A 4 to 7 day road trip in Basque Country, a route that will take you past the essential places of the Cantabrian coast, through dreamlike scenery.
After having travelled several times to the Basque Country, we believe that there is nothing better than doing it by car. It has given us more freedom, the possibility to improvise and to reach those hidden villages and landscapes that are difficult to reach by public transport. The landscapes, the people, the history, the food, everything is fascinating.
The Basque Country is called Euskadi or Euskal Herria in the local language, Euskera. In Spain there are 3 provinces, Vizcaya, Guipúzcoa and Álava, although the original Basque Country includes Navarre and the southern part of France.
The origins, traditions and language of the Basques are still being studied because they are unknown and bear no relation to other parts of Europe. It is also one of the few areas that was not overrun by Muslims in medieval times.
It’s one of those places we would go back to again and again because the food is great and the scenery is breathtaking.
Then we’ll take you on a tour of some of the must-see towns and villages that you must visit if you’re going a road trip in Basque Country. Obviously there are many more, but these are the ones we have visited. We welcome suggestions in the comments!
📜 TABLE OF CONTENTS
Route map of the essential road trip in Basque Country
The suggested route through the Basque Country covers mainly the Cantabrian coast, which is what we did.
1) Bilbao, a must on a road trip through the Basque Country
We will start our road trip in Basque Country in its largest city. Bilbao is the capital of the province of Vizcaya, affectionately nicknamed the “Bocho” (or hole) because of the city’s location, in a well between mountains.
It is a highly industrialised city that has managed to rise from the ashes to catapult itself as a modern and avant-garde city, without forgetting its origins.
The Nervión estuary divides the city in two and we could say that on each bank we find a different Bilbao. On one side, we have the old Bilbao with its Old Town where we can see the city walls, the layout of its 7 streets, the cathedral and the old Plaza Nueva. On the other side, over the estuary, we are surprised by a building with a silvery structure of crazy shapes that is none other than the Guggenheim Museum. Around it we find a 12-metre high dog made of flowers called Puppy, a giant chick spider called Mama (a work by Louise Bourgeois) and a fountain that makes fire and another one, humidity. And all this with the bridge of La Salve with its colourful fork in the background.
Bilbao lends itself to much more: enjoy the parks and a pleasant stroll along the estuary if the day is fine, visit its various museums if it is not, and delve into its gastronomic world.
📷 If you don’t want to miss anything of the city, check here the guided tour of Bilbao and make a reservation.
🔝 Also take a look at our article on what to see and do in Bilbao.
Where to stay in Bilbao
There is a wide range of hotels in Bilbao. A good value for money option in the city centre is the Barcelo Nervion. For a more low cost option, but a bit further away from the centre of Bilbao, is the Ibis Budget Barakaldo hotel.
🔝 Check out these recommendations for places to sleep in Bilbao.
🏨 Do you want to look for other options? Find here the best hotels in Bilbao.
2) Vizcaya Bridge in Portugalete and Getxo
On a road trip hrough the Basque Country, we ventured across the Nervión estuary on the Vizcaya Bridge, which connects the Basque towns of Portugalete and Getxo. Undoubtedly a bridge out of the ordinary.
It is a hanging ferry inaugurated at the end of the 19th century, the only one in the world that is currently in operation. It was a novelty in its time and has served as a model for the construction of similar bridges in other parts of the world. For example, the one that crosses the stream in Buenos Aires.
🔘 Check out the rest of the World Heritage Sites we have visited.
3) San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the beautiful hermitage
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a hermitage on an island battered by the waves of the sea, connected to the mainland by a stone bridge. In addition, one of the settings chosen by Game of Thrones to locate one of its castles Dragonstone (Rocadragon). The above can already give an idea of the “spectacularity” of what can be seen.
We leave the car in the car park and make our way down to the sea on a road that is not in such good condition (and which could get worse if it is raining or has rained). We then cross the stone bridge which begins a Way of the Cross and climb the many steps up to the hermitage, which is usually closed (although you can see inside through the windows in the door). We rang the bell for good luck and continued on our way.
The views are breathtaking and well worth a visit. It is one of the essential places to visit when travelling by car in the Basque Country.
📷 Check here for a tour of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe which also takes in the rest of the coastal towns and Guernica.
🔝 If you were left wanting more, check out this article on what to do and see in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
Continuing the road trip in the Basque Country to see the must-see places, we come across a charming and picturesque town by the sea, which was born as a fishing village and is still today its main source of income.
Moreover, they venerate this seafaring activity everywhere, from the Fishermen’s Museum that you should visit, to various sculptures of the sailors, the women who sell fish and even the mermaid Xixili.
The aforementioned museum is located in the Ercilla Tower, which once formed part of the city’s defensive wall in medieval times, of which one of its sturdy gates, that of San Juan, still remains. Ideal to stop and enjoy a walk and a meal.
The road trip in the Basque Country passes through the surfing capital, from the road there is a viewpoint where you can see the Biosphere Reserve and several black spots in the water corresponding to some surfers waiting for a good wave.
Mundaca has a 400 metre wave that breaks to the left and is very popular with surfers. In fact, a famous tournament has been held here for many years. For the rest of the mortals who do not like this sport, the views from the route to the Mundaca estuary are beautiful, as well as the visit to the hermitage of Santa Catalina and its small old town and port.
📷 In the mood for adventure? Check here the Surfing Course in Mundaka and book your place.
Hotels in Bermeo and Mundaca
In the area of Bermeo and Mundaca, a good option is to stay in a Basque country house. Casa Rural Iturbe is a beautiful country house located in the green hills of the Urdaiba biosphere reserve and a 15-minute drive from the sea.
🔝 Take a look at these other rural houses in the Basque Country to travel with the family.
