The city of ZARAGOZA houses nearly half of Aragón's 1.5 million population, and most of its industry. It's a big but enjoyable place, with a lively zone of bars and restaurants tucked in among remarkable monuments, and has managed to absorb its rapid growth with a rare grace. Its centre, at least, reflects an air of prosperity in its wide, modern boulevards, and stylish shops and bars. Highlights include the spectacular Moorish Aljafería (a former palace that's now home to the Argonese parliament), an impressive collection of Roman ruins and an awesome basilica.
The Plaza del Pilar is the obvious point to start exploring. The square, paved in a brilliant, pale stone, was remodelled in 1991, creating a vast, airy expanse from La Seo, past the great Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, and over to Avenida César Augusto. The plaza spans the city's entire history: Roman ruins at both ends; between the churches, a Renaissance exchange house, the Lonja; and at the centre, modern statuary and the Fuente de la Hispanidad, a giant waterfall shaped like a section of Central America and the Caribbean to commemorate 1492.
The city's fiestas in honour of the revered saint – second week of October – are well worth planning a trip around. In addition to the religious processions (which focus on the 12th), the local council lays on a brilliant programme of cultural events, featuring top rock, jazz and folk bands, floats, bullfights and traditional jota dancing.
In 2008, the splashy Expo Zaragoza celebrated the theme of water and sustainable development. The gleaming Expo site, sprawled along the river just west of the city centre, featured plenty of intriguing architecture, including the iconic Water Tower, which loomed at nearly 76m tall, with a sheet of water at the entrance, spiral ramps and a top-floor bar with sweeping views of the city; and a sleek bridge pavilion designed by Zaha Hadid. While the Expo site is to be transformed into a high-end business centre, a number of the key edifices will likely remain to host exhibits. Thanks to the Expo, Zaragoza's centre was also spruced up.