On the margins of the Ebro river, lies Zaragoza, the capital of the
Aragon region. It sits halfway between Madrid and Barcelona and is one
of Spain’s largest cities. Often overlooked by tourists, Zaragoza is
worth the visit for its remarkable history and architecture. Visitors
will discover ancient Roman theatres alongside Moorish fortresses and
The city’s most important landmarks include La
Seo Cathedral, the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar and the
Aljafería Palace. It’s also the best place to see the works of the
famous Spanish artist Goya, who was born near Zaragoza.
two-day itinerary includes the best things to do in Zaragoza, from the
top attractions to places to eat and festivals you can’t miss.
Morning: Plaza del Pilar (Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar and La Lonja)
Plaza del Pilar is the central square of Zaragoza, making it the perfect
starting point for your tour of the city. It’s here you’ll find the
Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, one of the main attractions in
Overlooking the river, this imposing Baroque cathedral was
originally designed in 1861, but its current look is from the 18th
century. Step inside to admire the opulent interior and then head to the
rooftop for incredible city views.
Other attractions on Plaza del Pilar
include the contemporary fountain Fuente de la Hispanidad, a Goya
memorial and La Lonja, a striking Renaissance building that now uses an
art gallery. Locals have also nicknamed the square “El salón de la
ciudad” as many local festivities take place here. After the cathedral
you can continue to explore the old town, walking through Calle del
Alfonso to see some shops and cafés.
Even if you’re not crossing the Ebro river, it’s worth walking by the
Puente de Piedra. This stone bridge is among the most recognised
landmarks in Zaragoza. It connects the old town to the modern part of
the city and is the perfect picture spot to capture the Basílica de
Nuestra Señora del Pilar. There’s been a bridge here since at least the
Roman era, but the current one dates back to the 15th century, with
renovations being made over time. The bronze lions designed by sculptor
Francisco Rallo were only added in 1991.
You can’t leave Zaragoza without seeing its second cathedral, the
Catedral del Salvador de Zaragoza. Also known as La Seo, this World
Heritage site was established on top of an ancient Roman forum, a
Visigoth church and a Muslim mosque. The result is an eclectic building
that combines a variety of architectural styles including Múdejar,
Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Among its most recent features is the
17th-century bell tower. Inside, you can admire the lofty gold and white
ceilings and elegant altarpieces dating back to the 15th century. The
ticket also gives you access to the Museo de Tapices, a tapestry museum
that has one of the best collections of this kind, mostly including
French and Flemish pieces from the 14th to the 17th century.
Palacio de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Zaragoza
Close to La Seo, is the Palacio de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de
Zaragoza. Established in the 16th-century, it’s a typical Renaissance
palace built for Don Miguel Donlope, a notable local jurist. Since 1912
it’s been the headquarters of the Real Maestranza, hence its current
name. If it’s a weekend you might catch a tour of the inside, where you
can admire the striking wooden dome with Múdejar motifs.
You can spend all day exploring
Zaragoza’s museums. From Roman ruins to contemporary art, there’s a
museum here for everyone. To learn more about the city’s Roman heritage
make sure to check the Caesaraugusta museum route. It includes the
Public Baths Museum, the Caesaraugusta Theatre Museum and the Forum
Museum, all of which explore the history of the ancient Roman city of
Caesaraugusta that stood in this area around the year 14BC.
will enjoy a visit to the Goya Museum dedicated to the work of Francisco
de Goya, as well as the Contemporary Art Centre IAACC Pablo Serrano and
the Museo Pablo Gargallo. Kids, on the other hand, will have fun
exploring the Origami Museum. There are also religious museums such as
the Alma Mater Museum on the site of a former episcopal palace and the
Museo de los Faroles y Rosario de Cristal with its stunning
visiting the museums, take a walk to the Iglesia de Santa María
Magdalena. Located in the heart of the Barrio la Magdalena, this church
stands out with its Mudéjar tower, resembling a minaret. It was closed
for 17 years for restoration works and only reopened in 2019. You can
visit the inside during worship days and admire its Baroque interior.
There are also guided tours available that give you access to the tower
with its panoramic city views. You can find out more about these tours
at the Alma Mater Museum.
you’re in the mood for a bit of shopping, head down to Paseo de la
Independencia. It’s the city’s main shopping boulevard home to a variety
of international brands such as Zara and Massimo Dutti. Even if you’re
not buying anything, it’s worth walking through here to admire the
architecture. Outstanding buildings include the Edificio de Correos and
the Heraldo de Aragon headquarters.
