Things to do in Cartagena Spain
There’s a Cartagena in Spain? Yes indeed, in fact, most N. American and S. America cities have European namesakes – that’s colonialism for you.
Before I went to Cartagena I tried to research the City online but most of what I found was from the city’s namesake in Colombia, South America. So I must admit I was surprised and pleased to find that there are plenty of things to do in Cartagena Spain. From Roman history, a beautiful city with marble streets, amazing food and sites you won’t see in Andalucia, Barcelona or the rest of Spain. Cartegena is one of the fabulous hidden gems of Europe that you should make an effort to visit.
So I say add Cartagena to your list to discover in Spain and if you are wondering what the best things to do in Cartegena, Spain are this article outlines how we recommend spending one day in Cartagena as well as some tips if you have a longer stay in the city. Spain has many famous landmarks and Cartagena is very much off the beaten path but well worth a visit.
Is Cartagena Spain worth visiting?
The answer to that question is an unqualified yes. There are so many things to do in Cartegena Spain from historic Roman and Carthaginian sites to feasts fit for foodies. There are marble streets, brilliant shopping. The heartstopping elevator to the top of the Castillo, boat rides and so many more activities.
Cartegena is located in the Region of Murcia, by the Mediterranean coast, south-eastern Spain. Cartagena also has some of the best weather in Europe and is called the “winterless” city. Even in January, the temperatures hover around 57° F.
How to Get to Cartagena Spain
The biggest influx of tourists to Cartagena Spain comes from the massive cruise ships docked in the deep harbour. It is an easy city to get to though when touring Spain but if you are driving it is a rather “interesting” city to drive through not to mention the parking is awful.
However, having said that the traffic is restricted in Cartegena and there is underground parking but outside the main centre so it is a walk into the heart of the city. This does make the city very walkable and it is lovely without all that traffic to put up with.
Cartegena is a stop along the way for most buses coming up from the south to the airport at Murcia or Alicante on the Costa Blanca. Murcia San Javier airport is only 20km north of Cartagena. There are a few buses direct from Granada and Valencia and Alicante and if you want to add a road trip to your Alicante holiday on the Costa Blanca Cartagena is a fascinating place to visit
There is no direct bus from the airport to Cartagena Spain. The main Murcia-Cartagena highway, which is served by bus, is 3km away. Otherwise, a taxi will cost around €25.
You can book tickets online through Costasur the cost of a one-way ticket from Murcia to Cartegena is €4.75.
Best Things To Do In Cartagena Spain
- Cartagena Port
- Port Tour
- Whales Tale
- Naval Museum
- Civil War Refugee Museum
- Castillo de la Concepcion
- Roman Theatre
- Molinete Archaeological park
- Augusteum of Cartegena
- House of Fortune
- Roman Decumano Maximum
- Centre for the interpretation of the Punic Rampart
- Museo Historico Militar de Cartagena Spain
- The Crypt
- The San José´s Ermitage
- Walking Calle Mayor
- Palacio Consistoria
- The Gran Hotel
- Casa Cervantes
If you arrive on a cruise ship then you have no need for directions. If you are coming from the Roman Theatre or the Castillo simply keep heading south on Calle Mayor until you reach the port, it’s a nice easy walk.
Cartagena is one of the most important naval ports in Spain and has been the capital of the Spanish Navy’s Maritime Department since the arrival of the Spanish Bourbons in the 18th century.
There is a tourist boat tour of the harbour which takes around 40 minutes or so and takes you past some brilliant historic sites including the lighthouses, forts, castles and the naval docks. The tours are conducted in both Spanish and English and the cost is around Tickets cost €5.75 or €8 if you also want to get off the boat and visit one of the forts.
The Tourist Boat leaves approximately every hour with reduced services during the low season. The ride lasts 40 minutes and takes you past a number of important historical sites including castles, forts, naval docks and lighthouses while also allowing you to enjoy nice views of Cartagena. There is commentary in both Spanish and English so you understand the significance of what you are seeing.
