by Janis / 0 comments - Orginally published:21st November 2023

The beating heart of Aragon in northeast Spain

Our incredible Spanish road trip adventure started in northern Spain upon arriving by Brittany Ferries into Bilbao.

And, so it began, off to our first interim destination, a visit to the historical city of Pamplona in Navarre. After a few delightful hours in Pamplona, we ventured onto the picturesque city of Zaragoza in the Aragon province of Spain, where we were staying for a couple of nights.

Zaragoza had been on our travel list for years, so we were delighted to have finally arrived in the ancient city and keen to begin exploring Zaragoza’s historic streets.

We love touring northern Spain; we’ve previously visited León, Oviedo, Logroño, Bilbao, Santander, and Santillana de Mar. What is more, we especially like it in the north of Spain as you hear very few people speaking English. This is where our choppy Duolingo kicks in.

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During this road trip, we’re touring further south to Teruel, Murcia, Mojácar, Granada and Toledo, and upon returning north, we’re visiting Valladolid, Astorga and Burgos.

Did you catch our inspiration for this Spanish road trip?

Where is Zaragoza?

Where to stay in Zaragoza

The hotel Silken Reino de Aragón in Zaragoza is very centrally located in the heart of the Old Town. It’s just a few minutes’ walk to the Plaza de España and a short hop to the bustling tapas bars in the El Tubo de Zaragoza district.

The rooms are very comfortable and clean and perfect for a couple of nights’ stay. We chose to stroll out each morning for breakfast as we enjoy eating in local cafés.

Silken Reino de Aragón has an underground car park with access next to the hotel; a daily charge is applied.

Alternatively, pop your dates in the search box and discover further options for all budgets.

Brief history of Zaragoza

A 2,000-year legacy
Zaragoza truly has a rich history, with the Roman Caesar Augusta founding the city between 25BC and 11BC, over 2,000 years ago. Zaragoza would have been an impressive sight to see during the Roman era as there would have been a forum, many Roman public buildings, thermal baths, and a theatre.
roman ruins at the base of the torreon de la zuda in zaragoza, spain
Torreon de la Zuda
The oratory, in a mudéjar design, of the aljafería palace in zaragoza, spain
The Oratory in Aljafería Palace
Some centuries later, Zaragoza was governed by Arab Muslim leaders, which meant the architecture of Zaragoza would evolve immensely. The breath-taking Mudéjar architecture can still be witnessed today. The Mudéjar design style is one of my favourites to be found in Spain. Still prominent elements of this remain in Zaragoza.
the bola del mundo (spanish for "ball of the world") is a large, spherical sculpture located in the plaza del pilar in zaragoza, spain. it is a 3-meter-diameter (10-foot) globe made of concrete with a relief map of the continents.
Bola del mundo in Plaza del Pilar

From December 1118, Alfonso I of Aragon conquered Zaragoza. He made it the capital of the Kingdom of Aragon, and still it remains to be its capital city today.

Zaragoza experienced tumultuous times through the 1800s, with various battles along with the Spanish coup in 1936.

The charming city of Zaragoza lies on the banks of the River Ebro and, since it was founded many centuries ago, has been named Salduie, Caesaraugusta, Saraqusta and Zaragoza.

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Exploring the Plaza del Pilar

Nuestra Señora del Pilar Basilica

You’ll be stopped in your tracks when you turn into Plaza del Pilar in Zaragoza and step into the magnificent rectangular square; it is astonishing. The plaza is enormous; you’ll even struggle to see from one end to the other.

This amazing square is surrounded by beautiful architecture on all sides; however, the building that immediately catches your eye is the spectacular Nuestra Señora del Pilar Basilica.

a portrait view of the towers of cathedral-basilica of our lady of the pillar from the plaza del pilar in zaragoza, spain
Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
two towers of cathedral-basilica of our lady of the pillar from the plaza del pilar in zaragoza, spain
Nuestra Señora del Pilar Basilica

The current-day Roman catholic church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar Basilica was built during the 17th and 18th centuries in Baroque style. Numerous churches have been built on this sacred site over the centuries in the styles of Romanesque, Gothic, and Mudéjar.

Although I don’t imagine any of the previous churches could surpass the grandeur of the Basilica today.

We stepped inside the church, and the vastness just takes your breath away, along with the intricate alabaster high altarpiece. Unfortunately, we were unable to take photos inside of the Basilica.
A daytime view of the cathedral-basilica of our lady of the pillar in zaragoza as seen from the puente de piedra
Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
One of the greatest places to grab the iconic shot of Cathedral-Basilica is from the Puente de Piedra, the ‘Bridge of Lions’, which spans the River Ebro. This is a beautiful place to stand while the sun sets and the Basilica is illuminated.

There are so many incredible places to discover in Spain and I love planning road trips. I often use the DK Eyewitness books, I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into searching for more.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our Spanish road trips, now you can grab the revised copy.

