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Mérida's Roman Ruins: Are They Worth the Trip?

Are the ancient Roman ruins in Merida Spain worth visiting. Find out if Merida's Roman ruins are worth the journey on your Spanish road trip.

Mérida is a small city of about 60,000 people in Spain's Extremadura region. What is Mérida famous for? 

Founded as Emerita Augusta by the Romans in the first century B.C., the city is famous for its high concentration of well-preserved Roman ruins. The Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We visited Mérida for a day on an extended Spanish road trip. Is Mérida worth visiting? Check out my recommendations of things to do in Mérida and decide for yourself.

Merida Roman Ruins: Temple of Diana

Getting to Mérida

Mérida is not the easiest place to get to. Seville is the closest big city and is about 2 hours by car from Mérida. Alternatively, you can drive to Mérida in about 3 hours from Lisbon, Portugal and 3.5 hours from Madrid

You can take the train to Mérida from Madrid but it takes over four hours. The bus from Seville takes approximately 2.5 to 3 hours.

Merida Roman Ruins: Puente Romano

Why Visit Mérida

Given the out-of-the-way location, you may be wondering: is Mérida worth visiting? I do not recommend planning a dedicated trip to Mérida, but rather incorporating the town into a broader Spanish road trip or Iberian road trip itinerary. 

For example, if you plan to drive from Madrid to Lisbon or vice-versa, Mérida is a great halfway point. Similarly, you could spend the night in Mérida on the way from Seville to Madrid or Lisbon.

Entrance to the National Museum of Roman Art in Mérida Spain

Mérida is definitely worth the trip if you appreciate history, especially ancient history. Mérida's Roman ruins are the number one reason to visit.

If you enjoy theatre in unique settings (and don't mind the heat), Mérida is also worth the trip. The city hosts the Mérida International Classical Theater Festival in July and August each year. The performances are held in the spectacular Roman theatre.

10 Things to do in Mérida for a Day

We found that the Historical-Archaeological ticket that can be purchased at any of the major Roman ruins in Mérida was a good value and helped streamline entry to the different attractions around town. 

For 16 EUR, you can access Roman Theatre and Amphitheatre, the Roman Circus, the Alcazaba, Morería Archaeological Site, the Crypt of the Basilica of Santa Eulalia, and House of Mithraeum and Columbarium. 
Merida Roman Ruins: Statues Inside the Roman Theatre

If you visit at least the Roman Theatre and Amphitheatre (12 EUR) and the Alcazaba (6 EUR) you'll more than recoup the cost of the ticket.

Let's dive into more detail on how we structured our day in Mérida.

1. Visit The Temple of Diana 

After parking the car, we wandered the streets of Mérida until we chanced upon the Temple of Diana, a sacred place constructed by the Romans in the 1st century A.D. We bought our combination ticket here. 

The Temple of Diana is most impressive from the outside, but there is a small museum detailing the rich history of the monument inside. 

Roman Ruins in Merida: Temple of Diana

All of the descriptions are in Spanish, so bring a translator app if you don't speak the language.

2. Explore Merida's Museo Nacional de Arte Romano 

After we completed our visit of Templo de Diana, we made our way to the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano. The National Museum of Roman Art in Mérida is not included in the combination Historical-Archaeological ticket, but entry costs just 3 EUR.

Inside Merida's Museo Nacional de Arte Romano

Head inside the multi-storey, light-filled domed brick structure and marvel at exquisite Roman sculpture, columns, and artifacts of daily life. 

The descriptions are largely in Spanish, but we found laminated cards with descriptions in other languages next to the different wings of the exhibit. Visitors can also scan the QR codes on the wall to pull up English descriptions on a smartphone.

Merida's Roman Ruins: Mosaic inside the National Museum of Roman Art

The highlight of our visit to Museo Nacional de Arte Romano was most definitely the stunning mosaics mounted on the walls. We had the opportunity to view these masterpieces from different vantage points on different levels of the museum.

Merida Roman Ruins: Remains of a wall painting and mosaic in the National Museum of Roman Art

Don't miss the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano if you visit Mérida!

3. Discover Teatro Romano de Mérida

Just across the street from the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano is the Teatro Romano de Mérida. Inaugurated in 8 B.C., the Roman Amphitheatre was by far the most impressive site that we saw on our day trip to Mérida. 

Merida's Roman Ruins: Teatro Romano de Mérida

Not only could we admire the ancient Roman theatre (where performances are still held in the summer to this day), but we also had the chance to explore a coliseum where gladiators once battled. 

Even though we were in Spain, we felt as if we'd been transported to the far Western reaches of the Ancient Roman Empire.

