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20 Beautiful Places to Visit in Northern Spain on a Road Trip

Northern Spain is still an underrated destination, even though it offers the perfect combination of magical villages, wide green landscapes, and dreamy beaches. If it’s not yet on your Spain bucket list , add it now! To convince you, here are amazing places to visit in northern Spain that will surely put a smile on your face.

* This post may contain affiliate links from which I earn a commission (for more info, read my disclosure ). As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

* I try to keep the information on this blog as updated as possible, but I still recommend consulting the latest prices, opening hours, and other details on the official website of each site, hotel, and tour, as well as checking the updated public transport routes and timetables.

Wondering about things to do in northern Spain? Here are 20 places to visit in northern Spain you have to add to your north Spain road trip itinerary!

Table of Contents

Northern Spain Road Trip Itinerary Summary

Tip: After accessing the map, you can also open it on your Google Maps app. Simply open your app, tap the ‘saved’ icon at the bottom, scroll down and tap the ‘maps’ icon, and choose the MyMaps map you want to see (you can do the same on your computer).

To give you some inspiration, here’s what my northern Spain itinerary looked like:

Day 1: San Sebastian (suggested hotel: Atotxa Rooms in San Sebastian or Olaskoaga Goikoa in a nearby village).

Day 2: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe + Bilbao (suggested hotel: Hotel Los Angeles or Posada Araceli in Santillana del Mar).

Day 3: Comillas + Santillana del Mar (suggested hotel: Hotel Los Angeles or Posada Araceli in Santillana del Mar).

Day 4: San Vicente de la Barquera + Llanes + Playa del Gulpiyuri (suggested hotel: Hostal Poncebos in Poncebos or Logis Hotel Restaurante La Casa de Juansabeli in Arenas de Cabrales).

Day 5: Covadonga Lakes + Oviedo (suggested hotel: Hotel Casona Selgas or Casona de La Paca in Cudillero).

Day 6: Cudillero + Luarca + Playa del las Catedrales (suggested hotel: Hotel San Briz in A Pontenova or Casas Rurales TAReira in Taramundi).

Day 7: Os Teixois + driving through Ribeira Sacra + Ribadavia (suggested hotel: Hotel Panton or Agua de Mar Hotel Boutique in Vigo).

Day 8: Islas Cies + evening in Vigo (suggested hotel: Hotel Panton or Agua de Mar Hotel Boutique in Vigo).

Day 9: Combarro + Santiago de Compostela (suggested hotel: PR Blanco in Santiago de Compostela).

Day 10: A Coruña (suggested hotel: Hotel Brisa or Hotel Lois in A Coruña).

A harbor in northern Spain

Northern Spain Travel Tips

Is northern spain worth visiting what is it known for.

If you love a combo of unspoiled ocean beaches, sleepy fishing villages, historical cities, and vast green landscapes, you’ll love northern Spain.

It’s an incredible area where you can reconnect with nature, enjoy amazing food, visit intriguing manmade landmarks, and discover a unique side of Spain.

When to Visit Northern Spain

In terms of weather and crowds, late spring and early summer are ideal for traveling through northern Spain.

I visited in late June and absolutely loved it – it gets darker very late, so you can really make the most of every day.

Where Should You Base Yourself

You can plan so many different itineraries when visiting northern Spain.

If you want to see several regions (like I did), you should travel from one place to another because there’s a lot of distance to cover.

If you want to focus on one region, base yourself in one spot. Traveling by car, you don’t have to stay in a big city, and you can enjoy the fantastic rural accommodations northern Spain has to offer.

Start by marking all the places you want to visit on a map and see where it makes sense to base yourself because the options are endless.

Places to Visit in Northern Spain’s Basque Country Region

San sebastian.

With one of the dreamiest beaches in Spain ( La Concha ), stunning lookout points, and a beautiful old town, San Sebastian is easily one of the best cities to visit in northern Spain.

It’s worth spending at least 24- 48 hours in San Sebastian , but it can also be a great base for exploring the Basque Country region.

Beyond its charm and beauty, it is also a HUGE foodie destination. If you’re a hardcore foodie, you’ll be delighted to know this city is home to an astonishing number of Michelin-starred restaurants .

It also invented the pintxo, so San Sebastian is where you’ll find some of the best pintxo bars in Spain .

What exactly are those? They are a type of tapas/snack/mini-meal popular in northern Spain, and they consist of a piece of bread with different toppings.

The old town is filled with these pintxo bars, so you can take a guided food tour or create your own tour.

Be sure to also head to La Viña , the restaurant that invented the world’s creamiest and best cheesecake.