Paseo de la Independencia, take a walk to the Plaza de los Sitios,
passing through the Basílica of Santa Engracia to admire the church’s
Plateresque façade. Los Sítios is a picturesque square home to the Museo
de Zaragoza. Housed in a neo-Renaissance building, this museum was
built for the Hispano-French Exposition in 1908. It’s one of the oldest
museums in Aragon and features a collection of archaeology, ceramics and
fine art pieces, including works by Goya.
your second day in Zaragoza with a tour of the Aljafería Palace. This
fortified Islamic palace is among the best examples of Múdejar
architecture in Spain. The country was under Moorish rule for nearly 800
years and you can still see traces of this era in many of its
buildings. Most of these are located in the south, but Aljafería
is a prime representation of this style outside of Andalusia. Dating
back to the 11th century, the palace features stunning Arabic arches and
intricate carvings. It was used by the Catholic Kings and later served
as military barracks. These days, it’s the headquarters of the Aragon
parliament and it’s open to visitors.
the palace, take a wander around El Gancho. This local neighbourhood is
famous for its street art scene. You can see many murals around Calle
de Las Armas and its side streets. It’s around this area you’ll find
many of the artworks produced during the city’s annual urban art
festival Asalto. If you need a break, stop by the Restaurante Las Armas
for a drink on their terrace.
walking towards the Central Market, stopping by the Church of San Pablo
on your way there. The original building dates back to the
13th/14th-century, but it was modified and enlarged over the years. It’s
another fine example of Mudéjar architecture in Zaragoza and has been a
World Heritage site since 2001. Highlights include the octagonal brick
tower, the Gothic north façade and the gilded altarpiece featuring the
image of Saint Paul.
Central is the city’s main food market. The current building is from
1903, but there’s been a market here since at least the Middle Ages.
Even if you’re not buying anything, it’s worth passing through to admire
the market’s stunning Art Nouveau façade. Inside there are a variety of
stalls selling anything from vegetables to seafood and baked goods. You
can grab some ingredients here and then head to one of the city’s parks
for a picnic.
the market, head down to the river and stop by Plaza César Augusto. This
city square is surrounded by several historical landmarks. There are
the Murallas Romanas, one of the first Roman fortresses erected in the
ancient Caesaraugusta, more than 2000 years ago. On top of these,
there’s the Torreon de la Zuda, a building that started as the
headquarters of the Moslem governors and later served as a residential
palace for the Aragon monarchs. On the other side of the square, you’ll
find the Baroque church of San Juan de los Panetes.
Plaza César Augusto, make your way to another picturesque square, the
Plaza San Felipe. Overlooking the square is the Iglesia de San Felipe y
Santiago el Menor. Construction of this church began in 1686, but it was
only completed in the 18th century, resulting in a mix of Baroque and
Classical elements. Also in the area is a museum dedicated to the
Spanish sculptor Pablo Gargallo and a statue of a little boy who is said
to be looking at a tower that used to stand here.
take a walk towards the Patio de la Infanta. Built in the middle of the
16th century, it was once part of a palace on Calle de San Jorge owned
by the banker Gabriel Zaporta. It has a typical Aragonese Renaissance
style featuring ornate friezes and columns. The building was left
abandoned in the 19th century and most of it was demolished, only the
courtyard and the entrance remained. These were acquired by a French
antiquarian and returned to its current location in the 1950s. Today the
patio houses the Ibercaja bank’s art collection and hosts many
Casa Solans: Most of Zaragoza’s attractions are on the west side of the
river. If you have a bit more time, it’s worth crossing to the other
margin to see the city’s more modern buildings. Among them is the Casa
Solans, a stunning Art Nouveau palace designed in the 1920s for
industrialist Juan Solans.
José Antonio Labordeta Park: On
the outskirts of the city is the Parque José Antonio Labordeta. This
large park is the perfect place for a relaxing stroll or a picnic. It
features botanical gardens, sculptures and a few cafés. You can walk
here or take a tram from Plaza de España.
Piedra: About one hour and a half away from Zaragoza, you’ll find the
Monasterio de Piedra. This Cistercian monastery dates back to the 13th
century, but it was closed down in the 1830s. Later it was acquired by
private owners who converted the grounds into a huge wooded park filled
with caves and waterfalls. The Monks of this monastery were among the
first to sample and produce chocolate in Europe and you can still have
chocolate tastings here today. There are buses from Zaragoza to the
monastery pretty much every day.
Plaza de Toros: Open since the 18th century, Zaragoza’s bullring started as a wooden arena but only gained its current neo-Mudéjar style around 1916. It was the first ring to have a roof in Spain. Bullfighting events still take place here today, especially around October. You can access the main door from Calle Vicente Gómez Salvo.
Teruel: About two hours south from Zaragoza is Teruel. This hilltop
town is famous for its remarkable Múdejar buildings, a style that
combines Gothic and Islamic elements. Ornate wooden ceilings and glazed
tiles can be seen in the town’s towers and churches, many of which are
Huesca: To the north of Zaragoza is the
picturesque town of Huesca. It’s worth exploring its medieval streets
dominated by a Gothic Cathedral. Other attractions include the
Romanesque San Pedro el Viejo Abbey, the Miguel Servet Park and the
Castillo de Montearagón.