4. Eat Lunch at Casa Maria

Break up the day with lunch at Casa Maria. For just 13.50 EUR at the time of writing, we got a 3 course meal with a glass of wine. 

Where to Eat in Merida: collage of dishes from Casa Maria

Casa Maria looks very traditional but is quite modern. The restaurant was founded in 2017. Beware: the owners have a penchant for 1980s hair bands. We found the dissonance of the modern music and Ancient city to be a fun diversion.

5. Admire Mérida's Plaza de Toros 

After lunch, head toward Cada del Mitreo. This is one of Mérida's sets of Roman ruins on the far reaches of the city. 

Plaza de Toros in Mérida Spain

Mérida is quite compact so it was only a 15 minute walk from lunch to our next destination. En route, we discovered Mérida's colorful bullring which is definitely worth a photo stop.

6. Tour Casa del Mitreo y Área Funeraria de Los Columbarios

Casa del Mitreo is a large Roman house that takes it's name from the artifacts linked to the cult of Mitra (a rival religion to early Christianity) found onsite.

We learned a lot about life in Ancient Rome by paying a visit here. Casa del Mitreo is also connected to a Roman necropolis.

7. Photograph Puente Romano de Mérida 

From Casa del Mitreo, head for Puente Romano, a very impressive Roman bridge, which dates back to the 1st century B.C. The bridge was much longer than I expected and spans nearly 800 meters. 

Puente Romano de Mérida Spain

Mérida's Puente Romano is not open to traffic, just pedestrians and cyclists. I walked a little ways out onto the bridge to take some stunning pictures of the neighboring Alcazaba.

8. Walk the Walls and Courtyards of Alcazaba de Mérida

After you've finished exploring Roman Mérida, fast-forward in time and visit the Alcazaba of Mérida. The Alcazaba de Mérida is the oldest Muslim fortification on the Iberian Peninsula and dates back to the 9th century. 

Entrance to Alcazarejo is included in the Mérida Historical-Archaeological ticket. Climb the walls of the Alcazaba for a birds-eye view over the Guadiana River and the historic site inside the walls.
Inside the Alcazaba de Mérida

Explore inside the walls of the fortress. A highlight for us was descending a steep staircase to a well-preserved historic cistern.

I also appreciated the fruit trees and ancient olive trees planted within the walls. 

9. Stroll Along the Guadiana River

Another fun thing to do in Mérida is walk the shaded tree-lined path along the Rio Guadiana. From here, we could appreciate the natural beauty surrounding this historic Spanish town.

Things to do in Mérida Spain: Walk along the Guadiana River

10. Admire Mérida's Nested Doors and Holiday Decorations

Even though the main reason to visit revolves around visiting Mérida's impressive Roman ruins, don't overlook the city's modern charms. 

My regular readers know that I am obsessed with doors. From the outside, Mérida's doors were nice, but nothing spectacular. Keep an eye out for open doors and look closer. The really beautiful doors are the interior ones.

Nested doors in Merida SpainNested doors in Merida Spain

We visited Mérida as part of a Spanish road trip in December. Keep an eye out for festive Christmas decorations along the shopping streets of Mérida and in her beautiful historic squares to get into the holiday spirit. 

Christmas decorations in Merida Spain

Where to Stay on a Trip to Mérida

There are a number of local hotel options in Mérida, but driving in the city can be challenging due to the very narrow streets. We decided to stay at the AC Marriott in Badajoz which is about a 45 minute drive away from Mérida. The AC Marriott is easy to get to and has a secure parking garage. 

Inside the Alcazaba de Mérida Spain

We drove from Badajoz to Mérida for the day and parked at the José Fernández telpark by Empark just across the Puente Lusitania. The parking lot is ticketless. 

Your licence plate is scanned at the entrance. Type your licence plate number into the payment machine as you're getting ready to leave to settle up your bill. We paid less than 8 EUR for our half day of parking in Merida. 

Where to Next on an Iberian Road Trip?

As you can see, Mérida is definitely worth a visit if you appreciate history. Where should we head next? Perhaps Alqueva Lake in Alentejo, Portugal which is just an hour and a half from Mérida by car. Castelo Branco is another Portugal hidden gem that is worth a visit (located about 2.5 hours from Mérida). 

If you'd prefer to stick with the theme of Roman ruins, I recommend a visit to Segovia and its Roman aqueduct which is about a 4 hour drive from Mérida or Conimbriga (about 3.5 hours from Mérida near Coimbra Portugal). Let's go!

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: Mérida's Roman Ruins: Are They Worth the Trip?
Mérida's Roman Ruins: Are They Worth the Trip?
Are the ancient Roman ruins in Merida Spain worth visiting. Find out if Merida's Roman ruins are worth the journey on your Spanish road trip.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog