Murcia is the perfect city break destination for those who don’t really love cities. The centre has the feel of a small town, and while there’s plenty going on, its all centred around separate plazas. Nothing feels rushed or as intense as big cities. Even better, it’s really easy to explore the rest of the region around Murcia and escape the city, even if you’re only visiting for a few days.
If you’re in search of gastronomy, culture, and a little “off the beaten path” slice of non-touristy Spain… Murcia is the place for you. From wow-factor architecture to unique regional cuisine , there’s so much to discover. Leafy plazas, bustling tapas bars, excellent shopping, and a huge foodie scene – plus mountains, beaches, and thermal spas all within easy reach. In my mini travel guide below, I’ve listed all the best things to do in Murcia to help you plan the perfect city break getaway…
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Murcia’s Old Town
The heart of Murcia is the beautiful, historic Old Town, full of huge plazas and baroque buildings. Many of the streets are pedestrianised, so this is a gorgeous place to simply stroll around and explore. As well as some of the city’s most iconic architectural sites, you’ll find plenty of great boutique shops too. And, of course, loads of bars, cafes, and bakeries (which the city is famous for).
Santa María Cathedral
Murcia’s Santa María Cathedral is considered a masterpiece of the Spanish Baroque period and dates back as far as 1385. The building was finished over several hundred years, though, so there are a blend of styles at play – and the interior is Gothic.
It’s a seriously beautiful building, and worth a visit just for the intricate facade. But I highly recommend going inside for a tour of the bell tower. From the top, you can hear the bells strike the hour, and get amazing views of the city.
Casino de Murcia
One of the city’s most surprising buildings is the Real Casino de Murcia. Originally opened as a gentleman’s club in 1847, the interior is fabulously eclectic and over the top. Each room is influenced by a different part of the world, like the English library, the French style ballroom, or the striking Arabic Court – which is lined with more than 35,000 sheets of gold leaf. It’s all opulence and extravagance, and it’s so much fun to explore!
Outdoor spaces abound in Murcia, so you’re never short of a shady spot to sit and relax. But the most iconic is probably Floridablanca Garden, just across the water from the historic city centre. Built in 19th century, Floridablanca was designed in the romantic style and is a great little tranquil spot. The giant ficus trees lining the central path are offspring from the famous tree in the centre of Santa Domingo Square.
Cardenal Belluga Square
Murcia is famed for it’s lovely plazas, and one of the loveliest is the Plaza del Cardenal Belluga. At one end is the baroque facade of the cathedral. Opposite is the controversial Moneo Building, a bright and modern building housing Murcia’s town hall. And then there’s the beautiful, rose-coloured Palacio Episcopal (Bishop’s Palace), dating from 1754. Not to mention dozens of lovely cafes where you can sit outside with a drink and enjoy the eclectic mix of architecture.
Río Segura is a river running through the city centre. It’s a pretty place for a walk, and the two most central bridges make nice photo ops. Puente de los Peligros (Bridge of Pilgrims) is also known as the Puente Viejo (old bridge) and was built in 1742. Then there’s the more modern Pasarela de Manterola, which is also very striking.
Whether you’re a history buff, or someone with just a passing interest, Murcia is pretty captivating. The city was founded by the Moors in 825, and 500 years of Islamic architecture are still intermingled with the later Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles.
A few of the cultural and historic highlights…
Museo de Arqueologia (Archaeological Museum) – Head here to look deeper into the local history and find out all about how the town came to be.
Santa Clara Monastery and Museum – An Islamic Palace that became a Catholic monastery, Santa Clara has pretty unusual architecture and is worth the visit for the central pool and gardens alone. Inside, you’ll find a collection of both Islamic and Christian art.
Salzillo Museum – Francisco Salzillo is a famous Spanish sculptor who spent most of his life in Murcia. This museum is dedicated to him and houses some of his best works, many of which are still used in the city’s Easter processions.
Ramón Gaya Museum – Locally born painter and writer Ramón Gaya is another famous son of the city. Discover the artist and his work at this free museum.
Teatro Romea – A beautiful old building dating from the 19th century, which still hosts regular shows and concerts in its opulent interior.
San Juan de Dios – A small church not far from the cathedral, San Juan de Dios houses a surprisingly lavish interior. It’s free to enter and worth popping in for a look at the religious art there.
One of the best things about Murcia is how well placed the city is to explore the rest of the region. The beaches at Mar Menor are about a thirty minute drive, and in fifteen minutes you can be in El Valle national park. Murcia is ideal if you want to combine all the bars, food, and culture of a city break with a little bit of nature or action.
From amazing beaches, to wholesome thermal waters, to stunning mountain scenery, there are plenty of options for a day trip from Murcia. Here are a few of the best options to escape the city…
Best Beaches in Murcia
Murcia’s coastline is known as the Costa Cálida, the “warm coast”, because of its ideal climate. There are hundreds of beaches along the coast for you to explore, and all of them less than two hours drive from Murcia. I’ve listed a handful below, but for more options check out the full selection of Murcia’s beaches here.
La Manga and Mar Menor – Mar Menor is a salt water lagoon cut off from the Mediterranean by a thin strip of sand. Relax on a beach with the sea on both sands. The sea at Mar Menor is known for being particularly calm, with no waves or current, so it’s perfect for families. While on the other side of the strip, conditions are ideal for sailing and watersports.
Cartagena – The urban beaches at the nearby city of Cartagena are incredibly popular, with good reason. Cala Cortina is a sheltered Mediterranean cove with a boardwalk, restaurants, and umbrellas to rent.
Calblanque – Considered by many to be one of the best beaches in the region, Calblanque is a “virgin beach”. Expect arid mountains and golden sands, but very few services – this is an untouched corner with no nearby resorts. Meaning you may just have the beach all to yourself!
Aguilas – At about an hour and ten minutes drive from the city centre, this is probably the furthest beach from Murcia – and it’s still easily accessible as a day trip. The shell-shaped cove of Cala de los Cocederos is very isolated and pristine, while Amarilla de Águilas is known for its yellow sand and transparent waters.
Head for the Hills
Craving a bit of nature? In Murcia, it’s never very far away. In fact, the regional park of El Valle y Carrascoy is only about a fifteen minute drive from the city centre.
Murcia itself is set within a wide, fertile valley, and this park is up in the Betic mountain range which forms one of the valley walls. Up here, you’ll find rocky cliffs, pine forests, scrubland, and all kinds of local flora and fauna. The hiking trails are popular on weekends, and offer some incredible views of the town.
Hiking and Biking – Throughout the park are numerous hiking and biking trails to discover. Follow the signs and local maps. For an easy, pleasant walk I recommend the Sandero trail which starts near the carpark at Restaurant Bar La Balsa Redonda.
El Relojero – If you can face it, the long hike up to El Relojero will reward you with some pretty amazing views. There are several routes you can try. Follow the winding road up, or hit one of the trails if you want to make things tougher.
San Antonio el Pobre – Hermits have lived in the caves around El Valle since the 800s, taking the legend of Saint Anthony the Poor as their inspiration. Head to the small chapel and museum at San Antonio el Pobre to learn more – and keep an eye out for the two hermits currently calling the local caves home.
Getting there – Drive to La Alberca Village, then head for the El Valle Visitors Centre.
Balneario de Archena
Did you know that the region of Murcia is dotted with thermal springs? Not only that, but many – like the Balneario de Archena – have been used for their healing properties since the days of the ancient Romans.
About twenty minute’s drive from the city centre, the Balneario de Archena is more than thermal bath – and much more than an ordinary spa. There are three hotels and numerous restaurants on site, as well a whole system of pools and treatment options.
The mineral-rich water is said to have healing properties, while the Archena mud is a unique blend of the local Bentonite clay. Don’t miss the signature Archena Massage (from 40€), which uses this rejuvenating thermal mud at the same time as medicinal water showers. It’s a bizarre experience – but totally soothing!
Archena feels like a true oasis. The outdoor swimming pool and relaxation areas are overlooked by mountains. Indoors, there’s another pool, with showers and massage jets. And the Balnea thermal circuit – which features various saunas, a steam room, flotation pool, and more – is not to be missed! With prices starting from just 31€ for the pool plus Balnea Circuit (from just 10€ for the swimming pools alone), this a perfect option for a relaxing day out.
