With Medieval walled towns that featured as Game of Thrones locations, well preserved Roman remains and a long association with the 16th century explorers of the New World, Extremadura is a perfect destination for lovers of culture and history.
This unspoiled region of Spain is little known by overseas visitors, and to help you discover the area I’ve put together a driving tour that can be made in a few days as a long weekend break, or extended to spend a week or more in Extremadura. Taking in historic towns and cities like Trujillo, Mérida, Cáceres and Badajoz, come along as we discover all the things to do in Extremadura on a short road trip.
Best things to do in Trujillo, Extremadura
If you fly into Madrid, which is likely to be the closest Spanish airport, you can pick up a hire car and head to Trujillo for the first stop on our driving tour. Known as the Birthplace of the Discoverers, since the famous Conquistador Francisco Pizarro was born here, let’s make Trujillo the first place to visit in Extremadura. It’s one of the best preserved medieval towns in Spain, set on a rocky outcrop with a walled old quarter and many buildings that date back to its heyday of prosperity in the 15th and 16th centuries. Here are some of the key things you will want to visit in Trujillo:
Plaza Mayor – As with most Spanish towns, the Plaza Mayor or main square of Trujillo is a place to gather, especially on summer evenings when floodlights add to the atmosphere. In this spacious plaza, you’ll find the Iglesia de San Martin and arched Renaissance porticoes, used by traders and artisans in centuries past, presided over by the more recent addition of a bronze statue of Francisco Pizarro on horseback.
The Palacio of Trujillo – Around the main square are the grand houses built in the 16th centuries by notable families of the town, such as the Palacio de la Conquista, which was commissioned by Hernando Pizarro, brother of the great explorer, with an intricately carved stone facade and ornate balcony.
From the main square, walk up the hill into the Historic Centre, which is enclosed by 900 metres of high walls, with winding streets, hidden courtyards and four of the original town gates remaining.
At the highest point of the old town, you’ll find the Castillo de Trujillo, built of granite with defensive towers. It was built between the 7th and 12th centuries, on the site of an older Moslem citadel and a walk along the walls offers stunning views over the town and surrounding countryside. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you may have spotted the castle as the setting of the fictional Casterly Rock, the ancestral home of the Lannisters, in Season 7 of the hit series.
As you wander around the old town, look out for Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor, which is the oldest and most important religious building in the town. You can climb its Julia Tower that dates back to the 13th century, for views across to the castle and old town. Also worth visiting is the Alberca or Moorish water cistern, carved out of solid rock, which can be visited as part of a guided tour.
There are a couple of museums in Trujillo that you may like to visit, which are situated close to each other in the old town. The Museu de la Coria is set around the courtyards of an old convent and explores the ties between Extremadura and Spanish-America. Nearby the Pizarro House Museum offers an insight into the famous explorer, Francisco Pizarro who was born in 1474 in Trujillo, and sailed to the New World to claim Peru for the Spanish crown.
Visitor information for Trujillo
- Driving time from Madrid Airport to Trujillo is 2.5 hours
- View and download a map of Trujillo, which is also available at the local tourism office in Plaza Mayor.
- More information about what to see in Trujillo is available from the Extremadura Tourism website.
Hotels in Trujillo
If you are looking for a place to stay in Trujillo, take a look at the following hotels.
Best things to do in Cáceres, Extremadura
Our driving tour takes us in less than an hour to Cáceres. The old town or Ciudad Monumental, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with high walls that enclose a well preserved collection of Medieval and Renaissance buildings, many built from the prosperity of riches arriving in the 16th century from the Americas.
This capital of the Upper Extremadura region is also a vibrant cultural centre, hosting the WOMAD Festival and 4 of the University of Extremadura campuses. With so many well preserved medieval buildings, its unsurprising that the cobbled streets and squares of Cáceres were used as a backdrop for filming Game of Thrones during the Season 7 series. Here are some of things to see in Cáceres that you won’t want to miss;
In the Plaza Mayor, the 25 metre high solid stone Bujaco tower was built in the 12th century and is named after the Arab Caliph who conquered the town in 1173. The tower houses displays about the history of Cáceres and can be climbed for a view over Plaza Mayor. From here you can also walk over the Estrella Arch, that leads to the old town and was widened in the 18th century to allow carriages to pass through.
Passing through the Estrella arch from the main square, you enter the old city or Ciudad Monumental, enclosed by walls built by the Romans. Look up to spot the stork nests that Cáceres is known for, which sit on the rooftops and in the trees. At the heart of the medieval town stands the Church Cathedral of Santa Maria, with a belltower you can climb to get views over the old city.
Visit the Cáceres Museum which is housed in the Palacio de las Veletas, with a collection of sculpture, precious objects and painting, as well as the works of contemporary Spanish artists such as Picasso and Miro.
Lovers of contemporary art will enjoy the Helga de Alvear Visual Arts Centre – located in the historic quarter of Cáceres, the art museum houses over 2000 pieces of contemporary art, from the private collection of Helga de Alvear.
Festivals in Cáceres – if you are planning to visit in the autumn, it’s worth timing your visit to Cáceres with the Medieval Festival that takes place in November, when the town is taken over by all things medieval, with street entertainment, crafts and gastronomy. The Holy Week celebrations also attract thousands of visitors, who gather to watch the religious parades and processions through the medieval city, in the week before Easter.
