Planning to explore the north of Spain – how about the Basque Country? – Check this 3-day Basque Country Itinerary to enjoy this unique region, rich in traditions, iconic landmarks, and natural wonders.
Summers in Spain
While the Spanish summers mostly drive countless international visitors to the Mediterranean coast (for a reason to be fair), me and my family constantly take road trips somewhere in the opposite direction. That´s already a well-routed tradition.
Being an expat in the province of Castellon for 15 years and living on the Mediterranean coast all year round has spoilt me irrevocably. I am so used to having this wonderful seaside to myself all year round that I cannot tolerate sharing it with the crowds. Spain is such a diverse country in terms of landscapes, but most of the locals spend summers the same way – at the beach. Even northern Spain beaches are trending despite the tricky weather.
All roads point to the north
So, where to travel in Spain during these 2 summer months of July and August is a constant puzzle for me to solve. It requires patience, planning, and creativity. Most of the coastal areas are overcrowded and overpriced. Central Spain with its Don Quijote Route, my favorite Toledo, has nowhere to hide from the summer heat. Off-the-beaten-track regions, like Teruel and Cuenca, are too sunny in hot in the summer months as well.
So what is left? – The Northern Spain and the Spanish Pyrenees, of course. These two are the constant attributes of my summer vacation plans. Honestly, no summer feels complete without a trip to the Northern regions or the mountains.
Let me share with you the highlights of our last long weekend in the Basque Country or Pais Vasco in Spanish. If you don´t know where to head in Spain next – grab this 3-day Basque Country itinerary. It is known for dramatic landscapes, unique landmarks, delicious cuisine, and rich local traditions.
What is the Basque Country known for
In case the Basque Country is a completely new destination for you, let me fill you in with a few important details about the region.
So, the Basque Country is a free-spirited land located on the territories of both modern Spain and France. You have the main capitals of Bilbao, Vitoria-Gasteiz, and San Sebastian in Spain, and Bayonne is already in France. The most traditional architecture of the Basque Country includes white chalet-style homes with red or green shutters. These are often set across the green hills or by the ocean.
The Basque Country has a complicated and dramatic relationship history with Spain. I recommend you to research, and watch a few documentaries in order to understand better the region and its people. Also, the HBO TV Series Patria is good to get an insider glimpse of the tragic past. The Spanish hit movie Ocho Apellidos Vascos (2014), also called The Spanish Affair, set in the Basque Country, is a funny example of the differences between the North and the South of Spain.
The local language of Euskera is one of the oldest ones spoken in Europe and has no clear links to other EU languages.
Local cuisine is highly influenced by the natural setting of the Basque country – ocean, mountains, and vineyards. The local gastronomic invention everyone should try is definitely pintxo, a delicious small bite with local ingredients. Other local delicatessens include – Marmitako (a fish stew), Bacalao a la Vizcaina (a cod in a tomato sauce), txipirones (baby squid in their own ink), cheese Idiazabal, and Goxua (a sponge cake topped with custard).
3-Day Itinerary to Visit the Basque Country
First and foremost, let me specify that this trip was not my first time in Basque Country. I lived for a year and a half in Pamplona (during my MBA studies) and took day trips to both Bilbao and San Sebastian back then. This fact allowed me to see both cities briefly this time while focusing on the Basque region itself. Both Bilbao and San Sebastian have quite a bunch of things to do for more than one day each, especially if you´re into modern art and museums.
Day 1: Bilbao + Hayedo de Otzareta
My morning in the Basque country started in an otherworldly-beautiful place – Hayedo de Otzareta. We took a coffee to go and left the busy Bilbao to enjoy the silence of nature. Hayedo de Otzarreta is an absolute Spanish Magical Forest located in Gorbeia Natural Park, within a 50-min-long drive from Bilbao.
Also read: The Most Beautiful Gardens in Spain
Officially, Hayedo de Otzarreta reaches its top beauty peak in the autumn months, but even in summer, it looked like one of the Spanish storybook places. As we got there relatively early (before 10 a.m) – it was such an unforgettable quiet moment with no soul around. Hopefully, on my next trip to Basque Country, I will get a chance to explore more of Gorbeia Natural Park and add a few epic trails to my list of Spanish hikes.
The lunch hour and evening we spent in Bilbao, enjoying the street architecture and the Guggenheim Museum.
Day 2: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe + Bermeo + Zumaia
The next day’s top stop on my 3-day Basque Country itinerary was San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, one of the iconic Game of Thrones filming locations in Spain and one of the most popular fairytale places in Spain.