Belchite: The village of Belchite is a
stark reminder of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Many of its
buildings were destroyed during a battle in 1937, leaving nothing but
ruins. Today, visitors can join guided tours of the area, which features
the remains of four churches from the 18th century and earlier.
Tarazona: Halfway between Logroño in La Rioja and Zaragoza, you’ll find
Tarazona. Its old town is surrounded by earthy-coloured buildings,
among which is a stunning Gothic and Mudéjar cathedral. It’s worth
coming here for the Cipotegato festival in August when crowds throw
tomatoes at a local dressed as a harlequin.
Daroca: Romanesque and Mudéjar architecture converge in this charming town a few miles south of Zaragoza. Encircled by walls and red cliffs, Daroca feels like an open-air museum with its collection of stone houses and medieval towers.
Calatayud: Nestled amid the Sistema Ibérico mountain range, you’ll find Calatayud, the largest town in Aragon after Zaragoza. When the Arabs arrived in the 8th century, they settled around the Castle of Ayub, which is how the city earned its name. Beyond the castle, visitors can enjoy several World Heritage sites, including the Colegiata de Santa María and the church San Pedro de los Francos.
Like most regions
in Northern Spain, Aragon’s cuisine is very much based around hearty
stews, made of meat and local vegetables. Haricot beans and onions come
from Fuentes, while asparagus are common along the Ebro River. Regional
specialities include cured ham from Teruel, pork loin sausage, lamb and
bacalao al ajoarriero (cod with peppers and tomato sauce). Below are
some of the best places to eat in Zaragoza where you can sample these
delicacies and more:
Hermanos Teresa: This little bar in
the Las Fuentes area serves a variety of delicious tapas. Highlights
include the bacon and borraja croquettes and the pork cheeks. Make sure
to try the sweet tapas like the rice pudding with caramelised topping.
Casa Unai: Close to the José Antonio Labordeta Park, this cosy bar
stands out with its green façade. There’s a daily tapas menu written up
on a chalkboard on the wall. Dishes include octopus stew with potatoes,
stuffed mussels with prawns and monkfish brochette. They also have a
good wine selection.
Cancook: Chef Ramces González is behind
this Michelin-star restaurant in Zaragoza. The young chef along with the
house sommelier have reinvigorated the city’s food scene with their
innovative dishes. They offer several tasting menus, ranging from 10 to
18 courses. For an additional cost, you can also include a wine pairing.
Los Xarmientos: Just a few steps from the city Cathedral, you’ll find
Los Xarmientos. This modern restaurant specialises in Aragonese dishes,
with a special focus on grilled meats. The lamb is a must-try, but you
can also sample seafood, like octopus or the barbecued cod fillet. For
dessert, there’s torrija served with vanilla ice cream.
Montal attracts visitors with its Renaissance-style interior. This
gourmet restaurant has two floors. The ground floor is mostly for tapas
and wine, while upstairs there’s a stunning luxury dining room with
columned archways. Here, you can order tasting menus ranging from €42 to
€59, which include a starter, main dish and a homemade dessert.
Hotel Reina Petronila (5 stars): This contemporary hotel is located
near the José Antonio Labordeta Park. The rooms are spacious and feature
a minimalist decor. There’s a bar on-site and a spa with a jacuzzi, gym
and an indoor pool overlooking the city.
Hotel Catalonia El
Pilar (4 stars): Housed in an early modern building, this elegant hotel
is only a few steps away from the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
The outdoor façade stands out with its wrought-iron balconies and
window embellishments. Facilities include a restaurant, a bar and a
Zrooms Apartamentos: Also near the Basílica is this
stylish boutique hotel. At Zrooms you can choose between suites or
apartments. Some of these come with small balconies or home cinema
projectors. The location near Plaza del Pilar is ideal to explore the
city’s main attractions.
best time to visit Zaragoza is in spring or autumn, when the
temperatures are mild enough to explore the city. Zaragoza enjoys a long
Spanish summer. June to September are the hottest months, with
temperatures reaching 30ºC and even 40ºC. If you want to avoid the heat
and the chilly winter days, May and October are your best bet. If you
come in October you’ll also catch the Festival del Pilar, one of the
city’s most important events. You can schedule your trip around other
local festivities too, which we mention in the next section.
Cincomarzada: On the 5th of March, Zaragoza celebrates the 1838 ousting
of Carlist troops. Concerts, games and picnics are all part of the
party which takes over the city’s parks, with the main venue being
Parque Tío Jorge.
Festival Asalto: Every year around
September, Zaragoza hosts the Festival Asalto. For a week, Spanish and
international artists come together to paint some of the city’s walls
with their colourful murals. Most of the action happens around the El
Gancho neighbourhood. Alongside these are a series of workshops and
Fiestas del Pilar: If you visit Zaragoza in
October, you can’t miss the Fiestas del Pilar. This week-long festival
is the biggest celebration in the city and includes huge parades and
street performances. The main event, however, is the Flower Offering on
the 12th of October when hundreds of locals pile flowers around the
Virgin statue brought on to Plaza del Pilar.