Zaragoza is a historic city in northeast Spain and the capital of the region of Aragón. While it is far from the most famous place to visit in Spain, that doesn’t mean this city should be over-looked. In this post, we will take a closer look at what to see in Zaragoza.
Even though Zaragoza is the fifth-largest city in Spain, it really doesn’t feel like it. Many of the things to see in Zaragoza are in the compact historic core of the city and the Plaza Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
Recently I visited Zaragoza for a weekend with my wife and toddler in tow, staying next to La SEO Cathedral, it was an excellent location for sightseeing. I’ll have a bit more about accommodation at the end of this article, but first off, let’s take a look at some of the best things to see in Zaragoza.
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12 Things to see in Zaragoza
1. Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar
I would consider a visit to Zaragoza’s Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar a must-do when you are in the city. It’s spectacular, it’s vast, and it is free to get into . . . who doesn’t love free? With one side facing into the plaza, the other onto the river, there is no way you can escape this famous Zaragoza site, nor should you.
History says that the first chapel here was built in 41AD after Saint James had a vision of Mary while praying by the River Ebro. Throughout the years this was built on, burnt down and rebuilt again. The current church that is on this site dates back to 1681.
The modern-day Basilica is free to enter and home to the Pillar and the image, a small statue of the Vigen that commemorates Saint James’ vision by the Ebro, which most people come to see.
However, there is much more to see than just a little statue. The painted domes in the ceiling are stunning, one of which named ‘Regina Martyrum’ was painted by the iconic Spanish painter local to this region Francisco de Goya in 1781. Also, be sure not to miss the massive Klais Organ of Zaragoza, with 5391 pipes (where do you even begin to play that) and opposite that an incredibly intricate large carved altarpiece.
Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar Opening Times
Winter: 6.45 am to 8.30 pm
Summer: 6:45 am to 9:30 pm
2. The tower at the Basilica
I love getting high. Not in that way, but for the views. When there is a tower to be climbed, you can be sure I’ll be up there. In the case of Zaragoza, one of the four towers that stand on each corner is scalable.
To find it, you have to walk out of the door that behind the organ to the right. If you look closely, you will see a couple of small signs, but it is not obvious.
Once you are outside turn left, and you’ll find a small passageway with a window at the end where you have to pay a €3 entrance fee.
Once you have done this, you will be whisked in a glass elevator up to the tower. As you step out, you will immediately see a lovely view of the Stone Bridge over the Ebro. There are some more steps to climb to the top of the tower, and the peak is quite narrow.
Once at the top, the panoramic view of the surrounding area is certainly worth it, but there are a couple of drawbacks. The windows are covered, so the small space does get pretty warm. Also, as they are glassed-in, I found it tricky to take photos without getting a reflection, especially when under pressure as there is a queue behind you. Those little inconveniences aside, I would still happily recommend a trip to the top of the tower.
Zaragoza Basilica tower opening times
Winter: 10 am to 1.30 pm and 4 pm to 6:30 pm. Closed on Monday
Summer: from 10 am to 2 pm and 4 pm 7pm.
3. Catedral del Salvador de Zaragoza also know as La SEO Cathedral
This Cathedral sits la Plaza de la Seo just a few meters away from Plaza Nuestra Señora del Pilar. The site of the cathedral is steeped in religious history. Originally the site was the Roman Temple of the Forum before becoming the Visigoth church then the Higher Moslem Mosque.
Before entering the Cathedral, it is definitely worth a walk around the outside to take in the splendor of the facades, and the mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Mudéjar styles, topped with an impressive Baroque-style tower. If none of that really means anything to you (in honesty, I struggle) this is a great place to see the styles next to each other and try to get a bit more of an understanding.
On the inside, it is as impressive as you’d expect. Piped choral music played in the background as we wandered between the many chapels around the outside walls. In total there are around 20, each chapel very different from the last.
