This summer I fell in love with Tarragona, one of the most charming cities I have ever seen. Though it is a city with more than 2000 years of rich and extensive history, housing well-maintained ancient Roman sights, amazing carnivals and breathtaking nature, Tarragona often gets unjustly overlooked. I first visited it this July, then half a year later, in February, I had a chance to re-discover the city again. Usually, I don’t travel to the same place twice unless I really love it, and I did indeed enjoy Tarragona a lot. Moreover, my second visit made my love even deeper and stronger.
Located in northeast Spain, it can easily be reached by public intercity transport. After a short train ride from Barcelona, I found myself in the port of Tarragona, having no premeditated plans, maps, or “to-do” lists. The weather was fantastic, so without waiting a minute, I headed to the city center. I couldn’t believe my eyes, as everything I saw looked like a wonderful decoration to a historical movie.
Some people compare Tarragona to Rome, and there is a good reason for that. Similar to Rome, Tarragona has more than two thousand years of vivid and colorful history. Back in the ancient times it served as a residence for emperors Augustus and Adrian. It was known as the second capital, right after Rome. Well preserved architectural and archeological monuments of Tarragona are now included in the list of Unesco World Heritage. Surprisingly, the forum, ancient walls, 2nd-century amphitheater, and even the gladiatorial arena look entirely natural nowadays.
One of the first things you will see upon arrival if you travel in by train is the Mediterranean Balcony. Located just a few steps away from the train station, it offers a chance to enjoy the sweeping views of the coastal strip and the harbor with tankers lined up. To take a break before the city run, I ordered ice cream in one of the nearby bars and grabbed a seat opposite the fountain. I sensed the vibe of the city: people chattering, kids running around, a musician playing a lovely piece of music. Suddenly my heart filled up with pure joy. I had no doubts I am falling in love with Tarragona.
Roman Circus of Tarragona
Walking 5 min down the road, I stumbled upon the Roman Circus — a splendid ancient arena, harboring many miles of original underground tunnels and passages underneath. Back in Roman times, these tunnels were used to provide for performances, and are now tourist-walkable. The actual feeling of attending the place in person is hard to express. Being there is a beautiful experience that gives an idea of what the Circus looked like in the past. After walking long corridors and enjoying their remarkable engineering construction, visitors are rewarded with splendid views of the city from the tower. Tarragona is incredibly beautiful!
Right after the Circus, I followed the path to the 2nd-century Amphitheatre. It is an excellent historical landmark and one of the most exciting places to visit in Tarragona. Thanks to the ongoing government efforts, the ancient ruins are extraordinarily well-preserved. A few euros will let you take a look at the place from inside. However, if you are late (admission stops at 3 PM), you can admire the amphitheater for free from a distance. I felt delighted and relaxed, sitting in the park in front of the site, enjoying views of the amphitheater and the Mediterranean sea.
Archeologic passage (Passeig Arcqueologo)
Another part of the Roman complex is the Archeologic passage. This place is quite small but well worth visiting. A pleasant walk around the city walls will let you immerse into and soak up the 2000-year-old Roman history. What makes this place unique, is the number of kitties and birds, happily cohabitating there.
The little park at the end of the road was an unexpected cherry on the pie. I seized the opportunity and had my lunch in this little green oasis. Fantastic!
Tarragona Cathedral (Catedral Basilica Metropolitana Primada de Tarragona)
The Cathedral, located in the heart of the old town, is another charming spot of Tarragona.
Decorated with carvings and cloisters, it is beautiful both inside and outside. Moreover, it has a little secret. Come and find it! I am sure you won’t regret.
What I loved, even more, was the surrounding area, known as Casco Antiguo.
It has surprises at every turn! I enjoyed every single second of walking the narrow but full of sunlight cobblestone streets, passing by a little flea market, as well as perfect cozy bars
and artisan shops
Tarragona old town is an ideal authentic area to have time travel of sorts, to sit in a small cafe and watch time go by. Relaxed and happy faces of Tarragona’s citizens make the scene even more idyllic.
Torre del Pretorio Romana
Last but not least, another remarkable sight is Torre del pretorio Romana, a tall tower which served different purposes throughout its life. First a watch tower, it later became a part of a palace and ended up being a prison afterward. Nowadays, this great landmark grants a spectacular view to most of the Tarragona from its top.
If you would like to visit all of these sights I would recommend taking the combined sightseeing ticket, which grants you entry to main attractions, including the amphitheater, forum, and ancient walls. Try to start your tour early in the morning as later on tickets can be sold-out.
Tarragona is an excellent place for nature-lovers as well, with a coastline that stretches for more than 15 kilometers. Its wide golden sandy beaches are washed by arguably the most transparent waters in all Catalunya region. I came in with no intention to swim but ended up in the sea nevertheless. Since I had no swimsuit, I just merely jumped into the water with the clothes I had. The water is indeed impossible to resist! It was my most enjoyable swim of that summer.
Later on, after a bit of drying up, I decided to walk one of the Tarragona hiking paths. The city has a fantastic network of trails, totaling 75 kilometers. I have chosen the most scenic one. The one which goes along the sea all the way from Tarragona to Tamarit. It turned out to have a surprise in store for me, but that’s another story.
So, what can I say about Tarragona? It’s honestly a magic place, radiating with love, joy, and happiness. Would I come back? Definitely yes.