Cartagena is a Spanish city with an interesting history and a very photogenic location in a beautiful bay. What to do in Cartagena Spain? Read all about it now!
About Cartagena Spain
Cartagena is located in southeastern Spain on the Costa Calida, in the region of Murcia. It is a city with a tumultuous history dating back to Roman times. In fact, beneath today’s modern city lies another city from the year 0.
The city has a great atmosphere and is full of cafes and restaurants. Because of its rich history, there are many interesting historic sights. It is also a great destination for hiking enthusiasts; the city is surrounded by mountains, so there are many hiking trails. In short, visiting Cartagena is a great idea for those who fancy a varied city break.
What to do in Cartagena Spain?
I myself more than a week in Cartagena and visited many of the city’s attractions. These are the best things to do in Cartagena Spain.
Museo Teatro Romano
If you’re asking yourself what to see in Cartagena Spain, Museo Teatro Romano should be on the top of your list. In the 1990s, remnants from Roman times were found under an old fishing quarter, and now a large Roman theater has emerged from under the houses. It’s an impressive sight. Thousands of years ago, about 7,000 residents of the city enjoyed the performances at this place. Can you imagine?
Before you enter the theater, you will first walk through a museum where you will learn more about life in Cartagena long ago and the discovery of the impressive theater.
Tip! Planning on visiting multiple museums in Cartagena? The entrance fee for each museum is about 4 to 6 euros but you can also buy a city card that allows you to visit multiple museums at a discount. .
Catedral de Santa María la Mayor
Right next to the Roman theater stands the ruins of Cartagena’s cathedral. There is not much left to see, but it is very occasionally open to visitors. You can visit the ruins of the cathedral during the last week of the month, it is then open for 3 or 4 days between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You can check the exact dates on a sign on the doors of the cathedral.
Tip! Learn more about the history of Cartagena with this Free Walking Tour!
Museo Foro Romano
Want to see more from Roman times after the impressive Roman theater? Then walk a bit to the north of the center, here you will find Museo Foro Romano. This is an archaeological museum dedicated to the city’s ancient Roman forum. The museum is in a modern building built on top of the remains of the historic forum.
At the museum, you will first be shown a film, then walk into the building and see a collection of artifacts excavated from the site, including pottery, coins, and sculptures. Your visit ends in the remains of the Roman Forum where you can admire the ruins. I myself was very impressed with the bathhouse, where you can even still see mosaic floors and parts of paintings. A very interesting place!
Castillo de la Concepción
Thanks to Cartagena’s long military history, there is a ruin of a fort or castle on almost every hill. Castillo de la Concepción is one of the most notable as it stands in the middle of the city center. You can walk there, but it’s even more fun to take the panoramic lift (€2).
The castle itself houses a small museum and you can watch several films that will tell you more about Cartagena’s history. In addition, you have stunning views of the city, the mountains, and the harbor.
Casa de la Fortuna
Want to know what a house looked like in Roman times? Then go to Casa de la Fortuna. This is a well-preserved Roman house with beautiful mosaic floors and decorative elements from the first century. It’s not big, but nice to check out.
Historical Military Museum of Cartagena
The Historical Military Museum of Cartagena is located on the north side of the city center. As its name suggests, the museum offers an in-depth look at the city’s military history and the role it played in warfare and defense.
The museum takes you on a journey through Cartagena’s military history, from the ancient Carthaginian period to modern times. The museum houses an extensive collection of military artifacts, including weapons, uniforms, equipment, and documents, dating from different eras. This is another great place to learn more about the city’s troubled history.
Muralla del Mar
Muralla del Mar, also known as the Sea Wall, is a historic defensive wall and was originally built in the eighteenth century as part of the city’s fortifications. With its imposing bastions, towers, and moats, it provided essential protection against attacks from the sea.
Much of the wall has been beautifully preserved, making it an important architectural and historical monument. Take a walk along the beautifully landscaped hiking trails and enjoy breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea and Cartagena harbor.
