After indulging in the spectacular wines of La Rioja and exploring the best the region has to offer, the second-best thing to do is get to know the other amazing destinations in the surroundings. Close to the famous wine region, lie quaint villages, vibrant cities and off-the-beaten-path towns, just waiting to be discovered. Superb gastronomic experiences, staggering architecture and medieval places await you. Here’s a list of things to do around La Rioja!
Be dazzled by the significant heritage of Zaragoza
Besides being the capital of the Aragon region, one could say that Zaragoza is one of Spain’s greatest cities. Situated on the banks of the Ebro River and strategically located between Madrid and Barcelona, Zaragoza is actually the fifth largest city in the country. There is plenty to see and do in Zaragoza - it is a great destination for those who want to escape the fuss of the most popular Spanish cities. Did you know that Zaragoza has one of the best and most vibrant tapas and nightlife scenes in the country? It is, without a doubt, a city for those who love going out to eat or have a drink. El Tubo, a neighbourhood in the heart of the city, is the perfect place to do so. Nevertheless, this is far from being the only attraction in Zaragoza – the majestic and well-known Basilica of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar), an enormous Baroque religious building, is one of the major highlights. It is an important pilgrimage site, designed in the 17th century, and it houses amazing works of art. Its majestic appearance makes an immediate and great first impression! Besides this beautiful edifice, you can also visit the Aljafería Palace, the most important Islamic building in Spain outside Andalusia, built in the 11th century as a royal residence. La Seo del Salvador, a charming cathedral and a symbol of Christian architecture in the city, built between the 12th and 17th centuries, is also a must-visit. As you can see, there are various testimonies that show how Zaragoza was ruled by Romans, Muslims and Christians in the past. Walking through the charming old town, you will also discover the great examples of Mudejar architecture. In addition, the city has several museums for history and art lovers - one of which exhibits beautiful works of art by Francisco de Goya -, a huge city park, large squares that invite you to stay and relax, and an impressive Central Market, classified as a monument.
Feel the preserved medieval glory of Burgos
If you are an architecture lover, you have found your oasis. Burgos, known for its Gothic architecture, is an enchanting medieval city located in Castile-Leon, in the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago de Compostela. You will find here a magnificent heritage ready to be discovered, from cathedrals, churches and old city gates to great museums, convents and monasteries. This city is actually the birthplace of El Cid, the mercenary and national hero who took Valencia from the Moors. The striking and mighty Cathedral of Burgos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a true Gothic masterpiece and one of Spain’s jewels when it comes to religious architecture. At the highest point of the city, you can see the ruins of the castle, from where you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the city. The walls and towers of this fortress are still standing! Strolling through the historic quarter, you will come across the Plaza Mayor, a quaint square where the town hall is located, and where you can admire the old, colorful buildings from all sides while having a coffee. Among the most notable buildings in the city are the Mudejar Arch of San Esteban, the Gothic Church of San Esteban, and the temple devoted to San Nicolás. You can also take the time to just walk along the banks of the Duero and Arlanza rivers, while imagining what Burgos looked like in the past. One thing is for sure: Burgos still preserves the important traces of its medieval glory.
Fall in love with the staggering architecture of Bilbao
Being the largest city in the Basque Country and a charming neighbour of La Rioja, Bilbao has a little bit of everything for everyone and every taste. This renowned cultural center is home to several important art galleries, vibrant bars, lively taverns serving the best pintxos (Basque tapas) and authentic shops. Strolling through the streets you will also find charming traditional houses and buildings. In Bilbao, the modern blends harmoniously with the traditional, creating an atmosphere that appeals to the most avant-garde and the most conventional. One of the greatest attractions is the Guggenheim Museum, a worldwide famous landmark of contemporary architecture. You will also find in Bilbao a charming Neo-Baroque theatre, several other important museums, an Art Nouveau train station and some impressive cathedrals. In the old town, you will come across La Ribera Market, the largest covered market in Europe, built in the Art Deco style! If you are more of a nature lover, know that Bilbao, besides being surrounded by green hills, has its share of pleasant green spaces where you can relax and stroll, such as the Doña Casilda Park or the Paseo del Arenal Park. Plus, there are fantastic beaches just a short distance away. Discover the staggering architecture and take in the dynamic atmosphere of one of the most popular cities in Spain!
