Ever since last spring I’ve been complaining to anyone with ears about my unrequited love.Barcelona was starting to hate me more and more, and her weapon of choice was pollen. Allergies were something I’d previously blisfully underestimated, and now the empire struck back : I was allergic to plataneros.
So after the fortunate escape into Lisbon the week before, I needed to get away from the city again – so we went to Zaragoza over the weekend.
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Weekend in Zaragoza – What to Expect
Zaragoza. Roman city founded in the wake of the first millennia, it wore the name of Caesar for a long time, it then reinvented itself with an Arab sound & feel; and it kept reinventing itself into a modern city, promoter of sustainability.
Although Zaragoza is the fifth largest city in Spain, arriving at the central train station the city doesn’t look all that big: in fact, Zaragoza has the vibes of a pleasantly quaint town you’d grow to love, if you considered moving here.
We grabbed a quick improvised tapas lunch at 122 while admiring the Plaza de Torros (good food! later the evening we came back to try their burgers), then headed to the hotel for a change of clothes.
My intention is NOT to give you a mini guide to visit Zaragoza, but rather a personal snapshot of my trip – to get you inspired – and I’d say it has a fair mix of thighs to try out for a first visit. So here goes:
First There Was Food
Always the food. Happy belly equals happy traveler (or at least in my case. Don’t judge)
And the churrerria Las Delicias, across the street from ING will sell you happy belly churros with only 3€ (for 12 pieces)
If you re still craving sweets, A Tu Rollo gives you fish-shaped waffles stuffed with the frozen deliciousness that humans call ice cream.
If you’re in Zaragoza over the weekend, check out Bar Estudios, 122, Bar La Ballena Colora for their famous ballenita (a small tapa sandwich made of white anchovies and green peppers) or Méli Mélo (for Spanish with a twist). Now you’re good to go on adventures.
The Essentials: Must-Sees
The Casco Antigo (Old Town area) was quiet, the sound of siesta in the air so we strolled around and shortly got to Plaza Del Pilar, where you have two of the main attractions:
The Gothic-Mudéjar style St. Paul church – Iglesia de San Pablo – has to be on your list; don’t be cheap and pay the 4€, it’s most worth it. Since they don’t allow taking pictures and filming (and I actually abide by these rules ) I have no pictures to prove my statement. But hey, you should let yourself surprised every now and then.
If you ask me, the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar is the real star of the plaza. Beautiful inside out and simply stunning in its sunset reflection of the Ebro river.
For a majestic view of the basilica, showing off its reflexion in the Ebro river, you’ll have to cross the lions guarded Stone Bridge ( Puente de Piedra) and head to the Macanaz Park, where you can have your fill of pictures – though you may also want to stop and enjoy the view for a while.
Mujedar Style: Aljafería
Crossing the bridge again, and after a fifteen minute stroll, it’s when the real star of the city shows up in view: Palacio de la Aljafería. An impressive blend of Arab, classical and Romanesque styles standing since the 11th century, Aljaferia celebrates art at its finest.
I had visited Alhambra many years ago, though I am definitely in need of a refresher , the only vivid memories I still have from 8 years ago are exhaustion, heat and Pepito cream biscuits which I then hated for quite some time).
However, I do remember the Mujedar ornamental styles: the iconic arched pillars, the geometrical perfections, the impecable garden, that beautiful stillness if you’re lucky to catch the place sans tourists. The interior is as striking as its outside walls.
Both Spain and Portugal are worth visiting, if only for the spectacular Mujedar architecture – a style of ornamentation and decoration in post-Islamic Iberian peninsula that was strongly influenced by Moorish workmanship.
The Largest Fresh Water Aquarium in Europe
Changing pace and style, we end up across the city, at the Zaragoza Aquarium. The aquarium is located in the new, modern area of the city, built in 2008 and known as the water expo. Now here’s something different!
You may be thinking : why bother visiting an aquarium ? Especially after Barcelona, Singapore or San Diego ? Well, a very good reason is its uniqueness: the aquarium in Zaragoza is the largest fresh water aquarium in all of Europe !
And, while it may not look like much from the outside (the understated aquarium building sure tricked us) inside journey across 5 continents awaits:
- from the local Ebro to the Amazonian submerged forests
- to the wonders of the Nile and Congo, the surprisingly colorful fish in lake Tanganika
- over to Asia and the underwater life of the Mekong delta
- down the proverbial rabbit hole towards the always unique Australia
- and across the Pacific again, into the mangrove forests of Florida
The trip is insanely beautiful! Really, if you’re in Zaragoza over the weekend, this aquarium most definitely deserves a visit. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the playful otters as well.
Getting to Zaragoza
Traveling by bus is not always a pleasure – in fact, most often than not, it’s a pain. However, with ALSA I was pleasantly surprised to see that , with a 25€ return ticket from Barcelona, you get to travel in a new bus, equipped with individual entertainment screens (movies, books, games, WiFi..) and rather spacious legroom. Completely worth it – and great value for money, especially compared with the train ticket which costs at least 50 € . Check out Rome2rio for travel options (my go-to planner)
If you end up going to Zaragoza over the weekend, let me know what was your favorite thing there – leave a comment for fellow travellers below.