Nerja is a beautiful traditional Andalusian white town with an incredible crystal clear sea located in the province of Malaga, Southern Spain.
Being born and raised in Malaga, I’ve explored many places in Costa del Sol, but I can tell you that Nerja is one of those that makes you want to go back again and again, and there’s no doubt why it is one of the most visited towns in Costa del Sol.
Its charming people, white buildings, coastal views and fresh fish are a couple of the highlights of Nerja.
The most popular spot in Nerja is the famous Balcon de Europa, however, there are many more things to do in Nerja and its surroundings.
The town has become more and more visited, but at the end of the day, Costa Del Sol relies on tourism. It’s the main sector in the province.
Although it can get busy, especially during the summer holiday season – July and August, you can still enjoy Nerja if you know when to go.
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Apparently, the caves were discovered in 1959 by a group of young people who were walking searching for bats in the night. However, they had no idea of what discovery they had made.
Nowadays, Nerja Caves have been considered one of the best in Spain! You’ll be amazed by rock formations, including the largest stalactite in the world, and over 500 paintings that date the Upper Palaeolithic.
Inside there are three different galleries, but only the public gallery is open to tourists.
As you can imagine, they get very busy during the summer months, so booking your ticket in advance will save you queuing (just remember to select your time slot). Also, the best time to go is as they open the doors at 9:30 am.
When I visited Nerja Caves, I thought that it was quite small, but I spent approx. 1 hour there, and I loved it. But I advise you to take a small cardigan as it’s a bit wet and chilly inside.
Balcón de Europa
This is one of the most beautiful spots in Costa Del Sol, and my favourite as well.
Balcon de Europa is a round balcony on a cliff overlooking the transparent turquoise sea. Not only will you be amazed by the sea but the panoramic views to other points of the Costa del Sol.
In the past, the balcon was part of the watchtower of an Arabic fortress, however, today it is a viewpoint close to a good range of cafes, restaurants, hotels and independent small shops where you can buy many handmade accessories (leather bags, ceramics, etc.) and souvenirs.
Although it has become a tourist spot, there’s nothing better than watching the sunset from the balcony. I love the combination of clear water with the warm colours of the sunset. It’s a romantic place and you’ll come across some brides taking pictures there as the local church is just a two-minute walk.
If you’re after a delicious meal with breathtaking views in Balcon de Europa, Rey Alfonso is your go-to. They offer fresh local seafood as well as traditional meals such as paella, and even regional meals like pipirrana malagueña (a salad that includes tomatoes, peppers, onion and octopus or prawns).
Playa el Salón
Playa el Salón is a dark sand beach on the right-hand side of Balcon de Europa. You can access it only by foot – walk down the steep hill and you’ll be in no time on this beautiful beach.
I love the fact that there aren’t many chiringuitos (beach bars) around because it means that it’s more natural and raw. So, if you want to grab some food or drinks, you need to go all the way up to Calle Salón.
Although it’s an amazing beach, if you aren’t a big fan of crowds, it isn’t probably the best beach to visit in the summer months. The beach gets full early mornings until late afternoon evening.
If you’re after local and authentic experiences, you can’t miss Fiesta Blanca, a party celebrated every 14th of August on this beach. Locals dress in white and are ready to have a good night with plenty of entertainment and concerts.
El Salvador Church
Parroquia El Salvador is just a step away from Balcón de Europa. It’s a beautiful white church with a baroque neoclassical style.
Part of this church was built in 1697, however, the bell tower was added later in 1724. Like many old buildings, the church was last restored in 1997.
One of the main reasons why this church is popular is the fact that it’s the only church in the world that includes representations of all three archangels.
However, St Michael (San Miguel in Spanish) is the archangel that holds more significance in Nerja as it’s considered the town’s patron (el patrón del pueblo).
From all the times I’ve been to Nerja, there were weddings or other religious events going on. Not only is it a popular church for locals to get married, but it attracts many foreign couples who end up saying “yes” in this church.
As you walk around Balcon de Europa, you can hear the chime which happens every hour too.
Playa la Calahonda is Nerja’s beach next to Balcon de Europa and although it’s beautiful, it gets busy very quickly during the summer (especially weekends as locals go to the beach early to get their spot and spend the day). Also, it’s very small.
Located at one kilometre from Nerja, Playa Burriana is wider and it’s actually considered the best beach in the town. Its clear water and golden sand, make it the go-to beach for locals and tourists.