You can buy your tickets for the tour online here and it would probably be a good idea to do in advance as it can get very busy during the season.
The port at Cartagena is quite nice compared to some of the ports cruise ships sail into. It’s a pretty area surrounded by hills and with some pretty damned expensive sailboats and cruisers on show. The cruise port overlooks the Mediterranean and contains mainly personal (read rich folks) pleasure boats. In fact when we visited we had the chance to see the world most expensive yacht.
The Yacht which belongs to a Russian oligarch is undergoing a refit in the harbour. It is a £240 million priced superyacht and it has apparently been seized by harbour officials as the Russian has not paid his dock fees.
If you are on a cruise you will see a promenade when you disembark from the ship. The Paseo de Alfonso XII has a great array of bars and cafes on the terrace. It’s perfect for a walk from the ship and has some great views.
Things to see in the Cartagena Spain Harbour
The Whale’s Tail opposite the Naval Museum
If you visit the Naval Museum you will spot this sculpture of a whale tail close to the harbour. It honours the whales that navigate the waters of the Port throughout the seasons.
Naval Museum, Cartagena, Spain
Situated within the port is the Naval Museum located in an 18th-century building which until recently was a college for navy personnel who had joined the Spanish Navy. The Museum highlights weapons, navigational tools and weapons and offers detailed accounts of the upheaval of the 1800s in Europe. Several revolutions, the loss of Spanish colonies and the heirs to the Spanish throne.
One of the most interesting sites is the Peral Submarine which is the first battery-powered vessel launched in 1888. It was tested for 2 years but never fully developed.
Arqua is the National Centre for Marine Archaeology and is located on the main paseo of the port Paseo Alfonso XII right next to the cruise ship terminal.
It contains some incredible historical artefacts and is also a research facility. Due to Cartegena’s historical significance as the centre of the trade route linking Africa to the Middle East and the Mediterranean, there is a treasure trove of antiquities in the Museum.
Phoenician vessels, Roman wrecks, the treasure of the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a frigate that was sunk in the early 19th century with 14.5 tons of gold and silver coins. There are even laboratories where children can undertake archaeological research.
From Cartegena’s Port its an easy walk down to the centre of the city. On Calle Gisbert, you will see a huge modern elevator that heralds the entrance to the Castillo and the Civil War Refuge Museum.
Civil War Refuge Museum in Cartagena Spain
Cartagena was one of the most besieged cities during the Spanish Civil War. In 1878 a tunnel was opened on Gisbert Street that connected Conception Hill to the highest point of the city. This “tunnel” became an anti-aircraft shelter and in 2004 was converted into the Museum of the Civil War Giving tourists a glimpse into life in Spain during this period of time.
Castillo de la Concepcion
The Castillo dates back to Roman times when it was a Temple to Asklepio. Archaeological digs have discovered that the Castillo in Parque Torres was originally a Roman Temple and there are cisterns below the buildings that remain from that time.
After the Romans, it was discovered that the Castillo was indeed an Alcazaba and occupied by the Moors of that time. Most of what remains within the architecture is from the 13th Century after the Christian reconquista.
To get to the Castillo you can take the heart-pounding elevator or Panoramic Lift as it is called at a cost of €2, or you can take the 20-minute walk up the hill. You won’t regret either choice the views from the top are outstanding. You can see the Russian’s mega-yacht in the harbour and have views of the Roman theatre and much more.
A ticket for the Castillo itself will cost €3.75. Once you have visited the Castillo and the grounds walk west down the hill and the path will go past the Roman Theatre.
If you are a castle fanatic (like me lol) you will love this article by Kevin about the 36 Best Castles in Spain. Kevin is a photographer and the photos are off the charts with fabulous information on these amazing Spanish Castles.
You can walk down the hill to the Roman Theatre or simply take the lift back down and walk over to it. This is one of the most historic places in Cartagena, Spain to visit.
