If you think of visiting Spain, do not to forget about Zaragoza, which is more remote inland. However, this great metropolis is a tasty mix of culture, history and life. You must visit Zaragoza to discover its majestic cathedral with its countless domes, its art museums celebrating great masters such as Goya and its lively tapas streets
Visit the capital of Aragon: Zaragoza
Zaragoza is the Aragonese and Castilian name for this great city that was born in the Bronze Age in antiquity. Civilizations have followed one another, so Roman and Muslim, Jewish and Christian influences are evident here. Zaragoza is a deformation over the years of the Latin Caesaraugusta, the name of Julius Caesar Augustus.
Where is Zaragoza located?
Zaragoza is located between Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, about 300 km from each of them, on the banks of the river Ebro, near the Pyrenees. Thus, placed at the crossroads of the great ladies, it is not surprising that it is the 4th largest city in Spain in economic terms. Culturally, the Spanish city bears the traces of past civilizations. In one weekend you can visit the most beautiful and well-preserved historical sites of Zaragoza.
What to see in Zaragoza in 1 weekend?
In order to know what to do and what to see in Zaragoza in a few days, we have classified the tourist attractions, monuments and things to see starting with the most exceptional. This is relative to each person, of course, but it gives you a more concrete idea of the visits to make in priority according to the time you have available.
Is a weekend enough to visit Zaragoza?
If you visit Zaragoza without crowds, perhaps in May or late September, we would say that without fear of having the time to get bored, 3 days of visits are enough to see the most beautiful of Zaragoza. For us, 2 days and one night was a bit short to see the sunset on the Ebro river for example or to see the new Zaragoza with the architecture of the 2008 World Fair.
1. Visit the Basilica Nuestra Senora del Pilar
A visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar is a must in Zaragoza. First of all, when you arrive in front of this monumental building (130 meters long), you can enjoy a square as big as a soccer stadium. The Plaza del Pilar is one of the largest squares in Europe, This allows it to receive thousands of pilgrims and tourists all year round.
The must-see historical monument
This jewel of Baroque art is the image of Zaragoza and its name comes from the famous eponymous pillar on which the Virgin is symbolized in statue. According to the belief, the Virgin Mary came to see the Apostle St. James in the year 40 while she was still living in Jerusalem. She brought him this sacred column so that a chapel could be built around it. Also, following this event, the religious building was constantly enriched with domes and bays. The major construction was built from 1681 to 1754 with no less than 16 chapels.
When to see the sacred statuette of the Virgin of the Pillar in Zaragoza?
Be warned, the statuette and the eponymous pillar are covered with the “Manto” of the Virgin and you will not be able to see or touch it unless you come at the right time. In fact, the decorated sheet is removed on the 2nd, 12th and 20th of each month. During these 3 days you can admire the Virgin of the Pillar in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. To tell you the truth, the gilded wooden statue of the Virgin is visible all year round, but it is the column that is hidden most of the time. It is only on those famous 3 days that we have access to the pillar.
Touching and kissing the pillar of the Virgin of the Pilar
To visit Zaragoza without touching the pillar of the Virgin of the Pilar would be an offense. Even if you visit the Basilica on a day other than the day the pillar is unveiled, you will be able to touch a piece of the pillar accessible from the back of the statue. Some pilgrims usually line up to kiss the only part of the Holy Pillar that is uncovered (behind the altar of the Chapel of the Virgin of the Pillar). Indeed, the Virgen del Pilar is credited with several miracles.
Where are the frescoes of Goya in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza?
Do not miss one of the domes of the Basilica of the Pillar, the artistic genius of Goya is not only found in the museum dedicated to him… Facing the Chapel of the Virgin, the choir of the Virgin has the Goya dome, a large fresco of the master. Another fresco by Goya is located between the Chapel of the Virgin and the High Altar, the Regina Martyrum.
Not to be missed: the Fiestas del Pilar in October with offerings of flowers “Ofrenda de flores” and fruit on October 12 and 13 of each year. The agricultural products thus deposited are then given to the social canteens at the “Ofrenda de frutos” (offerings fruit).
Panoramic view Mirador of the Tower of San Francisco de Borja in the Basilica
When you are at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, don’t miss the elevator to the Tower of the Pilar at the back on the left. There is a charge for the elevator (3 euros) but it is well worth it. From the heights of the Basilica of Nuestra Senora del Pilar, you will have the most beautiful view of Zaragoza over the roofs, the river and the many domes of the Basilica. This is the panorama not to be missed during your visit to Zaragoza. The domes are special because the tiles are made of yellow and blue ceramics. A colorful palette that responds to the Spanish sky.
