Mérida, a charming city in western Spain Extremadura region, is definitely worth a visit. With its rich history, impressive Roman ruins and lively atmosphere, Mérida offers an unforgettable experience for travellers. If you only have one day to explore this beautiful city, here are some must-see attractions and activities that will make your visit a truly memorable one.
We visited Mérida with a motorhome, so we start this itinerary right from the Parking Area. It doesn’t really matter in which order you visit the sites, the historic centre is rather small, so you can easily mix it up and explore the best attractions in the city on foot. Let’s go!
Mirador del Guadiana and adjacent park
Start your day with a nice panoramic view of Mérida and the Guadiana River from Mirador del Guadiana. This viewpoint is located on the eastern side of the Roman Bridge, right at the beginning of a small but beautiful park.
Enjoy the tranquillity and take a walk through the peaceful adjacent park. It will lead you straight to the Puente Romano or Roman Bridge, the entrance of the city. On your way there, you walk beneath a railway that crosses the park. The next big feature you see is the Puente de Lusitania or Lusitania bridge.
Puente de Lusitania or Lusitania Bridge
The Puente de Lusitania, is another must-see attraction, especially for architecture enthusiasts. This modern and elegant bridge, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, was completed in 1991. It spans the Guadiana River with a striking, single-pylon cable-stayed design that creates a perfect balance of form and function. It’s particularly beautiful at sunset when it’s bathed in a warm, golden light.
Enter the historic city via de Puente Romano
Enter the city via de Puente Romano, the iconic Roman bridge that dates back to the 1st century AD. This icon has survived centuries of use. As you cross the bridge, take in the stunning views of the Guadiana River and imagine what it must have been like during ancient Roman times.
Visit the Alcazaba
Once you’ve made your way across the Puente Romano, make a stop at the Alcazaba. This fortified Muslim palace was built in the 9th century and is one of the largest Alcazabas in Spain. Take some time to explore its impressive walls, towers, and courtyards as you learn about its cultural significance.
Casa del Mitreo
Although this site is a bit more distant than the next one on the list, it remains conveniently accessible from the Alcazaba. The Casa del Mitreo is a Roman villa with well-preserved frescoes and mosaics. Here, you can step back in time and get a glimpse of what daily life was like during the Roman Empire.
Head to the Plaza de España
Head to the Plaza de España, a lively square in the heart of the city. This bustling hub is surrounded by historic buildings and is perfect for people-watching and soaking up the local atmosphere. Don’t forget to try some traditional Spanish tapas at one of the many bars and restaurants in the plaza.
Mérida City Hall
At the Plaza de España, the City Hall is a beautiful example of Renaissance architecture. Take some time to admire its facade and step inside to see its grand interior. You can also visit the Municipal Museum located within the city hall to learn more about Mérida’s history and culture.
Cathedral de Santa Maria la Mayor
Next, pay a visit to the Cathedral de Santa Maria la Mayor. This Roman Catholic cathedral was built in the 13th century and features a unique mix of Gothic and Baroque styles. It has a beautiful facade, and you can ascend the cathedral’s tower for a panoramic view.
Admire Diana Temple or Templo de Diana
Another must-see Roman landmark is the Templo de Diana. This temple was dedicated to the goddess of hunting and serves as a reminder of Mérida’s ancient past. The ruins are well-preserved, making it easy to imagine what it would have looked like in its prime.
There is no entrance fee, making it accessible to all. It’s conveniently located right in the heart of the city centre. It’s truly fascinating to stroll through the streets and stumble upon this magnificent structure from a different era. Witnessing the harmonious coexistence of the present and the past feels special.
Portico del Foro
As you continue your exploration of Mérida’s ancient Roman history. The Portico del Foro is another impressive structure that you don’t want to miss. This colonnaded portico served as an important gathering place for political and social events. Today, visitors can wander through this open-air site and admire its architectural details.
Lunch - Where to eat in Mérida
After a morning of exploring, you will surely have worked up an appetite. Luckily, there are a variety of options for lunch. For a taste of local cuisine, head to one of the many tapas bars in the city and try some delicious Spanish dishes. If you’re in the mood for something international, there are also plenty of restaurants serving Italian, Japanese or American food.
We chose a ‘Menu del Dia’ at Restaurante Naya. It’s a popular spot among locals and tourists alike. This restaurant offers a mix of Spanish and international food. The food we had was simple but tasty and very cheap, and the service was good.
Start your afternoon with a tour of the Roman Theatre
No trip to Mérida is complete without visiting its iconic Roman Theatre. This well-preserved structure was built during the reign of Emperor Augustus and could seat over 6,000 spectators. Today, the theatre is a popular tourist spot and also serves as the venue for the annual Mérida Classical Theatre Festival. Take a guided tour or explore on your own to admire the impressive architecture and learn about its fascinating history.
Explore the Roman Amphitheatre
After visiting the Roman Theatre, make sure to also check out Mérida’s second-largest ancient ruin – the Roman Amphitheatre. This grand structure was once used for gladiator fights and could hold up to 15,000 people. You can climb the stairs and explore the underground tunnels to get a better understanding of how events were held in this amphitheatre.
The Roman Theatre and the Roman Amphitheatre are located right next to each other, what makes it convenient to explore both fascinating sites in one visit. They are situated within the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For us, this site was the highlight of our visit to Mérida.