Calle Mayor is Cartagena’s main shopping street, full of lively stores, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. It is a great place to store, enjoy a cup of coffee and soak up the vibrant atmosphere of the city. It’s always busy here.
At Museo Naval, you can learn more about the evolution of the Spanish Navy and Cartagena’s role as an important naval base. The museum offers fascinating exhibits and interactive displays about shipping. There is an extensive collection of ship models and you can see naval uniforms, navigational instruments, and historical artifacts. An interesting museum to visit if you are interested in the history of shipping and maritime traditions.
Do you feel like getting to know Cartagena in a different way? Then get on the Barco Turístico, which is a tourist boat. Barco Turístico sails into the harbor almost every hour and it is a relaxing and scenic way to explore the city’s beautiful coastline. A guide will tell you all about the best sights. A ride takes about 45 minutes and costs €6.
Puerto de Cartagena
Cartagena’s port is one of the main attractions in the city. The port has been an important trade and naval center throughout the centuries and has a rich maritime history dating back thousands of years.
Today, the port of Cartagena is an important gateway for international trade and goods transportation. In addition to its commercial function, the port is also a popular tourist destination, as it receives many cruise ships and luxury yachts visiting the region.
Along the harbor runs a wide boardwalk full of benches where you can enjoy the views. There are also many nice restaurants and cafes. A lively and fun place to spend an afternoon.
Museo Nacional de Arqueología Subacuática “ARQVA”
This unique museum focuses on the archaeology and heritage of underwater environments. The museum houses an extensive collection of artifacts from shipwrecks and underwater excavations in the Mediterranean Sea. As a visitor, you can take a fascinating journey through maritime history, admiring ancient shipwrecks, ship equipment, ceramics, coins, and other artifacts found in the sea.
The Muralla Púnica, also known as the Punic Wall, is an important archaeological site in Cartagena. This wall represents the remains of the ancient Punic city that existed in the area during the Punic period, roughly between the third and second centuries BCE.
You can see the remnants of the robust defensive walls here, as well as strategically placed watchtowers. These archaeological remains offer a fascinating insight into the structure and design of the fortified city of that period.
Street art in Cartagena
Art and culture are important in Cartagena. You can see this not only in the many museums but also in the many murals. Some tell you something about long the history of Cartagena and others are just very modern.
You will also notice many murals in the city center. There are many demolished buildings where only the facade (which is protected) remains. This is because of the large number of archaeological finds in the city. As a result, many stores were also forced to close. To remember them, paintings have been made on some buildings related to the store that used to be there.
Although Cartagena is on the Mediterranean Sea, there are not that many beaches. Cala Cortina is the town’s most popular beach and this is located in a cove about two kilometers from the center. It takes a while to get there, but it is well worth it. It is surrounded by cliffs and offers spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea. The turquoise water is crystal clear and great for snorkeling. A perfect place for a lazy afternoon.
Castillo de San Julián
Cartagena is set among several hills, and on many of those hills is an old fortress. Castillo de San Julián is one of them, this eighteenth-century fortress is located on a high hill southwest of the city. There are several hiking trails around the castle and that is also the best way to get there. Although the castle is not officially open to the public, you can have a great look. Be careful though! And from the walls, you have an incredible view of Cartagena and the Mediterranean Sea.
Castillo de la Atalaya
A second fortress I would like to mention in this list of best Cartagena sights is Castillo de la Atalaya. This is located on a hill on the northwest side of town. There is a nice circular walk of about 6 kilometers that leads you to this castle, there is a sign with an explanation near the Puente de Quitapellejos.
This fort is also empty, but if you look closely, you can take a peek inside. From the fort, you have a beautiful view of Cartagena and the harbor.
Parque Arqueológico Cerro del Molinete
This was really my favorite place in Cartagena when I wanted to relax for a few hours. This park is located on a hill in the middle of the city next to the forum. There are some ruins (signs provide additional information) and many benches on which to relax. I myself went here regularly to read a book and enjoy the view of the city, the surrounding hills, and the sea.
