When Spain is mentioned, you hear a lot about the glamourous cities, such as Barcelona or Madrid, but other cities, like Zaragoza, remain unfairly overlooked. Therefore, I have to confess that my expectations upon leaving Edinburgh to live and intern in Zaragoza were not particularly high before the start of my internship. However, now that my internship in Zaragoza is over and I'm about to leave the city, I'm feeling rather overwhelmed by the idea of leaving all of the things that have made me so happy throughout the past three months.
Here are 10 reasons why (I now think that) Zaragoza is a hidden gem with the potential to offer a truly once-in-a-lifetime internship experience in Spain:
1. A clean, safe, perfectly-sized city.
One thing about Zaragoza, which is the capital of the Aragon region in Spain, that caught my attention right from the beginning is how functional, clean, and safe the city feels. I could see the streets being cleaned on my (really early) walk to work every morning, which gives you the impression that Zaragoza is always spotless!
I also personally believe that Zaragoza is ideal to wander around on foot due to its perfect size. Although, bike lanes, regular bus lines, and the urban tramway all make it very easy to get around Zaragoza, even when returning home after a night out. On top of that, most of the social life can be found within “el casco” (the city center), so you can easily flit between different bars, pubs, and restaurants to get around and search for your favourite tapas after work!
These were all features of the city that I really valued during my internship in Zaragoza. But, three months is definitely not long enough to entirely explore a city that has as much to offer as Zaragoza. Nevertheless, the proximity of the pubs and other leisure activities, along with the impression of safety and cleanliness I got from Zaragoza, definitely made it easy to make the most of my internship experience.
2. A high quality of life at an accessible price.
One of the main advantages of interning in Zaragoza, compared to other Spanish cities like Madrid and Barcelona, lies in the fact that Zaragoza offers a high standard of living at a more affordable cost. The average monthly rental rate for a whole flat is around 560 Euros per month; but obviously, the price varies depending on how many people you live with. Also, the university in Zaragoza plays quite an important role in the city, so chances are that you will end up sharing a flat with students or recent graduates. However, it all depends on what you are looking for!
During my internship in Zaragoza, I stayed in an affordable modern flat quite close to the main city attractions, which I was grateful for as my scholarship was modest. Having spent several years in Edinburgh, where finding quality accommodation with the limited budget of an average student proves to be a challenge, I really appreciated this feature of my internship in Zaragoza.
3. An international, open, and tolerant atmosphere.
Throughout its history, Zaragoza has traditionally welcomed people from very different cultural backgrounds. Nowadays, walking through the central Plaza del Pilar is enough to fully appreciate that multiculturalism is still at the core of the city, as you will be able to hear the traditional maño (local) accent mingling with accents from all over the world just in that single square. It has, in fact, been documented that 2000 students from 85 countries all over the world choose Zaragoza through different mobility programs every year.
Additionally, tolerance in Zaragoza is not only limited to the beauty of the melting pot of cultures found on its streets; it goes far beyond that. Various cultural awareness associations have been making their presence felt in the city for many years, for example by organising informative workshops, and promoting of acceptance and respect of minorities and marginalised groups such as the LGBT community, immigrants, and the homeless population.
4. A dynamic city with a broad range of cultural activities.
No matter what your interests may be, Zaragoza offers a wide range of cultural activities, with something to suit everyone. Throughout my internship in Zaragoza, I have seen posters for concerts of all kinds of music genres, ranging from classical Spanish guitar to indie, photography exhibitions, magic shows, and workshops, as well as theatre, ballet, and dance performances. I have always felt that the city's vibrant cultural landscape made it very easy to make the most of my experience in Zaragoza (and remember, this is at an affordable price). Faced with such a range of things to do, the hard part was choosing one. No matter what you choose, there will be no regrets; I will never forget my weekly Flamenco dance classes!
5. Beautifully preserved architecture.
During my internship in Zaragoza, I was lucky enough to live very close to the historic quarter, so I loved going for short walks there after work. Just by walking down the streets of Zaragoza, you can tell the architecture is a reflection of more than 2000 years of history. Within less than a mile, you can find a Moorish palace (La Aljafería) and a Roman Catholic church (Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar), as well as temples, towers, and other architectural wonders built by Romans, Muslims, Jews, and Christians throughout history.
