Visiting Malaga: Just Another Brit Abroad?

Malaga Cathedral - what to do in Malaga

Malaga. Uurgh. I let out a soft sigh.

I was planning to spend a month in Andalucia and the cheapest flight into the region would land me in Malaga. Brits Abroad Central.

Brits Abroad: The (embarrassingly accurate) stereotype

Brits Abroad - what to do in Malaga

It’s fair to say that I’m not a fan of my countrymen and women who meet the sadly stereotypical but embarrassingly accurate set of characteristics that mark them out as Brits Abroad.

I wouldn’t deny anybody the luxury of a 2-week break defined by sun and fun but why do some people feel the need to pack their culture with them?

The sunburned skin, I can overlook. As a nation we have a complete inability to apply sunscreen in any way other than patchy. But demanding a steady flow of Sky Sports? Roast beef on Sundays, despite the 30 degree heat? Shouting s-l-o-w-l-y and l-o-u-d-l-y at the locals instead of learning the basics words: please, thanks you and can I have ketchup with that? The greatest foray into foreign being Happy Hour sangria?

In an ideal world, Brits Abroad wouldn’t have to go abroad at all. They would be able to benefit from the Spanish sun in their own back yard, but failing that, they seem set on covertly colonising the parts of Spain that they like to frequent, turning tapas bars into fish and chip shops and demanding fry-ups all the way.

The adventure level is low, too. Leave the hotel – why? Skip the all-inclusive buffet for some local food – that foreign muck, no thanks. See the sights – what, where…why bother?

I know these people. I’ve been on more than one package holiday with them. In short, they drive me wild with frustration.

Exploration. Adventures. Culture. New food. Different people. It’s the heart of why I travel, and I’m confident none of these things can be found around the pool sipping beer and chomping on chips with a hundred other Brits.

Yet, this is what so many British trips to Malaga entail. In 2013, Andalucia saw nearly 8 million international tourists and although that will comprise visitors from all over the world, nearly 40% of that number arrived in the region for the sun compared to just 17% to explore the culture. With those numbers in mind, Malaga, known mostly in Britain for its beaches, promised travel hell. But, it was fine. I’d fly in. And get the hell out.

Except, it turned out I was the one who had my stereotypes all wrong.

Malaga: Two sides to every trip

Malaga Cathedral - what to do in Malaga
There is a Brits Abroad side to Malaga but the non-touristy sights are way more stunning

I was due to arrive after dark, so for convenience sake I needed to spend at least one night in Malaga. My assumptions, based on years of seeing cheap package holidays advertised in travel agent windows, told me I’d be looking for a beach-side hotel run by an ex-pat who was bound to be closely related to Basil Fawlty. My research, however, told me something different.

Yes, there was a large stretch of Costa del Sol that had been seized by the Brits Abroad, but there was an entirely separate side. An older core of the city that was filled with history, a magnificent cathedral, age-old Moorish fortress, home of Picasso and more tapas bars than there were days of the year. This was Malaga? Why had I not heard of this alternative version before?

Ashamed by my assumptions, I booked a three night stay in the old city with one purpose in mind – to discover the other side to Malaga. By the time I left, I knew only one thing – Malaga and I were not done. There was too much to see, and so, for the last 5 days of my trip, I returned to the city to complete my exploration. Out of all of Andalucia (that I saw), I expected to love Sevilla, I presumed I would be wowed by Granada – and I was, but Malaga was my surprise find – the place that captivated me enough to pull me back; the place that was the highlight of my month in Spain; the place that wants me to implore every Brit Abroad to explore further and see more in the Costa del Sol; to see Malaga because I’m prepared to give a tapas-back guarantee you won’t regret it.

Not sure what to do in Malaga? Here’s my list of 30 Best Things To Do In Malaga – written just after returning from my 3rd return visit.

And here’s my guide to what to eat in Malaga (not just tapas), which I wrote after my 4th visit.

Malaga sunrise - what to do in Malaga

Malaga was a complete surprise during my time in Spain. I did, as promised, fly in. What I failed to do was “get the hell out” and I’m all the happier for it. Some places have the power to captivate me in a way that I know I will be promoting them for years to come. As the sun rose blindingly on my final day in the city, I knew that Malaga, for me, is once of those places.

UPDATE 2019: I’ve revisited the city a few times since and have pulled together a sightseeing and a food guide here:

30 Best Things To Do in Malaga

Where to Eat in Malaga – Tapas and More

Have you ever visited Malaga – were you surprised by the city? Are you a Brit Abroad? What do you think about exploring a different side to Malaga?

19 thoughts on “Visiting Malaga: Just Another Brit Abroad?”

  1. I have lived near Fuengirola for three years and I can assure you that all the worst aspects of Brits abroad exists among the permanent ex pat community. Benefit cheats (of Uk and the Spanish system) abound. Drunks of both sexes with enormous chips on their shoulders. Pretendee trades people who wouldnt know quality or honesty if it was tattooed on their forheads.
    Complainers about immigrant ghettos in the UK who live in british communities where only northern English is spoken. Others who wanted to get away from the coloured immigrants in the UK who then spend the majority lying in the sun trying to darken their own skin. Then there are the Sunday roast diners……..What the average working class Brit abroad want is Blackpool in the sun.
    Barrack room lawyers are ten a penny and that sums up their value to Spain.

