Tarragona: The Catalonian coastal city

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

Compact and historic, the Catalonian coastal city of Tarragona can mesmerise and surprise visitors. Not only does it boast some of the best-preserved Roman archaeological sites in Spain, it’s a stone’s throw from Spain’s largest theme park and is also a haven for foodies! So, if you’ve explored Barcelona, jump on a train and venture an hour south to Tarragona to see what all the fuss is about for yourself.

Explore the City’s Roman Heritage

Before it became Tarragona, this charming coastal city was known as Tarraco. It was the oldest Roman settlement on the Iberian Peninsula, thought to date back to 1st century BC. Many structures during its reign as capital of Hispania Citerior are still in existence and UNESCO named the archaeological ensemble a World Heritage Site in 2000. Today, visitors to Tarragona can observe the well-preserved Roman amphitheatre as it cascades towards the Mediterranean Sea. The 2nd century AD amphitheatre looks as majestic as it would during Roman times, when it held 15,000 spectators and hosted gladiator contests, sporting events and more gruesome activities. It’s open for visitors to view along with the Forums of Tarraco and several ruins outside the city. If you wish to gain even more insight into Tarragona’s fascinating Roman Heritage you can do so at the city’s National Archaeological Museum or take a guided tour to uncover more hidden secrets.

Walk along Tarragona’s Ancient Aqueduct

Serving the ancient Roman city of Tarraco, Pont de les Ferreres, or Pont del Diable as it’s also known, was built during the reign of Emperor Augustus. The impressive dual-tiered arched aqueduct lies four kilometres outside Tarragona. It originally ran for 25 kilometres, taking water from the Francolí river into the city. Today, a large section of the aqueduct survives which you can walk across, enjoy a balloon ride over or cycle alongside. This magnificent feat of Roman engineering is the perfect location for a day trip and if you fancy staying for lunch, El Restaurante de la Casa del Guarda is on hand close by serving delicious platters of Mediterranean cuisine. 

Dine in Part Alta – Tarragona’s Old Town

Part Alta is Tarragona’s old city, a hotchpotch of labyrinth lanes, peppered with leafy squares, an impressive 12th century cathedral and speciality shops. The historic centre is also renowned for its dining establishments. One to highlight is Restaurant Arcs. This preserved piece of history 2 minutes’ walk from Tarragona cathedral contains eight original arches dating to the Gothic era and a cosy atmosphere with a menu to salivate over. The chef’s set menu is ever-changing depending on availability of fresh produce at local markets, plus all courses are accompanied with Catalonian wines and cavas. Expect to sample delights including fresh pate with black truffle and mushrooms served with mascarpone cream, toasted almonds and Iberian bacon or turbot dressed with ‘Tarragona Romesco’ sauce, squid and Santa Pau beans. With over 25 restaurants registered as part of ARPA – the Old Town Restaurants Association, you are guaranteed a culinary experience of epic proportions wherever you dine in Part Alta!

Enjoy Costa Dorada’s Leisure Activities

You can enjoy leisurely days relaxing on golden sandy beaches of the Costa Dorada with the azure Mediterranean stretched out before you, or you can go full fun factor and head for Port Aventura! We all like to indulge the child inside of us now and again, and at Port Aventura, Spain’s largest theme park, you can do just that. With 50,000 square metres of swimming pools, lagoons, rides and slides, you can enjoy a fun-packed day with friends. The vibe is distinctly Caribbean with reggae music blasting from speakers as you swing in a hammock beneath a palm. There’s also one of the largest slides in Europe. At 31 metres high, the King Khajuna slide offers an exhilarating thrill-seeking experience which you won’t forget in a hurry! If that’s not your style, why not spend the day at Lumine Beach and Golf Resort? Not only is the terrain home to three challenging golf courses, it also has VIP beach and pool access with exclusive cabanas, massage treatments and several top-notch restaurants onsite.

Stay for the Human Towers Festival

In towns and villages across Catalonia each year a unique tradition takes place – the Human Towers Festival. The festival, dating back to the 17th century, involves large groups of people standing on the shoulders of those beneath them to form ‘castells’ or castle towers. To onlookers, it’s akin to a cheer-leader’s pyramid but more complex and with many more participants. Teams across Catalunya take the competition seriously, practising these human constructions for months in advance. Each of the teams have their own uniforms, in specific colours which are also worn by supporters. On festival day, crowds gather from the break of dawn to see how tall the towers can reach, there’s partying, food, drink and it’s all set to a soundtrack of hypnotising flutes and drums. The tower is only complete when a chosen child clambers to the summit, balancing precariously and raising and arm to signal the win for the team. It’s a fascinating sight to see, so if you’re in or around Tarragona in late June, you can either watch or participate in a tower of your own – the latter only advisable before alcohol is consumed!

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