6. The opportunity to enjoy Juepincho nights!
Every Thursday evening, the bars in the Magdalena district of Zaragoza offer a caña (glass of beer) and a pincho (small-sized portion of some food, also called tapa) at a lower price than usual. This promotion, called Juepincho (“Jueves”, which means “Thursday” + “pincho"), is immensely popular and leads to bars being absolutely packed with people enjoying the food and drinks.
I think that when you live in a place for a short time, you really have to make the most it and get to know the people that you are going to spend it with. For that reason, I always found Juepincho to be a great, easy way to get out there and mingle during my internship in Zaragoza!
7. Mouthwatering Spanish and Aragonese cuisine.
Speaking of pinchos, it would be a crime not to mention Spanish cuisine, in general. Of course, everyone talks about it, but honestly, living in Spain and grabbing a bite of an authentic Mediterranean dish is a heavenly experience that really lives up to the hype. The choices are endless: tortilla, bravas potatoes, ham croquettes, cochinillo (suckling pig), garlic shrimp, and many more. The Aragonese specialties are also worth trying: longaniza (Spanish sausage similar to chorizo), ternasco asado (roast lamb meat), or frutas de Aragón (a confit of fruit covered in chocolate). In short, Zaragoza may very well be one of the perfect destinations for foodies!
8. Long hikes in the Aragonese Pyrenees on the weekends.
Having lived in Scotland over the last few years, I thought Spain might struggle to match the splendour and immense natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands; however, I was very wrong! My first sight of the Aragonese Pyrenees, with their craggy mountain tops piercing bright blue skies and their lush valleys and thundering rivers, truly took my breath away.
The closer you get the wilder they are, and there is a huge variety of flora and fauna. On my various hiking trips, I was lucky to catch glimpses of wild goats, Griffon vultures, and the notoriously shy marmots. Hiking trails lace throughout the mountain ranges and there are plenty of mountaineering groups based in Zaragoza. This, along with the fact that the Pyrenees are a mere hour and a half away, means that it’s easy to escape the city for a long day (or a weekend with a stay in a refugio) in the mountains.
There are also a whole range of mountain activities on offer, including climbing, canyoning, trekking, and ziplining, and in winter, you can lace up your ski boots and take to the snowy slopes. The Aragonese Pyrenees definitely offer adventure throughout the seasons. I definitely, truly recommend a hike during your internship in Zaragoza!
9. Its strategic location in Spain.
Zaragoza also enjoys an ideal geographical location. The Ebro River, which flows through the city’s center, served as one of the main waterways of the Iberian Peninsula in ages past, bringing trade and vitality to Zaragoza. Nowadays, Zaragoza is even more connected to the rest of the country, and beyond, with an international airport, access to the high-speed AVE train network, and a range of regular bus routes to neighboring towns and cities.
Thanks to Zaragoza’s handy location – right in the center of the region of Aragon, close to the Pyrenees and the French border, and at the midpoint between the bustling cultural hotspots of Madrid and Barcelona – a trip to somewhere a little further afield will only take the blink of an eye. Therefore, Zaragoza is the perfect home base for a little adventuring in Spain.
10. The friendly inhabitants!
When all's said and done, objectivity can only get you so far – there could be dozens of points in Zaragoza’s favor, but all of that would count for nothing if the general atmosphere in the city was unpleasant. Luckily, that’s not the case! In fact, you’d be hard-pressed not to feel comfortable in Zaragoza, right from the start of your stay; a sense of warmth and welcome permeates the city, whose inhabitants are almost universally kind, friendly, and always up for a chat! Zaragoza just has a special “something”, an indefinable quality that can put anyone at ease – that feeling of a home away from home.
Are you convinced yet?
With all these proven reasons to choose Zaragoza for your internship in Spain, how could you NOT want to find an internship in the hidden gem of Spain ASAP?
There are some other important considerations to make before choosing an internship though. For example, if you are looking to really make the most of your time in Zaragoza, why not combine your internship with courses? It definitely can’t hurt, and it is more than possible to do so.
This article was contributed by the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Zaragoza - Mediterranean Agribusiness School (MABS).