Cartagena, Spain Cruise Port Guide

Cruises to Cartagena, Spain bring you to a beautiful old port city in the southeastern region of Murcia, on the Mediterranean coast. Although Cartagena is relatively small, it’s packed with fascinating historical buildings that reflect the city’s multi-layered past. In the space of a day, you could see a Roman amphitheater, a Phoenician sailing boat, and a Moorish palace, and still have time for tapas in a waterfront restaurant.

Make the most of your day in Cartagena by joining a tour of the ancient center. Alternatively, you might choose to explore the surrounding countryside, where you’ll find sandy beaches, kayak trips along a cave-indented coast, and a magnificent stud farm where graceful Spanish thoroughbreds are raised. However you spend your day, Cartagena is a delightful port of call on your cruise to Spain

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Top Sights & Attractions on Cruises to Cartagena

The Roman Theater

Cartagena’s Roman Theatre was only excavated in 1988, but it dates back to the 1st century BC. Your visit starts at the theater museum on Plaza del Ayuntamiento, where Roman artifacts are beautifully displayed. Then, you’ll be transported along subterranean passages underneath the ruined cathedral, which was built on top of the site, to the restored theater. A visit is a fascinating journey that takes you through the many layers of Cartagena’s history.

The Punic Wall

Venture back to the 2nd century BC and experience the Punic Wars' setting with the Muralla Punica. This fortress, constructed by the Carthaginians for city defense, was later breached by the Romans. The Interpretation Center unveils remnants of casemates, or fortifications that housed troops and weapons. Discover the eerie charm of the 16th-century San José Hermitage crypt, a final resting place teeming with human remains, and a wall featuring a chilling depiction of the Danse Macabre.

Conception Castle

The Castillo de la Concepción was built by the Moors in the 12th century on top of a Roman temple. After the Christian reconquest of Murcia in the 13th century, the castle was turned into a fortress and remained in use until the Spanish Civil War. It’s perched at the highest point of the city and is accessed by a panoramic glass elevator. At the top, learn about Cartagena’s fascinating history and explore the castle’s gardens, populated by handsome peacocks.

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Things to Do in Cartagena

Learn About the Spanish Civil War

Cartagena was heavily bombed during the Spanish Civil War, which lasted from 1936 to 1939. You can get a taste of what life was like during the war in the atmospheric Civil War Air Raid Shelter Museum. Wander through the galleries and listen to voices telling you the story of the war and the defense of the city. Powerful audio-visual displays give a sense of what life would have been like in the shelter during a bombing raid.

See the Museum of Underwater Archaeology

Learn about the Mediterranean’s history over 2,500 years at ARQUA, a fascinating museum dedicated to underwater archaeology located on Cartagena’s waterfront. You’ll see thousands of coins, jewelry, and ceramics from the Phoenician, Greek, and Roman eras, all retrieved from wreck sites, as well as a replica of a Phoenician boat from the 7th century BC. Take a guided tour or work your way around the interactive displays. 

Visit a Spanish Horse Farm

Venture just outside the city, in the rolling countryside of Murcia, to admire spectacular Spanish thoroughbred horses. At one of Spain’s top stud farms, you’ll see everything from foals to brood mares and majestic stallions. The foals and mares will be released from their stable to stampede to a field, while you’ll also see a flamenco-style performance involving a “dancing” stallion. Complete your visit by sampling tasty local tapas.

Top Food & Drink in Cartagena

Cartagena has a lively culinary scene with plenty of local specialties to try. Pork sausages and salty goat cheese from Murcia make great snacks; look out for Murcia Al Vino, which is a cheese cured in red wine. You’ll find sausages flavored with local pimiento pepper, which adds a great kick. Seafood is widely available, as is paella; the local Calasparra rice is the basis of many rice dishes here.

If you’re feeling adventurous, try an Asiático, a special cocktail made from coffee, condensed milk, brandy, and a local liquor called Licor 43. The whole ensemble is served with coffee beans and lemon rind and sprinkled with cinnamon.

Culture & History of Cartagena

Cartagena was founded in the 3rd century BC by the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal. This city was a critical hub in the Carthaginian and subsequent Roman empire, thanks to its strategic location on the Mediterranean and proximity to local silver mines. In 209 BC, it was captured by Rome, which contributed significantly to the Roman conquest of Spain. Throughout the Middle Ages, Cartagena, like much of southern Spain, fell under Moorish rule for several centuries until the Christian Reconquista occurred in 1245 under the Crown of Castile.

Visitors to Cartagena today can witness the city's deep historical roots, as each of these successive civilizations constructed their own churches, palaces, and castles on top of the structures of their predecessors. This layered history continually reveals new discoveries.

While other Spanish cities like Barcelona, Málaga, and Alicante have gained prominence in recent times, Cartagena remains an important industrial and trading port, particularly for agricultural products, oil, and mineral ores. Additionally, it's recognized as a naval seaport and a popular tourist destination. The city is home to the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology (ARQUA) and is renowned for its beautifully restored Roman ruins.

Cartagena Cruise Port Facilities and Location

Cartagena lies at the end of a deep, protected harbor, and ships dock close to the city center. The Cartagena cruise port is called Pier Alfonso XII Cruise Terminal and has restrooms, tourist information, Wi-Fi, and a bus stop. There’s a taxi rank just along the road. You can walk from the cruise terminal to the city center in about 10 minutes.

Transportation in Cartagena

Cartagena has a bus and train station within walking distance of the cruise port. If you are heading to the bus or train station from the city center and old quarter, it’s about a 10-minute walk. Taxis will wait just outside the cruise terminal. Rideshare services operate here, too. In reality, though, there’s so much to see in the city that you’re likely to spend your day exploring on foot.

Shopping in Cartagena

Cartagena has plenty of shopping in the downtown area, where you’ll find big-name brands as well as Spanish fashions. Browse the colorful stands of Santa Florentina in the city center for piles of fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, local hams and cheeses, wines, and olive oil.

A great place to shop for souvenirs is Centro Regional de Artesania (located at 10 Calle Honda), which carries locally created ceramics, unique leatherwork and glasswork, rugs, clothing sewn by hand, and a variety of jewelry. Most shops close between 2 pm and 5 pm for siesta.

Local Currency & Tipping Customs

The currency in Spain is the Euro. Most establishments take credit or debit cards, but it’s always useful to carry a little cash, especially for shopping in markets. You will find plenty of ATMs in the city center. Spain does not have a big tipping culture, but you can add 10% to restaurant bills for good service and round up taxi fares. A good guide would be delighted with a tip of 5 to 10 euros after a tour.

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