I recently visited Zaragoza as part of the SpainCities Project, the idea was to explore a lesser known Spanish City and I feel very lucky to have been given the chance to see Zaragoza. It was a city that I hadn’t heard of before the project but will be telling people about for years to come because it’s a cultural, Spanish gem!
Zaragoza is in the Northern part of Spain in the Aragon region and the 5th biggest City in Spain. It is home to an array of museums with museums dedicated to art and Roman History in particular. It holds a lot of important religious sites, a large number of beautiful Renaissance buildings and in addition to this the food and wine scene is incredible and it’s people are extremely hospitable.
I would highly recommend Zaragoza as a city to visit if you want to see an authentic side of Spain. It’s a perfect city to visit if you enjoy museums and architecture, good food and wine and want a relaxed trip.
To help you out with your visit, here is my 48 Hour Guide to Zaragoza!
Morning to Mid Afternoon
Start your day by heading to the Plaza del Pilar, this is one of the largest pedestrian squares in Europe, check out the waterfall at one end which represents Latin America, see the world statue, look out for the statue’s dedicated to Goya and take in the Basilica del Pilar- an incredible Baroque style temple and the biggest temple of Christianity in the world from the outside.
After this, head into the Basilica de Pilar, it’s free to enter and is open from 6:45am each day. As you can imagine it is huge inside! It holds paintings from Goya, a famous painter from the Aragon region and there are regular services that you can observe. When you leave the Basilica there is a little gift shop on both sides, the shop to the right sells coloured ribbons for €1.00 which are brought and given to others as gifts for protection.
Once you have finished inside then head to the Tourist office in the Plaza which opens at 10:00am. The staff in here are very friendly and are here to help you see their beautiful city. Here you should pick up your 48 hour Zaragoza Card (€23.00), Choco Pass (€9.00) & Tapas Pass (€13.00), all of which you’ll need over the next 2 days and the staff will explain how to use these cards.
Now you have your Zaragoza Card you can go back to the Basilica del Pilar and take the lift to the top of one of the Towers after 10:00am when it opens. The view from the Tower is incredible, the lift takes you 60meters up where you can see over the top of the Basilica, the river and both sides of the city! There’s even the chance to climb another 20meters to 80 meters up which is pretty good considering the tower itself is 92meters!
Back on lower ground this is when I suggest you start making your way to the museums.
Catedral del Salvador (La Seo) is a good place to start as its at the end of the Plaza. This is another incredible church and is made up of a range of styles- Romanesque, Mudejar, Renaissance, Gothic & Baroque with a beautiful mosaic design on one of its sides. There is a brochure available in English so you can understand more about it. Also inside is a Tapestry Museum home to a collection of impressive, huge, Flemish tapestries from the 15th to 18th Century. There is an English audio guide available and entrance is included in your Zaragoza Card.
Next to the Cathedral is Museo del Foro, this is one of the Roman Museums within the city. From the outside you cannot tell what it’s home to but once you go down the stairs you’ll find Roman ruins that are from the era in which the city had the name Caesaraugusta. This museum is included in your Zaragoza card too and there are regular screenings to provide more information about the museum and the findings which are played in English and in Spanish.
Next up head to the Museo Goya, which is just a few streets away. It is housed in a Renaissance style building which is typical of an old home. Here you can learn more about the life of Goya and see a large collection of his paintings. Goya is one of the most important painters in the world and it is said that he is the father of the modern movement, locals are very proud that he is from the Aragon Region of which Zaragoza sits in Spain. The war influenced a lot of his paintings and he criticised the society of his time which shows in a lot of his prints.
On the lower ground floor there is an audio-visual projection about his life and paintings which is interesting, its of a high quality and plays the film in English at 11:15, 12:15, 13:15, 17:15, 18:15 and 19:15, between these times are French and Spanish viewings. A lot of the signs are in English and there are interactive iPad’s in Spanish, English and French. It’s €4.00 to enter but only €2.00 if you have the Zaragoza Card or a Youth Card. Children under 16 are free, as are seniors and Ibercaja Members but it does have free admission the second Sunday of every month.
Whilst you’re walking between the museums and exploring the historical centre now is the time to start exploring the city in a sweeter way and start your ChocoPass! Zaragoza has a monastery nearby (Monastery de Piedra) and it is said that the monks in this monastery were the first people to try cocoa beans to make chocolate in Europe. Therefore there are lots of Chocolate shops in the city selling a range of different chocolates and the Chocopass enables you to visit 5 out of 21 establishments in the city (plus a 6th pass for Monastery de Piedra) signed up to the pass and collect chocolate from them when you present your pass. The paperwork with the pass details the shops that it’s valid at and what you’ll get from the shops however I would recommend going to Fantoba Hermanos s.l and Capricho Taller De Chocolate for 2 of the passes as the chocolate provided is sealed so you can take it away rather than having to eat it there and then and both have very nice owners and are interesting from the inside and outside.