Semana Santa in Cartagena
Semana Santa (or Holy Week) is one of the most important events in Cartagena. If you happen to be in Cartagena on Easter (or better yet, the week before), keep an eye out for the program.
During Semana Santa, processions take place daily in which religious brotherhoods march through the streets of Cartagena, carrying carefully crafted religious images called “pasos.” The processions are accompanied by the sound of drums and horns, creating an impressive and solemn atmosphere. A fantastic and unique experience!
Best places to eat in Cartagena
Although Cartagena is a compact city, it has a wide range when it comes to nice restaurants and cafes. These are my personal favorites.
- El Soldadito de Plomo – do you know the fairy tale about the tin soldier by Hans Christian Andersen? According to locals, he wrote the story during his stay in Cartagena. Named after the fairy tale, this café is an enjoyable cabinet of curiosities. The coffee and the homemade pastries are delicious.
- El Cantón – is located in an alley and is one of the best tapas restaurants in town. They serve dishes that are a little different. Make sure to try the artichoke, it is really tasty! Reservations are recommended.
- Chef Momo – this is the place for a delicious vegetarian dish. The menu is quite extensive, so I’m sure they have something you’ll love.
- CafeLab – has two locations in Cartagena, one in the city center and one in the north of the city. It is a very nicely decorated cafe where they serve really good coffee. This place is also great for working for a few hours.
- Bar El Purgatorio – a nice place to enjoy the sun on the large terrace. The dishes are huge and there is even a vegan menu.
Can’t choose? Then book this fun food tour and visit several fun places in one night.
Where to stay in Cartagena
Cartagena is a city where you can have a great time for a few days. These are the best places to stay in Cartagena Spain:
- LoopINN Hostel Cartagena – Perfect for budget travelers and families. This hostel is nicely located between the train station and downtown and has several types of rooms. There are dormitories, as well as private rooms where you can stay with your whole family. There is also a communal kitchen and a rooftop terrace with a beautiful view.
- La Casa de las Flores – A beautiful small-scale hotel in the center of Cartagena. The facade is beautiful and filled with flowers (hence the name) and the rooms are stylish and modern. From the rooftop terrace, you have a fantastic view of the forum.
- Sercotel Alfonso XIII (4⭐) – Do you prefer something more luxurious? This 4⭐ hotel is conveniently located on the north side of downtown. The rooms are modern, soundproof, and fully equipped.
As there are not as many accommodations in Cartagena compared to other Spanish cities, it is wise to book in advance, especially if you go during Semana Santa. Check out Booking.com for more options, availability, and prices.
How to get to Cartagena Spain?
Would you like to visit Cartagena after reading this article filled with Cartagena tips? These websites are useful for booking your trip.
✈️ Airline tickets
The nearest airport to Cartagena Spain is Región de Murcia International Airport which is located about 30 kilometers north of the city. The airport has connections with several cities in the United Kingdom, some in Morocco and Belgium.
Another option is to fly to Alicante, this is a larger international airport. From Alicante, travel to Cartagena by car or train in about 1.5 hours. Check WayAway to find the best deals and get cashback on plane tickets.
🚆 Travel to Spain by train
Spain is very well accessible by train from other European countries. Check Rail Europe for train times and tickets.
🚘 Rental Car
Although public transport is quite well organized in Spain (I traveled through Spain by train), it is still useful to have a rental car. This makes it even easier to get to really special places. Check Rental Cars to find the best deals.
💊 Travel insurance
🎡 Tours and activities
Read more about Spain
Would you like to travel to Spain and are you looking for more information? These are some interesting travel guides that can help you plan your trip.
I travel to Spain every year, that’s why you can read a lot about traveling to Spain on this website. You might also enjoy reading these articles:
- 20 Fun things to do in Murcia Spain
- 22 Amazing things to do in Alicante Spain
- Spain Bucket List: 25 incredible places to visit
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