A wonderful place to visit and vacation, the little town of Nerja lies just forty-five minutes drive up the coast from Malaga. Much calmer and quieter than its nearby neighbor, it has lots of lovely beaches and scenery to enjoy, as well as an attractive historic center to explore.
Nestled amidst the foothills of the Sierra Almijara mountains, the former fishing village turned tourist resort borders the glinting warm waters of the Mediterranean. Unlike most of the Costa del Sol, it has thankfully retained much of its traditional Andalusian look and character. Instead of huge, ugly hotel buildings, it has atmospheric old streets bordered by bright whitewashed buildings to wander around.
In total, the town has over thirteen kilometers of beaches to lounge on, many of which boast fantastic coastal views. With two natural parks and incredible caves there are also plenty of things to do in Nerva for those seeking some activity. With of course the iconic Balcony of Europe to check out, Nerja makes for a fabulous family-friendly holiday destination.
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12. Church of El Salvador
Just a stone’s throw from the Balcony of Europe is the beautiful Baroque and Mudejar-style Church of El Salvador. Located right in the historic center, the landmark has some exquisite architecture and artworks to check out.
Erected back in the seventeenth-century, its whitewashed walls are presided over by a lofty belltower and the lone, towering pine tree before them. Once past its arched entrance and the small colourful stained-glass window above it, you’ll find a grand altar and other glittering religious treasures within. Numerous statues of saints and fine frescoes also adorn its walls.
Quite simple but striking, the church ended up being one of our favorite buildings in Nerja. You can also take some fantastic photos here of its sparkling facade and the attractive square in front of it.
11. Playa Calahonda
Not far away is the picturesque Playa Calahonda; one of the most popular spots in town to relax and top up your tan. Surrounded by dramatic-looking rocky cliffs, it has sun loungers and parasols to rent while a small kiosk sells drinks and snacks in summer.
Bordered by twinkling turquoise waters, the pebble beach stretches around 120 meters in length with boulders dotted at either end. Aside from sunbathing and swimming, you can clamber about its rocks while basking in the breathtaking scenery. There is also an adorable blue and white house built in the side of the cliff to snap photos of.
Due to its small size and convenient location right next to the Balcony of Europe and historic center, Calahonda can get quite crowded. This does mean though that countless restaurants and shops are found nearby, should you be bored of the beach.
10. Playa Carabeo
Just a bit further down the coast is the equally idyllic Playa Carabeo. Even smaller than Calahonda, its scenic sand and pebbles are accessed via a steep staircase down through the soaring cliffs.
Hidden along the Costa del Sol’s rugged coastline, its secluded cove looks absolutely incredible with the lush vegetation and steep cliffs rising all around it. This creates a stunning scene in which to swim, sunbathe and splash about in the sea. Depending on the time of day, the cliffs can blot out the sun with some people moving on once it becomes too shady.
As it is a bit harder to access and there are no cafes or bars nearby, it usually sees less visitors than other beaches in Nerja, though it can still get busy in summer. We absolutely loved its serene feel and views though and thought it was the best one we visited in town.
9. Acueducto Del Aguila
On the eastern outskirts of Nerja, not far from its amazing caves, is the hugely impressive Acueducto Del Aguila. Painted in fading reds and yellows, its four levels of superimposed arches make for some phenomenal photos as they span the precipitous ravine below.
Although it is similar in design to the ones Romans built millennia ago, Eagle Aqueduct only dates to the nineteenth century. Still used for irrigation, it originally transported water to sugar refinery mills in the neighboring Maro.
For the best views of the enormous aqueduct, you can either amble along the riverbed below or take pics from various viewpoints lining the ravine rim. Worth a quick stop, its elegant old arches stand out delightfully against the blue skies and mountains around it.
8. Visit Frigiliana
Located high up on a hillside amidst the mountains north of town, Frigiliana can be reached in about fifteen minutes drive from Nerja. Most known for its gorgeous old Moorish quarter, the whitewashed village’s charming streets and squares are a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon.
One of the oldest towns along the Andalusian coast, its origins remarkably date back to Phoenician times. You can explore its age-old past in its excellent archaeological museum or simply by wandering around the center. Lining its narrow, winding, bright white streets are lots of attractive old Mudejar-style buildings coated in colourful flowers with some churches and Renaissance palaces dotted about too.
