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Málaga Or Cádiz: Comparing Them For A Short Stay

Málaga and Cádiz are two very different cities of the beautiful region of Andalucia in Spain. If you have time during your trip, both are definitely worth a visit. However, if you’re time-constrained and can only visit one or the other, you’re facing a tough choice!

Both cities have are very ancient old towns with lots of history. Málaga is a lot larger with half a million inhabitants vs only around 120.000 people for Cádiz. Málaga is a busy city with many famous museums and monuments, a bustling nightlife, and somewhat of a big city feel. Cádiz is more mellow and has a very authentic, more traditional Andalucian charm.

Both cities are relatively preserved from mass tourism. Málaga is more modern with more foreigners living in and around it, while Cádiz is more Spanish. The Cádiz area has stunning beaches and incredible natural parks. Málaga is an ideal basecamp for visiting the highly touristy resorts of Costa del Sol, but also the fascinating historical cities of Cordoba and Granada.

Let’s dig into which of Málaga and Cádiz is the best city for you to visit on your short trip.

Note: this article was published by mistake here on my longboarding website. I know it doesn’t belong here, but I am reluctant to move the post since it’s being easily found by visitors looking for info on Málaga vs Cádiz. If you’ve reached this post coming from one of my longboarding posts, please forgive this unexpected content! My travel site should be up again soon.

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Access & transportation

If you come in from Seville, getting to either Cádiz or Málaga is easy by train. Cádiz is much closer to Seville while Málaga is a 2-4 hours train ride depending on connections. If on the other hand, you fly into the Málaga airport, a quick bus or taxi ride will take you to the center of Málaga in a few minutes. Getting to Cádiz from Málaga, however, is more of a journey as you’ll need to take a bus via the Costa del Sol towns and Algeciras.

Getting around Cádiz is easy. You can pretty much walk everywhere within the old town. You can also grab a bus that circles around the peninsula and across the modern city – which stretches along a narrow strip of land between the bay and the ocean. Málaga also has very good public bus transportation. Both cities are a nightmare to drive in due to crowded one-way streets and scarce parking space.

Vibe & people

Both Málaga and Cádiz have pleasant and lively old towns with mostly pedestrian streets. Both also have a newer modern city area that’s somewhat over-developed. Málaga has dense and high buildings everywhere but around the seafront and large roadways and highways that run around the urban nucleus. Looking at the city of Málaga from the areas above it, you see somewhat of a concrete jungle.

The Cádiz modern city is on a smaller scale but also lined with tall not-so-pretty buildings including along the ocean. Most Cádiz visitors typically stay in and around the old town, except for accessing the great sandy beaches that extend in the old town.

The residents of Málaga (the Malagueños) are very modern, open-minded people. A lot of young people live there as many attend the large University of Málaga. The inhabitants of Cádiz (the Gaditanos) are also renowned for being very friendly and welcoming, although they’re somewhat more traditional and family-oriented in the Andalucian sense.

The Gaditanos have more of a small-town mentality and are perhaps less accustomed to seeing foreign visitors than the Malagueños, but that doesn’t make them any less welcoming and friendly to foreigners.

Sights & culture

Both Cádiz and Málaga have very rich historical pasts extending 2000-3000 years back. Both have monuments from the Roman era, the Moorish and post-Moorish era, and the Conquistador era. Both have impressive Cathedrals with multi-era layers. The monuments in both cities are relatively close to each other, most of them in the old town, though in Málaga some monuments like the Gibralfaro are a bit outside.

Cádiz has a very unique and colorful festival in February each year with large costumed parades and musical shows that attract a lot of visitors, mainly from Spain but also from Europe. It also has a number of Spanish religious holidays with large street processions, mainly in the old town. Málaga also has its own feria as well as many cultural events which attract both Spanish and international visitors.

Generally speaking, Málaga has a broader and more lively cultural life, being a larger city. For example, it has 23 museums such as the Glass and Crystal Museum, the Carmen Thyssen Museum, the Automobile Museum, two Picasso Museums, the Collection of the Russian Museum, the Centre Pompidou Malaga, and the Museo de Malaga, the largest in Andalucia and the 5th largest in Spain.

These are 2 nice tours you can hop on, one is a cool segway tour around Málaga, the other is a guided visit of the great Picasso museum:

Cádiz’s old town, on the other hand, has an impressive Cathedral, beautiful fortifications that stick out to the ocean, attractive 17th and 18th-century buildings people actually live in, and a bunch of smaller cultural venues and museums.

You can check out this valuable guided visit of three of Cádiz’s most important historical sights in the Old town, the Cathedral, The Roman Theatre, and the Tavira Tower:

Nature & Outdoors

Cádiz and its area no doubt have the best beaches in Andalucia with miles and miles of wide, white-sanded coast along the Atlantic ocean. The urban beaches in Cádiz are just phenomenal, and you can walk, bike, or skate all the way from the old town to the end of the modern city along the beach. The old town itself also has a small beach, called La Caleta, with a lot of history.

Check out this cool activity with biking and surf initiation around the breadthtaking Cádiz natural settings:

Málaga also has beaches albeit of the Mediterranean type. The urban beaches of Málaga are narrower with gray-colored sand, and being close to the port and larger roadways, they are not always so clean. You can find nicer beaches East of the city (Los Palos, Victoria etc) and a spacious boardwalk and relatively wide sandy beach in the Southern town of Fuengirola.