Fancy staying the night? Check hotel prices here! I spent a good nine hours at this incredible spa and could easily have whiled away another full day!
For me, one of the absolute highlights of Murcia is the food. The city is renowned for it’s gastronomy, and the distinctive regional cuisine means there are plenty of unique dishes to try.
In fact, there’s so much to try, that I’m going to write an entirely separate post about what to eat in Murcia (stay tuned). But here are a few of the highlights…
Murcia Tapas Trail
When it comes to tapas in Murcia, you can’t really go wrong! Plaza de las Flores is one of the top places to visit for lively bars and fab tapas restaurants, so this is a great place to start. I followed the following tapas trail on my visit and would totally recommend it…
Gran Bar Rhin – 5 Plaza de San Pedro. Sit outside at the window to the bar and order marineros (a typical Murcian tapa) with a caña (a quarter litre of beer) to blend in with the locals!
La Tapa – 13 Plaza Flores. Possibly one of the best tapas bars in Murcia! Try the caballitos (battered prawns – another local speciality) and come back later to get paparajote for dessert (don’t eat the leaves)!
Las Viandas – 2 Calle Pascual. Definitely a local favourite! I recommend the palitos de berenjena (aubergine sticks).
El Secreto – 1 Plaza Sta. Catalina. A modern tapas bar with a funky feel and a bit of an eclectic menu. Try the chicken burritos if you’re craving something slightly more substantial.
Las Mulas – 5 Calle Ruipérez. Popular bar with a big, open front and a great atmosphere. Get the carrilla de cerdo ibérico (Iberico pork cheek) – meat lovers will not be disappointed!
Meat Pie – Murcia is famous for it’s meat pie, which comes with the most fascinatingly intricate puff pastry topping I’ve ever seen. An unmissable dish if you visit Murcia. Grab one from any of the local bakeries (mine came from Confitería Roses) and tuck in!
Cuerno – One of the tastiest desserts I’ve had in a while, the cuerno (meaning horn) is another Murcia speciality. Head to Espinosa to get yours. It’s a pastry horn filled with marshmallow-y meringue and topped off with toasted meringue. Sugar overload!
Llaollao – International frozen yoghurt chain Llallao was born in Murcia, so you absolutely have to pop into their branch on the Plaza De Santo Domingo. This square is known by locals as the best place in the city to get ice cream, and as well as two frozen yoghurt stores you’ll find a restaurant with great sundaes. Perfect for cooling off in the shade after a long day sightseeing!
Hotel NH Amistad Murcia – This is where I stayed for the three nights I was in Murcia and I’d be happy to recommend it. The location was ideal for exploring the city on foot, but also nice and quiet at night. The hotel is sleek and modern, and the service from staff was fantastic. More importantly, my room was really comfortable. Check prices now.
This is the only hotel I can personally recommend in Murcia, but if you know any others please share. Scroll down to the bottom to leave me a comment!
Both easyJet and Ryanair offer nonstop flights (2hr 35m) direct to Murcia’s local airport from Gatwick and Luton (respectively). So it can be fairly low cost to fly in.
Alternatively, you can fly to Alicante airport (about 50 minutes drive from the city). Alicante is serviced by a number of airlines, including Monarch and British Airways, flying from a range of UK airports.
Update Feb 2019: In January this year, the brand new, state of the art Murcia International Airport (RMU) at Corvera replaced Murcia San Javier Airport for all passenger flights. It’s location in Covera provides fast, convenient access to both Costa Calida and Murcia City.
The new airport is about a 30 minutes drive from Murcia City Centre, and there is a fixed-rate taxi price of €29. You can check all the transport options, and compare car hire prices, on this page all about Murcia-Corvera Airport. Since Murcia is so well-placed for exploring the spectacular region around it, renting a car is a great idea as it gives you freedom to get out and take some of the day trips I listed above.
Getting around Murcia is easy. The city centre is small and easily walkable – you can see most of the old town within one day. There are excellent buses within the town, and taxis are fairly cheap.