Zaragoza is a treasure trove of historical and cultural gems waiting to be discovered. Tourists will find ancient Roman ruins, the first Marian church in Christianity, and fantastic art museums. Follow the “Caesaraugusta Route” and find the forum, thermal baths and theater of the 1st to 2nd century Roman city (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 beautiful UNESCO-listed Mudéjar architecture of the San Pablo, Santa Maria Magdalena and San Juan de los Panetes churches. Art lovers will also appreciate the museums that exhibit Francisco de Goya’s famous paintings,
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1 Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
With its towering spires and grand presence along the banks of the River Ebro, the Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar is the city’s most iconic landmark. This jewel of baroque architecture was built between the 17th and 18th centuries. Views of the basilica are most impressive from across the river, while the entrance on the other side is in the Plaza del Pilar, a spacious town square lined with elegant historic buildings. Take some time to admire the basilica’s monumental exterior, then venture into the awe-inspiring interior, which contains a precious object of worship.
The basilica has the distinction of being the first church dedicated 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 traveled here to honor a statue of the Virgin Mary and the monastery Sagrada Columna(Sacred Column), a jasper stone column associated with a Marian apparition. According to 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 an image of himself and a pillar of stone, instructing him to build a church here. The story follows that Saint James built a small chapel to Saint Mary on this site, making it the first Marian shrine in Christianity. Other churches were later built on this site: a Visigoth church and a Gothic church from the 16th century. The current baroque building replaced the earlier churches with a more grandiose structure. The basilica depicts the Virgen del Pilar(Our Lady of Pilar) figure behind a mantelpiece. This icon is unveiled to the faithful on January 2 each year and commemorates the date the Virgin appeared. The other sacred object, the Sagrada Columna (aka “El Pilar”) is now decorated with fanciful silver plating. Other valuable religious works of art and lavish baroque monuments can be found throughout the basilica. Of particular interest are the alabaster high altar and Goya’s frescoes.
Address: Plaza del Pilar, Zaragoza
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2 Caesaraugusta Forum Museum
Caesaraugusta Forum Museum
The Museum of the Roman Forum gives a glimpse into the life of Caesaraugusta, an ancient 1st and 2nd century Roman city that once occupied what is now Zaragoza. Named after Emperor Augustus who founded the city, Caesaraugusta was known for its splendor. The city had a theater, public baths and a beautiful forum at the center of city life. This exhibition space is located in the archaeological space around the Caesaraugusta Forum. The museum is located on the site of the archaeological excavations, under the Plaza de la Seo. Remains of the Roman forum can be seen dating back to the era of Emperor Tiberius. Visitors will see artifacts representing elements of the old market, shop walls, pipes, and a sewage system. The exhibits are supplemented with educational information and an interesting audiovisual presentation.
Address: 2 Plaza de la Seo, Zaragoza
3 Cathedral and Tapestry Museum
Dedicated to Saint Salvador , Zaragoza Cathedral 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 in Moorish times and then a large Muslim mosque before being converted into a Romanesque church in the 12th century. The minaret of the old mosque is the tower of the current cathedral and the building still shows Romanesque elements, especially the exterior of the apse. La Seo Cathedral is a huge church with five naves and two of the apses retain the original 12th century Romanesque character with beautifully carved arcades. The Moorish influence is seen in the choir and in some of the gates, while the choir is Gothic in style, and the Capilla del Santo Cristois a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. Adding to the architectural blend is the neoclassical facade and baroque details on the tower.
The cathedral also houses a great Tapestry Museum . This collection of tapestries is considered one of the finest in the world. The cathedral owns 63 precious Flemish tapestries and six works of very high quality heraldic embroidery. The range ranges from medieval to renaissance and baroque. The museum displays 11 of the tapestries and other items of religious art, including metalwork and reliquary brushes. The cathedral and tapestry museum are open to the public daily. Admission includes access to both.
Address: Plaza de la Seo, Zaragoza
4 Aljafería Palace
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 surrounding the castle. The castle was designed on a quadrangular plan around a courtyard, and the towers are all around except for a single rectangular tower known as the Troubadour’s Tower. The Islamic style coffered ceilings and plasterwork give the building its charm. Today, the Palacio de la Aljafería houses the headquarters of the Aragonese parliament. The palace is open daily from April to October and from Saturday to Wednesday the rest of the year. Tours are available.