The standout feature of the cathedral to me was the high altarpiece. Dating back to 1434 and made of alabaster, it depicts three different scenes: The Transfiguration of the Lord, the Homage of the Three Wise Men and the Ascension. The incredible skill and dedication that must have gone into creating such an intricate piece of work is kind of mind-boggling.
There is a €4 entry fee which includes entrance to the tapestry museum that can be found upstairs. Although it houses some of the most exquisite tapestries in the world, to be honest, I found that part a little dull. However, if tapestries are your thing, then you’ll get a kick out of it. I must say the size of them impressed me, but then I remind myself when they were being made there wasn’t much else to do so they could focus a lot of time on the details.
La SEO Cathedral Opening Times
Monday to Thursday: 10 am to 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm to 9 pm.
Friday: 10 am to 6:30 pm
Saturdays: 10 am to 12 pm and 3 pm to 8:30 pm
Sundays: 10 am to 12:30 pm, 3 pm to 6:30 pm, and 7:30 pm to 9 pm.
Monday to Friday: 10 am to 2 pm and 4 pm to 6:30 pm
Saturdays: 10 am to 12:30 pm and 4 pm to 6:30 pm
Sundays: 10 am to 12 pm and 4 pm to 6:30 pm
No entry 30 minutes before closing.
Price: €4 including entrance to the tapestry museum
4. Fuente de la Hispanidad
At the opposite end of the Plaza Nuestra Señora del Pilar from La SEO Cathedral is the impressive Fuente de la Hispanidad which was built in 1991 as part of major renovations to the plaza. While the strangely shaped fountain is impressive (and refreshing) from the ground, it is when you see it from above that you realize what it is, the shape of Latin America
The Northern coast of the continent rises up as water cascades down the facade into the lower half of the fountain.
5. Caesaraugusta Forum Museum
In the times of Roman occupation, the city of Zaragoza was known as Caesaraugusta and nowadays there are still some excellent Roman remains that can be visited.
The Caesaraugusta Forum Museum can be found in a striking alabaster cube just outside La SEO Cathedral. The Forum was once the center of religious, civil, administrative and political life in Roman times. The museum is home to artifacts and architectural remains of this period.
Love Romans? Be sure to check out the amazing Aqueduct of Segovia.
While you can visit this sit on its own, I would recommend checking out the Caesaraugustra Route which includes entrance to four Roman sites:
- The Forum Museum
- The River Port Museum
- The Public Baths Museum
- Theatre Museum
Each little site has displays and information dedicated to what life in Roman Spain was like and shows off the architecture that still survives to this day.
Caesaraugusta Forum Museum opening times
Tuesday to Saturday: 10 am to 2 pm and 5 pm to 9 pm
Sunday and bank holidays: 10 am to 2:30 pm
Ticket for just the Caesaraugusta Forum Museum: €3
Caesaraugustra Route: €7
6. Calle de Alfonso I
This is the main street the leads away from the plaza, starting opposite the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. Either side of Calle de Alfonso I are shops and some lovely places to eat. However, I did buy the worst granizado (A Spanish version of a slushy) I have ever had the misfortune to try. I wish I could remember the name of the place so I can warn you, but sadly I can’t. However, my favorite part about this street is the views back down to the basilica.
7. Tapas in El Tubo
Oh El Tubo, how I fell in love with you and did not have nearly enough time to explore you fully. El Tubo is the tapas epicenter of Zaragoza where you can bar hop drink and eat until your heart is content. Or your belly is full, whatever comes first. In my mind, El Tubo Alone makes Zaragoza worth visiting and certainly a consideration for a Spain bucket list!
The narrow streets were full of people just chatting, drinking, and having a good time. The atmosphere seemed to bounce off the walls of the tall buildings, capturing you within the scene that felt like it was straight out of a movie.
As we navigated the streets, what I loved most was how simple it was. Many of the bars seem to specialize, for example, there is a croqueterias, it specializes in beer and croquettes. Then there was El Champi, it specializes in mushroom burgers and beer. Each place sells one thing but sells it well.