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  2. I visited Malaga for the first time about 10 years ago. Despite not recalling any preconceptions, I recall that It exceeded my expectations. I have returned frequently ever since, and now have a house in Álora where I intend to retire at the end of the year.

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  3. I know this is a really old post, but I just had the exact same experience with Malaga. I expected it to be a Brit filled hell, but found it to be a bustling, pretty city with quite a lot to see. I wouldn’t say I was completely enthralled by it, but I enjoyed it and would happily visit again.

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    • Hi Alex, Malaga has warmed on me so much I’m considering moving there! I’d definitely recommend a return visit and digging a bit deeper. I’ve just written some more detailed posts about it here.

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  4. Hi Jo, I think fear is the right word. I remember, in 1967, Sandra and I telling my parents that we would be spending most of that year in Italy for my work. My mother’s only comment:- “My God, what will you EAT?”
    Gary

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    • Amazing! Ha ha…this actually made me laugh out loud. I guess it was 1967 and Italy hadn’t invented food yet…at least not in the mind of the Brits. I presume you spent the entire time in Italy shunning the local food and longing for the grey rubbery roast beef and soggy veg being served up back home? How did you ever survive? ;p

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  5. Hi Jo, have really enjoyed the Instagram feed from Spain – have become a bit OCD with Instagram myself. As an Australian, I often feel a bit of a cringe when encountering the less evolved examples overseas -(Thailand and Bali are our version of Spain) . I wonder if it is something we all encounter when faced with a solid mass of our own compatriots overseas. I know I will often actively avoid our countrymen, but maybe that’s just me. Yikes, may have to save me from the haters lol.

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    • Hi Rosa, glad to see an instagram follower over here! It’s a rather addictive little app isn’t it. It’s been months since I’ve been able to indulge in British crumpets and tea yet I found myself arranging my breakfast for a good while for the best instagram angle before tucking in. Sad, sad times πŸ™‚ And as for your Oz equivalents of Brits abroad, I have had the pleasure in Bali…Kuta, usually donning a Bintang vest (or “wife-beater” as I was so charmingly corrected). Strange through, I was more accepting of your Oz characters abroad than I was of my own countrymen – guess you’re right, it’s your fellow compatriots we want to avoid. Others’ just intrigue. And don’t worry…there will always be haters. Just go over to my posts on Bullfighting or Sex Tourism in the Gambia to see it in full swing!

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  6. It’s such a shame this part of Spain has this reputation…admittedly, however, there are other parts of the country where Germans make up most of the tourists and can be just as bad. On a visit to Mallorca a couple of years ago, my partner heard way more German than English and possibly even than Spanish being spoken in some parts! (Not that I don’t like Germans – I’m planning to move to Berlin – it’s just that it’s not only British tourists who can be like this).

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    • Sam, you’re right – it is such a shame and I agree that it’s not a behaviour exclusive to the Brits. Gary in his comment hits the nail on the head – these are people who would much rather “holiday” in their own country but have to travel for the nicer weather and so take all of their at home requirements with them. I really would love to run a tour for this kind of traveller just to point out the beauty that lies beyond a Sunday Roast by the beach! Hope you manage to make things work for living in Berlin. Love that city!!

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  7. Hi Jo, I get tired of reading, in The Daily Telegraph travel section, that Spain is Britain’s favorite destination abroad. They never mention that most Brits don’t go there because it’s Spain but because you get British food, drink, TV and culture, but without the grey, wet weather and high prices.

    On Tenerife, Sandra and I were accosted by a restaurant owner ( a Brit) trying to persuade us to try his traditional British Sunday roast. I told him in no uncertain terms, and not very politely, that I had not flown 4 hours to eat what I can get by walking 5 minutes to my local pub.

    Gary

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    • Ha ha ha, wish I’d been there to see that restaurant owner’s face after that conversation. You’re absolutely right, I’m confident that given the option, these “travellers/tourists” would stay at home if someone could magically just guarantee the presence of the sun for one or two weeks…and a pitcher of Sangria, which is not even a typical Spanish drink. I read an article last year that asked package holiday Brit tourists to pinpoint their holiday destination on a map and the figures were shocking – this will terrify you if you can force yourself to read it: . I don’t claim to know every location intimately, but if I don’t know before I book/fly, I bl**dy-well find out. Two rule: you can’t locate it or pronounce it, you can’t go πŸ™‚

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  8. I completely understand your frustrations with the typical British attitude to travelling! Glad to hear about another side to Malaga though, had always been put off by the side of it you typically hear about, but you’ve inspired me to give it a go one day πŸ™‚

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    • Catherine, I was exactly the same. I thought I’d go to Spain and write most about Granada and Sevilla, but Malaga was the place that really pulled me in. Surprising or what?! I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit!

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  9. Wow – I am shocked. Like you I have the same stereotypical view of Malaga (which by the way literally means “wanker” in Greek if you put the stress on the second “a”!) and when we did a road trip in Andalucia, flew in and left it/avoided it like the plague, not taking the time to at least have a wonder around the place.

    Hangs head in shame…!

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    • Ha ha ha, did not know that about the meaning of Malaga – is that true or are you pulling my travel legs? πŸ™‚ I wouldn’t feel too bad about flying in and out – I almost did the same. Were it not for my inflexible refusal to get out of bed for early flights and the fact I landed late, I’d have never realised there was a different side to Malaga. It was only when I was looking for a room that I saw mention of all the nearby sights and got interested. Perhaps one you can make good on with a return trip?

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