If you’re planning a holiday to Spain, whether this summer or further ahead, there are so many great places to choose from. If you’re visiting the Murcia region on the Costa Calida, then the city of Cartagena is only 30 minutes away.
We visited Cartagena last summer, and Little H has also been on a school trip. It’s a very interesting city with so much history and plenty of interesting things to do. It’s the perfect destination for a day trip if you want to get away from the more touristy areas for a bit.
Here’s a list of 11 things to do in Cartagena…
1. Visit the Roman Amphitheater
The one thing you have to do in Cartagena is visit the Roman Amphitheater. The theater is 2,000 years old but was only discovered in 1988 below the ruins of the Old Cathedral, which had been destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. It’s amazing to think this was under the Cathederal for all that time without people knowing!
They have managed to restore most of the theater, with excavation still going on in surrounding areas to see what else could be under the neighbouring buildings and houses.
You can walk around the amphitheater, up the steps, and take in the view of the stage from right up at the top. It’s amazing how clearly you can hear someone talking on the stage from all the way at the back. You can also walk on the stage to get a feel for how many people would have been watching the shows from their seats.
The museum tells you all about the history of the theater, how the it was discovered, and there are also lots of artifacts found at the site on display.
2. Visit the ARQUA Marine Archaeology Museum
Found next to the cruise ship terminal, this underwater archaeology museum displays a large collection of artifacts recovered from shipwrecks found in the area over the last 500 hundred years.
This area of Spain was a trade route into Africa and the Middle East so there is a lot of maritime history to learn about. Visitors can find information about the processes of marine archaeology, how to locate and excavate an underwater site, and how to restore the remains that are recovered.
For the kids there are interactive displays, a laboratory area, models of how the port would have looked over 2,000 years ago, as well as lots of display cases full of treasures found from shipwrecks.
Entry is free on Saturday afternoons and on Sundays so you may want to plan a visit at theweekend.
3. Explore the Palacio Consistorial
The Modernist architecture in Cartagena is fantastic, and the 100 year old town hall in Plaza del Ayuntamiento is one building you must see. You can go inside to see the sweeping marble staircase and there are also English speaking tours for just €1 where you’ll be shown around the building, including a visit to the Mayor’s office.
The building has been well restored but if you look closely you can see bullet holes on the outside from the Civil War.
4. Visit the Military Museum
As you would expect from a city with so much history, there are a lot of museums to visit in Cartagena. One that most kids will enjoy is the Military Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of military models. There are displays of guns, tanks, uniforms, flags, documentation, and much more.
The building itself is stunning, with vaulted ceilings and pillars. Built in the 1700s it’s one of only a handful of buildings from the time still standing in Cartagena following various conflicts.
There is a guide leaflet in English which explains each room in the museum and which route to follow.
5. Visit the Spanish Civil War Museum
If you don’t know much about the Spanish Civil War then you should definitely use a trip to Spain to find out a bit more about the history of the country. The Spanish Civil War was fought across Spain from 1936-1939 between the Republicans and the Nationalists.
Cartagena was a Republican stronghold which explains the city’s many defences that you’ll see as you explore. The city was bombed by the Nationalists and this museum explains how people survived, as well as showing propaganda, artifacts, and first-hand accounts of the conflict.
6. Take in the view from the Castillo de la Concepción
The Castillo de la Concepción is at the highest point of Cartagena and offers some amazing views of the city. A Roman temple turned into a Moorish fortification, it was eventually turned into a fortress by the Christians.
You can use the glass lift or walk the road way and take in the views over the city as you go. There are gardens to wander around, a museum, look out towers, and plenty of places to sit and rest.
7. Relax at Cala Cortina
Cartagena’s only beach Cala Cortina is 4km from the city centre. A small sandy bay with bars, restaurants, play areas, and a picnic area, this is a lovely place to have a day off from sightseeing. The beach does get busy in the summer but it’s not as packed as some of the more touristy beaches along the coast.
8. Go on a boat trip
There are lots of boat trips leaving from the marina throughout the day. The Tourist Boat in Cartagena gives you the chance to see the city from the sea. You’ll see castles, fortresses, lighthouses, docks, and can listen to the guides in various languages to learn more about the city.
You can get off at Fuerta de Navidad (Christmas Fort) to learn more about the military history of Cartagena, before getting back on the boat to complete the trip around the harbour.
The boat trip costs €6 and lasts for about 45 minutes but you can stay at the Fort for as long as you like.
9. Eat tapas
You can’t visit a Spanish city without sampling their tapas! The narrow streets in Cartagena are full of bars and restaurants, and the Plaza del Ayuntamiento has lots of restaurants around the edges so there’s plenty to choose from.
You can even do a Tapas Tour if you want to be shown the best food on offer by a local.
10. Do some shopping
Calle Mayor is the main shopping street in Cartagena, running from the port into the town. As well as the narrow streets around the city centre full of unique clothes and gift shops, there is also a shopping mall if you need some proper retail therapy. Espacio Mediterraneo Centro Comercial has all your favourite high street shops including Zara, H&M, Primark, and more.
11. Take a walk
When visiting a new place for the first time, one of the best things to do is to just walk and see what you discover. Cartagena has lots of interesting buildings, monuments, sculptures, narrow streets, shops and so much more to see. You can wander around the town, the marina, up to view points, and see the city from different angles. When your feet get tired just stop and have a drink and watch the world go by.
If you are planning to visit the Costa Calida in Spain, then make sure you add a day trip to Cartagena to your list! Have you visited Cartagena before?