Every time I visit Murcia, Spain, I get asked the same questions.
“Why would you go to Murcia? What’s in Murcia?”
To say that this region and its capital get overlooked would be an understatement; either people forget Murcia exists or they’ve never heard of it before. Seriously. If you Google “most visited cities in Spain,” Murcia is not in the top FORTY! If you read (an ungodly amount of) travel blogs like me, Murcia doesn’t even make it on the lists of underrated spots you should visit either. Hell, this summer before I returned on my third, most recent visit there, even my northern Spanish friends were asking me, why Murcia?
At age 19 I moved to the capital of Murcia to study for a year and immediately fell in love with its charm and generous people. Therefore it’s always been hard for me to understand why this region is so undervalued. Sure, Murcia doesn’t have the Alhambra or the Sagrada Familia, but it does have a lot to offer that most people never see. So why visit Murcia? I’ll tell you 13 things to see and do in Murcia, Spain, on your next trip there.
Photo credit wikiwand.com
Murcia borders the regions of Andalucía and Valencia in the southeast of Spain, nestled between the Baetic Mountains and white beaches of the Mediterranean sea. It’s ranked as the 9th largest region in Spain with a population of 1.47 million. Murcia the capital is also the 9th largest city in the country with a population of nearly 450,000. This city is especially fun for young people since it’s a college town where about 40,000 students attend the Universidad de Murcia. With 300 days of sunshine a year, the region’s hot, dry climate is not only perfect for going to the beach, but also for growing lots of fruits and vegetables. Murcia is so famous for its produce that it earned the nickname of Huerta de Europa, the Orchard of Europe.
Without further ado, here’s why Murcia is worth a visit.
1. Visit the Cathedral Church of Santa Maria
This 13th-century cathedral is probably the most recognizable landmark of Murcia and is located in the heart of the capital. Did you know that the church was built on the foundation of what used to be a mosque? Yeah, the history of the Muslims and Christians in Spain is not a pretty one. The facade of the church is Baroque style and the interior is mainly Gothic. Make sure to have a look inside, check out the cathedral’s museum, and climb the bell tower. Every visit here I like to grab dinner at sunset in the beautiful Cathedral Plaza.
2. Go to a concert, show, or party till sunrise in the Plaza de Toros
Built in 1886, the Plaza de Toros holds up to 15,000 spectators and hosts fun events day or night all year. Although I don’t personally condone bullfighting, you can see fights in the ring during the summer months. If that’s not your thing, concerts and shows are frequently offered here. In the October that I lived in Murcia I attended a Circo de los Horrores. The stadium’s entrance was transformed into a haunted house while the center ring became a stage for a horror-themed circus. When I stepped in the door I was almost hacked to death by a man with a chainsaw and consequently had the most terrifyingly exciting night ever!
On Thursday-Sunday nights the stadium’s inner halls fill as the club below opens. Musik is a great spot to dance and listen to rock and international tunes early into the madrugada (6:30 a.m. to be exact!) My friends and I loved to finish a great evening out with a nightcap here. ¡Viva la vida murciana!
3. Pass through La Merced campus of the Universidad de Murcia
In the center of the capital’s old town is the 13th century campus La Merced of the Universidad de Murcia. This small university is the third oldest in Spain and definitely worth a walk through to admire its elegant architecture. The patio is a quiet place to relax in the shade on a hot day in the city. That is unless there’s a facultad party, which in that case the university shuts down so all the students can party in the courtyard.
4. Have a frozen yogurt in the Plaza de Santo Domingo
Plaza de Santo Domingo is adjacent to the university and has always been my favorite spot to meet up with friends in Murcia. The block is full of different restaurants, bars, and most importantly, ice cream shops! Thanks to the numerous trees in this plaza you can escape the sun here and cool off with a frozen yogurt smothered in fruit or candy.
5. Ride the tram to La Condomina shopping center and stadium
Murcia has an excellent tram system that is relatively new and modern (built in 2011). For less than 2 euros the tram will take you to Murcia’s huge shopping center in about 30 minutes. There you can eat tapas, catch a movie (in Spanish of course), and shop at whatever store you could want. There is also the Real Murcia stadium across the street that has matches for 10-30€ during the football season.
6. Experience the processions during Semana Santa
Photo credit wikipedia.com
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Those guys are really wearing tall, pointed white hats and gowns. But don’t worry, they are not a group of racist extremists. In fact this traditional religious dress of Spain and the hoods of the KKK have no connection whatsoever. For most Americans, however, seeing Semana Santa for the first time can come as a bit of a shock.
