Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar at sunset, Zaragoza

A Detour to Zaragoza: The Gem of Aragon

Tiếng Việt

Far away from the sea and midway between Barcelona and Madrid, Zaragoza – the capital of Aragon province – is seemingly unaware by many travellers. Many have never even heard of its name. However, Spain’s fifth-largest city is definitely worth a detour thanks to its impressive inheritances and monuments.


For the last 2,000 years, the Romans, the Moors, and then the Christian kings came and built their civilizations along the mighty Ebro River. There were rises and falls, but the vestige of the glorious past is still vivid in the monuments, churches and palaces around the city, including the centuries-old Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Pilar or the Moorish-styled palace, Aljafería. Today, Zaragoza is Spain’s fifth-largest city and one of its most desirable living places, with great air quality, low density of population and low living cost.

Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Completed in 1754, Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar (better known simply as El Pilar Basilica) is Zaragoza’s most prominent landmarks. Standing next to the river, the multi-domed Cathedral in Baroque style was the first church devoted to honouring the Virgin Mary. It was ground broken in 1681 but was consecrated as early as the first or second century.

Legend said that on the 2nd of January AD 40 the apostle Saint James the Greater was praying on the bank of the Ebro River when the Virgin Mary appeared to him. She gave him a small statue of herself and a column of Jasper and instructed him to erect a church called Our Lady of the Pillar on the spot. As instructed, a chapel was built around the column, followed by a series of expansions, cumulating in the enormous basilica. Inside there are a number of artworks, however, the main attraction is the famous statue of Our Lady of the Pillar, located in the Holy Chapel.

Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar – The icon of Zaragoza
Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar at sunset

Aljafería Palace

800 years under the rule of the Moors, Spain was filled with many outstanding Islamic architectures. While most of them are gathered in the country’s southern part, Aljafería Palace was built in the northern state of Aragon. With ornate Arabic arches and intricate carvings, the palace is counted as Spain’s finest example of Moorish architecture outside Andalusia. The palace was originally designed as a residence for the Moorish rulers, reflecting the splendour attained by the taifa (an Arab Muslim state in Moorish Aldalucía) of Zaragoza at the height of its grandeur.

After being reconquered by the Christian army in 1118, Aljafería Palace became the residence of the Kings of Aragon. It underwent an extensive refurbishment which transformed the Islamic building into the palace of Catholic monarchs. New decorative features are attached, while many of the Islamic architecture was left intact, including the magnificent Golden Hall. This is a rare case because very few Moorish-style buildings were spared by the conquerors.

Aljafería Palace
Beautiful Moorish architecture in Aljafería Palace

Practical Information about Zaragoza

  • Zaragoza is easily accessible by high-speed train AVE from both Madrid and Barcelone. The trip takes approximately 90 minutes.
  • Located outside the city centre, Zaragoza’s central station is connected to the city by bus Nr. 34. It cost around 3€.
  • Entry to the cathedral is free. However, the lift at the northern tower cost 3€.
  • The admission fee to the Aljafería is 3€. It costs only 1€ if you can provide an international student card.
  • As Spain’s fifth-largest city, Zaragoza boasts a vibrant nightlife. Restaurants, bars, and pubs are concentrated around Calle del Temple, southwest of the Plaza del Pilar.
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42 thoughts on “A Detour to Zaragoza: The Gem of Aragon”

  1. LostViivi – Finland – I'm a little lost in this big world. I find my home in unknown streets and forgotten forest paths. As passionate as I am about traveling I'm also about writing, books, and movies. I don't know where this writing blogs thing is going so anything is possible.
    Viivi Severina says:

    To tell the truth this is my first time hearing about this city but it looks amazing! And I didn’t know there was European countries where you DON’T have to wave for the bus driver 😀

    1. I don’t know about other cities in Germany but in Hamburg and Berlin, you don’t have to wave them 🙂 For other countries, I haven’t tried yet because I mostly used Tram or Metro 😉

  2. Wow! So pretty! Can’t wait to visit when I move to Spain.

    1. And don’t forget to try some tapas there 🙂 I found it is more tasty and not so salty like Barcelona or Madrid

  3. Ostendnomad – Ostend, Belgium – Photographer/ Urban Landscapes / Street Art / Football / Oostende / Latin America
    ostendnomad says:

    Nice pictures and a great idea for a short getaway! Zaragoza, it’s on my bucket list!

