Although Spain is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world, the Basque Country is painfully overlooked. It may not be as warm as the south but the Northerly Basque region has so much to offer! The Basque Country is famous for its food, beaches, and rugged scenery; and we can confirm, it certainly does not disappoint. This 5-day Basque Country itinerary has been carefully crafted so that you can pack in as much as possible and don’t miss any of the highlights and hidden gems!
Day 1 – Bilbao
Daily mileage: 2.7 km
Time spent driving: n/a
Begin the first day of this jam-packed 5-day Basque Country itinerary in the Old Town of Bilbao. This area is also known as Casco Viejo. The colourful streets are lined by bars, restaurants, and little boutiques.
You can’t say you’ve truly experienced the Basque Country unless you have enjoyed copious amounts of Pintxos (pronounced pinch-os). This is the Basque take on tapas. Although reasonably priced, the snacks can be pretty fancy and elaborate. The etiquette is to have one or two pintxos with a drink at a pub then move on to the next, sort of like a classy pub crawl. Enjoy as much Pintxos as you can handle in Casco Viejo before you get back to exploring the wonderful city.
Walk North along the Estuary of Bilbao, this leisurely stroll takes around 20 – 30 minutes. This walk is a fantastic way to take in the sights of Bilbao. Many of the bridges in this stretch are spectacular, not to mention photogenic. Puente Zubizuri, the curved bridge is particularly fancy. The walk ends at the site of the astounding Guggenheim Museum.
When thinking of Bilbao, the Guggenheim Museum is the first image that comes to mind. Spend the afternoon exploring it inside and out. The museum is home to nineteen galleries in total as well as multiple outdoor sculptures. If you don’t fancy going inside, the outside of the building is more than enough art to marvel at.
Once you have seen everything the Guggenheim has to offer it is time to head up Mount Artxanda. This is without a doubt the best way to see the sunset in Bilbao. There is a funicular that takes you all the way to the best viewpoint so you don’t even have to bother walking up the hill.
There are a huge amount of places to eat in Bilbao, whatever cuisine you fancy, you can bet Bilbao has something to offer. We recommend trying some local restaurants that serve traditional Basque food to really immerse yourself in the culture.
There are several places around Bilbao to park for the night – these can be found on the app Park4night. We parked on Mount Artxanda and absolutely loved it! The views were amazing! Check out our park up here
People in Bilbao speak Basque as well as Spanish, so don’t be too surprised if you get a little mixed up.
Day 2 – Bilbao toGaztelugatxe
Daily mileage: 83 km
Time spent driving: 1 hrs 58 mins
Spend the morning in Bilbao; there is so much left of the city to explore. The city is fantastic for shopping; we recommend Gran Vía. As the shopping hub of Bilbao, Gran Vía has a wide range of brand names, both high street and high-end.
If architecture is your thing be sure to check out all of the beautiful buildings in Bilbao. Highlights include: Cathedral de Santiago, Teatro Arriaga the opera house, and the Church of San José de la Montaña. Not only are these buildings stunning from the outside, but the insides are also just as magnificent!
If you are a real foodie, Bilbao will not disappoint! check out Zortziko – this restaurant may be pricey but it does come with a Michelin star. Alternatively, there are hundreds of restaurants for you to choose from all around Bilbao.
Time to get in the car and start heading to the next destination. The next stop on this Basque Country itinerary is the Vizcaya Hanging Bridge. Located a 25-minute drive from the centre of Bilbao, this bridge will not disappoint. Below the large red bridge structure, a hanging gondola transports people and vehicles across the estuary below. As well as crossing the bridge in the hanging gondola (€0.40) you can climb to the top of the 50 metre high structure and cross the wooden walkway at the top (€8) – worth it for the adrenalin rush!
The next destination on this Basque Country Itinerary is Gaztelugatxe. This is a 50-minute drive Northeast on the coast of Biscay, in the Spanish Basque Country. Gaztelugatxe is a small island that is connected to the mainland by a winding staircase – known as the “stairway to heaven”. It really is a sight to be seen; we recommend watching the sunset here.
There is not a huge selection of dining options near the stairway to heaven. Drive west for a couple of minutes until you reach the town of Bakio. Here you will find many different restaurants to choose from.
There are several small towns in the vicinity of Gaztelugatxe, many of which have decent parking areas to spend the night – these can be found on the app Park4night. For example, the town of Mungia has this parking area.
There are not many places to stay right next to the ‘Stairway To Heaven’. Again we recommend the small town, Bakio. There is a range of hotels at different price points here.
Make sure to wear comfy shoes to climb the stairway to heaven. We won’t lie, it’s a lot of stairs, be prepared!
Day 3 – Gaztelugatxe to Zarautz
Daily mileage: 114 km
Time spent driving: 2 hr 2 minutes
Day 3 of this Basque Country itinerary begins with a 50-minute drive to Oma Forest, also known as the painted forest. The forest itself is a work of art created by Agustin Ibarrola, a local Basque artist. The trees are painted with bright colours, many of the designs play with perspective as you can only see the full picture from certain angles/positions. This is the perfect location to take some fun pictures.