San Sebastian

Other things to do in San Sebastian:

  • Take the funicular to get to Monte Igueldo lookout point, overlooking La Concha beach
  • Wander through the old town and see the San Sebastián Cathedral
  • Take a Basque history bike tour
  • Visit the San Telmo Museum
  • Take a tour of a traditional cider house
  • Take a day tour to the town of Hondarribia and other nearby fishing towns

How much time to spend there: 1-2 days.

Where to stay: After spending the day in the city, I actually stayed at a cozy rural accommodation called Olaskoaga Goikoa in a nearby village called Aia (perfect for those looking for utter quiet). You can browse its latest prices or find plenty of highly-rated accommodations in San Sebastian itself like Atotxa Rooms , Aldamar , and the luxurious Hotel Maria Cristina.

La Concha Beach

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

One of the best things to do in northern Spain is to visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, an islet on the Basque coast.

It’s connected to the mainland by a bridge, and a small church dating from the 10th century stands on top of it.

You can have a full view of it from the parking lot, but if you want to get to the islet itself, you’ll need to walk down the road and climb over 200 steps.

Fun fact:  Scenes for the 7th season of ‘Game of Thrones’ were shot in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (hint: Dragonstone). You can even take a Game of Thrones guided tour from the city of Bilbao.

How much time to spend there: A couple of hours.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

If you’re an architecture and culture lover, the unique city of Bilbao is for you.

With its unique structure, its most famous highlight is, of course, the Guggenheim Museum of Art (designed by infamous architect Frank Gehry), but there’s so much more to it.

Architecture fans will love beautiful buildings in the city center like the Arriaga Theater, Chavarri Palace, and Basilica de Begoña while culture lovers will enjoy the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, Itsasmuseum (maritime museum), and the iconic Guggenheim Museum .

Whether you have a few hours or a weekend in Bilbao , you can also wander through the Casco Viejo (old quarter), relax in Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park, and explore Mercado de la Ribera, Europe’s largest indoor market.

Other things to do in Bilbao:

  • Take a free walking tour of Bilbao
  • Take a free walking tour of modernist Bilbao
  • Take a food tour

How much time to spend there: 1 day.

Flower sculpture in Bilbao

Best Places to Visit in North Spain’s Cantabria Region

Santillana del mar.

Fun fact: Santillana del Mar is known as ‘The Town of Three Lies’ since it is neither holy (Santa), nor flat (Llana), nor is it by the sea (Mar). It is also known as one of the prettiest medieval towns in northern Spain.

But pretty is an understatement – it is pure magic! The rustic stone buildings, flower-adorned balconies, and enchanting vibe make it a real must-see gem.

How much time to spend there: Half a day.

Where to stay: I loved staying at Hotel Los Angeles . The staff was incredibly welcoming and the hotel was very cozy and felt authentic. Browse its latest prices and availability. A higher-rated option is Posada Araceli .

Santillana del Mar

Even if you’ve never been to Barcelona, I’m quite sure you’ve heard about Antoni Gaudi.

If you haven’t, it’s time to get to know the genius architecture behind some of Barcelona’s most beautiful and unique buildings.

Each one of them is a work of art, and I am a true fan of his. Luckily, he also scattered some of his gems outside of the Catalonia region.

In the small town of Comillas, you can find ‘El Capricho de Gaudi’ (Gaudi’s Caprice). It was built as a summer villa for Máximo Díaz de Quijano, a Spanish immigrant who returned to Spain after having made his fortune.

During your visit, you can enjoy all areas of the building including the interior and the gardens.

Even if you’re not an architecture fan, give this treasure a moment of appreciation, as it is one of the most unique things to see in northern Spain.

El Capricho de Gaudi

San Vicente de la Barquera

Although there isn’t a whole lot to do in San Vicente de la Barquera, this sleepy fishing village/town is worthy of at least a coffee or lunch break.

Whether you’re entering San Vicente de la Barquera from the bridge on the East (on the N-634) or walking up to the medieval San Vicente Castle and Church of Santa María de los Ángeles, you’ll be rewarded with some remarkable views.

There are also quite a few beaches nearby that you can check out, like Playa de Meron, Playa de Gerra, and Playa de Oyambre.

San Vicente de la Barquera

Stunning Places to See in Northern Spain’s Asturias Region

Llanes is the perfect little coastal town.

Not only does it have two fantastic beaches, Sablon Beach and Puerto Chico Beach, but also an adorable port and old town with cobbled alleys and a few landmarks (like the Duque de Estrada Palace).

It’s also a great base for exploring the Picos de Europa National Park.

How much time to spend there: A few hours – half a day.

Playa de Gulpiyuri

Located only 100 meters from the Cantabrian Sea, Playa de Gulpiyuri is a flooded sinkhole that creates a 40-meter magical little beach.

