Discovering Tarragona: History, Attractions, and Travel Tips

view of Tarragona and the Roman Amphitheater on the sea side.

a view of the Roman Amphitheater and the Mediterranean Sea at Tarragona, Spain
Photo © suitcaseinspain

In the heart of the Costa Daurada along the Mediterranean, Tarragona emerged as a city resonating with the echoes of Roman history. This city was unlike any other—it was a living archive of a remarkable past. Tarragona proudly held the esteemed position of being the capital of the Roman province, Hispania Citerior, during the Republic. It continued to be a significant urban center even during the expansive reign of the Roman Empire.

The Roman Tapestry: Foundations of Tarraco

In the annals of ancient history, Tarragona came into being as a Roman colony in the 3rd century BCE, bearing the name ‘Tarraco.’ The land prospered under the governance of the Romans, evolving into a bustling hub steeped in opulence and architectural marvels.

The city boasted imposing Roman walls that once fortified its boundaries, a grand amphitheater that thundered with the clash of gladiators, a circus that bore witness to heart-pounding chariot races, and aqueducts that stood as a testament to Roman engineering. All of these structures told tales of an era long gone.

Roman Circus Tower, Tarragona, Spain
Roman Circus Tower, Tarragona, Spain
Photo © suitcaseinspain

Standing the Test of Time: Tarragona’s Enduring Heritage

Fast forward to the present, Tarragona stands as a cherished relic. Its stones and ruins serve as silent storytellers of a bygone glory. The city’s historical significance has been duly acknowledged and preserved, earning it the esteemed title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Every weathered stone and ancient remnant bears witness to an empire’s rise and fall, a testimony to the passage of time and the resilience of a city through the ages.

Tarragona, with its historical tapestry and architectural whispers of a distant past, invites explorers and wanderers to trace the imprints of time and envision the grandeur that once graced these streets. A journey through Tarragona is not just a stroll through a city; it’s a passage through the corridors of history.

architecture around Tarragona
Photo © suitcaseinspain

Top 5 Places to Explore

Roman Amphitheatre and Circus

The Roman Amphitheatre, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, is an astonishing sight, once hosting gladiatorial contests. Adjacent to it lies the Roman Circus, showcasing the grandeur of Roman chariot races. These ruins transport visitors back in time to the era of ancient Rome.

close up view of the Roman Amphitheatre in Tarragona, Spain
inside the Roman Amphitheatre in Tarragona, Spain
Photo © suitcaseinspain

Tarragona Cathedral (Catedral de Tarragona)

This stunning Gothic-Romanesque cathedral stands as an icon of religious architecture. Built on the site of an ancient Roman temple, it’s a captivating blend of history and spirituality. Visitors can ascend the bell tower for a panoramic view of the city.

front entrance to Catedral de Tarragona

front entrance to the Catedral de Tarragona
Photo © suitcaseinspain

angled view of front entrance to Catedral de Tarragona

close-up of entrance to Catedral de Tarragona
Photo © suitcaseinspain

detail of statues on the facade of Catedral de Tarragona
Photo © suitcaseinspain

Església dels Pares Carmelites

Església dels Pares Carmelites, located at the heart of Tarragona, is a haven of tranquility and spirituality. The church’s façade showcases a beautiful blend of Baroque and Gothic architecture, drawing visitors into its peaceful ambiance. Inside, visitors will find softly lit corridors adorned with religious artwork and sculptures, inviting moments of reflection and serenity. Whether you seek architectural beauty or a moment of calm amidst your Tarragona exploration, Església dels Pares Carmelites is a worthy stop on your itinerary.

Photo © suitcaseinspain
Photo © suitcaseinspain

Passeig Arqueològic (Archaeological Promenade)

This elevated walkway offers breathtaking views of Tarragona’s Roman past. It leads visitors through various Roman archaeological sites, enabling a deeper understanding of the city’s history and architectural evolution.

Mirador del Paseo San Antonio
Photo © suitcaseinspain

Pont del Diable (Devil’s Bridge)

In the heart of Tarragona, an ancient engineering marvel silently narrates the tale of Roman ingenuity—Ferreres Aqueduct, colloquially known as the Pont del Diable or Devil’s Bridge.

