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To be fair, we were always going to love Zaragoza. It was our first stop in Spain after spending over a month in France with the kids. I love anything Spanish and I was excited to be in a country where I would be able to understand and speak the language. Also, we have a daughter named Zahra and this was very exciting for her to be in a city where her name (part of it anyway) would be everywhere. While we were using the city as a brief stop on our way to the south of Spain, we loved our time here with all three kids.
That said we arrived on a public holiday with very little food. Everything was closed. Thankfully, we were close to a little yellow shop that is a bit like a bakery and convenience store called “El Rincon” and it sold bread and pastries. Our usual schedule of going out with the kids in the mornings and coming back in the early in the evenings, doesn’t work in Spain by the way. The afternoon siesta when everything is closed from 2-4:30 is hard to get used to in a short stay- especially with young kids. It works out that just as everything is opening up and the streets are coming to life, you are walking back home. You’ll get a serious case of feeling like you are missing out by the way.
A couple ways of getting around this is by scheduling museum trips during this time- that is if they also don’t close mid-afternoon. In Zaragoza if you are there in the warmer months than you could visit the Goya Museum or the Basilica at this time; however, La Aljaferia in Zaragoza closes from 2:30-4.
The other idea is having your accommodation close enough to the main sites so you schedule your day like a Spaniard and have the kids take a nap in the hotel before going back out again. If your kids are daynappers, then this could work out really well for you! But, if you are like me, you’ll think that is wasted daylight hours that could be spent absorbing the city!
Bit of History
Zaragoza was founded by the Romans and was called Caesaraugusta in 14 BC thanks to its convenient location on the Ebro river which meanders all the way down to the Mediterranean. The name Zaragoza is derived from its ancient Roman name. However, it wasn’t just the Romans who called this area home as it was occupied also by the Spanish Moors (Muslims of Spain) before being seized by the Kingdom of Aragon. This interesting history can be experienced first hand at some of Zaragoza’s most famous tourist sites.
It’s easy to experience Roman Zaragoza by visiting Museo del Foro (this is near La Seo Catedral). Their website has a great information sheet in English about the Roman ruins located throughout Zaragoza. You can also visit Museo del Teatro which are the ruins of a Roman theatre that was modeled on the original Marcello Theatre in Rome. You can easily see the Roman theatre by walking around outside - it has a type of shade sail over the top. There is a museum as well.
Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar
Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar and La Seo Catedral are located in the large Plaza del Pilar. The Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar is dedicated to the Virgin Mary by St. James the Apostle. It is said to be the first church dedicated to her. The church is called Pilar - or Pillar in English because traditions says that the Virgin Mary appeared to St. James in a moment of difficulty and she gave him a column of jasper which St. James then built a small church around. This small church over time became the current Basilica. The original jasper column is located inside and attracts believers from all around the world. The jasper column is now a symbol of spiritual strength and faith.
The Basilica has has colorful tiles on the roof and paintings by Goya in the domes. However, what the kids will find really interesting are the two bombs that didn’t detonate when they landed on the church during the civil war. They are hanging inside the church. You can also take a lift up one of the towers for views of Zaragoza but the lift is closed during the afternoon siesta.
For complete timings of the Basilica and tower visits go here.
La Seo Catedral (Catedral of San Salvador)
This church seems to sum up Zaragoza- or even in Spain in general as the current church was originally a mosque but prior to that it was a Roman temple. It’s worth having a look if you have time. There is a Tapestry Museum inside as well. The cathedral was also important to the royal family of Aragon who were crowned or baptised here.
My favorite place in Zaragoza was the Aljaferia. When I think of Spain, I think of Moorish architecture. Because it is my favourite style of building, I get a lot of enjoyment when I visit these magnificent Spanish buildings (you should have seen me at Alhambra in Granada- literally tears of joy). The Aljaferia was our first opportunity to experience Moorish Spain. Originally built as a palace by Zaragoza’s Muslim rulers, but later became the palace of the King of Aragon. The building is currently being used by the local government as offices. Lucky them to work in such a place! Check their website or Zaragoza tourism board's website/twitter feed as they offer tours in English and French during the summer months.
Museo de Goya
If you enjoyed seeing Goya’s paintings in the Basilica, then you’ll want to stop by the Goya museum. Located in the home of a former nobleman, the museum includes paintings and sketches by Goya as well as pieces of art from artists of Aragon.The museum has information in several languages and an extensive and interactive website.
El Tubo (tapas)
El Tubo is a local area famous for their tapas restaurants. I’m going to be honest- I absolutely love almost everything about Spain. Everyone raves about the tapas. Yay- so amazing! So many different types of food and meat. However, I find this way of eating complicated and stressful! From finding seats in a tapas restaurant (if they have any) to choosing plates that most of the kids will enjoy.
Thankfully, my husband loves tapas, so basically, we would sit the kids down at a table (or standing around a table or bench) and then I would help my husband in translating some of the dishes and then he would do the ordering. Or, at the very least, I would trust his judgement in the dishes he would select and I would order them. Turns out, our kids loved oxtail and didn’t mind rabbit meat. Who knew? (FYI - How did we get them to be so adventurous? They had no idea what they were eating until afterwards. A few trust issues on food later though. Lol.)
Go with a open mind and experiment with different dishes. Look at what other people are ordering and have fun with it. If the kids are picky there are a lot of fried options that are delicious. If all else fails, find another restaurant. You are spoiled for choice when it comes to tapas restaurants with many having their own speciality. The tradition is to move from one restaurant to another. Here is a helpful list of the different type of tapas in Spain by Yummy Planet. You'll be very hungry after reading through the list!
If you are driving from Valencia to Zaragoza, you might want to check out Dinopolis in Teruel. It’s part theme park and part paleontology museum. It has the largest collection of giant European dinosaurs in Europe. In fact, many of these dinosaurs bones come from the local area. It looks like a fun place if you or the kids love dinosaurs. They often offer discounts or promotions. At the moment, El Rincon is offering a 40% discount on entry if you buy 3 Euros or more of dried fruit which is a pretty good deal. Also, Teruel is a beautiful city, so make sure you make time to check it out.
Hope this list inspires you to visit Zaragoza with your family. It is a great gateway to Spain- rich in culture, history, and tapas.
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