Looking to start planning your next adventure? We have a new reason for you to travel to Málaga, Spain in 2023.
To mark the 50th anniversary of his death, a major international celebration is kicking off around the globe this year in honor of the great 20th-century Spanish artist Pablo Picasso.
And it’s no surprise that Picasso’s sunny Andalucian hometown of Málaga is stepping into the 2023 spotlight. Throw in a wave of creative hotel arrivals, a fired-up regional food scene and a new direct flight link with New York (launching in May with United), and this Mediterranean-side city feels unstoppable.
The young Picasso spent the first 10 years of his life in Málaga, before moving to A Coruña in Galicia in 1891. He returned for several summer visits throughout the 1890s, during which he painted his famous Portrait of Aunt Pepa (now on view at Barcelona’s Museu Picasso). But it all started in a grand 19th-century townhouse overlooking the Plaza de Merced on the edge of Málaga’s tangled casco antiguo (old town), where Picasso was born on October 25, 1881. Now converted into the Museo Casa Natal Picasso, it is hosting (from June to October) The Ages of Pablo, a fresh exhibition charting the stages and styles of the master’s lifelong career. Yet any time is good to explore the permanent collection here: highlights include over 80 sketches for his landmark 1907 painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (which now hangs in New York’s MoMA).
A few streets away, the pioneering Museo Picasso Málaga is celebrating a major anniversary, too, throughout 2023: its 20th. Housed in the meticulously revamped 16th-century Palacio de Buenavista, this institution played a major role in kick-starting Málaga’s current renaissance back in 2003, with a raft of unmissable works ranging from Portrait of Lola (Picasso’s sister, painted in A Coruña in 1894) to Jacqueline Seated (an early portrait of his second wife, Jacqueline Roque Hutin, from 1954). Alongside constantly refreshed selections from the permanent collection of some 400 works, from May to September 2023 visitors can delve into Picasso’s groundbreaking use of the human shape (in every kind of medium and material) with the new Picasso: Matter and Body exhibition. And from October to 2023 through March 2024, The Echo of Picasso will shine a light on the artist’s unparalleled influence on 20th- and 21st-century art around the world.
Elsewhere in the historic center, you can follow in Picasso’s footsteps with a visit to the restored Iglesia de Santiago. Founded in the late 15th century, this is Málaga’s original church, where Picasso’s parents were married in 1880, and where he was baptized the following year. Next, take in other curious corners such as the 16th-century Ateneo de Málaga, originally the Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Telmo, a fine-arts school where Picasso’s father José Ruiz Blasco once taught – with his son often tagging along.
For a taste of modern-day Málaga’s thriving art world beyond Picasso, don’t miss the lively street-art scene in Soho (known as the MAUS project) and standout galleries such as the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC), the Museo Carmen Thyssen (devoted mostly to 19th-century Spanish art), the waterfront branch of Paris’s Centre Pompidou and the Museo de Málaga (with several 19th-century Andalucian jewels). A great way to dive into it all is on an expert-guided tour with Toma & Coe, whose “Art In Málaga” route combines Picasso and the history-rich old town with a taste of Málaga’s outstanding gastronomy.
Where to eat and drink in Málaga
Málaga’s historic center is crammed with wonderful places to stop for a bite, from down-to-earth tapas bars and time-worn cafes churning out fresh churros to creatively reimagined Andalucian kitchens. Understated Kaleja bagged a Michelin star in 2022 for its market-fired, Málaga-rooted tasting menus courtesy of superstar chef Dani Carnero, who also runs more casual La Cosmo and La Cosmopolita. Behind the cathedral, try hidden-away Siloé Bar & Kitchen for Málaga wines and slices of home-cooked tortilla (potato omelet) served beneath a hand-painted floor-to-ceiling mural by artist Laucky.
Or bag a table out on the terrace at Taberna Uvedoble opposite the Moorish Alcazaba, where creative tapas and raciones fueled by local flavors (toasted squid-ink noodles, truffled tortilla) are paired with Sierras de Málaga wines. And it’s impossible to miss locally loved neighbor Bodegas El Pimpi, a maze-like, always busy tapas bar overlooking the 1st-century Roman theater. Cafe-dotted Plaza de la Merced is another go-to meeting spot; long-running Cañadú here is popular for its vegetarian menú del día (set menu).
Though Picasso left Málaga when he was just 10 years old, on later visits he is known to have enjoyed a drink at the barrel-filled Antigua Casa de Guardia, the city’s oldest tavern: founded in 1840, it still specializes in local wines. Built nearby in the 1870s, the elegant neo-Mudéjar Mercado Central de Atarazanas has a few buzzy cafes and tapas bars, counters overflowing with fresh produce and a dazzling stained-glass window showing off local landmarks. Get your caffeine in at innovative third-wave spots such as Mia Coffee Shop, El Último Mono, Santa Coffee and Next Level.
Where to stay in Málaga
With its creative vibe, mural-washed streets and fresh-faced boutique hotels, the revitalized Soho area near the port makes an ideal base for exploring Málaga’s arty corners. It’s also home to the lively Teatro del Soho, led by another beloved malagueño star, Antonio Banderas, and decorated with a Picasso-inspired mural by local artist José Luis Puche. The stylish Only YOU Hotel Málaga on the edge of Soho has breezy, Mediterranean-inflected rooms and a sparkling rooftop pool, while the chicly bold Room Mate Valeria hosts one of the city’s most popular roof-terrace cocktail bars.
Over near the Mercado Central de Atarazanas, the boutiquey H10 Croma has become an instant hit for its Málaga-vibe interiors by respected designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán. Or go for the luxe Palacio Solecio, a pair of reimagined 18th-century mansions that celebrates Andalucian crafts in the thick of the old town, opposite the church where Picasso was baptized. Its fabulous modern-Andalucian restaurant Balausta is led by celebrated local chef José Carlos García.