The Cádiz area has other breathtaking coastal nature attractions, including ample beaches, parks, and protected natural areas such as the world-famous Doñana national park. The Málaga area has many hiking and bike trails, and marinas for boating and watersports for tourists.

To recap: if you’re into endless white-sand beaches and raw wilderness, Cádiz and its surroundings are a fantastic choice. If you’re looking for more touristy outdoor activities such as boating or mountain hiking, Málaga has tons of it.

Food & nightlife

Málaga has a very lively restaurant, tapas, and bar/pub scene year-round, a large part of it located in the old town and the monumental area, but also along the seafront e.g. the Eastern areas of Pedregalejo and El Palo. You can find great seafood there, including in the chiringuitos on the sand.

There are also some nice rooftop bars with views to the Cathedral and the old town where you have a drink and chill out. The historic bar and restaurant El Pimpi across from the Roman Theater is really worth a visit.

Check out this tour for a cool guided tapas tasting night in Málaga’s old town:

Cádiz has a quieter nightlife although it does get more lively around the summer season. It has many small local pubs and restaurants in the old town, and some cool places to eat tapas and have a drink along the huge ocean beach front in the modern city. Most places have a very Spanish feel and the tapas are good and affordable. Great places include Arte Serrano for tapas and Spanish cuisine, Las Flores for seafood and fried fish, El Pelicano for a drink and live music, Royalty Cafe for historical tea sessions, and El Faro for some of the best gastronomic seafood in Cádiz.

The Cádiz, Jeréz, and Sevilla triangle is the historical birthplace of the Spanish Flamenco culture. In Cádiz, you can find some of the most authentic flamenco peñas and tablaos (clubs and taverns). If Flamenco fascinates you, Cádiz is also one of the best places to learn it. Check out these classes:

To recap: Málaga probably has more options to choose from for dining, pubs, and discotheques. Cádiz has a smaller but decent selection of places for going out (including a discotheque district near the port during holidays) although with a much more local and less touristy feel.

Weather

The weather in Mediterranean in Málaga and oceanic in Cádiz. Málaga gets hotter in the summer and colder in the winter. It also gets more rain than Cádiz, although Cádiz has more humidity year-round due to the Atlantic Ocean. Cádiz is also cooler in the summer due to the ocean breeze.

Speaking of breeze, strong Levante (Eastern) and Poniente (Western) winds are very common in Cádiz (though not as strong as around Tarifa). They are refreshing in the Summer but chilly in the winter. The wind is usually less noticeable in Málaga even though it’s still present. Days of strong wind sometimes result in rough seas both on the Ocean and Mediterranean sides.

To recap: Málaga is warmer in the summer and colder in the winter, and has more rain. Cádiz has more moderate temperatures year-round but is windier.

Shopping

Málaga has quite a few larger shopping centers right in and around the center, including the Muelle Uno mall on the waterfront, the Larios Centro mall, the Corte Ingles, and the Malaga Plaza. An impressive number of shopping malls for such a relatively small city area! That reflects the large number of visitors who go through Málaga year-round, namely by plane or train. There’s also a large number of stores in the pedestrian streets of the Larios area, including the usual names (Zara, Bershka, Massimo Duti etc.)

Cádiz has a smaller selection of shopping outlets, though you can also find some of the most popular fashion stores in the old town, and to a lesser extent, on the main avenue of the modern town. It has a Corte Ingles mall on the bay side. You can also easily drive or take a bus to the nearby city of San Fernando around the bay to access the larger Bahia Sur mall. There are other malls further out in Puerto de Santa Maria and Jerez areas.

To recap: Málaga has an extensive shopping offering concentrated in the center. Cádiz also has decent shopping options, though maybe not as broad, but part of that is located in malls outside of the city – within a 30 min drive.

Budget

Both Cádiz and Málaga are very affordable cities by European standards. Restaurants and pubs, public transportation, hotels, and apartments, are roughly comparable in both.

Use the HotelsCombined search engine below to find the best hotel options in Málaga and/or Cádiz. HotelsCombined searches through the databases of leading providers including Booking, Agoda, Priceline, LateRooms, AccorHotels (see the full list):

Day trips

There are great day trips to make from both Cádiz and Málaga. From Málaga, you can get a 2-hour bus ride to Granada, or a 1.5 hours high-speed train to Córdoba. Alternatively, you can take a day trip to pretty Nerja in less than 1.5 hours by bus, or catch a 1-hour train to any of the Costa del Sol towns – including Marbella in less than 2 hours.

From Cádiz, you can catch a 45-minute bus ride to Jerez and visit the historical landmarks and sherry bodegas there – of the ones in the Puerto de Santa Maria across the bay (about a half hour ride from Cádiz). You can even go all the way down to beautiful Tarifa in less than 2 hours by bus. If you’re driving, you can get to the beautiful Doñana national park to the North in less than an hour, or to the breathtaking beaches of Conil down South in about the same amount of time.

To recap: there are fantastic day trips to be made from both Málaga and Cádiz. You have a nice mix of historical, cultural, and nature/outdoors day trips available from both location.