  4. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
    Jolene says:

    Gosh, how often do you travel Len?? Your Master definitely keeps you on your toes doesn’t he?

    1. No no, this is material from last year 🙂 My resolution or I should rather say my obligation for the first half of 2017 is: “staying at home and finishing your damn thesis”. But there would be enough material for a dozen more posts 😛

      1. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
        Jolene says:

        Ahh that’s smart! What’s your thesis on? The joys of travel?

      2. Like you said, it is related to travel 😉 But travel for medical treatment, or so called “medical tourism”. It might be joyful, but can also be very painful 🙂

  5. Wow, so beautiful photos Len! May I ask what camera you use? 🙂
    Zaragoza looks like a hidden gem indeed, the architecture looks stunning! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Thanks, Pooja! I am using… or I can say: Len is a Fujifilm X30 😉 A compact camera that fits (almost) any coat’s pocket haha.

  6. lifeintrips – India – I like to capture moments in words just to relive them again, love to travel, try different kind of foods, enjoy life to fullest, writing is my passion. Indian, compelled by the culture to diversify and explore the whole world and pen it down.
    lifeintrips says:

    Amazing photos…

  7. It is indeed one of our gems, but I wouldn’t say it’s hidden, hehehe. We’re very proud of this city and “la Virgen del Pilar” is one of the two Saint Patrons of Spain!! We celebrate our national day on her day, October 12th.
    Anyway, I’m glad you like this great city from my country! You took really nice photos there! 🙂

    1. Many thanks! As Spain’s fifth largest city, I don’t think Zaragoza can be hidden as well 😉 But when I speak to my friends (mostly Asian), many have asked where it is. They know about Barcelona and Madrid, some can tell the name Seville, but most have never heard of the name Zaragoza. They don’t even know that they have missed a huge gem 🙂

  8. Marie – Alexandria, VA – I am retired from working but not from life. In the next phase of growing up, instead of growing old I plan to travel, take lots of photos, collect whatever appeals to me, write, read mysteries, and eat ice cream. The world awaits. Update: I can no longer eat ice cream. So sad!
    Marie says:

    Wonderful post. I, too, haven’t heard of it. But now that I have, it is on my list. Thanks for introducing us to this fascinating city.

    1. My pleasure! 🙂 Although it’s not popular among tourists, Zaragoza is definitely worth a detour. Another advantage of being unpopular is the price Everything is much more affordable than in Barcelona or Madrid.

  9. Lignum Draco – ... A blog about nothing in particular, because "Candid photography is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get". Photography by "The Wood Dragon" since 2012.
    Lignum Draco says:

    Actually, I hadn’t heard of this city but it looks so beautiful. Thanks for the virtual tour.

    1. Highly recommended! Aside from the beautiful architecture, food in Zaragoza is delicious. In fact, the best tapas I have ever tried was in the city. The price is also more affordable than in Barcelona or Madrid 🙂

  10. I didn’t realize that Moorish palaces existed in this part of Spain. I love the architecture…reminds me of the Alhambra in Granada. I definitely want to go back to Spain. There’s so much to see in the beautiful country. Great photos!

    1. Totally agree! I really want to see the palaces in Andalusia. I guess they must be more impressive than Aljafería in term of scale and style. Thank you for your compliment 🙂

  11. Gorgeous pictures and the lighting is perfect! There’s so much history packed in each of your explorations. 🙂

  12. What a wonderful post. Thanks for bringing me to my motherland 🙂
    It seems that Zaragoza treated you well.

  13. Arundhati Basu – New Jersey, US – The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.
    Dippy Dotty Girl says:

    Aha, found your post on Zaragoza. 🙂 🙂 Your photos are fab. I was there on a gloomy winter’s day. And photos of it are not so brilliant. Cheers.

      1. Arundhati Basu – New Jersey, US – The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.
        Dippy Dotty Girl says:

        You too friend!

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