Here’s a handy 3-day itinerary for those planning to spend a long weekend in La Rioja and Navarra. I love visiting both regions occasionally, but this trip was my first time traveling to Northern Spain with the kids.

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A Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra with the Kids

Visiting La Rioja and Navarra

About Our Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra

To begin with, I´ve been planning to visit La Rioja for years, but the stars just did not align for us.

So, my initial idea was to enjoy a romantic getaway with my husband while checking out a few new bodegas in La Rioja. But those of you who are parents would know that things never go as planned. My mother-in-law (who was supposed to look after the kids for a few days) got sick. So, I changed the itinerary at the last moment to make it work for the whole family.

We can all agree on the fact that La Rioja is clearly not the most interesting destination for Spain with kids. It is often suggested for wine-tasting tours and romantic getaways. But here am I telling you that we have actually enjoyed visiting the region with the little ones. Especially, thanks to adding a few stops in the nearest Navarra region.

Despite traveling with kids, we still decided to visit at least one new La Rioja winery. However, it was challenging to find the bodegas doing family-friendly tours (which I partially understand). But on the other hand, the whole wine-drinking culture is one of the essential Spanish habits. So, it’s also great for the kids to learn this traditional and cultural side of it.

You can check the videos from this weekend in La Rioja and Navarra via my @at_lifestyle_crossroads IG Highlights.

wine tastiong in la rioja spain
All about our Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra

About La Rioja and Navarra

La Rioja and Navarra are Spanish autonomous Communities located in the north of the Iberian Peninsula. Both regions are small and located close to each other, so you can easily include them on the same itinerary.

For this weekend in La Rioja and Navarra, we were traveling from Zaragoza.

So, the closest international airports to Navarra and La Rioja are Zaragoza and Bilbao. Alternatively, you can also fly to Santander or Madrid.

A longer itinerary for La Rioja and Navarra

For planning a longer itinerary, I recommend you check out my articles A Quick Guide to La Rioja and Top Places to See in Navarra.

Also, you can combine this weekend in La Rioja and Navarra with my Basque Country Road Trip, Northern Spain Road Trip, Asturias Road Trip, and even The Pyrenees Road Trip.

Where to stay in La Rioja and Navarra

For this trip, we booked an apartment Apartamentos Amaiur 2 in Estella. You can check out other top-rated hotels and rentals in the area on the map below.

Our 3-day Itinerary for La Rioja and Navarra

Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra – Day 1

Bardenas Reales

Our first stop on the road from Zaragoza to Estella was the stunning landscape of Bardenas Reales, one of the most iconic GOT filming locations in Spain

The desert-looking lunar landscapes of Bardenas Reales will teleport you to a good old Hollywood Western, very much like Almeria and its Las Tabernas Desert. It’s hard even to imagine these geological formations set only 70 km away from the greenery of the Pyrenees.

The soils of Bardenas Reales are made of clay, chalk, and sandstone. With time erosion and wind have transformed these into surprising shapes, canyons, and structures.

We accessed Bardenas Reales Biosphere Reserve by car and made a few stops along the way to explore the landscape in the areas with parking. You can easily spend the whole day driving around, but since we had more things planned, we could only dedicate an hour to this stunning landscape.

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Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra – Bardenas Reales

Arnedo

Our next stop on the road was the small town of Arnedo, known for its shoe industry and unique caves.

You can visit the Footwear Museum of Arnedo to learn more about local shoes, created since the XVIth century. A popular Spanish footwear brand, Callaghan, has its shoe exposition within their store in Arnedo.

In Arnedo, we stopped by the Tourist office to find out that the only option for visiting the caves Cuevas de los Cien Pilares was a guided tour, booked in advance. So, this experience was meant to be left for future trips to La Rioja. Here is the contact info of Arnedo´s Tourist Office to book your visit (address: Paseo Constitucion 38; email: arnedo@lariojaturismo.com). 

Instead of the caves, we simply walked across the town towards the Castle of Arnedo, which was likely inhabited since the Roman times in Spain. Back in 714, the Moors built here a fortress for the influential local family Banu Casi. The whole Xth century the castle was a subject of the frontier wars between the Muslims and Christians. In the XIth century, as a result of the Reconquista (you can learn more via my list of Spain documentaries), it passed to the nearest Kingdom of Navarra. To visit a castle, you’d need to book a guided tour (but if you are short on time, I suggest you do only the caves).

Also, Arnedo is known for few unique local churches to visit – Iglesia de Santo Tomas, Iglesia de San Cosme y San Damian, and Iglesia de Santa Eulalia.

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Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra – Arnedo
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Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra – The Castle of Arnedo

Estella

The small town of Estella is mostly known as part of the famous El Camino de Santiago (or the Way of Saint James). One of the most iconic landmarks of Estella is the Weevil Bridge – a medieval bridge over the Ega River.

To my surprise, Estella also had a few cafes/restaurants with international food (thanks to a large number of pilgrims from around the world, visiting the town on the way to Santiago)

estella navarra places to visit
Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra – Estella

Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra – Day 2

Breakfast in Estella

We started the second day of this weekend in La Rioja and Navarra with a nice breakfast at Namaste cafe in Estella.

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Breakfast at Namaste cafe in Estella

La Rioja Wineries

Bodegas Franco Españolas was the only La Rioja winery offering family-friendly tours (that I was able to find last moment). We booked a guided tour only a few days in advance. This place ended up as a pleasant surprise, and even the kids enjoyed learning more about the wine-making process.

This winery has more than 130 years of history and was visited by one of my favorite writers in the world, Ernest Hemingway ( back in 1956), and by the Spanish king Alfonso XIII. Funny enough, after visiting Bodegas Franco Españolas Hemingway said his famous quote: “My only regret in life is that I did not drink more wine”.

