12 Top-Rated Attractions in Mérida & Easy Day Trips
Mérida's UNESCO-listed archaeological sites bring to life the fascinating world of classical antiquity. Mérida is home to some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in Spain. The town of Emérita Augusta was founded in 25 BC under the rule of Emperor Augustus, when Rome was expanding its empire, and soon became the largest Roman outpost in Iberia and the capital of the Lusitania province.
The legacy of this rich past is seen in Mérida's abundance of ancient monuments, including the Roman Theater, the Portico del Foro, the Temple of Diana, Casa del Mitreo, and an impressively well-preserved 2000-year-old aqueduct. Most of the Roman archaeological remains are at the eastern end of the town, and an entry ticket includes combined admission to multiple sites.
Learn more about the best places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions in and around Mérida.
1. Teatro Romano
A magnificent ancient monument, the Teatro Romano is the most impressive archaeological site in Mérida and the best conserved Roman theater in Europe. The theater was built by the Roman general Agrippa in 16 BC and rebuilt in the first century AD after a fire during the reign of Hadrian. In its sloped semicircular seating, the theater could accommodate 6,000 spectators.
The rear wall of the stage buildings has magnificent sculptural decorations and once had a garden that served as a foyer. Because the theater is so well preserved and has been beautifully restored, tourists can easily visualize being at an event more than two millennia ago. The theater is still used today for performances of plays, ballets, and concerts.
During July and August, the theater becomes a stunning venue for the prestigious Classical Theatre Festival. The festival is dedicated to classical theater of the Greco-Latin tradition, but also includes other dramatic arts and music performances as well as film screenings. Sitting on the old stone benches, attendees experience firsthand the cultural legacy of ancient Greece and Rome.
Address: José Ramón Melida, E-06800 Mérida
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mérida
2. National Museum of Roman Art
This superb collection of ancient Roman art is opposite the Teatro Romano. Opened in 1986, the National Museum of Roman Art contains a superb collection of Roman antiquities found at the archaeological sites in Mérida. From ancient coins, sculptures, glassware, ceramics, and wall paintings to tombstones, the items on display offer a palpable insight into everyday life during the Roman era.
Highlights of the collection include a bust of Emperor Augustus carved from Carrara marble, wall paintings from the Roman theater, and an assortment of exquisite floor mosaics. The museum was built on top of archaeological remains, and the basement of the museum features archaeological excavations in progress.
Address: Calle José Ramón Mélida, Mérida
3. Anfiteatro Romano
Next to the Roman Theater are the excavated remains of the ancient Roman Amphitheater. Built in 8 BC, this massive stadium packed in 15,000 spectators to watch gladiatorial contests. The amphitheater also staged mock naval battles; the stage area could be flooded with water allowing ships to sail in. Eventually gladiatorial contests were banned, and the amphitheater was dismantled. The ruins reveal the foundations of the structure and give visitors a sense of the original monument's grandeur.
Near the Roman Amphitheater is the Amphitheater House, remains of an ancient Roman villa. This site has several well-preserved rooms decorated with frescoes, paved hallways featuring mosaics, and a beautiful outdoor space with a vine-covered peristyle. The floor mosaic in the dining room is especially impressive. The remains of thermal baths, the original kitchens, and drains can also be seen.
Location: Zona Arqueológica, Mérida
4. Temple of Diana
This majestic building is the most beautiful of the ancient Roman sites in Mérida. The enormous temple was an important religious building during the Classical period. Standing on an elevated rectangular base, the structure is surrounded by peripteros (columns) with six columns on the facade. The granite columns feature Corinthian capitals typical of the era.
Scholars believe that a garden with a pond once sat beside the temple. In the 16th century, the temple was converted into a palace for the Duke of Corbos, however the ancient structure is still prominent. The Temple of Diana is at the corner of Calle Romero Leal Sagasta west of the Plaza de España. The temple is open to the public.
Location: Zona Arqueológica, Mérida
5. Casa del Mitreo: An Exceptional Roman Villa
The exceptionally beautiful Casa del Mitreo was a large Roman villa that belonged to a noble family. Also discovered on the site was a mithraeum (an underground cave used for mystic rites) that was related to the cult of Mithra, explaining the house's name. The Mithraeum House was designed around three lovely peristyles (patio-courtyards with colonnades) that gave the living space a pleasant quality.
The house included private living quarters and reception areas, gardens, and thermal baths. Splendid mosaics and frescoes decorate the rooms. The most exquisite mosaic depicts the origin of the world with representations of heaven, earth, and the sea. The Casa del Mitreo is near the Plaza de Toros (Bullring) via the Calle de Oviedo.