We move away from the coast, inland and arrive at this small town in the mountains. Its looks calm, as if nothing has ever happened, but it has!
The name alone rings a bell: Picasso’s Guernica in the Reina Sofia Museum. If you have been to Madrid and visited this museum, you will know what the painting is about: a bombing of the city of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. This is an aberration that has been inflicted on the civilian population.
The route by car through the Basque Country takes to the Casa de Juntas, where the main political and economic decisions for the Basque Country are still taken today. It can be visited and is beautiful inside.
In the park of this house, there is a protected centenary tree that has a beautiful history of independence and vindication of Basque traditions. The leaders of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country take the oath of political office under this tree.
Where to stay in Guernica
In Guernica, you can stay five minutes by car from the city, in a rural house. Aristieta offers the peace and quiet you need to relax amidst the greenery.
🏨 Do you want to look for other options? Find here the best hotels in Guernica.
7) Flysch cliff in the Geopark
This is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes that the Basque Cantabrian coast has to offer. Beautiful and incredible. This is 13 km of coastline, which, with its geological formations, tells some 60 million years of history to those in the know, of course. We non-experts don’t read about the time when the dinosaurs disappeared, we admire the beauty of the folds of the corrugated stone entering the sea and those breathtaking cliffs that take our breath away.
Zarautz is a beautiful town on the Bay of Biscay coast and, like us, you might not even know it existed. But it has a reputation!
- It is the “Queen of the Beaches” because it is the longest beach in the Basque Country.
- A colourful fact for us Argentinians in particular: this is where Karlos Arguiñano has his restaurant.
- In the shipyards of Zarautz, which no longer exist, it is said that the ship that sailed around the world with Juan Sebastián Elcano on it, the nao Victoria, was built.
A stroll along the beach and a visit to the old town is well worthwhile on this driving tour of the Basque Country.
9) San Sebastián
We love San Sebastian! We had the chance to visit it several times, so we enjoyed it a lot. There are also several things to do in San Sebastian and our recommendation is to dedicate at least two to three days to explore it at your leisure.
San Sebastian, also known as Donostia in Basque, has its most recognisable postcard in the Bay of La Concha. At its ends are the Igueldo and Urgull mountains, and in its centre, like a seashell, there is a small island, or pearl, called the island of Santa Clara. It is possible to climb both mountains, from which there are breathtaking panoramic views of the city.
It has three beaches, the two in the bay, Concha and Ondarreta, and the other across the river Urumea, Zurriola. The latter is more open and usually has a lot of surfers because of the big waves.
We go into its historic quarter where we have to go on an obligatory pinchos route and then take a digestive walk along the promenade that surrounds the famous Playa de la Concha beach. At the other end we find the sculpture of the Peine del Viento and a stone platform reclaimed from the sea where the waves often hit hard.
🔝 Do you want to know everything there is to do? Check out these recommendations on things to do in San Sebastian.
📷 Check here check the guided tour in San Sebastian and book.
Where to stay in San Sebastián
San Sebastian has a wide range of hotels. A good option to stay in the historic centre is the Hotel Sansebay, although if you want to stay with views of La Concha beach, we recommend the Hotel Niza.
🔝 Check out these recommendations for places to stay in San Sebastian.
🏨 Do you want to look for other options? Find here the best hotels in San Sebastian.
10) Pasajes o Pasaia
Continuing the route by car through the Basque Country, leaving San Sebastian for the French side of the border, we come across this beautiful coastal village, which is actually four in number: San Pedro, San Juan, Ancho and Trincherpe.
The most touristy to visit are the first two. And of the first two the one that will captivate you most will be San Juan, with its main square facing the estuary, its cobbled streets running underneath a mountain and some stately houses among which highlights Gaviria House, where Victor Hugo, the French writer, spent a few days in the 19th century. To get from San Juan to San Pedro, you can cross the estuary by boat.
10+1) Bonus Track – Bayonne and Biarritz, the French Basque Country
And if you still have more time to explore, we recommend you do as we did: cross the border and visit the cities of Bayonne and Biarritz.
Bayonne is a very beautiful and picturesque medieval town on the river Adour. Its old town makes you want to walk for hours and hours.
Biarritz was popular in 19th century royalty and one of the country’s most important seaside resorts. The Hôtel du Palais building is one of its main attractions, commissioned by the Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III.
📷 Check here the guided tour of Biarritz and book. And if you are interested in a guided tour of Bayonne, take a look at the link.
Where to stay in Biarritz and Bayonne
A good choice for accommodation in Biarritz is the Hotel Alcyon, built in the 18th century and located in the heart of the city. If you want to stay right on the beachfront and a 10-minute walk from the city centre, Hotel Le Biarritz is an excellent alternative.
🏨 Do you want to look for other options? Find here the best hotels in Biarritz and Bayonne.
As you can see, there are many incredible places to see in a road trip through the Basque Country, although the other regions are also incredible.
Discounts and useful resources to save on your trip
- Cheap flights with Skyscanner
- Rent a car with Auto Europe
- Interrail Pass
- Eurail Pass
- Train Tickets with OMIO
- Bus tickets with OMIO
- Ferry tickets with OMIO
- Asia tickets with 12Go
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More articles about Basque Country
- Best Things to Do in San Sebastián, the Pearl of the Bay of Biscay
- Rural Houses in the Basque Country for Family Holidays
- The Best Free Tours in Bilbao
- The Best Free Tours in San Sebastián
- The Best Itinerary to Visit Basque Country in 4 Days
- The Best Tours From Bilbao, 6 Options to Choose
- Things to Do in Bilbao, the Most Avant-Garde Medieval City
- Tours From San Sebastian to Enjoy
- Visit to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Hermitage
- Where to Stay in Bilbao, the Best Areas
- Where to Stay in San Sebastián, Best Areas
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