Address: Calle de los Diputados, Zaragoza
5 Church of San Pablo de Zaragoza
An important example of the Aragon Mudéjar style, this church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its exceptional architectural and historical value. San Pablo Church was built in the 13th and 14th centuries to replace a small Romanesque chapel that was then on the outskirts of the city. With its single nave and vaulted ceilings, the interior has a sense of space. Chapels between the buttresses display beautiful works of art. During the 15th and 18th centuries, the church was further expanded and enlarged. A must-see piece from the Renaissance period is the main altarpiece dedicated to Saint Paul, made of gilded wood by sculptor Damián Forment in 1515. The most striking feature of this monument is the magnificent octagonal Mudéjar tower with extraordinary Moorish design details.
Address: Calle San Pablo 42, Zaragoza
6 Zaragoza Market
This beautiful 16th-century building stands on the grand Plaza del Pilar , opposite the basilica. La Lonja is the historic marketplace of Zaragoza where merchants carried out their trade and other commercial transactions. The building was designed by Juan de Sariñena and is the city’s best example of Aragonese Renaissance architecture. The building, built in brick, has 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 talented artist from Aragon. The museum’s collection includes the work of Pablo Serrano from his figurative period to his expressionist phase. Exhibits showcase 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 artwork; and an assortment of paintings by Santiago Lagunas. To get the most out of a visit, you can take a guided tour.
Address: 20 Paseo María Agustín, Zaragoza
8 Church of Santa Engracia
This Renaissance church was once part of the Hieronymite Monastery of Santa Engracia, but the rest of the monastery no longer exists. The church was built in the 16th century and has a remarkable Plateresco 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 on 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 shows Saint Valero, Saint Vincent, Saint Jerome, Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint John the Baptist.
Address: 1 Thomas Castellano Street, Zaragoza
9 Ibercaja Camón Aznar Museum
This beautiful fine arts museum displays the collection of art collected 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 Jerónimo Cosida’s mansion to house the collection. The fine three-storey aristocratic house, designed around a beautiful patio, is considered one of the finest examples of Renaissance civic architecture in Zaragoza. The permanent collection focuses on paintings from the 15th and 18th centuries, which are displayed on the first floor. Highlights of this section are 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 notable pieces from 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: Calle de Espoz y Mina 23, Zaragoza
10 Zaragoza Museum
Visitors can explore the art, culture and history of the province of Zaragoza 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: archeology and fine art . The collection represents different historical and artistic periods starting with prehistory through the Moorish period, continuing through the Gothic period and the Renaissance to the 21st century. Particularly noteworthy pieces in the archeology collection are the ancient bronze plates with Iberian and Latin inscriptions, a bust of Emperor Augustus and antiquities from Aljafería Palace. The artwork features works of art from the 12th century to the contemporary period. The range of Gothic paintings is excellent and the works of 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: Plaza de los Sitios 6, Zaragoza
11 Pablo Gargallo Museum
Housed in the impressive 16th century Palace of Arguillo , this museum is dedicated to the work of Pablo Gargallo, the brilliant contemporary sculptor who hailed from the Aragon region. The museum displays the artist’s early sculptures in marble and plaster and later works made of iron and other metals. Visitors discover the creative genius and artistic vision of the artist through the display 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 horsemen called the Olympic Salute .
Address: 3 Plaza de San Felipe, Zaragoza
12 Museum of Public Baths
The thermal baths of Caesaraugusta date back to the first century and were an important center of social life for the ancient Romans. More than just a place to swim, the public baths brought people together to exercise, read, and listen to music or poetry. Typical of public baths found in the ancient Roman Empire, the facilities include hot water and cold water baths. Swimmers could alternate between the two pools, but most started with hot and then ended with cold. Men and women were separated in different parts of the baths or used at different times. The city of Caesaraugusta was well supplied with fresh water and took care of the maintenance of the baths. Today, visitors can explore the history of the baths, as well as some of their remains in this public bathhouse. Tours are available.
Address: Calle San Juan and San Pedro 3, 7, Zaragoza
13 Church of Santa Maria Magdalena
Church of 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 was updated with Baroque details in the 17th century. The most striking feature of Saint Mary Magdalene Church is its tower, characteristic of Aragonese Mudejar architecture; the decorative geometric patterns mimic an Almohade-style minaret. Decorative glazed ceramic motifs contribute to the Moorish appearance. The interior has an unusual apse with overlapping arches and pointed windows, also typical of Mudéjar style. The main altarpiece is decorated with 18th-century sculptures and images by Jose Ramirez de Arellano.
