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Founded in the early 9th century by Abd-al-Rahman II, emir of the Arab caliph of Córdoba, Murcia - then called Madina Mursiya - would go on to have a long and colorful history that ranged from affluent splendor to debilitating decline. Nowadays, Murcia is a laid-back and wholly pleasant university city with plenty of sights and culture, yet it surprisingly - and fortunately, for us - lacks the frenzied tourism that can all too often chip away at cities' genuine Spanish character.

So what is there to see? Murcia's industrial outskirts are far from impressive, so head straight to the partly pedestrianized Old Center, where the majority of the sights are located along with the most atmospheric bars and restaurants. It's impossible to miss the 14th century Catedral de Santa María, a stunning Gothic construction with Renaissance and Baroque additions that was built on the site of the city's mosque. Hike to top of its 92-meter tower for unbeatable views. Right next door is the impressive Palacio Episcopal, a majestic 18th century building with a Churrigueresque courtyard and Rococo façade.

Thanks to successful silk and agricultural industries, the 18th century was a particularly prosperous period for Murcia, evidence of which can be seen in the numerous Baroque churches gracing the city's streets. A few examples are the Merced, Santa Ana, Santo Domingo and San Miguel churches, as well as the attractive Capilla de Jesús, which now houses a museum dedicated to famous 18th century Murcian sculptor Francisco Salzillo.

Another must-see on any first-time visit to Murcia is the 19th century casino, a resplendent building originally constructed as a gentlemen's club. Inside is a sumptuously decorated building, complete with a billiard room, a ladies powder room, a tea room, an Arab-style vestibule and courtyard and a grand ballroom featuring an elaborate 320-lamp candelabra.

Just outside of the city, don't miss the hilltop Monteagudo Castle, constructed by the Moors in the 11th and 12th centuries and later used - after the Reconquest and until the strategic, kingdom-uniting marriage of Fernando of Aragón and Isabel of Castilla - as a border castle between rivaling Christian kingdoms Castilla and Aragón. Also in Murcia's outskirts is the austere yet magnificent Monasterio de los Jerónimos, a National Historic Monument built in the early 18th century that draws comparisons to Madrid's El Escorial.

To kick back and bask in the chill vibe of Murcia, we recommend the pedestrian areas of the Plaza Romea, Plaza Santo Domingo and Calle de la Trapería - three areas packed with atmospheric bars, terrace cafés and people - as well as the Paseo del Malecón, the picturesque esplanade running alongside the Segura River.

Want more information about Murcia? Have a look at our Murcia Guide

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