Is Zaragoza Worth Visiting? Yes! Here are 16 incredible reasons you should visit Zaragoza!
Are you wondering if Zaragoza, Spain, is worth visiting? I’m going to tell you why Zaragoza absolutely is worth seeing!
Nestled in the heart of the Aragon region, this enchanting city is often overlooked by travelers in favor of its more famous neighbors like Barcelona and Madrid.
But visitors to Zaragoza can explore culture, history, and culinary delights that rival any Spanish metropolis — without the crowds and higher costs of Spain’s other big cities.
For your next trip to Spain, Zaragoza should be on your list of must-see Spanish cities.
You’ll love its breathtaking architecture and vibrant festivals, as well as its mouthwatering tapas and charming streets. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or just someone in search of a unique Spanish experience, Zaragoza is the perfect destination.
Why visit Zaragoza?
The reasons for visiting Zaragoza are many. Architecture, history, art, food, festivals, and culture are some of the city’s main attractions.
Here are 16 of the best things about Zaragoza that you should check out for yourself:
1. The Basilica del Pilar
Zaragoza is home to the stunning Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a symbol of Zaragoza and an outstanding example of baroque architecture. The basilica’s impressive facade, majestic domes, and towers are iconic features of the Zaragoza skyline.
According to tradition, the Basilica del Pilar stands on the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint James the Greater, one of Jesus’ apostles, in the year 40 AD.
Mary is said to have given him a pillar (pilar in Spanish) and instructed him to build a church in her honor on that spot. This makes the basilica one of the oldest Marian shrines in the world and a significant pilgrimage site.
You can wander through the basilica on your own or take a guided tour.
The Basilica del Pilar is the focal point of the annual Fiestas del Pilar, a major celebration in Zaragoza held in October. The festival includes religious processions, concerts, and various cultural events, and it draws visitors from across Spain and beyond.
2. The Aljafería Palace
Nearby, the Aljafería Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a glimpse into the Islamic influence on the region. The palace dates to the Middle Ages and is famous for its intricate Moorish designs and lush gardens.
The Aljafería Palace was originally built in the 11th century during the Moorish period, under the rule of the Banu Hud dynasty.
It served as a residence for Muslim rulers and was a symbol of the Islamic presence in the region. After the Reconquista, when Christians took over Zaragoza, the palace underwent several modifications and was used by Christian kings.
The mix of horseshoe arches, intricately carved stucco, and ornamental tile work reflects the Mudéjar style, a unique blend of Christian and Muslim artistic traditions that developed in medieval Spain.
Currently, the Aljafería serves as the seat of the Aragonese regional parliament. It is also a major tourist attraction and a cultural monument. Visitors can explore various parts of the palace, including the stunning Throne Room, the Mosque, and the beautifully maintained gardens.
3. Roman Ruins
In ancient times, Zaragoza was known as Caesaraugusta after the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. As you might expect, the city boasts a remarkable collection of Roman ruins that reflect its ancient history.
The Museo del Foro de Caesaraugusta, located in the heart of the city, was the social and economic center of the town.
Today, visitors can explore the remains of the ancient Roman forum, which include parts of the public square, porticoes, thermal baths, and a sewer system. The site also features a museum that provides insights into daily life in Roman times.
The Museo del Teatro de Caesaraugusta , discovered in the 1970s during urban excavations, is a significant archaeological find. Built in the 1st century AD, it could originally seat around 6,000 spectators. The Roman Theatre of Zaragoza remains include portions of the stage, seating areas, and the orchestra, and a museum displays artifacts found on the site.
Parts of the ancient Roman walls that once encircled Caesaraugusta still stand today. These walls, constructed for defense, highlight the Roman engineering skills and the strategic importance of the city in the Roman Empire.
River Port Museum
Zaragoza was an important river port in Roman times due to its location along the Ebro River. At the Museo del Puerto Fluvial de Caesaraugusta, remains of the ancient port can still be seen, showing how the city leveraged its geographical position for trade and communication.
The Roman Baths of Caesaraugusta were an essential aspect of daily life in Roman society, serving both social and hygienic purposes. The remains of these baths in Zaragoza provide insight into the advanced engineering of Roman aqueducts and heating systems.
5. La Seo Cathedral
The Catedral del Salvador, “La Seo,” Zaragoza’s “second cathedral,” was originally the location of a Roman temple, which was later converted into a mosque during the Moorish occupation of Spain.
After the Reconquista, when Christian forces reclaimed the area, the mosque was converted into a Roman Catholic church.
Because of its history, La Seo features elements of Romanesque, Gothic, Mudejar, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture.
This eclectic mix not only reflects the fascinating history of the building itself but also the broader cultural and historical influences that have shaped Zaragoza and the region of Aragon.