Although the water level isn’t high enough to take a proper swim, it’s still one of the greatest hidden gems in Spain and one of the best beaches in Asturias .

Also, try to visit when the tide is high, or else the water will almost completely disappear.

Getting there: Navigate to Playa de Gulpiyuri, and you should be getting to a parking lot. From there, you’ll see signs leading to the beach within only a few minutes.

How much time to spend there: A few hours.

Gulpiyuri Beach in northern Spain

Lagos de Covadonga

Located in the national park of Picos De Europa, the beautiful lakes of Covadonga are one of the best places in northern Spain.

Going up the winding road to see them, you’ll need a moment to truly understand that you’re not actually in Switzerland!

The landscape is wide and green, the lakes are mesmerizing, and completing the scenery, cows, goats, and sheep are wandering around. Yes, I’ll repeat it, it’s Spain!

Covadonga Lakes

Getting there:  I think the easiest way to get to the lakes is by car all the way to the parking lot near the Entrelagos lookout point and Bar Restaurante Mª Rosa.

However, from late spring to early fall, access to the lakes by car is restricted, and you may need to use public transportation if you don’t get there very early in the morning. Get all the details here.

You can also visit the lakes with a guided day trip from Gijon or a day tour from Oviedo .

Where to stay near Lagos de Covadonga: If you want to wake up to magnificent views, I recommend staying at Hostal Poncebos which sits on the turquoise Cares River (I specifically wanted to stay there because of the surrounding scenery, which didn’t disappoint). Browse its latest prices and availability. Another highly-rated nearby option is Logis Hotel Restaurante La Casa de Juansabeli .

Covadonga Lakes in northern Spain

Oviedo is a city like no other. Its history, culture, gastronomy, elegance, peacefulness, and enchantment will win you over in a second, and you’ll love the mix of modern and old.

On the one hand, it’s a great place to go shopping and feast on Michelin-starred meals.

On the other hand, it has a medieval flavor, and it’s home to a few UNESCO sites like the Basilica of San Julián de los Prados and the Church of Santa María del Naranco.

On your visit, you can also admire the Catedral Metropolitana de El Salvador de Oviedo, visit the Archaeological Museum of Asturias or the Museum of Fine Arts of Asturias, and wander through the El Fontan market.

It really is one of the best cities in northern Spain, and it is one of a kind, so you should definitely put it on your itinerary.

How much time to spend there: Half a day – one day.

city of Oviedo

Your north Spain trip would not be complete without visiting Cudillero. It is a small, charming fisherman’s village, packed with colorful houses, that seem to be built one on top of the other.

You don’t need much more than a stroll in the village’s streets, and a cup of coffee in front of the colorful scenery.

Fun fact #1: A legend says that Vikings were the ones to found Cudillero.

Fun fact #2:  Each house in the village matches the color of its owner’s fishing boat.

Where to stay: I loved staying at Hotel Casona Selgas . It ticked all the boxes for me – clean, comfortable, beautiful decor, and great hosts. Read more reviews and check the latest prices. A higher-rated option is Casona de La Paca .

Village of Cudillero from above

Another gem that’s worth visiting on Spain’s northern coast is the town of Luarca.

Its streets are full of old town charm and there are many cafes and traditional taverns, but the crowning glory is its beautiful big harbor.

OS Teixois Ethnographic Site

The ethnographic site of Os Teixois demonstrates the use of several hydraulic devices used by local villagers in their daily life, for several centuries running.

It also showcases traditional rustic stone buildings, which are my favorite kind of buildings.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to take a guided tour, but I am quite sure that it helps to fully learn everything there is to know about this place.

Where to stay near Os Teixois: Only a few miles away, I stayed at Hotel San Briz . I loved its location in a quiet town, as well as its on-site restaurant, and the staff was more than welcoming. Browse the latest prices and availability here. A higher-rated option is Casas Rurales TAReira en Taramundi .

Os Teixois Spain

Most Beautiful Places in Northern Spain’s Galicia Region

Playa de las catedrales.

Cathedrals Beach is an amazing and unique beach on the Galician coast. Its name derives from the natural architecture which was created by the Atlantic Ocean.

During high tide, the waves make the beach almost completely disappear, so it is something to consider when planning a visit.

When the low tide arrives, it reveals the true majestic beauty of this beach: magnificent cliffs, rocky arched formations, and hidden caves free for you to explore.

Access:  Access to the beach is free , but during summer and Easter it is limited . All you need to do is make a reservation , and you are ready to go!

Cathedrals Beach

Ribeira Sacra Wine Region

Probably one of the lesser-known wine regions in Spain , Ribeira Sacra is located in the eastern part of Galicia in the valleys of the rivers Miño and Sil.