The evolving La Seo de Zaragoza

Discover Zaragoza’s history
Ensure you take your time ambling around Plaza del Pilar. As you stroll towards the east of the square, you’ll see the Ayuntamiento de Zaragoza, constructed in Renaissance Revival style and completed in 1965. Next to the charming city hall is the Lonja, an old currency exchange built in the Aragonese Renaissance style and now an exhibition room.
the ayuntamiento de zaragoza as seen from the plaza la seo with the towers of the cathedral-basilica of our lady of the pillar in the background
Ayuntamiento de Zaragoza
the roman remains museum in the plaza la seo in front of the Catedral del Salvador de Zaragoza
Roman Remains Museum
Just a short hop from the Lonja is the Roman Remains Museum, located beneath the Plaza de la Seo. The Roman Museum displays the archaeological remains of the Roman Forum and market from when Zaragoza was founded and named Caesaraugusta.
a statue of the roman emperor caesar augusta in zaragoza, spain
Caesar Augusta

We’ve now arrived at La Seo de Zaragoza, the Cathedral of the Savior, yes, another cathedral in Zaragoza; they are lucky enough to have two.

La Seo forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage for the Mudéjar Architecture of Aragon. The site that the cathedral stands on has been a sacred place of worship for centuries. Its location sits on the site of the old Roman forum where a temple would have once stood in the first century BC.

During the 1st century AD, a mosque was built on the site; however, little evidence of this remains, and in 1121, the building was consecrated as a Christian Church and converted for Christian worship.

the intricately detailed mudéjar exterior of the cathedral of the savior in zaragoza spain
Mudéjar exterior of La Seo de Zaragoza
the a fountain in front of the tower and entrance of the cathedral of the savior in zaragoza spain
La Seo de Zaragoza

In the mid-12th-century, the mosque was destroyed, and a Romanesque Cathedral was built in its place. The cathedral continued to evolve through different styles from Gothic, Mudéjar, Renaissance and Baroque. The Mudéjar exterior wall on the left of the cathedral is incredible.

Visiting La Seo de Zaragoza was amazing; there are so many chapels within the cathedral, which are extremely ornate and lavish.

I would just like to add that photography inside La Seo was strictly forbidden, and it was rigorously enforced.

A Spanish Road Trip

Discover more of historic Spain and tour its picturesque countryside in the north, or head south to explore the Sierra Nevada National Park just south of Granada.

You can do it all on a road trip; Rental Cars searches multiple well-known car hire brands and discovers the deals that suit you the best.

Admiring Plaza de Caesar Augusta

The Romans left their mark
I really loved the charming square of Plaza de Caesar Augusta; it’s located at the west end of Plaza del Pilar and had a little less hustle and bustle of the main square.
the illunimated church of san juan de los panetes in the plaza de caesar augusta in zaragoza spain
The Church of San Juan de los Panetes
There’s some fascinating history and wonderful architecture just within a few steps of Plaza de Caesar Augusta. One immediately noticeable landmark is the eye-catching Church of San Juan de los Panetes and its prominent tower, which sits elevated above the plaza.
a roman arch and ruins in the plaza de caesar augusta in zaragoza spain
Murallas Romana de Zaragoza
Adjacent to the church are the Roman Walls of Caesaraugusta, the ‘Murallas Romana de Zaragoza’. These walls would have once surrounded the city, with twelve city gates up to 120 towers, and in places, the walls were 7 metres thick.
the reconstructed roman arch walls with their defensive towers in the plaza de caesar augusta in zaragoza spain
Outside the Roman Walls of Zaragoza
Nearby the Roman ruins is a bronze statue of Caesar Augusta, which looks down along the walls and three semi-circular towers.

Visiting Aljafería Palace

A stunning fortified palace

We’re now off to the magnificent Aljafería Palace. This remarkable Islamic fortress was built during the 11th-century as a luxury retreat for the Kings of the Taifa of Zaragoza.

The medieval Aljafería Palace is currently the seat of the Parliament of Aragon, and in 2001, it was declared a World Heritage site for its beautiful Mudéjar architecture.

the mudéjar exterior of the aljafería palace as seen from across the moat in zaragoza, spain
Aljafería Palace
The palace is incredibly unique, with a blend of Moorish and Christian elements. It is one of only a handful of buildings in Spain with this style of architecture in such a conserved condition. Its ornate decoration and intricate craftsmanship are simply breath-taking. It is the best-preserved Islamic palace in Spain outside of Andalucía.
The arch of the portico, in a mudéjar design, of the aljafería palace in zaragoza, spain
Arch of the portico
the entrance arch to the mosque within the aljafería palace in zaragoza, spain
Entrance door to the mosque
The palace has witnessed many forms of restructuring over the past centuries, as it was particularly damaged during the Sieges of Zaragoza. The Aljafería fortification has since been used as a military fortress; however, since the mid-20th-century, the palace has been fully restored and preserved.
Trees planted out in a geomtric pattern in the Santa Isabel Courtyard in the aljafería palace in zaragoza, spain
Santa Isabel Courtyard

If you’re visiting Zaragoza, the Aljafería Palace is a must to see; for just a few euros, you’ll treated to some Moorish splendour seen very rarely.

