Nerja or Marbella – Where To Go

Nerja or Marbella, Puerto Banus
Marbella, Image by Eevi Alanissi via Flickr

“Should I stay in Nerja or Marbella for the week?” That’s the question anyone considering a holiday on the sunny Costa del Sol might ask themselves. I’ve been in the same situation, and I also find that the choice isn’t as simple as it seems. So, I’m here to help you decide.

These two towns are part of my off-the-beaten-path itinerary in Andalusia, but that’s not how most travelers visit the coastal region. Actually, Nerja and Marbella are two of the loveliest places to stay on the Costa del Sol, and that’s why many travelers choose to stay there for their holiday every year.

One is known for being a luxurious hotspot, while the other is surrounded by natural beauty. These two towns, with their whitewashed streets brimming with colorful flowers, attract travelers with the promise of a delightful Andalusian village experience.

Marbella and Nerja are both near Malaga International Airport, with direct flights from Madrid and Barcelona. The Málaga–Costa del Sol Airport also has flights from London, Amsterdam, Dublin, Brussels, and Paris.

But let’s be real, picking between Nerja and Marbella can be tough. No worries, though—I’ll make it simple.

key takeaways

  • Marbella and Nerja are two of the hottest spots on the Costa del Sol.
  • Go to Marbella for its beautiful beaches and upscale vibe.
  • Head to Nerja for its natural beauty scenic landscapes and Spanishness.
  • Both cities are perfect for a honeymoon, but Marbella is just a tad more romantic.
  • Marbella tourist season: May-June, September-October. 
  • Nerja tourist season: May-June, September-October. 
Nerja or Marbella – Where To Go nerja or marbella

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Nerja or Marbella, Marbella old town
Marbella, Image by Eevi Alanissi via Flickr
Nerja or Marbella – View of the Burriana Beach from the Balcón de Europa
Nerja, Image by Ken Yamaguchi via Flickr

Should I go to Nerja or Marbella?

Marbella is all about being the most luxurious town on the Costa del Sol, and let’s face it, in all of Spain. It’s got that classic whitewashed Old Town vibe, but it’s also got some high-end shopping, the ever flashy Puerto Banus, and gorgeous sandy beaches.

Now, Nerja, on the other hand, is another gem of a coastal town. It’s all about nature’s beauty. The Cueva de Nerja has this mysterious vibe, and the view of the sea from the Balcón de Europa? Absolutely stunning.

Short answer

  • If you’re looking for a luxury destination, choose Marbella.
  • If you prefer a laid back setting close to nature, choose Nerja.

Long answer

If you’ve got about 5 days to spare, it’s worth visiting both. They’re just about 1 hour and 20 minutes apart by car. And if you’re hopping between Marbella, Nerja, and Malaga, any of them go well with a visit to Malaga. However, Nerja’s countryside charm offers more of a contrast than busy, cosmopolitan Marbella.

  • Go to Nerja for idyllic coves, views, unique landscape, magnificient caves and Andalusian culture. Best for families.
  • Go to Marbella for sunny beaches, buzzing nightlife, incredible restaurants, world-class hotels and thrilling watersports. Best for couples.
Nerja or Marbella – Where To Go nerja or marbella
Marbella, Image by Eevi Alanissi via Flickr
Nerja or Marbella – Where To Go nerja or marbella
Nerja, Image by Keith Roper via Flickr

Nerja vs Marbella – Summary


  • A charmingly Spanish town with a walkway along the shore
  • Cliffside location
  • Incredible views for the Balcón de Europa
  • Plenty of appartment rentals and some cute boutique hotels.
  • Crystal clear waters, great for snorkelling but a but pebbly.
  • 45 min. by car from Málaga.
  • More family-oriented than Marbella
  • A couple of attractions just for kids, as long as you can drive there.
  • Many toursday trips and lots of nature & adventure activities.
  • The Cueva de Nerja are beautiful deep caverns and they are easy to visit.
Cueva del Lobo Marino (Nerja)
Nerja, Image by Carlos Dario Perez via Flickr
Beach in Nerja
Nerja, Image by Lies Van Rompaey via Flickr


