Alicante or Malaga – The Differences and Nuances so You Choose Wisely

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.

Both cities and provinces are somehow compatible but have different souls. Malaga has grown more modern leaving away, during the years, some of the characters that traditional European cities have. Alicante, instead, has managed to keep the heritage in a better way.

Alicante VS Malaga`
Alicante Versus Malaga

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?

Alicante or Malaga as Cities?

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.

What Makes Alicante and Malaga Similar?

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 recent heritage is roman and medieval so architectural remains such as the forts remain. They both 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:

  • easy access to beaches,
  • a castle on the top of a hill (Alicante, in fact, has two fortifications),
  • amazing natural places and cities nearby for day trips,
  • good restaurants,
  • fun nightlife,
  • important airports,
  • bus and train connections,
  • sunny and warm weather in summer and winter

The cities have all you would expect of a beach destination. Here are the main differences between them.

What Makes Alicante and Malaga different?

The City Sizes

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 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.

The Weather

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.

Malaga (107) averages a bit more sunshine per year than Alicante (97 days).

In general, the difference between the weather in Alicante and Malaga is small. Alicante is milder with less extreme temperatures, especially heat, than Malaga.

The Beaches

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.

The Food and Resturants

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 doesn’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.

Traditional food in Malaga and Alicante

In Malaga, we have the following regional traditional dishes. Note this is just a shortlist:

  • Fritura Malaguena – fried fish from the Mediterranean
  • Porra de Antequera – Cold soup
  • Espeto de Sardinas – Grilled Sardina fish
  • Ensalada Malagueña – Salad filled with potatoe, oranges, cod…

And in Alicante, there are other traditional dishes. Again, this is not a complete list:

  • Arroz – paella style dish but arguably better. Can be arroz a banda, arroz con costra, caldero (Tabarca), etc
  • Fideua – similar to Arroz/paella but with noodles instead of rice
  • Mojama de atun – or tuna mojama. Dry slices of tuna loin
  • Allioli – a souse based on garlic

Resturants In Alicante and Malaga

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, 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.

Nightlife in Alicante and Malaga

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.

Day Trips From Malaga and Alicante

The surrounding areas of both cities are amazing. Alicante’s province and Malaga’s province are filled with picturesque coast, mountains and beautiful towns.

For example, near Alicante, you can visit Benidorm or Valencia for a day. From Malaga, Marbella and Granada are not too far away. Both regions have good train and bus connections.

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.

Is Malaga better than Alicante?

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.