Long known primarily as a transport hub for the Costa del Sol, with the biggest airport in southern Spain, Malaga is now giving incoming passengers a reason to stick around. The strategy of positioning itself as an urban cultural center, in contrast to its smaller, strictly sun-and-beach-resort neighbors, appears to be paying off. Of course, being the birthplace of Pablo Picasso is no bad thing, and city officials have leveraged that to great advantage, attracting big-name art collections to settle there. In fact, Malaga even comes across as a bit museum-crazy, focusing on everything from wine production to the global development of music to automobile design.

Although the urban sprawl may be unappealing at first glance, the Old City of Malaga is actually green, lively and conveniently compact, with its cultural and entertainment offerings in close proximity to beaches. The redevelopment of the port into a retail and leisure area, along with the second-largest cruise ship facility in Spain, make Malaga even more attractive and accessible.

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