We’ve written an article dedicated to these great and famous festivities.
2. Walk around the Plaza del Pilar
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar is located in one of the busiest squares in the city and it’s easy to see why. Indeed, this huge esplanade gathers some of the most beautiful monuments of Zaragoza in a mixture of styles and periods. The famous Basilica of Zaragoza, an important place of pilgrimage, is enthroned in the center of the square, imposing by its size and its domes. Then, at one end of the Plaza del Pilar, San Salvador Cathedral catches the eye. While on the other side, a huge fountain has been celebrating Hispanity for a few years: the Fuente de la Hispanidad.
Moreover, some bars with terrace allow to settle there one moment. Admire these masterpieces of the past that compete with contemporary creations. Then, in the Plaza del Pilar, the old episcopal palace also houses the art museum of the diocese: the Alma Mater museum.
And in the same area, I invite you to visit the church of La Magdalena and its Mudejar tower (behind the SEO cathedral).
3. See the Mudéjar wall of the San Salvador cathedral: the Seo of Zaragoza
Not far from the Basilica del Pilar, Zaragoza’s San Salvador Cathedral rises above the main square. It has nothing to envy to the monuments that surround it with its gothic look and its arabesques inherited from the Arabs. In fact, today’s Saint Savior’s Cathedral of Zaragoza is Christian, but it was also Roman, Muslim and Visigothic. Thus, we find in its construction and improvements, countless architectural styles.
Do not miss the left wall that you can walk along from the outside. It is a real work of art typical of the Mudejar architecture of Aragon, where you can see the combination of knowledge and experience of different cultures. The wall c the San Salvador Cathedral is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. You will discover the Tapestry Museum within the cathedral SEO.
4. Loitering in the old town of Zaragoza: Casco antiguo
The Casco Antiguo of Zaragoza is the ancient district around the Plaza del Pilar where you can see the main historical monuments. Between the main streets Avenida Cesar Augusto and Calle del Coso, the cobbled streets lead to museums and religious buildings from another time. This abundance of old architecture attests to a rich past with diverse influences. The city is a blend of 3 cultures and you can see it all around the old town. You will also find many places to eat fabulous and delicious dishes.
Tips for visiting the city center of Zaragoza
Passing through the Plaza del Pilar, do not miss the, recently renovated, Pasaje del Ciclon. It is a covered street, a gallery or passage where you can have a drink or discover some stores in a retro setting, there all Manny restaurants and cañerías where you can have a drink or eat.If you enter the passage Ciclón by Alfonso I street (the one that takes you directly to the center of the facade of the basilica) and exit at the other end, on your left you will have the Town Hall of Zaragoza, on its facade there are two giant sculptures of Pablo Serrano, which represents the Guardian Angel of the city and the bishop and patron saint of Zaragoza, San Valero. Next to the City Hall is the old Lonja of the city, now restored and converted into an exhibition center, where locals and visitors can enjoy high quality art. La Lonja, has the most beautiful ceilings of the Aragonese Renaissance. The great hall is lined with ringed columns and star-shaped ribbed vaults, a must-see.
5. Visit the Aljaferia Palace in Zaragoza
Without a doubt a palace as there are few, for many comparable in beauty with the Mosque of Cordoba, it is the northernmost Muslim Palace in Europe.
Indeed, the Aljaferia Palace is the hidden gem of Zaragoza. Located outside the old city, it is the monument that touched me the most with its elegant architecture and pleasant garden. It is said that this palace inspired Verdi in one of his creations.
You can have more information in this specific article about the Aljaferia.
The must-see visit of Zaragoza
From the outside you do not see the magnificence of this palace, it just looks like a big block of brick with several towers, not very different from other castles, but when you enter within its walls you find the softness and refinement of its interior. However, in the palace of the Aljafería we find all the Islamic influence, especially highlighted here by the Moorish wealth of the Taifa period. The independent Islamic state gave a boost to Zaragoza between 1000 and 1100 AD. The courtyard of Santa Isabel, in the heart of the fortifications, is dotted with orange trees, flowerbeds and is surrounded by delicately carved arcades. The floors of the palace have ornate coffered ceilings and staircases in all directions.
It is currently the seat of the government of Aragon.
