3 Day Itinerary for Visiting the Unique Basque Region of Spain
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If you love mind-blowing views of endless green hills and majestic mountains tumbling into a choppy coastline, then you’re going to love the Basque Country in Spain.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Image: DepositPhotos.com
Made up of small cozy towns and old castles, mixed with a few beaches, visiting the Basque region of Spain offers the perfect combination of history, culture, and relaxation. It’s one of the most underrated destinations in Europe!
Located in Northern Spain, at the border with France, this autonomous community is a very special part of the country that significantly differs from the rest of it.
In fact, Basque Country starts at Bilbao and ends in Bayonne, France, but we won’t be including the French Basque Country in this guide as that’s a separate trip.
In this guide, we’ll be sharing a Spanish Basque Country itinerary that takes you on a 3-day road trip to see the highlights.
About This 3 Day Basque Country Road Trip Itinerary
If you love Nordic landscapes and crave to see another side of Spain, you will love the Basque Country in Spain, at least for a 3-day trip.
The Basque Country is all about relaxation and taking things slow. Think beaches, tapas, and siestas. So we’re not going to rush this 3 day Basque Country itinerary.
The best way to spend your time in the Basque country would be to mix a little bit of the touristy places with some local culture, and dedicate the rest of the time to discovering some hidden spots of this region.
You’re also going to need to hire a car if you don’t have your own vehicle. The Basque Country is 7,234 kilometers², and while we won’t see all of it, we do cover a fair distance.
If you don’t drive, you will need to set some more time aside to fit everything in if you need to take public transport.
Day 1: Bilbao
San Vicente Square in Bilbao. Image credit: DepositPhotos.com
Bilbao is the capital city of Basque Country Spain – it is famous for its wonderful mixture of cultural heritage and modernity.
Dedicating at least one day to visiting Bilbao is compulsory if you want to get the maximum from your journey to Biscay.
In case you are going to spend just one day in Bilbao, it is better to visit the top spots, as they are really worth it, and dedicate most of the time to just walking around and enjoying the city’s vibes.
Stop 1: Walk around the Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park
The romantic corners of Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park
This park is a really beautiful and photogenic place, with plenty of spots to relax and take pictures. It has an English – style old garden, a pond, and many other things.
For travelers with kids, close to everything, there is a playground right in front of a café where you can relax for a while.
Stop 2: Visit the Guggenheim Museum
Guggenheim Museum and the flower puppy
The Guggenheim Museum is an art museum known on the international level and features works of modern artists that you can see both outside and inside the museum. For instance, this adorable puppy was created from flowers:
The area around the museum is also very impressive. It makes you feel as if you had a time machine and managed to move from the futuristic era to the XIX century, with its mansions and beautiful alleys.
Stop 3: Go to the Casco Viejo
The old medieval part of Bilbao is just around 20 minutes’ walk from the Guggenheim, and it is definitely worth visiting.
Local architecture is truly beautiful, and its cozy atmosphere is even more impressive.
Cathedral of Santiago, Bilbao. Image by DepositPhotos.com
Take your time, walk around, bump into numerous small squares, visit some shops with locally made groceries, gifts, and clothes, and sit down and try pintxos (small Spanish snacks) and just breathe, this place is magnificent.
Stop 4: Mercado de la Ribera Market
Be sure to stop off at the largest market in Bilbao, the Mercado de la Ribera Market, which was also included in the 1990 Guinness World Book of Records as the largest covered food market in the world.
However, that title has been replaced by the Central de Abastos in Mexico City.
But this market is still worth exploring. It’s located on the banks of the Nervión river in the Casco Viejo district and is packed with stall after stall of fine food and produce.
You’ll find a huge selection of cured meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables, which have mostly been grown in the nearby farms of Basque Country. The market is the perfect place to pick up some produce to create a picnic lunch for your second day on this Basque Country itinerary.
Where to stay in Bilbao
If you are looking for an option to match the price with quality and a good location, the Hotel Ilunion Bilbao is the way to go.
In this city, it makes sense to stay close to the center so that you can walk to the hottest spots of interest and enjoy the city views.
