I can highly recommend Tarragona as a destination in Catalonia: The city is really nice to explore and is bursting with great sights! In this article, I’ll show you my tips for Tarragona and why you should definitely make a stop trip here when travelling to Barcelona or along the Costa Daurada!
Archaeological finds from the Roman period
Sooner or later you will come across another name for Tarragona: Tarraco. This was the name of Tarragona in ancient times. In the 1st and 2nd century Tarragona (or Tarraco) was one of the most important Roman cities on the Iberian Peninsula.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, however, Tarragona disappeared into insignificance. Many of the pompous buildings were simply built over afterwards in the course of the centuries. Today, the ensemble of monuments from the Roman period is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is managed by the Museu d’Història de Tarragona.
These are the attractions you should see in Tarragona:
Hard to believe how big the Circus was in ancient Tarragona! On an area of 325 meters long and between 100 and 115 meters wide, chariot races took place here, one of the greatest spectacles ever! Today you can see especially the huge vaults underneath the Circus, which actually only served to stabilize the heavy stands above. Unbelievable, for which crowds of people the Romans built at that time!
Situated directly on the sea, in Roman times the amphitheater hosted gladiatorial fights and bloody chases with wild animals that lost their lives for the amusement of the spectators.
Torre del Pretori (Praetorian Tower)
From the Torre del Pretori you have a fantastic panoramic view of Tarragona. Especially the view of the amphitheater and the old town with the cathedral enthroned in the middle are really worth seeing!
Tip: You can buy an entrance ticket for each monument individually. However, there is also a collective ticket, with which you save money already from the second location!
For a small fee, you can also join a walking tour of the Roman sites: Book here*
Located on a hill in the middle of buildings in the old town, the Tarragona Cathedral seems almost small and inconspicuous. But you should definitely take a look! The nave and its huge organ are very impressive. And inside the complex, the romantic cloister awaits you. A real oasis!
Castellers: The impressive human towers of Catalonia
On Sundays, the square in front of Tarragona Cathedral often hosts one of the absolute highlights: Here you can watch the various groups of castellers build their dizzying towers, the castells, in a combination of teamwork and acrobatics. Every two years there is a big competition lasting several days, in which the best group is chosen. In Tarragona alone there are four different clubs that maintain this tradition with great dedication.
I was particularly impressed by how much cohesion (in the truest sense of the word) is required for a tower: hundreds of Castellers come together in a precisely thought-out formation! There is no real competition among the groups either; they even help each other wrap the long bandages that provide the necessary stability in the lumbar area.
Attention: In case of rain or wet ground the whole spectacle is cancelled for safety reasons.
More tips for the area around Tarragona, the Costa Dorada and Catalonia can be found here:
Catalonia Travel Guide
Balcó del Mediterrani (Balcony to the Mediterranean Sea)
The balcony to the Mediterranean Sea: that’s the name of the popular beach promenade in Tarragona! And really, the promenade seems like one huge balcony: You’ll have the perfect view of the sea from up here! People like to stroll here, which the locals also call “tocar ferro” (touching the iron). In fact, superstition says that touching the railing of the Balcó del Mediterrani brings good luck!
Museu d‘art Moderna MAMT
If you are even a little bit interested in modern art, you should definitely take a look at the Museu d’Art Moderna de Tarragona (called “MAMT”). In addition to different exhibitions, you can see the famous Tapis de Tarragona by Joan Miró, behind which there is a touching story.
In 1966 Miró’s only daughter had a serious car accident near Tarragona, but was saved and was treated in a Tarragona hospital. Grateful for the efforts of all involved, Miró donated his work “Tapis de Tarragona” to the Red Cross of Tarragona in 1970, which is now on display at the MAMT. The carpet was knotted by Josep Royo, with whom Miró then also made other tapestries for special locations. One of these carpets (and the largest) hung in the World Trade Center in New York until its destruction on September 11, 2001.
By the way, admission to the MAMT is free!
Do you feel like going to the beach? In Tarragona this is not a problem! Even though you’re in the middle of a city and part of the coast is taken up by the admittedly unattractive harbor, you can still have a great beach day here: Tarragona even once won an award for the most natural city beaches in Spain!
From the Torre del Pretori you can see especially well the Platja Arrabassada and the Platja Savinosa. Although very close to the city, Tarragona’s beaches are largely natural. You’ll really find a lot of greenery and great hiking trails in the area.
Shopping in Tarragona
Tarragona is not so much a shopping destination as Reus. Nevertheless, on Calle Major, for example, which leads down from the cathedral, you will find some nice stores where you can also buy typical souvenirs such as wickerwork or porcelain. Small handbags made of wicker are in style or can be used as a trendy basket at home. And in Spain, they are often cheaper!
Larger stores can be found on Rambla Nova, a large shopping street, or in the Centre Comercial Parc Central.
Where to eat in Tarragona
The old town of Tarragona with its small winding streets is just too romantic! Here you will find many great locations for a cozy glass of Vino Tinto in the evening or right away for dinner. But note: Take your time, because the evening starts much later in Spain! :)
You can sit outside until the evening in one of the many bars on the Plaça de la Font! And on the terrace of the Pizzeria Pulvinar on Calle Major you’ll have a real top spot to enjoy the vibe of Tarragona.
For rainy days or cooler weather, I recommend Entrecopes. Here you can enjoy typical Catalan cuisine in a cozy cellar vault!
Where to stay in Tarragona
Just like Reus, I was also very enthusiastic about Tarragona. I love big cities like Barcelona, but sometimes it’s the small, at first glance inconspicuous places that I really enjoy discovering.
I liked Tarragona very much. The location by the sea together with the pretty old town and the historical sites is simply unbeatable. The hotel has also done its part: see the orange glowing sun rising over the turquoise Mediterranean Sea from my room’s balcony, was simply unique.
Although the H10 Imperial Tarraco* is actually one of those giant hotels that leave me usually pretty cold. But this time I had to be taught better: Not only the view is impressive, but also the consistent vibe of the hotel somewhere between cool Miami style and warm tropical flair!
By the way, on the roof there is a rooftop bar with pool – and a fantastic view over the sea!
Day trip to Tarragona from Barcelona
From Barcelona you can reach Tarragona in just one hour by a regional train! The city is therefore perfect for a day trip if you are in Barcelona anyway.
And Barcelona itself is always worth a trip, too! From many German airports there are good and cheap connections to Barcelona:
What else you can do around Tarragona
Tarragona is located on the Costa Dorada. Nearby you will find many small coastal towns such as Cambrils, which are especially popular in the summer! You can also take a trip to the beautiful Reus, the city of Modernisme. Or you can plan a complete road trip through Catalonia – it’s worth it!
➜ Rent a car from Barcelona here*
Many thanks to Catalonia Tourism for the invitation!