Tarragona: Spain’s Mini Rome


I recently hopped on a train from the center of Barcelona and traveled 90 kilometers south to a city I had heard of many times, but one in which I knew little about.  What drew me to my destination was nothing more than the need for some fresh air, beautiful sea, an amphitheater and the hopes of a sunny terrace.  Lying on the edge of the Costa Dorada is an ancient town where the Romans once built a mighty Empire, and their heritage, left neglected until a mere two decades ago, still remains.


Tárraco, nowadays known as Tarragona, is the southernmost province of Catalonia, with a capital city of the same name, and sports some of the most beautiful shoreline on the Mediterranean.  Its golden sand and clear waters are sure to beckon anyone pining for a beach holiday; yet, for the most part  it seems to be the road less  traveled for for those seeking the perfect *playa?  It’s not surprising that most people head north for sand and sunshine when that’s where you’ll find some the most stunning coasts in the world—the Costa Brava.  With this to compete against, Tarragona doesn’t even make the list of vacation destinations for most summertime tourists.  But this town is so much more than sandy beaches. This is a city where streets bear witness to its extraordinary past, dating back some 2,000 years, making it an exceptional historic open air museum.

Stepping off the train I felt like I had disembarked onto ordinary terrain, which lacked a bit of luster. It wasn’t  long after I began weaving my way up to the old city that I gawked in astonishment at what lay ahead of me–an enchanting town, encompassed by an ancient Roman wall, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  A city bountiful in both historical riches, and modern day charm, boasting several Roman ruins–some on the outer limits, and others tucked away inside–along with quaint European style squares and cafes.  I felt like as though I was in a ‘mini Rome’, as some would say.

What caught my attention just as much as its antiquity was its sheer magnetism, its tranquility and the friendliness of the locals.  After visiting the Amphitheater that sits on the sloping hillside, and quite possibly the city’s greatest allure, I wandered up through the stone wall and entered the old city.  Narrow alleyways, multicolored edifices, and cobblestoned streets decorate the historic center, and if you’re looking for sunny terraces, there are plenty.  And while Tarragona may not be known for the culinary expertise synonymous with Spain, its restaurants are sure to dazzle the palate.  I happily stumbled upon a small wine bar that served delectable tapas and a delightful Spanish white wine, with unbeatable service.

Navigating the city is easily done, as hotels and tourist offices offer free maps listed with all of the important attractions. Most sites are in close proximity to one another, making it convenient to go it by foot.   Some of the most famous structures include: the Amphitheatre, Roman Circus, Roman Aqueduct, Museu Nacional Arqueològic, and the La Catedral Basilica.

old roman aqueduct

painted building

After strolling through the streets and absorbing the magic of a town that had absolutely captivated me, I drifted down to the beach where I found my terrace and fresh air, and was then swept away by the mesmerizing sea. I don’t know if Tarragona has quite made its mark on the rest of the world, but it’s certainly left a lasting impression on me.  I know it will only be a matter of time before this quiet treasure captures the hearts of everyone.


By car, Tarragona is a little over an hour’s trip from Barcelona on the A-7 Autoroute, or slower on the more picturesque coastal road, the E-240. Another option is to take the train from Barcelona –about 50 minutes–with prices around 13 euros. There is also regular bus service–about 90 minutes–for 10 euros round trip.

Near by Towns

Altafulla: A charming little town that  has a beautifully intact old quarter crowned by the Castle of Altafulla, an additional medieval castle on a small promontory overlooking the sea.  This is a great place for a romantic getaway.  http://www.granclaustre.com/

Salou:  This has become a popular beach holiday destination amongst the Catalans, and only about 10 km from Tarragona city.


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