A Testament to Roman Ingenuity
This architectural masterpiece is more than just a bridge; it’s a testament to the Roman mastery of engineering and design. Dating back to the 1st century BCE, the Ferreres Aqueduct was a vital artery of ancient Tarraco. Its purpose was clear and essential: to supply the bustling Roman city of Tarraco with water, a lifeblood for the growth and prosperity of the community.

The Aqueduct’s Grand Design
The Pont del Diable, a remarkable Roman aqueduct, elegantly spans the Francolí River, presenting a perfect fusion of practicality and aesthetics. The Romans, showcasing their profound grasp of hydraulics and construction materials, engineered a dual-tiered bridge employing meticulously carved limestone blocks and mortar. The upper tier housed the water channel, sourced from the Francolí River located 15 km north of Tarragona during the reign of Emperor Augustus. Below, the lower tier bore the structure’s weight and doubled as a pedestrian walkway, exemplifying Roman engineering prowess and foresight.

Standing the Test of Time
The aqueduct’s endurance is awe-inspiring. It endured centuries of weathering, witnessing empires rise and fall, yet it stood firm, a symbol of Roman resilience. Although no longer in use, its arches continue to reach for the sky, a lasting tribute to an era that revered meticulous craftsmanship.

Visitors to Tarragona today can walk in the footsteps of ancient Romans, marveling at this engineering marvel and reflecting on the intelligence and sophistication of a civilization long past. The Pont del Diable stands not only as a bridge across a river but also as a bridge across time, connecting the present to the remarkable achievements of our predecessors.

entrance to Pont del Diable Eco-historical Park

entrance to Pont del Diable Eco-historical Park (4 KM north from Tarragona)
Photo © suitcaseinspain

Pont del Diable, Tarragona Spain
Pont del Diable (Devil’s Bridge)
Photo © suitcaseinspain
John walking along the top of the aquaduct

John walked along the top of Pont del Diable (Devil’s Bridge)
Photo © suitcaseinspain

Mercado Central (Central Market)

Delve into the local culture by visiting Mercado Central, a bustling marketplace where you can find fresh produce, seafood, meats, and traditional Spanish goods. It’s an excellent place to sample local cuisine and experience the vibrant energy of daily life in Tarragona.

Tarragona is a city that beautifully blends its rich history with a modern, lively atmosphere. Exploring its ancient ruins, stunning architecture, and bustling markets will give you a taste of its unique cultural tapestry.

Mercado Central Tarragona
Photo © suitcaseinspain

Climate in Tarragona

Tarragona experiences a Mediterranean climate, characterized by mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The average high temperatures during summer (June to August) range from 28°C to 32°C (82°F to 90°F), making it an ideal time for beach visits and outdoor exploration. Winters (December to February) are mild with temperatures usually not dropping below 8°C (46°F).

Travel Tips

Transportation and Getting Around

Tarragona is a city that invites exploration, and getting around is a breeze:

Walking: The city’s compact layout makes it ideal for exploring on foot. Meander through the narrow streets, uncover hidden gems, and reach the key attractions comfortably within the city center.

Public Bus Network: Tarragona boasts a well-connected public bus network, offering a convenient and cost-effective way to travel within the city and to nearby areas. Consider using the buses to reach attractions that may be a bit farther from the city center.

Tourist Train: For a unique perspective of Tarragona’s landmarks, hop on the tourist train. This charming train ride takes you through the city’s highlights, providing an informative and scenic tour. It’s a great option for those seeking a relaxed and guided exploration of the city.

Ease of Movement with Escalators: Tarragona offers additional convenience with outdoor escalators in certain areas, aiding movement in hilly terrains. Similar to cities like Santander, these escalators are operational year-round, ensuring easy access and enhancing the city’s walkability.

With options ranging from leisurely walks to the efficient public bus system and the delightful tourist train, discovering Tarragona and its attractions is easy and enjoyable. Choose the mode of transportation that suits your preferences and embark on a memorable journey through this captivating city.

Train Stations:

Tarragona has two main train stations: Tarragona Train Station (Tarragona Estació) and Tarragona Camp Train Station (Tarragona Camp).

Tarragona Train Station (Tarragona Estació): Situated in the heart of the city, Tarragona Train Station serves as a central hub for local train services (Euromed, AVE Intercity, and Avant), particularly facilitating travel to and from key cities like Barcelona and Valencia. It is a convenient station for those exploring the local attractions within Tarragona.