Originally, this winery was created by Frederick Anglade Saurat, the Frenchman from Bordeaux, in 1890. However, in 1984 it was bought by a local businessman Marcos Eguizabal. The most famous wine of the bodega is Bordon.

The winery tour was really interesting and educational. Kids loved the degustation part at the end – they were given homemade grape juice, called mosto in Spanish. For the next few months, following this weekend in La Rioja and Navarra, my girls kept telling everyone how much they loved the wine tasting in La Rioja. It took a while to explain that they were actually drinking grape juice.

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Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra – Bodegas Franco Españolas
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Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra – Bodegas Franco Españolas
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My kids tasting local grape juice

The Castle of Xavier

After the wine tour, we headed to the Castle of Xavier (also called Javier).

Right in front of it, we saw a nice place for lunch Hotel Restaurant Xabier. I ordered a Navarre Asparagus with Shrimp, which was so delicious (even though it does not look this way in the foto).

After lunch, we went to explore the Castle of Xavier, which to my surprise turned out to be one of the most stunning ones I have ever seen in Spain.

This castle was built in the Xth century as a vigilance tower, but with time it grew into a real castle belonging to the Azpilicueta family in the XIV century. 

Nowadays you can enjoy many medieval objects and art pieces within the castle´s stylish interiors. One of the most unique features of The Castle of Xavier is the chapel Capilla del Santo Cristo decorated with Danse Macabre paintings, also called the Dance of Death. During the late Middle Ages, it was a popular artistic genre across Europe to remind people of the fragility of their lives. Nevertheless, there are almost no examples of it left in modern Spain.

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The Castle of Xavier – one of the most beautiful castles in Spain
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Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra – The Castle of Xavier
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Navarre Asparagus with Shrimp

The Leyre Monastery

Our last stop for the day was The Leyre Monastery.

This place is considered to be one of the most important monuments of Navarra. Aside from its beautiful architecture and serene natural setting, the most impressive place of the complex is an XIth-century crypt. The function of the crypt, set below the Romanesque church, was to save the unevenness of the steep slopes of the Sierra. It feels surreal, so silent and majestic inside. You can download a free interactive PDF on the official website.

This is why I love visiting monasteries and cathedrals in Spain so much – the Catholic church somehow has managed to preserve tones of mindblowing architecture, artworks, ancient books, and secret sculptures, despite all the European wars and revolutions.

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The Leyre Monastery – one of the most unique monasteries in Spain

Sos del Rey Catolico

Close to The Castle of Xavier and The Leyre Monastery, you will find one of the most beautiful medieval villages in SpainSos del Rey Catolico. Technically, this village already belongs to the Spanish Autonomous Community of Aragon, but it is set right on the border with Navarra.

We did not visit Sos del Rey Catolico during this Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra, but I kind of regret it.

A few months later, we ended up driving an extra 4 hours on another Aragon Road Trip just to see Sos del Rey Catolico. This small town is so far away from the rest of the Aragon landmarks, and close to Navarra. On top of that, the road from the Navarra region to Sos del Rey Catolico is way better than the one from Aragon.

You can check out this TikTok video to see more details of Sos del Rey Catolico.

sos de rey catolico spain
Sos del Rey Catolico – one of the most beautiful medieval towns in Spain

Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra – Day 3

Pamplona

On our last day of this weekend in La Rioja and Navarra, we headed for breakfast to Pamplona.

I used to live in the city almost 10 years ago (for my studies), but it always feels great to return. Especially, to enjoy one of the local bars and grab a few pintxos (e.g. small snacks).

Pamplona is known globally for one of the top Spanish festivitiesSan Fermin. Do not miss the old city center, the central square Plaza del Castillo, and the Entzierroa Monument. You can also walk along the street Calle de la Estafeta (famous for the San Fermin bulls run) – this area is also full of local bars to taste wine and tapas.

Other emblematic locations in Pamplona are Catedral de Santa Maria la Real and Ciudadela de Pamplona. If you have some extra time for museums – don´t miss Museo de Navarra, Planetario de Pamplona, Museo Catedral de Pamplona, and Fundacion Museo Jorge Oteiza.

pamplona top attractions in Navarra
Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra – Pamplona

Ujue

After a quick stop for a coffee in Pamplona, we headed to Ujue, one of the secret Spanish villages. I honestly did not expect it to be so charming.

Ujue is a tiny medieval town full of cobbled streets, old houses, and gorgeous lookouts (due to its hilltop setting). The first historical notes of the village date back to the XIth century when the local castle and cathedral were built. Although even the remains of the Roman buildings were found during excavations in Ujue.

We spent hours exploring Ujue, and this place ended up as one of my favorites from this weekend in La Rioja and Navarra.

Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra - Ujue
Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra – Ujue
Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra - Ujue
Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra – A cup of hot tea in Ujue

Artajona

The last stop of our La Rioja and Navarra Itinerary was Artajona, another cute medieval village in the Navarra region.

This small town is surrounded by the XIth century Medieval walls. The fortification was originally called El Cerco de Artajona and had 14 towers (but only 9 of them have made it to the present day). The walls were meant to protect the local cathedral Iglesia-Fortaleza de San Saturnino, built on the remains of a Romanesque church by the canons of Toulouse/France.

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Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra – Artajona

Olite

While we did not visit Olite during this Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra, it is an absolute must-stop in the area and one of the most unique castles in Spain.

Years ago, I was mesmerized by the Olite Castle. This place was home to the Court of Navarra until its union with Spanish Castile (in 1512). The interiors feel unique even nowadays.

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Olite – one of the most stunning castles in Spain

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For more Spain travel tips and itineraries check my Pinterest boards Best of Spain and Spain Travel Collection.

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