A travel guide to the best attractions in Cartagena, Southern Spain: the perfect Cartagena Itinerary
Looking for things to do in Cartagena? Cartagena is one of the most amazing places to visit on the Mediterranean coastline, especially for those interested in ancient history. The city has ample Roman ruins and a rich maritime background.
Nowadays the city in Murcia province is one of the most important harbours in Spain for cruise ships, thus the starting point for many to explore Southern Spain.
Following this 3-day itinerary for Cartagena, Spain will allow you to fully explore this historical gem, and if in a hurry, it’s easy to adjust it by simply skipping a few locations – or just take your time, and enjoy the long holidays in Cartagena!
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Top Things To Do In Cartagena, Murcia Region – Our Cartagena Itinerary For 3 days
- Visiting the Old Town and nearby monuments
- Exploring ancient Roman ruins
- Trying Andalusian cuisine and tapas
- Relaxing on the best beach in Cartagena
- Discovering wildlife from Southern Spain
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Where is Cartagena?
Cartagena is located right by the Mediterranean coast in the Region of Murcia. You’ll find it only 50 km south-east from Murcia and next to the wildlife resort Sierra de la Muela, Cabo Tiñoso y Roldán.
How to get to Cartagena
How to get from Murcia to Cartagena:
Bus: Take a direct bus from Murcia Central to Cartagena bus station (45min).
Train: Take a direct train from Murcia del Carmen train station (50min).
How to get from Almeria to Cartagena:
Bus: Take a direct bus from Almeria main bus station (4h).
Train: There are no train connections between Almeria and Cartagena..
How to get from Alicante to Cartagena:
Bus: Take a direct bus from Alicante main bus station (1:50h).
Train: Take a direct train from Alicante-Termino train station (2:12h).
Day 1: 1 day in Cartagena
Visit Cartagena Old Town
One of the best things to do around Cartagena city is to visit the old town of Cartagena. It’s one of the richest and full of character places in the city. It was constructed in 223BC, and was Hannibal‘s capital city on the Iberian Peninsula, making it an area with plenty of historical monuments, squares, and buildings for you to discover!
It’s an amazing example of the beauty of Andalusian architecture, built within grotesque, little streets, lively tapas bars, and the overall Spanish atmosphere and chatter!
Make sure to stop at Plaza Ayuntamiento with the gorgeous town hall for a photo! The square is absolutely breathtaking!
Discover the Roman theatre and Roman heritage of Cartagena
When walking around the Old Town, you simply cannot skip the Roman theater in Cartagena Spain! Built between the 5th and 1st centuries BC, the theater has been one of the best things to see in Cartagena and is a truly magnificent site to explore!
A great place for all interested in re-discovering the ancient history of Spain and a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the archeological remains and development of Spanish architecture.
Oct – April: Tues – Sat: 10:00-18:00/ Sunday: 10:00 – 14:00
May – Sept: Tues – Sat: 10:00 – 20:00/ Sunday 10:00 – 14:00
Head over to ARQUA, Marine Archaeology Museum
If you’re looking for museums in Cartagena, Spain, this museum is one of your best options.
Spending at least an hour in the Marine Archaeology Museum is simply a must! Known to be one of the best places to visit in Cartagena, the ARQUA facility is true underwater life and marine history wonderland set in a modern and well-designed building for you to relax and enjoy the tour!
Great exhibitions about the city’s development and marine life history are here for all travelers to marvel at and discover more about Cartagena, España! You can enter for free if you decide to visit on a Saturday after 2 pm!
Oct – April: Tues – Sat: 10:00-18:00
May – Sept: Tues – Sat: 10:00 – 20:00
Learn about history at the Punic Wall
The Punic Wars between the Carthaginians and the Romans are known to be the most important moments in Cartagena’s history, and it’s a great idea to learn a bit about that period!
The legendary Qart Hadast founded by Hasdrubal in 229 BC and one of the few remaining Carthaginian relics – the wall – is a must-see when visiting Cartagena, Murcia. – Check guided Roman tours here
Lunch in La Catedral
After a busy morning, it’s time to sit down and relax, surrounded by the aromas and flavors of Southern Spain!
For an unforgettable experience head down to La Catedral (Plaza Condesa de Peralta) – one of the best restaurants in Cartagena, where you’ll be able to dive into the world of Spanish cuisine.