Camp de Tarragona Train Station: Located a bit farther from the city center, Camp de Tarragona Train Station plays a pivotal role as a center for high-speed train services, catering to medium-distance and long-distance routes. This station is a strategic point for travelers seeking rapid and efficient connections to various destinations beyond Tarragona.

Both stations are well-maintained and offer reliable services, making it relatively easy to travel to and from Tarragona by train.

Terrain and Walkability:

Tarragona features a mix of hilly and flat terrain. The city center, where most of the historical sites are located, is relatively flat and easily walkable. However, certain areas, especially those closer to the coast, may have inclines and hills (where you will find escalators). Comfortable footwear is recommended for exploring the city comfortably.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Wyoming, USA

Photo © suitcaseinspain

Main Festivals in Tarragona

Santa Tecla Festival

Time of Year: Late September (around September 23)
Description: The Santa Tecla Festival is the most significant and anticipated celebration in Tarragona. It honors the patron saint of the city, Santa Tecla. The festivities include parades, traditional dances, concerts, exhibitions, and the famous “Castells” (human tower) performances. The city comes alive with vibrant colors, music, and a lively atmosphere during this event.

Cabezudos (Big Heads) and Gigantes (Giants) are seen during the Santa Tecla Festival.
Photo by Alberich Fotògrafs
John drinking a mamadeta
John, enjoying a “mamadeta”.
Photo © suitcaseinspain

La Mamadeta: Tarragona’s Iconic Delight

Meet “la Mamadeta” – a delightful Tarragona specialty! This vibrant drink features the essence of Chartreuse, a storied liqueur created by Carthusian monks in the 1600s. At the heart of “la Mamadeta” is a playful blend of lemon slushy, yellow Chartreuse, and green Chartreuse, making it a true crowd-pleaser. Interestingly, the name carries a playful twist in local slang, adding a naughty charm to this beloved concoction. Perfect for toasting during Tarragona’s festive Santa Tecla celebration, “la Mamadeta” is a taste of tradition with a mischievous edge. Cheers to unique flavors and the joy of festivities in Tarragona!

Carnival of Tarragona

Time of Year: February
Description: Tarragona’s Carnival is a lively and exuberant event celebrated with colorful processions, elaborate costumes, music, dancing, and street parties. It’s a time of merriment and a chance for both locals and visitors to immerse themselves in the festive spirit.

Photo by Rafael López-Monné | Tarragona Tourism

Easter Processions

Time of Year: Around Easter (March or April)
Description: Tarragona is known for its solemn and beautiful Easter processions, during which religious brotherhoods and organizations parade through the streets. The processions often depict scenes from the Passion of Christ and are accompanied by traditional music and rituals.

Photo by Manel Antolí

Castellers: Human Towers

One of the most captivating and unique traditions of Catalonia, including Tarragona, is the creation of human towers, known as “Castells.” Castells are a UNESCO-recognized cultural heritage, representing strength, balance, and teamwork. The formations can reach impressive heights and involve individuals of all ages and backgrounds.

Time of Year: Throughout the year, but prominently during festivals and special events.
Description: Castells involve creating intricate towers by stacking people on top of each other, forming a human structure. The tower typically includes a solid base, followed by several tiers of individuals, culminating in a child, known as the “anxaneta,” standing at the top. The goal is to construct and deconstruct these towers without any mishaps, showcasing the harmony and unity of the team.

Monumento a los Castellers on Rambla Nova in Tarragona, Spain

Photo © suitcaseinspain

The Castells are a breathtaking display of Catalan culture, strength, and community, demonstrating the power of collective effort and tradition.

This image is known as Monumento a los Castellers, a bronze sculpture by Francesc Anglès of hundreds of bodies forming a traditional Catalan human tower. You can find it on Rambla Nova 129.

Tarragona’s festivals and traditions add a unique and enriching dimension to the city’s cultural tapestry, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the local heritage and experience the vibrant spirit of Catalonia.

Tarragona, with its favorable Mediterranean climate, historical charm, and easy accessibility, offers an inviting experience for travelers. Whether you’re strolling through the ancient ruins, sampling local delights at markets, or appreciating the beautiful landscape, Tarragona promises an enriching and enjoyable visit.

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