15 Top Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Zaragoza
Zaragoza is a treasure trove of historical and cultural gems awaiting discovery. Tourists will find ancient Roman ruins, the first Marian church in Christendom, and fabulous art museums. Follow the "Caesaraugusta Route" to find the forum, thermal baths, and theater of the first- to second-century Roman town (named after Emperor Augustus) that once flourished here. The faithful must visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar, one of the most important pilgrimage churches in Spain. Equally fascinating are the 12th-century Moorish palace and the splendid UNESCO-listed Mudéjar architecture of San Pablo, Santa Maria Magdalena, and San Juan de los Panetes churches. Art lovers will also appreciate the museums that display Francisco de Goya's famous paintings as well as works by contemporary artist Pablo Serrano and the renowned sculptor Pablo Gargallo.
See also: Where to Stay in Zaragoza
1 Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar
With its soaring towers and grand presence along the banks of the Ebro River, the Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar is the city's most iconic landmark. This gem of Baroque architecture was built between the 17th and 18th centuries. Views of the basilica are most impressive from across the river, whereas the entrance is on the other side at the Plaza del Pilar, a spacious town square lined with elegant historical buildings. Take time to admire the basilica's monumental exterior, then enter the awe-inspiring interior that holds a precious object of veneration.
The basilica holds the distinction of being the first church devoted to the Virgin Mary, and is one of the most important pilgrimage churches in Spain after Santiago de Compostela. Since the Middle Ages, pilgrims have journeyed here to honor an image of the Virgin Mary and the Sagrada Columna (Sacred Column), a pillar of jasper stone that is associated with a Marian apparition. According to the legend, Saint James the Apostle came to Cesaraugusta where he had a vision of the Virgin Mary in Jerusalem. During this vision, the Virgin gave James a figure of herself and a pillar of stone, instructing him to build a church here. The story follows that Saint James built a small chapel dedicated to Saint Mary on this spot, making it the first Marian shrine in Christendom. Other churches have subsequently been built on this site: a Visigoth church and a Gothic church of the 16th century. The present Baroque building replaced the earlier churches with a more grandiose structure. The basilica displays the Virgen del Pilar (Our Lady of Pilar) figure behind a mantelpiece. This icon is taken out and presented to the faithful every year on January 2nd, commemorating the date when the Virgin appeared. The other sacred object, the Sagrada Columna (also known as "El Pilar") is now adorned with fanciful silver plating. Other valuable religious art works and lavish Baroque monuments are found throughout the basilica. Of special interest are the alabaster high altarpiece and the frescoes by Goya.
Address: Plaza del Pilar, Zaragoza
2 Museo del Foro de Caesaraugusta
The Museum of the Roman Forum provides a glimpse into the life of Caesaraugusta, an ancient Roman town of the first and second centuries that once occupied present-day Zaragoza. Named after Emperor Augustus who founded the town, Caesaraugusta was known for its splendors. The city had a theater, public baths, and a marvelous forum at the center of town life. This exhibition space is at the archeological space surrounding the Caesaraugusta forum. The museum stands on the site of the archeological excavations, underneath the Plaza de la Seo. On display are remains of the Roman Forum that dates back to the era of Emperor Tiberius. Visitors will see artifacts that represent elements of the old market, walls of shops, pipes, and a sewer system. The exhibits are complemented by educational information and an interesting audio-visual presentation.
Address: 2 Plaza de la Seo, Zaragoza
3 Cathedral and Tapestry Museum
Dedicated to Saint Salvador, the Cathedral of Zaragoza is known as Catedral de San Salvador or Catedral de la Seo or simply La Seo. This cathedral was built in the 12th century on the site of the Roman temple of the Forum, which became a Visigoth church and then a large Muslim mosque during the Moorish era before being converted to a Romanesque church in the 12th century. The old mosque's minaret is the present cathedral's tower, and the building still displays Romanesque elements, in particular, the exterior of the apses. La Seo Cathedral is an enormous church with five naves, and two of the apses have retained the original Romanesque character of the 12th century with exquisitely sculpted arcades. The Moorish influence is seen in the chancel and in some of the archways, while the choir is Gothic in style, and the Capilla del Santo Cristo is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. Adding to the architectural melange is the Neoclassical facade and Baroque details on the tower.
The cathedral also houses a superb Tapestry Museum. This collection of tapestries is considered to be one of the finest in the world. In its possession, the cathedral has 63 precious Flemish tapestries and six works of heraldic embroidery of very high quality. The assortment ranges from medieval to Renaissance and Baroque. The museum displays 11 of the tapestries as well as other objects of religious art including metalwork and reliquary busts. The cathedral and tapestry museum are open to the public daily. Admission includes entrance to both.