The Roman theatre in Cartegena was believed to have been built between 5 and 1 BC, and the builders dedicated the site to Gaius and Lucius Caesar who were the grandsons of Agustus and his successors to the Roman empire. After the fall of Rome in the 3rd century, a market was built over the theatre using the stones and bricks of the theatre. It is believed that the market was abandoned after a fire caused by a tribe of East Germans known as the Vandals. It became a market again in the 6th century when the Byzantines established a market quarter here.
the theatre excavation in Cartagena Spain began in 1988 during the construction of the Centro regional de artesanía. There is a video presentation and then visitors are guided through the museum to see the artefacts found during the excavation. It was discovered beneath the ruins of the Old Cathedral, which had been destroyed during shelling in the Spanish Civil War.
The Roman Theatre is open daily except for Mondays and has shorter hours on Sunday. Tickets are €6 with discounts available for students and seniors.
The Molinete Archeological Park
From the entrance on Calle Paraíso, you can roam across a hillside that includes relics of the Roman sanctuary, and take a closer look at the archaeological finds from the Roman Theatre. The archaeological park has a canopy over the skeleton of the thermal baths and the atrium, together with some outstanding mosaics. It opens at 10 am-7 pm daily except Tuesday.
There are several Roman ruins and sites in the city the archaeological site of El Molinete, the Morería Baja colonnade and the Byzantine Wall, which is also Roman. These are the Augusteum and the Decumanus. The Augusteum contains the remains of the old forum, whose importance as a public building can be seen from the amazing marble floors at the site. The second can be visited on the site adjoining the Roman Forum quarter this contains the different rooms in the city’s Roman baths. The Casa Fortuna, built in the first century B.C. and belonging to a wealthy family, shows what daily life was like at the time of the Roman Empire.
Augusteum of Cartagena Spain
The Augusteum Museum of Cartagena is dedicated to the first Roman emperor Octavius Augustus. In the Augusteum you can learn about the rites performed by Roman priests in honour of Augustus. Within the Augusteum there is a statue of Augustus surrounded by marble sculptures.
The House of Fortune
The House of Fortune was discovered in 2000 and is the home of a very rich Roman family. In the Museum you can see the triclinium or dining room, tablinum or representation room where visitors were received and the bedrooms.
The House also has artefacts including lamps, personal items, dishes and amphoras. You will see beautiful mosaics and wall paintings that are simply stunning.
Roman Decumano Maximum
This stretch of road from the old Carthagonova, from east to west, links the Port with the forum, and it one of Cartegena’s main historic sites. It is situated in the Plaza de los Tres Reyes. There are taverns, a main central sewage system. Roman baths with a “praefurnium”, which is an oven from which hot air for the baths came, a room paved in pink marble, three “hypocaust” and the “frigidarium” or cold water pool.
Centre for the interpretation of the Punic Rampart
The Punic Rampart is the remains of a wall built in the 3rd century BC by the Carthaginians, and a 17th-century Crypt. The Rampart can be seen from the top of the Castillo. The Punic Wall stands on Monte Aletes, one of the five hills surrounding Cartagena.
These remains were discovered in 1987 these were the walls that protected the city from attack by Moors and outsiders. It is one of the few remains of Carthaginian civilization in Spain.
Museo Historico Militar de Cartagena Spain
Cartagena has had a large military presence for thousands of years, and in modern times a number of Spanish army units have been based in the city.
You can see a great deal of this heritage in one place, and it’s an attraction that will blow your mind if you’re into military hardware.
The museum building was constructed in the late-18th century and in the courtyard, you’ll spot an undetonated shell wedged in a wall from the insurrection in 1874. On show are tanks, missiles, field telescopes, light arms, a number of heavy-duty guns and all kinds of other military equipment.
The museum also has the largest collection of hand-made military models in the world, with the Guinness certificate to prove it!
