiliana geared towards making the most of the town’s advantageous positioning. Tackle the steep streets to El Jardin restaurant – perched on a ledge overlooking the valley – and you will be rewarded with views of the glimmering Mediterranean from its flower-filled terrace.
If you’re planning on visiting Frigiliana from Malaga, consider extending your trip to include the neighbouring hamlet of Acebuchal. Situated a 20-minute drive from Frigiliana – the last 10km of which involve a single-track dirt road – this tiny village has a fascinating history.
Known as Village of the Ghosts by locals, Acebuchal sustained considerable damage during the Spanish Civil War. In the summer of 1948, a detachment of Guardia Civil officers descended on the town and forced residents to leave their homes in a storm of bullets.
The town lay abandoned until 1998 when a collection of former Acebuchal residents returned to their shattered village with one clear focus in mind: to rebuild the town brick by brick.
The town’s only restaurant – Bar El Acebuchal – is owned by Antonio “El Rumbo” García Sanchez, one of the instigators of the renovation. The family-run business continues to thrive, serving up dishes of delicious home cooking on a sun-soaked terrace overlooking the forest below.
2. El Torcal & Villanueva de la Concepción
If you fancy including a bit of hiking in your holiday, then there are few places more spectacular than the mountain range of El Torcal, situated a 45-minute drive inland from the city of Malaga.
10 million years ago this collection of limestone rock formations lay submerged beneath Tetis sea, before violent eruptions in the earth’s surface forced the seabed upwards to form the mountains we see today.
The nature reserve surrounding the mountain is now home to a variety of plant and wildlife species, including eagles, wildcats and mountain goats. There is also a range of hiking trails cutting through the national parkland, which are colour coded in terms of difficulty, allowing you to choose just how much you wish to exert yourself!
Clustered at the foot of the mountain is the white village of Villanueva de la Concepción. You don’t get more authentically Spanish than this – the steep streets and peaceful squares of this tiny town could have come straight from the pages of a guidebook. Fortunately, Villanueva de la Concepción’s out-of-the-way location means it remains clear of the tourist track and you’ll find most bars filled with lunching locals.
If you’re seeking refreshment after exploring El Torcal, head straight to El Rincón de la Villa restaurant – set back from the main street running through Villanueva de la Concepción, surrounded by the town’s public gardens. This family-run bar specialises in grilled meats and homemade tapas at pocket-pleasing prices. It also has a front terrace ranged with tables, where you can soak up the rays and sip on an ice-cold beer while you recover from a morning’s hiking.
3. Gaucín & Casares
Situated an hour and a half inland from Malaga, Casares is one of Andalucia’s most picturesque white villages. Its sugar cube houses are piled atop a lush green hillside, with an Arab-Moorish castle clinging to its summit. Eagles can often be spotted cruising in the blue rapids above, their impressive wingspan especially pronounced on a clear day.
With a population of only 3,000, the town itself is small enough to visit in a couple of hours. To avoid navigating the confined streets by car, visitors are advised to leave their vehicle outside the chain of bars and restaurants at the entrance of the town. From here they can make their way down a series of stone steps into Plaza de España and strike out to explore the surrounding streets.
A half-hour drive from Casares – through landscapes of olive groves, cork trees and rolling green fields – is the town of Gaucín. This charming village marks the gateway to the Serrania de Ronda – an area of the province famed for its open countryside and abundant wildlife.
Made up of a collection of white houses lining narrow medieval streets, the town of Gaucín overlooks the deep bowl of the River Genal Valley and stands in the shadow of the looming Sierra de Hecho Mountain.
Its enviable position means Gaucín enjoys some of the best views in the region – both the Rock of Gibraltar and the North African Coastline are clearly visible from the town. Gaucín also attracts a variety of birdlife – including kestrels and eagles – which visitors can learn more about by stopping to study the various informative plaques dotted at intervals throughout the streets.
Gaucín is also home to a thriving international artists’ community. The town is peppered with galleries and craft shops selling unique handmade products for visitors to take away with them.
