Baelo Claudia checks the box for multiple kinds of travelers—the surf and sun set and the culture and history nerds alike. This 2,000-year-old town in Spain was inhabited by Romans until the sixth century. It was abandoned after a series of earthquakes caused heavy damage to the city, and a series of attacks by Barbary and Germanic pirates made the place unsafe. Located beyond the infamous Gates of Hercules (thought to be Gibraltar and the mountains on the other side of the strait in Morocco), on the Playa Bolonia, this town’s main sources of wealth were from tuna fishing and making garum, an umami-rich fish sauce that the Romans put on everything.
The site is considered the most comprehensive Roman ruin on the Iberian Peninsula. The town was even granted official municipium status by Emperor Claudius, which was a rare honor for foreign colonies in the Roman Empire. The archeological area includes a partially restored Roman amphitheater that once sat 2,000, temples built in honor of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva (a rare triad of temples only located in one other Roman town, in Tunisia), and a fourth temple devoted to Isis, the most powerful of the Egyptian gods. There are also the remains of governmental buildings, a public square surrounded by shops and markets, and of course, Roman baths.
Packed with columns and peppered with well-preserved mosaics and statues complete with draping Roman robes, the site also has a museum, run by the Andalusian regional government, that contains many of the artifacts that archeologists found when excavating the site.
When you’ve tired of Roman artifacts and history, Playa Bolonia is just a 10-minute walk down the road. On this golden sand beach, you’ll find a cool mix of locals and tourists from all over the world, drawn to this counterculture beach scene for warm, clear water, consistent winds good for kitesurfing, and the super chill vibes at the chiringuitos. These small beachside bars serve lightly fried fish and glacially cold beer, which you can enjoy while pondering the mountains of Morocco, rising high above the sea just 10 miles across the strait.
Know Before You Go
You’ll need a car to access the site. Parking is free. Admission is 2€. The site is generally open Monday-Saturday from 9am-6pm in the winter months and 9am-9pm in the summer months.