by Victor Sesma
Victor Sesma is an Alicantinian living in London. He is a Software Engineer who likes writing about the city he was born.
Alicante and Malaga are two beautiful cities and provinces. It is not easy to choose between two top-tier beach and mountain destinations in Spain.
Alicante and Malaga are comparable beach cities with different souls. Malaga has grown modern, leaving away some of the cute prettiness traditional Spanish cities have. Alicante, instead, has managed to keep its heritage in better shape. Alicante overperforms on beaches and Malaga in museums.
To be honest, probably your best option is not to choose between the cities and visit Alicante and Malaga. But time is limited and each city has its nuances, so what should you prioritize?
The two cities are similar and their differences are in their nuances. If you have the opportunity to visit any of them do not hesitate about your trip. Only if you can choose between the two pay attention to these nuances.
Alicante and Malaga have both thousands of years of history (literally) on their backs. They are far enough from each other to have many nuances on different civilizations inhabiting their respective areas.
The most recent heritage Malaga and Alicante have is Roman and medieval but both cities hold older remains. On the top of both cities, we can find a castle: Castillo de Santa Barbara in Alicante and Castillo de Gibralfaro in Malaga, both built by the Muslims.
The two cities have managed to adapt to modern times and become great touristic destinations.
Malaga and Alicante, are great places to spend your holidays or even think about relocating. Both cities have:
The cities have all you would expect of a beach destination.
Malaga is bigger than Alicante. There were 571 026 people living in Malaga in 2018 vs 337 482 people living in Alicante in 2020. But Alicante’s vibe is of a bigger city. The province of Alicante (which Alicante city is the capital) has the 5th highest population in Spain. On the other hand, Malaga province has a similar population but is in the 6th position.
The city of Alicante is kept more compact than the city of Malaga and that is felt when walking around. Alicante has the most iconic areas at a short walk reach. It has managed to grow its character into nearby and beautiful areas. Two examples are the promenade “La Explanada” or the harbour. All at a very short distance from each other. Instead, Malaga has a beautiful old town but it is sided by less special modern city block buildings.
In general, Malaga weather is more extreme while the weather in Alicante is milder. In summer both cities are super hot but Malaga gets the most extreme temperatures and averages more heat. During winter the opposite is true and Alicante averages a bit colder days. The difference between both cities’ temperatures in summer is bigger than the difference in winter.
The sea is warmer in Alicante during the summer and a bit colder in winter. Again, the sea in Alicante is more appreciably warmer in the summer than colder in the winter. Always when compared to Malaga’s sea.
In general, the difference between the weather in Alicante and Malaga is small. Alicante is milder with less extreme temperatures, especially heat than Malaga.
Both cities have good city beaches. Usually, the beaches in Alicante are better rated. The sand in Malaga is more compact while the sand in Alicante tends to be more golden and not compacted.
The integration of the city beach into the city itself is usually better in Alicante. The main city beach, El Postiguet, is right in the city centre. There is even an easy public transport bus straight from the airport to the beach. The TRAM trains to nearby beaches such as San Juan Beach are well connected to the city centre.
Also, the sea temperature is usually higher in Alicante than in Malaga during the summer.
Malaga and Alicante are situated in different Spanish regions. Alicante is situated in the southeast of Spain while Malaga is situated in the south. Therefore, the traditional dishes are different from one region and the other.
Despite this difference, it is easy to find traditional Spanish dishes mixed in each region. So you can find Gazpacho Andaluz in Alicante and Paella in Malaga. But here is a tip: Food exported from one region to the other will miss local nuances that make the food even more special.
For example, the famous regional dish in Alicante is Paella but the people of Alicante don’t prepare paella, they cook Arroz. An arguably better version of paella.
The same is true in Malaga. Local people from Malaga don’t prepare Gazpacho Andaluz, they prepare Porra Antequerana. It is, again, similar to the main commercial gazpacho but an arguably better version.
Even dishes that are widely famous in Spain, such as Tortilla de Patatas, have differences in their preparation depending on the region.
In both areas, the people would eat tapas-style food.
In Malaga, we have the following regional traditional dishes. Note this is just a short list:
And in Alicante, there are other traditional dishes. Again, this is not a complete list:
The two cities have excellent gastronomic offers. Restaurants and tapas bars are the common eat-out options. Probably this is a point that should not help you to decide between your holiday destination.
But let’s going to give some data.
As per numbeo.com, Alicante’s restaurants and bars are a bit more expensive than in Malaga: 1.48% more expensive. This might be compensated by the general prices in Alicante. It is a cheaper city in general.
Groceries, for example, are 1.59% cheaper in Alicante and rents are an astonishing 22.18% lower in Alicante than in Malaga.
A study done in 2017 shows the restaurants and bars per capita in Spanish cities (in Spanish). It shows that Alicante has 2.83 restaurants per 1000 inhabitants while Malaga has 1.84. None of the cities is in the top 10 restaurants per capita in Spain. But quality is more important than quantity.
This is a topic where, again, both cities are in a similar position. Both cities have an international vibe with bars and pubs for all tastes, having a lot of reggaeton and Latin music but also international.
Both Alicante and Malaga have big international Airports but Malaga Airport has more connections.
While Alicante has 132 connections Malaga has 154 connections. The first city flights to most of the European countries plus Morroco and Egypt. On the other hand, people in Malaga can fly to most European countries plus the East Coast in the United States, Morroco, Egypt Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Malaga’s Airport is in the 4th position as per passenger traffic per year in Spain and Alicante’s airport is in the 5th (source in Spanish). If you plan to travel mostly in Europe the difference between both airports is not huge.
The surrounding areas of both cities are amazing. Alicante’s province and Malaga’s province are filled with picturesque coasts, mountains and beautiful towns.
If you like sea sports or mountain adventure, again, both regions have a lot to offer. Hikes, adventure activities, balloon rides, paragliding… all that is available in both regions.
Malaga will outperform on winter sports such as skiing as it is very close to Granada and the Sierra Nevada. It is extremely rare, and near to impossible, for any of the cities to have any snow at all in winter. Both are dry and warm areas and locals will only have seen snow if they had purposely travelled to the nearby mountains or other snowy places.
In Alicante’s mountains, it usually snows every year and can settle for a few days. On the other hand, Malaga is very close to Sierra Nevada where there are proper skiing facilities ready for skiers.
Alicante and Malaga have both a week-long festival.
Alicantinos celebrate the beginning of the summer on the millenary tradition of Saint John bonfires while Malagueños celebrate the Reconquista or reconquering of Malaga from the Moors by the Spanish Catholic Monarchs.
Alicante’s festival has huge street bonfires featuring images of satirical humour while Malaga’s festival has a huge fair with rides and attractions.
In both festivals, there is a party on the street -Casetas in Malaga and Barracas/Racos in Alicante- plus traditional dresses (Alicantino clothing in Alicante and Sevillano dresses in Malaga).
The tradition in both cities is to invite and integrate visitors to the festivity. Alicante has open Racos where anyone can enter to dance and drink while Malaga has public-open Casetas where anyone can join the dance and party.
If you want to more about how Alicante compares with other cities check these articles:
How does compare Alicante VS Valencia.
Comparison between Alicante VS Ibiza
Both destinations are similar. Alicante might have a bit more charm as a city, slightly better sandy beaches with warmer seawater, and be a bit less suffocating in summer (but warmer in winter). On the other hand, Malaga might have a bit more galleries and museums to visit.