During the early nineteenth century Spain became an increasingly popular destination for a growing number of northern European and American ‘romantic’ tourists. Malaga was initially a popular tourist gateway for those exploring southern Spain but also parts of North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean and by the end of the nineteenth century it had established itself as a winter health resort of some repute. This study explores the changing visitor perceptions of the city during this period of development. The published accounts of over forty men and women travellers who visited Malaga in the nineteenth century have been examined using discourse analysis. Our analysis reveals not only the changing nature of Malaga as an emerging tourist destination but moreover we demonstrate the plural and contested nature of visitor perceptions of this tourist place and what these potentially reveal about the predilections and attitudes of the visitors themselves and how they reflect broader northern European social discourses towards southern Spain and its people at this time.