Blessed with sunshine, a beautiful coastline and interesting ancient monuments, Tarragona is a delightful detour from Barcelona (100km away). This port town is located on the golden shores of Catalonia’s Costa Dorada and much of the town overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. The beautiful beach of El Milagro is within walking distance of the main attractions. Layer upon layer of history is everywhere, from the UNESCO-listed Roman ruins to the medieval alleys and cobbled streets, and the Romanesque-Gothic cathedral. To soak up the quaint Old World atmosphere over a meal, head to El Serrallo – the fishing village that grew into the large city that is now Tarragona.
Tarragona’s magnificent cathedral was built in the 12th century on the site of a 10th-century Moorish mosque and its construction continued over the centuries. With its mix of architectural styles, the building is one of the finest examples of the transition from Romanesque to Gothic. The main facade has two Romanesque portals from the 12th century and a beautiful rose window with openwork tracery. The interior, with three naves on a Latin cross plan, creates an impression of great austerity. An octagonal dome above the crossing adds to the inspiring atmosphere, and in the transepts are beautiful stained glass windows made in 1574. In the Capilla Mayor is a sensational 15th-century high reredosby Peter Johan. The piece is made of polychromatic alabaster and contains a trilogy of statues representing the Virgin and Child, Saint Thecla and Saint Paul. Another artistic gem is the tomb of the Gothic Archbishop above the main altar. Dating from the 14th century, the Capilla de Santa María is also notable for its vibrant medieval windows and a fine retablo dedicated to the Virgin Mary painted by Francesc Olives in 1536.
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To visit the monastery, walk through the Romanesque passage to the left of the Capilla de los Sastres. This 13th-century monastery is considered one of the most beautiful in Spain. Beautifully carved grand Gothic arches, each enclosing three smaller round-headed arches, enclose a central courtyard. The open space is a quiet area planted with shady trees. In the west wing of the monastery is a mihrab (prayer niche) of the mosque, which once stood on this site. In the northeast corner of the cloister is the Diocesan Museum (continue on Plaça de la Seu), which displays the cathedral’s collection of religious art and objects. Visitors can admire the ecclesiastical vestments, ancient statues and medieval sculpture. Highlights of the collection are thereredos by Jaime Huguet and a wonderful range of tapestries made in Brussels.
Address: Virgen del Claustro Street, Tarragona
Official site: https://www.catedraldetarragona.com/?lang=en
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Tarragona
2 Roman amphitheatre
Remains of classical Roman buildings are scattered around Tarragona, which is the second most important archaeological site in Spain after Mérida. The ancient Roman amphitheater is the most impressive remnant of Tarragona. Built on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the amphitheater dates back to the second century AD during the reign of Emperor Augustus. The immense stadium hosted gladiatorial games as well as other spectacles that entertained the Roman populace. Visitors can easily imagine the excitement of attending an event at this ancient venue. In its sloping rows of seats, the amphitheater could accommodate an astonishing crowd of 12,000 spectators. The elliptical shape of the stadium, characteristic of Roman amphitheatres, would have focused the audience’s attention on the two points of interest: the gladiators who would enter the match on opposite sides of the stadium. Below the arena are pits that were used for behind-the-scenes production of the events. The amphitheater was also the scene of the martyrdom of Bishop Fructuosus in AD 259. In the center of the amphitheater are remains of a sixth-century Visigothic basilica and a 12th-century Romanesque-Gothic church. The site is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday (free admission). The amphitheater was also the scene of the martyrdom of Bishop Fructuosus in AD 259. In the center of the amphitheater are remains of a sixth-century Visigothic basilica and a 12th-century Romanesque-Gothic church. The site is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday (free admission). The amphitheater was also the scene of the martyrdom of Bishop Fructuosus in AD 259. In the center of the amphitheater are remains of a sixth-century Visigothic basilica and a 12th-century Romanesque-Gothic church. The site is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday (free admission).
