11 Top-Rated Attractions in Tarragona & Easy Day Trips
Blessed with sunshine, a beautiful coastline, and interesting ancient monuments, Tarragona is a popular destination for those who live in and around Barcelona, 100 kilometers inland. This port town hugs the golden shores of Catalonia's Costa Daurada, the Golden Coast, and much of the city overlooks the Mediterranean. The gorgeous beach of El Milagro is within walking distance of the main landmarks.
Layer upon layer of history is everywhere, from the UNESCO-listed Roman ruins to the medieval alleyways and cobblestone streets and the Romanesque-Gothic cathedral. To soak up the quaint old-world ambience while enjoying a meal, head to El Serrallo — the fishing village that grew into the big city that is now Tarragona. In this atmospheric neighborhood, tourists can take a scenic stroll and enjoy delicious fresh seafood at one of the waterfront restaurants. For more ideas on things to see and do read our list of the top tourist attractions in Tarragona.
See also: Where to Stay in Tarragona
The magnificent Cathedral of Tarragona was built in the 12th century on the site of a 10th-century Moorish mosque, and its construction continued for centuries after. With its blend of architectural styles, the building is one of the most splendid examples of the transition from Romanesque to Gothic. The main facade features two 12th-century Romanesque portals and a stunning rose window with openwork tracery.
The interior, with three naves on a Latin-cross plan, creates an impression of great austerity. An octagonal dome over the crossing adds to the inspiring ambience, and in the transepts are exquisite stained-glass windows created in 1574. In the Capilla Mayor is a sensational 15th-century high reredos by Pere Johan. Crafted from polychromatic alabaster, the piece incorporates a trilogy of statues that represent the Virgin and Child, Saint Thecla, and Saint Paul.
Another artistic gem is the Gothic Archbishop's Sepulcher over the high altar. The Capilla de Santa María, dating from the 14th century, is also noteworthy for its vibrant medieval windows and a lovely retablo dedicated to the Virgin Mary painted by Francesc Olives in 1536.
Address: Calle Virgen del Claustro, Tarragona
Official site: http://www.catedraldetarragona.com/?lang=en
2. Roman Amphitheater
Vestiges of classical Roman buildings are dotted all over Tarragona, which after Mérida is the second most important archaeological site in Spain. The ancient Roman amphitheater is the most impressive of Tarragona's ancient remains. Built on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the amphitheater dates back to the second century AD during the reign of Emperor Augustus.
The immense stadium staged gladiatorial games, as well as other spectacles that entertained the Roman population. In its sloping rows of seats, the amphitheater could accommodate an astounding crowd of 12,000 spectators. The amphitheater was also the scene of the martyrdom of Bishop Fructuosus in AD 259. Beneath the arena are pits that were used for behind-the-scenes production of the events. In the center of the amphitheater are remains of a sixth-century Visigoth basilica and a 12th-century Romanesque-Gothic church.
Address: Parc del Miracle, Tarragona
3. Paseo Arqueológico (Archaeological Walk)
The Paseo Arqueológico begins where the Vía del Imperio (Imperial Way) runs into the Puerta del Rosario, an entrance gate that dates from around the fifth century BC. Shaded by cypress trees, the Paseo Arqueológico is a pleasant garden path at the base of the ancient Roman wall. It was built in the third to second century BC, and the wall originally enclosed the entire ancient town. Several sections are still intact, including one stretch that extends for 1,000 meters with heights ranging from three meters to 10 meters in places.
The amazing ancient defense structure is distinguished by its cyclopean stone masonry of massive irregularly shaped blocks. Local workers were employed to build the wall, and many of the stones bear Iberian masons' marks. Three towers of the wall have also survived: the Cabiscol Tower, Minerva Tower, and Arzobispo Tower. The Minerva tower is an excellent example of Roman architecture, and the Arzobispo Tower was altered during the Middle Ages. Tourists will enjoy soaking up the legacy of Tarragona's two-thousand-year history while appreciating scenic views from each end of the garden.
Address: Avenida Catalunya, Tarragona
4. Balcón del Mediterráneo
At the south end of the broad tree-lined Rambla Nova, Tarragona's main street, is the Balcón del Mediterráneo. From this spacious terrace, tourists can admire stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea and El Milagro Beach. Steps from the Balcón del Mediterráneo lead down to the railroad station and the harbor, and several promenades begin at the Balcón and follow the coastline to the beach.
The terrace and the paths that extend from it offer a multitude of photo opportunities. Continuing farther along the beach, the scenery becomes more rugged, providing a wide range of landscapes and backdrops.