It is one of those picture-perfect locations you should definitely experience at least once in a lifetime. 241 steps (dating back to the Xth century) will take you to the Church of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
This place is surrounded by myths, legends, and historical events, starting from the saint San Juan (after whom the church was named) to the pirates. Some also consider it to be one of the mysterious and haunted places in Spain, as in the times of witch-hunting during the Spanish Saint Inquisition, local witches would unite in the area to cast their spells.
Also read: 30+ Famous Landmarks in Spain You Can´t Miss
Keep in mind that it is actually quite a hike all the way to the top. Influencers wearing pretty dresses might look good in photos, but the truth is that you’d better be wearing comfortable shoes (it rains quite often and the path might be slippery). Also, as the place has become very touristic lately, you should book your entrance online in advance.
By lunch, we were done with seeing San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and headed to the cute small town of Bermeo. In one of the local restaurants we tried Basque cuisine, including Marmitako and Goxua. And simply enjoyed a walk through the old port of Bermeo.
Also, near Bermeo, Bilbao, and Gaztelugatxe you´ll find one of the dreamiest Spanish castles – the Butron Castle. It´s a private property, so you cannot get inside. But the castle looks so unique even from the outside, that it´s worth a stop. Especially if you have an extra moment on your Basque Country itinerary.
On our way back to Bilbao, we also visited Zumaia Beach, known for some of the most beautiful cliffs in Spain. The landscape of Zumaia looks out of this world beautiful. A series of strata formations rise vertically from the sea while creating an ultimate unearthly effect. Usually, layered rocks form when particles settle from water or air.
While the beach itself was quite busy, its uniqueness makes it a must-stop on every Basque Country itinerary. No wonder, Zumaia Beach also appeared in GOT.
Day 3: San Sebastian + Hondarribia
While I have previously visited San Sebastian a few times, it´s still one of my favorite places to go in Spain. It can´t be missed on your Basque Country Itinerary, even if you are not a first-timer. San Sebastian is extremely beautiful and definitely feels like one of the most romantic cities in Spain.
You might have heard that the Basque Country is one of the best dining destinations in the world, with 40 Michelin-starred restaurants over only 21000 square km. So, besides its unmatched beauty, San Sebastian is a paradise for foodies.
The star-dish is the pintxo, a mini-bite all laid out in front of you. Every year there´s a local competition – Euskal Herria Pintxo Championship, with bars and restaurants battling for the best yummy creations. If it´s your first time in San Sebastian, I´d recommend you to take a pintxo tour or at least research the recent winners to make the most of your foodie experience in the city. Although it´s almost impossible to choose a bad place to dine since everything is delicious. You can spend a whole evening pintxo-hopping from bar to bar. Pay attention to the walls, they usually display certificates from the past pintxo competitions, so you´ll know exactly what to order. Also, those with a sweet tooth can´t miss the cheesecake at La Viña.
Also read: Artichoke Tasting Menu in Benicarlo, Spain
Basically, we´ve spent a whole day strolling along San Sebastian´s Bay of Concha and the atmospheric Old Town, while checking a few pintxo bars. Monte Igeldo and its iconic views could not be missed either.
Hopefully, next time in San Sebastian I’ll finally reach a few local museums, as so far I’ve never had enough time for them.
On our way back to the hotel we made a quick stop in Hondarribia, one of the most colorful villages in Spain and enjoyed a delicious ice cream by the ocean.
As you might have figured out – this Basque Country itinerary requires one to travel by car. For me, it´s the most common way of exploring new hidden gems across different Spanish regions.
Nevertheless, you can easily spend a long weekend in the Basque Country without renting a car, if you focus on the cities. While staying in Bilbao, you can easily take a day trip from Bilbao to San Sebastian or Vittoria-Gazteiz. Each city is worth spending at least a day in. Also, there are companies offering organized tours to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and other GOT filming locations.
Plans for the next trip to the Basque Country
In case you need more ideas to personalize your Basque Country itinerary, I will leave you my top stops for the next trip to the region.
- The Vizcaya Bridge (the first ferry bridge built in the world)
- Akzuna Zentroa Alhondiga Bilbao (a modern arts and culture center in Bilbao)
- Cueva de Pozalagua (a unique cave with the greatest concentration of eccentric stalactites in the world)
- Salto del Nervion (the highest waterfall in the Iberian peninsula)
- Guernica (commemorated by a famous painting of Pablo Picasso)
- Hotel Marques de Riscal ( a luxury hotel with a unique design)
- Sanctuary of Arantzazu
- Salt Valley of Añana
- Tolosa (to try local sweets – tejas, xaxus, cigarillos)
Have you ever visited the Basque Country? Would you like to go?