Zaragoza in a monumental city, with over two thousand years of history and which boasts a treasury of civil and religious Mudejar architecture that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Romans, Muslims, Jews and Christians left their mark in the shape of a living heritage and shaped the singular personality of this city that welcomes its visitors with open arms. From the strength and intelligence of the works of Goya to the grandiose Baroque architecture of the Basilica of the Pilar, the Aljaferia Palace, a leading example of architecture in the Upper Mark of Al-Andalus (an administrative and military division in the north-east of Moslem Spain in the Ebro Valley), and the contemporary architecture to be seen in the Water Tower or the Bridge Pavilion, the city of Zaragoza is a mixture of art, architecture and culture.
The warmth of its people, its varied gastronomy, from traditional dishes to a wide range of tapas and signature cuisine, and its dual essence, classical and contemporary, shape the identity of the city on the Ebro.
EUROPE’S LARGEST RIVER AQUARIUM
Located on the old Expo site, you can today enjoy the largest river aquarium in Europe. The Zaragoza Aquarium has over 5,000 individuals of 300 species from five great river basins: the Nile, the Mekong, the Amazon, the Murray-Darling and the Ebro, each representing one of the five continents. The aquarium offers a chance of an unforgettable experience: an introduction to diving in the central tank named “Rivers of the World”, where different species from different rivers and ecosystems live together, such as the arapaima and the piranha.
If there is one setting that symbolises Zaragoza, then that is the imposing Plaza del Pilar, which has two of the most significant monuments of the city, the solemn Basilica of the Pilar and the ceremonious San Salvador Cathedral. The famous profile of the former, the most important shrine to the Virgin Mary in Spain, rises up, housing the impressive Chapel of the Virgin, the frescoes by Goya, the retable by Damian Forment and offering the chance to climb one of its spires to enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of Zaragoza. The Pilar is the most important religious edifice in the city, together with the San Salvador Cathedral, or La Seo, as it is popularly known. This impressive cathedral, the first Christian cathedral in Zaragoza, was built on the site of the Great Mosque of the old Moslem city and still today has an eclectic mixture of styles, from Romanesque to neoclassical. On the outside, its magnificent Parroquieta wall is a masterpiece of Zaragozan Mudejar architecture and serves as the preface to the superb collection of Flemish tapestries in the Cabildo Metropolitano, or Metropolitan Chapter House. Facing La Seo is the recently inaugurated Diocesan Museum, with a magnificent collection of religious art.
Another jewel which reflects the historical splendour of Zaragoza is the Aljaferia Palace. The gardened arcades of the Patio of Santa Isabel, the Hall of Gold and Oratory, and the Trovador Tower, where Verdi set the action of his famous opera Il Trovatore, are the unmissable corners of this beautiful monument, the most important civil Hispano-Moslem building of the 11th century. This grandiose building, together with La Seo and the Church of San Pablo, has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for their Mudejar architecture, a unique style that reflects the influence and tradition of Muslim artists.
Zaragoza is, above all else, a city of contrasts and age-old history. Visitors should plunge into the streets and plazas of its historical centre, one of the largest in the country, where they will find treasures such as the archaeological remains of the Roman theatre, magnificent 15th and 16th-century buildings, many today converted into museums and exhibition halls, and imposing Baroque churches, like the Churches of San Felipe and San Carlos.
But the magic of this zone is not just to be found in its monuments. The open, welcoming nature of the people makes it easy to join in the life of the joyful, bustling streets, plazas, traditional shops and cafeterias of the city. And so, the Central Market is an unmissable visit. This jewel of modernist architecture, serving the people of Zaragoza since 1902, is a place that delights the senses every day.
The Zaragoza Delicias Intermodal Station, the arrival point of the AVE high-speed train, is integrated into the city and welcomes visitors arriving in Zaragoza by train and coach from numerous destinations all over the Peninsula. As well as a cutting-edge Intermodal Station, there is also an airport that connects the city with many domestic and international destinations.
Within the city, there are several ecological, sustainable public transport options. As well as the city bus service, there are trams, the Bizi Zaragoza bicycle hire service and the Tourist Bus which stops at the station.
Among the many museums in the city, you should not miss the archaeological legacy of the Romans: the Baths, the Forum, the Theatre and the Caesaraugusta river port. But the city also has new exhibition spaces, such as MICAZ, the only museum in the world which exhibits the four great series of Goya engravings, or the impressive Pablo Gargallo Museum of sculpture, housed in the 16th-century Palace of Argillo, in the Aragon Renaissance style. Other Renaissance buildings are to be found in the historical city centre and are singular backdrops for exhibitions: the Palace of Sastago, the Infanta Patio and, above all, the Italianate-style Lonja. As well as these venues, there is the refurbished Pablo Serrano Aragon Institute of Art and Contemporary Culture (IAACC), which houses a compendium of the work of this brilliant sculptor as well as temporary exhibitions, the Museum of Zaragoza, with its collections of archaeology and fine arts –including several oils by Goya and other artists- and the Centro de Historias, a venue dedicated to the most avant-garde artistic tendencies.
