48hrs in Zaragoza
With the Pyrenees to the north and Barcelona to the east this relaxed and effortlessly cool city in northern Spain is often overlooked. Situated on the banks of the Ebro River, pretty Zaragoza entices visitors with excellent tapas bars, vibrant nightlife, stunning architecture and a laid back vibe. Despite being the capital of the Aragon region, the atmosphere is one of a large Spanish town albeit with a host of world-class museums, galleries, shops and sights. The grand Basilica del Pillar dominates the sky line alongside the Palacio de la Aljaferia; a stunning reminder of the city’s Moorish past. Take in one of the many museums and learn about the city’s Roman and Moorish heritage, or relax in one of the green spaces. A large student population ensures the evenings are never dull, with the tapas bars and restaurants of El Tubo coming alive when the sun goes down.
Arrive in early October and your visit will coincide with the Fiestas del Pilar, a celebration of the city’s patron saint, the Virgin Mary. Officially on 12th October, the festivities take place either side of this date. See swathes of flowers laid out on the streets as an offering to the Virgin, a procession of papier mache figures parading through the city centre alongside spontaneous flamenco dancing and all manner of live music.
Morning – Start your day with a café con leche and maybe a churro or two then wander over to the stunning Palacio de la Aljaferia. This UNESCO listed 11th century Islamic palace is a beautiful example of the Mudéjar-style of architecture combining elements of both Islamic and Christian designs. Two palaces surround pretty courtyard gardens; explore inside and be sure to look up at the spectacular wooden ceilings, carved by master Moorish artists. Relax in the gardens that surround the site.
Afternoon – Escape the afternoon heat with a visit to the Museo Goya Ibercaja. Born in nearby Fuendetodos, Francisco de Goya is one of Spain’s most celebrated artists and this excellent museum holds a collection of his work, alongside temporary exhibitions. Entry is free.
Evening – Head out late for an evening in the vibrant El Tubo district. The winding, narrow streets are crammed with top class tapas bars and restaurants, do as the locals do and sample a few dishes at each. The area is compact and central.
Morning – Beat the crowds and start early with a trip to the Nuestra Señora Del Pilar Basilica. This Baroque masterpiece, completed in 1754, dominates the city skyline with an impressive eleven cupolas (domes) and four towers. Legend has it the Virgin Mary appeared to St James here, and told him to build a church in her honour, resulting in what is considered to be the first church dedicated to her. There are also excellent artworks by Goya and Bayaeu to be seen.
Afternoon – Grab a picnic and walk over to one of Zaragoza’s many green spaces. A popular and central spot is the Parque Grande José Antonio Labordeta, which offers botanical gardens, sculptures and fountains along with bikes for hire.
Evening – Before heading out for dinner, finish your day on a modern note with a visit to the striking Aragonese Institute of Art and Contemporary Culture. Featuring over 140 sculptures and drawings by venerated artist, Pablo Serrano, the museum showcases his finest works alongside those of his wife, plus a vast collection of contemporary graphic art. The building is a destination in itself with its unusual industrial design. Evening opening hours are 5-9pm.