Part-Time Living in Zaragoza, Spain

Basilica del Pilar
The square of Zaragoza’s Basilica del Pilar draws visitors to stroll in the sun and admire the 17th Century church. |©iStock/RossHelen

Every morning in the historic center of Zaragoza, I wake late to begin my daily routine—a cafe on my turn-of-the-century porch, overlooking the spire of the city's La Seo cathedral.

My upstairs neighbor whistles the same tune every day, dogs bark, pigeons coo, and a piano teacher plunks away outside my window.

The hours of the day move like molasses, taking me on walkabouts down centuries-old Moorish and Roman streets. There's no agenda to my day in Spain, as I pop into an art museum like that of Francisco de Goya, or stroll in solemnity through the city's central Basilica del Pilar.

My husband, daughter and I love to be tourists in our own town—visiting attractions which include numerous Roman ruins, farmers' markets, flea markets, museums, palaces, and churches.

In the evenings, warm winds bluster through the town, making strolls across the bridges on the Ebro River an enjoyable pastime, especially if we've stopped for an Italian gelato in advance.

Our Journey to Zaragoza

My husband is originally from the city, and we visited many times over the early years of our marriage. We eventually realized it made sense to own a home here.

We visit each year and, with aunts, uncles, and cousins nearby, we get the opportunity to expose my daughter to a new language and culture, educate her on new cuisines, and give ourselves the chance to take a time-out from the bustle of American living.

We shocked people when we bought our apartment sight unseen. Friends told us we were making a bad financial investment, while others just saw us as crazy and impulsive.

But, if the pandemic taught us anything, it's that the time for living is now—why wait on a dream, or on retirement? We wanted to do something big for ourselves, to bring our little family closer together and create lifelong memories.

We visit three or four times a year for a couple of weeks at a time. And we don't rent our home out when we're not using it—we want it to remain "ours."

After two years, we're making friends in the city, have our favorite restaurants and even our favorite servers, and are still exploring the thousands of cafes, shops, and attractions, and every day is a new adventure. We have all the modern conveniences of home, but there is still a bit of an adjustment and learning curve when it comes to certain lifestyle changes, meal times, and business hours.

Life and Expenses in Zaragoza

The people in Zaragoza are much more authentic than in the big cities full of tourists. The pace of life is slower, and family is held above all else.

We visit the markets daily, and only for what we need and can carry by hand for the next day or two, as opposed to a massive bi-weekly run at the big box stores.

Everyday costs are much cheaper here than in the U.S. A haircut that could cost upwards of $120 back home costs less than $20 here, for example.

Electronics and appliances, however, are nearly double the price of American costs, so there is a tradeoff.

There's really no need to own a car in Zaragoza.

With such great rail service in Spain, we often prefer to use trains or take the city light rail service, which are both extremely affordable. And when we do need one for a day trip or big shopping day out, we can take taxis or rent a car.

If you choose to own a car and your apartment doesn't include a parking space, you can purchase one for around $30K to $40K. Or better, if you do have an apartment with a parking spot and simply don't want the space, you can rent it out for additional money in your pocket.

All in all, if only for a few weeks at a time throughout the year, we have a place overseas that we can call home.

It's a place of refuge from routines and obligations, and a chance to be a part of something different.

We don't look at our home in Spain as an investment of money, or even a cost savings on life in America, but truly just as a place to experience life under a new lens.

We're often better people when we're in Spain—happier, more focused on the family, and less on life's struggles. And there's definitely one thing we take back to the U.S. with us after every trip… a few extra pounds on the waistline.