Is Nerja Overrated?
Not a week goes by without me getting an email from someone thinking of settling in Nerja. They ask me what it’s like and if we can meet for drinks so they can pick my mind. Unfortunately I always have to tell them that we no longer live in Nerja. We moved to Antequera earlier this year.
Which leads me to this post. Is Nerja overrated? There are many things we liked about Nerja but there were also some things we didn’t like. It’s been 7 months since we left so I’ll reflect on that.
I also wonder if all the attention that Nerja gets is justified. Nerja is nice, but there are other seaside towns in the region that are also interesting, both as places to live and visit. If we had to do it all over again knowing what we know now, I’m not sure if Nerja would have been the place we would have chosen.
Some thoughts on all that below.
What we liked about Nerja
There were a lot of things we liked about Nerja when we moved there in late 2020. It was a pretty and quiet town with a lot of local flavour. People were friendly and the geography fantastic. I enjoy hiking so the mountains behind town were definitely a factor to choosing Nerja.
We liked that, although Nerja was a town, it had everything you needed from a city. We had a local hardware store, a lamp store, a bed store where we could buy a new bed. In fact there really wasn’t anything essential that we couldn’t find it Nerja…it had all the attributes of a small town but with all the conveniences we needed of a city.
We liked that housing in Nerja was traditional with low-level buildings. Unlike a lot of places along the coast, Nerja is an attractive place and not made up of just a bunch of tall (often ugly) buildings lining a main road.
We liked the variety of restaurants. In Nerja you can find almost any kind of cuisine, including too many Indian restaurants to count. The quality was often very good. It’s a lively town and we enjoyed going for tapas and just enjoying the vibe of a bustling bar. If you like eating and drinking Nerja is a fun place.
Finally, if you enjoy meeting other people, there are tons of opportunities to do so in Nerja. They have the Club International de Nerja where you can meet people and participate in various activities they organize. If you’re new to Nerja and want to meet others, you have tons of choices. For people moving to a new country that’s a great thing.
Why we left Nerja
There were a few reasons we chose to leave Nerja: some having to do with Nerja specifically, some having to do with housing, some having to do with our own lifestyle needs.
Nerja specifically. We really liked the first 18 months in Nerja. We were still going through the leftovers of Covid at the time: the town was quiet, clean, there were few tourists. Yes, there were expats but overall it felt very much like a traditional Spanish town. We enjoyed the nature, taking walks along the coast to places like Maro and Torrox. I went hiking with Jon Keo walking tours and met some interesting expats. Nerja was what we thought it would be.
In was in the spring of 2022 that everything changed. Suddenly Nerja was full of foreigners, tourists and expats alike. The streets in the center were packed, souvenir shops sprung up out of nowhere. Weekends were crazy. Any festivities we would go to would be jam-packed and we’d be 10 deep behind a throng of other foreigners trying to see what was happening.
I guess that was “normal” Nerja, the one we hadn’t seen because of Covid (remember, we had arrived in November of 2020). We didn’t like it.
Housing. Then there was our apartment. Because of Covid, we had no problems finding what seemed (on the surface) the perfect apartment. We had lots of visits (supply outpaced demand) and finding the apartment took 10 days: A 3-bedroom apartment with a huge yard, all for 800 Euros/month. After 6 years of being full-time travellers, we envisioned having a home and garden.
Just like our initial feelings about Nerja, our feelings towards our home and garden went downhill in our 2nd year. We had ant infestations, cockroaches and the apartment had all kinds of issues with plumbing, electricity and insulation (it was a good-looking building but there were a lot of issues below the surface). During our first year we had enjoyed gardening – in our 2nd year it was about mealy bugs, mosquitos, recluse spiders and calima. We no longer had enjoyment from our property, everything about it was a chore.
We briefly considered switching out for a smaller apartment in a high rise but by then the market had changed. By mid-2022 demand outstripped supply in Nerja and prices were higher (our own rent went from 800 Euros to 850)*.
*We had a lot of enquiries from people about renting an apartment in Nerja. We passed along all those enquiries to our real-estate friend Diane – but between lack of supply, high prices, and the re-emergence of holiday apartments, there was little she could do to help most of them. Nerja has become a very hard place to find a long-term apartment.
Lifestyle needs. By the end of 2022 we were really questioning what we wanted. As I mentioned, we had travelled full-time for 6 years before settling in Nerja and thought we could transition to a more “normal” lifestyle. But we realized that having a home and dealing with everything that came with it just wasn’t for us. We were bored. We wanted to continue maintaining a base in Spain, but we wanted a smaller place that we could just lock up and travel for months at a time.
We considered a smaller apartment in Nerja but quickly decided that was out of the question because of cost and availability (which I mention above). We knew we could get better value elsewhere.
But the bigger issue was “is Nerja the place we want to be?”. And the answer was no.
Firsly, Nerja is not that convenient as a base if you don’t have a car. We had tired of that 1 ½ hour bus ride to Malaga. We hated it.
Secondly, I can understand the attraction of Nerja for people: the beaches, the restaurants and bars, the ease of making friends. But it’s not who we are: we’re not beach people and we mostly keep to ourselves (I kept having to apologize and making excuses to all those people who wanted to meet us in Nerja). So there are aspects of Nerja we knew we wouldn’t miss.
