This post is part of a series on what to do when you have one day in port on a Cruise. You can find more posts from this series on my page, How To Spend One Day In Port.
On our cruise last fall, we managed to hit many ports during “National Holidays.” The day we docked at the Cartagena Spain cruise port was no different. We docked on November 1, “All Saints Day” (el Dia de Todos Los Santos).
The port of Cartagena is small. However, cruise traffic is substantial. Around 150 Cruise ships visit the port each year. Typically only one ship is in at a time and docks at Pier Alfonso XII Cruise Terminal. Just one ship visiting each day means fewer tourists in town, which, I’ll be honest, is lovely.
For a cruise traveler, this is the best place for a ship to dock. From here it is an easy walk to the center of the city. There is a second cruise dock at Muelle de la Curra. Smaller cruise lines often dock here. This pier is farther south in the harbor, and you may need a shuttle bus to get to the city center.
We didn’t have a plan for this small city in southern Spain, and none of the shore excursions interested us much. Fortunately, Jesus, the fantastic guide we had just toured with in Cadiz, could find a guide willing to show us the town even on a holiday. And so we meet Ramona!
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Next To Cartagena Spain Cruise Port is The Cartagena Naval Base
We meet Ramona just outside the cruise port off Paseo Alfonso XII near the sculpture of “El Zulo.” Without a guide, you will probably stop by the statue due to its size and presence in the harbor. With a guide, we learn this work of art by Victor Ochoa is a tribute to victims of terrorism worldwide.
It’s just a few steps from El Zulo to the end of the sea wall, where the Cola de Ballena (whale tale sculpture) is on the top of the water as if a whale had just started to dive into the bay.
You can see the naval base to the west and north, and you are directly across from the Naval Museum.
The Naval base and the adjacent Arsenal Of Cartagena is one of Spain’s oldest and most important naval ports, dating back to the 18th Century. You can see from my map that this is a very well-protected harbor. With high hills surrounding the entrance to the port, it would have been complicated for Spain’s enemies to sneak in and attack their fleet.
The base is a major naval port and the home of Spain’s Submarine Fleet. And some subs in port that day kindly let us take their picture.
Naval Museum Cartagena – Museo Naval
Located on the west side of the harbor in a building from the 18th Century is the Naval Museum. Originally built to house convicts and enslaved people, the building became the Marine training barracks after Spain’s Civil war in 1939.
Ramona explains to us that the building is now the home of the Polytechnic University of Cartagena. The museum is housed on the main floor of the university.
Because we are in the port of Cartagena on All Saints day, the museum is not open. But as we walk along Calle Pescaderia, we can see through the large windows showcasing some exhibits.
Unfortunately, we can’t see the Isaac Peral Room, which houses the Peral Submarine. The Peral was the first fully electric battery-powered submarine, launched way back in time on September 8, 1888!
The museum is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm. Currently free of charge, although there is a request for a voluntary contribution of 3€.
All Roads Lead To Rome – In This Case, To The Roman Theater
Turning east onto Calle Delfin, we follow the roads through the center of the old town for a few blocks. We pass the Museo del Teatro Romano (Museum of the Roman Theater) and cross the street to the actual Roman Theatre (Teatro Romano de Cartagena).
The Roman Empire was vast. In fact, Cartagena was founded by the Carthaginians around 220 BCE and blossomed during the Roman period.
You find Roman theaters and amphitheaters throughout Europe. Some of these theaters are better preserved and rehabilitated than others. Cartagena’s Roman Theater is a fantastic example of a good restoration. And we are in luck; it is open today!
We choose to forgo the museum but take a walk through the Roman Theater. You enter the theater from the west and are allowed to wander freely through the seating area and stage. The exit is on the east side of the stage. Take your time, though; once you exit, there is no going back.
It’s fun to experience the acoustics the Romans built into the design of their theaters. To test this out, have one person from your group give a short speech on stage while the other sit in various parts of the theater. The sound carries all around.
The Roman Museum and Theater are open Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am – 6 pm, and Sundays from 10 am – 2 pm. They are closed on Mondays. The cost is 6€ (Euros) for Adults, 5€ for Seniors, and 3€ for children. You can get tickets in advance by clicking on the links from Get Your Guide below.
We leave the Roman theater and head uphill on Plaza Porta de la Villa. Ramona is taking us to Castillo de la Concepcion, but first, we have a short detour.
Roman Amphitheater Turned Bull Fighting Ring
Instead of heading straight up to the remains of the medieval castle, we walk along the outer edge of the park on Calle Porta de la Villa to an overlook. From here, Romona points out the Roman Amphitheater to the east that has been turned into a Bullfighting ring.
You can see the stones of the original building at the bottom of the theater. Then, halfway up, the stone color changes from sandstone to a whiter stone. This part of the arena is from the mid-1800s when the old Roman arena was reimagined into a Bullring.
Do you know the difference between a Roman Theater and an Amphitheater? Pretty straightforward; the theaters are half circles and were meant for drama productions (you know, plays and things). Amphitheaters are circular or oval. In Roman times this is where the “games” were played. Naval reenactments, gladiators, and such. Think about the Colleseum in Rome.
