Zaragoza is said to be home to more bars per capita than any other Spanish city. Yet, as raucous as this may sound, the capital of the region of Aragon — roughly halfway between Barcelona and Madrid — is nothing of the sort.
Most are elegant drinking holes tucked away on labyrinthine lanes, offering tasty tapas.
There are also two fine cathedrals, a Moorish castle, art museums — and no tourist hordes.
There’s plenty to do in Zaragoza, from wandering around art museums to dropping in to elegant drinking holes
Where to stay
Its entrance may be nondescript — hidden beneath a colonnaded walkway by a tram stop — but this homely hotel is brilliantly located by Mercado Central (Central Market) and the main city square, Plaza del Pilar. Staff are friendly, and rooms are spotless and good value. Breakfasts are £4.60 extra. Doubles from £39 (hotelhispania.com)
NH Ciudad de Zaragoza
Next to Puente de Santiago (Santiago Bridge), this slick, modern hotel has rooms with splendid views of the River Ebro and the Basilica del Pilar. It’s a minimalist affair, and there’s a cosy lobby bar. It’s worth paying £10 extra for a better view. Doubles from £49 (nh-hotels.com).
The Puente de Santiago (Santiago Bridge), pictured above, sits next to the modern NH Ciudad de Zaragoza hotel
This boutique hotel is on a quiet lane 100 metres from Plaza del Pilar and a moment’s stroll from the Church of Santa Isabel. Rooms have a fresh look with splashes of modern art. The design is by renowned Spanish firm Alfaro-Manrique. Doubles from £42 (hotelincazaragoza.com)
Hotel Pilar Plaza
Overlooking Basilica del Pilar, this is great if you want to be bang in the centre. You can pay an extra £10 or so for a room facing the basilica, or opt for one of the fancy ‘superior interior hot tub’ rooms for £30 more. Doubles from £40 (hotelpilarplaza.es).
What to see and do
The Palace of Aljaferia, pictured above, predates Granada’s Alhambra and Seville’s Alcazar
The Palace of Aljaferia, with its turrets, towers and high stone wall, dates from the 11th century. It predates Granada’s Alhambra and Seville’s Alcazar. Its enchanting courtyard has orange trees and intricate plaster reliefs in Arab designs. You must book ahead to visit. Entrance costs £4.20 — call +34 976 28 96 83.
According to legend, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared as an apparition on a pillar before the apostle St James the Greater at the site of what is now the Basilica del Pilar. The extraordinary cathedral, built around the 17th and 18th centuries, is free to visit (catedraldezaragoza.es).
It’s free to visit the extraordinary Basilica del Pilar (pictured), which was built around the 17th and 18th centuries
Tapestries and towers
The other famous Christian place of worship is the ‘Catedral de San Salvador’, which is home to a collection of French and Flemish tapestries.
A £5.90 ticket also gives you a ride up one of the neighbouring basilica’s towers (catedraldezaragoza.es).
Enjoy some Goya
Just off Plaza del Pilar, Museo Goya houses 75 works of the 18th- and 19th-century Spanish artist Francisco de Goya, including evocative etchings of bullfights and tavern scenes. Entrance costs £5.10 (museogoya.ibercaja.es).
Where to eat
Dine at Bodegas Almau, pictured, which has a charming interior lined with wine bottles. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons
El Fuelle restaurant in Zaragoza. While in the city, try tapas or tender roast lamb, an Aragon speciality
Many of the best restaurants are in the Old Town’s popular El Tubo area.
Bodegas Almau (bodegasalmau.es), dating from 1870, has a charming interior lined with wine bottles and a courtyard with barrel tables.
Delicious tapas featuring chorizo, cheeses, olives, Iberico hams and salty/sweet anchovies are served at speed. It costs about £30 for eight dishes with a bottle of wine.
Next door to Bodegas Almau, the bustling La Ternasca (laternasca.com) specialises in tender roast lamb, an Aragon speciality.
A perfectly cooked portion with potatoes and roasted peppers costs £15. Other dishes include steaming chorizo, tomato salads and chicken fritters with oyster sauce. A meal for two with wine costs about £40.
Also in El Tubo, El Champi is a cheap, no-nonsense tapas bar serving chilled canas (small beers) of local Ambar lager, regional wines and a signature tapas dish: three mushrooms drenched in garlic sauce, topped with a prawn and skewered to a baguette. Delicious. A drink and tapas cost £3.50.
On Plaza de Santiago Sas in the Old Town, Cibeles is a great spot for a breakfast of tortilla, crepes or ham and tomato toasties. A slice of tortilla and a coffee is £3.
The exterior of Mercado Central, which houses stalls that offer cured meats, cheeses, fresh fruit and vegetables
Most of this old central market (mercadocentralzaragoza.com) with a wrought iron roof comprises stalls with cured meats, cheeses, fresh fruit and vegetables.
In the middle are a couple of relaxed bars serving olives, anchovies and tortillas. It costs about £4 for a beer and tapas.
Need to know
Double-jabbed visitors are welcome in Zaragoza with proof of vaccinations. Pictured to the centre-right is the city’s ‘Catedral de San Salvador’
A return ticket from Stansted to Zaragoza costs from £9.50 (ryanair.com). Airport-to-city buses cost £1.60 and take 45 minutes. Complete a Spanish Health Control Form before travel (spth.gob.es). Double-jabbed visitors are welcome with proof of vaccinations.
Visitors should wear face masks at all times except when dining (mscbs.gob.es). You must book a lateral flow test to be taken before day two of returning and complete the UK’s Passenger Locator Form, too (gov.uk).