ZARAGOZA, Spain >> Stepping out on a lazy Sunday, I stroll past remnants of a Roman wall and watch couples taking selfies with a statue of city namesake Caesar Augustus. Then I’m brought up short by the shimmering reflection of a 16th-century tower caught on the sleek glass walls of a very modern fountain celebrating the Hispanic world.
That’s 2,000-odd years of history in about a block, and just one of the reasons Zaragoza should be on your list of Spanish cities to explore.
Sure, it might be best known as the halfway point between Madrid and Barcelona. But with its treasure trove of architecture and art (and tapas, too), Zaragoza is worth a closer look.
The Goya Museum, which reopened in 2015 after extensive reorganization, is a good way to get acquainted with the works of the famous Spanish painter, who was born near here. The museum is set in a Renaissance nobleman’s home and includes works by Goya’s rivals and mentors as well as an extensive collection of his etchings, 23 Calle Espoz y Mina. Open most days at 10 a.m., closing at 2 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. Admission about $5.
Las Armas is an outdoor space that hosts everything from art and musical events to markets promoting local products, 66 Calle Las Armas. Some events ticketed.
Plaza del Pilar, a huge public square, is the defining feature of Zaragoza. It is home to two cathedrals and a museum displaying remains of a Roman forum. Just beyond it is the River Ebro with its tree-lined pathways.
Basilica del Pilar, topped with brightly colored cupolas, is a cathedral featuring ceiling paintings by Goya. You’ll also find two unexploded bombs on display; they were dropped during the Spanish Civil War. Open most days, free admission. About $3 to visit the cathedral’s museum, closed on Sundays, and about $4 to access the tower, closed on Mondays. Next door is the Cathedral of the Savior, which has a tapestry museum (entrance about $5) featuring wall-sized Flemish tapestries from the 16th to 18th centuries.
La Aljaferia, originally built as a country retreat for the city’s Islamic rulers and later the palace of Aragon’s Catholic monarchs, is now home to the regional parliament. It features a beautiful and tranquil garden — and a room where trials of the Spanish Inquisition were held. Open daily, but closed during parliamentary sessions, held some Thursdays and Fridays, admission about $6.
The wine region of Carinena is about a 40-minute drive from Zaragoza on the A-23. Wine tourism is an emerging business here, so you won’t find the glitz, or the crowds, of a more developed region.
Carinena refers to a grape (carignan in the U.S.), the region and a town, where you’ll find Bodegas San Valero, which offers tours and tastings starting at about $11, including tapas, and a $32 option that comes with a full lunch in its newly opened restaurant. Weekends from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., phone 011-34-976-620-400.
Also in Carinena is Grandes Vinos y Vinedos, which has tastings and English-language tours starting at around $7 and including a take-home bottle. Booking in advance highly recommended, phone 011-34-976-62-12-61.
Fancy a tapas crawl? Head for “El Tubo,” the series of tubes (narrow alleys in reality) that hums with chatter and the smell of crisp fried things as darkness falls.
The district is not far from Plaza del Pilar; look for Calle Estebanes and Calle Libertad, the two main streets. Don’t show up hungry between 5 and 8 p.m., though, as most of the restaurants will be closed.
The Zaragoza Card offers convenience and a discount. Prices start at about $22 for a 24-hour pass.
Zaragoza is easily reachable by train from Madrid or Barcelona.