We have visited the city of Cartagena a couple of times now and it’s a really interesting place to visit with a lot of history to learn about and plenty of interesting, fun, and educational things to do.
If you are staying nearby in either Murcia or Alicante, then Cartagena is a great place to visit for the day.
Where is Cartagena?
The city of Cartagena is the second-most important city in the region of Murcia. Located on the Costa Calida, Cartagena is only 30 minutes away from the city of Murcia, and around 1h 20 minutes from the city of Alicante.
Interesting facts about Cartagena
- Cartagena has been inhabited for over two millennia, being founded around 227 BC.
- The military base and arsenal of the Spanish Navy is located in Cartagena.
- Bullet damage from the Spanish Civil War can be seen in the walls of the city’s Town Hall.
Cartagena is the perfect destination for a day trip so if you are thinking of visiting the city, here are some of the best things to do in Cartagena…
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Visit the Roman Theater
Let’s start the list with a must do in Cartagena. The one thing you have to make sure you do on a visit to Cartagena is go to the Roman Theater. This 2,000 year old theater was only discovered in 1988, underneath the ruins of the Old Cathedral, which was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.
From the top of the theater you can take in the fantastic view of the stage – it’s amazing how clearly you can hear people on the stage from all the way at the back. You’re also allowed to walk across the stage to get a feel for how many people would have been watching the shows from their seats.
Most of the theater has been restored, with more excavation still going on to see what else there could be under the neighbouring buildings.
In the adjoining museum you can find out all about the history of the theater, how it was discovered, and also look at lots of artifacts found at the site.
Visit the ARQUA Marine Archaeology Museum
There’s a lot of maritime history to learn about in Cartagena as this area of Spain used to be a trade route into Africa and the Middle East. Cartagena’s underwater archaeology museum, ARQUA, has a large collection of artifacts recovered from shipwrecks in the area over the last 500 hundred years.
You can learn about the processes of marine archaeology, how to locate and excavate an underwater site, and how to restore the remains that are recovered.
There are interactive displays for the kids to enjoy, 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 treasure found from shipwrecks.
Entry to the museum is free on Saturday afternoons and Sundays so it’s a good idea to plan a visit at the weekend.
Take in the view from the Castillo de la Concepción
For amazing views of the city, head to the Castillo de la Concepción at the highest point of Cartagena, one of the top things to see in Cartagena. The castle is a Roman temple turned into a Moorish fortification, eventually turned into a fortress by the Christians.
You can get to the top via the glass lift or you can walk the road way, taking in the great views over the city as you go. Once at the top you can wander around the gardens, visit the museum and look out towers, and stop to rest in plenty of picturesque areas.
Explore the Palacio Consistorial
If you like Spanish buildings, you’ll enjoy the Modernist architecture in Cartagena. The 100 year old town hall, Palacio Consistorial, in the centre of Plaza del Ayuntamiento is one building you must see and somewhere that should be at the top of your list of places to visit in Cartagena. You’re allowed to go inside to admire the sweeping marble staircase, plus there are also English speaking tours for only €1 where you’ll be shown around the building, including a visit to the Mayor’s office.
The Palacio Consistorial has been restored well, but if you take a closer look you can see bullet holes on the outside from the Civil War.
Go to the beach at Cala Cortina
Cartagena isn’t known for it’s beaches but does have one beach Cala Cortina, which is 4km from the city centre. This small sandy bay has several bars, restaurants, play areas, and a picnic area, and is definitely one of Cartagena’s top tourist attractions. If you want a relaxing day without sightseeing this is a good place to go. The beach does get quite busy in the summer but not as much as some of the more touristy beaches nearby.
Take a walking tour of Cartagena
If you want to get to know Cartagena better, a great way to see some of the best places is by booking a walking tour.
You will get the chance to stroll through the streets and see some of the best attractions in Cartagena.
Take a trip on the panoramic tourist bus
A tourist bus trip is one of the top things to do in Cartagena and a great way to see the city without having to walk for miles is to hop on the Bus Turistico – a double decker tourist bus with panoramic views of Cartagena.
For just €7 per person you will take a 45 minute trip around the city to do some Cartagena sightseeing with commentary in several languages. You’ll hear lots of historical information and interesting facts about Cartagena, as well as passing by some of the top Cartagena attractions.
You can stay on the bus for the whole trip or jump off at Cala Cortina beach for 45 minutes before jumping back on.
Go on a boat trip
A boat trip is a brilliant way to see Cartagena from the sea. There are lots of boat trips from the marina every day, one of the more popular ones is the Barco Turistico (Tourist Boat). The Tourist Boat is one of the most fun things to do in Cartagena, you’ll get to sail past castles, fortresses, lighthouses, and docks. The guide is given in various languages so is suitable for everyone.
On this boat trip you can stop off at Fuerta de Navidad (Christmas Fort) where you’ll learn more about the military history of Cartagena. Afterwards you can finish your 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.
Eat & drink
Something you have to do in every Spanish city you visit is sample the local delicacies. Cartagena’s narrow streets are full of amazing tapas bars and restaurants, as well as lots more restaurants and cafes in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento .
If you’re after things to do in Cartagena at night, a wander through the city centre’s streets will take to past lots of great bars and restaurants.
The main shopping street in Cartagena is Calle Mayor, running from the port up into the town. The narrow streets around the city centre are full of unique clothes and gift shops, and there’s also a shopping mall if you want to visit some more well known stores. Espacio Mediterraneo Centro Comercial has all the popular high street shops like H&M, Zara, Primark, and more.
Where to stay in Cartagena
If you are looking for accommodation in Cartagena, take a look at these latest deals:Booking.com
If you’re looking for a city with plenty of history, Cartagena is definitely worth a visit. We hope some of these suggestions will give you some good ideas of things to do in Cartagena on your next family road trip!
For more ideas, and to book tickets, tours, experiences and activities in Cartagena, visit Get Your Guide.
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