Hotels in Cáceres
If you are looking for a place to stay in Cáceres, take a look at the following hotels.
Visitor information for Cáceres
- Driving time from Trujillo to Cáceres 35 mins
- View and download a map of Caceres, which is also available at the local tourism office.
- More information about what to see in Caceres is available from the Extremadura Tourism website.
Best things to do in Badajoz, Extremadura
Our driving tour of Extremadura takes us next to Badajoz, which is a 1.5 hour drive from Cáceres. Located close to the border with Portugal, Badajoz offers the lively atmosphere of a modern city and university town, with four of the campuses of the University of Extremadura. The city is also known for its Arab heritage, with the largest Arab fortress built in Europe and plenty of fascinating museums to visit.
Let’s start with a visit to Alcazaba de Badajoz. The 72,500 square metre fortress is the largest in Spain, built strategically to control the borderlands between Spain and Portugal and designed to be impenetrable. Modern day visitors enter through one of the four gates, to find within the walls the Palace of the Counts of Roca, which houses the Archaeological Museum, Alcazaba gardens, towers and views from fortress walls.
The Plaza Alta is an open square that sits beneath the walls of the Alcazaba, with the distinctive red and white Moorish patterns on the facade of the Casas Coloradas to one side of the square.
Nearby is the Plaza de la Soledad, a small square where you can see the striking Giralda building which was built in the 1930s in Andalucian ‘Regionalist’ style and modernist building Las Tres Campanas, which was formerly a toy shop and takes its name from the clock bells at the top of the facade.
The MEIAC Museum of contemporary art is set in an old prison, which is striking for its cylindrical shape and houses a collection of contemporary Spanish, Portuguese and Ibero-American art. The Museo de Bellas Artes also has a collection of artworks by Spanish masters such as Goya, Picasso, Dali and local artist Zurbaran.
Carnival time is a big celebration in Badajoz, but you can get a taste for it all year round when you visit the Museo del Carnaval in the La Poterna building. On display are the elaborate carnival costumes and you can see the workshops where they are made and discover more about the carnival traditions.
Visitor information for Badajoz
- Driving time Caceres to Badajoz 1 hr 15 mins
- More information about what to see in Bandajoz is available from the Extremadura Tourism website.
Things to do in Mérida, Extremadura
The final stop on our driving tour of Extremadura is Mérida, which is the capital of the autonomous region of Extremadura, but perhaps better known for its well preserved Roman archaeological remains.
The Roman Remains at Mérida – This UNESCO World Heritage site dates back to the Roman colony founded by Emperor Octavia Augustus in the year 25BC and there are a number of different monuments to visit within the old Roman walls, including the Roman Theatre, Amphitheatre, Temple of Diana, Arch of Trajan and Temple of Mars.
The Roman bridge crosses the Guadiana River at its shallowest point with 60 arches and gives a great view of the city. It’s now used just by pedestrians, since road traffic has moved to the newer Puente de Lusitania, built in 1991 and designed by the well known Spanish architect Calatrava.
To find out more about the Romans in Merida, visit the National Museum of Roman Art which shows how life was lived in the Roman province of Hispania. The museum includes sculptures, mosaic floors and daily objects from Roman households.
The Alcazaba of Mérida – this Arab Fortress is located beside the Roman Bridge and was constructed by the Moorish rulers in 835, to control passage across the river. A walk along the top of the fortified walls gives views over the river and you can also see the stone cistern filled with water which has been filtered through sand.
Los Milagros Aqueduct – just outside Mérida you can also visit the 800 metre stretch of aqueduct that was designed to bring water to the city from the Proserpina reservoir. It’s known as Los Milagros ‘the miraculous’ in admiration for this feat of engineering and the surrounding green space is popular for walking and sport.
If you are excited by all things Roman, you may like to time your visit with the Emerita Lvidca festival which takes place in June, when the city steps back in time to its Roman past. Events at the festival include re-enactments, gladiator fights, fashion shows of Roman clothing and the Noche en Blanco, when everyone can visit the Roman monuments late into the night.
Our driving tour ends here and if you just have a few days you can return to the closest airport such as Madrid. We recommend a day in each of the places mentioned, but you can spend longer or to extend your trip to visit more of Extremadura in Spain
Hotel in Mérida
If you are looking for a place to stay in Mérida, take a look at the following hotels.
Visitor information for Merida
- Driving time Banajoz to Merida 45 mins
- View and download a map of Merida, which is also available at the local tourism office.
- More information about what to see in Merida is available from the Extremadura Tourism website.
Information for visiting Extremadura in Spain
You will find more information to plan your visit on the Extremadura Tourism Website
As an alternative, you may like to drive the Discoverer’s Route, which includes some of the places mentioned and visits the birthplaces of the famous 16th century Spanish explorers.
The main airport in the Extremadura region is at Badajoz and other closest airports are Madrid or Seville in Spain, or Lisbon in Portugal.
Advertising Feature – this article was written by Heather Cowper and sponsored* by Extremadura Tourism Region
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Photo Credits: Most Photos from Extremadura Tourism | Renaissance Gardens by Francisco Leão