Once you have seen all of the wonderful bright trees in Oma Forest head to the small town, Guernica, a 20 minute drive away. Here there are many restaurants for you to choose from. It is a tradition in Spain to have a large 2 or 3 course lunch as the main meal of the day.
After lunch drive to Zarautz, it is a 1-hour scenic drive. Here you will find the longest beach in the Basque Country. If the weather is nice be sure to take a refreshing dunk in the sea. Zarautz is home to Narros palace. The whole town is steeped in history, and once upon a time was a location where royalty vacationed.
As well as History, this town is known for its surfing with many people choosing to spend their whole summer here to catch the best waves.
One of the most amazing things about Zarautz is its food. Karlos Arguiñano, one of the most famous chefs in Spain resides here. He has a restaurant and hotel right on the beachfront – not to be missed!
There are a couple of good campsites in Zarautz with all the facilities you could wish for. If you’re like us you’ll think free parking is the best kind of parking. Unfortunately, Zarautz isn’t the best for free parking. The best option is to head away from the coastline.
There are a good number of hotels to choose from in Zarautz. They vary in quality and price (starting from around€50 per night). Check out the range of hotels here.
Don’t risk parking your van where it is not permitted overnight Zarautz. Police patrol the area and will not hesitate to fine you.
Day 4 – Zarautz to San Sebastian
Daily mileage: 18 km
Time spent driving: 21 minutes
Begin day 4 with a short 20-minute drive to the beautiful city of San Sebastian. There is a lot to see here! Explore the city and take in the sights, we recommend starting with the old town right in the centre. Wander around the cobblestone streets perusing the restaurants, bars, and cute little boutique shops. A highlight is the church of Santa Maria – it is incredibly intricate and grand!
Be sure to check out the ‘Plaza De La Constitución‘. This square was formerly a bullfighting ring. Each window facing the square has a number above it; these were formerly seats to watch the bullfighting from above. This immaculate square is filled with places to eat and has a fantastic atmosphere.
Enjoy some pinchos in the old town of San Sebastian. There is a huge selection of pintxo bars for you to hop around here. Remember, have one or two pintxos with a drink at a pub then move on to the next.
In the afternoon stroll along the iconic San Sebastian promenade. Photogenic white handrails and intricate lamp posts line the street. Walking along this stretch is a fantastic way to get your bearings within the city.
No trip to San Sebastian is complete without checking out its beautiful beaches! There are 3 beaches in the city, all of which have soft golden sand. The beaches are what make San Sebastian a perfect location for holiday-goers.
If the weather is fitting we suggest you take a dunk in the sea. The water may not be warm but it is incredibly refreshing!
San Sebastian has a fantastic reputation when it comes to food. In fact, it has the most Michelin stars per square metre in Europe. So if you are looking for a fancy restaurant, there is no shortage here. Check out the Michelin website to decide which restaurant you would like to tickle your tastebuds.
Cheap parking in a great park up with water facilities here
There are cheap (€1.60) warm showers at the beach for you to make the most of.
Day 5 – San Sebastian
Daily mileage: – 7.5 km
Time spent driving: n/a
Day 5 of the Basque Country itinerary is another busy day, exploring the sights in San Sebastian. Begin the day by walking to the “Wind Comb” sculptures. This is around a 50-minute walk from the old town, you can hire some bikes to make the journey quicker. The sculptures were erected in 1977 and consist of three iron anchor-like forms welded into surrounding rocks.
These sculptures get battered daily by the waves crashing into them. In the same general area, there are ‘blowholes’ in the ground that can spit up seawater when the waves are particularly ferocious. They release a pretty loud roar with the water crashing below.
There are a couple of restaurants close by, however, a good old-fashioned picnic will be perfect to snack on whilst watching the upcoming views.
Mount Igueldo is where you should head to in the afternoon. There are a couple of ways to tackle this hill. Option 1 – Walk up the winding roads taking in the incredible views on the way up. To be perfectly honest the walk is a bit of a trek, really gets your heart racing. Option 2 – Take the funicular straight to the top (€3.50).
At the top of the hill, you will find a small theme park and panoramic views of the city. The theme park isn’t built for thrill seekers. It does however provide sweet family rides with a view of San Sebastian that is difficult to beat! This is the perfect place to watch the sunset.
Be sure to check the funicular timetable if you are visiting during the winter months as it does not run so regularly.
Although 5 days may not sound like enough time to fully soak in the Basque Country’s beauty, you can truly get the essence of what this magnificent area is all about! This 5-day Basque Country itinerary tries to encompass as much of the area’s charm, culture, and beauty as possible.
If this road trip has whet your Spanish appetite, why not check out our ultimate Spanish road trip? This trip explores the entirety of Spain, from the hustle and bustle of the big cities to the more tranquil moments that can be found in rural Spain.