I wasn’t really sure of what to expect when visiting the Monasterio de Piedra, I had never heard of it as a must-see destination in Spain, I was just told it is a nice place to see some waterfalls. However, it swiftly turned into the highlight of my trip through Zaragoza and the Aragon region of Spain.
The Monasterio de Piedra Natural Park is made up of lush vegetation and enchanting rock formations created by the erosive power of the Rio Piedra as well as hundreds of years of careful landscaping by the local monks. While not all of the waterfalls are 100% natural, they are still wonderful to enjoy. There is a marked path to follow that takes you up, down and even behind the waterfalls, winding through caves and past tranquil lakes. But more on that later.
As well as the park there is the monastery itself that can be visited and a small wine and chocolate museum with winemaking exhibits and information about the relationship between monks and winemaking as a commercial business to fund their way of life.
In this post, I’ll be sharing what you need to know about visiting Monasterio De Piedra, my experiences and of course how you can get there yourself.
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Getting To Monasterio de Piedra
Monasterio de Piedra Natural Park is just 105km from Zaragoza, making it an easy day trip, and 230km from Madrid, which makes it a long day trip, but certainly possible.
When we visited we did it the easy way, driving from Zaragoza, but the park can be reached be visited as a day trip from Madrid as well. As with most places, there are 4 main options:
- Drive yourself
- Organised Excursion
Driving to Monasterio de Piedra
If you are a visitor to Spain or are a bit pressed for time, renting a car gives you the most flexibility and you can relax knowing that you will get there and back, as well as having enough time to enjoy the stunning waterfalls. Once you get out of the cities, the Spanish roads are wide and sparsely populated.
You can expect to pay in the region of 20€ per day for car hire then the petrol on top. From Madrid, it is about a 450km round trip so that would be around 35-40€ in petrol. From Zaragoza it is half that, so around 15€ – 20€.
Be sure to swot up on your Spanish driving laws before hiring a car, you don’t want a hefty fine coming your way.
There are two large free parking areas at Monasterio de Piedra which are well signposted and close to the entrance. We didn’t get lost, but then again we did have Google Maps guiding us all the way in. In case you don’t have the option, don’t worry, getting there is pretty easy . . .
Driving to Monasterio de Piedra from Madrid is pretty simple and takes about two and a half hours. The hardest bit is getting out of Madrid. If you leave the city on the A-2 heading towards Zaragoza, just keep on going for about 2 hours until you reach junction 204 and turn off toward Alhama de Aragon. After you have done this it’s about another 20 minutes driving through the Aragonese countryside before you arrive at your destination.
It’s pretty much the same as above but in reverse and it only takes a little over one and a quarter hours. If you leave Zaragoza, heading south on the A-2 towards Madrid, then turn off at junction 204 toward Alhama de Aragon and follow the signs.
Madrid to Monasterio de Piedra by Train
From Madrid, you will need to take the train from Puerta De Atocha to Calatayud. The stop is on the main Madrid to Barcelona train line so there are plenty of departures throughout the day. The trip takes a little under an hour but the price of tickets can vary considerably. If you book an off-peak train in advance, it is possible to get them for as little as 16€, however, they do go up to 55€.
Once you arrive in Calatayud you have two options. You can either do the rest of the trip in a taxi which will cost in the region of 35 – 40€ or you can walk to the bus station and take the bus. It is about 1.5km from the train station, so about a 15-20 minute walk. Note: The bus leaves at 10:30am, so you will need to be on an early train and leaves Monasterio de Piedra to head back to Calatayud at 5pm.
If you decide that a taxi is the best option, be sure to either get a phone number or even better, arrange a time for pick up and returning to the Calatayud train station so you don’t have to worry about finding a taxi when you have finished. Four to five hours should be plenty of time to enjoy the park.
Train from Zaragoza to Monasterio de Piedra
While this is an option, it is not one I would really recommend. You would need to get the train from Zaragoza to Calatayudand then follow the instructions above to get the bus or taxi from there to the park. It is a lot of faffing about when it would be much simpler to get the bus from Zaragoza direct to the park.