Location: Zona Cerro de San Albín, Mérida
6. Circo Romano (Ancient Hippodrome)
Northwest of the amphitheater beyond the railroad, the remains of the Circo Romano are unique in Spain. This ancient Roman hippodrome was used as a venue for chariot races and later for naval games. The circus has a rectangular shape and is divided lengthwise by a raised platform in the middle, originally covered in marble.
The arena where the races took place and the seating areas are still easily visible. Upon closer observation, visitors can find the doors known as carceres where competitors entered the circus. Although the site is not overgrown, it is one of the best conserved ancient circuses in existence.
Location: Zona Arqueológica, Mérida
7. The Portico del Foro
The Portico del Foro was built during the 1st century as part of the Augusta Emerita Municipal Forum, modeled after Rome's Forum of Augustus. The ruins that remain today are impressive given their age and include several Corinthian columns that still support a massive piece of marble, and a large section of wall that still contains statues of Roman gods and rulers.
Another landmark that is a vestige of Roman times, Arco de Trajano is an impressive ancient Roman triumphal arch found in the city center just north of the Plaza de España at the junction of two streets. The Arch of Trajan reaches 15 meters in height with four rows of columns. It was the northern gate of the Roman town.
8. Basilica de Santa Eulalia
The Basilica of Santa Eulalia was built in the 13th century during the Christian Reconquest of Spain. This venerated historic monument stands on the site of a fourth-century Visigothic basilica (where a Roman temple previously stood). The original basilica was destroyed by the Almohads, the Islamic rulers who had conquered Andalusia and other areas of the Iberian Peninsula during the Moorish period.
Exemplifying Romanesque architecture, the Basilica has three naves and a semicircular apse. Around the apse are chapels featuring Visigothic and Gothic architectural details. Beneath the basilica are the remains of ancient Roman houses and an early Christian necropolis, the Cripta de Santa Eulalia.
Address: 13 Avenida Extremadura, Mérida
9. Puente Romano
One of Mérida's most iconic sights, the Roman Bridge provided a strategic link between the ancient city of Emérita Augusta and Tarragona. This ancient Roman bridge was originally built during the reign of Emperor Augustus and was restored over later periods; the best views of the Puente Romano are from the Alcazaba.
At 792 meters long, it is one of the largest Roman bridges in Spain. Built from bolstered granite, the bridge spans the Guadiana River with its 60 semicircular arches. The pillars are rounded and were well designed for spill flows when the river's water level is high.
Location: Zona del Puente Sobre el Guadiana
10. Acueducto de los Milagros
This ancient Roman aqueduct is a feat of engineering that was constructed during the first century to deliver fresh water to the city of Emérita Augusta, or present-day Mérida. It once stretched 10 kilometers from the Prosérpina Reservoir. Its name, which translates to the Aqueduct of Miracles, was given because of the structure's ability to endure the millennia and remain standing.
Built from granite and brick, the aqueduct was a massive construction of three stories of semicircular arches, with distribution towers and a tank for water. Today, over 800 meters of the original structure still stand, with entire sections that seem to have been almost entirely preserved, including 10 arches.
Address: Avenida Vía de la Plata, Mérida
11. Alcazaba (Moorish Castle)
The Alcazaba is south of the Plaza de España on the banks of the Guadiana River, with access via a passage in the Puente Romano. This ancient Moorish citadel, the first of its kind in Spain, was built in 855 by Abd ar-Rahman II. It was constructed in part by using the remains of the former buildings, which included a Roman building and a subsequent monastery of the Order of Santiago.
Some of the original structure was retained, most notably the Roman cistern, which stored water collected from the Guadiana River. Today, the historic building is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Address: Plaza de España, Mérida
12. Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción
Built between the 13th and 15th centuries, Santa María la Mayor was founded by Alonso de Cárdenas, Grand Master of the Order of Santiago. The church was built on the site of an earlier Visigoth temple and has preserved some elements from the 13th century, although most of the architecture dates from the 17th and 18th centuries.
On the relatively unadorned facade, visitors can find a vaulted niche with an image of the Virgin Mary (known as "Our Lady of Guidance"). The interior has three naves divided by square pillars and contains the tombs of Don Alonso de Cárdenas and the Duke and Duchess de la Roca.