The Romans made wine in this area more than 2,000 years ago, and monks continued to do so in the Middle Ages.

Apart from driving through the beautiful vineyards, you can also check out local wineries, but be sure to contact them in advance for tours in English.

You can also check out this day tour to Ribeira Sacra from Santiago de Compostela .

Ribeira Sacra wine region

Have you ever wanted to visit a place just because of a very specific spot? I’ve added Ribadavia to my northern Spain road trip itinerary because of a unique bakery.

I’m always happy to explore my Jewish heritage around the world, so I was thrilled to visit La Tafona da Herminia, a tiny bakery dedicated to the Hebrew sweets of Spain, which was once home to a thriving Jewish community.

Update: Herminia has retired and the place is currently closed.

But beyond this little gem, Ribadavia is a town that will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

It is a former seat of the Kingdom of Galicia, its Jewish quarter is one of the best in Galicia, and its medieval atmosphere is well-preserved. You can also visit the Ribadavia Castle and the Ethnological Museum.

A bakery in Ribadavia Spain

Cies Islands, I’m yours.

The Cies Islands were one of my favorite places to see in northern Spain. They consist of three islands: Monte Agudo, O Faro, and San Martiño.

The first two islands are connected by a strip of sand, also known as Rodas Beach. Its white sand and turquoise water are all you need on a hot summer day.

Along with the dreamy beaches, there are walking trails for you to enjoy the wild nature surrounding you.

For me, that’s the best thing about these islands; you get to combine relaxation in the sun, with hikes that reveal amazing views.

Rodas beach in northern Spain

Getting there:  Luckily, the islands are only a 30-minute ferry ride away from the city of Vigo , and I booked my ticket via Naviera Nabia .

Good to know #1:  Currently, you also need a permit to visit the islands ( easily request it here ), so consider purchasing these ferry tickets that already include the permit (note that the confirmation email will also tell you to get them physically at the ticket office).

Good to know #2:  The Cies Islands are a natural reserve and a part of the Atlantic Islands National Park. Therefore, there is no accommodation on the islands except for a camping area .

Good to know #3:  There are no waste bins on the islands. So, make sure to take your litter with you back to the mainland.

Good to know #4: Get to the port in advance because it can be a bit confusing to find your ferry (lots of people, lots of ferries), even though you’ll see plenty of service providers that will direct you to the right spot.

Where to stay in Vigo: I stayed at Hotel Panton , a family-run hotel in central Vigo. Read reviews and check its latest prices. A higher-rated option is the Agua de Mar Hotel Boutique .

lookout point over the Cies Islands

It is impossible not to fall in love with Combarro, the sweetest little fisherman’s village, which proudly displays Galician traditional stone houses and granaries (that are still in use!).

Besides the captivating architecture, the place has a unique feel to it, something magical I can’t quite explain. Being one of the highlights of my northern Spain trip, it is deserving of at least a short stroll.

Combarro village

Santiago de Compostela

As the final destination of the famous pilgrimage route, Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James), Santiago de Compostela is a must-see in north Spain.

The legend says that to honor St. James, the impressive Santiago de Compostela Cathedral was built on the spot where his remains were supposedly found, so there’s no wonder why the entire Old Town is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Santiago de Compostela is also home to a few other Spanish landmarks like the 18th-century Palace of Raxoi and the medieval Monastery of San Martiño Pinario, but I admit that beyond the cathedral, this city didn’t wow me as other places in Galicia did.

I don’t usually do this, but there was a tourist train going out of the cathedral’s square, and it was actually a nice way to see a little bit of the city.

You can also take a free walking tour and visit the cathedral with a guide .

Where to stay: I stayed at PR Blanco , located near the cathedral, offering private parking and comfortable rooms and apartments. Browse its latest prices and availability.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Both lively and laid back and both traditional and modern, A Coruña is an easy-to-love city.

On one hand, you’ll find historic buildings like the town hall at María Pita Square, San Anton Castle, and UNESCO listed Tower of Hercules, which dates back to Roman times.

On the other hand, you can enjoy attractions like the National Museum of Science and Technology, the Fenosa Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Finisterrae Aquarium.

A Coruña is home to many other museums, as well as scenic viewpoints overlooking the city and the Atlantic coast, fantastic restaurants, and relaxing beaches like Playa del Riazor and Playa de las Lapas.

How much time to spend there: One day.

Where to stay: I stayed at Hotel Brisa , which is located right near Riazor Beach (some of the hotel’s rooms also offer beach views). Read reviews and book it here. A higher-rated option is Hotel Lois .

Places I Wish I Hadn’t Missed in Northern Spain

My northern Spain bucket list is huge (I even had to skip out on regions like La Rioja And Navarre on my trip), but here are a few of the top places I wish I hadn’t missed.

