Tarragona: The Complete Guide

Tarragona

In Tarragona, a city recognized as a World Heritage site, history leaps from the pages of books and can be experienced at every turn. The city excels in historical re-enactments, bringing the Roman Empire to life with performances at key sites like the Amphitheatre and the Roman Circus. Coupled with its prime location on the Costa Daurada along the Mediterranean Sea, its delectable local cuisine, and its vibrant festivities and traditions, Tarragona stands as the capital of the Costa Dorada.

History of Tarragona

Roman Foundation

Tarragona, known as Tarraco in ancient times, was founded by the Romans in the 3rd century BC. It became the capital of the Roman province of Hispania Citerior and later Hispania Tarraconensis. The city’s strategic coastal location and its significance as a military and administrative center contributed to its rapid growth and prosperity.

Roman Prosperity

During the Roman period, Tarragona flourished as a major urban center. It was adorned with impressive architecture, including the amphitheater, circus, forum, and aqueducts. Tarraco was also known for its defensive walls, parts of which still stand today. The city became a cultural and economic hub, attracting merchants, artisans, and officials.

Decline and Visigothic Rule

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, Tarragona experienced a period of decline. It was conquered by the Visigoths, who ruled the city until the early 8th century. During this time, Tarragona’s significance diminished, and many of its grand structures fell into disrepair.

Moorish Occupation

In the early 8th century, the Moors conquered Tarragona. The city became part of the Caliphate of Córdoba. The Moorish occupation introduced new agricultural practices and architectural styles. However, Tarragona remained a relatively minor settlement during this period.

Christian Reconquest

In 1117, the city was reconquered by Christian forces led by Count Ramon Berenguer III of Barcelona. The Christian reconquest marked the beginning of a new era of growth and development. Tarragona was re-established as a key religious and administrative center.

Medieval Prosperity

During the Middle Ages, Tarragona experienced a revival. The construction of the Tarragona Cathedral began in the 12th century, symbolizing the city’s renewed importance. The city became a significant ecclesiastical center and played a crucial role in the politics and economy of the region.

Modern Period

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Tarragona continued to grow and modernize. The city’s port became an important hub for trade and commerce. Industrialization brought new economic opportunities, and Tarragona expanded beyond its medieval walls.

20th Century to Present

The 20th century brought significant changes to Tarragona. The city developed into a modern urban center while preserving its rich historical heritage. Tarragona’s ancient Roman ruins were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. Today, Tarragona is known for its vibrant cultural scene, historical landmarks, and beautiful Mediterranean coastline.

Tarragona’s history, from its Roman origins to its modern-day vibrancy, reflects its enduring significance as a cultural and economic center in Catalonia.

Visiting Tarragona for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Tarragona on the first visit. To help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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Best Time to Visit Tarragona

Spring

Spring, from March to May, is an ideal time to visit Tarragona. The weather is mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 15°C to 22°C (59°F to 72°F). This season is perfect for exploring the city’s Roman ruins, enjoying outdoor activities, and experiencing local festivals such as the Holy Week processions.

Summer

Summer, from June to August, is the peak tourist season in Tarragona. The weather is warm to hot, with temperatures often exceeding 30°C (86°F). This is the best time to enjoy Tarragona’s beautiful beaches and vibrant nightlife. However, it can be crowded, so booking accommodations in advance is advisable.

Autumn

Autumn, from September to November, offers cooler temperatures ranging from 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F). The crowds begin to thin out, making it a more relaxed time to visit. The pleasant weather is ideal for sightseeing and participating in cultural events like the Santa Tecla Festival in September.

Winter

Winter, from December to February, is mild with temperatures between 10°C and 15°C (50°F to 59°F). This is the off-peak season, providing a quieter and more peaceful experience. Winter is perfect for exploring Tarragona’s historical sites, enjoying the local cuisine, and experiencing the city’s festive Christmas markets.

Average Temperatures in Tarragona

  • January 15°C 4
  • February 16°C 4
  • March 18°C 6
  • April 21°C 8
  • May 24°C 5
  • June 29°C 4
  • July 32°C 3
  • August 32°C 7
  • September 27°C 10
  • October 24°C 9
  • November 19°C 7
  • December 16°C 3

How to get to Tarragona

By Air

The nearest major airport to Tarragona is Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN), located about 82 kilometers (51 miles) away.

  • From Barcelona-El Prat Airport:
    • Train: Take a train from the airport to Barcelona Sants station, then transfer to a regional train (RENFE) to Tarragona. The journey takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours.
    • Bus: Direct buses operated by companies such as ALSA run from the airport to Tarragona, taking about 1.5 hours.
    • Taxi: Taxis are available at the airport, and the drive to Tarragona takes about 1 hour.

By Train

Tarragona is well-connected by train, with two main stations: Tarragona Station and Camp de Tarragona Station.

  • Tarragona Station: This central station handles regional and medium-distance trains.
  • Camp de Tarragona Station: This station is about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the city center and serves high-speed AVE trains.
  • From Barcelona: High-speed AVE trains from Barcelona Sants to Camp de Tarragona take about 30 minutes. Regional trains from Barcelona Sants to Tarragona Station take about 1 to 1.5 hours.
  • From Madrid: High-speed AVE trains from Madrid to Camp de Tarragona take around 2.5 hours.

By Bus

Several bus companies operate routes to Tarragona from various cities in Spain.

  • From Barcelona: Buses from Barcelona to Tarragona, operated by companies like ALSA, take about 1.5 hours.
  • From Valencia: Buses from Valencia to Tarragona take approximately 3.5 to 4 hours.

By Car

Driving to Tarragona is convenient, especially if you want to explore the surrounding areas.

  • From Barcelona: The drive from Barcelona to Tarragona takes about 1 to 1.5 hours via the AP-7 highway.
  • From Valencia: The drive from Valencia to Tarragona takes about 2.5 to 3 hours via the AP-7 highway.

Local Transportation

  • Walking and Biking: Tarragona is a walkable city with many attractions close to each other. Biking is also a popular way to get around.
  • Public Buses: The local bus network operated by EMT Tarragona provides convenient transportation within the city.
  • Taxi: Taxis are readily available for getting around Tarragona and offer a convenient option for short trips.

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