Merida is a delightful surprise in the Extremadura region of Spain, only an hour from the Portuguese border. Home to more Roman ruins than any other place in the country and UNESCO-listed archaeological sites, there are a whole lot of great things to do in Merida Spain to spend a couple of days.
If you are considering visiting the historical city but get overwhelmed by all the things to do Merida Spain has to offer, don’t worry. We recently spent a few days there and will let you in on what to see in Merida in 2 days (or more) to get the most out of your trip.
Whether you go to Merida as part of a larger Spain itinerary or you go on a weekend trip, there are some attractions you don’t want to miss out on during 2 days in the city.
Merida is surely a city that has a lot to offer and we were completely blown away as this city definitely deserves more attention than it gets. Read on to explore this epic city!
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Where to stay in Merida Spain
There are many great hotels in Merida to stay the night. I will give you some options here for different budgets so you can book your accommodation early.
Best Places To Stay in Merida Spain:
LUXURY:Hotel Spa Adealba – take advantage of staying in the historical center, pamper yourself in the spa and wellness center, or book a room with a jacuzzi
MID-RANGE: Hotel Ilunion Mérida Palace – beautiful Arabic-style decor in the heart of Merida historical center. On hot days, you can indulge in the rooftop pool with exquisite city views.
BUDGET: Piedra de Luna – a cozy boutique hotel only a few minutes walk from the historical center.
Things to do in Merida Spain
One of the most important places to visit in Merida is the Roman Theater, which is the best preserved in Europe. It is now part of the UNESCO sites in Merida.
The theater was first built in 16 BC but due to destruction after a fire in the 1st century AD, it was rebuilt by the command of Hadrian. The theater was mainly used for Greek plays which the Romans loved watching and seated 6000 spectators.
There are impressive human size sculptures decorating the stage between massive columns. Walking down the semicircular seating area makes you truly humble to the ancient Roman constructions.
While I have been lucky to explore quite a number of well-preserved Roman ruins in places like Rome, Plovdiv, and Sofia, these are so majestic that they left me awestruck.
In the same archaeological enclosure as the Roman Theater, you find another of the most impressive Merida tourist attractions, the Roman Amphitheater.
It was built in the year 8 BC and had gladiator fights including naval battles as they could fill up the arena with water.
Throughout, you can read informational signs to learn more about the different types of gladiators that fought there and how they were trained.
Next to the Amphitheater, you can see the remains of a villa with statues, standing columns, mosaics, and frescoes still remaining.
National Museum of Roman Art
Across the road from the archeological complex, you find the National Museum of Roman Art. The museum displays a large number of archaeological finds like Roman artifacts found during the excavations in Merida.
Among them are ceramics, coins, sculptures, and mosaics.
As the museum is built on top of an archaeological site, you can also witness the ongoing excavations that still find place there.
Have lunch at Shangri-La
There are so many great places to eat in Merida and I was positively surprised by how vegan-friendly it is there. One of our favorite restaurants that we went back to several times was Shangri La, a lovely vegetarian restaurant with lots of vegan options.
The service was great and the atmosphere was relaxing even though it was full-packed with locals. It is situated right next to the Temple of Diana which is next on the itinerary.
Admire the Temple of Diana
Admiring the Temple of Diana is one of the most impressive free things to do in Merida Spain. It is also one of the oldest buildings in Merida dating back to the times when the Roman city was founded.
The Roman temple was important during the Classical period and the pillars are really well preserved. This might be much because the temple was used by both the Visigoths and the Moors, and later it was integrated into a palace that was built by the Count of Los Corbos.
You can walk up some stairs to a higher level surrounding the temple to get views from a higher angle.
Right next to the Temple of Diana, there is a popular ice cream shop worth stopping at on a hot day if you didn’t have dessert at the restaurant.
The Pórtico del Foro
The Pórtico del Foro is another one of the free attractions in Merida Spain. Roman ruins like these that are so well-preserved are really impressive to see outside Italy.
There are three pillars still holding up a large marble piece and a wall with beautiful statues. The site dates back to the 1st century and was part of the Augusta Emerita Municipal Forum.