We spent a few hours wandering before our bellies were full. My heart could have definitely continued, but we left feeling that El Tubo alone would be reason enough for us to return to Zaragoza.
8. Aljafería Palace
The Aljafería is an 11th century Islamic Palace that sits just on the outside of Zaragoza’s central historic core.
The Aljafería Palace has had many functions since it was first built. From its roots as an Islamic Palace, it was later a palace for the Catholic Monarchs, a prison for the inquisition, before becoming a military headquarters and then the headquarters of the Cortes of Aragon
As you might expect, all these different periods have left its mark on the palace and turned it into the architectural smorgasbord it is today.
I’ll be honest and say I found our visit slightly underwhelming. It is promoted as one of the main tourist sites of Zaragoza, and the magnificent images from the outside sell it well. However, once inside, I found it to be a bit disappointing. While there are certainly some points of interest, such as the Courtyard of Santa Isabel and some intricate stonework, there was little else to hold my attention.
I think my feelings were slightly skewed by the fact I had recently visited the Alcazar of Seville and was blown away by the beauty. I was hoping for something similar here. I wonder had I not been there lately if I would have received the Aljafería Palace differently.
Still, if you are in Zaragoza for a couple of days, it’s certainly worth visiting as it is still an excellent example of Mudejar architecture.
Aljafería Palace opening times
Summer: Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm and 4:30 pm to 8 pm
Winter: Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm and 4 pm to 6:30 pm
Sundays (free entry) all year: From 10 am to 2 pm
Free every Sunday but arrive early otherwise expect long lines.
9. Goya Museum
The Goya Museum is a fine arts museum in Zaragoza named after the famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. Just kidding; obviously, it’s based on the works of Francisco Goya who was born in the village of Fuendetodos, about 40 km south of Zaragoza.
In total, the museum is permanently home to over 1000 pieces of fine art as well as temporary exhibitions. Out of those, 14 are from Goya including works from his youth, dating from around the 1770s through to mid-1810s.
Aside from the paintings, the building itself is worth visiting, especially to check out the Aragonese Renaissance courtyard.
Goya Museum Zaragoza opening times:
Winter: Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm and 4 pm to 8 pm
Sundays and holidays from 10 am to 2 pm
Summer: Monday to Saturday, from 10 am to 8 pm
Sundays and holidays from 10 am to 2 pm
Price: Adults €6, under 18 or over 65 €3
10. A walk along the Ebro River in Parque Macanaz
Parque Macanaz is a small park on the opposite side of the river from the city between the two main bridges; Puente de Piedra (Stone Bridge) and Puente de Santiago (Santiago Bridge).
By taking the short stroll to the other side of the river, the looped walk offers some beautiful views across the river back to the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. There are also several bars and cafes that offer good value food and drink to kick back and relax.
11. Sunset on Stone Bridge
As well as climbing tall towers, another one of my favorite things to do in a city is to seek out a great place to watch the sunset. In Zaragoza, I’d highly recommend watching from Stone Bridge.
Sadly, when I visited, the sunset wasn’t the most beautiful nature could have provided. The sky didn’t light up as I would have hoped, but it is certainly a great spot to watch the sun drop behind the basilica.
If you wanted to get a slightly different perspective, you can cross the bridge and turn to the right. Here you’ll find a small platform where you can capture a gorgeous sunset photo that has both the basilica and the handsome Stone Bridge in it as well.
Check out the time of today’s sunset here: What time is the sunset in Zaragoza?
12. The Exposition Ground by the river
The Expo 2008 was an international exposition held in Zaragoza that was attended by over 104 countries. The exposition, with the theme of water and sustainable development, took place in a meander of the Ebro to the northwest of the city.
Nowadays the site is home to the Aquarium River, an aquarium dedicated to freshwater species only and a large recreation ground, Expo Plaza, with playgrounds, fountains, and sculptures.
We decided to head over and check it out, thinking it would be an ideal place to unleash the toddler having had him caged up in religious buildings most of the day. We were not disappointed.
