How To Spend One Day in Tarifa
Updated: Jul 13
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Those of you who are familiar with Tarifa will probably know it as the kite-surfing capital of Europe, or as the perfect place to go whale watching. This small town in the Province of Cádiz almost constantly has high winds running through it, even in the town itself, so be prepared for a very messy hair day. If you’re less interested in watersports and more interested in exploring old towns and medieval structures, you’ll be pleased to know that Tarifa has that too! There’s something for everyone if you’re planning one day in Tarifa.
Tarifa is located at the southernmost tip of Spain, and on a clear day offers beautiful views over the water to Africa. You can even plan a day trip to Tangier in Morocco if you want! Due to its close proximity to Africa, Tarifa was the first point of contact in Spain for the Moors in the medieval period, and the town itself was named after a Moorish invader. Even before the Moors settled here, it was inhabited by both the Phoenicians and Romans, whose ruins you can still find surrounding Tarifa.
This chilled, bohemian Spanish coastal town is unlike any other in the country and will have you wanting to stay longer than one day in Tarifa. But if one day is all you can manage during your trip to southern Spain, here are the best things to do in Tarifa (other than hitting the beach).
Grab some breakfast at Café Azul
There are a lot of cafés around Tarifa to choose from, but there’s no better way to start the day than at Café Azul. This is a very popular place to eat in Tarifa so chances are you’ll have to wait in a small queue - but it’s worth it! The menu is vast so you can order everything from delicious and healthy acai bowls to crepes filled with bananas and Nutella. Or if you enjoy salmon for breakfast the Don Enrique is a great option which you can add an egg of your choosing to. Don’t leave without trying one of their freshly made smoothies or juices either because they’re very refreshing. The next time we’re in Tarifa we’ll be heading to Café Azul for our breakfast fix.
Castillo de Guzmán el Bueno
One of the best things to see in Tarifa is Castillo de Guzmán el Bueno. It was originally built as a Moorish fortress in 960, and by the late 13th century was under the control of the Christian king. The castle’s position directly along the waterfront facing Africa made it an important defensive structure for the next few centuries as the Christian army continued to drive the Moors out of southern Spain. The castle has recently been renovated and there are a number of exhibitions inside of the castle to look at which dive deeper into its history. It costs only €4 to enter, so it’s a relatively inexpensive attraction in Tarifa to visit. If you only have one day in Tarifa, make sure you visit this castle - the views from the top are incredible!
There are plenty of viewpoints around the town where you can catch a glimpse of Africa from on a clear day. One of these is called Mirador Africa and is located only a few minutes walk from the castle. It was a beautiful day when we visited, but the wind was atrocious, so we couldn’t sit and enjoy the small garden area here as much as we would have liked, but I would still recommend adding it to your itinerary as it’s completely free to access. Parking in Tarifa is a bit tricky if you don’t want to pay, but we found a few spots near this area which were vacant and it took less than 10 minutes to walk into the old town from here too which was ideal.
Murallas de Tarifa
As you make your way around Tarifa’s old town you’ll notice that there are still some remnants of the town walls to look at. The Murallas de Tarifa are most prominent along the waterfront, connecting to the castle. There’s an impressive tower that you can walk up which sits in the gardens of Mirador Africa, giving you a slightly higher view of the port of Tarifa. You’ll also be able to see Tarifa’s lighthouse and the promenade leading to Isla de las Palomas, which is popular to walk along on a nice day. This is a lovely spot to visit during your one day in Tarifa.
Biblioteca Pública Municipal Mercedes Gaibrois
Not far from Mirador Africa is this beautiful whitewashed building situated within a small plaza at the back of the castle. Biblioteca Pública Municipal Mercedes Gaibrois is a unique building to see in Tarifa which can only be accessed through the castle, and is a very popular workspace for people looking for some peace and quiet. Although we didn’t go inside of the library to take a look, the outside is very impressive and it stands overlooking a beautiful plaza which is shaded by trees - perfect for sitting in on a hot day.
Plaza de Santa María
Plaza de Santa María is where the library is located, and it gets its name from the small 14th century church that's tucked away in the corner, accessible only through the castle. It’s locally known as the Little Frog Square though, due to the unusual star-shaped fountain decorated with ceramic frogs on it that can be found in the centre, similar to another fountain found in Vejer de la Frontera. You can also find the town hall in this plaza which is the building shown in the photo. Make sure you stop by this area during your one day in Tarifa, it’s a beautiful spot for photos and isn’t as crowded as the main streets of the old town.
The best ice cream in Tarifa has to be from GIOELIA Cremeria. There are a series of steps leading from Plaza de Santa María towards the old town, and just at the bottom of those steps is where you’ll find this ice cream shop. The prices are very reasonable and if you love ice cream as much as I do then you’ll definitely be impressed with their selection of flavours. Be prepared to eat your ice cream fast though, as the hot weather starts melting it almost instantly!
Centro Histórico de Tarifa
If you have time during your one day in Tarifa, make sure you walk around its historic town centre. The narrow, winding streets lined with boutique shops, picturesque tapas bars, and unique restaurants serving only the freshest, local ingredients is yet another reason to visit Tarifa. The town itself was originally a fortress before it became a fishing town, so you can still see much of its Roman and Moorish influence in its walls and street layouts. If you’re planning on staying longer than one day, the nightlife in Tarifa is supposed to be pretty incredible!
