As of 2008 (after uniting the old Tanabe city with several smaller villages including Hongū, Ryūjin, Nakahechi and Ōtō), the city has an estimated population of 80,398 and a density of 78.3 persons per km². The total area is 1026.77 km². The city was founded on May 20, 1942.
Tanabe is on the coast and surrounded by mountains. Tanabe is the point at which the Kumano Kodō (熊野古道) ancient pilgrimage road turns inland from the coast. There is a district with many bars in front of JR Kii-Tanabe (紀伊田辺) train station. There is a bridge to a nearby island called Motoshima. Kashima Island, off the coast of Tanabe, is closed to the general public.
A major attraction is Ogigahama beach, which has recently been expanded. A nearby city, Shirahama, is famous for its artificial white beach, and Tanabe has now constructed a beach of its own in hopes of drawing more tourists. The beachfront area is the site of the Benkei Matsuri (a Yosakoi dance festival that takes place in October).
Another beach in the main city is Tenjinzaki Cape, a preserved beach made of layered slabs of rock formation. The beach is submerged with water during high tides and revealed during low tides. It is also known as the birthplace of the Japan National Trust movement. Tenjinzaki Cape serves as a place of recreation and relaxation for citizens. People also enjoy fishing and shellfish gathering.
Within Tanabe City, there are many famous sites on the Kumano Kodō ancient pilgrimage road, particularly in the Nakahechi and Hongu districts. Famous sites include Kumano Hongū Taisha (熊野本宮大社), one of the three major Kumano Shrines in Wakayama prefecture, numerous small Ōji shrines, and the Nakahechi Route of the Kumano Kodō, approximately 65 kilometers in length Kumano Kodō and covering a variety of terrain.
Tanabe City also hosts many unique hot springs. Kawayu Onsen, a hot spring in the Kumano River in the Hongu district, is one example. Tourists can dig their own bathtubs next to the river during regular seasons. Between November and February, part of the river is blocked off to make a giant bathtub that can fit hundreds of guests at once. The Ryujin district is home to Ryūjin Onsen, accessible by bus from JR Kii-Tanabe station.
Takaoyama mountain overlooks the area. From the top of this mountain, you can see the cities of Minabe, Tanabe and Shirahama. Between Tanabe and Shirahama is a little-known temple called Kinkakuji (not to be confused with the famous Kinkakuji in Kyoto). Located near Takaoyama mountain is Kisetsukyo Gorge, and in the Ryujin district is Hyakkenzan Gorge, both of which feature waterfalls and walking courses.
On May 1, 2005 the village of Ryūjin, from Hidaka District, the town of Nakahechi, the village of Ōtō, both from Nishimuro District, and the town of Hongū, from Higashimuro District, were merged into Tanabe.