A Backpacker’s Guide To Zaragoza Spain

Zaragoza Spain
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The fifth-largest city in Spain and one of the country’s finest hidden gems in the city of Zaragoza.  It is situated in the northern part of Spain in the Aragon region and is home to magnificent sites from Roman ruins to Islamic architecture. Zaragoza, Spain offers authentic Spanish culture with traditional cuisine and delicious local wine at lower prices than the larger cities in Spain.  The city is easily reachable by train which takes merely an hour and a half from Barcelona. Here are 10 must-see places in the city of Zaragoza.

Aljaferia Palace In Zaragoza, Spain

Zaragoza Spain
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A fortified Islamic palace listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Aljaferia Palace in Zaragoza, Spain.  It is a culturally enriching experience with a stunning representation of Moorish and renaissance design.  It was built in the late 11th century during the era of Abu Jaffa Al-Muqtadir.  The interior displays Moorish style arches throughout its hallways and room which are decorated with artwork. 

Also, close to the main courtyard called the Patio de Santa Isabel, you’ll find an octagonal prayer room. It has a horseshoe arched doorway and fine examples of Islamic art.  Upstairs you’ll find rooms of the Palacio Cristiano Medieval made by Aragonese monarchs in the 14th century including the Salon del Trono known as the Throne Room.  Also, the entrance fee to the palace is $6. However, it is free entry on Sundays. 

Pilar Basilica In Zaragoza Spain

Zaragoza Spain
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Also known as The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar is one of the most important Marian sanctuaries in the catholic world found in Zaragoza, Spain.  The inside is decorated with paintings from Goya who is a famous painter from the Aragon region.  It is visited each year by thousands of pilgrims and is also a leading artistic center with a collection of work from various periods including the frescos by Goya.

The Basilica is known to be the first church dedicated to Mary in history as it honors Blessed Virgin Mary.  The structure features several towers one of which you can take a lift to the top and get a view of the top of the Basilica along with panoramic views of Zaragoza, Spain.  It is free to enter and opens at 6:45 AM every day. 

Plaza del Pilar

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One of the largest pedestrian squares in Europe is the Plaza del Pilar in Zaragoza, Spain.  The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar along with the Seo or Cathedral of San Salvador is found at the plaza giving it an alternate name Plaza de las Cathedrals meaning Plaza of the Cathedrals.  This is a popular evening meeting point for locals and where pilgrims gather for the Pilar religious festival. 

At the far end is a fountain called Fuente de la Hispanidad which represents Latin America.  On the other end, you’ll find another fountain in front of the Lonja Stock Exchange which is dedicated to Goya.  The square frequently hosts musical performances and other live events and is surrounded by charming cafes and historic buildings.  Several low-cost hostels can be found near the square making this a great starting point for backpackers exploring the city. 

Catedral del Salvador

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Referred to as La Seo, this is an incredible Roman Catholic cathedral. It’s located at the end of Plaza del Pilar and is made of a combination of styles; Romanesque, Mudejar, Renaissance, Gothic, and Boroque.  It is also now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Mudejar Architecture of Aragon. 

It is the first Christian cathedral of Saragossa dedicated to San Salvador in a place previously occupied by the Roman Temple of the Forum.  The inside also features a high Altarpiece which represents the work of the European Gothic style under the sponsorship of the archbishop Dalmau de Mur. 

The cathedral also includes a Tapestry Museum with an impressive collection of Flemish tapestries from the 15th century.  It is generally open from 10 AM to 8 PM with ticket prices under $5 which include the tapestry museum and an English audio guide.

Museo Goya Coleccion Ibercaja

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The Museo Goya Coleccion Ibercaja is a fine arts museum in Zaragoza, Spain and primarily focused on the work of Francisco de Goya.  The museum includes over 1,000 pieces of art with around 500 on display.  You can expect to learn how Goya became one of the most important painters in the world. Also, each floor of this museum is dedicated to different aspects of Francisco de Goya’s life and work. It holds art before Goya’s time, prints, Goya’s room, and legacy. 