Holy Week (the final week of Lent before Easter) is huge in the south of Spain, and even bigger in Murcia. Students and some workers get a week off for vacation, but in Murcia we got two weeks! All of the major streets in the capital are lined with chairs for you to sit on to watch the processions. Floats with figures of Mary and Jesus, flowers, and crosses are paraded around the city in celebration of the upcoming holiday. It really is quite an impressive event and a great reason to visit Murcia for Easter.
7. Party all day for El Bando de la Huerta
Any stereotypes you’ve heard about Spain partying insanely hard are all true. The Spanish know how to have fun! Each region has specific dates and festivals that it’s famous for, all of which involve drinking and eating a LOT. One of Murcia’s most famous festivals is El Bando de la Huerta. This holiday is celebrated all day and night on the Tuesday after Easter. Everyone dresses up in a traditional Murcian outfit of a white shirt, white pants, and a matching colored sash and vest. Then everyone goes out into the city for a botellón, or drinking in the street.
The day of this festival I remember waking up at 8:00 a.m. to the sound of bombs going off without a clue of what was going on. I later found out that Spain is obsessed with these bombs—like fireworks without the lights—that they set off nonstop every celebration. If you like to party, El Bando de la Huerta does not disappoint.
8. Snap some pictures of the statue on Castillo de Monteagudo before it’s gone
Four kilometers north of the capital is a very unique spot in Murcia. Here in a pueblo called Monteagudo you can see a replica of the Jesus of Nazareth statue of Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Because of the crumbling and unsafe condition of the road, you can no longer climb to the very top of the fortress. However you can still go half-way up the mountain for some better close-up pictures. Better visit soon, though, since there have been rumors that the statue might be removed. You never know how much longer it will be there.
9. Make local and international friends at Badulake
Any of my fellow Erasmus students who are reading this know I have to give a shout out to Badulake. It’s because of this place that I met the majority of my friends from Murcia. If you’re like I was, alone in a new foreign city with terrible Spanish, this social hangout is the spot for you. Whether you’re just visiting for the weekend or you’ve moved to Murcia to study or teach, Badulake is a great place for young people to make some new friends. Pay a visit any night of the week for cheap prices and good music.
10. See a play in the Teatro de Romea
Although I haven’t had the chance to go yet, the Teatro de Romea is a gorgeous old theater if you’re interested in seeing a play. This 19th century building is the focal point of the Plaza de Julián Romea. A ticket costs just over 20€ and there are shows all week long except for Monday.
11. Taste local beer on a tour of the Estrella de Levante brewery
Estrella is a brewing company of Spain that has unique brands in different regions of the country. Estrella de Levante, the most famous beer of Murcia, is a light amber-golden pilsner with sweet citrus undertones. The brewery is located four kilometers from the city center. If you call or visit their website you can take a tour of the plant and try this local favorite.
12. Try Murcian tapas with a caña for just 1.50€
For its size, Murcia is an incredibly affordable city, especially when it comes to food. Many restaurants offer a caña (small beer) with a tapa for only 1.50-2.00€. The caña by itself is just 1€. The region is famous for dishes full of fresh vegetables, seafood, jamón, and rice or potatoes. Not sure what you like? Choose a random tapa off the menu like I do and roll the dice! You’re bound to find something you like while getting to know the local cuisine. And for such a low price, you can’t lose.
13. Find cool graffiti pieces all over the city
Ok, maybe I’m the only nerd who does this, but every traveler has that one thing they do in every city they visit. My thing is to look for graffiti. I’ve found some of the neatest pieces I’ve ever seen in Murcia. On my last visit I searched everywhere for this mural of vegetable Alien eating meat and drinking wine, but it was gone! Help me find it? Send me a picture in the comment section of you and Alien if you spot it. The search officially begins….now! Happy hunting.
When should I visit Murcia?
Spring to early summer are great times since it’s not too hot yet. Whatever you do, do NOT come in August. Trust me.
How do I get to the capital?
By plane: Fly into Alicante and take the Alsa bus into the city from right outside the airport. I don’t recommend the Murcia San Javier airport because it’s very far away and isolated with few buses to the capital.
By bus: If you fly into Madrid there are Alsa buses from the bus station or directly from the Barajas aiport to Murcia. It takes 4.5-6.5 hours depending on what bus you take.
By train: From different stations in Madrid there are trains with Renfe that will take you to Murcia in about 4 hours.