Getting the bus to Monasterio de Piedra
There is no way currently to do this as a day trip by bus unless you can find an organised tour. There is an ALSA bus that runs from Madrid to Calatayud and takes a little under 3 hours. You would then need to spend one night there and visit the next morning. As there isn’t much going on in Calatayud, I would recommend going a bit further and spending one night in Zaragoza, if just to have dinner in El Tubo, before heading to Monasterio de Piedra by bus the next day.
The bus from Zaragoza to Monasterio de Piedra costs around 12€ and leaves from the bus and train station at 9am four days a week: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. It takes around 2 hours to get there and leaves to head back to Zaragoza at 5pm.
This is possibly the easiest way to visit, nothing to worry about, just sit back, relax and let the tourism professionals do their thing.
The opportunities to do this from Madrid are somewhat limited, but from Zaragoza, there are plenty of organised tours that leave from the city every day. I would recommend popping into a tourist office when you first arrive to book the trip.
Entry to Monasterio de Piedra costs €14.40 for adults and €9.90 for kids and over 65s and include entrance to the park, monastery and the wine museum.
Tickets can be purchased on arrival, but you can also buy them online before you go on the Monasterio de Piedra website. Not only will you save lining up for the tickets (this gets very long if you got off the bus last) but you also save 10% on the entrance fee.
If you didn’t buy online before your visit, as you enter the ticket booth is past the restaurants on the right-hand side. There are small ticket windows on the outside of the building and a gift shop inside.
Once you have your ticket you can pass through the gates where someone will scan you in and you’ll be free to explore. Just be aware there will probably be one of those people taking photos as you enter. I often find the easiest way is just to let them take it, there is no pressure to buy and they’ll be happier for it.
The natural park area is open between 9am to 8pm from April to November and from 9am to 6pm the rest of the year. Remember you’ll want to try to leave a minimum of three hours to enjoy the walk, so don’t leave getting there too late.
The Monastery and Museum open from 10am to 7pm from April to November, closing at 6pm the rest of the year. It is worth knowing that they close for lunch between 1.15pm and 3pm, so remember to bear that in mind when planning your visit.
What to do in Monasterio de Piedra
There is no doubt in my mind that this is the highlight of a visit to Monasterio de Piedra. As you enter you will be given a map which details a route to follow past the waterfalls before heading down the slope to the beginning of the route.
I visited with my wife and little boy who is a just shy of 2 years old. We took turns carrying him on our back in our baby carrier. I like to think he enjoyed it, but in reality, he would have probably rather have been watching Peppa Pig.
I will warn you that the path is quite tricky in places and has lots of steps, so if you are visiting with kids, I’d recommend leaving the buggy in the car.
Also, if you are unsteady on your feet and cannot manage steps then this may not be for you. It’s a 2-hour hike (if you don’t stop) up and down wet steps.
Right, that’s the warning out of the way. The path starts at the bottom of one of the most impressive double cascades before climbing up and over it. Be prepared to take lots of photos as there are some great spots to stop along the way, a wonderful mix of large falls and flows over intense green moss-covered rocks.
The path continues to wind through many waterfalls of different sizes alongside the carved channels from the river Piedra. While elements of the park are natural, you can see that some of the elements are certainly man-made. Aside from the waterfall, as you climb there are also some wonderful viewpoints back across the valley. If you’re lucky you’ll even spot wild eagles flying overhead.
Having climbed all the steps to the top, you must come back down. A single file carved staircase winds from the top of the 50m tall Cola de Caballo waterfall, through the Iris Cave behind the water (you will get wet) and down to the lake below. Due to the fact this is single file, it causes quite a choke point and as we descended it took a long time. It’s not really a bad thing as it’s such a scenic area, it lets you slow down and enjoy it. However, with the baby on our back, we were a little nervous of tripping, but nothing happened.
As you exit at the bottom of the path there is a short walk to a large green picnic area with a small refreshment hut (yes it sells beer), picnic tables and a small playground for kids to expend any energy they may have left. It was nice to have this area so the little man could run around having been so well behaved while stuck our backs.
The Fisheries and mirror lake
Just past the picnic area is where you can find an additional loop to add to walk past the fish farms and mirror lake. The fish farms are as you would expect, multiple small ponds with very large fish in. It is possible to buy fish food on the way in for 1€. If you have kids this could be a fun option for them to finish off the trip.
