Founded in 25 BC, Mérida holds some of Spain's most iconic
Roman ruins. The capital of Extremadura was once part of a Roman
outpost known as Emerita Augusta. You can still see traces of the empire
dotted across this UNESCO Heritage City. Among them is the Teatro
Romano, a theatre that has remained in operation for over 2,000 years.
city really comes alive in the summer with festivals recreating those
ancient traditions. Beyond the theatre, Mérida hides many other relics,
from a Roman temple to a Moorish Alcazaba and a 13th-century basilica.
day is enough to cover the top attractions in Mérida, but if you have a
little more time, you can explore nearby towns like Badajoz and
Cáceres. Below is our suggested itinerary, plus a list of places to eat
and must-see festivals.
Our tour of Mérida begins at the Circo Romano, one of the largest
monuments in the city’s Roman network. The circus could once host up to
30,000 people. For centuries, it was used as a hippodrome welcoming
regular chariot races. Today, there are only remains of the arena and
seating areas. It’s worth visiting the interpretive centre nearby to
learn more about the history of this monument and Diocles, a chariot
racer who began his career in Mérida before moving on to Rome. A
combined ticket gives you access to the circus and other top sites.
Just a few miles south is the Teatro Romano, the most iconic
attraction in Mérida. Established in 15 BC, the theatre is still active
today. Performances are held here every year, including concerts, plays
and ballet. The highlight is the Festival de Teatro Clássico which pays
homage to the ancient theatre traditions of Greece and Rome. Visitors
can sit on the same stone benches and imagine what it was like to attend
a show back in the day. Among the building’s highlights are the
striking Corinthian columns and the central entryway featuring statues
Connected to the Teatro Romano is a Roman amphitheatre dating back to
8BC. In its heyday, this was the stage for gladiatorial contests with
room for 14,000 spectators. The gladiator and lion fresco displayed in
the nearby Museo Nacional de Arte Romano was recovered from here.
Representation of naval battles were also popular, with the stage being
flooded to represent the sea. After the banning of the gladiatorial
contests, the amphitheatre was sadly left to ruins.
Another place worth visiting is the Casa Romana del Anfiteatro, an
ancient Roman villa attached to the amphitheatre. The rooms are very
well preserved, with ancient floor mosaics and frescoes on display.
Remains of the original courtyards, kitchen and thermal baths are also
As the name suggests, this museum is dedicated to Roman Art. The
collection is spread across three floors and includes statues, mosaics,
frescoes, coins and pottery. Most of these items were collected in and
around Mérida and brought to this museum which opened in 1986. Among the
highlights is a bust of Emperor Augustus made with Carrara marble and
wall paintings from the Roman theatre. The building itself stands out
with its terracotta facade and arched entryway. Make sure to allow at
least an hour for your visit.
Our next stop is the Casa del Mitreo. Established between the 1st and
2nd centuries, this Roman villa used to belong to a noble family. The
name comes from a nearby temple dedicated to the cult of Mithra. You can
still spot the house’s stunning mosaics, including the mosaico
cosmológico, which depicts the forces of nature and the creation of the
world. A footpath connects the Casa del Mitreo with the Roman
necropolis, Los Columbarios.
After lunch, continue walking towards the Pórtico del Foro. It’s the
only remainder of the 1st-century Roman Forum that used to be here
during the empire of Augustus. You can still capture the Corinthian
columns and a wall with statues of Roman gods.
Take a break at the nearby Plaza de España, one of the city’s
central squares. Restaurants surround the area with outdoor terraces
perfect for an afternoon drink. The buildings cover a mix of
architectural eras, from the 13th-century Co-cathedral of Santa María la
Mayor to a 16th-century palace, now home to a luxury hotel. The church
occupies the site of a former Visigoth temple. Most of the building was
renovated in the 17th century following a Neoclassical style.
Make your way to the waterfront, stopping to visit Mérida’s Alcazaba.
This Islamic fortress was established around the 9th century by Abd
ar-Rahman II. Some say it was the first Alcazaba of the Al-Andalus
region. Among its noteworthy features are the remains of a Roman cistern
which used to store water from the Guadiana river. It’s worth walking
along the ramparts to take in the views of the Puente Romano and the
riverside. Nearby is a statue of the Loba Capitolina, which honours the
city’s Roman roots.
After visiting the Alcazaba, you can cross the Puente Romano.
Established at the start of the city’s foundation, it is one of the
longest bridges created by the Romans, once connecting Mérida with
Tarragona. The bridge stretches for 792 metres and features 60 granite
arches. From here, you can spot the Puente Lusitania, a modern bridge
designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava.
End the day with a visit to the Zona Arqueológica de Moreria. Here
you’ll find the remains of a Moorish quarter, including the walls and a
cemetery, but also a few Roman ruins. At the visitors' centre is a map
of the city’s old road network.
Arco de Trajano: Established in the 2nd century, this archway stood on
one of the city’s main Roman roads. The 15-metre-high structure may have
served as an entry point to a sacred location. Attached to it is now a
restaurant serving traditional tapas.