Address: Plaza de la Seo, Zaragoza
4 Palacio de la Aljafería
In the heart of Zaragoza, the Aljafería Palace was the 11th-century fortified Moorish castle. The formidable defenses are well preserved, with remains of immense towers that surrounded the castle. The castle was designed on a quadrangular plan around a courtyard, and the towers are all round except for a single rectangular tower that is known as the Troubadour's Tower. The Islamic-style coffered ceilings and plasterwork ornamentation give the building its charm. Today, the Palacio de la Aljafería houses the headquarters of the Aragonese Parliament. The palace is open to the public daily from April through October and Saturday through Wednesday the rest of the year. Guided tours are available.
Address: Calle de los Diputados, Zaragoza
5 Iglesia de San Pablo de Zaragoza
An important example of Aragon Mudéjar style, this church is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its exceptional architectural and historic value. San Pablo Church was built in the 13th and 14th centuries to replace a small Romanesque chapel, then located on the outskirts of the town. With its single nave and vaulted ceilings, the interior has a sense of spaciousness. Chapels between the buttresses display exquisite works of art. During the 15th and 18th centuries, the church was further enhanced and enlarged. A must-see piece of the Renaissance period is the main altarpiece devoted to Saint Paul, crafted from gilded wood by sculptor Damián Forment in 1515. The most noteworthy feature of this monument is its magnificent octagonal Mudéjar tower featuring exceptional Moorish design details.
Address: 42 Calle San Pablo, Zaragoza
6 Lonja de Zaragoza
This splendid 16th-century building stands on the grand Plaza del Pilar, across from the basilica. La Lonja is the historic marketplace of Zaragoza where merchants carried out their trading and other commercial transactions. Designed by Juan de Sariñena, the edifice is the city's best example of Aragonese Renaissance architecture. The building, constructed in brick, features a rectangular plan and a decorative facade with rows of uniform arched windows.
Address: Plaza del Pilar, Zaragoza
7 Pablo Serrano Museum
The Pablo Serrano Museum (Instituto de Aragonés de Arte y Cultura Contemporáneo Pablo Serrano) is dedicated to the work of this accomplished Aragonese artist. The museum's collection spans Pablo Serrano's work from his Figurative period to his Expressionist stage. Exhibits display 140 drawings and sculptures that reflect the evolution of the artist's creativity and innovation. The museum also displays works by the artist's wife, Juana Francés; contemporary graphic art works; and an assortment of paintings by Santiago Lagunas. To get the most out of a visit, take a guided tour.
Address: 20 Paseo María Agustín, Zaragoza
8 Iglesia de Santa Engracia
This Renaissance church was once part of the Hieronymite Monastery of Santa Engracia, however the rest of the monastery no longer exists. Built in the 16th century, the church features a remarkable Plateresque facade that is considered a jewel of Aragonese Renaissance architecture. The building was begun in 1511 by Gil Morlanes, completed by his son in 1517, and renovated in the 18th century. The facade is almost like an altar with its elaborate reliefs, medallions, and sculptures of various characters and saints. Four niches at the sides represent the parents of the Western Church. The upper niches feature the Virgin of the Holy Mass and King Ferdinand, patron of the church. The iconography also depicts Saint Valero, Saint Vincent, Saint Jerome, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and Saint John the Baptist. The crypt houses fourth-century Paleo-Christian tombs.
Address: 1 Calle Tomás Castellano, Zaragoza
9 Museo Ibercaja Camón Aznar
This wonderful museum of fine arts displays the collection of art assembled by José Camón Aznar, a local professor, philosopher, art critic, and art collector. As a patron of this museum, the Spanish savings bank Ibercaja bought the mansion of Jerónimo Cosida to house the collection. The lovely aristocratic home, with three floors designed around a splendid patio, is considered one of the finest examples of Renaissance civil architecture in Zaragoza. The permanent collection focuses on paintings of the 15th and 18th centuries, which are displayed on the first floor. Highlights of this section include works by Francisco de Goya, Blasco de Grañén, Pedro Berruguete, Pedro de Campaña, Juan Antonio de Escalante, and Gregorio Fernández. The second floor is dedicated to Francisco de Goya with exhibits of his engravings. The third floor features 19th-century works by artists inspired by Goya, such as Eugenio Lucas, Leonardo Alenza, and Lucas Villamil. A few of the standout pieces of the collection are the Retrato de la Reina María Luisa de Parma painting by Goya, San Francisco de Asís en Oración by Juan Antonio de Escalante, and Retrato de Ena Wertheimer by Cecilio Pla y Gallardo.