Try their delicious Tuna Tartare, Cod, and Baked Sea Bream if you’re seeking for the best quality seafood dishes in town!
Explore the Modernist architecture of Cartagena
Architectural discovery does not only mean visiting museums and ancient ruins of Cartagena. Head down to Calle Mayor to discover the Art Nouveau buildings alongside the best shopping area in Cartagena.
You’ll find here plenty of local bars and restaurants as well as monumental sites and squares to marvel at!
Visit the military museum of Cartagena
The Museo Militar is a true gem in terms of capturing Cartagena’s military history, and holds the world’s biggest collection of military models!
You’ll find here endless weapon collections and a great representation of the defense tactics of the city during its many years of war and conflicts!
The museum is free of charge and is a must-see when discovering the Murcia coast.
Opening times: Mon – Fri: 10:00 – 13:30
Take a picture at Palacio Consistorial
The City Hall is, without doubt, one of the most outstanding buildings in Cartagena. It was built between 1900-1907 by Tomás Rico and Francisco de Paula Oliver and will definitely catch your attention with its eclectic French style.
A truly stunning place, not only to enjoy while wandering within its ornamented halls and corridors but also a beauty to marvel at from the outside square, while enjoying a sunny afternoon!
Tues – Fri: 10:30 – 13:30/ 17:00 – 19:00
Sat: 10:30 – 13:30/ 17:00 – 20:00
Sun: 10:00 – 13:30
Marvel at Casa de la Fortuna
Visiting Casa de la Fortuna will take you back in time to the domestic ways of the Roman Cartagena. A great place to learn and discover the traditional household settings from the 1st century, and a very interesting way of presenting a museum within Roman remains.
You’ll find here plenty of personal objects, ancient dishes, murals, mosaics, and more, which will allow you to relive the history of the first settlements in Southern Spain.
Opening times: Tue – Sun: 10:30 – 15:30
Go shopping in Calle Mayor, Cartagena
The main shopping street, Calle Mayor, runs from the Cartagena port area into the center.
Filled with local markets, lively bars, restaurants, and petit cafes, here you’ll be able to enjoy some good old shopping and grab a delicious coffee if you need a break from retail therapy!
A great place to enjoy the Carthaginian lifestyle and get to know the ways of the locals. – Check guided tours here
Enjoy tapas in Cartagena
The best way of ending your first day in Cartagena is definitely going out for tapas! Close to Calle Mayor, you’ll find plenty of original and unique places to grab a delicious Tinto de Verano and try some Andalusian delicacies!
Check out one of the best tapas bars in Cartagena and fill your belly with amazing treats:
- La Fortaleza (Calle Canon 7) – best for crispy Spanish croquettes
- Las Termas Del Pincho (Calle Honda 9) – great variety of pinchos
- Tasca Tio Andres (Paseo Alfonso XIII 46) – delicious seafood
Visit Spanish Civil War Museum
Visiting this museum is surely one of the most interesting things to do in Cartagena. The museum is extremely well organized, and will definitely make an impact on your perception of the Civil War while showing the harshness and difficulties of life during the bombardings.
You’ll be led through a channel of tunnels with audio-visuals and very well restored sets – making it truly an intense learning experience!
Opening times: Tue – Sun: 10:00 – 19:00
You’ll find the Naval Museum just next to the Puerto de Cartagena. It’s a fascinating place where you can discover the underwater world of the navy, and explore the machinery and weapons of Carthaginian ships.
The museum is excellently prepared for visitors and holds plenty of large scale models of warships, showing their evolution through the ages.
The general entry is free of charge, but you will be able to leave a donation and support the local museum!
Opening times: Tues – Sun: 10:00 – 14:00
Climb Castillo de la Concepción
For a breathtaking view of the city, make your way up the castle of Cartagena! It’s located on a hill in the city center, where it has served as a Roman temple, a Muslim fortress, a medieval castle, and the watch out point during the Civil War.
Feel free to climb the lengthy staircase, or take the comfortable lift up to the top, and enjoy the incredible panorama of Cartagena and the port.
Opening times: Tue – Sun: 10:00 – 17:30
Lunch in La Alacena de Maria
When visiting the Murcia coastline you must try the delicious and fresh seafood dishes this region has to offer.
La Alacena de Maria (Calle Real 24) is known to be one of the best restaurants in Cartagena for lunch, and will take you on a delicious exploration of fresh and tasty seafood, prepared in the most traditional way!
