Have you ever heard about a place called Murcia? When my parents bought a holiday apartment there over 14 years ago, I didn’t even know which country they were talking about. Since then, however, I’ve learned that Murcia is in fact a city and region in Spain, and I’ve been lucky enough to extensively explore both over the last decade. So now I’m super excited to tell you about some of my favorite sights and attractions this exciting part of the country has to offer.
Less developed and visited than its neighbors, Valencia to the north and Andalucía to the south, Murcia is the perfect place to get a taste for authentic Spain. The region boasts over 300 sunny days a year, and its coastline, known as the Costa Cálida, is dotted with everything from small coves to mile-long golden sandy beaches.
Take a dip in the warm waters of two seas, play a round of golf, go wine tasting, explore medieval fortresses or take part in some water sports. Whether you want a relaxing or active vacation, one thing is for certain in Murcia, you are spoilt for choice.
Here are the top 14 things to do in the Region of Murcia:
1. Murcia City
Murcia, the capital city, sits on the banks of the Segura River east in the region. The impressive Gothic Baroque style Santa María Cathedral and Plaza del Cardenal Belluga are the city’s main tourist drawcards. Climb up to the top of the bell tower where you get panoramic views of the city or sit down at one of the many cafés outside and enjoy the exciting mix of old and new architecture. At one end of the Plaza, you’ll find the controversial Moneo building which houses the town hall and the beautiful, pink Bishop’s Palace dating back to the 1750s.
If you’re in search of gastronomy, culture, history and a taste of “off the beaten path Spain”, you have to spend a day in Murcia.
2. Ricote Valley
Valle de Ricote or Ricote Valley is one of the most beautiful and undiscovered parts of not only Murcia but the whole country. Cave drawings, Iberian settlements, Roman ruins and the iconic Hispanic – Muslim Medina Siyasa are some examples of its rich cultural heritage.
Cieza, an agricultural town renowned for its production of peaches and olives, is for many the first stop in the valley. For a few weeks every spring you can experience an incredible phenomenon known as Floración de Cieza. When thousands of hectares of peach trees go into bloom creating a pink blanket surrounding the whole town. It’s a spectacular sight!
From Cieza the river runs through small towns and villages like Abarán, Blanca, Ojós, Archena, Ricote and Ulea, all with their own quirks and charm making them well worth a visit. You can drive through the whole valley or if an active holiday is what you’re after there are many hiking, horse riding, biking and rafting opportunities.
3. San Pedro del Pinatar Nature Reserve and Marina de la Salinas
The most important wetlands in the region is home to flamingos and other migratory birds, such as albatrosses, herons, and seagulls. A must for birdwatchers! The area of the park which is open to the public consists of salt flats, reed beds and pine forests not to mention the high sand dunes at Torre Derribada beach. You can choose to go for a leisurely stroll or jump on a bike. There are bikes for rent in Lo Pagán and down by the Baños de Lodo mud baths.
At the edge of the nature reserve lies a fancy marina called Puerto Marina de las Salinas. Here you can go diving, rent a jet ski or yacht or just sit down and enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants. Cafe Cielo is my favorite restaurant in Murcia and I’ve been coming here for over 7 years now. Their food is always so fresh and delicious and the view of the impressive yachts coming and going is amazing.
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4. Salto del Usero – Bullas hidden oasis/waterfall
How pretty is this place!? – Edited with my Ocean Gold Lightroom preset
Salto del Usero, a gorgeous natural oasis awarded as a Site of Geological interest, is located just outside the town of Bullas. The waterfall and rock pools serve as an inland beach and offer great relief to both locals and visitors alike during the scorching hot summer months. Every year on June 23rd, large crowds gather here to take part in a 225-year-old tradition. A ceremony that recreates the legend of a Moorish princess who jumped in the river after being stood up by her Christian lover.
Keep in mind that you’re not allowed to drive all the way down and park next to the Salto and that you will be enjoying the area at your own risk. Visitors are advised not to jump and to respect the flora, the fauna, and the geological formations of the area.
5. Cartagena City
No visit to Murcia is complete without exploring Cartagena, a beautiful port city where every twist and turn tells a tale about its rich history. Thanks to its strategic position on the Costa Calida, Cartagena has been inhabited by several cultures such as Arabs and Romans which all have left their own mark on its cultural heritage.
The most important landmark in the city is the old Roman Theatre which dates all the way back to between 5th and 1st century BC. However, it wasn’t until 1988 when the first remains of the theatre were rediscovered during the demolishing of another old building. Today you can visit not only the Roman Theatre itself but also a large museum which will take you on an exciting journey through time.
6. Bateria de Castillitos
Q77photo / Depositphotos.com
Built between 1926 and 1933 in order to defend Cartagena Bay, these Disney-esque battery emplacements offer breathtaking views and the thrill of exploring the gun control bunkers, several towers and the massive guns close up. Constructed by the British, the cannons were the best of its kind at the time and were placed in a way that could not be seen from the sea level. Although proven they could fire a projectile over 35 miles, they were only fired once during the Spanish Civil War.
