Do I need a car in Malaga? Many people taking flights into Malaga will automatically pick up a rental car without thinking about it. So can you enjoy a stay there without one?
Do I need a car in Malaga? Introduction
This depends in many ways on where you are staying – many people head west for Costa Del Sol resorts, or stay in villas which are detached from urban centres. Yet, Malaga itself is often overlooked both as a culturally diverse city in its own right (Malaga is the birthplace of Picasso), and as a well connected base from which to explore near and far.
Why rent a car in Malaga?
- Cheap car hire! Because everyone else does! Malaga airport is one of the busiest car rental centres in Europe, so there is enormous choice available at prices so low that some agencies are almost bribing you to take their cars. Malaga car hire starts from around just £50 per week – you could easily spend that on one airport transfer taxi.
- Roads for driving: Some of the roads in Andalusia are absolutely superb, with many having been recently upgraded. The road from Marbella to Ronda is a personal favourite. Ronda itself sits on top of a dramatic canyon. You can get there from Malaga by train, but good luck trying to organise a trip there and back in the same day by rail.
- Walking: Another impressive area for cycling and walking is around the spectacular El Chorro Gorge – although the official path through the gorge itself has been closed since 2000, and is set to re-open in 2014 (mark the date!). Unoffocially, walkers head into the gorge using the railway tracks, but this is both dangerous and illegal. There are numerous other opportunities for walking, both along the coastline east and west of Malaga, and further inland. The local train around Malaga serves the main resorts, where it is mainly built-up, although the additional branch to Alora offers some opportunity for hill walking, and Alora itself is quite a pleasant white-washed hill town. However, a car will provide much more flexibility.
- Caves: Use a hire car to visit the Nerja Caves to the east of Malaga.
- Landscapes: For two completely contrasting landscapes, visit the lush green Sierra Nevada national park (or ski there in winter), between Granada and Almeria, or the barren Cabo de Gata Natural Park to the east of Almeria, filming location for many Spaghetti Westerns. Allow around 2 1/2 or 3 hours driving time respectively from Malaga.
Beyond Malaga and the Costa Del Sol:
- Cities: A car is ideal for a whistlestop tour of some of the major inland Andalusian cities, such as Seville, Cordoba and Granada. Although they can all be reached reasonably easy by train from Malaga, it is trickier to juggle an itinerary to see them all by train. For example, to go between Jaen and Granada, you would need to allow over 4 hours by train with a very tight connection in Cordoba. The drive takes about 1 hour 20 mins.
- Marbella: The local train network does not stretch as far as Marbella and its neighbour Puerto Banus, the playgrounds of the rich and famous. Now really darling, who wants to arrive in Marbella by bus?
- Gibraltar: To head further west towards Gibraltar, you will have to go by bus, unless you fancy the scenic train journey via Ronda. For Gibraltar, allow a good four hours for the journey. If you alight at alight at San Roque – La Linea, you will still be some 10 miles from Gibraltar, whereas if you continue to Algeciras, you will find local buses to La Linea bus station, from where you can make the short walk into Gibraltar. Note that the tension between Spain and the UK still exists to the point that public transport buses do not cross the border.–
- Cyclists might still need a car: Even though there are some superb cycling routes (especially the Vias Verdes) in Andalucia, they are not well connected, and public transport options are limited. Renfe do not carry bikes on their AVE or Alaris high-speed services, and these are the ones which operate between Malaga and Puente Genil for the Subbética Greenway (which in turn becomes the Olive Oil Greenway and continues to Jaen) or Cordoba for the Campiña Greenway. To get to the best cycling areas, you will be better off with a hire car with a roof rack or even a small van.
Why not? Visiting Malaga without a car
- Safety: The roads around Malaga airport are known for having a high rate of accidents. Driving in Spain as a whole is still much more dangerous than driving in the UK.
- Resort Rail: Recent terminal upgrades at Malaga airport have included the construction of an underground station on the Malaga to Fuengirola local train service. Although this route has been open for many years, the airport station used to be situated at the back of all the car rental facilities, with no lifts or booking office. Now much better public transport access is available both in to Malaga itself, and throughout the Costa Del Sol region.
