Nerja is a family resort on the far eastern edge of the Costa del Sol. In this rocky and less touristy part of the region skyscrapers are replaced by low-rise apartments and discreet hotels.
Yet there’s no lack of things for families to get up to: You can explore natural or man-made landmarks, laze on a plethora of beaches, take part in all kinds of water sports, play a round of golf or have fun at a water park.
Nerja is also bordered by two large natural parks, allowing you to venture into the wilderness right from the edge of the resort, in a way that isn’t possible at the Costa del Sol’s more built-up destinations.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Nerja:
1. Playa de Burriana
If you’re in Nerja for a beach holiday this is the place you’ll return to time and again.
Playa de Burriana is the largest and best-equipped beach in the resort, with a long and wide strip of pale sand.
In the summer there are floating slides in the water for kids, and lifeguards are on patrol from April to late-September.
Behind the beach is a paved promenade with a long line of chiringuitos (Spanish beach bars), and further back on Camino de Burriana is a very international assortment of bars and eateries.
2. Nerja Caves
This cave system had been used by Neanderthals and early civilisations up to the Bronze Age.
But it lay unseen by modern eyes until 1959 when a group of friends stumbled upon it while out catching bats.
After entering you can study display cases showing some of the items and human remains that were in the caves when they were rediscovered.
On a tour you’ll step through a sequence of chambers, coming to the magnificent Sala del Cataclismo, which is 100 metres long and reaches heights of more than 30 metres.
The humungous central column is 32 metres high and officially the largest in the world.
3. Balcón de Europa
This seafront veranda at the top of a headland is a big part of local life in Nerja.
It got its name in 1885 when King Alfonso XII visited this spot following an earthquake and remarked that it was the “balcony of Europe”. When you contemplate the sea from the iron railings it’s hard to disagree.
There’s a statue of King Alfonso here, as well as a sculpture on the plaza behind commemorating the discovery of Nerja’s caves.
Everyone gathers at the plaza for New Year’s Eve, during the Holy Week processions and the Feria de Nerja which takes place in mid-October.
4. Río Chillar
Drop in at the tourist office in Nerja for details of this hike that starts in the northern outskirts of the resort and trails into the natural park.
You’ll journey against the course of the Chillar River as it winds through a gorge and cascades into a perfectly clear pool.
The walk is suitable for most ages and takes around three hours.
It’s also a year-round activity, particularly satisfying in the summer as the water and shade created by the gorge will cool you off.
If you go quietly you should get to see Ibexes balancing on the ravine walls, as well as lizards and snakes sunning themselves on the rocks.
5. Playa el Salon
This beach has the dual appeal of being right in the middle of Nerja while not attracting as many visitors as Torrecilla and Burriana.
This is partly down to its setting, at the foot of the cliffs to the west of the Balcón de Europa.
You have to make your way down to the seafront via a steep winding lane, and there are no beachside restaurants here.
That shouldn’t matter though as the resort’s busy centre is no more than a couple of minutes on foot, and there’s a kiosk on the beach in summer should you need anything.
El Salon also has slightly finer sand than Nerja’s other beaches and like its neighbours also provides sun loungers.
6. Church of El Salvador
The historic landmark in the pedestrianised area behind the Balcón de Europa, this whitewashed church was built at the end of the 17th century and has a baroque and Mudéjar (Moorish-style) design.
The bell-tower beside it is a little newer and was completed in 1724, rising above Nerja’s skyline.
You’ll get to know the peals of its bells, which ring on the hour and half-hour, and competing with the tower is a huge Norfolk Island pine tree, brought from the Americas in the early-1900s.
If you visit during a mass you’ll know you’re on the Costa del Sol, as services are held in both Spanish and English!
7. Aqueduct of El Águila
Not so much a “thing to do” as a “thing to see” from a distance, this 19th-century civic work merits a photo all the same.
It was built to carry water to the mills of a disused sugar refinery in Maro and traverses the precipitous Barranco de la Coladilla, a ravine not too far from the Nerja Caves.
Although the sugar mills are gone, the aqueduct is still used for irrigation.
There are four storeys of overlapping arches, number 37 in total, all with a Moorish-style horseshoe shape.
8. Playa de la Cala el Cañuelo
Around 10 kilometres east of Nerja there’s a peaceful little cove with a shale beach.