Potes, Cantabria

Situated on the Cantabrian side of the Picos de Europa National Park, Potes is a village that seems like an ideal stop on a road trip.

Not only is it surrounded by the mountainous scenery of the park, but it also has an old quarter with centuries-old houses and landmarks.

I love places that combine historical and traditional architecture with nature, so Potes would have probably been right up my alley.

For that reason, I would have also loved to visit  Barcena Mayor , considered the oldest village in Cantabria.

Playa Del Silencio, Asturias

The untamed coastline of northern Spain boasts hundreds of picture-perfect beaches, but the one that got my attention was Playa del Silencio (also known as Playa de Gavieiru).

It is a part of the Protected Landscape of the Western Coast of Asturias and is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the region.

I honestly don’t know why I didn’t include it in my itinerary because it’s located right between Cudillero and Luarca.

Somiedo Natural Park, Asturias

Road-tripping through the Picos de Europa National Park was an incredible experience, so I wish I had time to visit Somiedo Natural Park, another notable natural space in the area.

There’s a lot to do in this park, but I would have loved to see its lakes (Lagos de Saliencia and Lago del Valle) and visit its  brañas , which are groups of  teitos , traditional stone huts with straw roofs once used as houses by shepherds.

Lugo, Galicia

Being the only city in the world surrounded by intact Roman walls (which were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Lugo is literally one of a kind.

In addition, the 12th-century Lugo Cathedral is a well-known stop on the Camino Primitivo (one of the paths of the Camino de Santiago).

If these famous Spanish landmarks are not enough, the entire historic center seems like a wonderful place to explore. 

Cape Finisterre, Galicia

What makes the rugged Cape Finisterre (Cabo Fisterra in Galician) intriguing to me is that the Romans believed it was the ‘end of the earth’ ( Finis Terrae  in Latin).

It’s actually close to being Europe’s westernmost point, but that title goes to Cabo da Roca in Portugal.

That said, its 19th-century lighthouse IS the westernmost in Europe, and the entire peninsula is a popular destination on the Camino de Santiago.

Other Spain Travel Guides

Read more about Spain:

  • Best Spanish road trips (including a road trip itinerary for southern Spain )
  • Long weekend breaks in Spain
  • 55 things you need to know before visiting Spain
  • Novels set in Spain
  • Spain themed gifts
  • Spain travel quotes
  • Unusual things to do in Barcelona

Read more on European road trips:

  • Best road trips in Portugal
  • Lisbon to Porto road trip
  • Northern Portugal road trip
  • Best road trips in Italy
  • Best road trips from Milan
  • Northern Italy road trip
  • Northwest Italy road trip itinerary

When are you planning on visiting northern Spain ? Tell me in the comments and pin this northern Spain travel guide for later using the share icon on the right bottom corner!

About Or Amir

Hey, I'm Or! I'm a passionate traveler with a severe coffee, chocolate, and pastry addiction (or any other carb for that matter). I'm always planning my next trip to Spain, Italy, or any other country in Europe, and my goal is to help you make the most of each destination.

18 thoughts on “20 Beautiful Places to Visit in Northern Spain on a Road Trip”

Northern Spain is absolutely amazing!! Delicious food all around, long beaches, green forests, plenty of outdoor activities with breathtaking views… The perfect holiday destination!

Couldn’t agree more!

Hi Or, Great post, lots of useful information! Looking for my trip to the area 😎

Thank you! Let me know if you have any questions 🙂

Do you have a map of your Northern Spain Roadtrip?

Hey, Becky! I’ve added a map – I hope it helps 🙂

I love your recommendations! But I keep my land Asturias! Although luckily in Spain we have some fantastic places to not get bored. Regards

Thanks, Sergio! I agree, it’s impossible to get bored in Spain 🙂

Amazing post! I have been to Southern Spain last year & I really enjoyed it. However, your blog is making me think whether I should’ve visited Northern Spain as it does feature some beautiful tourist attractions. I’ll share this blog with my wife & we’ll then see if we want to Apply for Spain Visa to explore these alluring attractions. Keep sharing such helpful information about other European countries as well.

Thank you and you should most definitely visit northern Spain too 🙂

Hi Or you post is great. Booked to visit northern Spain beginning of August starting off in Burgos but your post has wetted out appetite you have covered all the sort of places we like and in great detail, learnt more from your post than dozens of other offerings. Thanks

Thanks, Russell! This is what I’ve managed to see on my road trip and that’s after somehow prioritizing which places to visit in each region (mission impossible), so I’m happy you find this post inspiring and helpful 🙂

Thank you so much for this post. Can you let me know how much time you allocated to this trip if you were to do in one hit ?

