In the 1700s and 1800s this city in eastern Spain had an economic boom that furnished it with some glorious pieces of baroque art and architecture.
Monuments like the cathedral and the sculptures of Francisco Salzillo need to be your first ports of call to see the best of Murcia’s culture.
You can also step back even further to find traces of the city’s Moorish origins that are integrated into several of the city’s buildings, and on display at the city’s Archaeological Museum.
In the evenings venture onto the squares of the old centre with friends or loved ones for stand-up tapas.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Murcia:
1. Murcia Cathedral
The city’s cathedral has a big medley of architectural styles, but it’s the baroque additions in the 17th and 18th centuries that really catch the eye.
The main baroque facade on Plaza del Cardenal Belluga is breathtakingly grand, with its bold columns and beautiful sculpture of the Virgin Mary with archangel above the main portal.
Inside you’ll step past numerous lavish chapels, but seek out the tomb of King Alfonso X of Castile.
And don’t forget the bell-tower: At 93 metres it’s the second-tallest in Spain (Behind Seville’s Giralda), and took more than 250 years to complete.
By the time it was finished in 1793 it had a fusion of renaissance, baroque, rococo and neoclassical styles.
2. Salzillo Museum
Easter Week in Murcia is particularly special, as the pasos (floats) that are carried in the city’s parades were sculpted by the feted Murcian artist Francisco Salzillo.
He was active in the 18th century, and worked in the baroque style.
At this museum you’ll see many of the stunning pieces designed by him for Semana Santa, and find out about the baroque movement in Murcia at a time when the city was expanding and becoming wealthy from the silk trade.
The sculpture here reflects that sense of confidence, with opulent, gilded Easter Passion scenes full of drama commissioned by Christian brotherhoods and churches.
Also check out Salzillo’s stunning nativity scene, with a large cast of miniature characters.
3. Real Casino de Murcia
Another landmark with a very eclectic design is this gentleman’s club: Construction began in the mid-19th century but wasn’t completed for another 60 years.
This is still a private club but you can book a tour, and you won’t regret it.
The exterior is grand enough, but the interiors are wonderfully plush.
The billiard room for example has Moorish leanings, with a geometric, coffered ceiling, as does the courtyard, which has a two-storey gallery modelled on Andalusia’s great palaces.
The ballroom though has an opulent rococo design, with a ceiling fresco portraying Murcia’s most famous cultural figures, like Francisco Salzillo.
4. Plaza de las Flores
Plaza de las Flores is a short way west of the cathedral, and there may not be a lovelier square in the city.
The square got its name from the florists that are still in business here today.
The townhouses around are from the late-19th and early-20th century, like Edificio de Tejidos Abad, a beautiful art nouveau building with white, square window bays.
Drop by to park yourself at a cafe table and read the paper in the morning, or to go for a beer and a tapa at one of the bars at night.
5. Santa Clara la Real Convent Museum
This historic convent is still in use, right in the middle of the city, on Gran Vía Alfonso X el Sabio.
So when you visit you can only see about a quarter of the complex, but that’s more than enough to show you what an intriguing and beautiful place this is.
It was built in the 1300s over what had been Murcia’s Moorish Alcazar (fortress palace). So there are a lot of decorative Arab elements like horseshoe arches integrated into the design of the convent and displayed at the museum where expertly-crafted wood and plaster decorations are showcased.
6. Floridablanca Garden
Summers can be vicious in Murcia, so when it gets really hot you could take the Puente Viejo to the other side of the Segura River and seek refuge in this little oasis.
It’s the oldest public park in the city, opening in the mid-19th century.
Before then this was a countryside promenade on the right bank of the river.
Murcia soon grew around it and the city decided to build this park, which has flower beds, refined paths and bowers for people to escape the sun.
It was one of the first projects of its kind in Spain.
The largest trees here are old ficuses, with buttress roots that take over everything around them.
7. Monteagudo Castle
Outside the north-eastern suburbs stands a rocky limestone mountain 149 metres in height.
What you’ll see straight away is a large statue of Christ atop the castle walls.
This is from the 20th century, erected in the 1950s after a previous statue from the 20s had been destroyed in the Civil War.
The castle beneath it is from the 800s and was a strategic defence for the Moorish Taifa of Murcia for the next 250 years.
The granaries here were designed to be cavernous so that the castle could survive long sieges.
After the Moors were defeated the Castilian King Alfons X used the castle as his Murcian residence.
8. Plaza del Cardenal Belluga
Take a minute on this square to see some of Murcia’s best monuments laid out in front of you.