Iglesia de San Mateo Apóstol
One of the main attractions in Tarifa is Iglesia de San Mateo Apóstol, which is located right in the heart of the old town. It was built in the early 16th century on the site of an old mosque, and over the centuries has undergone a series of alterations and restorations. It sits at the end of one of the main streets in Tarifa so it’s very easy to locate, and if the doors are open I would recommend taking a quick look inside. It’s one point of interest you can’t miss if you’re spending one day in Tarifa.
Fancy a cocktail? Head over to Taco Way, one of the most popular bars in Tarifa. It’s a Mexican themed cocktail bar which is always busy during the summer months. We visited Tarifa at the end of September so it was a little quieter. Their margaritas are VERY strong as they free-pour the tequila, so brace yourself if you’re planning on getting a few cocktails here. They also have sports playing on the TV’s so it’s a nice place to chill and watch some football too.
Puerta de Jerez
At the top of a rather steep hill in Tarifa’s old town is where you’ll find Puerta de Jerez, the last remaining entrance through the original Moorish walls that still stands today. It’s estimated that it dates back to the 13th century, and was later reinforced by the Christian army who took control of the town. The gate was given its name as it leads towards the road connecting Tarifa to Jerez de la Frontera. The photo above is from inside the gate, but it’s much more impressive from the main road - it was difficult to get a photo of in its entirety without being run over!
Castillo de Santa Catalina
There are plenty of things to do in Tarifa, but don’t forget to check out the impressive Castillo de Santa Catalina which sits at the top of a hill along the waterfront. It may look like a medieval watchtower, but it was actually constructed in 1931 in the style of a 16th century castle. It’s had a very eventful history until now, being used in both World War II and the Spanish Civil War, but today it remains closed to the public.
Walk between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea
Tarifa has a lot of amazing things to see but one of the most unique things to do in Tarifa has to be walking between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Just past Castillo de Santa Catalina is a long stretch of road that connects Tarifa to Isla de Tarifa. This road separates the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea and halfway along the road is a fun photo spot which marks the separation. You won’t find anything else like it which is why it’s something you need to visit during a day in Tarifa.
Go whale and dolphin watching with Firmm
Did you know that you can go dolphin and whale watching in Tarifa? Unlike other similar excursions in the area, with Firmm you’ll get a fully educational experience and be part of their research all while having respectful contact with the ocean. Their 2 hour tour costs €45 per person and it’s recommended that you arrive an hour before departure to pick up your ticket and listen to an interesting presentation about the potential mammals that you’ll see and the environment that they live in. During our trip we saw several whales up close as well as a few dolphins as we made our way back to shore. Whale and dolphin watching has been on my Spain bucket list for a while so this was definitely a highlight of our day in Tarifa for me.
Mirador del Estrecho
Sitting a short drive from the centre of Tarifa is a very popular viewpoint known as Mirador del Estrecho which overlooks the Strait of Gibraltar. It was a bit hazy and very windy when we visited, so unfortunately we weren’t able to see Africa from here, but on a clear day you can get some incredible views of the continent from this spot. There’s also a restaurant here, so it’s a nice stop as part of a road trip through southern Spain too. You may not have time to stop here during your one day in Tarifa, but it’s worth the short drive if you do!
There’s no better way to end your one day in Tarifa than to treat yourself to a meal at the stunning Axta Restaurante. This restaurant is tucked away down a narrow street and is situated in a manor house that dates back to 1868. In their dishes they use local and seasonal produce, and they're all freshly prepared to order. You’ll see a number of traditional Spanish dishes on the menu at Atxa Restaurante, but they are presented in a modern way which is what makes this restaurant in Tarifa so unique.
We tried their taster menu so we were able to sample some of their most popular menu items. Everything was delicious and expertly presented from the artisan bread, to the fresh mussels, to the delectable dessert. There’s no need to wonder about where to eat in Tarifa anymore!
If you have some extra time during your one day in Tarifa, I would highly recommend taking a short 25 minute drive to see the incredible Roman ruins in Bolonia - Baelo Claudia. It’s one of Andalucía’s most well-preserved Roman archaeological sites, dating back to the 2nd century BC, and sits along one of the most popular beaches along the Costa de la Luz. While you’re there, a quick walk up the famous sand dunes of Bolonia is a must as they’re some of the biggest in all of Europe and offer incredible views of the coastline.
Tarifa is the perfect coastal town in Cádiz to visit if you’re looking for a blend of pristine beaches, historical landmarks, and an overall chilled vibe. While there really is no best time to visit Tarifa, it’s much less crowded and slightly cooler from September onward. If you’re interested in planning a day trip from Málaga to Tarifa, it takes just under 2 hours to drive to by car, and a drive from Cádiz to Tarifa takes just over an hour. The next time you find yourself in southern Spain, try to plan at least one day in Tarifa!
Have you visited Tarifa before? Let me know your thoughts on this beautiful Andalucían coastal town in the comments below. And if you have any questions about visiting Tarifa or southern Spain in general, feel free to get in touch! Don’t forget to follow my travels through Instagram!
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