Malaga and Gibraltar were perfect for a long SUNNY birthday weekend and was just what we needed after the winter dark dreariness in the UK!
We were desperate to get out of the UK and find some sunshine for Jon's birthday... but it was proving to be pretty tricky as Covid testing requirements were still alive and well all over Europe. Thankfully- you don't need to know any of that anymore, so I am going to skip past all the logistics we needed to do. Yay!
We flew into Gibraltar and started there. Timing wise with flights and hotels- we ended up staying until the evening, and then made our way over to Malaga. We originally wanted to spend the night in Gibraltar- but this ended up working well. Gibraltar is actually owned by the United Kingdom so English is spoken and the pound is used. It's such an interesting place! Also- the flight in is incredible. The Rock of Gibraltar is so HUGE and you get to fly around it as you land. Make sure you sit by the window!
Our main idea in Gibraltar was to get up to the rock, tour around the rock, see the monkeys, and then travel to Malaga. This proved to be a little more difficult thatn we expected. We bought cable car tickets for the Rock, which included transporation from the airport to the cable car. The cable car ended up being closed the day we came, due to high winds, so the tranportation also wasn't running. BUT we didn't know any of this and were just waiting... and waiting... and waiting. Finally we decided to take a public bus into town.
Travel Tip- I would recommend NOT buying cable car tickets
until the day of. They close it often due to weather.
I would also recommend taking the bus from the airport into town.
Feeling bummed about the cable car- we honestly didn't know how we would get up to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar. There are stairs that go up, but most people don't recommend that... and we had four small children in tow. Feeling defeated we ended up finding a restaurant to eat and rethinking our plan. We found a tour booth in the main square and they would drive us around the Rock of Gibraltar for a few hours. THIS WAS THE WAY TO GO. Rock of Gibraltar ended up being so narrow and mountainous that I can't imagine us walking around to see everything.
First stop- the lookout towards Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar. Also- where we saw our first monkeys! At this location you can see three countries... Morocco, Spain and Gibraltar. Wild!
According to Greek mythology, Hercules was supposed to cross Mount Atlas to rob the herd of cattle from the giant Geryon. But with his superhuman strength he smashed through the middle of the mountain and thus created the Strait of Gibraltar.
Second stop- St. Michael's cave. We love ourselves a good cave system. Makes you feel small when you know there is so much life teeming underground. St Michael’s Cave was long believed to be bottomless. This probably gave birth to the story that the Rock of Gibraltar was linked to the Africa by a subterranean passage under the Strait of Gibraltar. The famous macaque monkeys were said to have come to Gibraltar through this subterranean passage. Love all the legends surrounding this place.
Third stop(s)- Several lookout points along the way. These were a tiny bit frightening as there are monkeys everywhere and the heights are immense! Make sure you keep your food away from the monkeys or they will rip it out of your hand. Can be quite traumatic for those little people. They SAY you're not supposed to feed the monkeys... but we saw a lot of people feeding them.
Fourth stop- World War 2 Tunnels. These were INCREDIBLE and also kind of dark and spooky because they're deserted now. The World War II Tunnels were built by the Royal Engineers in preparation of war during the 1940’s when Britain was at war with Germany and Italy, as the future looked bleak for Gibraltar as the enemy surrounded it and an attack was highly probable.
Winston Churchill and the British military leaders believed that an attack on Gibraltar was imminent therefore the answer was to construct a massive network of tunnels, to build a fortress inside a fortress, a city within a city.
Fifth stop- On our way back down the Rock of Gibraltar, we stopped off at the Tower of Homage. Tower of Homage, a 14th century Moorish tower on Gibraltar, the only defensive construction made by the Marinid dynasty in the Iberian Peninsula. There wasn't a ton of information about the tower- but it was fun to wander around and explore the view from the top.
Lastly- don't forget to wander the streets of Gibraltar.
Planning Tip- You can stay the night in Gibraltar OR Spain.
If you do want to go into Spain, you have to go through passport control.
We walked through and had no problems crossing the border.
Once across the border, you can take public or private transport to Malaga.
We rented the most amazing place in Malaga. We were traveling with another family so this was one of the only options I could find for us... but it was amazing. The owner was incredibly kind and accommodating and the view couldn't be beat!
There are so many kid-friendly things to do in Malaga. We felt like Spain was just very accepting of kids and loud noises. There were a lot of green space for us to take rests, lots of playgrounds, and just felt generally accepted by the people. It made the whole experience very low stress.
The first thing we did in Malaga was walk up the hill to the Gibralfaro Castle. Once considered the most impregnable fortress in Spain, it has incredible sweeping views of the city and water. This is literally a kids paradise to explore and get lost. Our kiddos were everywhere.
One of the exits from Gibralfaro leads into downtown Malaga where you'll find an old Roman amphitheater, a lovely town square, lots of music and liveliness, and a bunch of restaurants. We opted for El Pimpi because rumor has it that Antonio Banderas lives close by and frequents this place! And he had in fact signed one of the wine barrels. We had a great lunch here but it was kind of on the more expensive end for tapas.
Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga so there is a lot of things to do related to him. Our daughter just learned about Picasso in school and so she was excited to go into the Picasso Museum. It was full of his lesser known artwork: sketches, drawings, musings, etc all housed in a beautiful building.
If you're going to Malaga in February or March, make sure you check their Carnivale schedule! We didn't know it would be happening this weekend, but were so pleased to find a music stage with Carnival activities happening AND a parade. It was kids day for Carnival so there were kid friendly entertainers and face paint artists around town. This small surprise made our trip so special.
Maybe you don't think of gelato when you go to Spain but you MUST check out this gelato shop- Casa Mira. It was AMAZING and had a long queue to boot. If there is a queue than it must be worth it right?
One of our favorite stops of the whole time was the Interactive Music Museum. There were rooms upon rooms of instruments that you can play and try! We loved it. Jon busted out a song on the cello and I didn't even know that he knew how to play. Full of secrets, that guy. This is a GREAT stop for kids.
Would it even be a European trip if we didn't stop by one of the local churches? The Cathedral of Malaga was incredible from top to bottom. Very grand. Very beautiful.
Make sure to take a walk along the Parque de Malaga for playgrounds, people watching, and entertainment. While down here we say giant bubble blowers and a tango performance- so lively! We walked down this way to get down to the port area for our boat cruise. We find ourselves on boat tours a lot... because they are fun for the kiddo. This one was especially fun with the netting in the front that they thought was a trampoline.
Our last day in Malaga we stopped by the Museum of the Imagination and had a really fun time. We were hoping it would take the whole morning but actually only took us a couple hours. It was a little expensive for the time it took us, but the kids loved it. There were so many cool experiments to try and fun photos to take.
We also stopped by the Farmers Market on our way out. They had the most amazing juices and smoothies- but they also had a lot of smelly fresh fish. Just a warning in case any of your party has a sensitive nose, they may not like it!
Last but not least- don't forget to hit up Malaga's beaches! Malagueta was right across from our Airbnb and it's length is very long. It was a little too cold for us to swim, but had a lovely time playing in the waves and sand. There were many playgrounds along the beach front as well.
And that is a wrap! I hope that gives you a bunch of ideas for your family friendly days in Malaga. We loved Southern Spain so much and found it to be an accepting place for families.