Tarragona can essentially be split into three areas. The Parte Alta ('high part') or the Old Town, the attractive and bustling New Town and the marina and port areas.
Although there was a settlement before the Romans arrived in 218 BC, this was when Tarragona, or Tàrraco to give it it's Roman name, came into its own. It became a very cultured city during this time and the Roman remains are still in evidence today to such an extent it was granted world heritage status in 2000.
The Parte Alta ('high part')is, as it's name suggests, on the highest land in the city. It's a beautifully historic and mainly traffic free area dominated by the 12th Century Cathedral and appears almost by surprise as you cross Rambla Vella (running Paralel to Rambla Nova) and climb its narrow, winding streets. The New Town which has the wide, tree lined Rambla Nova through its centre ending with El Balco del Mediterrani overlooking the sea and Roman amphitheatre. Lastly, the marina and port areas which can be accessed from El Balco del Mediterrani by steps which is also the way to the train station. It's not a particularly attractive area but if you're after late clubs and bars you'll find them in the Marina and if you like seafood there are some good restaurants around the port.
The Old Town
A good place to get your bearings is the Passeig arqueològic - a walkway around the walls of the old medieval town known as the Parta Alta. The walls date from the 3rd-18th centuries and through gateways youll find Roman columns, a statue of Roman Emperor Augustus and cannons from the 18th century. There are great views of the old town and the city beyond. Soak up the atmosphere by wandering through the narrow winding streets, and squares of the medieval town.
The focal point of the old town is the Cathedral which is situated at the top of the Calle Major and is reached via a flight of steps. The building of the Cathedral started in 1184 over the remains of an earlier Christian church and Arab mosque, and it is a fine example of the transition between Romanesque and Gothic styles. On the main façade are two Romanesque portals, and an impressive rose window, and the cloisters, with fine Gothic arches, are a peaceful spot.
Take a walk around the city centre and you can uncover some of the city's Roman past. Remains of the city of 'Tarraco' include the amphitheatre close to the sea, the 'circ roma' where chariot races would have been held, the forum and necropolis. Just outside the city is the impressive aqueduct, known as the Puente del Diablo (Devil's Bridge). The Museu Nacional Arqueològic houses a huge collection of Roman remains, artifacts, mosaics, and jewellery. If that's not enough, visit in May and enjoy the Tarraco Viva and Tarraco a Taula festival which celebrates the city's past with cultural events, gladiator fights, and Roman cuisine.
Rambla Nova and Balcon del Mediterraaneo
At some point during your visit you'll find yourself walking along the Rambla Nova - a wide tree-lined boulevard provides a shady walkway leading to the seafront. At one end are fountains and sculptures including one of the Castellers (Human Castles). Heading towards the sea are many shops, and any number of places to stop for a coffee and enjoy the atmosphere. The Rambla ends at the the Balcon del Mediterraneo - an open area backed by a decorative iron railing- and the top meeting point in the city. From here are great views from the amphitheatre to the port, and out across the Med.