As so many different people have lived here over the millennia, Frigiliana is sometimes called the ‘Village of the Three Cultures’. Each August, a vibrant festival and countless concerts celebrate its rich heritage and Christian, Muslim and Jewish traditions.
7. Cala del Cañuelo
Only ten minutes drive down the coast is yet another picture-perfect beach for you to hit up. At Cala del Cañuelo, you can swim and snorkel in its crystal-clear waters or try some sumptuous seafood at its restaurant. Much remoter than the others, it takes about twenty minutes to hike down to from the car park with shuttle buses also running during the summer.
Backed by rugged mountains and rock formations, the sand and pebble beach stretches 600 meters alongside the shimmering sea. Protected as part of the Cliffs of Maro-Cerro Gordo nature preserve, it has wonderful views to enjoy up and down the coast.
As its waters are normally very clean, many snorkel here above all its shimmering shoals of fish and colourful corals. After sunbathing and swimming, it’s worth trying out its brilliant beachside restaurant before heading back to Nerja.
6. Stroll through the Historic Center
Other than relaxing on its beaches and seeing the Balcony of Europe, exploring the enchanting historic center is one of the main things to do in Nerja. Quite quiet in comparison with most other towns along the Costa del Sol, the small pueblo still has an authentic Andalusian look and feel to it.
Full of pretty cobblestone streets and whitewashed buildings decked in bougainvillaea, it has a lovely laidback, village-like atmosphere. Sprawled across its hillside are some small, scenic plazas to stop by with little local bars and restaurants also scattered here and there.
Aside from enjoying its pleasant ambience and aesthetic, you can try tapas bars and seafood grills or shop for souvenirs. We loved ambling about its peaceful streets and seeing sights like the Church of El Salvador and old Angustias hermitage.
5. Playa el Salón
As it is the seaside town’s sandiest beach, Playa el Salón is also one of its busiest. Bordered by the Balcony of Europe and backed by big cliffs and whitewashed buildings, it looks a treat with the twinkling turquoise waters alongside it.
Again quite small, its crescent-shaped sands stretch just 200 meters in length. Only accessible via a winding walkway hidden away down an alley next to El Salvador church, it has tons of sun loungers and umbrellas for beachgoers to rent.
Along its sun-kissed shores, you’ll also find fishermen’s boats and small sheds where they keep their equipment. Coupled with the striking rock formations and views all around it, this makes the smallish beach even more charming. After lounging on its sand and taking in the scenery, it’s just a short walk back to the center.
4. Rio Chillar
For yet more stunning landscapes, scenery and views, make sure to hike along the Rio Chillar in the mountains north of Nerja. An absolute must for nature lovers, the riverbed’s meandering route takes you through ravines, pools and past a sparkling waterfall.
Originating high up amidst the scorching Sierra, its waters course seventeen kilometers to the Mediterranean next to Nerja. Mostly passing through a pristine natural park, the shallow river is a lot of fun to hike along, particularly in the summer months.
Wading through the ankle-deep water while gazing at the gorges, rocks and trees around you is an amazing experience. At some points it is deep enough to swim in with lizards, snakes and even ibexes sometimes spied alongside it. Taking comfy shoes that you don’t mind getting wet is key, as is starting early in the morning. The tranquil hike can take all day depending on how far along the river you want to go.
3. Cueva de Nerja
Every bit as spectacular are the cavernous Nerja Caves. Known locally as the Cueva de Nerja, their glittering complex has incredible guided tours to take with music concerts and dance performances also sometimes taking place here.
Only rediscovered in 1959, the enormous underground caverns were inhabited by Neanderthals and other early civilizations until the Bronze Age. Formed approximately five million years ago, its narrow passageways and gigantic galleries extend almost five kilometers in total.
While its shimmering stalactites and stalagmites already look so special, the highlight is arguably its hundred meter-long Sala del Cataclismo. Home to the world’s largest column which soars 32 meters in height, it seemingly stretches away forever into the darkness.
We couldn’t believe the vast size of the caves and super enjoyed their VR experience too. We can only imagine how impressive music and flamenco shows must be down here!
2. Burriana Beach
The largest of Nerja’s beaches and the best-equipped too, the beautiful Burriana is where hordes of locals and tourists alike sun themselves and swim about in summer. Lined by a bustling promenade, its rather coarse sands can be found just east of the Balcony of Europe.