  • Beautiful old town with a more modern and upscale vibe
  • At the foot of the dramatic La Concha mountain
  • Some phenomenal luxury hotels.
  • Golden, sandy beaches, 9 of which boast the Blue Flag award.
  • 45 min. by car from Málaga. (You can also get there by bus in the same time.)
  • Many boat tours leaving from Puerto Banus.
  • Family-friendly, though there are limited kid-oriented activities.
  • The nightlife here is lively, with beach parties, clubs, and live music.
  • The spectacular Caminito del Rey is only one hour away.
  • Despite its reputation for being costly, Marbella has lots of budget-friendly dining options and accommodations.
beach in marbella
Marbella, Image by J T via Flickr
view of Marbella from the sea
Marbella, Image by J T via Flickr

Nerja vs Marbella

  • Marbella is truly beautiful, but Nerja grabs all the attention when it comes to raw natural beauty. If you love nature adventures, Nerja is the clear winner.
  • For a luxurious honeymoon or romantic trip, Marbella is the perfect pick. The city is ready to spoil you. You just have to come.
  • Nerja boasts the magnificent Cueva de Nerja. Stretching for almost 5 kilometers, you can’t miss it; it’s a real natural wonder and even declared a Spanish Historical Heritage site. Marbella doesn’t quite have something like that, but I have to admit the view of the mountain behind the city is pretty dreamy too, and going up La Concha gives you a different kind of thrill.
  • It’s easier to take day trips out of Marbella simply because of its central location on the Costa del Sol. My favorite day trip from Marbella has to be going to Málaga, simply because there is so much to do in the city. But if you’re looking for a little more adventure, you can go canyoning in the Guadalmina canyon. On the other hand, the best day trip from Nerja has got to be to Frigiliana. I can’t think of anywhere nearly as quaint as this little inland town.
  • The closest airport to both Marbella and Nerja is Málaga Airport. Málaga-Costa del Sol Airport offers direct flights connecting it to Madrid and multiple destinations across Europe.
  • Málaga Airport (AGP) has direct flights from the US, only via Newark Airport. Visitors from other locations will typically need to make a layover to catch a connecting flight to the Costa del Sol.
  • It’s entirely possible to visit either city in the winter. While some places do close during winter in Marbella and Nerja, many places will still be open. However, there’s no guarantee that there won’t be any rain.
  • Both cities are just a 45-minute car ride from Málaga. Right now, there’s no train connecting them, but you can hop on a regional bus instead. It takes about 45 minutes to get to Marbella and an hour and 15 minutes to reach Nerja.
Nerja or Marbella – Where To Go nerja or marbella

Where to Stay on the Costa del Sol : Best Hotels and Towns

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación in Marbella
Marbella, Image by alehuo via Flickr
Balcon De Europa Promenade In Nerja
Nerja, Image by Ken Yamaguchi via Flickr

The weather in Nerja and Marbella

Although there’s not much difference in climate between Marbella and Nerja, Marbella usually gets a bit of an edge thanks to the mountains nearby giving it a microclimate. While Marbella is a few degrees hotter in the summer months, it does tend to get a touch more rain in the fall.

The best weather for both cities is from late May to early October.

Since both Marbella and Nerja are major resort towns and the weather on the Costa del Sol rarely dips below 10°C, spring and fall visits still have a lot to offer. The peak season on the Costa del Sol is during the months around July and August: May, June, September, and October.

Visiting Both Nerja and Marbella

Visiting both Nerja and Marbella is totally doable if you’re in the area for a few days, especially if you’re already in Malaga.

They’re just 1 hour and 20 minutes apart by car, so getting between them should be a breeze. Most people opt to drive, but you can also take the bus with a connection in Malaga, though it’ll take about 2 hours each way.

Puerto Banus in Marbella - Nerja or Marbella
Marbella, Image by alehuo via Flickr
Statue La Victoria in Marbella, Costa del Sol
Marbella, Image by alehuo via Flickr

Day Trip to Nerja or Marbella

Unlike Seville and Granada, Nerja and Marbella are towns you can easily check out in just a few hours. There are plenty of day tours you can take to explore these spots. Nerja usually pairs up with the charming Frigiliana, while Marbella often comes with Puerto Banus and Pueblo Mijas.

Group Tours :

Patio in Mijas Pueblo
Mijas, Image by Alejandro Mezcua Gonzalez via Flickr
Beautiful white streets of Frigiliana, near Nerja
Frigiliana, Image by Ken Yamaguchi via Flickr

My take

Marbella and Nerja are two of the nicest towns on the Costa del Sol. Given the choice between the two, most people tend to lean towards Marbella, unless you’re really after a more laid-back vibe.