This is believed to be the burial place of the Guild of St. Joseph. The walls and the crypt are relatively well preserved and they are quite small. The murals have as their theme “Dance with the Dead” and there are some skulls and bones left for visitors to see.
The San José´s Ermitage
San José´s Hermitage is part of the funeral crypt is dedicated to San José and San Juan Nepomuceno. Several statues, carvings, stained glass windows and altarpieces were destroyed in an earthquake in 1829 soon after is was demolished and was supposed to be rebuilt but it never took place.
Walking Calle Mayor
The main pedestrian street in Cartegena is Calle Mayor. A busy and vibrant area during the morning and evening it is a great place for people watching and checking out the Modernist architecture that stands in Cartagena.
Cartagena was the centre of a great mining industry in the late 1800s which made many residents very rich. The residue of this wealth can be seen in Cartagena’s historic centre. Due to a federalist revolution in 1874 that wiped out half of the city the centre needed rebuilding and it was done with great Modernist Style. There are some phenomenal art nouveau buildings including the Casino de Cartagena, The Palacio de Aguirre, the Gran Hotel, Palacio Pedreño, the Casa Cervantes.
You can enter one of Cartagena’s most impressive modernist wonders, the 100-year-old town hall on In the Plaza del Ayuntamiento you can visit the Palacio Consistoria which was built during the mining boom of the late 19th century. A Belle Époque building was restored around 10-15 years ago. The facade is white marble and the domes are coated with zinc. If you get close enough you can spot some of the bullet holes from the civil war.
There are English speaking guides who will explain the architectural and historical importance of the building and its contents.
The Gran Hotel
The Gran Hotel is considered the most representative work of modernism in Cartagena and was begun in 1907 but not finished until 1916. This luxury hotel continues to operate today with 70 rooms and 4 luxury suites.
A thoroughly Modernist building Casa Cervantes is now a bank but only the facade remains.
Is there a beach in Cartagena Spain?
Yes, Cala Cortina is in a sheltered bay between the deepwater commercial port and the city port, marina and cruise ship terminal. A very pretty beach that is almost a secret except to the Spanish who live in Cartagena. There is a restaurant, Mares Barvas which serves, workers from the deep commercial port, businessmen and people off the beach.
Cala Cortina is a man-made beach that was created in the 1980s. The beach consists of two bathing bays, the first one you come to is bigger and holds all the facilities you may need from restaurants to showers. The second is a little way along the coastal path and it is a protected bay perfect for children.
What to eat in Cartegena Spain and where
Mercado de Santa Florentina
I will always visit the local market as the first stop on any trip. It is always the best place to get a feel for a city or village. In Cartagena, the local Mercado de Santa Florentina is the place to see.
The Murcia area is called Europe’s Orchard because it is dominated by farms, not only is there plentiful fruits and vegetables but Cartegenas location near the sea provides a bounty of fresh seafood.
It is open every day but Sunday and hosts a superlative range of fresh produce, picture-perfect fruits, olives, fish meat, Spanish Jamons and is a fabulous location to enjoy a coffee, people watch and have a snack.
Tip: don’t forget the Spanish siesta period which takes place 12.15-5.15pm each afternoon so many places including restaurants will be closed.
Cartagena’s famous Cafe Asiatico
Cartagena is quite well known for a local speciality coffee called a Café Asiatico. Similar to Vietnamese coffee, this drink can only be found in Cartagena and some surrounding towns and villages in Murcia. It is made by mixing coffee, condensed milk, cognac and topped with a local liquor known as Licor 43. There are many cafes that serve it along the main pedestrian streets of Cartagena.
Licor 43 is a Spanish liqueur. It’s 43 different ingredients include citrus and fruit juices, flavoured with vanilla and other aromatic herbs and spices.
I love the smell of fresh churros frying away, then dipping these tasty fried treats into a cup of thick chocolate. The best place in Cartegena for churros is Churreria Tofi.
