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Murcia, the baroque university city of south-eastern Spain

Murcia, the baroque university city of south-eastern Spain

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In the south-east of Spain lies the small, unknown Mediterranean region of Murcia. Last spring, we visited this attractive, diverse region. We took walks through the beautiful countryside and along the jagged, sunny coast. In addition, we were enchanted by the authentic culture and the many historical cities. One such city is Murcia, the region’s capital. This charming old student city offers many historical sights, a rich cultural life, beautiful parks and delicious, regional cuisine. In this blog you can read why Murcia should not be left out of a tour of this part of Spain.


History of Murcia in a nutshell

Murcia was founded in the 9th century by the Moorish emir of Cordoba in the middle of the Segura valley. It took another three centuries or so before the city became a major economic centre in the region. Murcia then became a supplier of ceramics, fabrics, metalwork and silk to many countries around the Mediterranean. The beautiful old city wall and some other fortifications are reminders of that heyday. Incidentally, the Moors also provided innovative irrigation systems in the so-called huertas (vegetable gardens). It is these huertas for which Murcia is still famous.

In the mid-13th century, Murcia was conquered by the Christians. The mosques disappeared and new churches were built all over the city. In the late 13th century, Murcia even became a diocese. In the centuries that followed, the city suffered many misfortunes, including the plague. It took until the 18th century before Murcia climbed out of the doldrums again. That century was Murcia’s Golden Age. The population grew exponentially, the economy boomed and many beautiful Baroque buildings sprang up.

Today, Murcia has developed into a vibrant city with a mix of historic charm and modern amenities. The city’s old town is filled with narrow streets, squares and beautiful churches, including Murcia’s famous cathedral. The city is also home to several museums. Examples include the Archaeological Museum and the Museo de Santa Clara la Real, where visitors can learn more about Murcia’s rich history.


A city tour of Murcia’s highlights

We took a guided city tour in Murcia. It was very enjoyable as you get the chance to see the main highlights of the city. You also get to know a lot more about the city and its history. That said, you can also have a fun and particularly interesting city walk without a guide.

A city tour through Murcia usually starts at the beautiful Plaza Cardenal Belluga. After all, this is where some of the city’s most prominent sights are located, such as Murcia’s impressive cathedral, the bishop’s palace and the 19th-century town hall. In addition, every city walk takes you across the Segura to return to the cathedral via a loop. Whichever tour you take, don’t skip the following highlights during your city break to Murcia.

Cathedral in Murcia

Cathedral of Murcia

Murcia’s cathedral is the epitome of the splendour of Spanish religious architecture. Construction of the cathedral began in the 14th century and lasted more than three centuries. You can therefore see Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical architectural styles reflected in the imposing structure.

The interior of the cathedral is possibly even more impressive than its exterior. Think high vaults, beautiful stained-glass windows, Baroque sculpture and artworks by famous artists of the time. The masterpieces take you through the city’s rich and colourful history. You will also find the tomb of King Alfonso X the Wise in the cathedral under the main altar.

Another striking feature of the cathedral is its famous bell tower, the “Campanario”. At 93 metres high, it is the second tallest bell tower in Spain after Seville’s Giralda. It took more than 2.5 centuries to complete the tower. For a panoramic view of the entire city, climb the bell tower!

Cathedral of Murcia

Real Casino de Murcia

The Real Casino in the heart of the city, is not a casino as we know it in the Netherlands. The casino was founded in the mid-19th century as a gentlemen’s club for the wealthy. It is still a private club with now 1,600 members. But if you are decently dressed you are allowed in.

The building itself is a masterpiece of architecture, seamlessly blending neoclassical and baroque elements. With its impressive façade and opulent interiors, Real Casino is a feast for the eyes. The casino features several rooms, including a ballroom in an opulent Rococo style. There is also a magnificent library, a billiard room with Moorish-style elements and a restaurant. It regularly hosts concerts, exhibitions and other cultural events.


Mercado de Verónicas

Right next to the Palacio Almudí (a former grain house from the early 17th century) is Murcia’s covered market: the Mercado de Verónicas. The market is in a beautiful early 20th-century building that was recently renovated.

Inside, you will find a plethora of stalls offering fresh produce and local specialities. From fresh fish and seafood to juicy fruits and vegetables (including Murcia’s famous sweet paprika). But also local delicacies such as dried ham, cheese and olive oil. There are also several eateries where you can enjoy authentic local dishes. From tapas to paella. It is the ideal place to discover and taste the local cuisine.

The beautiful squares of Murcia

In Murcia, you will find many beautiful squares where you can enjoy the city’s rich culture. For example, by people watching. Of course, while savouring a nice coffee on a sunny terrace. The squares not to be missed in Murcia are:

  • Plaza Cardenal Belluga: the city’s most iconic square. It is surrounded by impressive architectural masterpieces. Such as the cathedral, city hall and bishop’s palace.
    Plaza de las Flores: this square is known for its colourful flower stalls (hence the name). It is one of the most energetic places in the city. The mansions around it are from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Plaza de Santo Domingo: this square is a popular meeting place for artists. There is a bohemian atmosphere. At the square you will find a number of art galleries, shops and cafés. Also located here is the beautiful church of Santo Domingo.
Plaza de Santo Domingo
  • Plaza de San Juan: this is the place to be to enjoy a bite to eat and a drink. It is a particularly popular square in the evening when the terraces are pleasantly packed with people enjoying Murcia’s wonderful atmosphere.
  • Plaza Julian Romea: a perfect square for when you want to grab a terrace. Also located on the square is a particularly fine mid-19th-century theatre. The theatre with its magnificent interior is known, among other things, for its good acoustics.