While visiting Gaucín, be sure to check out the restaurant of boutique hotel La Fructuosa for lunch. Set within a former wine cellar, the dining room still contains some of its original features – such as a stone well and wooden wine press.
In the warmer months, diners can opt to eat al fresco on the charming terrace, with its far-reaching views over the soft green hills. Dishes on offer range from slow-cooked, braised pig cheek in a velvety chocolate sauce, to fresh fish and crunchy grilled vegetables.
4. Tarifa & Tangier
Originally a small fishing village, the town of Tarifa has gradually expanded over the years to become the achingly cool coastal hotspot it is today.
In spite of its fashionable reputation as a mecca for surfers and Instagram influencers, Tarifa has still managed to retain its laid back appeal. Its relatively undeveloped coastline and spaced-out hotels mean it has evaded the tourist cluttered vibe of many other seaside resorts.
Tarifa also appeals to the more active day-tripper. The high winds characteristic of this corner of Andalucia provide the perfect conditions for windsurfing, and there are plenty of coastal walks and cycling routes on offer along its 10km of wild coastline.
The town centre is sprinkled with fashion boutiques, cute cafes and trendy bars – making it the perfect place to while away a morning exploring. For those that fancy straying from the centre for lunch, locally renowned restaurant El Tesoro is well worth traversing an uphill dirt track to visit.
Located a twenty-minute drive from Tarifa town, this tucked-away restaurant boasts incredible views from its spacious terrace and specialises in slow-cooked, flavour-filled dishes made from local produce.
Tarifa’s bustling port area also runs a regular ferry service across to the North African city of Tangier. At only 40 minutes long, the crossing is short enough to make a trip from Malaga to both Tarifa and Tangier entirely possible in one day.
Having shed its shady reputation of old, Tangier is now prospering as a travel destination in its own right – so much so that the recently published ABTA Travel Trends Report earmarked it as one of the places to visit in 2020.
With its ramshackle charm, bustling marketplaces and recently revamped marina there is plenty on offer in Tangier to keep you entertained during your day trip. For more ideas on how to spend twenty-four hours in Tangier, check out our recent blog post here.
5. Antequera & Archidona
Good things often come in small packages in Andalucia, as demonstrated by the diminutive hillside towns of Archidona and Antequera. What they lack in size they more than make up for with local character and fascinating historical sites.
The charming town of Antequera is known as “El Corazon de Andalucia”- the Heart of Andalucia – due to its privileged location slap bang in the middle of the region. And it has more than its geography to recommend it- the town is also home to some of the biggest dolmens in Europe.
These ancient burial chambers – which are believed to be over 5,000 years old- are situated on a hillside on the outskirts of town, in the direction of neighbouring Archidona.
Antequera also houses an imposing 14th Century fortress, The Alcazaba of Antequera, which stands on a hillside high above the town. Visitors can reach it by ascending a flight of steps leading up from the town centre.
The sprawling construction is home to a church and an ancient belltower, which commands panoramic views of the surrounding valley – the site of many battles fought in the fortress’s honour. Visitors can hire an audio guide for a small fee from the front desk and wander the Alcazaba at their leisure while they learn more of its complex history.
Visiting nearby Archidona from Antequera is worth it for the drive alone. Wide, curving roads lead you out of town into the countryside, where the flat landscape is dominated by a looming, rocky outcrop known as La Peña de los Enamorados – or Lover’s Peak.
This lone mountain derives its name from the legend of two star-crossed lovers – one Christian, one Moorish – who flung themselves from its summit after their rival families forbade them to be together.
The scenic route from Antequera culminates in Archidona, once the capital of the Malaga province during Moorish rule. The town is overlooked by the shrine of the Virgin de Gracía- a curious, flower-strewn chapel built over the remains of an ancient mosque and accessible via a narrow, meandering road, gripping the hillside.
Another important landmark in Archidona is the 18th-century octagonal square- Plaza Ochavada- which marks the centre of the town and is home to one of Archidona’s best-loved restaurants.
Arxiduna has a quirky, cave-like interior and serves up delicious dishes of local fayre- such as the mouthwatering seafood rice Arroz Marinero– produced by the talented in house chef, Rúben Antón.