Address: Plaza de España, Mérida
Where to Stay in Mérida for Sightseeing
- Luxury Hotels: For those seeking luxury accommodation near Mérida's top tourist attractions, five-star ILUNION Merida Palace is nestled right between the Plaza se Espanha and the Museo Arqueologico de Arte Visigodo, and within a short walk to several top attractions. Amenities include an outdoor pool, fitness center, restaurant with room service, and concierge, as well as free Wi-Fi. Another excellent luxury hotel that is centrally located, the Parador de Mérida offers rooms, family rooms, and suites that are spacious and bright. Occupying an 18th-century convent building, this luxurious historic hotel lies a few blocks away from the National Museum of Roman Art, as well as numerous restaurants.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Located less than one block from the Plaza de Espanha and the Puente Romano, Aparthotel Capitolina is a centrally located, mid-range hotel that offers comfortable suites equipped with kitchenettes. Single rooms are well-appointed, and suites are incredibly spacious. Four-star TRYP Merida Medea Hotel offers moderate rates for rooms and suites, while providing top-notch amenities including an outdoor pool, sauna, restaurant, and business center. This hotel is located west of the old town near the Roman Theater, Roman Bridge, and other major Roman sights.
- Budget Hotels: A great budget lodging located right next to the Casa de Mitreo site and close to several other important historic attractions is Hotel Zeus. Amenities include an outdoor pool with separate kid's pool, free parking, and free WiFi; the hotel also has a large outdoor seating area and a restaurant. Deluxe Hostels & Suites Merida is another good option, offering clean rooms and an outdoor pool.
Day Trips from Mérida
Badajoz is a charming town on the banks of the Guadiana River, near the Portuguese frontier (six kilometers from Portugal and 43 kilometers from Mérida). Full of Old World ambience, Badajoz offers many delightful surprises such as old ramparts, picturesque cobblestone streets, and interesting historical monuments. In the center of the town is the Plaza de España, where the Catedral de San Juan stands. Built between 1232 and 1284, the cathedral is a fortress-like structure with an imposing tower and a Renaissance facade.
While Badajoz is now Catholic, the city's Islamic legacy of Badajoz is seen in the Alcazaba. This Moorish castle was converted to a Mudéjar-style palace for the Dukes of Fería, now in a public park. Visitors can take in exceptional views from the Alcazaba's 12th-century Torre de Espantaperros, a massive tower built by the Islamic Almohad rulers. Panoramas from the tower extend from the Guadiana River to the rolling hills of the Extremadura region. The Alcazaba also houses an excellent Archaeological Museum with more than 15,000 items found at architectural sites in the area.
About 78 kilometers from Merida, the ancient town of Caceres was founded in the first century AD by the Romans. During the early Middle Ages, Caceres was under Moorish rule like much of the Iberian Peninsula. The Old Town (Ciudad Monumental) of Cáceres stands on a hilltop surrounded by the medieval walls with twelve towers and five gates.
Enclosed within these historic ramparts are many old aristocratic mansions such as the 15th-century Palacio de los Golfines Abajo near the cathedral. This palace has a magnificent facade with Gothic, Mudéjar, and Plateresque elements as well as the family's coat of arms. The Plaza de Santa María is worth visiting to see the 16th-century Bishop's Palace (Palacio Episcopal) and the Palacio de Mayoralgo.
UNESCO-listed Monastery in Guadalupe
Filled with cobblestone streets and important monuments, Guadalupe is a quaint little village about 131 kilometers from Merida. The most famous sight is the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Plaza Juan Carlos. The monastery buildings date from the 14th and 18th centuries, and as a result show great diversity of architectural style.
A highlight is the monastery's 14th-century church. The interior features a Baroque retablo that was the work of Giraldo de Merló and richly carved choir stalls. Be sure to see the sacristy, sumptuously decorated in Baroque style with ceiling paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán.
Guadalupe is an excellent place to begin a journey through the mountain towns of Las Villuercas. Other noteworthy stopping points are Cañamero, Logrosán, and Berzocana.
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Stunning Seville: Nestled in the heart of Adalusia, Seville is one of Spain's most enchanting cities, with its medieval Barrio Santa Cruz, imposing Moorish Alcázar, and the world's largest Gothic cathedral. Just two hours away, Mérida is likewise an excellent day trip from Seville.
Historic Ronda: Located in southern Spain, Ronda is a smaller city home to a wide variety of historic sites, including Moorish landmarks like the Old Town and the Baños Árabes. Ronda also hosts several annual cultural events, including the Andalusian May Fair, which has been celebrated here for over 500 years.
Lovely Lisbon: The coastal city of Lisbon is about a three-hour car ride from Mérida and a top destination for anyone who wants to experience the hospitality of Spain's friendly neighbor, Portugal. Lisbon is full of world-class museums, historic churches, grand monuments, and historic landmark buildings that await exploration.