Just an hour south of Catalonia’s capital, Tarragona is a quick day trip from the tourist-packed streets of Barcelona. For the first time, my work sent me somewhere effortlessly cool and full of history, so naturally I loved spending a week in Tarragona wandering La Rambla, eating dinner far too late, and convincing my coworkers to be tourists with me.
After polling my Spanish coworkers on the best spots to go and spend our time, here’s my Houstonian’s Guide on the must-dos and must-sees for Tarragona, Spain!
Learn to make pa amb tomaca. Bread with tomato is a thing in Tarragona or pa amb tomaca in the local language of Catalan. I found it everywhere in Tarragona–the canteen at work, the hotel breakfast spread, tapas menus, etc. Per a coworkers recommendation we went to La Botifarra for the best pan con tomate in town–and it did not disappoint! Basically, you order a toasted piece bread and it comes with a tomato and fresh garlic. You peel the garlic and rub it onto the bread, then slice the tomato in half and rub that onto the piece of bread to taste. Then if you’re feeling so inclined you top with olive oil (gosh, I consumed so much olive oil on this trip) and salt. It’s simple but delightful! We also enjoyed some tapas of cheese, meat and salads. I got a special vegetarian toasted bread with cheese and honey. The service was fantastic and she even treated us to a shot of La Bomba Del Delta, which is a creamy rice liquor from Catalonia.
Eat your way through the city. Tarragona has no shortage of tapas restaraunts. But don’t worry you won’t be just eating patatas bravas and Spanish tortilla all week (unless you want to). Tapas is small plates meant for sharing <insert Iliza joke here> and can range from anything from bougie caramelized apple and sunflower salad to mussels to plates of meat and cheese. Good rule of thumb is to find a place without pictures on the menu. That’s when you know it’s legit and not *super* touristy af. Also, note that most places don’t open for dinner until 9pm. And the service is relaxed to say the least. Don’t expect to get out until 11:30pm or later. Here are some tried and true local places that my Spanish coworkers recommended that not only passed the gluten-free / vegetarian friendly test, but also the French-man, New Yorker standards. Yep, my team consists of some serious food divas, so you know this food is legit…
Quim Quima. This spot located in the Old City next to the cathedral had a great wine menu, which our server took the time to walk us through. As we showed up for dinner at
the reasonable hourof 8pm, we had the whole back patio to ourselves. The local Spaniards started to show up for dinner as the sun set closer to 10pm. This place had a fantastic apple salad and plenty of gluten free options!
- El Vergel. This vegan spot is probably the most highly rated restaurant on Google–over 1000 positive reviews! I brought my coworkers here on one of our last evenings for a delightful detox from the largely bread and cheese diet we’d been eating (that always happens when I got to Europe…). The interior was absolutely delightful, and in addition to having a full vegan menu there was a great artisan beer menu as well.
El Galliner de L’Antiquari. Head to this place if you’re in the mood for eggs. They have a quite a menu full of omelets and fried egg and potato combos. Like most places, if you want to order a beer you just say I’ll have una caña and they’ll bring you the one beer they offer–likely an Estrella.
Xamfrà del Fòrum . Overlooking a collection Roman ruins and fairly intact columns, this restaurant offers a fairly elegant set menu of three courses at a reasonable price. Also complimentary water. Always a win in my book.
Churros. Pretty sure you can get these from just about any gelato or bakery in town. I got some chocolate covered ones from a food truck near the beach. Fried dough covered in chocolate. You can’t go wrong!
Snap a pic with some Roman ruins. Ya got to. They’re all over town so it’s not too hard. It’s kinda like Rome itself with giant walls and half crumbled buildings scattered about the city and fenced off from the public. Barely a few blocks off La Ramba (the main road in Tarragona), you can see giant amphitheaters, city walls and aqueducts. It’s really quite impressive how they’ve stood the test of time.
See a human tower. If you’re lucky to be in town when one of the big competitions are happening, GO! Apparently they make these castells every week from June to November, but I didn’t see any. The castells are a big source of pride in town and if you look carefully, you’ll see it incorporated into all sorts of logos and branding. The tallest tower to date is 10 people tall. Be sure to check out the mighty large iron tower in La Ramba for a photo opp!
Vamos a la playa. Tarragona has a few beaches at the city’s edge. They’re no Menorcan beach, but they get the job done. While I was in Tarragona, an international fireworks competition was going on. So one night we grabbed drinks at Les Granoltes and watch spectacular display of fireworks over Playa de Milagro!
Drink Vermouth. Artisianal vermouth is all over the place in Tarragona and is seeing a renaissance, so naturally we had to try some (I even saw signs boasting vermouth flavored gelato). We wen to Casa de Vermut one night before dinner to check out their homemade vermouth. This happened at several places with wine as well, but basically they put the bottle on the table and you self serve and they charge you for what you drink. The vermouth, which is an herby red wine liquor, is served in a glass with big ice cubes, some olive juice / olive garnish and an orange slice. The taste is pretty unique and I struggle to compare it to anything else I’ve ever tried.
When planning my time in Tarragona, I found this delightful blog that provided all sorts of recommendations and local insight–sort of like the It’s Not Hou of Spain! I highly recommend it for anyone planning a trip to Tarragona for great writing and events calendar!