It's Just Becks
Tarragona Cathedral gardens

Tarragona | Birthday Festival and Roman Ruins

Touching down in Barcelona, a quick airport bus ride took me to Barcelona Sants where I jumped on the next train to Tarragona. An hour long journey along the coast as the sun was starting to dip was just the thing I needed! I’d had a little danger nap on the train – the kind where you accidentally fall asleep and just hope you wake up in time – but was still quite tired as the hilly climb to the centre of Tarragona appeared before me. Knowing I had no choice other than to keep going, I eventually found my way to Placa de la Font, a square in the centre of the city and home for the next few days.

I’d absolutely lucked out with this trip. When I’d been in Barcelona previously, someone mentioned there was an old amphitheatre in Tarragona that was cool, so I’d booked a visit for a few days around my birthday. The hotel was just a guess at somewhere kind of central. As it turned out, Tarragona had a festival on while I’d be in the city and most of the celebrations took place or started/ended in the square outside my hotel. Plus, I’d been given a room on the top floor, overlooking the square. Super lucky, right?

The first sign of the festival had been a huge queue I’d passed on the way to the hotel. It had snaked down the street for several blocks and ended in Placa de la Font where a huge table was laden with food. The residents of Tarragona are given tickets, and they queue up to be given a dish from the table. I watched the queue pass by before deciding it was time to grab some dinner myself, so ventured off in search of a supermarket to grab a light bite. Turns out Tarragona supermarkets close early evening, but by the time I came back to Placa de la Font the crowds had gone and the numerous cafes and restaurants had set up in the square. I picked one that wasn’t super busy and enjoyed some tapas before making my way to bed.

Waking up full of energy, I was on a mission to see as much as possible of the city. The first stop of the day was to the chariot racing remains, and as I wandered in the general direction of where I thought they’d be, I saw a cool building. Ever one to be nosy, I went to have a look at it and saw that it was actually the entrance to the remains I’d been looking for!

Entrance to Roman Circus, Tarragona
Part of chariot track at Roman Circus, Tarragona

Known as the Roman Circus, the site comprises of a section of the old chariot racing track, plus the tunnels and seating area. It was built in the 1st century, and has been so well preserved that it’s easy to picture how it would have been to sit and watch a race. Wandering through the tunnel, I passed a tour group and held back a little to listen to some of the facts being given, before sitting and watching a short documentary in one of the side rooms. Not only did it cover the history for the chariot track, but also about Tarragona back in that time and the large Roman complex that had been in the city. My mind was blown as I’d never expected to find somewhere like this outside of Italy!

Tunnel in Roman Circus

After wandering around the ruins a little more, it was time for a coffee. Part of the documentary I’d watched had noted how Placa de la Font sat right above where the old track ran, and they’d actually used the foundations put in place for the seating area to build the current buildings on. As I walked back to the square, I could see what they had been explaining and had a little ‘woo history!’ moment. Spotting a cafe called Cappuccino, I felt like I was being summoned, so settled in for a cappuccino in Cappuccino. As if I could have anything else there!

Heading up the hill to the cathedral, I had a look in the charming shops close by, took some photos then decided to save a visit to the cathedral for tomorrow. Instead, it was another drink break and planning my next stop – the old city walls. Venturing off in a new direction, I wandered through the quiet back streets of the city and just fell more in love with Tarragona with each step.

The old city walls were part of the combo ticket I’d bought at the Roman Circus, and it was such an interesting walk to take. The views were amazing, it was really peaceful as there was barely anyone else there and there were plenty of things to stop and check out along the way. The only problem I had was that my open sandals were offering my feet up like a buffet to all the ants whenever I stood still. What followed was some kind of jig whenever I stopped to read an info plaque – they were really big ants and the bites actually hurt!

Tarragona city walls

Finishing the walk along the walls, I popped out somewhere totally random and took the opportunity to grab some churros and sit looking out over the sea. It’s the little moments like these that make me just as happy as exploring the ruins. But history was still calling, so it was on to see the thing that had brought me to Tarragona – the amphitheatre!

Tarragona amphitheatre

Another really interesting spot in the city, I was worried I might have hyped it up in my mind and it wouldn’t live up to it, but it was just as cool as I’d hoped it’d be! There’s an information ‘room’ on the ground level, so after walking around the seating area high up I ventured down to the ground floor, read a bit then walked out to the centre of the arena. The amphitheatre has gone through some changes during it’s time, and after a Bishop and couple of deacons were burned alive in the arena, a church was built there, in the middle. These days all that’s left are parts of the walls. Walking across the middle of the arena to get a closer look, I tripped over the biggest rock ever, like bigger than my fist. I hobbled around for a bit hoping I hadn’t broken any toes, but sightseeing takes priority so I still had a wander around before making the trek back up the hill to the top of the amphitheatre and then back to Placa de la Font. Spoiler: no broken bones, just sore toes!