Don’t let the winding, narrow road up the mountain discourage you from visiting this interesting place. Just follow Google Maps directions and you’ll get there no problem. Pack a picnic bag and enjoy a lunch on the roof to one of the best views in the region.
7. Castle of Lorca
Lorca Castle or The Fortaleza del Sol (the fortress of the sun) is the main attraction in Lorca also known as the “Baroque city”. Situated strategically between two Christian kingdoms and the Moorish kingdom of Granada, the castle has seen a lot of action over the years. Today the castle houses a museum where you can learn about its turbulent past through a series of multi-sensory exhibitions. A fun day out for the whole family!
In 1931, Lorca Castle was declared a National Historic Monument, so after it was damaged during the earthquake of 2011, repairing it was a top priority. At 640m long and 120m wide, it’s one of the largest and most impressive castles in Spain and a must-see on any Murcia itinerary.
8. Playa de Calblanque
Playas de Calblanque refers to a series of golden beaches within Parque Regional de Calblanque, a nature reserve which got its protected status in 1987. Think miles of powdery soft sand and crystal clear turquoise water. So it might come as no surprise that this is my favorite beach in all of Murcia and the most picturesque beach I’ve visited in Spain so far.
For visitors, it is important to remember that this is a nature reserve and to treat it accordingly. Pick up your trash and keep out of the enclosed areas. If a relaxing day at the beach is what you’re after while in Murcia, Playas de Calblanque is the place to be.
9. Ciudad Encantada de Bolnuevo
In my mind, Ciudad Encantada de Bolnuevo, or the Enchanted City of Bolnuevo, is one of the most unique places not only in the Region of Murcia but in the country. These incredible sandstone formations have been eroded by water and wind for thousands of years and are today a spectacular sight and a great backdrop for your holiday photos.
10. Cabo de Palos Lighthouse
A stunning neoclassical building that sits on a rocky headland in Cabo de Palos, considered one of the best diving sites in Spain. The lighthouse, originally designed as a watchtower to prevent pirate attacks, has been in operation since 1865 and stands 81 meters above the sea level. Although the lighthouse itself isn’t open to the public, you can walk up next to it and enjoy the gorgeous 360-degree view.
Cabo de Palos also marks the beginning of La Manga, a 21 kilometer long, 300-meter wide spit that separates the Mediterranean Sea from the Mar Menor.
11. Mazarrón mines
Ever since Roman times, the land around Mazarrón har been extensively mined for iron, lead, silver, copper and alum. The rich deposits in the area were formed by the eruption of two volcanoes. Mazarrón mining reached its peak in the 1840s and continued until the 1950s when most of the mines were abandoned. The many years of successful mining operations were the reason behind the explosion of wealth in Cartagena and other cities close by.
Today the landscape around the mines glows with a multitude of colors, due to the sulfurs of the extracted minerals and the waste that was left behind. And it’s these colors set against the old ruins which make this place so cool, especially if you’re an avid photographer like me. If you don’t want to visit the mines on your own there are several guided tours you can join. Keep your eye on sites like Murcia Today and Visit Mazarrón for upcoming tours.
12. Rincón del Hornillo Águilas
Hidden away behind El Hornillo Beach in Aguílas you’ll find a mosaic masterpiece called The Rincon del Hornillo. Juan Martinez Casuco is the man behind this little Gaudí-esque corner and one other area close by called Ermita. He spent his life working on the local railways and started on this 12-year project once he retired.
To the left of the staircase, there is a little bar which to this day is owned and operated by his son. If you find yourself in the area, Rincon del Hornillo is definitely worth a stop. The world needs more creative souls like Juan to create colorful and whimsical places like this.
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13. Castillo de San Juan de las Aguilas
Águilas, located close to the border of Andalucía, is the southernmost town in the region. While its shore is dotted with bays, harbors, rocky headlands and fine sand beaches, the most impressive attraction is an 18th-century military fortress called Castillo de San Juan de las Águilas. From its high towers, it was possible to spot enemies, mainly Berbers and pirates.
Restored in 2007 and open to the public since 2009, the fortress offers great panoramic views of Águilas and makes for a great outing for the whole family. The entrance fee is only 2 euros adults and totally free for children and students. A good place to start the walk up to the castle is at the tourist office at the base of the headland.
14. Caravaca de la Cruz
A beautiful little mountain town situated at the bank of the River Argos, on the border between Murcia and Granada. Home to the Iberians, the Romans and the Muslims, Caravaca is the Fifth Holy City, along with Rome, Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela and Camaleño. A key destination for pilgrims! According to a legend, the Moorish King Abu Zeid was converted to Christianity here when he saw two angels bringing a cross down from heaven. Even if you’re not religious, I’m not, this charming old town is definitely worth a visit.