Travel guide #2: Zoom Zoom Zaragoza: A whistle-stop 30 hour trip
Updated: Jul 5, 2019
March was a busy month for me. I realised that I explored a lot of central Spain, travelling every other weekend to Madrid, Cuenca and Toledo (more travel guides coming soon). I thought that I’d put pen to paper (figuratively) and tell you all about my experiences there.
After being cooped up in Valencia of February due to dwindling funds(thanks Spanish Government for not paying me on time) I decided that March was going to be a heavy month of travelling. The number one destination on my list was the city of Zaragoza in the Aragon region. Why Zaragoza you ask? Well this year I have to complete a 2,500 word project in Spanish of my choosing and for some reason I was set on penning a piece on the influence of Arabic and Moorish influence in Modern Spain. Until I found out that this was a monster of a project- a topic that could easily be turned into a master’s thesis so I decided to head in a completely different direction and find something a little less mind-boggling. Nevertheless Zaragoza is one of the few cities in Spain outside of the Andalusia region with an Moorish landmark that is still relatively well preserved; the Aljafería. I was determined to see it, even if I was writing about something totally unrelated to this topic.
In true Damon and Jo fashion I decided to shut up and go, booking my hostel and train as soon as my pay check landed in my bank account. Two days later I was off- on a FIVE hour train journey to Zaragoza. My trip almost didn’t happen due to my terrible time keeping as I made my train with literally 30 seconds to spare. Have you ever seen that crazy person running through the train station or airport? Hair flailing in their face, sweating and panting as they lug their case behind them? Yeah, I was that person that Friday morning. After having narrowly avoided an asthma attack I had a whole five hours to get comfortable and catch my breath. However in typical Tash fashion I again almost didn’t make it to Zaragoza. Due to a miscommunication I almost ended up on another twohour train journey destined for Huelva had I not managed to jump off at the next stop.
Despite all of my bumbling I managed to make it to my hostel- miraculously- in one piece. I stayed at the Albergue Zaragoza ( I would recommend for short breaks) for the very cheap price of 16€ per night. As soon as I’d put my things away I descended on the city and went to see one of main tourist attractions- la Basílica de Nuestra Señora and the main Plaza. It truly is an astonishing sight to see, the brightly coloured tiles accompanied by the soothing sound of the fountain- it really is the main attraction of the city.
Day 1 sightseeing
✪: Very poor, not even worth seeing
✪✪: Poor, had potential but didn't quite make the cut- I wouldn't recommend it personally.
✪✪✪: Good, I enjoyed aspects of this place/ experience but it was lacking something
✪✪✪✪: Very good I enjoyed this place/thong- I would recommend
✪✪✪✪✪: Oh my God- it is unmissable- You HAVE TO SEE THIS. 100% recommend to everyone- including your nan!
Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar
Price: Free entry
Is it worth it? Yes 100% definitely go if you have some time
How long to spend there? No more than 30 minutes
Special tip? Try to go early in the morning- there is a tower you can climb and you can get AMAZING views of the whole of Zaragoza.
Despite not being really religious I do really enjoy visiting places of worship- I’m always mesmerised by the architecture and elaborate detailing in the fabrics and tiling. The Basilica was free entry- surprisingly- but taking photos was strongly advised against. That didn’t mean I didn’t try. I have a thing for elaborate ceilings and this one did not disappoint.
Cathedral del Salvador de Zaragoza:
Price: 4€ (no student discount ☹)
Is it worth it? Yes- even if you’re not into cathedrals and it’s a nice accompaniment to the basilica.
How long to spend there? 30- 40 minutes- get your 4€ worth. Also take your time reading through the descriptions- you can learn a lot about general Zaragoza history there.
Special tip? You didn’t hear it from me but its not too hard to sneak a photo or too in there…
Located just across the Plaza is the Cathedral. I had to pay about 4€ which isn’t bank breaking. and as soon as I entered I understood why. The maintenance needed to keep it as visually impressive as it is must cost a fortune. The Cathedral is stunning from the outside but the inside is even more captivating. It is separated into 23 sections- each altar is labelled with detailed historical descriptions which recount the significance of the architecture and who the works are consecrated to. Again no pictures allowed, but I can’t keep these photos to myself.
On my way across the plaza I stumbled across this hidden alcove. I could see large figures looming in the distance so I decided to step in and take a closer look. It turns out it was an open exhibition on for that weekend showing the giant head figurines which are used in carnival. These gigantic figures stood at seven foot tall on wheels, all dressed in exuberant fabrics and gold masquerade masks. A passer-by noticed how bewildered I was and began to explain (in Spanish) the history of the figures and how they are featured every year during carnival and that they are depict biblical and historical figures. As a child I would have been absolutely petrified of these looming figures but now that I’m older I saw them as bewitching curiosity.
La Lonja de Zaragoza
Price: Free entry
Is it worth it? Yes, there are new exhibitions on all the time featuring new and upcoming artists.