You’re welcome, Lisa! I’m happy this is helpful. This road trip took me about 9 days. I’d say you need at least say 9-10 days to enjoy each and every place. Plus, it’s a lot of distance to cover since this route goes through several regions.

my daughter is attending her first semester of college in Valencia. thank you so much for the blog it has really helped with planning my trip there to see her in October

Thank you so much, Michelle! I’m really happy to know my blog was helpful! I hope you have a great time in Valencia 🙂

I haven’t been to Spain yet but your photos are making me itch to go! Especially Cudillero – it looks adorable!

Spain is incredible, and there are so many places to visit 🙂 Cudillero is such a charming village, and you should definitely go someday!

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Hi, I'm Or!

I'm a passionate traveler obsessed with traveling in Europe and discovering hidden gems in each place I visit. For me, it's not about ticking destinations off the bucket list but experiencing each one of them to the fullest. Read more about me and my story.

northern spain trip

Wanderlust Chloe

The Ultimate Northern Spain Road Trip: Routes, Sights, Guides, Maps And More

northern spain road trip itinerary

From Catalonia’s unspoilt coastline and Aragon’s scenic architecture to quaint cities in the Basque Country, this northern Spain road trip offers something for everyone.

Is there any better way to see a country than grabbing a set of car keys and having the freedom to explore at your own pace? If this is your favourite way to travel, then how about exploring the north of Spain?

Often it’s when you decide to travel slowly and go off the beaten track, you start stumbling across hidden gems. You’ll take a wrong turning and end up in an authentic Spanish town that isn’t in any of the tourist guide books!

While this road trip through northern Spain takes you to a few famous places, it also gives you the opportunity to explore lesser-known regions. You’ll experience spectacular vineyards a short drive from San Sebastian, the hiker’s paradise that is Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park and stop by some truly underrated Spanish cities.

catalonia road trip view from siurana

A road trip here through the north of Spain offers so much. Spend your time admiring the scenic coastlines in Catalonia and Asturias, before marvelling at the architecture of Castille and León.

If you’re a foodie, you’ll fall in love with the culinary scene in the Basque Country. It’s absolute pintxos heaven! Meanwhile, if you’re keen on the great outdoors, there are plenty of gorgeous green spaces and natural wonders to explore.

La Concha beach in San Sebastian

Spain is often associated with summer beach holidays, but it’s worth remembering that many of the interior parts of the country offer just as much natural beauty, with vineyards, mountains, canyons, olive groves and picturesque towns! This road trip itinerary will introduce you to several authentic experiences.

So, whether you’re looking for travel inspiration or you want to start planning your itinerary, this guide will cover all of the best places to visit in Northern Spain on a road trip.

Weather in Northern Spain

This region of Europe has warm summers and cool winters. The majority of people visit during the summer holiday season, when the weather is warmest.

If you want to make the most of the great outdoors, time your trip between May and September. It’s the ideal time for beach days or countryside hikes. During this time, temperatures range between lows of 16°C (61°F) and highs of 26°C (79°F). If possible, I’d suggest avoiding the peak summer (July and August) and travel in May, June or September. You’ll enjoy cheaper prices and won’t be battling against big crowds at the big attractions!

It gets pretty chilly in Spain in winter , but there’s a bit of magic to it! Between January and March the temperatures in the north of Spain range from 4°C (39°F) to 15°C (59°F).

San Sebastian road trip

Northern Spain Road Trip Map

If you’re happy to move at a pretty moderate pace, moving on every single day, you could just about fit this itinerary into one week.

However, I’d recommend moving a little slower so you can soak up all the little details in each destination.

Here’s a handy map to go with this northern Spain road trip itinerary, which you can save to make your planning stress-free.

Tarragona, Catalonia

What to pack for your road trip

If you’re wondering what to pack for your trip, this guide to road trip essentials has you covered. From portable chargers to ways to stay entertained on long journeys, it’ll help you create your road trip packing list.

Northern Spain Road Trip Itinerary – Places to Visit in Northern Spain

Northern spain road trip: stop 1 – barcelona.

Barcelona is a great city to start your road trip from. Not only is it an incredible destination in its own right, but it’s also easy to reach by plane. There are lots of car rental options too, both from the airport or the city centre.

Parc Guell, Barcelona

Marking the start of your Catalonia road trip , you’ll quickly fall in love with Barcelona’s scenic shoreline with sweeping views of the Balearic Sea. Enjoy the city’s unique ambience courtesy of street musicians and tapas bars dotted in the atmospheric Gothic Quarter’s narrow streets. I challenge you not to get lost in this mini maze – it’s very easily done, especially after a few glasses of Cava!