This hotel is pretty affordable, a 5-10 mins walk from the Guggenheim Museum, its staff members are super friendly, and the room and facilities are cozy and clean.
In addition, last, but not least – the breathtaking view from the windows.
Day 2: Road Trip Along the Biscay Coast
If you relate to people who are obsessed with crazy nature attractions and atmospheric destinations – hidden bars, small towns, and so on, you will love this off-the-beaten-path route in the Basque region of Spain.
It has been planned from that perspective – the more places that will make you hold your breath, the better.
Stop 1: Barrika
Coastline in Barrika. Image by DepositPhotos.com
The first stop is an old town located 20 minutes’ drive from Bilbao.
It is quiet and small, although you have many locals going here on the weekend – beautiful views, fascinating nature, and a couple of really good spots to have a drink and some lunch.
Walk around and remember to go to the cliffs to see the fascinating views and take a couple of pictures.
On your way, you will see the streets with beautiful and quiet villas that create a unique atmosphere.
There is plenty of food and drink options with cheap menus and great views over the coast.
Stop 2: Castle of Butron
Castle of Butron. Image by DepositPhotos.com
Right on your way from Barrika (10 -15 minutes by car) to the next stop, you will see the medieval Castillo De Butron, which was rebuilt in 1878.
The architecture is a mixture of Bavarian and Medieval, which adds a fairytale quality to it.
The atmosphere around it will move you to the magical medieval world and you can spend hours thinking about the stories that might have happened there.
If you cross the bridge, you will see a cozy local restaurant where you can get some snacks and drinks.
Stop 3: The Gaztelugatxe
Gaztelugatxe – Image credit DepositPhotos.com
The San Juan De Gaztelugatxe will become one of the most beautiful things that you will ever see in your life – a stunning mixture of something created by humans and nature, and you will want to take pictures every 1-3 minutes, as it is different from each angle.
The journey from Barrika will take around 45 minutes by car.
By the way, this is the place where the Dragonstone Island from the Game of Thrones – castle of Daenerys Targaryen – has been filmed. And it is as impressive in real life as in the series.
However, you can get to the top only on foot, and leave the car at the viewpoint.
Stop 4: Bermeo
Another small town worth stopping off at on your Basque Country itinerary is Bermeo, which is considered one of the most important fishing ports in the Basque Country.
Founded in 1236, Bermeo was originally the capital of the Biscay region from 1476 – 1602, and has retained much of that history – but with a few modern twists. As you walk through the cobbled streets, you can see its medieval history come to life.
While many people pass through here on the way to Gaztelugatxe, we recommend you stick around for a little while and check out the fishing museum, which sits in the Ercilla Tower as well as the San Juan Gate and port.
Stop 5: Guernica
Guernica is another small medieval town in Basque Country and not somewhere you will need to stop for long on your Basque Country itinerary.
Its most famous monument is the Mural del “Guernica” de Picasso, which is a remodel of a famous painting by the Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso.
The monument is a political statement inspired by the events of the nazi bombing of Guernica during the Spanish civil war. The scenes in the mural tell of the tragedies of war, the suffering of the people, and of course, the innocent people who lost their lives.
It was created using black and white tiles and placed in a mosaic fashion. The original piece can be found at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.
Where to Stay on the Biscay Coast
Finding a small luxury hotel in some rural areas would be a nice way to feel the local atmosphere and try a new spot at the same time.
In this instance, you will love the Bekale hotel, which is roughly halfway between Guernica and 53 kilometers from our next stop on this Basque Country itinerary.
This cute 3 star hotel is right on the coast so you can simply kick back and relax whilst listening to the sounds of the waves. Each room has been decorated with modern interiors, you have a king-size bed, and some rooms even have a balcony.
Day 3: Zumaia
Zumaia will make up the culmination of your trip visiting the Basque region of Spain, as it has it all: marvelous views, food and places to drink, mountains, beaches, hiking, a cozy atmosphere, and architecture.
The small houses scattered over its hilly landscape will make you feel as if you happened to be in an Austrian village…at the same time, its green hills and an absolutely mind-blowing view over the beach look similar to Irish lands.
However, at the end of the day, you see people sitting all around drinking rioja, laughing, and eating pintxos, which makes you remember that you are still in sunny and always happy Spain.
