Once again, Sam McKenna, experienced traveller and third-year Business Management student, let’s us be part of his explorations of Europe. This time he shares the top places to go and things to do in Nerja, Spain, an overlooked beauty that needs to be acknowledges for its vast opportunities to enjoy life with friends and family.

Nerja lies on the southern coast of Spain, just a 45-minute drive east of Málaga, and currently sits in TripAdvisor’s ‘Emerging Destinations’ at #4 in Europe and #9 worldwide. With its classic architecture, charming environment and tranquil sandy coves, it’s safe to say that Nerja has something for everyone.

The Town

Nerja has an average of 300 days of sunshine each year, meaning there’s always the opportunity to get out and experience what the town has to offer. Voted as the number one attraction in Nerja, the Balcόn de Europa is situated on a rocky promontory and was originally a fortress built to keep British pirates and privateers at bay. Now, however, it’s the focal point of the town, displaying magnificent views up and down the coast and is visited by thousands each year. Active both day and night, the ‘Balcony of Europe’ is also the location for various concerts and festivals throughout the year. Lined with cafés, restaurants and ice cream parlours, it’s the ‘place to be’ in the summer months.

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On the rocky road up El Cielo mountain. © Sam McKenna 

The Great Outdoors

If you’re not seeking the shining white Spanish villas, perhaps you’ll be persuaded by the great natural spectacles Nerja has to offer. Overlooking the town and picturesque coast lies the mountain El Cielo. Standing at over 2 kilometres tall, it’s easy to feel tiny in comparison whilst you sip on sangria, soaking up the sun and the atmosphere around you.

If great heights aren’t your thing, Nerja’s got that covered too. To the east of the town you’ll find the entrance to the Cuevas de Nerja. Dating back millions of years, these caves were only discovered in 1959 by five young friends hunting bats, as you do. Home to the world’s largest stalagmite standing at 32 metres, you can also see cave drawings that date back over 20,000 years.

If that’s still not quite your thing then perhaps a walk up the Rio Chíllar will catch your eye. Regarded by many Spanish families as a ‘summer classic’, this unique river walk is a great way to keep cool whilst burning off those infamous holiday calories. Venture through the Spanish canyons with a shallow river running past your shins and you’ll be rewarded with cool rock pools and huge waterfalls which provide a fantastic natural massage.

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Balling on the Burriana beach. © Sam McKenna

The Beaches

If you’re like me, the best parts of a holiday can be where you’re lazing about, achieving absolutely nothing at all. Enter Playa Burriana, arguably the most popular beach in the region, and for good reason! Burriana beach boasts a whole load of facilities as well as its sandy, smooth-stoned shoreline. With pedalos, jetskis, kayaks and the notorious banana boat for rental, there’s always something to get you up on your feet (should you fancy it, of course). The free-to-use volleyball nets are also set up all-year round if you want to celebrate the new year with a sandy serve.

Eating out

The three Ps reign victorious in Nerja: pizza, pasta and paella, and of course tapas. One of the most well-known and popular restaurants in Nerja is Little Italy, specialising in classic Italian food, prices start at just €3.50 for a large, thinly crusted oven-fired pizza. Don’t be fooled by the low prices though! Viewed as the go-to place for pizza and pasta in Nerja, the quality speaks for itself; the perfect place for lunch during the Spanish siesta or for dinner in the cooler evenings.

If you’re after the Spanish scenery, atmosphere and culture, Spanish food goes hand-in-hand, right? Right. Head back down to the Burriana beach for steaming hot paella served straight from the pan. At only €7 per head and unlimited portions (two fill nicely), the only worry is waiting a few minutes for the next batch to be freshly prepared over the open fiery embers, better get in line!

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Bartering with the locals in Nerja. © Sam McKenna

Bars & Clubs

Ask anyone in town for where to go for a lively night out and the answer will be the same: Tutti Frutti. Although the clubbing scene in Nerja is quieter in comparison to the other coastal cities like Marbella, Plaza Tutti Frutti provides the best choice of nightclubs in town. Unlike Bath, the area only starts getting busy from midnight and goes on into the early morning – best make use of those siestas. If clubbing isn’t your cup of tea, there’s plenty else to do later on in town. Tapas bars and pubs are scattered throughout the town hosting numerous activities from flamenco and tango to karaoke and live music.

If places like these still haven’t quite quenched your thirst for a memorable night out on the town, then the plethora of bars Nerja has to offer may take your fancy. A popular one which I’ve found in recent years is El Fuego, located just behind the sandy shores of Playa Burriana. The bar’s flexible and personal atmosphere encourages custom from people all over the world, whilst still being popular amongst locals. With a wide variety of beers, wines, spirits and cocktails as well as a pool table to accommodate in-house tournaments, there’s also live sport coverage on the screens overhead. Despite its ‘sports bar’ nature, the venue feels homely and real, attracting the right kind of people. You don’t feel like a tourist but a local instead.

It’s near impossible to pack Nerja’s beauty and culture into just a few pages and even if I did, it wouldn’t do the town justice. Having been visiting the area for over a decade and living there during the Christmas and summer holidays in recent years, I can safely say that Nerja is one of the few places I’d wholeheartedly recommend to anyone. Its charm and people are unique; the sand is soft, the drinks are refreshing and the food is delicious. Life flows easily with seemingly no barriers to happiness. Holidaying is affordable and living more so. Placed in TripAdvisor’s Top 10, join the celebration of Nerja’s excellence and maybe even improve your Spanish along the way.

Words by Sam McKenna

Sam McKenna, originally from SW London, is currently studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Management. Despite his interest in space and technology, Sam likes to exercise his creativity through his guitar, photography and travel.

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