Pinxtos at El Pinxto de Petritxol, Barcelona

At the centre of Barcelona’s bustling social scene is tree-lined La Rambla, which boasts restaurants, cafés, and avant-garde architecture. It’s always busy with tourists, but I’d avoid most of the restaurants around here! Many are classic tourist traps, serving vats of low-quality paella at inflated prices. You’ll find more authentic dining experiences in the small bars in the Gothic Quarter.

Beautiful Barcelona streets

La Boqueria food market is located just off this main street and is an excellent place to take in the amazing ingredients of Catalonia. For a very special meal, book in for a tasting menu experience at Michelin-starred Disfrutar . I’ve been lucky enough to visit twice and I would regard these meals as the best meals I’ve ever eaten! Genuinely!

If you’re interested in art there are lots of great attractions in Barcelona. You could visit the Picasso Museum , the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya or the Fundacio Joan Miro . Oh, and don’t miss a visit to one of Gaudi’s many masterpieces. His unique style is visible throughout the city at locations such as La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. I was enchanted by these spots – I’m sure you will be too!

Beautiful stained glass windows at the Sagrada Familia

If you fancy a beach day, there’s also a large beach in the city centre, lined with beach bars. It’s amazing how much there is to do in this Spanish city. There really is something for everyone!

Barceloneta Beach

Northern Spain Road Trip: Stop 2 – Costa Brava or Catalonia

If time permits, you might want to head north of Barcelona to Costa Brava, before heading to Montserrat. One of Spain’s most mesmerising coastlines, the area oozes charm with its whitewashed towns and fishing villages.

Alternatively, I loved the area south of here, which includes the underrated Tarragona, Reus and Siurana.

Siurana was a new discovery for me on one of my most recent trips. It’s one of the prettiest villages in Spain and sits on top of a hill in the Prades Mountains. I’d recommend spending a couple of hours there. It’s pretty small so you can wander the streets looking at the Moorish castle, the pretty houses and perhaps stop for a coffee.

The best part about Siurana? The views! Head towards the rocky cliffs and look out over the huge gorge which is filled with a bright turquoise reservoir. I’d suggest visiting first thing in the morning and you should have it all to yourself!

If you want to learn more about Gaudi, but don’t fancy tackling the crowds in Barcelona, I’d suggest stopping by Reus. This small city is where Gaudi was born. You can learn all about his life and architectural wonders at The Gaudi Centre , before checking out some of the city’s buildings which inspired him.

You can read my detailed guide on how to tour this region by car in my Catalonia road trip post.

Costa Brava, Spain

Northern Spain Road Trip: Stop 3 – Montserrat

Montserrat is another must-visit on your road trip through Northern Spain. The area’s top attraction is the Benedictine Montserrat Monastery, perched on a rocky crag surrounded by magnificent cliffs.

Montserrat, Spain

Just getting there is a bit of an adventure, as you reach the monastery via cable car! Once there, enjoy panoramic views of the Catalonian countryside while soaking in the sights and history of the monastery.

Montserrat to Zaragoza: 266 km / 2h 46min approx.

Northern Spain Road Trip: Stop 4 – Zaragoza

Next stop on your journey from Montserrat is Zaragoza, the capital of the Aragon region. This is a great place for museums, architecture, and historical monuments, including the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar .

Zaragoza, Spain

In between sightseeing, I’d recommend a bit of restaurant-hopping at Plaza del Pilar so you can taste some authentically Spanish delights. For a real flavour of the region, sit down to dinner at Restaurante La Borde de Chema . This rustic restaurant offers Aragonese dishes including roast goat, along with plenty of regional wines.

Northern Spain Road Trip: Stop 5 – Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park

Step away from the glitz and glamour of city life with a visit to the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park. This hiker’s paradise has several trails to choose from, each leading to sweeping views of the mountains.  

Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park

Be sure to pack your camera for this stop on your road trip! It’s one of the most photogenic places on this itinerary, so no doubt you’ll want to snap a lot of photos!

Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park

Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park to San Sebastian: 252 km / 3h 10 min approx.

Northern Spain Road Trip: Stop 6 – San Sebastian

The Basque Country is renowned for its food scene. Every year, many people visit Northern Spain (myself included!) purely for a wining and dining experience like no other. It’s hardly surprising, after all San Sebastian in the Basque Country has the most Michelin-starred eateries per capita in Europe! In fact, there are more in this one city per capita than in London, and that’s really saying something!

The Basque Country even has two restaurants with ‘Green Stars’, Azurmendi and Enoko, which have been recognised for their sustainable, ethical and environmental approach.

San Sebastian

There are two sides to eating out in San Sebastian. You can either go high end with Michelin starred tasting menus, or eat the local way with dish after dish of pintxos (small dishes).