Address: Miracle Park, Tarragona
3 Paseo Arqueológico (archaeological walk)
The Paseo Arqueológico begins where the Vía del Imperio (Imperial Road) meets the Puerta del Rosario, a gateway dating back to the fifth century BC. Shaded by cypress trees, the Paseo Arqueológico is a pleasant garden path at the foot of the ancient Roman wall. Built in the third to second centuries BC, the wall originally enclosed the entire old city, but only the upper part has survived. Several sections are still intact, including one stretching for 1,000 meters with heights ranging from three to ten meters. The amazing ancient defensive structure is distinguished by its cyclopean stone masonry of massive irregularly shaped blocks. Local workers were employed to build the wall, and many of the stones bear the marks of Iberian masons. Three towers of the wall also survived: the Cabiscol Tower, the Minerva Tower, and the Arzobispo Tower. The Minerva Tower is an excellent example of Roman architecture; the Arzobispo Tower was altered during the Middle Ages. Tourists will enjoy a leisurely stroll along the Paseo Arqueológico, soaking up the legacy of Tarragona’s two-thousand-year history. The Paseo Arqueológico also offers nice views from each end of the garden. as they soak up the legacy of Tarragona’s two-thousand-year history. The Paseo Arqueológico also offers nice views from each end of the garden. as they soak up the legacy of Tarragona’s two-thousand-year history. The Paseo Arqueológico also offers nice views from each end of the garden.
Address: Avenida Catalunya, Tarragona
4 Balcony of the Mediterranean
At the southern end of the wide tree-lined Rambla Nova, Tarragona’s main street, is the Balcón del Mediterráneo. From this spacious terrace, tourists can enjoy a beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea and El Milagro Beach . A stone’s throw from the Balcón del Mediterráneo leads to the train station and port. Several boardwalks start at the Balcón del Mediterráneo and follow the coastline to the beach. The sea view is sensational. Further along the beach the landscape becomes rougher. The coastal route to the east eventually leads to the Punta de la Mora (about eight kilometers away, accessible by bus), a beautiful beach with trails for nature walks.
5 Archaeological Museum
The Archaeological Museum of Tarragona has one of the finest collections of Roman art in Spain. The exhibits display antiquities and finds from the city’s archaeological sites. Visitors are dazzled by the variety of ancient Roman sculptures, pottery, mosaics and other works of art, as well as sarcophagi, amphora, tombs and mausoleums uncovered at the Roman and Paleo-Christian Necrópolis site, one of the largest in Europe, (located on Avenida Ramón and Cajal). Highlights of this attraction are the mosaics depicting the head of Medusa and the Bacchic scene. In the basement of the museum are excavated foundations of the ancient Roman walls.
Adjacent to the Archaeological Museum is the Massif Pretorio Romano (Roman Praetorium), the residence of the Roman general. This immense tower was built in the first century BC and is known as the Torreón de Pilatos, because Pilate is said to have been born here. A vaulted underground chamber connects to a passage. The tower is adjacent to the Roman Forum , just behind it.
Address: 5 Plaça del Reli, Tarragona
6 Roman forum
West of the Rambla Nova , the Roman Forum is a monumental archaeological site that represents the center of the ancient city. The rectangular space (once a public square) contains the remains of many Roman houses, shops and establishments, dating back to classical Roman times when the city of “Tarraco” was the capital of the province. Be sure to visit the House of Curia , the most remarkable ruins found in the Roman Forum. The site is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, with free admission.
Address: Lleida Street, Tarragona
7 The Seraglio: een oud vissersdorp
El Serrallo is the old fishing village in the heart of Tarragona. This area has retained its Old World charm even as Tarragona has developed into a modern city. The picturesque seaside promenade is the highlight of Tarragona and is a pleasant setting for relaxing walks. It’s also a great place to have an authentic seafood meal. Plenty of restaurants along the promenade offer tourists a great selection. Most restaurateurs get fresh local fish daily from the fish market held in this area. Try the langoustines from San Carlos de la Rápita, the shellfish from Cambrils and typical dishes such as fresh cod balls, squid in its own sauce, and Pataco (a hearty stew of potatoes, tuna, garlic and almonds).
8 Casa Castellarnau
Casa Castellarnau was built in the 15th century for aristocratic owners, one of the most influential families in the city. The elegant Gothic building is fully furnished, largely in the style of Queen Isabella II. Interesting architectural details include the courtyard and a staircase with Gothic columns and capitals. The rooms are decorated with impressive paintings (especially those by Flaugier). The house is now open to the public as a museum and houses the Molas collection of archaeological and ethnographic exhibits. House tours are available.
