Frugal City Guide: Nerja

Photographs: Christopher O’Donnell.

I have been going to Nerja since I was 11, first on holiday with my parents and more recently, staying at my parent’s small apartment. The main reason we go is for an affordable holiday (we buy flights early usually for under £100) but also: we love it.

Now I don’t work for the Nerja tourist board and I try not to tell everyone ‘you must go’ – we always enjoy ourselves but it might not necessarily be for everyone. Let’s get one thing straight – it’s not quite Sicily: it has no rustic charm to speak of, the beaches aren’t incredible (all the beaches on the Costa Del Sol are man-made so they’re pebbly or dark sand) and it can be quite touristy over the summer months. But we love the mix of local chiringuitos, the abundance of places to eat and drink, the paved walkways and the ease of it (you fly into Malaga, so it’s only 2.5 hours away). There’s something so lovely, for us, about going back to somewhere we know – we know what to pack, what we’ll need and can look forward to certain meals!

That said, I get asked a lot on social media about where to stay, where to eat etc and it’s not an easy place to navigate if you’ve never been before (there are, like most places, quite a few mediocre tourist traps) – we don’t really do fancy in Nerja and prefer a few more ‘local’ places which aren’t chic at all. To me, this is Nerja and these are our tips.

Dress: Ganni (old but you can often find great items on Vestaire, this dress is linked in a size 34 here). Bag: £5 in the sale, Matalan (use code FRUGALITY for free shipping until 15th July 2019).

Burriana Beach, Nerja

Nerja is on the Costa Del Sol, a traditional Spanish town with only a couple of hotels, cobbled streets, not too many high rises (they actually have rules about paint colours and the height of buildings towards the sea) and probably the cheapest local food around (if you find the right places).

Without doubt the prettiest beach is Burriana – it’s more manicured with hills behind, beautiful villas, rentable sunloungers and great restaurants – Ayos always has a great vibe for paella and Ayo himself is a bit of a local celebrity. There used to be a beach walk to get to Burriana and they’re looking into bringing it back but currently, there’s a big hill to and from the town from the beach (which is a bit of a schlep with a buggy), just something to think about when booking.

I actually prefer Playazo beach which is near where we stay on the edge of town – it’s a sweeping beach where more locals hang out (during the festival of San Juan in June, locals camp out on the beach all weekend and run into the sea at midnight). It’s not as pretty by any means and more shingle than sand (take your Tevas!), you walk along a dirt road with mopeds speeding each way but we take our own chairs and if you walk along the coast you are never too near any other sunbathers (even in high season). The beach bars along here by the allotments and boatyard do great seafood and their boquerones are always fresh, they’re not fancy at all, rough sand or grass beneath your feet, plastic chairs and paper tablecloths but to me, they’re perfect – Chiringuito Mauri is probably the best (and the paella is cheaper (and equally as good) than Ayo’s at €6.90), we also like Restaurante El Playazo (paella €6.25 here) and Miguel el Manga is nice on the weekends with lots of locals (try the Coquinas – clams in a garlic butter sauce).

And every year, we notice more money being spent in the town – new promenades where there used to be a dirt path, and this year there is a bridge being finished over the dried riverbed (previously we had to carry Peggy and the pram over it!).

Playazo beach

At this end of town, too, is the Rio Chillar walkway, down to the beach (this was just a dried up river-bed when we first started coming but now it’s a lovely walk filled with flowers, benches, a petanque area and children’s playgrounds – we spent lots of time here this trip!). Here you’ll find the boat El Dorado from the 1980s tv sitcom set in Nerja – ‘Verano Azul’ (don’t google. it’s terrible and looks like it was filmed in the 60s!) – and all the plaques around the park have pictures and names of the characters from the show.

Rio Chillar walkway

The main attraction is The Balcon de Europa, it’s always buzzing with people both day and evening and it is where most of the bars and restaurants are based – you can find the usual caricaturists, hair braiding and street artists here, it’s a bit of Spanish seaside cliche but it’s beautiful in its own way. We often walk here late afternoon for an ice cream and stroll and there are some lovely restaurants.

For special occasions and views, try 34 Carabeo (but book ahead for an outside table and my parents say that Bakus now has a superior menu) – in fact, Carabeo is probably one of my favourite streets in Nerja (and it’s a lovely walk down here on your way to Burriana).

Photos taken over the years in Nerja

Playa de Calahonda, with The Balcon de Europa

I don’t go to the Balcon as much as we used to, it gets really crowded in the high season but there are loads of great restaurants and it’s worth walking around and investigating as they change over time and there’s lots of different places to cater for different tastes.

