Discover the best things to do in Murcia, Spain, as well as the nearby towns of Lorca and Cartagena, which are all overflowing with amazing historical sites.
Spain is a well-established destination for long weekends and city breaks. Barcelona, Madrid and Seville are all firmly embedded on the shortstops trail down the Iberian Peninsula. But what if you were missing a hidden treasure? When you think of a Spanish break, why don’t you think of Murcia?
It’s easy to be overshadowed by the country’s big hitters but that doesn’t mean Murcia’s in any way an inferior stop-over. In fact, it’s something of a hidden gem – a budget-sensitive destination that has much to offer. Moreover, it’s got great connections to the nearby towns of Lorca and Cartagena, which both possess a host of attractions to slake the thirst of of even the pickiest culture seeker.
Murcia – where to start?
Murcia’s international airport (which opened in Jan 2019) has a €5.00 bus service into town that might be there when you land… or then again it might not. It’s not the best-served airport but the taxis are a flat rate (€29.00) and it’ll probably be possible to share the trip with a fellow passenger who’s equally as stumped at why there’s no bus.
Your best bet is to get dropped off by the cathedral – which stands on the place where the Great Mosque or Aljamía once sat – as this is spiritually as well as geographically the centre of the town. It’s also a magnificent building that matches a Baroque exterior with a Gothic interior. When you visit, take the audio tour and don’t forget to exit through the museum.
Murcia also boasts a very good archaeological museum – just the thing to fill an hour – but it’s the quirkier destinations that give the place character, such as the Santa Clara Monastery. This free-to-enter museum comprises the Santa Clara enclosed convent and the archaeological and architectural remains of both Moorish and Christian old royal palaces. It’s small but wonderfully evocative.
Cheap ‘n’ tasty tapas
If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, head over to the Plaza Santa Catalina – the streets off it are lined with excellent tapas bars and restaurants. It’s also a good place to people watch while drinking a beer or a glass of the local wine.
Once you absorbed the atmosphere of Murcia it’s worth getting the bus out of town. Very little information about the local bus services is available online so it can appear very confusing; once you’re on the ground it’s a lot more straightforward than it might at first look. Buses to Lorca are run by Trapemusa (pay on the bus) and depart seven times a day. Buses to Cartagena are operated by Interbus (buy a ticket before you board) and are similarly frequent. Return timetables are displayed in each bus terminus.
The bus station is concrete and the road into town is wide and not very interesting but don’t be put off – Cartagena is overflowing with historical sites. The place is long-established – primitive hominids lived in the area 1.3 million years ago but much of the archaeology that you’ll see starts from around 200 BC when refugees from Carthage settled in the region, drawn by the natural harbour. The Romans came and went, the Vandals sacked the town and from around 700 until 1245 AD is was under Muslim rule along with most of Southern Spain.
As a consequence there’s a lot to see. So much, in fact, that you can get a multi-site discount pass, which is a real bonus if you know what you’re going to visit.
Highlights include the truly great Marine Archaeology Museum, the Roman theatre, Castillo de la Concepción (a castle with lots of history) and the civil war air raid shelter, the Museo-Refugio De La Guerra Civil. The last two are entered by a public lift, which is especially useful for the castle as it’s a very long way up.
The Augusteum, a temple dedicated to the first Roman Emperor, Octavian Augustus, is really only for the diehards.
The main attraction in Lorca is its castle – be prepared for a long walk up a steep hill. But it’s worth every step once you arrive; the views are great and there are regular displays of birds of prey. Other highlights include Museo Azul de la Semana Santa, which features a mind boggling display of costumes worn by The Blue Brotherhood at Easter. It simply defies description. There’s also the wonderful Museo Arqueológico de Lorca, which contains two very special displays.
First, there’s the oldest known piece of linen found in Europe – something you don’t expect to find in a local museum. But for me, the standout exhibit featured glass lamps from the town’s synagogue. The building fell into disrepair when the Christians displaced the Muslims and threw out the Jews. However, rather than being reused – as was often the case – the synagogue simply crumbled in on itself, burying fragments of the original lamps, which in recent years have been carefully reconstructed piece by piece.
Scratching the surface
All three towns offer so much more than I’ve listed here. Enough, in fact, to ensure any long weekend is packed from morning ‘til night. Murcia makes a great base for your explorations, you can even get the train up to Alicante if you’ve enough time, and the good thing is that it’s not expensive, especially if you go out of season. So the next time you’re looking for a short cultural trip stop before you book that flight to Madrid… there are other equally as great Spanish destinations available. Have Murcia on me…
Things to Do in Murcia, Spain – Pin for later!
This is a guest post by Anthony Clark, journalist, copywriter and longtime friend of the Ladies What Travel team. He loves beer, cheese and travel and is a genius when it comes to making the most of his annual leave. Keep an eye out for more stories from Mr C in the coming months…