Along Spain’s southern coast, the perfect stopping point on a drive between Marbella and Granada, is Nerja. Nerja doesn’t get the same top billing recognition as Marbella or Malaga, but this smaller town gets just as much sun and arguably has even better food along the beach. Paella, the traditional food of choice in this region, doesn’t come any fresher. It’s literally cooked in massive skillets right on the sand of the beach. Nerja has every bit of the great things that make the southern coast of Spain great, without attracting the same massive jet setting crowds.
It’s hard to argue against picking one spot on the Costa del Sol and staying put. Time spent in the car driving to another spot is time wasted by not being in the sun or on the beach. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to one great beach for a multi-day stay in the sun and sand. However, there is some benefit to exploring the region and leaving the most popular areas.
Nerja sits right off the main highway connecting Marbella and the rest of the coast with Granada. It doesn’t have the same massive pedestrian friendly areas or shop-lined promenades of Marbella. But there are plenty of great reasons to make the detour.
1. Easy to get to. Nerja’s best beach, Playa de Burriana, is easy to get to and to find parking. There’s a large public parking garage a short drive off the highway with a sub-five minute walk to the water. Since anyone traveling between Granada and the rest of the Costa del Sol will head past on the highway anyway, it’s an obvious detour.
2. Incredible beaches. Playa de Burriana is an extensive stretch of sandy beach with calm waters that couldn’t be easier to get to. It’s pretty much always sunny here, and even in the late summer stays light late, so there are plenty of hours to soak up the sun and surf even after a drive from elsewhere.
3. Beach dinning. Multiple seafood restaurants line the main street and are seated right on the beach. At several, it’s even possible to enjoy some fresh seafood with your toes in the sand. Views of the water and the waves slowly rolling in are a given.
4. The best Paella. These seafood shacks are known for their seafood paella. The seafood version, while the most popular around the world, isn’t actually the original traditional version, but who cares when it’s this good. Cooked up in huge skillets right outside on the beach as well, it’s hard to wait for your dish to come while enjoying the scents of it. Plus something about the connection to the water makes the flavorful rice with muscles, shrimp, and fish taste even better. Plus, the plates are massive so you won’t leave hungry.
5. Refreshing drinks. There’s nothing better than a light, but crisp and refreshing cold Cruzcampo beer, southern Spain’s major brand, while sitting in the sun.
6. Walks on the beach. The huge stretch of beach in Nerja is perfect for a walk after a big meal of Paella to help digest it before cooking out in the sun on the beach again. The sand is pretty fine, so it’s not even all that taxing to traipse through.
7. Promenading through town. Though it’s nowhere near the size of the towns in Marbella or Malaga, there are still some shops along the main street in Nerja. There are cafes, ice cream shops, and stores to pick up any beach necessities that may have been forgotten. It might not keep you out all night with entertainment, but it’s enough if you need to prevent the worst sunburn of your life thanks to the strong Spanish sun.
8. Smaller crowds. Unlike the other major destinations on the coast, there are a ton of hotels and resorts in Nerja. The beach stays less crowded and it’s easy to get seated quickly for food. You don’t have to battle for a spot overlooking the beach at cafes and bars. There’s much less of a challenge to get the attention of a bartender at the bars.
9. No yachts. Or the people that arrive on yachts. Marbella is an experience for the crowd, but at the end of the day, it’s nice to get away from the yacht and supercar crowd. It is amusing to walk amongst the ships and cars by the marina, but I was over sharing a beach with that crowd pretty quickly. It’s also nice not to share cafes, bars, and restaurants all day too. Nerja has a more relaxed local crowd.
10. Friendly locals. Not to say that the locals and staff around the rest of the region aren’t friendly, but there is certainly more warmth and attention in Nerja. Since the louder and more aggressive tourists tend to make it to Nerja less often, the locals haven’t developed as much resistance to tourists.
Nerja may not be at the top of every list for destinations along the coast, but it should be on your agenda. From incredible scenic beaches to detour worthy seafood spots on the beach, it’s a place a tiny bit off the beaten path that still has all the great aspects of southern Spain beach towns. When you see the exit sign on the highway, don’t pass it by.