Address: Plaza de la Magdalena, Zaragoza
14 Church of San Juan de los Panetes
Another beautiful Mudéjar church, San Juan de los Panetes, is located between the old Roman walls and the Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar . The church was completed in 1725 to replace the Romanesque church of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. The austere baroque facade has an image of San Juan Bautista and pilasters on the sides. Like Santa Maria Magdalena , the most prominent feature of this church is the Mudéjar tower. The octagonal brick tower with arched windows is reminiscent of classical Moorish architecture. The interior offers an inspiring sense of space with its barrel vault and dome at the intersection.
Address: Calle Salduba 3, Zaragoza
15 Roman Theater Museum
On the Caesaraugusta route, the ancient Roman theater was discovered in 1972 and the site is now enclosed in a dedicated 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 lifestyle of ancient times. There are also interesting artifacts on display at the site, such as decorative sconces. The site includes an exhibition hall and a cafeteria.
Address: Calle San Jorge 12, Zaragoza
Where to Stay in Zaragoza for Sightseeing
Most of Zaragoza’s tourist attractions are located near the Plaza la Seo and Plaza del Pilar, along the banks of the River Ebro, where the famous cathedrals and some of the city’s best museums are located. There are also many restaurants and cafes along the nearby streets. Here are a few highly rated hotels in this convenient and central location:
- Luxury Hotels: Catalonia El Pilar is located in a relatively quiet neighborhood, a five-minute walk from the cathedrals. It is located in an early 20th century modernist building with modern interiors. Some rooms have spa baths. Close to 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’ walk from the cathedrals, Melia Zaragoza also has large rooms, as well as suites, with a more traditional decor.
- Mid-Range Hotels: In the heart of the historic center, the friendly, family-run Hotel Sauce offers excellent value for money, with private and secure parking and bright, air-conditioned rooms. Just 250 meters from the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the pet-friendly NH Ciudad de Zaragoza offers large, older-style rooms. The welcoming Palafox Hotel, about ten minutes’ walk from the cathedrals, has a rooftop swimming pool.
- Budget Hotels: Less than a ten-minute walk from the cathedrals, the pet-friendly Hotel Avenida offers simple, modern rooms. The Ibis Zaragoza Centro is also pet-friendly and is a short walk across the river from the main historical sites. Located on Plaza España, the Maza Hotel offers clean, comfortable rooms minutes from the cathedrals. Some rooms have a view of the square.
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 Zaragoza. The city’s tourist highlight is the Goya Museum, housed in 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 is located 74 kilometers from Zaragoza in the lush countryside of La Hoya. Steeped in 2,000 years of history, the city still retains remnants of its ancient medieval walls. Within the ancient enclosures is a maze of narrow pedestrian streets and monumental buildings that seem to preside over the city. The cathedral was built in the 13th century on the site of the Misleida Mosque; its position high on the top of the city provided protection against invaders during the Reconquest era. Be sure to admire the cathedral’s beautiful facade with 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 has a beautiful church, one of the oldest in Spain, with a beautiful Romanesque cloister.
Close to Huesca are two natural parks: the Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park which has a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Monte Perdido, as well as a luxurious parador hotel at the foot of the mountain. Huesca’s gastronomy is known for its excellent sausages and roasted meats, as well as the local specialty of Ajoarriero de Huesca (cod in oil and garlic). The other nearby nature reserve is Cañones de Guara Natural Park , which is popular with outdoor enthusiasts. This spectacular natural site is ideal for hiking and canyoning.
You are from the Catholic King
Sos del Rey Católico, about 120 kilometers from Zaragoza, is a small 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 back to the 12th century. In the main village 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 beautiful example of Romanesque architecture with a decorative carved doorway. The sanctuary features excellently preserved 14th-century wall paintings.
The Monasterio de Piedra is located in a beautiful forest, 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 monks of Poblet, with instructions to build a monastery and spread the Christian faith. Due to its serene environment and untouched nature, the site is an important center for 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 variety of plant species and wildlife. Well-maintained trails through the forest are designed for visitors to hike or take nature walks.
Address: 50210 Nuévalos, Zaragoza