Tarragona – the unknown city

Castellers of Tarragona

Tarragona is surprisingly free of foreign tourists, which for John and me was one of its many charms.  We decided to visit the city to celebrate my 60th birthday: as pensioners we are always looking for somewhere a bit different that is not too expensive.  Since then we have retired to Spain and now live in the Murcia region, however we plan to visit other parts of our adopted country for holidays, which will include a return trip to Tarragona.

Our ideal holiday is not about lying on beaches soaking up the sun, which we both regard as a total waste of time; it’s more about visiting places, soaking up the culture and enjoying the local food accompanied by a few glasses of good wine.  This being the case, Tarragona proved to be the ideal destination for us.

We had looked at the Tarragona Tourist website beforehand, so that we could plan what to do and see to make the most of our stay there: http://www.tarragonaturisme.cat/.   Information is available in English and other languages, as well as Spanish, and the website is very comprehensive.

We decided to buy a one-day Tarragona Card, which gave us free entry to the city’s monuments, free bus tickets, plus discounts in many restaurants, shops etc.  Rather than try and fit everything into one day, we bought the card after lunch on our first day. As it lasted 24 hours, we could then spread our “site” seeing over two days.  We also made sure that we used the card at those monuments that cost the most, in case we couldn’t cram them all in.  For other penny-pinching pensioners, check whether you will in fact make a saving buying the card, as over 65s get half-price or free entry to many of the places listed.  The card cost us €14 for 24 hours, however it is now on sale at €15 for 48 hours, which is definitely a bargain!  You should be aware however that most museums are closed on Mondays, so that isn’t a good day for visiting them!

We spent our first day walking along Tarragona’s Roman route.  As the Roman archaeological complex of Tarraco has been declared a World Heritage Site, we didn’t want to miss any of it.  The highlight for me was the well-preserved Amphitheatre with views of the Mediterranean, although the Roman Circus, where you could almost hear the thunder of the horse-drawn chariots and the roar of the crowds, was a close second.  John enjoyed wandering around the Local Forum and also walking along the Walls, which had great views over the surrounding countryside as well as the city.  We had a lot of fun trying to find the Francoli River Paleochristian Complex until we realised that it was actually within the shopping centre, down in the parking area!

Approach to the city walls

There is more to Tarragona than its Roman remains, as we discovered on our second day when we walked along the Mediaeval route.  We explored the streets around the Cathedral, which was of course the star attraction, however there were many other monuments worth seeing, amongst them the Cloisters, the Chapels of St Paul and St Tecla. The Ancient Hospital of St Tecla,  and the King’s Castle.  St Tecla is the patron saint of Tarragona and we have been told that the fiesta of Santa Tecla, which is held in September, is well worth seeing.  We plan to visit Tarragona in September next time as we always enjoy taking part in Spanish fiestas.

We also appreciated the splendour of Casa Canals and Casa Castellarnau, which shouldn’t be missed if you like looking around magnificent old houses.  Other cultural highlights for us were the Museum of Modern Art, the National Archeological Museum and the Museum of the Port of Tarragona. 

Courtyard in Casa Castellarnau

If the weather is good and you don’t want to be indoors, many of the monuments I have mentioned are outside. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the Rambla Nova and the Balcón del Mediterráneo, then pop into the Amphitheatre, before heading along Rambla Vella to see the Roman Circus and then make your way to the maze of streets around the Cathedral . 

All this walking increased our appetite, so luckily eating out in Tarragona proved to be a pleasurable experience.  We discovered that many good restaurants do a cheap menu del día at lunch time, so we would make that our main meal, having either one course or just tapas for our evening meal.

Tarragona is a charming city, with plenty to see and do. We crammed as much as we could into the four days that we stayed there, however a longer stay would have allowed us a bit more time just to relax.  In case I haven’t already tempted you to visit Tarragona, I should mention that there are plenty of shops and lovely sandy beaches too, making it the ideal holiday location for everyone – even those of you who aren’t interested in history and culture.

Top Tips

Restaurants

Down at the Port, which we expected to be pricey because of the location, we enjoyed a delicious menu del día at La Botiga on Calle Trafalgar for only €10.50. 

We also enjoyed an evening meal at Restaurante Passadis on Calle Estanislau Figueres, where we were given 10% discount using our Tarragona Card.

After a filling menu del día we went out for tapas in the evening.  Cañas y Tapas on Calle Apodaca had some good special deals but there are many other inexpensive bars and restaurants to be discovered.

Hotels

We stayed at the SB Express*** on Plaça de les Corts Catalanes, which we chose on the basis that it was a budget hotel and looked fairly central.  We discovered that it was actually a bit of a walk into the centre of Tarragona, so it was fortunate that we are both pretty fit.  The hotel was in a quiet area and for the price we thought it was good value.

The Husa Imperial Tarraco **** on Passeig de Las Palmeres is in an ideal location for sight-seeing, although obviously you pay the price for that, especially with its four-star facilities.

For those on a strict budget the 2-star Catalunya Express is worth considering, and as a bonus it is close to the regional Railway Station.

Don´t miss

 

Tarragona is renowned for its Roman archaeological complex, and even if you don’t enjoy history you can’t fail to be impressed by the Amphitheatre and Roman Circus.

If you like the sea no doubt you will want to head for the beaches, but don’t forget to visit the Port too, especially at lunch time when you can enjoy the fresh fish.

After that delicious lunch, why not walk off all those calories and enjoy the views with a promenade along the city walls?

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