The site is situated a short walk from the Temple of Diana and there is a bar right next to it where you can grab a drink with views if you want to admire these incredible remains a little bit longer.
Parque Lopez de Ayala
Parque Lopez de Ayala makes for a lovely stroll through the park on the way to Santa Eulalia Basilica and Crypt. If you feel like you need a sit-down, this is a great place to do it.
Breathe in the sweet scent of the trees, people watch, or grab a coffee at one of the bars surrounding the nearly 100-year-old park.
Santa Eulalia Basilica and Crypt
The impressive Visigothic Basilica of Santa Eulalia should surely be on your Merida must-see list. The visit is divided into 3 different attractions.
Before entering the basilica grounds, you find an impressive shrine built in 1612 dedicated to the saint’s martyrdom. This is free to see, basically standing on the street.
Then you have the basilica and the crypt which are separate tickets, I highly recommend visiting both. The Basilica of Santa Eulalia was built in the 13th Century on the same site as a Roman Temple shortly after the Christian re-conquest.
Roman Public Baths
Even if you’re on a budget when visiting Merida Spain, things to do are plentiful and one of the interesting sites to visit are the ruins of the Roman Public Baths.
They are free to visit as they are basically situated right outside a hotel on a not-so-pretty street corner. Yet, I really enjoyed exploring the old baths.
Between the 1st and 4th centuries, the baths were used by both men and women to relax and as a meeting point.
There were both cold and hot water baths and slaves would heat the water and air with steam as they kept the ovens hot.
Casa del Mitreo
Covering over 2000 square meters, Casa del Mitreo is one of the largest Roman Villas discovered in Europe. It is believed that it must have been an extremely wealthy family living there due to the size and the opulence the remains indicate.
Among the remains, you can see detailed mosaics covering the floor in some of the rooms and several columns.
Behind the villa, there are several tombs that you can see. A visit to Casa Mitreo is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Merida.
Have lunch at Plaza de España
One of the best places for lunch in between the intense Merida sightseeing is the quaint Plaza de España. There are plenty of restaurants and bars there, and you will surely find something you will like there.
It is perfectly situated next to the Alcazaba and the Roman Bridge, so you do not have to walk far from there.
Alcazaba de Merida
The Alcazaba was built by the Moors in the year 835 and is the only significant Moorish remain in Merida. While what to do in Merida usually consists of Roman remains, it is worth visiting the Alcazaba too, considering the Moorish influence in Spain.
There are also Roman and Visigoth remains that the Moors incorporated into the building. The Alcazaba is situated elegantly along the Guadalquivir River overlooking the Roman Bridge as a defensive fortress.
The Roman Bridge is among the top things to see in Merida, Spain. It is the longest Roman Bridge in Europe with its 792 meters crossing the Guadalquivir River.
There are 62 arches holding it up and while it has undergone a number of renovations, it is still in active use to this day as a footbridge.
Aqueduct of Los Milagros
The Romans were famous for building aqueducts to transport water so it is no surprise that one of the most spectacular things to see in Merida Spain are the epic remains of an aqueduct!
It dates back to the 1st century and was used to transport water from the Proserpina Dam to the city. Today’s remains are quite impressive and some of the arches stand as much as 27 meters tall.
Have dinner at Sawadi Thai Restaurant
If you are looking for an unforgettable meal for dinner, I can warmly recommend Sawadi Thai Restaurant. It is a lovely place run by a Spanish-Thai couple and if the food won’t take you right to Thailand in the blink of an eye I don’t know what will.
In my opinion, this is the best Thai food I have had in Spain (and I’ve tried a lot of it!) so kudos to the humble chef!
Reflections on what to do in Merida Spain
That Merida is an underrated city is an understatement. Being one of the most complex and historical hidden gems in Spain, it is really worth spending a couple of days (or longer!)
Merida had been on my bucket list for many years and we were impressed by all the incredible historical sites the city had to offer. We will definitely be back for more of Merida’s attractions when we get a chance.