Thirdly, the overriding factor: our vision of Spain wasn’t living among foreigners. If we were going to live in Spain we wanted to live in the “real Spain”. Nerja isn’t it.
These are the reasons we left Nerja for Antequera.
Overall we’re very happy with our move to Antequera
- We have a modern 2-bedroom apartment for which we pay 650 Euros (200 less than what we paid in Nerja).
- We can just lock up and go; we just came back from a 2-month trip to Mexico. We wouldn’t have been able to do that in Nerja.
- Antequera is a beautiful and cultural city and is very much the “real Spain” (with all the pros and cons associated with that).
- Antequera is a 25-minute train ride from Malaga. We love that. Alternatively, it’s 1 hour by bus.
I’m not saying that Antequera is better than Nerja. It’s just better suited to what we were looking for.
I’d be lying if I said there weren’t aspects of Nerja that we don’t miss. There are. We miss going to our favorite tapas bar on a Friday night. They have tapas bars in Antequera but it’s not the same energy. We miss the variety of cuisine, especially the Indian restaurants. Antequera is bigger than Nerja but there’s no Indian restaurant. In fact, apart from a Chinese restaurant and some kebab places, there’s not too much variety. I miss the organized hiking tours…I haven’t found anything similar in Antequera.
There’s actually quite a lot of pros and cons to our move, we didn’t realize just how different life is between the coast and inland. Even the people are different (at some point I’ll write a post comparing living in Nerja vs living in Antequera including a comparison of costs).
It’s not perfect but overall we’re very happy with our move.
Comparing Nerja to other seaside towns
We went for total opposites, leaving the coast to live inland. But there were other options closer at hand.
I mentioned at the top that knowing what I know now, I’m not sure we would have chosen Nerja to be our first base in Spain. There are other seaside towns in the region that we explored during our stay on the coast that might have suited us better.
Almuñécar. The town itself isn’t as pretty as Nerja. It has a lot of those ugly high rises that dominate the coast of Spain. But it is a city with some interesting historical sites and the geography around town is phenomenal. It retains a very strong local vibe so if you want to live somewhere “Spanish” you’ll experience more of that here than in Nerja or some of the other towns I’ll mention below. On the other hand, you’re even further from Malaga than Nerja. More impressions of Almuñécar here.
Torrox Costa. At first glance, there’s not much special about Torrox. It’s basically a modern town built along a coastal road. It looks rustic and you could even say dirty. But after a few visits, we appreciated Torrox. It has a long promenade along the beach where you can walk, lots of restaurants including lots of German restaurants (Torrox has the largest German community in Spain). It has a very different, very laid-back vibe compared to Nerja and we enjoyed coming here and eating at some of the little restaurants that line the coast. While there’s a heavy expat population there are few tourists that come here. More on Torrox.
Torre del Mar. A modern town with the best beach of any town we would visit east of Malaga. Torre del Mar has a big, beautiful beach, a long and wide promenade, a bicycle path, tennis and basketball courts…we were blown away by the facilities and how immaculate everything was. It hasn’t been taken over by expats and tourists. And it’s half the distance from Malaga that Nerja is (almost all buses going to Nerja stop in Torre del Mar, it’s about 45 minutes from Malaga). For people looking to settle here, it’s close to a major hospital and is mobility-friendly: flat, with lots of ramps (the opposite of Nerja). More on Torre del Mar.
Note: Finding accommodation in the towns I’ve listed above is both easier and less expensive.
Which is the best? That’s really tough, I think all have characteristics that will appeal to different people. I quizzed Lissette when writing this, asking her which she would have chosen if she knew what she knows now. Her response was “Torrre del Mar”. I think I might agree with her.
But all have their pros and cons and it depends what’s important to you. Nerja is no doubt is the more international and the most vibrant. It also has by far the prettiest old town. It’s no wonder that it’s popular with tourists. Torre del Mar has the best beach, most convenient location and while it has an expat population, it all still feels authentically Spain. Torrox is smaller and very laid back while Almuñécar has interesting historical sites, gorgeous geography and still feels very Spanish.
I’m not saying any of the above are better than Nerja, I would just recommend to people thinking of settling in Nerja that they visit the other towns and compare. Don’t assume, based on other people’s recommendations, that Nerja is the only choice on the coast east of Malaga.
So is Nerja overrated?
As a place to visit, I don’t think Nerja is overrated. I think it’s the prettiest coastal town east of Malaga. It has great food options and is a fun place if you like nightlife. The Nerja caves are one of Spain’s geological wonders. If I had 3 days to spend along this stretch of the coast it would be in Nerja. Related: The best things to see and do in Nerja.
As far as being overrated as a place to live, that depends on your perspective. As I say, it’s a pretty town, has good beaches and scenic views. If you want to mingle with other expats you can’t beat Nerja. It is welcoming to foreigners and has all the resources one needs to feel at home in Spain. The negatives are a result of its popularity: chiefly too many tourists and expats, high prices and a housing crunch. For some, these are just annoyances that come with living in paradise. Others, like us, might not feel the same way. It really depends on your perspective.