Rocky headlands dotted with stone forts surround the deep indigo waters of Cartagena, creating the ultimate defence against enemy ships. This natural harbour is tucked between the Mediterranean and the Mar Menor, a strategic position that has attracted the Phoenicians, Romans, and Moors over its 2,000-year-long history. Cultures converged, creating a rich heritage that’s still being uncovered by archaeologists – and, lately, more and more travellers seeking a bit of history in the sunshine.
One of Cartagena’s greatest discoveries was its 5-BCE Roman theatre, excavated during the 1980s and now a magnificent museum. Nearby, the ruins of the Barrio del Foro Romano – an entire Roman city block complete with houses, baths, and an arcade – are exposed at street level. Leafy squares dot the city centre, where mosques once called Islamic Spain to prayer, while the ruins of a 13th-century cathedral sit alongside Art Deco and Modernist buildings. Up the hill, the ancient Conception Castle surveys the the city spreading out to the sea.
Cartagena’s smooth granite streets are made for walking – and they shine brilliantly in the near-constant sunshine. Down at the harbour, the wharf where Phoenician traders first docked their ships is now lined with romantic tapas bars. They dish up prawns, scallops and calamari, along with staples like the montadito – a small open sandwich with various toppings like manchego and quince.
When to go?
Cartagena is warm and sunny all year round, so no matter when you go you’re likely to have better weather than most of Europe. If you want to enjoy the beaches, visit between July and September, when temperatures are at their highest. October is best avoided if you don’t like the rain.
Where to stay?
Apartamento Centro Historico
Apartamento Centro Historico – Cartagena, Spain
These airy two-bedroom apartments are right in the historic centre, and just a 10-minute walk from the beach. With a spacious kitchen and living room, you get plenty of space to stretch out – plus you can park your car nearby for a small fee. The host, Gregorio, is known for his personal service, offering local tips to his guests.
Hotel Cartagonova – Cartagena, Spain
This central hotel is great for guests who want a bit of pampering. The spa includes a sauna, hammam, and hot tub, and you can book various relaxing treatments and massages. Guests love the massive beds and the fitted-out rooms, all of which feature air conditioning, a minibar, satellite TV, and free WiFi.
Sercotel Alfonso XIII
Sercotel Alfonso XIII – Cartagena, Spain
Just 10 minutes’ walk from the harbour, Sercotel Alfonso XIII is known for its friendly staff and its comfy, traditional rooms. Guests love that there are tea and coffee-making facilities in each room – a feature not always common in Spain. The triple room is great if you’re travelling with kids.