I was taken aback at how stunning the palace was; upon entering through the Aragonese Courtyard, we strolled into the open-air courtyard of Santa Isabel, and it was beautiful. The courtyard would have been an integral part of the palace, landscaped with citrus trees and cropped low hedges and surrounded by ornate Moorish-taifa arches.

the ornately decorated mudéjar arches of the moorish-taifa north side hall within the aljafería palace in zaragoza, spain
The Moorish-Taifa north side hall
Within the north side hall of the Santa Isabel Courtyard are the royal rooms, and the Moorish architecture and marble flooring here are mind-blowing. The delicate arches that lead you through to the Golden Hall and mosque are stunning and remind me of visiting the Mosque–Cathedral in Córdoba.
looking up at the ceiling of the grand hall of the palace of the catholic monarchs with its intricate mudéjar designs within the aljafería palace in zaragoza, spain
Ceiling of the Grand Hall of the Palace of the Catholic Monarchs
Throughout the palace, there are stunning grand halls fit for a King. The ceilings towering above are spectacular and are so beautifully inland with fine attention to detail.

Tourist Information

If you’re planning to explore Spain, ensure you check out the Visit Spain official tourism website. It is overflowing with helpful information covering every region of this beautiful country from north, south, east, and west.

There are so many incredible places to discover in Spain and I love planning road trips. I often use the DK Guides,

I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into searching for more

Exploring Zaragoza

Strolling its historic streets
Let’s don our comfy shoes and explore the historic streets of Zaragoza. As I mentioned above Zaragoza, is overflowing with ancient history, so ensure you search out the Roman ruins dotted around the Old Town.
the red brick stone work with contrasting arches of the exterior of the circular bull ring in zaragoza, spain
Zaragoza Bull Ring

While strolling back to the Old Town of Zaragoza from the Aljafería Palace, we came across Zaragoza’s bullring. I appreciate that bullfighting is a contentious subject; however, this particular bullring was pretty impressive.

The bullring is also known as ‘La Misericordia’ and is one of the largest in Spain and seats around 10,300 people. It was originally opened in 1764. Although it has been renovated and extended over time and has been built in the neo-Mudejar style.

An obelisk in the centre of a fountain in Plaza Santo Domingo with the the Teatro del Mercado in the background
Plaza Santo Domingo

We loved just strolling around Zaragoza, ambling along one street to another, and one of the charming squares we came across was Plaza Santo Domingo, with a delightful fountain in the centre.

The other eye-catching structure here was the Teatro del Mercado; this delightful theatre was once home to Zaragoza’s old fish market.

Have you?

Ventured on a road trip around Spain? Which regions did you explore, and do you have any unique places you would love to share with us, as there is so much more we want to discover?

Enjoying Zaragoza’s art and culture

From Goya to ‘El Tubo
When we travel through Europe, we love visiting local indoor food markets; in Spain, they are called Mercados, and the one in Zaragoza was stunning. The central market along Av. de César Augusto has an incredible selection of fresh fish, meat, fruit, and vegetables; they are such a pleasure to stroll around.
the ornate facade to zaragoza central mercado, or zaragoza central food market in the plaza de caesar augusta
Zaragoza Central Mercado
The Zaragoza Mercado was designed in 1895 by the Aragonese architect Félix Navarro Pérez and was built using iron. The beautiful market underwent a renovation and reopened its doors in February 2020.
a bronze statute to the artist francisco de goya in the plaza del pilar in zaragoza
Statute to Francisco de Goya
There is so much to discover in Zaragoza. One of its fascinating museums is dedicated to Francisco de Goya, who was once a resident of Zaragoza. The Goya Museum not only contains works of art by Goya but other renowned artists too.
a busy lane in zaragoza's old town filled with people enjoying tapas
Tapas lanes in Zaragoza
the ‘el tubo’ calle in zaragoza's old town filled with people enjoying tapas
‘El Tubo’ Calle de Los Estebanes
As the evening draws in, the streets and lanes around El Tubo in the old town of Zaragoza begin to come alive. This area of the city is renowned for serving Spanish tapas in several different bars. After a long day on your feet, there’s nothing better than sitting outside a bustling bar in the warm evening air, grazing on the local tapas.

We have created a little YouTube video of our time in Zaragoza.  Why not take a look?

Also, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel and get the latest clips as we post them?

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