Address: 23 Calle de Espoz y Mina, Zaragoza
10 Museo de Zaragoza
Visitors can explore the art, culture, and history of the Zaragoza province at the Museo de Zaragoza. Housed in the pavilion of the 1908 Universal Expo, the museum has a large and diverse collection of items in two sections: archaeology and fine art. The collection represents different historical and artistic periods beginning with prehistory through the Moorish period, continuing to the Gothic period and Renaissance until the 21st century. Especially noteworthy pieces in the archaeology collection include the ancient bronze plaques with Iberian and Latin inscriptions, a bust of Emperor Augustus, and antiquities from Aljafería Palace. The fine art section features art works from the 12th century to the contemporary period. The assortment of Gothic paintings is outstanding and the works by Francisco de Goya are highlights. The museum has two annexes in Primo de Rivera Park: the Albarracín House with a ceramics section and Ansotana House with an ethnology collection.
Address: 6 Plaza de los Sitios, Zaragoza
11 Museo de Pablo Gargallo
Housed in the impressive 16th-century Palace of Arguillo, this museum is devoted to the work of Pablo Gargallo, the brilliant contemporary sculptor who hailed from the Aragon region. The museum displays the artist's early works of sculpture in marble and plaster as well as later works crafted from iron and other metals. Visitors discover the artist's creative genius and artistic vision through the displays of sculptures, drawings, engravings, cartoons, and biographical information. Highlights of the collection include The Great Prophet, the portrait of Kiki de Montparnasse, and the statues of equestrians called the Olympic Salute.
Address: 3 Plaza de San Felipe, Zaragoza
12 Museo de las Termas Públicas
Dating to the first century, the thermal baths of Caesaraugusta were an important center of social life for the ancient Romans. More than just a place for bathing, the public baths brought people together to play sports, read, and listen to music or poetry. Typical of public baths found in the ancient Roman empire, the facilities included hot-water and cold-water baths. Bathers could alternate between the two baths, but most started with hot and then finished with cold. Men and women were separated in different areas of the baths, or used them at different times. The city of Caesaraugusta was well supplied with fresh water and managed the maintenance of the baths. Today, visitors can explore the history of the baths as well as some of their remains in this Public Baths Museum. Guided tours are available.
Address: 3 - 7 Calle San Juan y San Pedro, Zaragoza
13 Iglesia de Santa Maria Magdalena
The Iglesia de Santa Maria Magdalena was built in the early 14th century on the site of an ancient Roman temple and updated in the 17th century with Baroque details. The most distinctive feature of the Saint Mary Magdalen Church is the tower, characteristic of Aragonese Mudéjar architecture; the ornamental geometric patterns mimic an Almohad-style minaret. Motifs of decorative glazed ceramics add to the Moorish look. The interior features an unusual apse with overlapped arches and pointed windows, also typical of Mudéjar style. The main altarpiece is adorned with 18th-century sculptures and images by Jose Ramirez de Arellano.
Address: Plaza de la Magdalena, Zaragoza
14 Iglesia de San Juan de los Panetes
Another lovely Mudéjar church, San Juan de los Panetes lies between the ancient Roman walls and the Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar. The church was completed in 1725 replacing the Romanesque church of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. The austere Baroque facade features an image of San Juan Bautista and pilasters on the sides. Like Santa Maria Magdalena, the most notable feature of this church is the Mudéjar tower. Its octagonal brick tower with arched windows recalls classic Moorish architecture. The interior offers an inspiring sense of spaciousness with its barrel vaulting and cupola on the crossing.
Address: 3 Calle Salduba, Zaragoza
15 Museo del Teatro Romano
On the Route of Caesaraugusta sites, the ancient Roman theater was discovered in 1972 and the site is now enclosed in a special exhibition space. Visitors will discover an important monument that was of great social importance to the ancient Romans in the first century AD. The archaeological remains give a sense of the grandeur of the original theater and the lifestyle of antiquity. Also on display are interesting artifacts found at the site, such as decorative sconces. The site includes an exposition hall and a caféteria.