- High Speed Inland (AVE): In our opinion, the most impressive of the Moorish edifices in inland Andalucia is the Great Mosque of Cordoba. This building takes on an almost surreal tone with its endless procession of red and cream striped arches, which then opens up into a cathedral inside the old mosque. If you are going to visit just one of these cities, Cordoba is the one we would pick out. Cordoba is easily reachable from Malaga using the AVE express train service – which is worth a trip in its own right as it was a major civil engineering feat to carve this new line (opened 2007) through the rugged terrain. The old town of Cordoba is a delight to walk around, yet it can be easily reached from the striking new Cordoba Central AVE station. The area around the station is also interesting, as a new landscaped linear park has been created along Av De America, by building over the rail tracks.
- Antequera: You can also use the AVE to visit the white walled city of Antequera – just over 20 minutes away from Malaga.
- Excusrions to Africa: Numerous options are available, including trips to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta by boat or helicopter, or flights to Melilla by small aircraft. You can also visit northern Moroccan cities such as Tangier. The crossing to North Africa is absolutely stunning, however you do it.
- Granada: Although there are no direct train services from Malaga to Granada, there are regular coach services between the two cities, taking about 2 hours. Even if a car might give you the flexibility to stop off on the way there, it is no use in Granada itself, as the old city has very narrow streets with little space for cars.
- Madrid – Although the low cost airlines have made flights to Madrid from the UK both cheaper and more accessible from regional airports, there is still a much wider selection of flights to Malaga. Now there is more than enough in Madrid to make it justify a trip in its own right, but if you have never been to the Spanish capital, it is certainly worth a look. Typical train times from Malaga are around 2 1/2 hours, with prices starting from around €35 one-way. Although it is possible to visit Madrid on a day trip from Malaga, a much wiser option is to fly to Malaga, take the train to Madrid and then fly home from Madrid – assuming flights are available back to your local airport.
- Cordoba base: To get around Andalucia without a car, we suggest that Cordoba is a much better base than Malaga. From here, you can easily head east to Granada and Jaen, south to Antequera (by high speed AVE), west to Seville (AVE), and even north to the capital Madrid (AVE), which is less than 2 hours away. Sample parking price at the AC Palaccio – €18 per day or €126 for a whole week – almost four times as much as the cost of basic car rental!
- Seville: Personal experience is that traffic in Seville is a complete nightmare, so driving there should be avoided if possible – the capital of Andalusia is notably larger than other cities in the region, and even has its own metro and tram lines. Yet the old town is surprisingly compact, and easily walkable. An Architour of the city should start at the Santa Justa train station anyway. Another must-see is the leaning bridge Alamillo bridge, designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava – even though it was supposed to be built as a pair.
- Parking: Although some resort hotels will offer free parking, it is always worth checking beforehand. We found one hotel in Malaga charging upto €23 per day for parking, so this can end up being much more costly than the car rental cost!
Verdict: When and where do I need a hire car in Malaga? This is a very close no recommendation, largely because Malaga is one of those places where there is an automatic assumption to get a hire car, yet there are plenty of very interesting excursions which can be done without one, by just about any method of transport going from mundane local buses and coaches to boats, superfast express trains and even helicopters. If you use the city of Malaga itself as a base, or consider our suggestion of Cordoba instead, then a you will be able to enjoy several different excursions without a car. For simply lazing in the sun, many resorts are easily reachable direct from Malaga Airport by train. However, for resorts west of the train terminus at Fuengirola, for staying in a villa, or for general flexible travel around the coast or the interior, car hire is still a good bet.
More suggestions for Malaga Airport Car Hire
- Is it worth getting a hire car for part of my trip? Not really, when Malaga car hire is so cheap – unless you are having to pay for parking. We found car hire quotes from just £7.50 for a one day rental – but you can still get stung if you don’t return the car at the exact fuel level you hired it at.
- Is there a price difference for Malaga Station car rental? Yes – this is slightly more expensive, from £80 for our sample week.
- Can I rent a car at Malaga airport and return it somewhere different? Yes – return it to Malaga station (or vice versa), and you will pay the same price as a week’s hire from the station. You will also pay this price for drop-off in Seville or Granada, either at the airport or main station.. Avoid drop-off in Cordoba, this will set you back another £60.
- How about drop-off at Madrid Airport? A week’s car rental from Malaga Airport, returned to Madrid Airport, will cost from £109 + tolls + fuel. We suggest dropping off at Malaga or Seville Station, and taking the AVE train from there – this will take around half the time of driving.
Is it worth renting a car in Malaga just for part of my stay?
Probably not, especially if you are travelling outside the peak summer season. Since car rental in Malaga is often very cheap in the first place, it won’t make that much difference whether you hire a car for a couple of days or for the full week. The moment you want to visit Malaga in peak season, hire a more expensive model or include any extras that are charged at daily rates, then you might want to consider only having a car for some of your time here.