5. Archaeology Museum
Tarragona's Archeological Museum has one of Spain's finest collections of ancient Roman art. The exhibits display antiquities and finds from the town's archaeological sites, including a wide variety of ancient Roman sculptures, pottery, mosaics, and other artworks. The collections also include sarcophagi, amphora, tombs, and mausoleums uncovered at the Roman and Paleo-Christian Necrópolis site. Located at Avenida Ramón and Cajal, the site is one of the largest found in Europe.
Highlights of this attraction are the mosaics depicting Medusa's head and Bacchic scene, and in the basement of the museum are excavated foundations of the ancient Roman walls. Adjoining the Archaeology Museum is the massive Pretorio Romano (Roman Praetorium), the Roman general's residence. Built in the first century BC, this immense tower is known as the Torreón de Pilatos because Pilate is believed to have been born here. A vaulted underground chamber links to a passageway, and the tower borders the Roman Forum, just behind it.
Address: 5 Plaça del Reli, Tarragona
6. Roman Forum
West of the Rambla Nova, the Roman Forum is a monumental archaeological site that houses the lasting remnants of the center of the ancient town of Tarraco. Tarraco was the capital of the province during the classical Roman era. The rectangular space was once a public square until the ruins were uncovered, exposing many Roman houses, shops, and establishments that once stood here.
Now uncovered, tourists can visualize the bustling city center among the remaining columns and arches. Be sure to find the House of Curia, the most remarkable ruins found in the Roman Forum. The site is open to the public for a small admission fee.
Address: Calle Lérida, Tarragona
7. El Serrallo: An Old Fishing Village
El Serrallo is the old fishing village at the heart of Tarragona. This area has retained its old-world charm, even though Tarragona developed into a modern city. The scenic seaside promenade is the highlight of Tarragona and is a pleasant area for leisurely strolls. It's also a wonderful place to have an authentic seafood meal. Numerous restaurants line the promenade, offering tourists a great selection.
Most of the restaurant owners get fresh local fish daily from the fish market held in this neighborhood. Sample typical dishes such as fresh cod dumplings, cuttlefish in its own sauce, and Pataco (a hearty stew of potatoes, tuna, garlic, and almonds).
8. Casa Castellarnau (Tarragona Museum of History)
Casa Castellarnau houses the Museum of History thanks to the original donation of the Molas Collection of archaeological and ethnographic exhibits, which comprises more than half of the museum's permanent collection. Artifacts range from prehistoric origin through the 20th century, with an extensive collection of coins dating from the Roman Empire through the 19th century.
Casa Castellarnau was built in the 15th century for aristocratic owners, one of the most influential families in the town. The elegant Gothic building is fully furnished, mostly in the style of Queen Isabella II. Interesting architectural details are the courtyard and a stairway with Gothic columns and capitals.
Address: 14 Carrer dels Cavallers, Tarragona
9. Playa del Milagro
Tarragona's 15-kilometer coastline is prized for its beautiful beaches with golden-sand shores and calm waters thanks to the gradual slope of the beach. From the Balcón del Mediterráneo, scenic promenades lead to the beaches. The main beach in Tarragona is Playa del Milagro, a wide sandy shore nearly one kilometer in length right in the center of town. Ruins of the Roman amphitheater can be seen in the background.
El Milagro Beach, as well as the rest of Tarragona's public beaches, features signposts of water safety and other hazards, and the sand is cleaned daily, ensuring safe and sanitary sunbathing. All of Tarragona's beaches are equipped with showers, especially handy for those who don't want to wait for the sand to dry before getting on with their day.
10. Pretty Avenues and Public Squares
To the east of the Balcón del Mediterráneo is the Paseo de les Palmeres, a beautiful avenue with attractive terraces. This avenue intersects with the Rambla Vella and halfway down this is the Plaza de la Fuente, a square on the site of the ancient Roman Circus. Vestiges of the circus foundations are visible here. On the north side of the square is the 19th-century Ayuntamiento de Tarragona (Town Hall) built on the grounds of a former convent; the lovely facade features Ionic columns.
Another pleasant area to explore from the Balcón del Mediterráneo is the Rambla Nova. This wide boulevard incorporates lovely gardens in the middle. Along the boulevard are two noteworthy churches: the Baroque Iglesia de San Agustín and Iglesia de San Francisco.
11. Acueducto Pont de les Ferreres (Roman Aqueduct)
About four kilometers from Tarragona is the Acueducto Pont de les Ferreres, also known as the Puente del Diablo (Devil's Bridge) after a local legend. The aqueduct was built during the era of Emperor Augustus and restored during the Moorish reign of Caliph Abd-al Rahman III. Originally, the structure extended for 25 kilometers in length.
All that remains now are ruins of a few hundred meters long and 27 meters high, however this is plenty enough to be able to appreciate the magnificent feat of engineering. Two rows of immense arches support the water channel that once carried water from the Francolí river.
