12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Mérida, Spain
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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.
Discover the best places to visit in this captivating historic city with our list of the top attractions and things to do in and around Mérida.
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
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 1st 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.
In addition to hosting cultural events, the Teatro Romano is open to the public for visits (with an admission fee) every day year-round.
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 displays 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.
The museum is open everyday year-round, except on Mondays and holidays. Admission requires an entrance fee, except on Saturday and Sunday afternoons after 2pm and on certain holidays (May 18, October 12th, November 16th, and December 6th).
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, an ancient Roman villa. This site has several well-preserved rooms decorated with frescoes, paved hallways featuring mosaics, and an 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.
This site can be visited with the same ticket that allows admission to the Teatro Romano.
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 of Diana is open to the public, free of charge.
Location: Zona Arqueológica, Mérida
5. Casa del Mitreo: An Exceptional Roman Villa
The 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.
The Casa del Mitreo is open to the public for visits (with an admission fee) every day year-round.
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.
The Circo Romano is open to the public for visits (with an admission fee) every day year-round.
Location: Zona Arqueológica, Mérida
7. The Pórtico del Foro
The Pórtico 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.
The Pórtico del Foro is open to the public, free of charge.
Location: Zona Arqueológica, Mérida
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).
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.
The Basilica of Santa Eulalia is open to the public for visits every day year-round. Admission requires an entrance fee.
Address: 11 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
Constructed during the 1st century AD, this ancient Roman aqueduct is a feat of engineering designed 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 translates to the Aqueduct of Miracles, which was given because the structure has endured the millennia in an amazing state of preservation. Today, over 800 meters of the original structure still stand, with entire sections almost entirely intact, including portions that are 27 meters in height.
Built from granite and brick, the aqueduct was a massive monument featuring three stories of semicircular arches, with distribution towers and a tank for water. The northern end of the aqueduct incorporated a pool that purified the water.
The Acueducto de los Milagros is open to the public, free of charge.
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. 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.
This monument is open to the public for visits (with an admission fee) every day year-round. It is found within Mérida's Zona Arqueológica.
Address: Paseo Roma, Mérida
12. Concatedral de Santa María de la Asunción
Built between the 13th and 15th centuries, the Co-cathedral of Santa María la Mayor was founded by Alonso de Cárdenas, Grand Master of the Order of Santiago. The church stands on the site of an earlier Visigoth temple and has preserved some elements from the 13th century. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the church was renovated in Neoclassical style.
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.
Tourists can only visit the Concatedral de Santa María de la Asunción during the hours of worship.
Address: Plaza de España, Mérida
Where to Stay in Mérida for Sightseeing
- In the heart of Mérida's Old Town just steps away from the Plaza de España, the five-star ILUNION Mérida Palace is within easy walking distance of many shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions. Amenities include a concierge, an outdoor swimming pool, fitness center, gourmet restaurant, and room service.
- Near the National Museum of Roman Art, the centrally located Parador de Mérida offers spacious guest rooms, family rooms, and suites. This four-star hotel occupies a refurbished 18th-century convent that has been renovated with an outdoor garden and swimming pool. The hotel's traditional restaurant serves cuisine of the Extremadura region in an elegant dining room or on a pleasant outdoor terrace.
- Just a five-minute walk from the Plaza de España, the three-star Aparthotel Capitolina is an apartment-style hotel that offers two-room suites equipped with kitchenettes. Amenities include a restaurant, laundry service, and room service. Accommodations include a complimentary breakfast.
- The TRYP Mérida Medea Hotel offers reasonable rates for four-star accommodations with excellent amenities: a concierge, restaurant, café, outdoor swimming pool, snack bar, sauna, and bicycle rentals. A breakfast buffet is available. The hotel is located west of the Old Town in a more modern area of the city.
- Next to the Casa del Mitreo, the Hotel Zeus provides three-star accommodations at affordable rates. Amenities include an outdoor swimming pool with sundeck and lounge chairs, a separate kids' pool, game room, free parking, and a concierge. A breakfast buffet is available.
- The Deluxe Hostels & Suites Merida is a great value for the price. This two-star hotel has a 24-hour front desk, concierge, laundry service, a garden, and outdoor swimming pool. The hotel is about a 10-minute walk from the Plaza de España.
Day Trips from Mérida
Discover the Charming Town of Badajoz
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.
Day Trip to the Anient Town of Cáceres
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 Ciudad Monumental (Old Town) of Cáceres stands on a hilltop surrounded by the medieval walls with 12 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.
See the 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 María 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.
The monastery is open to the public for visits daily. A highlight is the monastery's 14th-century church featuring a Baroque retablo by Giraldo de Merló and richly carved choir stalls. Not to be missed is 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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