Generally, the best value car hire options in Malaga will be from the airport, where the most competitive deals tend to be found, rather than from car hire locations in resort, which don’t tend to have the same range of cars available.
Is it worth renting a car in Malaga even for backpackers, students and other travellers who are on an extremely tight budget?
You really don’t need to hire a car in Malaga to do most things and see most places, because there are plenty of other options available. As a younger driver in Spain, you can expect to pay a surcharge if you are aged between 21 and 25, whereas few Malaga rental companies will let you have a car if you are less than 21.
The idea of renting a car in Malaga would be that you can then venture further inland in Andalusia, and you could experience some amazing driving roads, as well as some spectacular hilltop towns and villages. However, there is still a good range of places that you can easily reach by bus, or by taking a train to Córdoba, so there’s little justification for looking at renting a car in Malaga if you are on a strict budget.
No, absolutely not! Public transport in the city of Malaga has improved substantially in recent years, not only with investment in a light rail route, but also with substantial regeneration around the main station. This has been in preparation for the arrival of the high speed AVE train, which will allow you to make very easy excursions to Córdoba and then potentially on to Madrid.
The main bus station in the city will also give you easy access to numerous towns and villages around Malaga and across the Costa del Sol, and Malaga also has ferry connections across the Mediterranean to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
One other thing that you should bear in mind is that it even if your hotel does have a parking garage, your probably will still have to pay, as very few hotels in Spanish cities give overnight parking away for free.
Airport or City Centre car rental pick up?
Even if you don’t really need a car in Malaga, if you do want to hire a car for some of the time you are here, you might want to weigh up whether it’s worth renting a car in Malaga city centre, or if you can actually find a better deal at the airport. Since the airport is a quick and easy train link away, you might want to consider spending a few days in the city first, and then going back to the airport to hire a car.
If you want the best value option, you should also consider renting a car from the airport when you arrive, and then seeing if they will allow you to drop it off in the city centre after a couple of days without paying a surcharge. If not, you should still be able to drop it off at the airport and then make an easy transfer back to the city centre.
No, if you dislike driving or if you generally prefer to use public transport, there’s absolutely no need to hire a car in Malaga, because you can see and do plenty of things without one.
I usually try to perfer to drive – should I hire a car in Malaga?
Yes, if you like driving then you absolutely should hire a car in Malaga, because there are some amazing driving roads once you start heading into the interior.
One great example is the significantly improved road which stretches inland from Marbella towards the clifftop town of Ronda. Malaga is a great place to start a road trip around southern Spain, but even if you don’t want to tour around, there are still numerous different options for taking day trips.
If you are just looking for a way of getting around the local area during your stay here, then you might not actually need a car for this, because if you aren’t going any particularly great distance, it might be cheaper and simpler just to use local buses and taxis. Bear in mind that just because Malaga is one of the cheapest places in the world from which to rent a car, you can still get stung with hidden extras like fuel charges, and you will also have to pay for overnight parking in many hotels.
Absolutely not, but train services along the Costa del Sol are limited to the local stopping route which stretches from Malaga as far as Fuengirola. If you want to enjoy an impressive rail experience, then your best bet is to take the AVE high-speed train to Córdoba, and then either to continue on this all the way through to Madrid, or to head in the other direction towards the Andalusian capital of Seville.
For a more scenic experience, you could also take one of the local services which trundles deep into the Andalusian interior to a town like Ronda, but in all honesty, this is actually difficult to organise around local schedules, so it’s quicker to reach Ronda by car or bus.
You might also want to head over to Gibraltar to take the cable car up the Rock. You can take a very indirect regional service to get to La Linea and then walk across the border into Gibraltar, but it’s actually much easier to get there by bus.
If you see a decent train network asthe sort of system you would find in Switzerland or the Netherlands, then you just won’t find that here – in which case, you’ll probably find that you do need a car in Malaga.
I am mainly interested in architecture and urban/cultural attractions – should I still hire a car in Malaga?
The city of Malaga has some impressive Roman ruins as well as a museum dedicated to the city’s most famous son, the artist Pablo Picasso. However by far and away the most impressive architectural sites of Andalusia are further inland, either in the province’s capital Seville; in Córdoba where you will find a Great Mosque; or perhaps the most famous Moorish work of them all – Alhambra in Granada.
