7 Terrific Tourist Attractions in Cartagena, Spain

7 Terrific Tourist Attractions in Cartagena, Spain

A joke from my childhood: a bull called Hannibal jumped over the fence and exclaimed that his name was now Hanni because he had lost his balls in the barbed wire. A pretty lame joke, all the more since my schoolmates used to tease me with it.

I knew that Hannibal the army commander (the one from the elephants) was associated with the Spanish city of Cartagena, but only recently I discovered the exact connection in the museum of the Punic Wall.

Apart from the Punic Wall, there are several other exquisite attractions in Cartagena. The city is only an hour’s drive from our house, so we visit this beautiful city often.

Besieged and captured several times

Cartagena, just walking around, it is great to get to know the city.

Cartagena was founded in the 3rd century BC by Phoenicians from Carthage. The translation of Carthage is ‘New City’, which makes Cartagena as New Carthage the New New City. 😉

After the 2nd Punic War, the city came under Roman rule for a long time. This time was a heyday for Cartagena.

From the 8th century on, most of Spain was dominated by the Moors, who called the city Qartayanna.

Los Reyes Católicos Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon reconquered the peninsula from the Moors and united the various kingdoms into one country. After this Reconquista, the Moors and Jews were expelled. Cartagena was part of the kingdom of Murcia.

A rich history that has been uncovered recently

You’ll notice a lot of construction activity in the old centre of Cartagena when you visit it. The excavations have not all been completed yet. What we can visit and watch nowadays is impressive, so that promises a lot for the future!

There have been several periods of prosperity and decline in this part of Spain. The most recent event was the Civil War. Cartagena was a garrison city and had to withstand air attacks from the German and Franco’s troops. Many buildings were destroyed.

The excavations have been in full swing since the 1980s. The most interesting exposures are the Roman Theatre and the Roman Baths.

Tourist Attractions in Cartagena

Roman Theatre

Map of Spain

The atmosphere of this Roman Theatre is much more intimate than the Theatre of Mérida. As both were founded in the Roman era, there are similarities of course. Mainly in the construction, yet the one in Mérida has survived the time better than the one in Cartagena.

The circumstances of Cartagena’s Theatre have been quite interesting. After the decline of the Roman Empire, the Moors built a market on the remains of the Theatre. In time the construction of the Theatre got covered more and more.

After the Moors disappeared, the market was covered with dwellings. As well as a cathedral and a bullring! The cathedral was almost completely destroyed in one of the Civil War bombings.

In 1988 the excavation began which is ongoing to the present day.

Most Spanish museums accompanying excavations have historical re-enactments and/or animated videos that give a brilliant view of ancient history. It makes history alive and in combination with the displayed artifacts gives a clear image of our ancestors. The archaeological museum of the Roman Theatre of Cartagena has a cinema room screening a remarkably imaginative explanation of Cartagena’s history.

Stage of the Cartagena Theatre
Cartagena, the stage of the Theatre.
Cartagena, Amfitheatre
Roman text
Theatre, Roman inscriptions.

Barrio del Foro Romano

We had been peeking through the gates of this Roman quarter several times before we finally found it open one day. You’ll have to check for the timetable if you want to go there because I haven’t figured out yet what it should be. But it’s definitely one of the places to visit in Cartagena, so if you have the chance, go see it.

The Barrio del Foro Romano consists of official buildings and a villa of someone high in place. A lot of the heating system has been recovered, and from the floor plan, you get a fine impression of what must have been commanding buildings in those days. As well as some beautiful murals. Frescoes in green and red, although damaged in time, are still very recognizable.

Roman baths
Barrio del Foro Romano, heating system.
Roman Amphorae
Barrio del Foro Romano, amphorae.
Roman fresco
Barrio del Foro Romano, fresco.

Muralla Púnica

A couple of centuries older than the Roman buildings is the Punic Wall. It’s an Interpretation Centre with an audiovisual presentation where I learned that Hannibal had lived in Cartagena before handing the defense of the city over to his brother. He took his army and the famous elephants to the Alps in an attempt to conquer Rome.

In the meantime the Romans defeated Cartagena, turning it into a Roman city. They didn’t leave much of the Punic constructions. Only part of the foundation can be seen in this little museum. As well as a 16th and 17th-century crypt belonging to the hermitage of St. Joseph.

Punic Wall
Muralla Púnica.
Muralla Púnica, crypt of St. Joseph.
Cartagena harbour
The harbour of Cartagena.

Natural harbour

Cartagena harbour

Cartagena’s harbour is one of the most important harbours of Spain. It is unique because it is protected by high surrounding mountains. Hence, the military importance that the city has always had. A submarine base of the Spanish navy is located here, as well as other regiments.

Unfortunately, the port is also excellent for immense cruise ships. Both Tom and I are avid environmentalists and we hate them.

Little is as water contaminating and visually polluting as cruise ships. The shops and restaurants are of course happy with the visitors, and when a cruise ship arrives, they are even open during the holy Spanish siesta.

The ayuntamiento shows the timetables of the cruise ships on its website, so we plan our visits on different days.


My favorite museum of Cartagena and even one of my most favorite of Spain’s museums is ARQUA. It’s about underwater archaeology and shows old shipbuilding techniques. In addition, the building is absolutely unique, specially designed as a museum space.

The museum is great to visit with kids because of the interactive displays they have. Adults will be most interested in the many videos that are shown on the problems of underwater archaeology.

A Phoenician boat found in Puerto de Mazarrón is exhibited here, along with a variety of other artifacts recovered from the sea.

ARQUA museum
ARQUA Museum.
Interactive play
ARQUA, kids love the interactive displays.
Entrance of the inner city from the harbour.

Castillo de la Concepción

The Castillo de la Concepción is located high on a hill overlooking the Roman Theatre next to it. You should go here just for the view over the harbour, the Theatre, and the city, although the castle is worth a visit too.

The surrounding gardens are lovely in the shade on a hot day. And a special element in my eyes are the rather tame peacocks that show their splendor.

The Moors first built a castle here. This was gradually expanded and adapted in time, using not only new stones but Roman parts such as pilasters and columns as well.

Cartagena, Palacio Consistorial.

Modernist buildings

Apart from the Roman remains, which take you back 2,000 years, Cartagena’s inner city has many Modernist buildings from 100 years ago. The transition from the 19th to the 20th century heralded an Art Nouveau era in many parts of Europe. Similarly, here.

The Palacio Consistorial is hard to miss, at the entrance of the inner city from the harbour. Other examples of this building style are the Gran Hotel, the Palacio de Aguirre (which houses the Regional Museum of Modern Art, Muram), the Casino, and the Casa Maestre.

Some practical tips

Cartagena’s coast is called Costa Cálida, which means Warm Coast. July and August are really, really hot. If you love that, as Tom does, no problem. If you don’t like that – I don’t – then you’d better choose other months to visit this town.

The train connects Cartagena with Murcia and Alicante. There are local buses to the surrounding villages and within Cartagena, you can take the city bus. And if you like to walk, a lot is within walking distance.

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