Address: 14 Carrer dels Cavallers, Tarragona
9 Miracle Beach
Tarragona is appreciated for its beautiful beaches with golden shores and calm waters. From the Balcón del Mediterráneo , scenic promenades lead to the beaches. The main beach in Tarragona is Playa del Milagro, a wide sandy coast with a length of almost a kilometer right in the center of the city. Ruins of the Roman amphitheater can be seen in the background. El Milagro Beach provides signposts for water safety and other hazards.
10 Beautiful avenues and public squares
East of the Balcón del Mediterráneo is the Paseo de les Palmeres , a beautiful avenue with attractive terraces. This road intersects with the Rambla Vella and halfway is the Plaza de la Fuente , a square on the site of the ancient Roman Circus. Remains of the circus foundations are visible here. On the north side of the square, the 19th-century Ayuntamiento de Tarragona (Town Hall) is built on the site of a former convent. The beautiful facade has Ionic columns.
Another pleasant area to explore from the Balcón del Mediterráneo is the Rambla Nova . This wide boulevard has beautiful gardens in the middle. Along the boulevard are two remarkable churches: the baroque Iglesia de San Agustín and Iglesia de San Francisco.
Where to stay in Tarragona to view
We recommend these great hotels within walking distance of Tarragona’s old town:
- Hotel SB Ciutat de Tarragona: mid-range pricing, comfortable rooms, rooftop pool and hot tub.
- AC Hotel Tarragona: affordable prices, friendly front desk staff, breakfast buffet, comfortable beds.
- Astari Hotel: 3-star hotel, nice pool area, spacious rooms.
- Pigal: budget hotel, fantastic location, hospitable owner, sparkling clean rooms.
Day trips from Tarragona
Gaudí Center in Reus
The Gaudí Center is in the town of Reus (10 kilometers from Tarragona), where the famous Catalan architect was born and brought up. This modern interpretation center is the only one of its kind, with exhibitions on the life and works of Gaudí. Through innovative displays and the latest audiovisual technology, the exhibits illuminate the wonderful world of Gaudí – known for his fantastical and surreal architecture. Visitors discover Gaudí’s incredible creativity and the secrets of his genius. Picnic areas and many cafés and restaurants can be found near the Gaudí Centre. Tourists can also stroll around the city of Reus to find Gaudí’s birthplaceon Calle Sant Vicenç and the church where he was baptized, Sant Pere. Reus is easily accessible by car or train. Most of Gaudí’s architectural masterpieces can be found in Barcelona, a city with seven UNESCO World Heritage buildings created by Gaudí.
Address: Plaça del Mercadal 3, Reus
Official site: https://www.gaudicentre.cat/en
Aqueduct in Valls
About four kilometers from Tarragona, the Acueducto Pont de les Ferreres was built during the Emperor Augustus’ era and restored during the Moorish reign of Caliph Abd-al Rahman III. The aqueduct is also known as the Puente del Diablo (Devil’s Bridge) after a local legend. Originally, the structure was extended by 25 kilometers. All that remains now are ruins of a few hundred meters and 27 meters high.
Address: CN-240 de Valls in Lleida, 43006 Tarragona
The beach resort of Salou
Several excellent beaches along the Costa Daurada are easily accessible for those with a car. About 12 kilometers southeast of Tarragona, Playa de la Pineda is in an unspoilt natural setting on the way to the seaside resort of Salou (16 kilometers from Tarragona). Further south, seven kilometers from Salou is the quaint fishing village of Cambrils. In a picturesque, sheltered bay, Salou is a popular seaside resort that swells with visitors during the summer. With fine sandy beaches and a marina, Salou attracts sunbathers and water sports enthusiasts. Salou’s beaches are appreciated for their sandy beaches and calm waters, ideal for swimming or wading. Salou is ideally designed for tourists and has many holiday cottages and hotel accommodations to choose from. Also a historic town, Salou’s claim to fame is that King Jaime I sailed from the town in 1229 on his expedition to conquer Majorca.