You absolutely don’t need to hire a car in Malaga if you want to see any of these locations and spend most of your time within the cities. By far and away the most easiest place to visit from the above is Córdoba, which is also an important junction for high-speed trains heading out of Madrid. To reach Seville by train, you will need to change in Córdoba anyway, and it is easy enough to visit both cities in a single day if you don’t hang around.
It’s also worth noting that the giant wooden sculpture in Seville is particularly interesting – what is it, what does it do, and what’s so special about the mathematics of it?
However, it’s not so easy to reach Granada by train from Malaga. You would need to allow the best part of a day to get there, as it’s a very winding and little used route. Instead, we would just suggest travelling there by bus, which shouldn’t take much more than a couple of hours.
Yes, if you want to see any of the hugely varied and rugged landscapes which you will find in Andalusia, then you really should hire a car in Malaga, because your options will be significantly limited if you just stick to using public transport.
Even though there are a small number of local train routes within the interior of Andalusia, services typically only operate once or twice per day, so it’s very difficult to organise any kind of hiking trip around this. The main train route out of Malaga is the high speed AVE service, which only stops once in Antequera on its way to Córdoba. The coastal service to Fuengirola is useful for reaching resorts, but there are only a limited number of places where you could get off and go walking.
The landscape along the Costa del Sol is nothing like as impressive as the landscape of the interior, and in particular we would recommend walking around the Sierra Nevada which sits to the south-west of Granada.
It’s also not very practical to try and get into the interior by bus, especially as the intercity coach services do not tend to stop very often.
However, there are still a few exceptions to this, and in particular, some of the most spectacular landscapes in the region can actually be reached without the need to hire a car in Malaga:
Sierra Nevada by bus – you can at least access the ski resorts if you take a bus from Granada.
Ronda by bus – you can hike around the hugely impressive clifftop town of Ronda, and this is easy enough to reach by bus from Malaga or Marbella.
The King’s Route (Camino Del Rey) – this famously dangerous hiking route which will take you high above the Ebro gorge has only recently reopened. You can access the start of the route using local buses, and there are also a number of tour operators who will provide guided walks here.
Gibraltar – this giant rocky outcrop can be reached by taking a bus from Malaga (or resorts like Fuengirola or Marbella) to La Linea and then walking across into Gibraltar from there.
Potentially only one. If you are travelling in the off-peak season, and staying in accommodation with free parking included, then it would probably still be cheaper to hire a car in Malaga, even if you are travelling alone. Generally speaking, at other times, you might need 2 to 3 people in the car to make it better value than taking local buses and trains, but this will really depend on whether or not you want to take the high-speed AVE service into Córdoba or Seville.
Generally, it’s worth hiring a car in Malaga if you can get a decent price at the time you make your booking, but this is much less likely to happen if you are booking for the peak season at the last minute. Bear in mind that the prices of most local bus and train services will be fixed year round, so this makes public transport much better value during the summer. The one major exception to this would be if you take any of the high-speed trains, where prices are variable according to demand.
Another thing to consider is that in addition to the car rental costs, you may well have to end up paying for various extras, and there are still some operators who will insist on making you return the car with an empty tank, and if you don’t, they will simply keep all that fuel that you have paid for.
Once you have added on the potential cost of motorway tolls (these can be avoided by taking slower local roads) and the possibility of having to pay for hotel overnight parking, you may well find that even for a group of 3 or 4 people, it is actually still cheaper just to use local buses or taxis. This is all going to vary a huge deal, depending on where you are staying, and also what sort of car you are thinking of renting.
Generally, road safety in Spain is on a par with other European countries. It’s safer to drive here than it is in Italy, but it’s not as safe as it is in the United Kingdom or Scandinavia. Generally, roadside facilities and public utilities are good here, and there is no particular reason not to hire a car here for senior drivers or people with some mobility restrictions, as long as the lead driver is below the maximum age set by the rental company.
Spanish drivers are notorious for making hazardous overtaking moves outside towns, whereas road discipline inside urban areas tend to be quite good. As a pedestrian, you will find that most drivers are courteous, and that crossings are treated with respect.
Do I need a rental car if I am flying into Malaga airport but staying in another destination outside Malaga?
Probably, but this will really depend on how far away from Malaga you are staying, and what other public transport options there might be for getting there.
In particular, if you are looking at flying into Malaga but actually staying in or near cities like Seville or Granada, then you don’t strictly need to hire a car to get to any of these places, but it could be a lot more convenient, especially if you are arriving late at night or departing first thing in the morning.