It’s true that the Spanish do not eat until mid afternoon and Zaragoza being the very authentic Spanish City that it is does not have many restaurants or cafe’s open until this time.
I would recommend heading to Casa Lac in the El Tubo area for lunch from about 14:30 onwards. This is a very typical Spanish restaurant with 2 dining possibilities, downstairs is a fairly relaxed bar and restaurant area where you can choose from a range of tapas dishes and upstairs is more of a fine dining experience for a set price (see photos below to get an idea of what is served for this option!). Either way the food is incredible from here and the staff are very friendly and helpful to. They even have a website which can be translated to english, take a look here.
Zaragoza is not just home to the historical centre and I think it’s important to see the more commercialised side of the city too. Although there is a tram which runs across the city Zaragoza is very walkable so it’s easy to get from the historical centre into the more commercialised section. From Casa Lac and the El Tubo area head to and up Paseo de la Independencia and straight away you will see that the streets widen and the shops hold many international brands however this doesn’t mean that the architecture isn’t just as incredible!
I would suggest heading to Museo de Zaragoza after 17:00 when it reopens (note that it closes at 14:00 on Sunday and does not re-open) which is in an area called Los Sitios. The museum is free and divided into 2 sections, Archaeology and Fine Art and once again you can see an example of Goya’s art and the building itself is very impressive with a beautiful courtyard.
Head back to your hotel to freshen up and have a siesta if you wish, it is the Spanish way of course because remember that dinner will not start until late either!
This evening I would suggest using the Zaragoza Tapas Card. Similar to the Choco Pass, there are a number of establishments within the city that are part of the pass. The pass enables you to try 4 different tapas and have 4 drinks in different establishments (you cannot use the card for a tapas and drink in the same place). Personally I think this is a fantastic way to see more of the city as it encourages you to move from place to place and get a taste for the different types of tapas and drinks that are offered in different restaurants and bars within the city. The booklet with the pass details where you can go however the 4 places I got tapas from were all really high quality and I would highly recommend them so here they are 1) Izakaya 2) Casa Domino 3) El Angel Del Pincho 4) La Republicana.
I would recommend staying for drinks in the El Tubo area. One of the things I liked most about Zaragoza is that the locals and tourists merge, there are no tourist bars or restaurants so you can get a really good feel of local life wherever you go. The El Tubo area is interesting too as in the 90’s it was a no-go area and has only been cleared up fairly recently using an initiative started by the shop and bar owners in the area.
Be at the bus stop opposite Catedral del Salvador for 10:30am which is when the hop on, hop off bus will arrive and this bus tour is included in your 48hour Zaragoza Card. (Note that the bus doesn’t run in Winter).
Buses like this appear very touristy and are not very ‘local and authentic’, everything that I have said Zaragoza is, however this bus tour around Zaragoza is great because the destinations it visits are not particularly walkable from the historic centre and there is an audio guide in various languages to provide more information about the city.
After being on board for about 15-20 minutes get off at Parque Jose Antonio Labordeta which is the 5th official stop. This is a lovely park to walk around, it’s very quiet and relaxed. It is also home to the highest vantage point in the city which you can walk up (it’s not very steep or that high though so it’s not strenuous) and see a pretty good view over the park and city in the distance.
Get back on the next bus that passes by and enjoy the ride, after about 30-40 minutes of driving the bus will take you past the Zona Expo and Park del Agua, this area was built as part of the 2008 International exhibition of Water and Sustainable Development. Zaragoza is very proud to have been home to this exhibition which lasted 3 months and now uses the area in a number of ways including a water park and research centre. You can get off and explore but it does feel like a bit of an empty shell still at the moment and it’s possible to see a lot of it from the bus.
When you get to Palacio de la Aljaferia which is the 16th stop near the end of the tour then get off the bus and visit the Palace. The entrance fee is also included on the Zaragoza Card and although it looks more like a fort from the outside it is very much a palace from the inside. The origin of the palace is Muslim with the original tower dating back to the 9th century and the palace constructed in the 11th century, this place as you can imagine holds a lot of history, later in the 18th century it was also used as a military base.
There is a courtyard with Orange Trees and beautiful architecture, make sure you go inside to explore the rooms and keep looking up as the ceilings are very impressive.
From here you can walk back into the historical centre which will take 15-20 minutes or get back on the hop on, hop off bus as it will be heading back to the centre.