Near this beach, you can find Ayo, a popular restaurant that is well-known for its wood-fired paella.
Chanquete’s boat from Verano Azul TV series
This boat is a replica boat of the Verano Azul Spanish TV series that was filmed in Nerja in 1981. The series was based on a group of children who were on a summer holiday in Nerja. The episodes show the adventures and fun experiences of these kids.
The series became very popular in Spain and therefore it was aired in other countries like Portugal, France and even Latin America.
Nowadays, this is a tourist attraction where not only Spanish tourists but international tourists stop to take a picture of La Dorada boat.
If you love learning about history and culture, you must visit Nerja Museum located in Plaza de España at only a few steps from Balcon de Europa.
The museum shows you the rich local history from prehistory to today. Not only do you discover more about the cultural heritage of Nerja and the Axarquia region, but you learn how Nerja caves were discovered, what interesting objects were found and much more.
The archaeological section is indeed one of my favourites as you see old ceramic and utensils found in the caves. You can also have a look at the skeleton of a young woman who used to live in the caves many years ago.
“Acueducto del Aguila” (The Eagle Aqueduct) is a picturesque aqueduct located just 3 kilometres outside Nerja in the countryside.
The aqueduct used to be a supplier of water for a sugar factory known as Fabrica San Joaquin de Maro (San Joaquin Sugar Mill). The region of the Axarquía was popular for sugar cane plantations in the XVI century.
The factory closed a long time ago and nowadays is used for local communal irrigation.
However, it has recently become a popular spot for photographers due to the beautiful architecture.
Playa de Maro
At only 14 minutes drive from Nerja centre, Maro beach is definitely a hidden beach with many things to offer.
The beach is surrounded by pure nature – plenty of vegetation and rocky cliffs, however, the most beautiful thing about this beach is the turquoise clean and clear sea.
You know it’s a must-see beach when you get in the water and you can see what’s under the water – coral reefs and fishes that hide between the rocks.
You better book these activities in advance as I have tried to book kayaking with my family and they didn’t have many dates available. Locals love this hidden beach!
If you want a change from the coast, walking up the Rio Chillar is definitely a great day out.
One of the top activities for locals during the summer is walking up rivers – it’s adventurous, fun and it keeps you cool from the high temperatures.
As you can imagine, it does get busy, and especially during weekends (remember most locals don’t work on a Sunday). Therefore, I highly recommend visiting it early morning or during the week.
Whenever you choose to go, I’m sure you’ll enjoy, but if you’re wondering what sort of things you should take with you, some essentials are:
- Old pair of trainers (they’ll get wet)
- Sun cream
- And of course snacks!
How to get to Nerja
The nearest airport is Aeropuerto de Málaga (Málaga’s airport) which is about 65 kilometres from Nerja. It’s one of the biggest airports in Spain, so it’s likely there’s a route from your country, especially if you live in Europe.
If you’re flying to Malaga, there isn’t a bus from the airport that goes to Nerja. Therefore, you can take tren de cercanías (underground train service) to María Zambrano and then go to the coach station next to it. From the coach station you can get a direct bus to Nerja.
I wouldn’t recommend taking a taxi to Nerja as it can be very expensive (over 60 euros), but if you don’t mind paying this, it’s a quick and direct option to get to Nerja.
I’d say renting a car is the best option. There are many car rental places to choose from near the airport.
Having a car will definitely help you if you would love to explore other towns at your own pace. Although public transport is quite good, coach and train times aren’t always the best.
Also, you can’t access more remote places by bus/coach/train.
Best hotels in Nerja
Hotel Balcón de Europa (****)
This hotel is one of the best places to stay in Nerja. For me, it’s all about location when booking accommodation, and this hotel is built into the Balcon de Europa rock face.
They have a range of different rooms but all of them are beautifully decorated. But if you’re after a luxurious experience, staying in the Junior Suite Deluxe is your option. You have breathtaking views from a cosy balcony and a hydromassage bathtub in the bathroom.
The views are incredible, you have direct access to Caletilla Beach as well as you’re surrounded by many restaurants and bars to choose from if you don’t want to eat in their restaurants.
In addition to all of this, there’s also an outdoor swimming pool with sunbeds looking at the beautiful sea.
