Zaragoza: The Complete Guide

Mosque-Zaragoza

Zaragoza is the capital city of the Zaragoza province and the autonomous community of Aragon, Spain. It is situated by the Ebro River and its tributaries, the Huerva and the Gállego, roughly at the center of both Aragon and the Ebro basin. As of January 1, 2019, the population of Zaragoza was 706,904 within its administrative limits on a land area of 1,062.64 square kilometers, making it the fifth-largest city in Spain. It ranks as the 32nd most populous municipality in the European Union. The population of the metropolitan area was estimated at 783,763 inhabitants in 2006. The municipality is home to more than 50 percent of the Aragonese population.

The city lies at an elevation of 199 meters above sea level. Zaragoza hosted Expo 2008, a world’s fair focused on water and sustainable development, and was a candidate for the European Capital of Culture in 2012.

Zaragoza is famous for its folklore, local gastronomy, and landmarks such as the Basílica del Pilar, La Seo Cathedral, and the Aljafería Palace. Together with La Seo and the Aljafería, several other buildings form part of the Mudéjar Architecture of Aragon, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Fiestas del Pilar are among the most celebrated festivals in Spain.

History of Zaragoza

Ancient Origins

Zaragoza, the capital of the Aragon region in northeastern Spain, has a history that dates back over 2,000 years. Originally founded by the Romans in 24 B.C. as Caesaraugusta, it was named in honor of Emperor Augustus. The city was an important Roman colony and featured typical Roman infrastructure, including a forum, baths, and a theater.

Visigothic and Moorish Periods

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Zaragoza came under Visigothic control in the early 5th century. The Visigoths ruled until the early 8th century when the Moors conquered the city. Under Moorish rule, Zaragoza, known as Saraqusta, became a flourishing center of commerce, culture, and learning. The Moors constructed significant architectural works, including the Aljafería Palace, which still stands today.

Reconquista and Christian Rule

In 1118, Zaragoza was reconquered by Alfonso I of Aragon during the Christian Reconquista. The city was incorporated into the Kingdom of Aragon and became a major political and economic center. The reconquest led to a period of rebuilding and expansion, including the construction of significant religious and civic buildings.

Renaissance and Modern Era

During the Renaissance, Zaragoza experienced cultural and economic growth. The city became known for its art, literature, and architecture. In the 16th century, it hosted the Cortes (parliament) of Aragon. Zaragoza also faced challenges, including conflicts during the War of the Spanish Succession and the Napoleonic Wars, which led to the Siege of Zaragoza in 1808-1809, where the city famously resisted French forces.

20th Century to Present

In the 20th century, Zaragoza continued to develop industrially and economically. The city played a significant role during the Spanish Civil War and later underwent modernization and expansion. The construction of infrastructure, such as the Zaragoza-Delicias railway station and Expo 2008, has reinforced its status as a key transport and cultural hub.

Contemporary Zaragoza

Today, Zaragoza is a vibrant city known for its rich history, cultural heritage, and dynamic economy. It is home to important landmarks such as the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, La Seo Cathedral, and the Aljafería Palace. Zaragoza continues to attract visitors with its blend of historical and modern attractions, showcasing its evolution through the ages.

Visiting Zaragoza for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Zaragoza on the first visit. To help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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Best Time to Visit Zaragoza

Spring

Spring, from March to May, is one of the best times to visit Zaragoza. The weather is mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F). This season is ideal for exploring the city’s outdoor attractions, such as parks, plazas, and historical sites, without the extreme heat of summer.

Summer

Summer, from June to August, can be quite hot in Zaragoza, with temperatures often exceeding 30°C (86°F). While this is a peak tourist season, the heat can be intense. It’s best to plan outdoor activities in the early morning or late evening to avoid the midday sun. Summer is also a time for various cultural festivals and events.

Autumn

Autumn, from September to November, offers cooler temperatures ranging from 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F), making it another excellent time to visit Zaragoza. The city’s historical sites and outdoor areas are more comfortable to explore, and the crowds are generally smaller compared to summer. The Fiestas del Pilar, held in October, is one of the most famous festivals in Spain and a highlight of the season.

Winter

Winter, from December to February, is mild in Zaragoza compared to northern Europe, with temperatures typically ranging from 5°C to 15°C (41°F to 59°F). While it can be cooler, this season is ideal for those who prefer fewer tourists and a quieter atmosphere. Indoor attractions such as museums, churches, and the Aljafería Palace can be enjoyed without the summer heat. Winter also brings festive decorations and events around Christmas and New Year.

Average Temperatures in Zaragoza

  • January 14°C 4
  • February 16°C 3
  • March 21°C 5
  • April 24°C 6
  • May 29°C 4
  • June 35°C 4
  • July 36°C 2
  • August 36°C 2
  • September 29°C 3
  • October 26°C 6
  • November 18°C 7
  • December 14°C 3

How to get to Zaragoza

Zaragoza, located in northeastern Spain, is well-connected and accessible through various modes of transportation:

By Air:

The nearest airport is Zaragoza Airport (ZAZ), which handles both domestic and international flights.

  • From the Airport: You can take a taxi, which takes about 20 minutes to reach the city center. There are also bus services that connect the airport to the city center.

By Train:

Zaragoza has a major railway station, Zaragoza-Delicias, which is served by high-speed trains (AVE) and regular trains.

  • From Madrid or Barcelona: High-speed AVE trains connect Zaragoza to Madrid and Barcelona in approximately 1.5 hours. Regular trains are also available but take longer.

By Bus:

Several bus companies operate routes to Zaragoza from various cities in Spain.

  • From Madrid or Barcelona: Buses from Madrid or Barcelona to Zaragoza take about 3-4 hours. The main bus station in Zaragoza is located near the Zaragoza-Delicias train station.

By Car:

Driving to Zaragoza is convenient, especially for those who want to explore the surrounding areas.

  • From Madrid: The drive from Madrid to Zaragoza takes about 3 hours via the A-2 highway.
  • From Barcelona: The drive from Barcelona to Zaragoza also takes about 3 hours via the AP-2 and AP-68 highways.

Local Transportation:

  • Tram: Zaragoza has a modern tram system that runs through the city, connecting key areas and attractions.
  • Bus: The city has an extensive bus network operated by TUZSA, providing convenient public transportation throughout Zaragoza.
  • Taxi: Taxis are readily available for getting around the city.
  • Biking and Walking: Zaragoza is a bike-friendly city with dedicated bike lanes. The city’s compact size also makes it easy to explore on foot.

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