A Panoramic Lift – Ascensor Panoramico
Closer to us is the Ascensor Panoramico. If you happen to be visiting the Amphitheater and want to quickly get up the hill to Castillo de la Concepcion, walk over to Calle Gisbert and catch a ride on this panoramic lift.
This lift (elevator for those of us in the US) rises 45 meters from Calle Gisbert to the top of the hill and Parque Torres. Not only do you save the long walk up a steep hill, but you can also enjoy the fantastic view of the city inside the glass cabin of the lift as you rise.
The cost for this shortcut with a view is just 2€!
Castillo De La Concepcion
We double back a bit to Plaza Porta de la Villa and continue our walk up to Castillo de la Concepcion. Over the centuries, this place has been home to a Roman temple, Muslim fortress, and medieval castle. On the way up to the hilltop, we stop at the Torre Linterna (which roughly translates to lantern tower in English).
This tower most likely started as an Arabian lighthouse in the 9th Century. It was later used as a watchtower for the port of Cartagena. Some young boys use the tower to show off their agility, running up the tower and doing back flips.
Continuing up the path up the hill, we finally arrive at the top. We are rewarded with panoramic views of Cartagena. Of course, we must take a picture of our ship, the Sky Princess, sitting in the Cartagena Spain cruise port. There is a thought-provoking sculpture at this highest level in Cartagena. Nine spears pointing toward the heavens, each topped with a symbol.
The castle is also a museum that you can tour. But we are just here for the view. Heading downhill, we follow Cartagena’s side streets to our next stop.
Museo Foro Romano Molinete – Roman Ruins
Foro Romano Moniete is the remains of the original Roman forum of Cartagena. Today we would call a forum a shopping plaza. For many years, this was the center of the city for its citizens. They would shop for household goods and food while socializing with their friends and neighbors.
A forum would also be where you’d find the great orators and politicians of the time giving speeches to broaden their following.
As it’s All Saints Day, the museum is closed. Ramona walks us around the exterior of the archaeological site, which is enclosed by massive windows so the public can see the ancient ruins being excavated and restored.
What you can see on the upper terrace is a temple dedicated to Agustus. Inside was the “curia ordinis” -the meeting place for the local senate. At the foot of the forum is the acropolis on Molinete hill.
Excavations continue today, with new temples and paintings being found nearly daily.
If your cruise ship is in the port of Cartagena on a day when the museum is open, this site is well worth the time and cost to visit.
During high season July 1 – September 15, the museum is open daily from 10 am to 8 pm. The cost for entry is 6€ for adults and 5€ for children and seniors.
Plaza de San Francisco
After walking around the Roman Forum, we make our way to Plaza de San Francisco. This is a vast square in the city center surrounded by retail shops and restaurants. Today most of the shops are closed, but the restaurants are open, and tables and chairs are set up throughout the square for diners like us to enjoy a meal.
Ramona helps us order an assortment of veggies, chicken, bread, cheese, and drinks. This lunch stop comes complete with live music from a local band playing on the bandstand.
Cartagena’s City Hall – Ayuntamiento Cartagena
After lunch, we start our walk back to Cartagena’s cruise port and our ship. Cruise passengers keep a good eye on the clock when in port. Your cruise ship will leave without you if you are not back in time.
We walk west along Calle San Miguel. At the intersection of Calle Jara, next to Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Ramona stops to allow us to view the neo-classical buildings that make up Ayuntamiento Cartagena (City Hall).
Continuing down Calle San Miguel, we turn south onto Calle Mayor, enjoying the beautiful art nouveau buildings that line the boulevard of the old city, including Casino de Cartagena. We do some window shopping here. If you are looking for typical tourist tchotchkes, this is your time to pick them up.
Once back on Paseo Alfonso XII, adjacent to the cruise ship terminal, we say our goodbyes to Ramona with one last photo of the three of us.
National Museum of Underwater Archaeology – Museo Nacional de Arqueologia
If you have a bit of time left before heading back to your ship, there is one last museum you might want to see. Right at the Cartagena cruise port is the Museo Nacional de Arqueologia. Yes, they have a museum dedicated to underwater archaeology right on the pier.
We didn’t have the opportunity to visit the museum on this day in port. But I understand there are some great exhibits from the many vessels that have unfortunately found themselves at the bottom of the sea.
Touring With A Guide – A Great Way To Spend One Day In Cartegena Spain Cruise Port
Ramona took us on a 3 ½ mile, mostly circular walk around the area of Cartagena from the cruise terminal. I say mostly circular because there were a few detours. But hey, I got my 10,000 steps in.
It was fun touring the many recommended places of this ancient port city with a personalized narration. We enjoyed a fine lunch while listening to a local band in the square.
And Ramona shares my love of food and is always looking to share the bounties of Spain’s region of Murcia. You can find great recipes on her blog! All-in-all a pretty good day!
Next stop – Palma de Mallorca!