The Catedral del Salvador de Zaragoza has a gorgeous, ornate interior, including a Gothic altarpiece, and a tapestry museum with a collection of some of Europe’s most valuable, and very intricate, tapestries. It’s located off the Plaza de la Seo, very close to the Roman Forum.
6. The Museum of Zaragoza
Located off the Plaza de los Sitios, the Museo de Zaragoza houses an extensive collection that spans from prehistoric times to the 20th century. Exhibits include archaeology, fine arts, and ethnology.
The Zaragoza Museum has a wide-ranging collection that offers a detailed look into the cultural evolution of Zaragoza and the Aragon region through many years of history.
7. Museo Goya
Zaragoza also boasts a rich artistic legacy, most notably that of Francisco de Goya. One of Spain’s most famous artists, Goya was born near Zaragoza.
The Museo Goya houses an extensive collection of Goya’s works, including paintings, engravings, and drawings, that provide insight into his life and the broader Spanish art scene, as well as a comprehensive overview of his artistic evolution and impact.
8. Museo Pablo Serrano
Devoted to the important works of Pablo Serrano, an influential Aragonese sculptor, the IAACC Pablo Serrano features a vast collection of his sculptures, drawings, and engravings.
The building itself is a work of modern art. The museum often hosts temporary exhibitions of contemporary art, making it a key stop for modern and contemporary art lovers.
9. Museo Pablo Gargallo
The Pablo Gargallo Museum is dedicated to Pablo Gargallo, a renowned 20th-century Spanish sculptor and artist known for his innovative approach to sculpture, particularly his use of materials like iron and copper and his exploration of negative space in sculpture.
The museum is housed in the beautiful Argillo Palace, a 17th-century Renaissance building in Old Town Zaragoza and contains a significant collection of Gargallo’s works, including sculptures, drawings, and personal items.
10. Tapas in El Tubo
You won’t want to miss the city’s culinary scene!
Zaragoza offers a delicious array of gastronomic experiences, including traditional Aragonese dishes and tasty tapas. The local specialty, Ternasco (roast lamb), is a must-try.
Wander through El Tubo in the city’s Old Town and try local tapas dishes and regional wines at different bars, just like the locals do!
Leisurely exploring the narrow streets and many restaurants in the area might be the best way to enjoy your time in Zaragoza!
If you want to be absolutely sure you taste the very best of Zaragoza’s many tapas offerings, this wine and tapas tasting tour with a local is the way to go!
11. Mercado Central
The bustling Central Market is a paradise for food lovers, where you can sample fresh local produce and a variety of regional cheeses and meats.
Many vendors offer tapas, so it’s a great spot for an authentic, casual, inexpensive Zaragoza food experience.
To really learn about the cuisine of Zaragoza, take a tour of the Mercado Central, followed by a cooking class. Then enjoy your meal of authentic regional dishes, complemented by local wines!
If you’d rather not do your own cooking, take this tour to explore the Mercado Central and specialty food markets, then have lunch at three local tapas bars!
12. Ebro Riverfront
The Ebro Riverfront in Zaragoza is one of the city’s most picturesque and enjoyable areas. The Ebro, being one of the major rivers in Spain, plays a central role in Zaragoza’s landscape and culture.
The riverbanks are lined with well-maintained paths that are perfect for leisurely walks or cycling. These paths offer beautiful views of the river, the city, and several of Zaragoza’s landmarks, and you’ll find several lovely parks and gardens along the way.
You’ll also see numerous cafes and restaurants along the riverfront where you can enjoy a meal or a drink with a view of the Ebro.
The historic Puente de Piedra , the old stone bridge also known as the “Bridge of Lions,” offers stunning views of the Basilica del Pilar and is a great spot for photography enthusiasts.
The modern Puente del Tercer Milenio is an architectural marvel. Be sure to see it if you’re interested in contemporary design.
You can take a kayaking tour on the Ebro for a unique perspective on the city and its landmarks. It’s a relaxing way to see Zaragoza from a different vantage point. I recommend this to to anyone who loves kayaking or is a birdwatcher.
Zaragoza’s vibrant festivals celebrate the city’s rich traditions. The most famous, the Fiestas del Pilar, transforms the city into a spectacle of color and energy every October, with concerts, parades, and religious ceremonies.
14. It’s Off the Beaten Path
Although Zaragoza is Spain’s fifth-largest city, it’s not well-known by foreign visitors as one of Spain’s major cities.
This lovely city lacks the world-famous attractions that draw in tourists. And, since Zaragoza isn’t on the coast, there’s no beach for swimming.
However, Zaragoza is an incredible city for its residents, with plenty of cafes, reliable public transportation, and plenty to do. There’s so much to see in Zaragoza, including taking a peek into everyday life in Spain.