Jardin de Floridablanca

In summer, it can sometimes get very hot in Murcia. In that case, take the old bridge to the other bank of the River Segura. This is where you will find the city’s (some say even Spain’s!) oldest public park: the Jardin de Floridablanca. It is a rather small but pleasant park full of walking paths and huge shady trees.

Plaza de Julian Romea

Other highlights in Murcia

Monteagudo Castle

Just outside the city, on a 150-metre-high hill is Monteagudo Castle, an ancient fortress with a large statue of Christ on top of the castle wall. The castle dates back to the 9th century and was a Moorish strategic defence work. After the Moors were defeated, King Alfonso X used the castle as his residence. The castle is a sight not to be missed, if only for the fantastic views of Murcia and its surroundings!


La Semana Santa

La Semana Santa, or Holy Week (from Palm Sunday to Easter), is one of the most important religious events in Spain. And one of the most spectacular celebrations takes place in Murcia! During this week, the city is richly decorated with colourful flags and flowers but the real highlight of Semana Santa are the magnificent processions.

A different procession is held every day, with a parade passing through the streets dressed in religious robes. The brotherhoods then march through the streets with so-called “tronos” – gigantic wooden constructions topped with images of saints. These tronos sometimes weigh up to thousands of kilos!

What makes Semana Santa in Murcia really special is the music. Each procession is accompanied by the sound of drums and trumpets, creating an impressive and hypnotic atmosphere. The sound of the drums echoes through the city’s narrow streets, creating a unique experience for both participants and spectators.

La Semana Santa

Bando de la Huerta

Two days after Easter, spring comes alive in Murcia with the annual Bando de la Huerta. This colourful event is a tribute to the region’s agricultural heritage. The entire population shows up and most are dressed in Murcian traditional dress.

Bando de la Huerta is a day full of tradition, music, dance and, above all, good food. It starts with a colourful parade. The inhabitants then parade through the streets of Murcia with horses, donkeys, beautifully decorated ox carts and the gigantes and cabezudos (large figures made of papier-mâché). These carts are richly filled with fresh produce from the fertile soils of the region. It is therefore an excellent opportunity to taste the local cuisine.

Bando de la Huerta

We visited the baroque city of Murcia at the invitation of Instituto de Turismo de la Région de Murcia (ITRIM). We compiled the content of the blog independently and objectively based on our own impressions.

Practical tips for visiting the baroque university city of Murcia

Where is the city of Murcia located?

The student city of Murcia is located inland in the east of the Murcia region in south-east Spain.

How do I get to Murcia?

The fastest and easiest way to travel to Murcia is to fly non-stop to Alicante. At the airport, you then proceed with a rental car.

What is the best travel time to visit the city of Murcia?

Murcia is good to visit almost all year round, except perhaps for the usually hot summer. Statistically, most precipitation falls in late autumn and winter. But even in winter, with daytime temperatures of 15 to 16 degrees, the city is fine. In winter, though, be prepared for cold nights, sometimes even night frosts. As it can often get too hot in summer, we prefer spring and early autumn ourselves. Do you really want to experience a fantastic cultural event? Then you should be there during Easter holy week (Semana Santa). Or on the following Tuesday when the annual Bando de la Huerta is held.

Is university town Murcia a nice city?

Murcia has plenty of sights to offer the city tourist, a rich cultural life, beautiful parks and delicious, regional cuisine. But above all, it is a fine city to stay in. Thanks to its many students, the typically Spanish city is also cosmopolitan. In summer, it is nice and quiet as many people head for the coast. In spring and autumn, because of the students, it is very lively but not too busy. Furthermore, you can enjoy delicious food and the many parks and charming plazas.

How many days do I need for a city break to Murcia?

Count on about two days to properly see the main sights and enjoy the cosy student city. Murcia cannot be reached very quickly like Málaga, for example. For this reason, our advice is to visit this city during a week-long tour of the region.

Where can I eat delicious food in Murcia?

Murcia is known for its orchards, kitchen gardens and good quality fruit and vegetables that find their way across Europe but also for its gastronomy. Murcia was still the culinary capital of Spain in 2020 and 2021 with good reason! There is something for everyone in Murcia, whether you are looking for traditional Spanish dishes, tapas or international cuisine. And you can make it as crazy as you want. In Murcia, for instance, you have no fewer than 12 restaurants listed in the Michelin Guide. Two restaurants have one star, one even has two stars. But there are also good affordable restaurants with excellent cuisine in the city. Like El Pilón de la Negra Murcia or - the name says it all - Levantina Good Food. Lover of (really) good wines? Then consider a wine tasting at 1001 Sabores. You will then be served 5 different wines with 5 accompanying cheeses from the region. Delicious!

What are fine accommodations in Murcia?

You can find ample accommodation in Murcia at neatly decent rates. If you come by car, look for a hotel or flat in the city centre with private parking. We ourselves stayed at the 4-star Hotel Murcia Rincón de Pepe, a particularly pleasant and comfortable hotel at a friendly price.