Zaragoza is, furthermore, a city with an intense cultural life. Top-billing events of all types take place in venues such as the Auditorium, the Teatro Principal and the new Conference Centre, located on the site of the Expo. And it has precisely been since the International Exposition of 2008 that Zaragoza has re-entered the world as a renewed city with a modern architectural infrastructure.
Among the avant-garde buildings that have remained in the city as a legacy of the Expo, there is the Torre del Agua, or Water Tower, designed by the architect, Enrique de Teresa, whose 76 glazed metres offer one of the most beautiful views of the city. You can also admire the Bridge Pavilion, in the shape of a gladiolus, designed by the prestigious Iranian architect, Zaha Hadid, or the Pavilion of Spain during the Expo, the work of Francisco Mangado, a forest of pillars and volumes in glass, a fine example of modern architecture.
Another of the pleasures that Zaragoza offers visitors are the green zones, leading attractions of the city such as the Jose Antonio Labordeta Park and the Luis Buñuel Water Park, with rich, varied flora and fauna. The latter offers many activities and incentives for companies and for people of all ages, from the spine-tingling descent of the Wild Water Canal to the Multi-adventure Park, a round of golf or a relaxing spa.
If you go to Zaragoza, you must not miss the delicious Aragon lamb, although there is also excellent fish, cod being one of the favourite dishes. Garlic soup, pollo al chilindrón (chicken in a tomato and red pepper sauce) and migas (breadcrumbs) are to be found in all the traditional restaurants, together with all kinds of fruit and vegetables, the most popular being borage. The flagship products are the ham of Teruel and the oil from Lower Aragon. Among the sweet dishes, there are frutas de Aragón (candied fruit), turrón de guirlache (almonds in toffee) and peaches marinated in wine will sweeten your palate. Any of the four Designations of Origin of the wines of Aragon -Somontano, Cariñena, Campo de Borja and Calatayud- offer excellent variety and choice.
To get to know the gastronomy of Zaragoza, you can start with the typical tapas, bite-sized creations that go from the most traditional, by now classics in this city, to the most innovative, true examples of leading signature cuisine. But all have one thing in common: the excellent quality of the products and their exquisite presentation. To enjoy them easily and economically, buy the Zaragoza Card Tapas. Some of the most popular areas of the city to enjoy them, among others, are parts of the historical city centre, such as El Tubo, San Miguel, La Magdalena, Santa Marta and Santa Cruz.
Night-time Zaragoza also has something for all tastes, with different areas offering nightlife so that, without travelling far, you can enjoy Spanish Pop, ska, rock, merengue, reggae, heavy metal, dance, chill-out, hip-hop, salsa and much more. El Royo, La Zona, El Casco and Doctor Cerrada are some of the leading nightspots in the city.
Don’t leave Zaragoza without enjoying a stroll through the city centre, where you will find the city’s leading shopping establishments. Around Calle Alfonso I, Calle Don Jaime, Calle Coso, Paseo de la Independencia, Paseo de Sagasta, Gran Via and other streets converging at Plaza Paraiso, you will find everything from designer shops to art galleries, antique dealers, international fashion designers, traditional shops for gourmets and bakeries where you can buy a souvenir of the city, as well as street markets with antiques, books, stamps and no end of items, such as the Plaza de San Bruno market.
There are many ways to enjoy Zaragoza, among them the numerous tourism services that Zaragoza Turismo offers visitors. Hop on the Tourist Bus for a bird’s-eye view of the city. The Tourist Taxi will show you the city at your leisure and, if you want to continue your visit on wheels, the Bizitour is always an excellent option, a guided tour by bicycle that will take you to the banks of the River Ebro and the new Expo Zaragoza 2008 zone.
But if you prefer to walk, there are many different guided visits that you will love. There are guided walks around the Roman, Renaissance, Mudejar and Goyan Zaragoza and guided visits to La Seo, the Pilar and the historical city centre. If you are a theatre lover, nothing better than enjoying and learning on a dramatised visit, a unique experience.
But there are many more options available! A visit to the astonishing renaissance palace of the Real Maestranza, a bespoke panoramic visit, an adapted visit to accessible Zaragoza for persons of reduced mobility, the Divertour, a continuation of the Megabus, specially designed for families with children, or the gastronomic Chocotour and Saborea Zaragoza, two delicious ways of discovering the rich historical, cultural and gastronomic heritage of the city.
And for discounts on your shopping and eating in the city, to enjoy tourist services, enter museums and monuments or use public transport free of charge, the best idea is to buy the Zaragoza Card.