Stop 1: Enjoy the Itzurun Beach, Zumaia
Beach in Zumaia. Image by DepositPhotos.com
What attracts tourists to Zumaia is undoubtedly the beach. It is the same beach that was filmed when Daenerys Targaryen landed on the Dragonstone Island in Game of Thrones – so, amazing views are guaranteed!
There are numerous hiking routes in Zumaia, and the best option would be to go to the cliffs from there, you will see spectacular views of the beach tucked into the bay.
You can easily walk down to the beach if you pass over the cliff through the town, and when you need refreshments, there is a bar right there serving cool beer and some snacks.
After that, enjoy the beach! You’ll see many surfers out catching the waves, and if you haven’t done it before, there are many surf schools where you can get surfing lessons, even in September and early October.
The waves are perfect for beginners and the landscape of the beach is very beautiful, and you will want to throw yourself in the water as soon as you see it.
Stop 2: Have a drink and pintxos on the quay
When you get down to the city center, you will see loads of people drinking wine and eating pintxos right on the quay – just go into the numerous bars, take everything you need with you and enjoy the view over the river and the town.
Basque cuisine is all about fresh produce. You’ll find traditional meals tend to have fish grilled over hot coals, and in the winter, nothing warms you up more than marmitako and lamb stew.
And of course, don’t forget to wash it down with txakoli (sparkling white wine) or a cold glass of Basque cider.
Stop 3: San Sebastian
Located just a 30-minute drive from Zumaia is the city of San Sebastian. This resort town is located on the Bay of Biscay and is known for its beaches, world-class restaurants, its historic centre (Parte Vieja), and luxurious shopping facilities.
As you walk around San Sebastian, dip into the boutique stores to find beautifully crafted souvenirs and clothing, or relax in one of the town’s many pintxo bars.
In the evening, you might want to try San Sebastian’s other love – wine. There are many wineries that offer some wine tasting paired with some pintxo tastings. It’s the perfect end to a well-rounded itinerary of the Basque Country.
But not before you catch the…
Stop 4: Sunset at La Concha Beach
La Concha Bay, Urgull Mount, Santa Clara Island from Igueldo Mount,
Playa La Concha is the biggest reason people flock to San Sebastian. This golden crescent-shaped beach is sheltered from strong winds and currents, which makes it the perfect beach for families with young kids who enjoy a paddle.
It also sits right next to the Old Town and is lined with bars, restaurants, and a park. It’s the perfect place to sit and watch the sun go down after a busy three days exploring Basque Country.
Where to Stay in San Sebastian
When it comes to finding a place to stay in San Sebastian, you won’t find anywhere as stunning as Zenit Convento San Martin. This gorgeous castle-like hotel is right on Ondarreta beach and has a real fairytale vibe to it.
It has a seasonal outdoor swimming pool, a terrace, and a restaurant with stunning arches and domed ceilings.
Each room is homely with warm wooden furnishings, plush pillows, and modern fixtures and fittings.
General Tips for Visiting the Basque Country of Spain
Before you go, here are a few tips for visiting the Basque Country of Spain…
The climate is quite changeable here. For instance, if you go in October it can be chilly in the morning and hot in the daytime. So, make sure to take different types of clothes.
Many places don’t serve food in the daytime, or can only start offering dinner until 9.00 so make sure to take some snacks with you.
The official language of the region is Basque or Euskara language, but everybody speaks Castilian Spanish and knows at least a little bit of English.
Map of This Basque Country Itinerary
To help you plan your route from place to place, here is a map of each of these iconic Basque Country destinations and a route for your itinerary.
Here are some of the top selling tours and attractions in San Sebastian and Bilbao
Final Thoughts on This Basque Country Itinerary
So there you have it, this is how to enjoy Basque Country in three days. As you can see, there’s a lot to see and do, but fortunately, these attractions are not too far from one another so it’s easy to pack a lot in.
We hope this guide helped you plan your itinerary for the Basque Country and gave you some inspiration about what to see and do!
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Do you plan on visiting the Basque Country of Spain? Or, if you have already been, can you share any Basque Country tips?