Address: CN-240 de Valls a Lleida, 43006 Tarragona
Where to Stay in Tarragona for Sightseeing
- Luxury Hotels: Although it is located outside the city center, Hotel Mas la Boella is well worth the short ride into town, housed in historic buildings with lovely gardens. This 13-room boutique luxury hotel has a spa, outdoor pool, and business center, and offers amenities including room service, airport transportation, and laundry service.
The Hotel SB Ciutat de Tarragona sits just off Placa Imperial Tarraco, a convenient hub for those by foot or on wheels. This pet-friendly hotel features a rooftop pool with a hot tub, a fitness center, and free Wi-Fi, as well as in-room fridges and room service.
Siting at the edge of the City Park (Parc de la Ciutat), the four-star AC Hotel Tarragona has friendly front desk staff and comfortable beds, plus amenities including a breakfast buffet, restaurant with room service, and business center.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The family-friendly and pet-welcoming Hotel Sant Jordi is just a block from the beach, providing guests with beach towels and chairs for convenience. Family rooms are available, and a continental breakfast is included.
Another excellent place to stay for families is the Astari Hotel, close to Playa el Milagro for easy beach access and home to a large outdoor pool with ample seating. This bright, modern hotel has an on-site restaurant and surprisingly spacious rooms and family suites.
The three-star Hotel SB Express Tarragona is situated next to Torre dels Vents monument and overlooks Placa de les Corts Catalanes. The hotel boasts soundproof rooms to provide the utmost privacy, allows pets, and serves a breakfast buffet in their on-site café.
- Budget Hotels: A great budget hotel, just a 10-minute walk to the beach is Pigal, known for its hospitable owner and sparkling clean rooms. The hotel also features value-adding amenities like a fitness center, self-serve laundry, and a shuttle bus for guests.
The Hotel Placa de la Font is conveniently located just steps from the Circ Roma and Casa Castellarnau and is close to several restaurants in addition to its own.
Another good budget option within reasonable walking distance of Tarragona's most popular tourist attractions is Hotel Canada, which offers somewhat dated but spotless rooms, with free parking and Wi-Fi and an on-site restaurant.
Day Trips from Tarragona
Gaudí Centre in Reus
The Gaudí Centre is in the town of Reus (10 kilometers from Tarragona), where the famous Catalan architect was born and raised. This modern interpretation center is the only one of its kind, with exhibits devoted to the life and works of Gaudí. Through innovative displays and the latest audiovisual technology, the exhibits highlight the wonderful world of Gaudí — renowned for his fantastical and surreal architecture. Visitors can discover Gaudí's incredible creativity and the secrets of his genius.
Picnic areas and many cafés and restaurants are near the Gaudí Centre. Tourists can also wander the town of Reus to find Gaudí's birthplace on Calle Sant Vicenç and the church where he was christened, Sant Pere. Reus is easily accessible from Tarragona by car or train. Most of Gaudí's architectural masterpieces are found in Barcelona, a city that boasts seven UNESCO-listed buildings created by Gaudí.
Address: 3 Plaça del Mercadal, Reus
Official site: http://www.gaudicentre.cat/en
The Beach Resort of Salou
In a picturesque, sheltered bay 16 kilometers from Tarragona, Salou is a popular seaside resort that swells with visitors during summertime. Popular for its fine sandy beaches, as well as a boating harbor, Salou draws sunbathers and water sports enthusiasts alike. The beaches of Salou are prized for their sandy shores and calm waters, ideal for swimming or wading. Also a historic town, Salou's claim to fame is that King Jaime I sailed from the town in 1229 on his expedition to conquer Majorca.
Several more excellent beaches along the Costa Daurada are easily accessible for those with a car. About 12 kilometers southeast of Tarragona, on the way to Salou, Playa de la Pineda is a lovely beach in a pristine natural setting. Farther south, seven kilometers from Salou, is the quaint fishing village of Cambrils.
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The Mediterranean Coast: Tarragona is one of the top destinations along the Mediterranean coast, where you can find several of Spain's most popular beaches. Farther south along the coast is Valencia, the capital of the region and full of tourist attractions that range from historic landmarks to the innovative City of Arts and Sciences. The lovely town of Alicante is also home to a mix of fine-sand beaches and historic attractions.
Islands in the Sun: For practically unlimited beach choices, head to one of Spain's many islands, like the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The largest of these is Majorca, well-known for its resorts and equally full of charming villages and romantic historic landmarks like castles and ruins. Far from the Mediterranean, off the northwestern coast of Africa, the Canary Islands have a year-round beach season thanks to their position in the subtropics, and they are particularly popular with British and northern European travelers.