When researching about the best things to do in Cartagena, Spain, I was constantly directed to articles about the eponymous city in Colombia. Cartagena is one of the most popular cities to visit in Colombia, while its namesake in Spain tends to often be overlooked by foreign tourism except for some cruise ships that stop here during the summer months.
This is a great shame as Cartagena, Spain has a lot to offer travellers; from ancient Roman history, a bustling city centre and pier and unique cuisine that offers you the chance to try dishes not found in more-travelled regions such as Andalucía, Catalonia or Madrid.
Wondering what the best things to do in Cartegena, Spain are? This article outlines how we recommend spending one day in Cartagena as well as some tips if you have a longer stay in the city.
How to Get to Cartagena, Spain
While the majority of foreign visitors that make it to Cartagena arrive via a cruise ship, it’s incredibly easy to visit this city as part of a longer trip throughout Spain.
There are a few direct buses daily from Granada and Valencia making it a logical stop if you’re travelling between Andalucía and Catalonia or Valencia. It also makes for a logical day trip if staying in nearby resort towns such as Alicante.
If you have the flexibility of renting a car while in Spain (we recommend using RentalCars.Com to find the best deals!) then a stop in Cartagena can be added onto a longer trip along the Eastern Coast of Spain.
Best Things To Do In Cartagena, Spain
Mercado de Santa Florentina
One of the bests ways to start your one day in Cartagena, Spain is to head to the local Mercado de Santa Florentina. Open every day except Sunday from 8am to 3pm, this market has a range of typical fresh produce including fruits and vegetables, olives, cheeses, fish and meats. Apart from picking up a few snacks for your day of exploring Cartagena, this is also a great place to enjoy a coffee and light breakfast.
Stroll down Calle Mayor
From the Mercado de Santa Florentina, head into the centre of the city by taking a stroll along the main pedestrian street – Calle Mayor. Calle Mayor is a bustling place during the morning hours and once again in the evening, making it a great place to people watch and appreciate the Modernist architecture that is common in Catalonia.
If you didn’t manage to fit in your caffeine fix at the market or simply need another one, then Calle Mayor is also a great place to enjoy a coffee and people watch. Kuss Cartagena became our go-to coffee place each morning during our time in the city and has an incredibly appealing selection of cakes and baked goods to accompany any hot drink!
One of the most historically important things to do in Cartagena, Spain is to visit the Roman Theatre. While you can get decent views of the Roman Theatre from various parts of Cartagena, it’s definitely worth paying to visit to learn more about the history of this site and be able to explore it properly.
The Roman Theatre was only rediscovered a few decades ago with excavation beginning in 1988 and completed in 2003. A visit to the Roman Theatre begins with a short film that alternates between Spanish and English which shows the history of the site and how it would have originally looked.
Visitors are then guided through a small museum that houses artefacts found during the excavation and an archaeological corridor that guides you finally to the theatre itself.
The Roman Theatre is open daily except for Mondays and with reduced hours on Sunday. Standard entry is €6 with discounts available for students and seniors. You can buy skip-the-line tickets here.
From the Roman Theatre, keeping heading south along Calle Mayor until you reach Cartagena Port. On a sunny day, this is a great place to enjoy a short stroll along the seaside or take a boat tour to see some of the historical sites around the city’s port.
The Tourist Boat leaves approximately every hour with reduced services during the low season. The ride lasts 40 minutes and takes you past a number of important historical sites including castles, forts, naval docks and lighthouses while also allowing you to enjoy nice views of Cartagena. There is commentary in both Spanish and English so you understand the significance of what you are seeing.
Tickets cost €5.75 or €8 if you also want to get off the boat and visit one of the forts. During busier periods you might not be able to buy a ticket last minute so it can be worth coming to the ticket office before visiting the Roman Theatre to ensure you secure a spot for later in the day.
Calle Jara for Lunch
After an active morning, it’s time to head back up Calle Mayor and turn right down Calle Jara. On this street, you will find a few fantastic tapas bars conveniently located right next to each other.
Two of these bars, La Uva Jumillana and Bodega La Fuente are owned by the same people and actually have the other’s menus on the back of their own. Both these restaurants require you to order and pay at the bar and give you the food on a tray to take to your table inside or outside. A standard drink and a tapa will cost between €1.90 to €2.70 depending on your choices. They also have an English menu available on request.
Bodega La Fuente is known for its fish dishes and is a great place to try a variety of toastas (flatbread) and montaditos (little sandwiches) with anchovies. A local speciality to try is marinera which is a crispy breadstick topped with Russian salad and an anchovy.