As mentioned above, you’ve got that marvellous cathedral facade and this is definitely worth another look.
But there’s also Murcia’s town hall, a mid-19th century neoclassical building with an annex that was added in 1998. This modern structure was designed by Rafael Moneo and contrasts with the florid architecture around it.
And then there’s the 18th-century rococo Episcopal Palace, built to complement the baroque additions to the Cathedral exterior.
9. Murcia Archaeological Museum
Not many tourists make it here, but this museum will enthral the history geeks among us.
That’s because there are more than 2,000 archaeological sites across the Murcian region.
And besides Roman and Moorish heritage, the best discoveries come from the Bronze and Iron Age Iberian cultures.
These people were influenced by trade with the Phoenicians and Etruscans, as you’ll see in the bold designs on the ceramics from this time.
The León de Coy is a marvellous, almost abstract, lion sculpture found at a 4th-century BC necropolis.
10. Almudí Palace
This magnificent building is a grain exchange completed in 1629, and standing on the site of a predecessor that burned down.
It’s yet another manifestation of the wealth that was flooding into the local economy during this era thanks to the silk industry.
Before entering, look up at the large relief of the Habsburg coat of arms, flanked by two smaller emblems for the city of Murcia.
Within is a beautiful Tuscan-style hall with rows of columns supporting broad arches.
This elegant space is used for temporary art exhibitions.
11. Terra Natura Murcia
This zoo has several branches around Spain and has earned a lot of praise for its humane approach.
There are no cramped pens or bars at Terra Natura; instead it tries to create enclosures as close to the animal’s natural habitat as possible.
To do this they’ve planted 500 trees and shrubs trhoughout the park.
As for the zoo’s inhabitants, there are more than 300 animals here, from 50 species.
Among them are endangered creatures like the European lynx, brown bear and Iberian wolf that now only exist in small numbers in the wild.
More exotic animals include hippos, lions, giraffes, white rhinos and an assortment of birds and reptiles.
12. Semana Santa and Bando de la Huerta
Easter time will give you the ultimate crash course in Murcian culture.
First there are the world-famous marches by Christian brotherhoods carrying the Salzillo-designed sculptures.
This event has earned International Tourist Interest in Spain, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find more beautiful pasos (floats) at any other Holy Week procession.
Just days after all this solemnity comes the fun and levity of Bando de la Huerta, Murcia’s one-day spring festival.
The whole city turns out, and most are dressed in Murcian folk costume.
At the main parade horses, donkeys, ox-drawn carts and the gigantes and cabezudos (large papier mâché figures) depart from the Don Juan Manuel neighbourhood and make their way through the centre of town.
There are also rolling food stands, handing out free sandwiches and Murcian blood sausage to the crowds.
13. Costa Cálida and Costa Blanca
The Mediterranean is only 50 kilometres away, so you could be chilling on a beach within an hour of leaving Murcia.
If you head directly east from the city on the RM-1 you’ll come to the quiet beach communities on the southern reaches of the Costa Blanca.
Torre de la Horadada has two sandy Blue Flag beaches, with tempting chiringuitos (beach bars) for when the sea air makes you peckish.
If it’s action you need then the Mar Menor inland lagoon a few kilometres south is one of Spain’s big water sports destinations – plus the mud at Las Charcas on the north shore is supposed to have medicinal properties.
14. Carrascoy and El Valle Regional Park
When Murcians want fresh air and countryside they don’t have to go far.
A large Natural Park is just six kilometres from the city’s southern outskirts.
One of the easiest excursions is the Santuario de la Fuensanta, on a rise in the foothills of the range, with an “instagrammable” panorama of the city.
You’ll recognise it by its twin whitewashed baroque towers.
Behind this there’s a world of mountainous scenery to delve into: The park’s trails are edged by wild herbs like thyme and rosemary, and wend through forests of Aleppo pines and kermes oaks.
15. Mercado de Verónicas
Moments from the Almudí Palace is Murcia’s central market.
If you’re renting a holiday apartment in the city then this is where you’ll want to do your food shop.
You could make it extra authentic by tracking down some of Murcia’s “Denominación de Origen” ingredients, like Calasparra rice, a plump variety that goes well in stews and soups.
Paprika, a core ingredient of many Spanish dishes, is cultivated in the Murcian countryside, while the local cheese is cured and made from goat’s milk.
A great deal of Spain’s fruit and veg is also grown in the Murcia region, so you can be sure of farm-fresh produce at the 116 stalls in this food-lover’s paradise.