1. Enjoy a flutter at Mariposario de Benalmádena
Get up close and personal with 1,500 specimens of everyone’s favourite little multicolour scraps of life at Mariposario de Benalmádena Butterfly Park. Witness their whole magic life cycle, from caterpillar to chrysalis, in breeding rooms held at 80 per cent humidity amid forested zones teeming with lush orchids, heliconia and bromeliads. There are 150 species of butterfly, all dancing around in the arrestingly spiritual setting of a Thai-style temple that also boasts the largest holy ‘stupa’ in the west. It’s well worth getting into a flap about.
Autovía del Mediterraneo, Benalmádena
General entry €10
2. Walk in the heir on the King’s Path
A century ago, King Alphonso XIII transformed a little-used maintenance track – snaking along the wall of a gorge hundreds of metres high – into a hiking trail that came to be known as El Caminito del Rey, or ’the King’s Path’. Over the following decades this precipitous, Indiana-Jones-esque tourist trap became legendary among thrillseeking international ramblers, despite its increasingly terrible safety record and a startling fatality rate. Never fear. In 2015 local authorities wisely made the decision to upgrade, so now even the meekest, clumsiest oaf can appreciate a ravishing combo of breath-taking high-wire engineering and knockout Andalucian scenery.
3. Get under the hood at the Museum of Cars and Fashion
There really aren’t all that many museums out here where vintage car stans and haute couture obsessives can find common ground. Honestly, we’ve looked. But Málaga's Museum of Cars and Fashion, a bonkers fusion of vintage autos dating from the 1800s and hifalutin hats and frocks from the likes of Chanel, Dior and Galliano, somehow pulls it off. Noteworthy motors include a prototype compressed-air powered concept car, a pink Cadillac (that you can actually hire!) and John Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls Royce. Sexy cars, and bodices – it’s all about that elusive va-va-voom.
15 Avenida de Sor Teresa Prat, Avenida Maria, Málaga
General entry €9.50
4. Storm the Alcazabar
You’ll no doubt know all about Granada’s mighty Alhambra Palace. Well, for arguably just as much finery and grandeur, without quite so onerous a queue, Málaga's mighty 11th-century fortification, erected by the then-dominant Moors, is just the ticket. With verdant, climate-defying gardens, lavish decor and ancient refinement up top, the Alcazabar also sits atop a complex of grim dungeons and is linked along an battlement-lined walk to Gibralfaro castle, highlighting the complex and sometimes brutal history of the place. Either way, the views over Málaga are decidedly Moorish.
2 Calle Alcazabilla, La Coracha, Málaga
General entry €3.50
5. Go deep in the Nerja Caves
For a haunting glimpse back into the deep past, set aside a day to explore the world-famous Nerja Caves. Discovered entirely by accident by a gang of mates innocently looking for bats back in 1959, the underground network is home to the largest known ‘column’ – what happens when a stalactite and stalagmite touch – on earth. Deeper in the cave, closed off to tourists, is the world’s oldest work of art, a 43,000-year-old Neanderthal cave painting. These days they host a lively music festival down there in June – perfect if you dig underground tunes.
Carretera de Bajada a Playa de Maro, Málaga
General entry €12
6. Play up at Tivoli World
For nigh-on half a century now, this cheery homage to Copenhagen’s classic theme park has been delighting all ages with a blend of medium-adrenaline rides and wholesome live family entertainment. Recent additions include the bracing 60-metre free-fall rollercoaster, but for truly authentic vibes check out the live flamenco shows at Tivoli’s famous open air theatre, or just drink in the tropical scenery and utopian design aesthetic throughout.
Avenida de Tivoli, Benalmádena
General entry €7.95, under 12s and over 65s free
7. Be beside the seaside at Torremolinos
Once upon a time a sleepy coastal village renowned locally for its towers (torres) and watermills (molinos – see what they did there?) Torremolinos became the classic go-to cheap English package holiday spot in the 1970s. That questionable reputation is now squarely in the rear-view mirror. Torremolinos’ several kilometres of perfect sandy beaches now welcome smart travellers, a lively gay scene and even the odd Spanish tourist. The nightlife is truly is something to behold – don’t come here if you want peace and quiet. But definitely do come.
8. Check out a chiringuito
This part of the world is famous for its casual beachfront chiringuito joints – basically stripped-back bar and BBQ spots that serve ice cold beer and freshly-caught sardines roasted on cane sticks over an aromatic fire pit. If you’re in Málaga, Vicen-Playa (at 201 Calle Pacífico) is a good safe bet, and has been serving plain hearty fare with lemon, salt and pepper for some 50 years now. El Tintero (at 340 Avenida Salvador Allende) is buzzy and chatty, while Chiringuito Gutiérrez Playa (at 29 Calle Pacífico) has beds on the beach. Pro-tip, avoid going on a Monday, as local fishermen don’t go out on Sundays.
9. Explore your true nature at El Torcal
There’s so much more to the Costa del Sol than, well, the costa. Head inland a bit and discover a 20 square kilometre vertical labyrinth of limestone peaks and hardy vegetation, forming utterly incredible – and incredibly photogenic – karstic formations. It’s rugged, to be sure but there’s well-marked yellow and green pathways if you’re not feeling all that fit or you have sprogs in tow. Look out especially for ‘El Tornillo’ or ‘The Screw’: a mind-bending stacked rock formation that promises to really turn your head.
70 Calle el Torcal de Antequera
10. Take a sideways look at Picasso
Father of Cubism and everybody’s favourite oddball artist Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga in 1881, and the Spanish city has always had a soft spot for its most famous son. His eponymous museum (at 8 Calle San Agustín) is a great place to brush up on his legacy. There are some 155 pieces donated by his own family after his death, plus private knick-knacks and photos that offer a window into the fascinating, often scandalous, private life of the ultimate 20th-century artistic icon. A short hop away is his old house, now a museum (at 15 Plaza de la Merced) and the Cathedral of Málaga where he was baptised (9 Calle Molina Lario).