Stretching just over 800 meters in total, the broad beach has hundreds of deck chairs and umbrellas to rent. Lifeguards also watch out over its gentle waves where inflatable slides and blow-up obstacle courses bob about in summertime. Besides swimming and sunbathing, you can also hire kayaks and boats from its little kiosks.
As well as drinking in delightful views of the sea and mountains, there are loads of excellent eateries and cafes to try out along the boardwalk. As it is so close to the center and has an endless array of amenities to make use of, you’ll find yourself returning time and time again to Burriana Beach.
1. Balcony of Europe
Nerja’s most iconic attraction, the unmissable Balcony of Europe boasts riveting panoramas up and down the entire coastline on either side. Now the focal point of life in the town, the rocky headland has a lively, palm tree-lined plaza leading up to it where musicians regularly perform.
Constructed around 1487, the promenade atop the precipitous cliff is said to have been named by King Alfonso XII. Captivated by its beauty, he proclaimed it the ‘Balcony of Europe’ when he stopped by the area in 1885 after a disastrous earthquake.
Certainly spellbinding, the overlook offers commanding views over the magnificent beaches, sea and mountains surrounding the already picturesque town. You can also take some fun photos and selfies here with a statue of the king by the balcony.
While we spent ages just gazing over the glittering coast and the Mediterranean, we also really enjoyed the vibrant feel of the plaza bordering it. Full of life and lined with local bars and restaurants, it was our favorite place to spend time in Nerja.
Where to Stay in Nerja
As Nerja isn’t huge and many of its main beaches and tourist attractions lie within walking distance, you’re best off staying in or around the old town. As it does get quite steep in places, hotels towards the waterfront or along its clifftops are a good option.
If you’re after a relaxing stay with spectacular sea views, it’s hard to beat the Hotel Balcón de Europa. Set right alongside the famous viewpoint, the four-star hotel has comfy, spacious rooms each with their own balcony to enjoy. In addition to a rooftop pool and sunbathing areas, it provides guests with a stylish bar and sumptuous buffet breakfasts. The hotel also has very friendly and accommodating staff and lies just a short stroll from almost everywhere in town.
Another great option is the family-run Los Arcos on the northern edge of Nerja. Although it is located maybe a twenty minute walk from the center and beaches, its peaceful feel and beautiful pool more than make up for it. Add in its top-class restaurant and large, well-equipped rooms and the three-star Spanish-style hotel really provides outstanding value for money.
How to get there
As Malaga acts as a transport hub for the Costa del Sol, most people arrive there before heading on to Nerja. After landing at its busy international airport, you can either hire a car or hop in a taxi. The journey should in theory take around forty-five minutes.
Another cheaper yet more time-consuming option is to take a bus first to the center of Malaga and then catch another one heading along the coast to Nerja. This could take several hours though, if you are not lucky with connections.
If you do decide to rent a car, you’re probably best off leaving it in one of the town’s two, large central car parks. This is because the rest of the center’s streets are quite narrow. It should then be easier to visit other towns and nature sights either inland or along the coast.
When you arrive in Nerja, most of its main tourist attractions and beaches are within walking distance of the center. You can also always hop on a local bus if need be to reach its other attractions.
Approximate travel times
- Malaga – 1 hour by car, 1 hour 30 minutes by bus
- Granada – 1.5 hours by car, 2 hours by bus
- Seville – 3 hours by car, 3 hours 30 minutes by bus
- Cordoba – 2.5 hours by car, 3 hours by bus
Best Time to Visit Nerja
Set along the Costa del Sol in Andalusia, Nerja boasts the ‘best climate in Europe’ – at least according to residents. With short, mild winters and long, hot summers, it’s hard to argue against them!
The best time to visit is from June to September when temperatures average 27 to 31°C (80 to 88°F); ideal for sunbathing and swimming in the sea. Despite July and August being the busiest, most expensive months, this is when the days are sunniest and a vibrant feel takes over the Balcony of Europe.
While swimming is still a bit cool in April and May, temperatures of 19 to 23°C (66 to 73°F) are great for ambling around the center or hiking amidst its foothills. Semana Santa – one of its main events – also sees religious parades and candle-lit floats make their way through town.
October is another fine month to visit as swimming is still possible and the traditional Nerja Fair is held. As December is still warm, but a bit rainier, some spend the Christmas holidays here, enjoying its fun festivities, parades and concerts.
Until spring comes around again, Nerja is fairly quiet as many cafes and restaurants shut for the low season.