Public transport along the Costa del Sol is generally of a reasonable standard, although there are no trains if you are heading east of Malaga. Generally, if you are staying in a villa or a resort that is high up on a hill somewhere, or that isn’t near a town centre, then it’s also very much still going to be worth hiring a car in Malaga airport and then having the flexibility of using a car during your stay.
Just bear in mind that if you are staying somewhere that is much more central, and where parking is going to be a problem, it might just be worth checking first that you can match up your flights with some onward public transport. It’s very easy to transfer between trains and buses in Malaga, and the airport shuttle train at least run throughs into the early hours of the morning. Some of the busiest bus routes out of Malaga also run throughout the night.
It probably will be, but this would depend on whether you want to move on to a different place each evening, or if you are looking at possibly just staying in 2 or 3 different places and then travelling around locally from each base.
A classic loop around Andalusia is at the very least going to include the hilltop town of Ronda, the famous inland cities of Seville, Córdoba, Jaen and Granada. You may also want to experience some of the desert landscapes around Cabo De Gata near Almeria.
It’s easy enough to move between any of these cities by bus or train, but in terms of decent fast rail services, the most central place to be located is actually Córdoba rather than Malaga. However, just because there is good public transport service on some of these routes, if you actually want to move around and see many different places in between each of the major cities, then for that you really should rent a car at Malaga airport.
Yes – Malaga is absolutely the ultimate place from which to start a Spanish road trip. Not only is car-rental here generally extremely good value, especially outside the peak season, but you really can drive any direction (other than due south of course!), and you will see an amazing mix of cities and landscapes.
By starting your road trip from Malaga, there’s absolutely no need to restrict yourself either to just the Costa del Sol or the province of Andalusia. Driving further inland in Spain will open up some places which are very much off the tourist trail, yet if you want to, you can also still cover some substantial distances on the Spanish motorway network, which features some very modern and spectacular engineering.
However, bear in mind that if you are heading towards Madrid or if you are heading along the Costa del Sol, then your trip costs could be increased substantially by having to pay to use toll motorways. There are still various loops you could take within Andalusia which would make up for an amazing Spanish road trip, but where your usage of toll roads would be minimal.
The Costa del Sol has suffered massively since the emergence of mass tourism here in the 1970s. This development has all been based around building resorts which are focused around people with cars, and traffic is a huge problem, especially on the main trunk roads around the city of Malaga, and also around the airport itself.
If you can visit Malaga without needing a hire car, then you won’t just help to reduce your own environmental footprint, but you also might well save a fair amount of cash in the process, especially if you are here during the peak summer season. Travelling by train in particular will have the lowest environmental foot print, as all the passenger rail routes out of Malaga are operated using electric trains.
Advice on One Way Rentals from Malaga
Yes – if you have a particular one-way trip in mind, then you should rent a car in Malaga and then drop it off in another city, rather than doing the other way round. This is because most car rental companies will work out one-way deals based on levying a surcharge on top of the cost of hiring a car in the place where it’s picked up, rather than in the place where it’s dropped off.
Since car hire in Malaga is already very competitive, then you could find yourself dropping your car off at a location where rental is much more expensive, but only paying a small amount more.
Another possibility to consider is that you might well live near an airport that has a relatively small number of flights to a city such as Seville or Granada, but a much wider choice of flights into Malaga. You could then find that by matching up a flight to Malaga with picking up a rental car there, you can then drop the car off in another city, and then fly home direct from there, without having the hassle of taking your car back to Malaga.
Generally, one-way rental charges in Spain will be set based on the distance between the location where you pick up the car, and the location where you drop it off. This could also mean that you don’t actually have to pay any one-way rental fee if you simply hire a car at Malaga airport and then return it in the city centre or to any other resort location around the Costa del Sol. You would also only expect to pay a relatively small charge if you drop off the car in another location in Andalusia, such as Granada, even if you are potentially cover the thousand kilometres driving around Andalusia in the meantime.
However, since there is such an abundance of choice in terms of places which are really worth seeing, and since there is a good network of roads across the province, you might well still find that your easiest and cheapest option is simply to hire a car in Malaga and then to drive around in a loop but then still return it to the same place at the end of your holiday.
Probably not. One of the great advantages of hiring a motorhome is that even though they are expensive to drive around, they are a great way of saving on accommodation costs. That’s really not such a great attraction in the Costa del Sol, which is already awash with accommodation of so many different types.
The advantage of having a motorhome might be for travelling to places where it’s much harder to get decent accommodation, especially during the peak summer season.