Try their Merluza con Parmentier de jamón y crema, and allow the chefs to surprise you with not only flavors but also a gorgeous presentation!
Mon – Sat: 9:00 – 11:00/13:00 – 16:00
Sun: 13:00 -16:00
Explore the town’s only beach: Cala Cortina
If you’re researching Cartagena beaches, there’s actually just one. Beaches in Cartagena are not as common as in other coastal cities, but you’ll find a beautiful little cove located a few minutes outside of the city – Cala Cortina!
A lovely sandy beach with clear water is a perfect spot to rest from the city hustle and bustle, and enjoy some sunbathing or snorkeling.
Right next to Cartagena beaches you’ll also be able to grab some tapas and enjoy a delicious sunset drink, thanks to many bars and restaurants just across the street!
Do a sailing cruise in Cartagena
If you’re looking for a unique and exciting way to spend time in Cartagena why not hoping on a cruise boat to explore the coastline!
Cartagena’s port has many sailing trips and cruises to offer, and it’s a great way to enjoy a magical sunset from the sea waters.
Seeing the Roman city from a distance will definitely become a strong and beautiful memory of your trip to Spain. – Check sailing tours here
Finish the day with a food tour in Cartagena
Taking part in a food tour is one of the best plans for the evening! Spanish cuisine is famous all around the world and with such tours, you’ll be able to discover hidden restaurants and delicious treats of Cartagena.
You’ll be able to try one of the most traditional Cartagenian dishes, such as Mojarra or Cazuela de Mariscos!
To learn more, please visit our ultimate guide about the best Andalusian food.
Enjoy dinner in the best restaurant in Cartagena
La Marquesita is known to be one of Cartagena’s best restaurants, and is a perfect choice for an elegant dinner in a friendly atmosphere!
A lovely interior, together with the very helpful staff and talented chefs will make your evening a memorable and delicious experience.
Try the famous Arroz y Bogavante or Bacalao Encebollado, and don’t forget to order their delicious dessert – Corazon de Mousse de Chocolate Negro!
Day 3: 3 days in Cartagena
If you’ve seen all the parts of Cartagena that you’d like to, day 3 can be spent visiting places near Cartagena like Murcia and Mar Menor.
Day trip from Cartagena to Murcia
Murcia is located just 50 km north from Cartagena and is a perfect destination for a day trip, especially if you’d like to change from Cartagena’s Roman-style to a more modern, yet still authentic, Spanish city.
Not to mention the famous Murcian cuisine you’ll be able to discover when rumbling through tapas bars in town!
Best places to see in Murcia:
- Cathedral de Santa Maria
- Jardin de Floridablanca
- Plaza Cardenal Belluga
Day Trip to Mar Menor from Cartagena
Another great idea for a day trip would be visiting the extraordinary areas of Mar Menor – a beautiful saltwater lagoon surrounded by Spanish port towns.
It’s a great place to enjoy the wilderness of the Murcia coast, and explore the beauty and roughness of the Mediterranean cliff sides. Best places to see around Mar Menor:
- Puente de la Risa
- Puerto Deportivo Tomas Maestre
- Cala Del Pino
- Las Charcas Mud Baths
Day Trip to La Magna from Cartagena
La Manga is located a 30-minute drive away from Cartagena. The ALSA – L20i Puebl bus also runs frequently between La Magna and Cartagena and takes 1 hour, 5 minutes.
Also known as La Manga del Mar Menor, the area is a seaside spit of Mar Menor.
The area is famous for its beaches, especially Playa de Paradiso and Playa de La Cala. Playa de Paradiso is one of the best beaches in Southern Spain.
Mar Menor is Mar Menor is the largest saltwater lagoon in Europe and is even known to have therapeutic properties. There are many watersports available to try including sailing, kayaking and paddleboarding.
Also in the area is Calblanque Natural Park, where there are plenty of hiking options and stunning coves for swimming.
If you plan to stay late, the area is famous for its nightlife. The ‘La Magna Strip’ has many bars and restaurants as well as shops open late.
Day Trip from Cartagena to Alicante
Alicante is located 1 hour, 32 minutes drive North of Cartagena. The city is the capital of the Alicante region. It’s best to drive or book a private transfer; otherwise, you will have to travel by bus via Murcia.
Alicante is a beautiful city with ample beaches, a stunning marina and is home to Santa Barbara Castle, which towers over the city. Alicante is also one of the best places in Spain for good-value tapas.