Acueducto de los Milagros: This Roman aqueduct used to supply fresh
water to Mérida. Originally it stretched for 10 kilometres, connecting
the city with the Prosérpina Reservoir, also built by the Romans. About
800 metres have remained intact. Beyond the striking architectural
feature, it is a great location to spot nesting storks.
Cripta de Santa Eulalia: Santa Eulalia is the patron saint of Mérida.
There’s been a basilica here since the 5th century, but the structure
you see today is mainly from the 13th century. Below the church are
traces of the old building along with Roman houses and an early
Badajoz: About 43km west of Mérida is Badajoz. The city sits along the
Guadiana river, right on the edge of the border with Portugal. Top
attractions include the red-and-white-striped Plaza Alta, the
13th-century Catedral de San Juan and a Moorish castle which now houses
an archaeological museum. For the best views, you can climb up the Torre
Cáceres: Cáceres is among the must-visit places in Extremadura. The old
town, known as the Ciudad Monumental, is one of the main attractions
here. Medieval walls surround this area full of charming squares and
noble mansions like the Palacio de los Golfines Abajo or the Palacio
Episcopal. More recently, the town served as a stage for the Game of
Monumento Natural Los Barruecos: Just a few miles west of Cáceres is
this striking natural wonder. The area is full of large granitic rocks
shaped by erosion. Visitors can follow one of the walking routes and end
the visit at the Museo Vostell Malpartida. The museum focuses on the
work of German painter Wolf Vostell, a leading figure of the Fluxus
Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe: About a 1h30 minute drive
from Mérida is the tiny village of Guadalupe. It’s around here that
you’ll find the Unesco-listed Royal Monastery of Santa María de
Guadalupe. The structure features a mix of architectural styles with
elements ranging from the 14th to the 18th century. Highlights include
the Baroque retablo by Giraldo de Merlo and the sacristy adorned with
paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán.
There are many things to do with
kids in Mérida. Families can travel back in time by touring the city’s
top attractions. Wander through a Roman amphitheatre or climb up a
Moorish fortress as you view the Guadiana river. When you get tired of
sightseeing, you can retreat to one of the local parks like Parque López
de Ayala or Parque La Isla. This last one features football and
basketball grounds, bike paths and a playground for the little ones.
Alternatively, you can cross the river and enjoy a picnic at the Parque
de las Siete Sillas.
Mérida offers the chance to try some of the
traditional Extremadura dishes. Pork is among the base ingredients. It
can be turned into sausages or used in soups and stews. The proximity to
Portugal has also influenced the local cuisine, with dishes like the
bacalao dorado (fried cod with crispy potatoes). Another popular dish is
the cocido extremeño (pork and chickpea stew). Below are some of the
best places to eat in Mérida:
Bar Los Segovianos: Open from
breakfast to dinner, Segovianos focuses on gluten-free treats. Among the
favourite dishes are the croquettes and the cochifrito segoviano (fried
Sybarit Gastroshop: Sybarit draws visitors with its cosy wooden interior
and outdoor terrace. The restaurant focuses on Mediterranean cuisine
and tapas. It has a great seafood selection with ingredients such as
tuna and octopus featured on the menu.
Hotel ILUNION Mérida Palace (5 stars): Enjoy a luxury stay at this
five-star hotel adorned with stunning Moorish-style interiors. Set
amidst the old town, you can easily walk from here to Mérida’s top
attractions. Within the hotel, guests have access to an outdoor pool,
gym and sauna.
Parador de Mérida (4 stars): Housed in an 18th-century convent, the
Parador de Mérida has kept most of its original features. Guests can
choose between double rooms and suites. Other facilities include an
outdoor garden, a swimming pool and a restaurant focused on Extremaduran
Mérida suffers from extreme temperatures, with harsh cold winters and
summer days often reaching 40ºC or more. With this in mind, the best
time to visit Mérida is between March and June or September and October.
It’s also worth scheduling your trip around local festivals like the
Festival de Teatro Clássico or Semana Santa.
Roman Carnival: Between February and March, Mérida celebrates carnival
with a series of events, including contests and parades. The
celebrations end with the Burial of the Sardine, a procession
symbolising the burying of the past and new beginnings.
Semana Santa: Around Easter, Mérida hosts a series of processions for
Holy Week. These stand out from other celebrations around the country as
they pass through striking landmarks like the Arco de Trajano, the
Puente Romano and the Templo de Diana.
Emerita Lvdica: At the start of summer, Mérida transforms into a Roman
village once again. There are re-enactments of gladiator fights,
traditional rites and scenes from everyday life, like the Roman market.
Festival de Teatro Clássico: If there’s one festival you can’t miss in
Mérida is this one. Every summer, between July and August, the town
comes alive with theatrical performances at the Teatro Romano. While
many are Greco-Latin representations, there is also space for other art
forms, including concerts and film screenings.