Not too many people make it this far outside the resort, and what adds to the sense of seclusion is the ban on cars in the Acantilados de Maro-Cerro Gordo Natural Park; you have to park up by the road and catch a minibus down the shore.
There you can unwind in front of rocky, pine-dappled hills or take a dip in the serene waters, which offer some of the best snorkelling.
In summer you can visit the chiringuito for lunch, but on busier days you may need to book a table early.
9. Water Sports
The natural park east of Nerja has undeveloped cliff-tops and little coves, all of which are best admired from the sea.
You can rent a kayak by the hour from the beachfront at Burriana or Maro and see what you can find.
Playa de Burriana also has its own PADI five star dive centre, with courses and dives for all levels.
If you feel you’re not quite ready to take the plunge you could also take part in one of the centre’s snorkelling excursions.
For people who want exhilarating motor-powered water sports Parasail Nerja offers jet-skiing, banana boat rides and of course, parasailing at €40 a go.
10. Aquavelis Water Park
At Nerja you’ll be a brief drive from this water park in Torre del Mar, just the thing for children getting fidgety at the beach.
Parents can plonk themselves on the lawns beneath permanent sunshades for the afternoon while kids have the time of their lives on 21 different rides, including the 80-metre high-speed Kamikaze.
Littler visitors can splash about in the Zona Mini, with small slides and pools.
Elsewhere there’s a spacious wave pool and Aqua Splash, a large adventure climbing frame with slides and waterfalls.
This sport is synonymous with the Costa del Sol, but on the eastern side of the region there are fewer courses. Still, in Nerja you’ll have two within half an hour.
Baviera Golf in Caleta de Velez is closest; it’s one of the more reasonably-priced on the Costa del Sol but also gets some of the best reviews.
It’s a very playable, 18-hole par 72 with a great bar and terrace at the 19th.
Closer to Málaga is Anoreta Golf, set one kilometre in from the coast but on raised ground with some astounding scenery to drink in as you tee off.
Like Baviera it was designed by former European Tour player José María Cañizares.
12. Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama
The natural park that forms the backdrop to Nerja is made up of three limestone mountain ranges.
Millions of years of weathering have lead to some incredible natural features, like the Nerja Caves and the Río Chillar canyon.
For people with a taste for the outdoors there’s much more to see, including loads more caves, many of which were hideouts for smugglers in the past . The best time to set off on hiking trips is outside the peak summer period when the sun is less punishing.
The park is woven with trails for circular or afternoon hikes, or you can get in touch with a local adventure sports company if you want to do something more ambitious like canyoning or rock-climbing.
13. Ron Montero
In the Granada province, around half an hour east of Nerja is the town of Motril, where you’ll find the Ron Montero distillery, one of the very last rum-makers in Europe.
The plant is open from Tuesday to Saturday, with one English-language tour a day starting at 13:00. There’s a video presentation, and you’ll look around the barrel storage area all the while finding out about the ingredients (local sugar cane), distillation and storage process.
As you’d guess, the highlight is when you get to taste the three-year (in hot chocolate), five-year and 50-year rums, discovering the differences between them.
The distillery also hosts evening tasting events with tapas, and you can also buy bottles as a souvenir.
The Costa del Sol’s capital is just the place to visit to sample big city life in Andalusia, and has enough cultural and historical attractions to hold your attention for more than a day.
First things first, Pablo Picasso was born here, and there are two museums devoted to the seminal 20th-century artist.
There’s an epic Moorish monument, the Alcazaba, a fortress that was constructed in the 1000s and retains its palatial courtyards.
The walls of the Alcazaba link with another castle, Gibralfaro on a hill-top 130 metres above the city and with rousing views of Málaga and its port.
Down by the water you can stroll around Mulle 1 (Pier 1), where part of the port has become a swanky new shopping and dining district.
15. Food and Drink
Another thing that distinguishes Nerja from many Costa del Sol resorts is the availability of Andalusian cuisine.
Obviously this includes tapas favourites like calamares and fried baby squid (chipirones). But you can also get dishes like ajoblanco, a cold soup made with almonds, bread and garlic, and often served with white grapes.
Another cold soup, Gazpacho also originates in this part of Spain, and is perfect on hot days.
Espetos are a real Málaga speciality: Sardines skewered with bamboo and barbecued over wood embers.