How long to spend there? Take as long as you want- the space isn’t that big so I would say maybe 30-45 minutes
Special tip? Don’t forget to pick up an information guide- it provides more information of the artist’s background as well as future events. It’s also closed on Mondays
La Lonja functions as an exhibition hall. The renaissance architecture contrasted with the modern art exhibitions makes you want to take photos not only of the exhibited work but also of the building itself. This place is easy to miss and I myself walked past it numerous times due to the fact that it observes siesta hours (2pm-5pm). Nonetheless, whilst you’re in the plaza you should definitely have a quick look. Whilst I was in Zaragoza there were three main exhibitions on show: an exhibition showcasing the work of female photographers in the Aragonese region and the second was another photographic exhibition highlighting the aftermath of war and poverty. I really enjoyed it- definitely a hidden gem which is underrated.
Price: 6€ regular but 3€ with the carnet jove or a student card
Is it worth it? For me it was very hit and miss- if you’re a fan of Goya I would recommend but his most famous and recognisable works are showcased at the Prado museum in Madrid (Satan devouring his son, The third of May 1808). However, they do have another smaller exhibition showcasing modern, local artists, which I found super interesting.
How long to spend there? I spent around an hour but that was mainly to kill time- there are five levels so I would say take your time.
Special tip? Start on level -1 as there is a video, which explains a little more about Goya and provides essential background information (however it is in Spanish with no subtitles so if you don’t speak the language you might struggle a little)
Day two was the main event for me. I had planned to spend the morning at the Aljafería and it did not disappoint.
Palacio de la Aljafería
Price: 5€ (2€ for holders of a student card)
Is it worth it? Yes Yes Yes 100%- it the best part of my trip!
How long to spend there? I spent at least 2 hours there- it is a vast space as it’s a fortified palace. I can guarantee that you’ll be awe-struck staring at the ornate ceilings.
Special tip? They have a free app that you can download which is packed with lots of information about the architecture and the historical pieces on display.
I’m a history buff- especially when it comes to the Moors in Spain. They are such a significant role in shaping modern Spain in all factors- language, food, architecture, religion- everything. In any Spanish city I’m in I always look for glimpses of their traces and this palace surpassed all of my expectations. I would recommend that everyone goes to see it- the architecture is breath-taking and it is a must see if you’re ever in Zaragoza.
Price: €-€€€ it depends where you want decide to sit and eat. There are restaurants and bars that fit everyone’s budget. In Spain you don’t need to break the bank to have a good meal.
Is it worth it? Yes 100% definitely go if you have some time
How long to spend there? It’s nice to go there for evening drinks or a little rest break during the day- maybe an hour or so. You could spend your whole afternoon there though, snacking and drinking on a hot sunny day.
Special tip? Try to go during a quieter time period- Saturday lunchtime probably wasn’t the best time to visit but I saw it at its peak capacity! Also try and get a menu del día, these usually include two dishes, a coffee or dessert and either drink or starter from anywhere between 9€ to 15€.
Manchester has the Northern Quarter and Spinningfields, Valencia has El Carmen and Russafa and Zaragoza has El Tubo. This a collection of winding streets in the old town filled with bars, cafes and restaurants. I’ve been told that its electric on a Saturday night and really comes alive during the evenings. The vibe was still even more fun and welcoming on Saturday lunchtime too. If you’re travelling in a group there are a lot of terraces and open beer gardens, which looked quite inexpensive but still a place with chilled vibes.
El Parque Expo Zaragoza
Is it worth it? 50/50 its quite a way to get there by foot but it has some cool exhibitions.
How long to spend there? As its in open space you can wander leisurely at your own pace
Special tip? Maybe rent a bike ride along the river to get there- it’s a lot quicker than walking and a great way to do some more sightseeing
I wanted to see the former International expo in Zaragoza. On the train ride there I had read that is something that is usually overlooked by tourists because it is located quite far away from the other tourist sites. Granted, it is on the other side of the town and quite a walk to get there- but if you go on a warm summers day like I did it's worth it. In 2008 Zaragoza hosted this international expo and even today some of the work is available to see for passers by.
So what are my conclusions for Zaragoza? Despite being there for only 27 hours I really enjoyed the trip. The hardest part was the five hour train journey (one way) so if you are coming from Valencia do pack things to keep you entertained or even take a bla bla car . Don’t do what I did and hotspot your laptop for the whole journey- hence majorly going over your monthly data limit! Zaragoza is a really cool city, I believe it’s the fifth biggest in Spain. Eve though I spent little time there I feel like I saw the main monuments and got a really good feel for the city. If I were to go again I would stay for a full weekend and see the local markets on Sunday as well as explore the Caixaforum.
Overall I give Zaragoza a ✪✪✪✪ - not a city to be missed if you’re travelling through central/ northern Spain.