Here are the best things to do in Alicante on a day trip from Cartagena:
- Walk along the Explanada de España
- Visit the MACA Contemporary Art of Picasso
- Walk around the Basilica of St. Mary
- Discover Mercat Central d’Alacant
- Walk along Deportiva del Puerto de Alicante
Go Horseback riding near from Cartagena
Thanks to the incredible beaches and natural resorts all around Cartagena, you can also decide on going on a Horseback riding trip!
Whether you’d like a romantic ride on the beach or relaxing forest retreat, you’ll be able to experience a thrilling and bonding experience with nature and horses. – Check guided rides here
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned how to get from Almeria to Cartagena, but we didn’t mention the things to do in Almeria. Be sure to check it out since it is only a short trip from Cartagena.
Best Hotels in Cartagena, Southern Spain
Below you’ll find the 3 top spots from luxury to cheap accommodation in Cartagena, which will provide you not only with a good night’s sleep, but also great commodities and location.
Hotel Sercotel Alfonso XIII **** – Luxury
One of the best hotels in Cartagena Spain, located close to the Punic Wall, is a great choice for the most demanding travelers.
The rooms are very spacious and well designed, allowing you to really make yourself comfortable and feel at home!
The Sercotel Alfonso XIII offers additional services such as free wifi, restaurant, bicycle, and car rental, free parking and conference rooms – all to make your stay a pleasant experience! – Check rates & reviews here
Sercotel Carlos III *** – Mid-Range
Located just 500m from the main bus station, and very close to the marina, Sercotel Carlos III is a great place to enjoy your stay! A very friendly, colorful decor and tidy rooms are all that you need to feel good and rested.
The hotel offers additional services such as free wifi, restaurant, and breakfast buffet, bicycle rental, indoor workout room, and parking. – Check rates & reviews here
Hotel Los Habaneros *** – Budget
Hotel Los Habaneros is located near the Roman Theater and the Port of Cartagena, and is known to be a great choice for budget travelers!
Decorated in a traditional Andalusian style, you’ll find clean and tidy rooms attended by very helpful staff on site.
The hotel offers additional services such as: free wifi, bar, bicycle rental, paid parking and meeting room. – Check rates & reviews here
Getting Around Cartagena
Biking and walking are definitely the best ways to discover Cartagena! The city is very well connected by cycling and walking paths and it’s a joy to explore it on foot.
Not to mention that the distances between the main tourist attractions are very small, and you’ll be able to reach them in no time!
Best Attractions in Cartagena, Spain Map
A short FAQ about Things to do in Cartagena, Spain
What are things to do in Cartagena, Spain with family?
Discover the Roman theatre and Roman heritage of Cartagena are great things to do in Cartagena with a family.
What are free things to do in Cartagena, Spain?
Visiting the ARQUA – Marine Archaeology Museum, the military museum of Cartagena, and the Naval Museum are some free things to do in Cartagena, Spain.
What are unusual things to do in Cartagena, Spain?
Doing a sailing cruise in Cartagena is quite an unusual thing to do in Cartagena, Spain.
What is Cartagena, Spain, known for?
Cartagena is renowned for its rich maritime history, impressive Roman Theatre, and Modernist architecture. It is also famous for its natural harbour and beautiful old town.
Is there good nightlife in Cartagena, Spain?
There isn’t a huge nightlife in Cartagena. However, there are plenty of bars open late, some with live music.
is Cartagena Spain worth visiting?
Yes, there are lots of amazing things to do in Cartagena from exploring the old town to discovering more about Murcia’s Roman heritage. Cartagena is also home to Cala Cortina beach!
Where do cruise ships dock in Cartagena, Spain?
Cruise ships dock at Cartegena cruise port which is called Pier Alfonso XII Cruise Terminal. From here you can walk to the city centre. There is also a terminal slightly further away from the Cartagena centre called Muelle de la Curra. From here, there is a shuttle bus to the centre.
Can you walk around Cartagena, Spain?
Yes, Cartagena is a very walkable city. You can walk between all the main attractions. There are also lots of hikes you can do from Cartagena.
Hola, I’m Paulina! Together with my team, we are passionate about Southern Spain. Here we share all you need to know for great times in Southern Spain with the best places to visit, stay and, of course, the best food to eat.
Let’s dive in and explore Southern Spain’s outdoors, food and culture con pasión!