Have a gastronomic experience in San Sebastian
In San Sebastian gastronomy is lived with passion and intensity. Hoping from bar to bar while trying some delicious pintxos or having an exquisite multi-course meal in one of the many Michelin-starred restaurants are great ways to experience this amazing gastronomic culture. You will easily understand why San Sebastian is considered to be one of the main culinary capitals in the world. If you really want to enjoy the art of eating well, this is the place to be. Accompany your unforgettable meal with a txakoli (sparkling white wine) to get the whole experience! In every corner of the lovely old town, you will find several pintxos bars, so you can always do a bar crawl and take in the different atmospheres, while trying different specialties, with ingredients from both coastal and rural areas. Although the gastronomic scene is one of the highlights of San Sebastian, it is far from being the only one – while strolling through the city you will find beautiful churches and buildings, such as the San Vicente and Santa María del Coro churches. By the sea, you will come across some fishermen's houses and golden sand beaches. Just like Bilbao, San Sebastian features modern and traditional characteristics. If you want to hit the beach or have a sunset stroll at the end of the day, a visit to Bay of Concha is in order – this crescent-shaped bay with white sand and turquoise waters offers spectacular views!
Get to know some Spanish traditions in Pamplona
Between the Ebro River and the Pyrenees, you will find Pamplona, the capital of Navarra, founded by the Roman general Pompey (hence the name). Narrow streets, cobbled squares and Neoclassical buildings make this ancient city a great destination. You will find a little bit of everything here: good food, good wine, a great heritage, nature and a lot of history. Pamplona is best known for its Running of the Bulls festival (San Fermines) celebrated every year. Among the main sights, it is worth mentioning the Cathedral, with a Neoclassical exterior and Gothic interior, the Church of San Saturnino (a stopping point for pilgrims on their way to Santiago), the Church of San Lorenzo, and the Plaza de Toros (bullring). When in Pamplona, you should also stop by the Gazteluko Plaza (Plaza del Castillo), the main square, so you can really feel the local ambience and marvel at the surroundings. Visit the city walls and explore some of the incredible restaurants in Pamplona as well – your mouth will literally water with all the delicious typical dishes and renowned local wines available. The exuberant Jardines de la Taconera (Taconera Gardens), northwest of the Casco Viejo (old town), which are a true verdant escape, are also worth a visit. In some bars around Plaza del Castillo, you will see homages to Ernest Hemingway, as the famous writer was a regular visitor of Pamplona, especially because of the unique bull tradition.
Indulge in the exquisite wines of Aranda del Duero
Did you know that Aranda de Duero is the main destination on the Ribera del Duero wine route? This means that you will find some excellent wines in this small, quaint town! The underground cellars are indeed one of the main attractions. Aranda del Duero lies peacefully next to Duero's riverbed, on the eastern side of the Castilla y León region, and is the capital of the Ribera del Duero region. This quiet but charming town is also home to some important architectural heritage, such as the church of Santa María, of Elizabethan Gothic style, the church of San Juan Bautista, seat of the council, the Roman bridge, the Palace of the Verdugo, from the 15th century, and the sanctuary of the Virgen de las Viñas, from the 17th century, located in the surroundings. Take the time to also explore the excellent gourmet offer!
Go back in time in Olite
This lovely walled medieval village will take you back in time! The honey-coloured houses, noble mansions, Gothic arcades and winding, cobbled streets characterize this town steeped in history. One of the main attractions is undoubtedly the spectacular Gothic Royal Palace that stands on top of a hill - it is quite capable of being one of the most majestic castles you will find in the entire country. You can marvel at the impressive towers (and even climb one to enjoy outstanding views), contemplate the luxurious rooms and walk around in the enchanting gardens. Olite, the wine capital of Navarra, is surrounded by many vineyards, which makes it the perfect place to visit if you’re a wine lover. On the outskirts, you will also find the beautiful lagoon of Pitillas. Stroll through the medieval old town, while admiring the picturesque houses, visit the medieval churches and have a glass of wine in one of the charming squares – it can be a great vacation program, especially if you’re more of a village and countryside kind of person. At sunset, these small houses get a kind of magical colour, so absorb the almost mystical feeling and imagine what Olite would look like in medieval times!
Discover the Romanesque legacy of Soria
This small, alluring and peaceful city, located in the autonomous region of Castile-Leon, is the ideal destination for those who want to go off the beaten path. Soria is actually the least populated province in Spain! Although it is a more remote town, it has a lot to offer to those lucky enough to visit it – there are amazing Romanesque monuments scattered all over town. Walk around the narrow medieval streets of the Casco Viejo, which is quite compact, and visit Plaza Mayor, full of arcades, where you will find the Renaissance-style Town Hall and the beautiful Iglesia de Santa María la Mayor, with its famous Romanesque façade. You will also find some other lovely churches in the old town, as well as the Palacio de los Condes de Gómara, a huge sandstone-coloured building. You can also visit the 18th century Baroque hermitage, the Ermita de San Saturio, and the Monasterio de San Juan de Duero, an ancient medieval monastery, or even explore the local museums. On the outskirts of town, you will find the Numancia Archaeological Site, where three ancient towns once stood, the Castillo de Gormaz, said to be the longest castle in Europe, and the Lobos Cañón del Río Lobos Natural Park, with dense forests. Soria retains a significant Romanesque legacy, which is definitely worth discovering!
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