Unfortunately during our visit, the mirror lake part was under some kind of repairs so I couldn’t fully enjoy the walk, but I could get close enough to take some photos and see why it gets its name.
Once we were done in the picnic area we headed back to where we started and left the park. In total, we took a little over 3 hours to complete the route at a comfortable pace. It could be done in less, but a lot depends on how many people are caught at the Iris Cave. It shouldn’t really take more than 4 hours at the most.
Birds of Prey show
Between March to July, at the entrance of the park is a bird of prey show. While I’m not the biggest fan of using animals in captivity for entertainment, it is something the kids may enjoy seeing. You can find the schedule on their website.
The Monastery & Museum
I’ll be honest and say we didn’t visit the monastery or the museum. By the time we were finished, we needed to get our little man to sleep. A grumpy toddler in a quiet monastery sounded like a recipe for disaster.
As the entrance to both is included in your ticket it would be worth seeing, but based on what I have learnt, it shouldn’t take much more than 45 minutes to an hour to see them both. In case you didn’t see earlier, just bear in mind when planning your visit that this part of the Monasterio de Piedra closes between 1:15pm and 3pm for lunch.
Eating at the Monasterio de Piedra
There are two restaurants in the park, both are accessible without having to enter the main area. The one we eat in was the cheaper one (of course) the Restaurante Piedra Vieja. It was what I would expect. Mass-produced traditional Spanish fare that you order at the bar. It was quite loud inside, I guess it’s the one that all of the families go to. Considering the captive audience, the prices weren’t quite as off the chain as I would have imagined.
The other restaurant is an expensive, fine dining option, creatively named Restaurante Monasterio de Piedra. While the website makes it look quite nice, I would recommend checking some of the reviews before making your decision of where to eat.
If I were to go again, especially in the summer, I’d certainly take a picnic and have it in the large play area. It has everything you need, benches and a beer hut.
Where to stay in Monasterio de Piedra
If you would like to be close, there is actually a hotel on site and a lot of casa rurales in the local area. However, I would recommend staying in Zaragoza. If you wanted to know more about what to do there, you can see more in my things to do in Zaragoza post. Otherwise have a scan of the map below and see if something takes your fancy.
Where is Monasterio de Piedra?
Monasterio de Piedra is located in the region of Aragon, between Madrid and Zaragoza. Its closet village is Nuévalos, next to the Piedra River.
When is Monasterio de Piedra open?
The park opens every day at 9am and closes at 8pm from April to November 6pm the rest of the year. The Monastery and Museum open from 10am to 7pm from April to November, closing at 6pm the rest of the year. Remember the buildings close for lunch between 1.15pm and 3pm.
How long should I plan to visit Monasterio de Piedra for?
You should allow around 3 hours for the walk through the waterfalls. It can be done quicker, but you’ll want to stop and take photos. The Monastery and Museum can be visited in around an hour, so in total, I’d allow 4 – 5 hours.
What is the cheapest way to get to Monasterio de Piedra?
If you are travelling from Zaragoza, it would be the bus, but if you are travelling from Madrid, hiring a car would probably be the cheapest way.
Is a visit to the Monasterio de Piedra suitable for kids?
Yes, kids will love it. Just be aware that it is not suitable for pushchairs in if your kids are prone to wandering off, you may want to keep them close. There are fences and rails, but they are certainly crawl-through-able.
Final thoughts on Monasterio de Piedra
My immediate reaction while wandering the waterfalls of the Monasterio de Piedra were to compare it in my mind to the world-famous waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, just on a smaller scale. Having had some time to reflect, it would be unfair for me to sell it as such, but I can’t escape the striking similarities, albeit on a smaller scale.
The waterfalls are stunning, the lush green surrounds will make you feel healthy inside and you will no doubt take hundreds of photos. While it is certainly out of your way if you are a visitor to Spain, I would highly recommend hiring a car, jumping on the A-2 and heading to Monasterio de Piedra. The fact that it does take effort to get to is one of the only reasons this remains a kind of secret on the tourist trail, and long may it remain that way.
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