His favorite was the run-through fountain where you can hop between different areas, trying not to get wet. Luckily it was placed next to a bar. There was also a small playground he enjoyed as well as just having ample open space to run around.
From an adults viewpoint, it was also lovely. The stroll along the river has beautiful views back to the basilica (check the header image of this post), and as I mentioned, there is a bar. If you are visiting Zaragoza for two or more days, I would certainly recommend taking an evening stroll through the exposition grounds.
To get to the area, it is about a 40-minute walk along the river from the Plaza Nuestra Señora del Pilar. Alternatively, you can catch the tram to Pablo Neruda, and it’s about a 15-minute walk from there.
Bonus suggestion: Day trip to Belcite
If you are in the city for a couple of days and have access to a car (or want to hire one) you could make a day trip to the ghost town of Belchite. The town was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War and rather than be rebuilt, Franco demanded that it be lest there as it is as a symbol to the futility of resistance. All the residents that clung to life there were forced into a New Belchite town, built about 100 meters down the road.
You can read about my Belchite tour if you would like more information on this.
How to get to Zaragoza
There is a small airport that serves many main international destinations, including London Stansted, Milan, Paris, and more. It is located about 15 kilometers to the west of the city.
As always, the easiest way to get from the airport to the city is by taxi or private transfer, expect this to cost in the region of €25.
Alternatively, a cheaper option is the bus service between the airport and the city center. It takes around 25 minutes and a single ticket cost €1.70
Zaragoza can be easily reached by train if you are staying in Barcelona or Madrid as it is a stop on the highspeed train line that links the two cities. You can check The Trainline for prices and timetables.
The train station is about 5km outside of Zaragoza, so getting from Zaragoza-Delicias train station to the city center is pretty easy, just hop in a taxi and a few euros later you’ll be there.
There is bus number 34 that runs every 7 minutes and will take you from the train station to the city. However, as it is a local bus, there quite a few stops and it takes closer to 30 mins. You may be quicker walking!
If you are driving, it should take a little over 3 hours by car from Madrid and about the same from Barcelona. It’s located very close to the Rioja wine region, so if you are taking a road trip in that area, Zaragoza would be easy to include.
If you are hiring a car, be sure that you are familiar with the rules of driving in Spain to avoid a potential run it with the police.
Warning: many of the city center hotels do not have parking, so you will have to pay around €10-15 per day to park your car in a public car park. If you do this, be sure to let your hotel know as some of them can offer a discount.
Where to stay in Zaragoza
When we visited, we were in the Hotel Tibur. It ran a nice balance of Location vs. Price. It wasn’t the most luxurious of hotels to stay in, but we got our room for €70 per night, which I think is a fair price for the standard of hotel and location. If you find they are charging much more than this, then maybe look elsewhere.
When looking for a hotel, anything within the area of the Plaza Nuestra Señora del Pilar will be a great location, but be aware, they are a little more $$.
When booking, I always use Booking.com and would happily recommend it to anyone who is looking for a hotel. I have always found the reviews, to be honest, and I love the fact that most rooms offer free cancellation up until a couple of days before your stay.
More hotels in Zaragoza
So there you have it, this is what I would recommend seeing in Zaragoza, but of course, there is plenty more than this to discover.Booking.com
Final thoughts on what to see in Zaragoza
As you can hopefully see there are some wonderful places to visit in Zaragoza. I would suggest that you could comfortably see all the main sites in a day, however, if you would like to explore a little further afield and reach places like the Aljafería Palace and the Plaza Expo, then you may want to consider staying for at least one night.
I really enjoyed my visit, it felt like a relaxed city with enough to keep you entertained and relaxed, not like some destinations where you get home feeling more tired than when you left to do to oppressive sightseeing. I would recommend a visit if you get the opportunity or are looking for a city break somewhere a little different.
Have you ever visited the city? If you have, feel free to share some of your own recommendations in the comments.