I would say there are a lot of fancier places over the last few years, as tourism has been booming here. I haven’t tried them but places like Oliva and Copa Vino look lovely for something a bit more special.

Both my sister and I came to Nerja for our hen weekends and a rooftop dinner at Scarletta’s was always lovely and an easy menu that pleased everyone.

Peronally, I love Namaste which is a great Nepalese restaurant – the achar chicken is delicious.

Or the square behind the Balcon is lovely for a few Italian restaurants all on top of each other, great for kids as there’s loads going on and it’s all outdoors so they keep entertained rather than captive inside a restaurant (and Julie’s and Valeri’s serves great mojitos with fab music blasting).

Calle Pintada, Nerja

In terms of where we eat, this trip we did A LOT of pizza and pasta for dinner (so much easier for Peggy), then the beach restaurants for lunch on Playazo, and often we ate in the apartment. If you’re after great, easy Italian with outside seating, then the area by Torrecilla beach is perfect on Avenida Castilla Perez. La Bottega is relatively new and is excellent, but most places here are worth a punt. They seem to be open earlier than most restaurants on the Balcon, too, so if you’re a 5:30pm/6pm-er (like us, currently!) then these are perfect.

We love to get gelato from La Gelateria da Piero too whilst we’re in the Torrecilla. But Albi’s on the Balcon is great, too, or if you want something more traditional (and sit down!), then Heladeria Ibense on Calle el Barrio is lovely.

On this road (Calle de Barrio) is Za Za’s chicken rotisserie – we get takeaway from here a a couple of times when we go – dinner for under €10 – and their fries are the best I’ve ever had (make sure you ask for the garlic gravy).

And obviously, we do tapas.

For us, tapas isn’t really tapas unless you get it free with a drink. And if you know the places to go, you can really eat out cheaply. Pre Peggy, this would be the only way we ate, and even last year we could still do it with her in a sling, but we might have to skip it for a few years as you mainly get served sitting on stalls or standing at the bar. Our tips of the best are:

El Sevillano (there’s a few, my favourite is on Calle de Chaparil as it’s quieter, far less fancy and you get served tapas even sitting down on the chairs – you can also order off the menu here, too). Free tapas (with an alcoholic drink) includes fresh king prawns, chicken curry and meatballs. It also ‘happens’ to be opposite the basket bag and ceramic shop I love.

La Rienda – sit at the barrels or the bar, not the tables to get tapas – we’ve had mini paella as tapas here but it gets busy.

La Taberna de Pepe Moles – sit inside or at the barrels outside for free tapas with a drink (Peggy is obsessed with Pepe!).

Il Pulguilla – probably my favourite tapas in Nerja, it’s really typical Spanish and is always packed. But don’t be phased, you get served tapas standing up anywhere inside (and they come to you!). There’s a lot of fish tapas, but also meat options (probably not great for vegetarians).

El Rincon de Sabor – it has a small tapas bar inside but they staff are lovely and really decent free tapas.

Oberador – my dad added this one in, I’ve not been but he said it’s a hidden gem with good tapas.

La Marinera Marisqueria – if you walk past on a weekend, it’s absolutely packed – it’s mainly seafood but very local with an amazing atmosphere. You get tapas at the bar and traditional reataurant food at the tables. In fact, this square has a few places if you fancied doing a tapas tour: Starrs tapas and Bar Turry are just opposite.

Just a couple of extra places to mention – Il Molino. I haven’t been for a few years as it doesn’t even really get going until 11pm but it’s an amazing place to go on the weekends, especially on Fridays and Saturdays but it’s a beautiful, hidden very local Flamenco bar where locals dance to local Spanish guitar players (it’s not a touristy place with a show, it’s more for people just to enjoy the music) – Jose Manuel is a fantastic singer who usually plays (and sometimes a man sits by him as he plays and weaves baskets). At midnight, they turn off all the lights and he sings to a statue of virgin Mary with a candle – it is so beautiful and brings a tear to your eye. The only thing I would suggest here is to share a jug of Sangria as it’s far cheaper than spirits.

And next to this is Los Barriles, which used to be a lovely bar on Carabeo serving flaming sausages, which I believe it still does!

Oh and for nightlife, Tutti Frutti is the place to go, which doesn’t get going until around 1am and I have nowhere to recommend there (apart from @Connect restaurant where you can get a decent pizza for around €5).