His work was also influenced by many factors. This includes the Aragon region where he was born. It is where he trained and had an experience as a court painter during the Peninsular War.  The museum is housed in a Renaissance-style building that belonged to Jeronimo de Cosida built in 1536.  The museum also offers free admission on the second Sunday of every month. 

Monasterio de Piedra

Zaragoza Spain
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The Monasterio de Piedra is a stone monastery in one of the most stunning enclaves in Europe combining a 13th-century Cistercian building with a unique natural park and upscale tourist complex.  The natural park features countless waterfalls many say are similar to Plitvice falls in Croatia.  Along with countless waterfalls, the park offers an extensive garden, a mirror lake flanked by red cliffs, a deep cave system, and a beautiful stone monastery. 

Additionally, in 2009, the Monasterio de Piedra was declared a Site of Cultural Interest. It was then later named a National Artistic Historic Monument.  The site gained recognition being the filming location for the movie “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” with a brief cameo from Johnny Depp including a scene with him at the waterfalls. 

Zaragoza Spain Old Town

Zaragoza Old town
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Also known as “El Tubo”, the historic center of Zaragoza, Spain is where you’ll find loads of narrow streets. These amazingly beautiful streets are full of traditional Spanish restaurants.  Young people often take part in tapas bar crawls generally organized with various hostels and backpacker groups which will take through the restaurants sampling the various tapas offered.  Found buried within Old Town is the oldest restaurant in Spain known as the Casa Lac Restaurant. 

It was built in 1825 and offers two stories of a stylish relaxed Spanish atmosphere.  The restaurant’s specialty includes their vegetables; grown straight from their own garden.  You can also expect to find traditional Spanish cuisine including tapas along with a well-stocked wine cellar.  The restaurant is open from 12 PM to 4 PM specializing in mid-day entrees.

El Gancho Street Art

Street Art
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Zaragoza is a city known for having a strong street art scene that is prevalent in the El Gancho district.  The street art tradition started 14 years ago which now includes hundreds of surprisingly colorful and talented pieces of graffiti, stencils, and stickers spread across the city.  These are easily explored simply walking through the neighborhood streets branching from Calle del Las Armas. 

Every September, Zaragoza hosts an urban art festival called Festival Asalto.  It invites artists from all over the world to complete a piece of street art in a designated area of the city within one week.

Additionally, the festival includes musical performances, street art workshops, local food vendors, and more. This street art festival attracts more than a million visitors every year. It brings in well-known artists such as Nuria Mora, Ricardo Cavalo, and Ron English.

The Casaraugusta Theater Museum

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A space displaying the ruins of the ancient Roman Theater in Zaragoza along with various archaeological models from the 1st century A.D. is the Casaraugusta Theater Museum in Zaragoza, Spain. The museum also occupies lots corresponding to important houses during Medieval, Renaissance, and Boroque times while also being on the grounds of the former Jewish quarter of Zaragoza. 

It covers three floors paying tribute to the city’s Roman heritage with vases, parts of statues, column capitals, and more. The theater is also one of the largest Roman theaters in Hispania Romana. It has a capacity of over 6,000 spectators giving account to the importance Romans gave to recreational activities.  At night, education films are shown on 10 large drop-down projection screens displaying the recreation and foundations of the theater. 

Fluvial Aquarium of Zaragoza

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The Fluvial Aquarium of Zaragoza is the largest river aquarium in Europe; home to freshwater species from all over the world. It is a 3,400 square meter complex housing animals from the five most important rivers on the planet; the Nile, the Mekong, the Amazon, the Darling Murray, and the Ebro.  The various species at the aquarium include sturgeons, anacondas, piranhas, otters, and crocodiles. 

Additionally, other rare species of fish can be found as well such as 28 Amazon arapaimas; an archaic freshwater fish from the Jurassic period and exceeds 3 meters in length.  On the weekends you’ll have a chance to see arapaimas and pacus during their feeding sessions.  Along with the exhibition area, visitors can find reasonably priced food at the restaurant and enjoy incredible views from its terrace. 


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