This afternoon I recommend seeing another area slightly outside of the historic centre so head towards the Central Market to check this out but then head up Calle del Las Armas into the El Gancho area and to Las Armas restaurant which is just a few streets up. Here you can sit inside or outside in the plaza area. They have a range of tapas dishes and main dishes as well as plenty of drink options and although the menu is not in English it is easy to navigate and the staff are really nice so they can help you out too.
This area has a lot of street art and this is what I suggest you see after Lunch. Every September Zaragoza hosts an Urban art festival called Festival Asalto. Artists from all over the world take part and they have 1 week to complete their piece on a designated area of the city. Their website is a great way to see what the week looks like and in El Gancho you can see a lot of their work so take a walk further up Calle del Las Armas and head off on some of the side streets. This area is good to see too as it’s a little bit dirtier than the historical centre, the government are clearing it up and it’s by no means bad but I always think it’s good to see contrasting areas of a city like this.
If you haven’t yet finished your Choco Tour then make sure you visit your last shops to make the most of the pass!
Again head back to your hotel to rest before heading back out for tonight.
Zaragoza’s food and dining scene is really good with a number of gastronomic options. This evening I have 2 recommendations and it depends what kind of food you’ll want to try and in what environment.
First off there is Puerta Cinema Gastronomical, this is a purpose-built inside food market with a range of built-in stalls around the edge of the room, the stalls that feature here generally have a main restaurant in the city but the beauty of this place is you can walk around and view all of the options before picking a few different dishes and sitting in the centre of the room. There is a fixed bar and staff serving drinks and clearing plates. It’s a popular place for locals to go and is perfect if you can’t quite decide what you want for dinner. Their website is here.
My second recommendation is to go to La Despensa Montal in Plaza de San Felipe, this is a very nice restaurant with outside seating in the plaza and also seating inside. Depending on the night of the week you are in Zaragoza you may need to make a reservation, especially on a Saturday, and the tourist office could help you with this. Montal is very popular with locals and is pretty up market so it’s perfect if you feel like dressing up and going out for a nice sit down dinner. It’s a bit deceiving from the outside as initially it looks like a Deli shop however the restaurant is in the back. They staff here are also great and sitting out in the Plaza on a summer’s evening will be the perfect end to your stay in Zaragoza! Their website here.
Additional Information to help you on your trip.
- Zaragoza has it’s own airport which is only 6km and a 20 minute drive from the city centre. If you’re visiting from the UK then flights depart from London Stansted on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays and return back on the same days of the week.
- A taxi from the airport to the cite centre cost’s €20.00-25.00. There is also a public bus which costs €2.00 and takes roughly 45 minutes.
- Zaragoza does have a big railway and bus station and due to it’s fairly central location it interconnects well with other cities in Spain. It’s also good to know that Barcelona is only 1hr 30minutes away on a fast train so some locals make use of the flights to and from Barcelona airport instead.
- It is a fairly inexpensive city compared to the more popular places in Spain like Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga. Tapas can be found very cheaply in restaurants if you look and there are fine dining restaurants available if you wish to spend more on dining. There are also a range of different accommodation options from hostels to fancy hotels with rooftop pools.
- There is a good degree of tourism in Zaragoza, a lot of people visit from elsewhere in Spain, it’s also popular with many French and Asian tourists however English is not spoken as much here so a small knowledge of Spanish is ideal.
- If you do not know any Spanish I would recommend bringing a guidebook especially for food or having internet access available to google words and phases. People are very friendly in Zaragoza though so If a restaurant does not have an English menu then ask the staff for assistance. Also make use of the tourist offices around the city as as I said, the staff are really friendly and helpful and want your stay in Zaragoza to be the best and they are there to help you! And don’t let this put you off. I met 4 ladies at the airport from the UK on my way home who had a great time, so much so that they told me not to write about Zaragoza as they didn’t want people to know about it! They said they knew only a very small amount of Spanish and got around fine.
- Zaragoza is in Northern Spain so in the summer it does get very hot, I was there at the end of June and it was reaching 40c, however their Winters are cold. There is a wind that runs through the city which is lovely in the summer but not so nice in the winter. I was told that Zaragoza seems to have Summer and Winter only, no Spring or Autumn. Although the official Spring time is their high season.
Overall I loved my trip to Zaragoza! It was great to see a real Spanish city that hasn’t been tainted by tourists and although I hope the city does become more popular I also hope it doesn’t lose this charm.
If you have any questions on Zaragoza please let me know in the comments below or by tweeting me!
For more idea’s on what to do check out: 40 Things to do in Zaragoza!
This post was written by me and brought to you by Spain & Zaragoza Turismo as part of the SpainCities Project however all opinions, thoughts and ramblings are my own.