Address: 12 Calle San Jorge, Zaragoza
Where to Stay in Zaragoza for Sightseeing
Most of Zaragoza's top tourist attractions are near the Plaza la Seo and Plaza del Pilar, along the banks of the Ebro River, where the city's famous cathedrals and some of its best museums lie. Many restaurants and cafés also huddle along the nearby streets. Here are some highly-rated hotels in this convenient and central location:
- Luxury Hotels: In a relatively quiet neighborhood, a five-minute walk from the cathedrals, Catalonia El Pilar resides in an early 20th-century modernist building with contemporary interior decor. Some rooms have whirlpool tubs. Near the Museo Provincial and the Museo Pablo Serrano, the elegant NH Collection Gran Hotel de Zaragoza offers spacious, crisp-white rooms, about ten minutes' walk from Plaza le Seo. In a modern high-rise, about 15 minutes on foot from the cathedrals, Melia Zaragoza also has large rooms, as well as suites, with more traditional decor.
- Mid-Range Hotels: In the heart of the historic center, the friendly, family-run Hotel Sauce offers excellent value, with private and secure parking and bright, air-conditioned rooms. Only 250 meters away from the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the pet-friendly NH Ciudad de Zaragoza has large older-style rooms, while the welcoming Palafox Hotel, about a ten-minute walk from the cathedrals, comes with a rooftop pool.
- Budget Hotels: Less than ten minutes on foot from the cathedrals, the pet-friendly Hotel Avenida offers simple, modern rooms. The Ibis Zaragoza Centro is also pet-friendly and lies a short stroll across the river from the main historic attractions. Presiding over Plaza España, Hotel Maza, with clean, comfortable rooms, is minutes from the cathedrals, and some rooms offer views over the plaza.
Day Trips from Zaragoza
Fuendetodos and the Goya Museum
The famous Spanish painter Francisco de Goya was born in this quaint little country town 47 kilometers outside of Zaragoza. The tourist highlight of the town is the Goya Museum, which occupies the 18th-century farmhouse where the artist was born. The museum displays many works by Goya including Los Desastres de la Guerra, Los Caprichos, Los Disparates, and La Tauromaquia.
Address: 3 Zuloaga, Fuendetodos
Huesca lies 74 kilometers from Zaragoza in the lush countryside of La Hoya. Steeped in 2,000 years of history, the town still has vestiges of the old medieval walls. Within the ancient enclosures is a labyrinth of narrow pedestrian streets and monumental buildings that seem to preside over the town. The cathedral was built in the 13th century on the site of the Misleida Mosque; its position high on the summit of the town offered protection against invaders during the Reconquest period. Be sure to admire the cathedral's magnificent facade featuring statues of the apostles above the doorway. Another must-see attraction is the Monasterio de San Pedro el Viejo, founded as a Benedictine monastery in the 11th century. The monastery boasts a splendid church, one of Spain's oldest, which has an exquisite Romanesque cloister.
Near Huesca are two natural parks: The Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park has a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Monte Perdido, as well as a luxurious parador hotel at the foot of the mountain. The gastronomy of Huesca is known for its excellent sausages and roast meats as well as the local specialty of Ajoarriero de Huesca (cod in oil and garlic). The other nearby nature reserve is the Cañones de Guara Natural Park, which is popular with outdoor sports enthusiasts. This spectacular nature site is ideal for hiking and canyoning.
Sos del Rey Catolico
About 120 kilometers from Zaragoza, Sos del Rey Católico is a little walled town that has retained its charming medieval character. King Ferdinand of Aragon, "el Rey Católico," was born here in 1452 in the Palacio de Sada, which dates to the 12th century. Gracing the main town square, the Plaza Mayor, are the Renaissance Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) and La Lonja (the Exchange). Nearby is the 11th-12th century Iglesia de San Esteban. This parish church is a wonderful example of Romanesque architecture with a decorative sculptured doorway. The sanctuary boasts excellently preserved 14th-century wall paintings.
Monasterio de Piedra
The Monasterio de Piedra lies in a gorgeous woodland, one of the most remote natural areas of Aragon (110 kilometers from Zaragoza). The monastery was founded in 1194 when King Alonso II and his wife Doña Sancha handed over an old Moorish castle to the Poblet monks, with instructions to build a monastery and spread the Christian faith. Because of its serene setting and pristine environment, the site is an important center of fishing and reforestation. In 1940, the site was declared a National Scenic Spot.
Today, the Monasterio de Piedra is open to the public for visits to the garden, and part of the monastery now houses a luxury hotel, the Hotel Monasterio de Piedra. The lush area around the monastery is filled with a diversity of plant species and wildlife. Well-groomed paths through the forest are designed for visitors to hike or take nature walks.
Address: 50210 Nuévalos, Zaragoza