Casa Romana del Anfiteatro - A Hidden Gem
If you want to escape the crowds and explore a lesser-known site, head over to the Casa Romana del Anfiteatro. This Roman house is located just steps away from the amphitheatre and offers a glimpse into how the wealthy lived during ancient times. Admire the intricate mosaics, frescoes, and other decorations that have been preserved over time.
Visit the National Museum of Roman Art
For a more in-depth understanding of the Roman history of Mérida, a visit to the National Museum of Roman Art is a must. This museum houses an impressive collection of ancient artefacts such as sculptures, mosaics, and ceramics.
Basilica of Santa Eulalia
Located just a short walk from the National Museum of Roman Art, the Basilica of Santa Eulalia is another impressive site. This early Christian church was built in the 4th century and features beautiful Romanesque architecture.
Acuaducto de los Milagros
You find the aqueduct at the outskirts of the city, but it is well worth the visit. This ancient aqueduct was built in the 1st century AD and served as a water supply for the city. Today, you can still see three rows of arches that span for over 800 meters at a height of 25 meters. Be sure to take a stroll along the aqueduct for some stunning views and photo opportunities.
Shopping in Mérida
No trip is complete without some souvenir shopping, and Mérida has plenty to offer in that department. From local markets selling handmade crafts and souvenirs to high-end boutiques, there is something for everyone.
Calle Santa Eulalia: Mérida’s Shopping Hub
One of the most notable shopping streets is Calle Santa Eulalia. This bustling street is lined with a diverse range of shops, making it a vibrant hub for both locals and tourists. Here, you can find everything from high-street fashion brands to local artisanal shops. The street is also famous for its gastronomic scene, featuring several tapas bars and restaurants where you can sample the local cuisine.
Other things to do in and around Mérida
Apart from its rich history and cultural attractions, Mérida also offers a range of activities for travellers to enjoy. So, if you decide to stay some extra days, like we did, here are a few suggestions:
Visit the Natural Park of Cornalvo
Just 10km outside the city, you can find the beautiful Natural Park of Cornalvo. This park is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts and offers activities such as hiking, mountain biking, and birdwatching. It also features an impressive Roman dam that dates back to the 1st century.
Explore the Surrounding Villages
Mérida is surrounded by charming villages that are well worth a visit.
One such village is Medellín, located just 30 minutes away by car. It is known for its ancient castle and Roman ruins, as well as its picturesque streets and traditional architecture.
Another nearby village is Alange, famous for its natural hot springs. Here, you can relax and unwind in the thermal baths while admiring the scenic views of the surrounding countryside.
Alburquerque is a village located about 1 hour away from Mérida. It showcases a fusion of Roman and Moorish architecture, and its main attraction is the impressive Alcazaba castle.
Trujillo is another beautiful village located about an hour’s drive from Mérida. It is home to an impressive castle and several historic buildings, making it a must-visit for history buffs.
Consider taking a day trip to Cáceres. This medieval city is just over an hour away by car and offers stunning architecture, charming streets, and delicious local cuisine. Don’t miss the Plaza Mayor and the Santa María Cathedral while you’re there.
Guided Tours in Mérida
Mérida offers several excellent guided tours that provide an in-depth look at the city’s history. A top choice is the ‘Mérida: Roman theatre private walking tour’, which guides you through the Roman Theatre, the Amphitheatre and the temple of Diana.
If you’re interested in exploring the city at your own pace, opt for the ‘Mérida Self-Guided Walking Tour’. This tour provides a downloadable map and detailed descriptions of the sights, allowing you to explore the city’s landmarks at your leisure.
Another popular option is the ‘Mérida Night Walking Tour’. This tour takes you through the illuminated city streets, culminating with the enchanting evening light show at the Roman Theatre.
Map: Things to do in Mérida Spain
Getting there and getting around
Mérida is well connected by train, bus, and highway, making it easily accessible from major cities in Spain. The closest airport is the Badajoz Airport, located about 60 kilometers away.
Once in Mérida, getting around the city is fairly easy. Many of the major attractions are within walking distance of each other, and there are also public transportation options such as buses and taxis. For those who prefer a more active mode of transportation, renting a bike is also a popular option in Mérida.
Where to stay in Mérida
When planning a city trip to Mérida, staying in the city centre is highly recommended. This location provides easy access to the major attractions and a vibrant local atmosphere.
- For a luxurious experience, consider staying in one of the boutique hotels in the area, which often offer unique and personalized services in beautifully designed environments. The Hotel Ilunion Mérida Palace, housed in a 16th-century mansion, particularly stands out for its blend of history and modern comfort.
- Alternatively, for a more rustic and authentic experience, Casa rurales (rural houses) on the outskirts of Mérida offer a peaceful retreat in the picturesque Spanish countryside, offering a unique opportunity to experience local life outside the bustling city centre.
- For travelers on a budget, there are affordable hostels and guesthouses within walking distance of the city center. These options provide a comfortable stay without breaking the bank.
- Finally, for those traveling with campers or RVs, Mérida offers excellent facilities at both the camper park near the Roman Bridge and the one located in the city center. Both locations offer convenient access to the city’s main attractions and amenities.
No matter where you choose to stay in Mérida, you will be sure to find a comfortable and convenient accommodation option that suits your needs and budget. So don’t hesitate, book your stay in this charming city today! See you soon in Mérida! Happy travels! 😊 Keep exploring!