In Zaragoza, you’ll avoid crowds of people and tourist traps. You’ll be able to relax, enjoy the city’s many parks, and stroll through the streets with the locals. Zaragoza is clean, without the litter and graffiti that plague so many cities.
15. Friendly people
The people of Zaragoza are friendly and welcoming. They’re proud of their city and happy to tell you about its history and culture, as well as the best places for tapas. You’ll be able to practice your Spanish (although lots of people also speak English if you don’t speak Spanish).
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in Spanish culture for a long-term stay of a few weeks or months, Zaragoza would be an excellent choice.
16. Accessible Location
Lastly, Zaragoza’s strategic location makes it an ideal base for exploring the broader Aragon region. The city is well-connected by road, and has an accessible bus and train station.
Visitors to Zaragoza have easy access to picturesque villages, the Pyrenees mountains, and renowned wine regions.
Where is Zaragoza Located?
Zaragoza is the capital of the Aragon region in northeastern Spain. Aragon is bordered by France to the north, Catalonia to the east, Valencia to the southeast, Castilla-La Mancha to the southwest, and Castile and León, La Rioja, and Navarre to the west.
The southern and western parts of the Zaragoza province are bordered by the mountainous Sistema Ibérica region, home to Aragon’s highest peak, the Moncayo. Meanwhile, the northern edge of Aragon extends to the Pre-Pyrenees.
This geographical diversity results in some climatic variations in the surrounding areas, enhancing the region’s allure. Within a few hours, you can go from snowy mountains to sun-drenched fields, making Zaragoza an appealing year-round destination.
How do I get to Zaragoza?
How to Get to Zaragoza from International Destinations
From cities outside of Spain, it’s easy to get a flight to Zaragoza. You can book a private transfer from the airport to your hotel.
How to get to Zaragoza from Barcelona
By Car: The driving distance is approximately 300 kilometers (186 miles). Travel time by car can take around 3 to 3.5 hours, depending on traffic and the specific route taken.
By Train: High-speed trains (AVE) connect Barcelona and Zaragoza. Travel time by train is typically around 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on the type of train and the specific schedule.
By Bus: Bus travel time can vary based on the route and stops but is approximately 3.5 to 4.5 hours.
By Bus: Bus travel time can vary based on the route and stops but is approximately 3.5 to 4.5 hours.
How to get to Zaragoza from Madrid
By Car: The driving distance is approximately 315 kilometers (196 miles). Travel time by car can take around 3 to 3.5 hours, depending on traffic and the specific route taken.
By Train: High-speed trains (AVE) connect Madrid and Barcelona. Travel time by train is typically around 1.5 hours.
By Bus: Bus travel time can vary based on the route and stops and is approximately 4 hours.
How to get to Zaragoza from Bilbao or San Sebastian/Donostia
By Car: The driving distance from San Sebastián to Zaragoza is approximately 270 kilometers (about 168 miles), and from Bilbao to Zaragoza is approximately 310 kilometers (about 193 miles). From San Sebastian or Bilbao, traveling to Zaragoza by car can take around 3 to 4 hours, depending on traffic and the specific route taken.
By Train: High-speed trains connect San Sebastián and Bilbao to Zaragoza. Times vary depending on the type of train and specific schedule, but it will be around 4 to 4.5 hours.
By Bus: The journey by bus from San Sebastián to Zaragoza may take around 4 hours, and the journey by bus from Bilbao to Zaragoza may take around 3.5 to 4 hours.
Zaragoza is affordable?
Zaragoza is generally considered to be an affordable city to visit compared to some other major cities in Spain. Travel expenses in Zaragoza are often less expensive than in cities like Barcelona or Madrid.
Accommodation: Accommodation prices in Zaragoza are relatively reasonable compared to larger Spanish cities. You can find a range of options, from budget-friendly hostels to mid-range hotels.
Food and Dining: Eating out in Zaragoza can be affordable, especially if you opt for local markets, tapas bars, and traditional restaurants.
Transportation: Public transportation (busses and trams) in Zaragoza is very reasonable. Plus, the city is known for its walkable layout. You can also rent bikes to get around the city.
Attractions and Activities: Many of Zaragoza’s attractions are free or have small entrance fees. Exploring the city’s historic sites and enjoying its cultural offerings can be budget-friendly.
How long to spend in Zaragoza?
The city of Zaragoza is a great place to get a taste of life in Spain and escape the hordes of tourists in the more popular cities. So now that you’ve decided Zaragoza is worth visiting, how long should you stay?
If you have limited time, a short visit of 1 to 2 days allows you to explore the city’s main highlights.
Focus on key attractions such as the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, Aljafería Palace, and the Plaza del Pilar. Take a stroll along the Ebro River and explore the charming streets of the city center.