6. El Tubo: the Tapas Quarter in Zaragoza
Zaragoza’s must-see tapas night is spent in the narrow streets of “El Tubo”. This neighborhood in the heart of the old city is full of tapas restaurants and is very busy. The streets are crowded at night with people who come to enjoy these kinds of aperitif meals. The tables and chairs obstruct the passage if not the queue to place an order. It laughs, it speaks loudly, it is Spain! One connects the mouthfuls and even the bars with tapas. One would believe oneself in an enormous festival so much the district is animated of music and world. Do not hesitate to wander between the tables and counters to taste different Aragonese specialties. And above all, don’t miss Calle Estébanes, the liveliest and perhaps the narrowest of the Tubo!
7. Visit the Goya Museum in Zaragoza
Visit Zaragoza through the work of the famous Aragonese painter, Francisco de Goya. We find the pictorial atmosphere before Goya, some paintings of the master and works of artists under the influence of this great image of the History of Art. The Goya Museum is also a sumptuous five-story Renaissance palace. But above all, you will come to visit the Goya Museum for the complete and unique collection of series of engravings permanently exhibited.
8. Enjoy the Pablo Gargallo Museum
The museum is the only one dedicated exclusively to the work of the Aragonese sculptor Pablo Gargallo. Pablo Gargallo was a close contemporary of Juan Gris and PicassoHis museum contains sculptures, drawings, engravings and cardboards made as patterns to form some of his sculptures.
The museum is located in the Argillo Palace, named after its owners in the 19th century. It is a valuable sample of the evolution of Zaragoza’s civil architecture in the 17th century.
Even if you are not a great connoisseur of art is worth a visit, the building itself is a jewel, is one of the many palaces that had Zaragoza, not for nothing the city was known as the Florence of Spain.
9. Discover the Roman ruins: vestiges of Zaragoza
We return to the origins of the city, at least to the Roman city. Ancient Caesaraugusta can still be visited today. There is a route through the various museums of the city that show us how it was in Roman times: its baths, the Roman theater, the river port and its forum can be visited.
The museums are: Museum of the Forum, Museum of the River Port, Museum of the Public Baths, Museum of the Theater (the best preserved).
We have wrote several post about the Roman Route in Zaragoza
10. Canonesas Monastery
The monastery is one of the jewels that the city has, unknown to many of the Zaragozans this monastery is living history of the city, recently has made several rehabilitations that show us the history of the monastery and the city. It was built on the remains of the old Roman walls in the 14th century for the Convent of the Canonesas Comendadoras del Santo Sepulcro.
It is the only example of Mudejar convent architecture that has survived in the city to the present day. Because of its peculiar importance, it was declared a National Monument in 1893.
There are 3 different tours in which you can visit the monastery.
11. From the Pablo Serrano Museum to the Etopia Art
Zaragoza is a city that lives art and is full of museums and cultural and exhibition centers. Many of them are renewed every season. Some of the most outstanding are: The Goya Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art IAACC Pablo Serrano, the Museum of Zaragoza focused on archeology, the Lonja with its Florentine ceiling, the Patio de la Infanta (Ibercaja Foundation), the amazing cultural and social center CaixaForum and the Art and Technology Center Etopia.
The Pablo Serrano Museum also features great works of art by the Aragonese artist and has temporary exhibitions. The building was built respecting an original building, designed by architect Julio Bravo, which housed the carpentry workshops and other trades of the Old Pignatelli Home, where Pablo Serrano’s grandfather had worked as a master carpenter.
12. Explore the banks of the Ebro and the 2008 International Exhibition in Zaragoza
This is a last walk that contrasts sharply with the visit to the old city. We discover a more modern city, with first class contemporary architecture with some of the buildings built for the 2008 International Exposition. Such as the Third Millennium Bridge with the longest arch in the world: 270 m, the Bridge Pavilion, designed by the British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, and current headquarters of Mobility City, the Volunteer Walkway, or the Aragon Pavilion.
Recently it has been used as a venue for the Vive Latino Festival, the largest Latin music festival in Europe.
The festivals of Zaragoza not to be missed
Like all Spanish cities, Zaragoza has many festivals:
Festival of the city’s patron saint, San Valero, on January 29 with the tasting of a pastry with whipped cream in the shape of a crown.
Competition among Zaragoza’s restaurants during the first quarter of the year with fixed-price menus.
Easter Week in April and May.
Goya’s week during last weekend of May
The great Pilar festivities in October (religious traditions around the celebration of the Virgin Mary): parades, concerts, animations… during a week.