Any of the cafes, such as Anahi, looking over Calahonda are great for a morning coffee with views, and we loved The Good Stuff for a bit of a healthy breakfast serving smoked salmon and smoothies. I love Nerja at breakfast time, everyone’s out drinking coffee before it gets too hot.

You can get typical churros y chocolat at Ortiz on Calle Barrio, too.

In terms of where to stay, in all honesty I don’t know that many places. It’s more apartment-y than hotel centric and you won’t find any boutique trendy places to stay. And I always stay in the same place! We love our end of town, between Torrecilla and Playazo beach, close to a lot of the tapas places we visit and only a 10 minute walk to the Balcon.

Hotel Carabeo (which has a beautiful restaurant and grounds) looks lovely which is near the Balcon but for families, I think it would be more villa rentals and air bnb options and the Parador area or Torecilla are good places to look.

Oh and I couldn’t not mention my favourite shop: Ceramicas Zayas on Antonio Millon. There’s not much shopping in Nerja to be honest, so this is my one thrill!

Every time I speak to anyone about Nerja, everyone has different favourite places. That’s because there are so many gems to explore, it can really be a different holiday every time. These are just my favourites and how we like to holiday -and they’re not very fancy! But I hope you find it useful in case you ever go or are planning to.

It’s also worth mentiong how easy it is to do day trips, too – the Caves of Nerja are 15 minute bus ride away, the beautiful whitewashed town of Frigiliana is 10 minutes away, Granada an hour drive away, Malaga 40 minutes and Seville (read our city guide here) just three hours away (and the bus station is great in Nerja – I have used it so often). And along the coast road are plenty of other great coastal towns too.

Frigiliana

Also I wanted to say that I have added a lot of links from Tripadvisor for restaurants, simply because they are so small and local that they don’t have a direct site. I am not endorsed by Tripadvisor, and generally don’t use it as prefer to make my own judgments of restaurants, but have linked to let you know the address and food offering!

21 Comments

  1. Hi Alex, that was a great read. I’ve been going to Nerja for 20 years and we got married there 13 years ago.. I emailed you before. The last few years we’ve been staying up in Frigiliana as the kids are bigger now (10 and 8) and we love it up there. We also stay on the coast by Torrox as we have the car. I knew most of your recommendations and would have similar. Such a great read. Lovely that you and your little family can enjoy it year after year. Have a lovely day. Audrey

  2. Great article! We love Nerja, have been going there since 2000. The photo of you in C Carabeo, wearing the gold dress, is just at the front door of where we stay. It is fabulous x

  3. This is just the guide I needed thank you as I am heading out there with a few friends in March for the weekend. Have you visited that time of year? Are a lot of the restaurants closed then?

  4. It’s lovely you have found “your holiday place”. We went there when our eldest was Peggys age, did a tour round Andalusia and ended up in Nerja. I remember it well, staying in a small apartment complex and we walked with the buggy along the road into town.
    We found our holiday place 25years ago when our eldest was a baby and have gone back regularly ever since. We now go as a couple but still love it, feels like a second home. Playa Blanca in Lanzarote is our special place.

  5. Having known Nerja since 1972 and spent many happy days there in the 1980’s and Nineties, including a wedding at that iconic church and New Year 2000 on the Balcon de Europa, I think your guide is marvellous – authentic, helpful and informative and so evocative of the spirit of the place. Brilliant – and so well written and illustrated, as are all your pieces.

  6. We go often ,beautiful place we too have visited many of the restaurants and tapas bars you have mentioned …… so seeing as we like what you do and reading your post on seville we have booked for sept !!! For anyone interested we always stay in a hotel 2 minutes walk from the church in Nerja called mena plaza fab location very clean modern and excellent value love reading your posts on holidays maybe we will book for Grenada next !!

  7. What El Dorado was filmed there!!!
    That would have been on the top of my to do list had I known, loved that programme (though I may have been one of a very few who did).
    Love this and your other city guides, hoping you do a Granada one before I go in August.

  8. Loved reading your post about Nerja. I too went there for years with my mum and dad as a kid and have such fond memories of the place. We used to stay in Punta Lara just outside the town and Frigliana and Competa were our favourite places to visit! Maybe it’s time to go back! 🙂

  9. I’d never even heard of Nerja so thanks for introducing me to it! Looks and sounds amazing. It’s great to hear about more places that are a short flight away, particularly as I have three children. Long haul and jet lag isn’t so fun these days!

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