La Uva Jumilliana has a wider range of dishes with its specialities including a fantastic version of patatas bravas (fried potatoes with spicy paprika sauce) , pollo kentucky (fried chicken) and caldero (traditional seafood rice which acts as Cartagena’s version of paella) which is only available on Sundays and public holidays.
Next, to these bars, you will find La Bodeguilla which is another great option for lunch. They have an extensive wine list and have table service unlike the other two places listed here. You can also order from a long list of tapas or go for one of their larger typical Spanish dishes.
You can easily hop between these three places for lunch or simply pick your favourite and enjoy your time there. If you’re anything like us, chances are you’ll be returning to one of these places later in the day for dinner or the following day if you happen to have more than one day in Cartagena.
Street Art & Roman Forum
After lunch, it’s time to take a stroll through some of the side streets to enjoy the impressive range of street art that Cartegena has to offer. There isn’t necessarily a specific district to see street art but we kept getting pleasantly surprised as we walked down random alleyways away from the main pedestrian streets.
Some of the largest murals can be found opposite the Roman Forum which is worth a visit in its own right. It is one of the largest archaeological sites in Spain and allows you to transport yourself back to Roman times as you walk through the preserved section of the city. The Roman Forum is open daily in high season and from Tuesday to Sunday for the rest of the year. The entry fee is €5 and there is also reduced prices for students and seniors.
Café Asiatico or Churros
If you want a need a moment of relaxation after a busy day of sightseeing, one of the best things to do in Cartagena is to enjoy a local speciality coffee drink known as Café Asiatico. Sharing some similarities to Vietnamese coffee, this drink can only be found in Cartagena and surrounding towns. It consists of a coffee, condensed milk, cognac and topped with a local liquor known as Licor 43. There are many cafes that serve it along the main pedestrian streets of Cartagena.
If a Café Asiatico doesn’t sound quite up your alley, then another option is to head to Churreria Tofi for some churros can chocolate. This local favourite is located just north of the main city centre and serves traditional churros con chocolate as well as porras (thicker churros) on the weekends. Half a dozen churros and chocolate will cost €3 and you can choose to get them to take away or sit in the undercover seating section.
Sunset at Castillo de la Concepción
One of the best things to do in Cartagena in the evening is to climb up to Castillo de la Concepción which offers one of the best viewpoints in the city.
Travellers can either take the approximate 20 minute uphill walk up or if you’re tired after a day of sightseeing, you can choose to go up on the panoramic lift instead which costs €2.
From the viewpoint, you can get amazing views of the sun setting behind the mountains as well as panoramic views of all of Cartagena including the Roman Theatre and the sea.
The panoramic lift shuts down at 7pm however it’s a fairly straightforward 10-15 minute walk down from the viewpoint back into the city centre if you want to stay up at the viewpoint for longer. Make sure to keep an eye out for the peacocks that reside up here as well!
There’s no better way to end your day in Cartagena then to enjoy a final tapa or two in the city. One option is to head back to any of the places listed in this article for lunch, in case you didn’t make it all of them earlier in the day!
Another option is to head down along Calle Mayor which has plenty of places to eat and to enjoy the atmosphere of the bustling Spanish city.
Got More Than One Day in Cartagena?
This one day in Cartagena itinerary undoubtedly packs a lot into the single day, so if you have the luxury of spending more time in the city, then you can easily stretch out some of these things to do in Cartagena across a number of days.
There are also some fantastic beaches near Cartagena that are the perfect place to enjoy the sun. Calle Cortina is located 4km from the city centre and has a small beach suitable for swimming as well as a number of nearby restaurants. If you have rented a car, then there a number of other beaches located about 20 to 30 kilometres outside of the city centre that also makes for an enjoyable day out.
Where to Stay in Cartagena, Spain
If you’re planning to spend the night in Cartagena or have a few extra days in the city, here are some recommended places to stay.
B&B Hotel Cartagena Cartagonova – A four-star hotel located in the centre of the city, offering a range of private rooms including single rooms. Rooms are modern and comfortable and there is the option to include a buffet breakfast in the daily rate. Click here to check their availability
Hotel Los Habaneros – A fantastic budget hotel that is located close to the port and the bus and train stations. Rooms are clean and spacious with options available for solo travellers, couples and families. Click here to check their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Cartagena!
There are a number of fantastic things to do in Cartagena, Spain that deserve to put the city on travellers’ radars when visiting Southern Spain.
When travelling in Cartagena, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you wondering what the best things to do in Cartagena, Spain are? Or have you recently visited? Let us know in the comments below!