We arrived to Zaragoza on a Saturday evening. It was already dark outside, we were driving from Barcelona, it took more or less 3 hours to get there and honestly we couldn’t wait to arrive finally. Since it was a surprise trip, I didn’t have the chance to read upfront anything about the place. When it was clear for me that the destination was actually Zaragoza, I started to force my mind what I know about this city. Shame on me, not much.
But I believe that I’m not the only one, somehow Spain is famous for all the touristic and already spoiled places, the grandiose historical cities, of course for the amazing coastline, the cute villages, the Pyrenees, the islands, the food, the comforting number of sunny hours per day, the rich wine regions, the olive oil, but not for the less known middle size in-land cities such as Zaragoza.
Frankly speaking I only remembered its name thanks to the football team, Real Zaragoza, which team is currently not even in the first division, but they had definitely better days in the past. Also during our first Vuelta España we passed by the city so I had a brief overview on it, but nothing else.
Regardless recently I’m obsessed with Spanish geography, and I’m keen on learning and getting more and more information about this country, Zaragoza has never been in my focus.
And then we have arrived…
We were driving to the center direction on the riverbank to reach our hotel, and I was just looking out on the window of the car, when suddenly the lights and the beautiful walls of El Pilar blinded me. ‘Where are we? What is this shockingly beautiful building?’ – I was thinking… Then we got even closer into the center by our car and facing that the Saturday night life and related vibes were really on and visibly happening, people and cute bars everywhere and all around. After facing the problem that it’s impossible to park in the center we have decided to park in a parking garage next to El Pilar.
And then we finally got out from the garage and the view that welcomed us was actually breathtaking. Qué majico! ✨
Our plan was to quickly reach the hotel, but honestly it was very hard to focus on google maps, as wherever we looked at, the vista was just amazing. We booked a night at Hotel París Centro, 5 minutes walk from El Pilar, 2 minutes from the Mercado, perfect location. The condition of the hotel was another story, it looked like someone invested in a lot of money during the 80s, but since no one was actually maintaining it. It looked super cute, with nicely organized historical design, but seriously nothing worked properly inside. 😁 Anyhow thanks to its charming atmosphere I think I would choose this hotel again if we come back in the future.
After a quick visit at the Mercado we have decided to return the following day, and we just headed to the river direction. This city during the night with all the lights is simply beautiful, if I could give you an advice I think if you want to be impressed the best time to arrive here is after sunset. ✨
We decided to go to El Tubo direction, but we needed to stop on our way many times, as the historical part of the city is really packed with nicer and nicer little squares, beautifully renovated buildings, historical bridges, and grandiose churches.
El Tubo experience
Once we arrived to El Tubo, we were enough hungry to jump into the closest bar for tapas, but during Saturday night it’s almost an impossible mission to find a free table in the coolest bars. But we were lucky and in the end we found a spot at Alta Taberna Soria and finally we could enjoy our well-chosen tapas and croquetas selection.
El Tubo is a vivid quarter of the city and often recommended for eating Spanish tapas, enjoying its nightlife, taste the great and cool restaurants both during day and night. It has a special charm with its narrow streets full of people, many of whom are sitting on stools savouring Spanish tapas from various bars. This district is located between Mártires, Estébanes and Cuatro de Agosto streets, and each of its bars tends to be specialised in a different Spanish tapa.
I would really recommend to take a look on the street signs around El Tubo too, they look really cool!
My favorite experience also happened in El Tubo. Later in the night we were sitting in the heart of the district in a cool bar and decided to order some chupitos. Once we were served I accidentally asked for the bill in English, instead of Spanish. The bar tender – who was not a rookie – looked at me with big eyes, and he seriously didn’t understand English. I know, I know, maybe for some of you it’s like ‘come on man, why is it actually a good thing?’ Because it shows that we were really within the locals, where they are not used to tourists, where they are not changing to English immediately when they realize that your Spanish is not that fluent, when they are not living out of the overpriced drinks designed for foreigners.
It’s true that you need to visit all the touristy places around Spain first in order to appreciate such a ‘simple’ city as Zaragoza. But if you prefer the unspoiled beauty, the authentic atmosphere or the local vibe, you can’t be mistaken here. Also worth to mention that Zaragoza is significantly cheaper than the busier cities in Spain.
The next morning as we planned we started the day at the Mercado again, that functions as a social place even on weekends. Regardless the sellers are not open on Sundays, the bars in the middle section are offering breakfast, churros, nice coffee, I think it’s just the best spot to observe the locals in a cool and authentic atmosphere within their everyday routines.
After our lovely breakfast we have decided to visit Aljafería Palace and since it was Sunday we could enter for free.
“The Aljafería Palace (Spanish: Palacio de la Aljafería) is a fortified medieval Islamic palace built during the second half of the 11th century in the Taifa of Zaragoza of Al-Andalus, present day Zaragoza. It was the residence of the Banu Hud dynasty during the era of Abu Jaffar Al-Muqtadir after abolishing Banu Tujib of Kindah dynasty. The palace reflects the splendour attained by the kingdom of the taifa of Zaragoza at the height of its grandeur. The palace currently contains the Cortes (regional parliament) of the autonomous community of Aragon.”
Our last visit was to La Seo, that opens on Sundays only after 2pm. It is just a couple dozens metres from Basilica del Pilar, it boasts beautiful architecture and artwork. From the outside it looks smaller, but if you enter you will be amazed how big and breathtakingly beautiful it is. It’s also home to a tapestry museum which is worth a visit! Unfortunately it’s not allowed to take any pictures inside but maybe this way they can keep its secret and encourage people to visit in order to admire its beauty by their own eyes instead of via badly taken photographs. 😉
I was hesitating for a while if this article should be part of the “A day trip to…” series, since actually we haven’t spent more than 24 hours there either, but finally I decided that it deserves a more encouraging title, more recognition and a key out-take, as one of the biggest surprise of the less-known part of Spain. People, go to Zaragoza!
To be continued with the highlights of the city in my next article.