OK, so you’ve definitely heard of Spain’s biggest cities – Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville – but have you heard of Zaragoza? It is in fact Spain’s fifth-largest city, even bigger than more popular places such as Bilbao or Málaga, although it’s rarely talked about and is visited by few international tourists compared with the others.
Zaragoza is the capital of Spain’s autonomous region of Aragón, which used to be its own kingdom. This means that it’s home to lots of grand monuments, palaces and houses. These include the Moorish Aljafería Palace, the grand Museo de Zaragoza and the intricately decorated Casa Solans.
Zaragoza does have an airport, which is accessible from nine destinations in Europe, including London, Paris and Milan, but if you’re in mainland Spain already, it’s easy to reach from either Madrid or Barcelona. From Barcelona, you can take a three-hour bus journey to get there, and from Madrid, an 80-minute train journey.
Spain is filled with magnificent pieces of Moorish architecture, vestiges of the 800-year rule of the Moors over much of the country. Most of these grand palaces and fortresses, however, are located in the south of the country, in Andalusia. The best example to be seen outside of Andalusia is Zaragoza’s Aljafería Palace. Built during the second half of the 11th century, it’s filled with ornate Arabic arches and intricate carvings. Today, it’s the house of the parliament of Aragón, but can also be visited on a guided tour.
The famous Spanish artist Francisco de Goya was born in the small town of Fuendetodos, around 45 kilometres (28 miles) south of Zaragoza. Because of this, the city of Zaragoza is one of the best places to see his works. You can visit the Collection Ibercaja Museum Zaragoza Goya, which houses 15 of his most important works.
Zaragoza has over 2,000 years of history, and has been been ruled by the Romans, the Moors and the Christian kings, each one leaving their mark upon the city. Today, you can see remains of Zaragoza’s history in the Roman ruins of the Teatro Romano, the Aljafería Palace, the Mudejar-style churches and the baroque Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
There are many places located within an hour of Zaragoza that are great destinations for day trips. These include the abandoned ghost town Belchite, the Piedra Monastery, the Mudejar town of Tarazona and and the Reserva Natural de los Galachos de la Alfranca. Check out our article on the best day trips from Zaragoza to learn more.
The city is home to not one but two great cathedrals: the iconic Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, standing next to the river with its Moorish-style towers and domes, and the Catedral del Salvador de Zaragoza, combining baroque, romanesque and mudéjar styles.
Aragón, like many regions in Spain, has its own cuisine, which is different from other areas. Aragonese cuisine features lots of types of hearty stews, packed with meat and vegetables, as well as quality produce, from haricot beans to onions from Fuentes, and asparagus from the banks of the River Ebro. It’s also known for its various types of fruit. Dishes to try in Zaragoza include pork loin sausage, cured ham from Teruel, cod al ajoarriero and lamb.
Zaragoza makes for a great destination to visit any time of year, but it’s especially good during the Fiestas del Pilar. The festival is the biggest event of the year in Zaragoza and takes place in October. During the festival there are big parades, offerings of flowers and lots of open-air concerts and street theatre.