Book your stay at Hotel Balcón de Europa now (approximately £135 per night)
Apartamentos Balcón de Europa (***)
If you prefer to stay in a quieter area and you love feeling like home, these apartments are certainly for you.
The apartments have all the things you need – a full kitchen that includes a washing machine, a lovely living room with a flat-screen TV, a modern decorated bedroom with double bed and bathroom.
At the top of the apartments, you’ll find an outdoor swimming pool with a view of the town and sunbeds.
Book your stay at Apartamentos Balcón de Europa now (approximately £94 per night)
Day trips from Nerja
Although you have read how many incredible things you can do without leaving Nerja if you do have time, here are some places you need to add to your list.
You can’t leave Costa del Sol without visiting my beautiful city. The capital has plenty of activities to do, however, you can see the main attractions in one day as they are in the city centre where everything is connected.
Here are some top activities you can do in a day or two:
- Eat in the famous Bodega El Pimpi.
- Explore the amazing Alcazaba and discover Moorish influences.
- Go up to Gibralfaro for panoramic views.
- Relax at Playa de la Malagueta.
- Enjoy a cocktail in the modern Muelle Uno.
Frigiliana is a nearby quaint town only 6 kilometres from Nerja. It’s very well-known for its old quarter and narrow white streets decorated with beautiful ceramic mosaics and beautiful flowers and plants.
It’s considered the prettiest village in Andalucia by the Spanish tourism board, and you’ll agree as soon as you visit the town.
Frigiliana is the perfect day trip in which you can enjoy authentic local experiences. Here are some recommendations:
- Go up to Casa del Apero, a beautiful building next to the tourist office, local library and archaeological museum.
- Do some shopping in the unique boutique shops that sell local crafts, delicacies and clothes.
- Explore the remains of the old Moorish castle.
- Visit Callejón del Peñón for the best panoramic view of the town.
- Eat at La Venta de Frigiliana to enjoy authentic local food and a view.
Outside Costa del Sol, Granada is a great city to visit, and it isn’t very far from Nerja – approximately 1h and 10 min by car.
Granada is well-known for Alhambra, a stunning palace and fortress at the top of the city. Nowadays, it’s one of the most visited places in Spain and it’s considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s divided into different sections: Generalife, Alcazaba, Charles V Palace and Nasrid Palace. All of them have something special, but one of the most photographed spots is Palace of the Lions inside the Nasrid Place which has an impressive architecture.
In Alhambra, you can easily spend 3 or 4 hours considering you’re likely to wait to get in some of the buildings.
Apart from the Alhambra, Granada is the best place to eat tapas in Andalucia. The city has a good variety of bars and restaurants that are ideal for foodies.
If you’re after traditional local food you must try habas con jamón (beans with cured ham) remojón granaino (orange salad with spring onions, hard-boiled egg, olives and codfish) and piononos (a juicy sponge cake with toasted cream on top).
TIP: You can find delicious piononos in Ysla. They’re the best I’ve ever tried!
I hope I have inspired you to visit Nerja and other towns in Costa del Sol. If you plan to stay over a week, this Costa del Sol itinerary will help you plan your trips.
Also, if you’re staying in Malaga and considering a day trip to Nerja but have limited time, have a look at this half day trip to Nerja and Frigiliana.
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Frequently asked questions about Nerja
Can you get a train from Malaga airport to Nerja?
There isn’t a train that goes from Malaga airport to Nerja. However, you can get a train from Malaga airport to Malaga María Zambrano train station, and then go to the bus station, which is about three minutes walk, to get a bus to Nerja.
Is Nerja touristy?
There are more touristy towns in Costa del Sol than Nerja (for example, Benalmadena or Marbella). But, having said that, Nerja is still touristy. It attracts many national and international tourists and it’s home to many expats.
What are the beaches like in Nerja?
Nerja has some of the best beaches in Costa del Sol. Its clear water and beautiful rock formations make you feel like in paradise.
The only downside of some Nerja beaches is that they’re very rocky so you must take slip on water shoes to avoid injuries or discomfort when walking in the shore.
Does Nerja have an old town?
Yes, Nerja has a beautiful white washed Old town with lively squares where you can enjoy tapas and relax, pebble streets and many independent shops to buy souvenirs or treat yourself.
What are the best places for day trips in Nerja?
Best day trips in Nerja include the famous white-washed village of Frigiliana, the historical Moorish city of Granada and, of course, Malaga.