If you can spend three days or a long weekend in Zaragoza, you can delve deeper into the city’s history, culture, and cuisine. Visit museums like the Museo Goya and the Caesaraugusta Theatre Museum. Explore the local markets, such as the Central Market, and try traditional Aragonese dishes in local restaurants.
If you have more time, consider allowing time for 5 days or more to experience Zaragoza at a relaxed pace.
In addition to exploring Zaragoza, take a day trip to nearby attractions, such as the Monasterio de Piedra or the wine-producing regions of Aragon.
Attend local events or festivals if they coincide with your visit.
Zaragoza is a great destination for anyone who wants to be immersed in Spanish culture.
Where to stay in Zaragoza?
This beautiful city offers many options for accommodations. Here are three of the most centrally located hotels:
NH Ciudad de Zaragoza: Most rooms have a view of either the Basilica del Pilar or the River Ebro.
Catalonia El Pilar: In the Old Town, minutes from the Central Market and Pilar. The restaurant serves traditional Aragonese food for dinner.
Silken Reino de Aragon: By the Plaza de Espana, very close to Le Seo Cathedral and the Roman Theatre.
Best time to visit Zaragoza
The best time to visit Zaragoza largely depends on what you’re looking for in your travel experience. Personally, I would recommend visiting in October during the Festival of Pilar.
Here’s a breakdown of the different seasons and what they offer:
Spring (March to May): This season is ideal for those who prefer mild weather and fewer crowds. Spring in Zaragoza brings blooming flowers and pleasant temperatures between 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F), perfect for exploring the outdoor sites and enjoying leisurely walks through the city.
Summer (June to August): Summer is hot (often above 30°C (86°F))! Visit if you enjoy sunny weather and don’t mind the heat. August is very quiet as many locals take their holidays.
Autumn (September to November): Autumn brings cooler temperatures and the beautiful changing colors of the foliage. The highlight of this season is the Fiestas del Pilar in October, a major festival featuring religious celebrations, parades, concerts, and other cultural events. Average temperatures range from 11°C to 25°C (52°F to 77°F).
Winter (December to February): Winters are relatively mild compared to other European destinations. This is the low season for tourism, meaning fewer crowds and potentially lower prices for accommodations. In December, enjoy the Christmas market at Pilar, and visit the city’s indoor attractions, like museums and galleries throughout the winter season. Temperatures usually hover around 3°C to 10°C (37°F to 50°F)
The best time to visit Zaragoza depends on your personal preferences and when you’re able to travel. Spring and autumn, with their mild weather and cultural events, are generally considered the most pleasant times to explore all that Zaragoza has to offer.
What’s the weather like in Zaragoza?
Zaragoza enjoys a Mediterranean climate characterized by warm summers and mild winters. The period from July to September can be quite hot, and there’s no cooling ocean breeze, since Zaragoza is not on the coast. Zaragoza is as an excellent choice for those seeking lots of sunshine.
The average summer temperatures are in the mid-80s, typically not dropping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit until mid-October. While winter temperatures may plummet below freezing, it’s the wind that really makes you feel cold. Zaragoza is known to be Spain’s windiest city.
The cierzo, a potent, dry, and typically chilly wind, sweeps from the North or Northwest across the regions of Aragon, La Rioja, and Navarra in Spain’s Ebro valley. This atmospheric phenomenon occurs when there is an anticyclone in the Bay of Biscay and a low-pressure area in the Mediterranean Sea.
The cierzo is more prevalent in autumn and winter due to larger pressure differentials, even a slight pressure variance along the Ebro valley can initiate a cierzo wind in any season.
The name of the cierzo comes from the Latin word circius. Cato the Elder vividly described it in the 2nd century BC as “a wind that fills your mouth and tumbles waggons and armed men.” This forceful wind attains speeds exceeding 100 km/h multiple times each year.
The wind is a key feature of life in Zaragoza. (So much so that there’s a brewpub named for the wind: be sure to visit Cierzo Brewing while you’re in Zaragoza!)
Final Thoughts on Whether Zaragoza is Worth Visiting
I think that absolute Zaragoza is worth visiting! This vibrant city is a must-see destination for anyone who wants to visit an unspoiled Spanish city.
From the grandeur of the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar to the hidden gems of the city’s bustling tapas bars, Zaragoza offers experiences that for every kind of traveler.
Whether you’re drawn by the allure of its ancient architecture, the vibrant strokes of Goya’s legacy, or the spirited atmosphere of its festivals, Zaragoza promises an array of unforgettable experiences.
The warmth of its people, the depth of its history, and the zest of its culture make Zaragoza not just a stopover but a destination in its own right.
So, if you’re planning your next Spanish adventure, put Zaragoza on your itinerary. Zaragoza is a city to experience, savor, and remember long after you’ve returned home.