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City breaks with kids: Málaga

The Guardian logo The Guardian 20/03/2019 Jenny Elliott
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I’m bored!

Málaga’s redeveloped Muelle Uno port area is full of distractions: not only is the waterfront promenade dotted with playgrounds and a maritime museum (adult €7, child €5, family 2+2, €20), but a multicoloured glass cube also houses the city’s Centre Pompidou (adult €9, children free, adults free on Sundays after 4pm). Compared with its Parisian cousin, this gallery is on the petite side. Its compact nature suited us well, though, as we managed to look around the permanent exhibition of 20th-century art, including (Málaga-born) Picasso’s Spring, before our two young children could grumble about tired legs. However, it’s the museum’s free-to-enter play area that really makes it popular with families (open weekdays 5pm-7.30pm, closed Tues; weekends and holidays 12.30pm-2pm and 5pm-8pm).

Nearby, art and culture have also been used to rejuvenate the once down-at-heel Soho district. Here, children can wander the alleyways finding colourful murals by renowned street artists, such as D*Face and ROA (a map of locations is available at mausmalaga.com). While in the neighbourhood, consider popping into CAC Málaga, a contemporary art centre that holds bold experimental exhibitions which may appeal to young eyes.

High on a hill overlooking the city’s regeneration is Castillo de Gibralfaro (adult €2.20, child ¢60, under 6s free; admission free for all on Sundays after 2pm) a 14th-century Moorish fortress with excellent city views. Kids can clamber around the ruins, peek from watchtowers and spot the red squirrels that scurry about the grounds. There is a small cafe, as well as a kiosk outside, if ice-creams or drinks are needed. To avoid an uphill walk, take the 35 bus from Paseo del Parque (€1.30, under 3s free), which terminates outside the castle. It is then possible to walk down past the Alcazaba (€3.50), an 11th-century citadel, before arriving at the Roman Theatre. Built in the first century AD, though only rediscovered in 1951, the adjacent concourse is usually home to street performers.

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The Mediterranean climate means rainy days are infrequent, although if you are unlucky the Museo Interactivo de la Música (adult €5, under 6s free) is a good place to wait out a shower. Filled with a beautiful selection of instruments, it was the red “play” zones that proved most popular with my kids. Not only is there the chance to experiment with frequency and wavelength but the piano, guitars, drums and gong allowed them to bash out a raucous tune without fear of censure from museum staff.

Málaga’s centre is compact and its abundance of pedestrianised areas and pretty, palm tree-lined streets make it a good city to see on foot. There is a bus network for a trip down the coast; the flat coastal roads also make a good route for a family bike ride. The city has many companies offering bike tours and hire, including options for children.

Where are all the other kids?

Go to one of the city’s beaches. Playa de la Malagueta is around 10 minutes’ walk from the centre. Although the sands aren’t as golden as at some of the Costa Del Sol’s resort towns, the combination of a playground and chiringuitos (beach shacks serving skewers of grilled sardines) makes this a popular family stop.

For a more laid-back outing, follow the locals’ example and visit one of the beaches further away from the old town. The fishing districts of El Palo and Pedregalejo are full of seafront restaurants and tapas bars, and the sandy coves make them ideal for swimming with young children. Alternatively, to the west of the city, Playa de la Misericordia is easy to spot by the 19th-century chimneys that sit along the promenade, recalling the city’s industrial past. This blue-flag beach features a smattering of playgrounds and snack bars. From here, it is an easy walk to Parque del Oeste, where eclectic diversions await. As well as the playgrounds, giant water fountain and surrealist sculptures, its wildlife ranges from swans and parakeets to an enclosure with wallabies and emus.

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I’m hungry

Kids will delight in the local custom of starting the day with churros and hot chocolate. Sitting at one of the alleyway tables outside Casa Aranda is a good place to indulge. For more old-world charm and sweet treats, take a ticket and join the queue in the cool, tiled interiors of Casa Mira, a counter-service ice-cream parlour with a branch on the central Calle Marqués de Larios. Local flavours, such as orange choc-chip and turrón (Spanish nougat), make excellent choices (from €2 a scoop).

Good, modern cafes are in abundance in Málaga. Recyclo Bike Café is a child-friendly pitstop where you’ll find bicycles suspended from the ceiling, do-it-your-way breakfasts (around €6) and generous portions of cake (€4). Julia Bakery serves good coffee and some of the finest cakes and pastries in the city (€2.50 for a cupcake or cinnamon roll)

To stock up on healthier snacks, visit the Atarazanas food market in the city centre. Stalls selling meat, fish and fruit are housed in a beautiful high-roofed hall, with a large stained-glass window. Once part of a 14th-century shipyard, the market opens Monday to Saturday from 8am to 2pm. Alongside seasonal produce, it’s also possible to buy tubs of Málaga’s famed raisins (€3 for 250g) or order tapas at the market’s bar. Although very young children may struggle with eating at the high tables on the pavement outside, the seafood is excellent value. The smoothies are popular with kids (from €2), the local tinto de vernano (a mix of red wine and soda water, €1.75 a glass) with their parents.

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I’m tired

Iloftmálaga has a range of family apartments from €75 a night – in the old town and by the beach. All have kitchenettes and air conditioning and many have washing machines and dishwashers, and with advanced notice, high chairs and cots can be provided for free. During our February visit, we stayed in a stylish apartment in its Atarazanas building, which was (dangerously) close to cafe Casa Aranda in the centre. Outside winter, I’d be tempted to book one of the apartments with a pool or rooftop jacuzzi.

If you prefer hotels, Petit Palace Plaza Málaga is next to the city’s cathedral and has family rooms that sleep four from €130 a night. The hotel can also provide free cots, high chairs and bike rental. Alternatively, nearby Dulces Dreams Boutique Hostel has a family room with a private bathroom from €72 a night, which is handy for its excellent cafe downstairs.

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