Church inside Tarragona amphitheatre

I picked up some dinner to take back to my room to eat, as I wanted to watch the festival processions from my balcony – I wasn’t about to waste the amazing views I had! After a couple of hours of music and fireworks in the procession, the crowds cleared. Later in the evening I heard music again, and looking out on the square I saw more dancing. I quickly chucked on some shoes and made my way to the town hall where a stage had been set up and traditional dancing was taking place. It’s different to the kind of dancing I’d seen previously, but my favourite part was where they all stopped part way through a dance to have a shot! What an amazing way to end my day!

Tarragona window view

Waking up the next day, I opened the balcony doors to hear the hustle and bustle in the square below, let the fresh, warm air in and got back into bed. It was my birthday, and I was so happy to wake up to the sunshine! After opening my cards and going through some birthday messages, I got up and made my way out to the cathedral. I’ve always got a soft spot for churches, so I’d saved a visit to the cathedral for my birthday. No religious reasons, I just love the architecture!

After wandering around the cathedral grounds and spotting the turtles in the cloister pond, it was time to grab some lunch. I found a cute little square that had cafes and tapas, but as soon as I opened the menu and saw the prices I moved on to another place. It was my birthday, but I’m still on a travel budget! Instead, I found a charming cafe in another square with the loveliest owner who kept coming to chat to me as I tucked in to my favourite tapas dishes.

Tarragona is famous for the castellers, which originated in a small town in the region. I wandered through the city to check out the monument to the human towers, and carried on down the road to check out the fountains in a small park. It was a nice, relaxing walk through the city, before heading back to my room to catch the balcony views of the evening parade again. This time there were a few correfocs as part of the parade, where people run with the fireworks/sparklers or have a mascot that emits the sparks from somewhere. It’s one of my favourite elements of Spanish celebrations, and the view from the balcony was great. Such a great way to round off my birthday!

The next morning, I had been set a challenge by my friend – catch sunrise. I’m not usually a morning person, but thankfully in September the sun isn’t up super early, and the best spot for catching the sunrise was just a few minutes from the hotel. Walking through the city to a viewpoint looking out over the sea, I was so happy. I love the hustle and bustle of a busy city, but I also love the quiet moments early in the morning where people are heading to work or street cleaners are out.

Sunrise in Tarragona

After watching the sunrise over the coastline, I made my way back to the hotel to pack. I had time to quickly dash to the local market to peruse the stalls for a bit, before heading back to the hotel and collecting my bag. Just a short walk took me back to the train station, where I picked up my tickets.

Walking to the platform, I noticed that there was no-one else on the same platform as me, but lots of people on the other platform. Strange, as I’d imagine Barcelona is a popular destination. A few tannoy announcements rang out, but I couldn’t understand the tinny, speedy Spanish, so popped back to check the information screen that I had the right platform. Yep. Back to the platform, and I started getting confused.

Someone shouted over that I was on the wrong platform, and the only train going to Barcelona would board at their platform. Just as I made my way over, a train pulled up at the platform I’d just been on. Ahhh!! Running as quickly as I could with my bags, I rushed back before I missed the train, only to be swarmed by everyone getting off and heading to the other platform. Turns out that train was cancelled, the one I had a ticket for, and everyone would be getting on one train for the hour and 15 minute journey to Barcelona. Squeezing on, there was absolutely no room to move. I found a spot by the door, and had flashbacks of the London Underground in rush hour. Thankfully, there was a dog on the train to keep my entertained, but with no room to move, the journey passed very slowly and I was so so sooo grateful to be able to walk around once I arrived in Barcelona. But hey, I had arrived, and it was the festival I’d waited years to visit. Bring it on Barcelona!

< Madrid | #57 | Barcelona >

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  • Reply
    September 22, 2020 at 8:22 pm

    Wow, close call on the train! Plenty of Roman remains outside Italy. After all, it was a huge Empire. One of the best theaters is in Orange, France, and you shouldn’t miss the baths in Bath, England. Some of the best Greek temples are outside Greece, too – in Italy!

    • Reply
      September 22, 2020 at 10:13 pm

      I’ve been to the baths in Bath, but not to those in France yet…lots to explore still! 🙂

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