A local favourite it is to be found just north of the main centre on the corner of Calle Angel Bruna and Muralla de Tierra and it serves up Porras which are thicker churros as well as traditional churros con chocolate. Churros will set you back around €3.00
Cartagena has lots of very tempting and great value restaurants and cafes. Most of them have a menu del dia for €10-€12.
These are some locals favourites
The Cafetería El Molinete at Calle Balcones Azules has offered good-value seafood and meat dishes.
The Cibus gastrobar Plaza Jose Marias Artres has an €18 menu including gazpacho, bacalao (cod) and dessert.
Cerverceria La Mejillonera Calle Mayor is another local favourite great value tapa with a wide selection of choices.
In need of something more substantial? Check out Taberna A La Brasa which offers a €20 tasting menu that includes salad, paella, a mixed grill and a drink.
Or El Encuentro that offers a range of paellas, and apparently the best steak in town
If you want to try a classic Murcian dish you need to find caldero which is the Murcian equivalent of a paella. This rice dish is very typical of the region and is usually presented in its own flat two-handled pan The rice should be cooked over an open wood fire and the fish is served separately with an aioli style sauce.
Casa Del Pescador on the Plaza de la Isla near the Marina is said to be an unobtrusive almost shabby little place but the locals love it for their caldero.
You simply can’t visit Cartagena or any place in Spain without enjoying some tapa. Cartagena is no different from any other area in the south of Spain and offers some amazing value tapa restaurants.
El Tranvia has two locations along Calle Mayor with plenty of outdoor seating. Enjoy some local wines with your free tapa – one tapa per glass of wine or beer. You can also choose from a full menu where you can order larger portions of the tapa you tried or a range of traditional southern Spanish dishes.
La Tapa – 13 Plaza Flores. Possibly one of the best tapas bars in Murcia! Try the caballitos (battered prawns – another local speciality) and come back later to get paparajote for dessert (don’t eat the leaves)!
Las Viandas – 2 Calle Pascual. A local favourite! The palitos de berenjena(aubergine sticks) come highly recommended.
La Uva Jumiliana renowned for its patatas bravas a dish of diced potatoes with a spicy paprika sauce and cheap at €1.80 each. Locals also recommend the Pollo Kentucky tapa.
Where to Stay in Cartagena, Spain
If you’re planning to spend the night in Cartagena or have a few extra days in the city, here are some recommended places to stay.
A Moorish style apartment with a beautiful garden to wander. The host will pick you up at the airport and provide plenty of information on Cartagena for your visit.
The NH Cartagena Plaza Héroes de Cavite. A first-class hotel with great ratings the hotel is in an old Naval building. the city was short of an outstanding place to stay. The property brings boutique touches to an old naval building. The hotel is just a short walk from the port and 200 m from the Roman Theatre. It offers free Wi-Fi access throughout the hotel. The hotel is set in a quiet pedestrian area next to Cartagena Town Hall. Concepción Castle is also nearby. The beaches of the Costa Calida are just 3 km away.
A lovely Penthouse just ten minutes drive from the city centre. Incredible views of the ancient city, the sea and the castles that surround the city
Fifteen minutes from the beaches and five minutes from the centre of town.
Hotel Los Habañeros Calle San Diego. A budget hotel that is located close to the port bus and train stations. Rooms are clean and spacious.
Pensión Balcones Azules is ideally located in the old city on the corner of Calle Balcones Azules and Calle Ignacio García. A basic clean and simple hotel.
Apartment in the historic heart of Cartagena. for up to 6. Within walking distance of the Roman Theatre, shops and restaurants and the gorgeous San Francisco Square the home of live music in Cartagena.
So as you can see Cartagena Spain and Cartagena Columbia are two very different cities and Cartagena Spain is well worth a visit.
If you want to explore much more of Spain but only have a couple of weeks here’s a Spanish Itinerary – Explore Spain in 12 days that will come in very helpful for you.
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