Tarragona lies to the south of Barcelona along the coast. Once a Roman powerhouse, the town became overshadowed by Barcelona which became Catalonia’s capital. Nowadays it is a great place for history fans to visit as the excavated Roman ruins have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and Tarragona’s location on the coast also makes it a pleasant seaside town to spend the day.
The origins of Tarragona are unknown but many believe it was founded either by the Iberians or the Phoenicians. The Romans arrived in 217BC and named the town Tarraco. Many Emperors holidayed in the town and it remained loyal to the Roman Empire during the 200 year campaign to conquer the Iberian Peninsula. Tarraco was a rich port, far more important than Barcino (modern day Barcelona) to the north. The city had all the trappings of a wealthy Roman town; temples, amphitheaters, triumphal arches to name a few things and many survive at least partially today. Towards the end of Roman rule the city fell into a slight decline and was peacefully taken over by the Visigoths and later the Muslims who were conquering the Iberian Peninsula. Tarragona remained a thriving coastal town and is now a great place to visit in Catalonia.
What to see and do
Visiting the Roman ruins is a must for anyone who visits Tarragona. There are many sites to choose from; the Amphitheatre is a popular choice as the original structure can still be clearly seen where events such as gladiator fights and wild animal hunts took place. There are also other important structures such as the Ferreres aqueduct which provided Tarraco with fresh water from the Francolí River and is still largely intact toady. Roman walls, racetracks and remains of Roman villas can also be visited and the Ancient History Museum and Necropolis is a good place to visit the smaller artefacts of Roman life found during excavations. Each year Tarragona also hosts a festival called Tarraco Vivo which has live history events to bring Roman Tarraco back to life and lets the public join in in activities and events to discover daily life in Roman times
The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Tarragona was consecrated in 1331 and it is believe work started on the construction as far back as 1171. This early gothic Cathedral was built on the highest point of the city on the same spot where the former Roman temple to Augustus and Mosque were located. The Cathedral is set out in the traditional cross formation with a beautiful cloister and garden area. The Rose shaped window of the façade is similar to the Cathedral in Palma de Mallorca and the Monastery of Sant Cugat just outside of Barcelona. Guided tours are offered to make the most of your visit and learn more.
Beaches and Port Aventura
Tarragona lies on the Costa Daurada, literally the ‘Golden Coast’. The sandy beaches are the perfect place for topping up your tan and attract visitors from all over the world. Some of Tarragona’s beaches are also home to special ecosystems and animals. There are two protected areas: the Punta de la Móra Nature Reserve is known for its varied plant life both on land and in the sea and at the Gaià River Delta nature reserve you can spot over 80 different species of bird and visit the reforesting effort. Just outside Salou in the Tarragona province is the theme park and water park of Port Aventura. It is the biggest resort of its kind in southern Europe and the 6th most visited theme park in Europe. The park has five themed zones; Mediterrània, Far West, México, China and Polynesia, and many great rides. Five hotels within the park give you the chance to stay overnight and really make the most of everything Port Aventura has to offer.
Barhaus restaurant in the old quarter of Tarragona is located inside the Architects Institute and the building plays an important role in what makes this restaurant so special. In summer a two-tier terrace opens and you can dine in the fresh air surrounded by the ancient city of Tarragona. The main menu changes seasonally and combines classic dishes with new, creative fare. The unusual touch is that Barhaus also offers some Roman cuisine such as ‘Chicken with 1000 spices’ and langoustines in anchovy sauce. When in Tarragona…!
L’Home del Nassos
An unusual name for an out of the ordinary restaurant; 'L'Home dels Nassos' comes from a children's tale and is a man who has as many noses as days left in the year but just goes out in public on the last day. With just six tables this bistro style restaurant is the perfect place for an intimate dinner in the heart of Tarragona. The decoration is vintage and each dish exquisitely explained in the menu which is decorated with short stories and the dishes often have names evoking memories, feelings and sensations. The cuisine is modern Mediterranean with a clever use of edible flowers, giving a joyful edge to each dish. The wine list is small bust perfectly formed, focusing mainly on local Catalan wines. L'Home dels Nassos may only come out once a year but this is a restaurant well worth visiting again and again!
In a corner of Plaça del Rei in Tarrgona you'll find the traditional 'taverna' of El Llagut. Although it may seem a typical, traditional Catalan restaurant, with wooden furniture and rustic style décor, El Llagut is one of the best seafood and rice restaurants in town. The Catalan-German chef at the helm is Ramon Martí Schiebel who trained under some of the best chefs in Germany and brings the quality and service found in many high standing restaurants to this 'taverna' in the Old Town of Tarragona. The rice dishes are simply prefect and well deserve the incredible reputation they hold around the city. The seafood is also fantastic, prawns, clams, cockles, all form part of a great starter course. The restaurant is also a part of the slow food movement ensuring that they just use products which are in season and grown locally, the perfect recipe for a great dinner!
Just outside Tarragona, in the neighbouring town of Ametlla de Mar is La Llotja restaurant. Making the most of its coastal location La Llotja specialises in fresh fresh bought daily from the town's fish market and serves some of the best red tuna dishes in the region. The head chef, Marc Miró, aims to always keep the produce as the star of the show and therefore combines ingredients from the coast, the nearby mountains and the Delta de l'Ebre area to enhance natural flavours. Despite La Llotja offering some of the best seafood dishes in the Tarragona county the atmosphere remains warm, welcoming and relaxed. This setting combined with the freshest ingredients and creativity of the chef makes La Llotja a must visit restaurant for any foodie in Tarragona.