I’ve just returned from a weekend trip to Zaragoza, Spain. The city was even more beautiful than I imagined and much hotter than I’d hoped (if you plan to go to Zaragoza try avoid the middle of summer…it’s worse than Seville’s heat!). We had one full day in the city so we made sure to get the most out of our time there, continue reading for what I think are the 5 things you’ve got to do in Zaragoza!
1. Palacio de la Aljafería – Aljafería Palace
I’m currently reading the Cousin’s War series by Philippa Gregory and Katherine of Aragon is one of the main characters in the story. When I found out we were going to the province of Aragon I couldn’t wait to soak up some history and get a closer look into how the kings and queens of Spain used to live. Aljafería Palace is a medieval Islamic palace and was originally built by the Moorish kings who conquered Spain in the 11th century. Once the Catholic kings took back Aragon the palace was reformed to suit their “Christian” tastes, but luckily the palace has been restored and some of its original Moorish architecture has been uncovered displaying the fusion of these two important parts of Spanish history. Tickets are just 5€ and you can walk there in 15 minutes or so from the Plaza de Pilar. I’d recommend joining a tour if you’re able to (keep in mind they’re in Spanish); listening to the stories of the palace from our guide really enhanced the experience – we even got to go into the “modern” part of the Alcazar which functions as the present day headquarters of the Regional Parliament of the Autonomous Community of Aragon. Apparently the palace is free to visit on Sundays – check out this website for more details on opening times, tours and prices.
2. Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar
The Basilica (better known as El Pilar) is the most iconic structure in the city. It’s absolutely enormous, gorgeous and completely worth a visit. It’s free to go in and every few hours you’ll hear (nuns I’m assuming) singing ring through the Casco Antiguo of the city. There are so many things to see inside and keep your eye on the ceiling for famous artist Francisco de Goya’s fresco painting of The Queen of Martyrs in one of the giant domes!
3. Catedral del Salvador
The Cathedral of the Savior is located just a few blocks from El Pilar and is also worth a visit. We did have to pay an entrance fee which I believe was around 4€ but it’s worth the cost. Both the outside and inside of the cathedral are beautiful; you might notice some impressive Moorish architectural features along the outside of the wall as the building was originally a mosque built by the Moors who inhabited Aragon around the 9th century. Once we entered the cathedral we realized there was also a tapestry museum in the back of the building. The museum features one of the most important collections of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque style tapestries dating from the medieval times.
4. The Ibercaja Goya Museum
If you travel to Zaragoza in the summer months a good place to escape the afternoon heat is at the Goya Museum. There are tons of painting and sculptures by artists who inspired Goya, artwork created by Goya himself and several artists who were inspired by him following his death. Impressively it also has the most complete collection of etchings created by Goya. The entrance fee is 4€ and you also receive an audio guide which explains many of the paintings and all of the etchings in the museum; I especially liked the etchings as they provide an interesting perspective of someone living in Spain during the 1700- 1800s. You can visit Zaragoza’s tourism site for details on opening times, prices, etc.
5. Eat great food and explore the city!
I will say that I love my tapas in the south…but the people north of Andalucia know how to prepare some good food too! Check out the neighborhood called La Madalena for nighlife and for great local food check out a zone called “El Tubo” which is full of restaurants and bars packed with locals.
There is one place in particular we ate at that really stood out – a friend from the area suggested we go to Ric 27 and I’m so glad we did! Amazing food, good wine, friendly wait staff and eccentric décor are the makings of a great experience; be sure to check it out!
After all that eating you’ll probably need to walk it off…Javi and I really enjoyed just walking around (Casco Antiguo mostly) and marveling at the beautiful old buildings and mixed architecture styles of the city. Everyone we encountered was super friendly, we even had locals asking us if we were lost and offering to give us directions! The one “negative” thing I’ll say about this city are the prices; I’m accustomed to spending 3€ on breakfast in Sanlúcar and in Zaragoza the food seemed to be two or three times more expensive in general. We did get a great value on the pinchos we ate in “El Tubo” so if you’re a budget traveler keep this in mind when choosing restaurants!
BONUS! Where to stay in Zaragoza
Usually we always stay in Airbnb rentals when we travel, but Javi and I decided to splurge on a hotel in the Plaza de Pilar. Our room at the Hotel Pilar Plaza overlooked the beautiful Basilica and plaza and it was within walking distance of everything. We got a good deal on the room for about 60€ a night and it featured fun décor throughout the hotel and rooms. It’s not the most luxurious place we’ve stayed but it was perfect for our two-night visit in Zaragoza!
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