The old town of San Sebastian is filled with tiny restaurants specialising in individual dishes such as Spanish tortillas, prawns on skewers and slow cooked pork. The best way to enjoy a trip like this, is by stopping for food and drinks at multiple bars across an evening – like your very own pintxos tour .

San Sebastian pintxos

It can be difficult knowing what to eat at each place, so I’d thoroughly recommend a pintxos tour like this one . The guide will give you tips on what to order, how to eat it and all the insider knowledge to make the most of your time in San Sebastian.

Pretty streets of San Sebastian

While you can’t go wrong with most restaurants here, I’d recommend the incredible steak, tomatoes and fried padron peppers at Bar Nestor as well as the famous San Sebastian cheesecake at La Viña! I popped all my top recommendations together in my post about the best pintxos in San Sebastian .

Also, if you’re looking for an extra special meal, how about going for a Michelin Starred meal with a view at Mirador de Ulia? We had a very memorable meal there!

San Sebastian is also a great beach destination, with turquoise waters, white sand and some great surf spots too!

Enjoying the beach in San Sebastian

If you want to get off the beaten track in this region, how about spending a day wine tasting? Just 30-minutes away by car you’ll find wineries including   Hirutza , where the local Txakoli wine is produced. This is a dry and lightly sparkling white wine, which is absolutely delicious!

The vineyards are in a really spectacular location too, with huge mountains and lush green valleys all around. Once you’ve toured the winery, you’ll get to taste some of the wines for yourself, paired with a few pintxos of course!

Walking through Hiruzta vineyard

Northern Spain Road Trip: Stop 7 – Bilbao

Bilbao, the capital of the Basque Country, is home to centuries-old alleyways and modern-day architecture. The bustling city is small enough that you can explore it on foot, but big enough to keep you entertained for many hours.

bilbao, spain

One place you simple have to visit is the world-famous Guggenheim Museum , set by the Nervión River. This art gallery has an incredible collection, as well as being housed inside a curved metal masterpiece by one of my favourite architects, Frank Gehry.

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

This is another great city for pintxos, so be sure to spend some time in the Old Town refuelling. You could also dine at one of the many Michelin-starred restaurants in Bilbao.

For one of the best viewpoints in the Basque Country, make your way to Gaztelugatxeko Doniene, made famous by Game of Thrones. The scenic hike is around 3km and features several fortified viewpoints. The views are worth the tired legs, I promise you!

Northern Spain Road Trip: Stop 8 – Santander

Afterwards, stop by Santander, where you can enjoy some seaside fun on the small town’s myriad of beaches. Dive into the water or enjoy a trek to the Cabo Mayor Lighthouse.

Santander, Spain

Away from the coastline, grab a bite at Plaza de Canadio before exploring Santander’s Cathedral. It features two churches built on top of one another.

Santander to Llanes: 89 km / 56 min approx.

Northern Spain Road Trip: Stop 9 – Llanes and Piloña

As you drive from Bilbao to Llanes and Piloña, the road trip scenery really steps up a notch! Take in the views of the mountains and rolling hills which serve as the ultimate driving backdrop!

Llanes, Spain

Llanes is a small-town region boasting medieval magic at every corner, as well as beautiful beach views. After some of the more touristy stops on this trip, this area is more chilled out and authentic.

Once in Piloña, you could hike up to the Area Recreativa del Monte Cayon, where sweeping views over Asturias’ Picos de Europa await. Alternatively, opt for a more strenuous hike at Picos de Europa, a green paradise surrounded by mountains.

Pilona, Spain

Northern Spain Road Trip: Stop 10 – Gijon and Oviedo

Gijon has a whole load of charm! The city’s old town, nestled on top of a cliff, is filled with a mix of fine-dining and casual eateries and boasts iconic Roman baths and a scenic promenade.

Gijon, Spain

Oviedo, the region’s capital, is a compact city with a lively atmosphere owing to its student population. Enjoy a culinary extravaganza at the city’s many tapas bars ( Gloria Oviedo isn’t to be missed) and fine dining spots. There’s plenty more to do in Oviedo too, including shopping, museum-hopping, and marvelling at the city’s architecture.

Oviedo, Spain

Oviedo to León: 125 km / 1h 28 min approx.

Northern Spain Road Trip: Stop 11 – León

León, the northernmost city in the region, is ready to welcome you with open arms. Top of the list of attractions here is the Catedral de León, which boasts impressive towers and colourful windows.

Leon, Spain

For a quintessential Leon experience, stroll through Plaza Mayor and enjoy a bit of people watching. This is also a great area for trendy restaurants, tapas bars, and impressive architecture.

Northern Spain Road Trip: Stop 12 – Valladolid and Salamanca

South of León is Valladolid, a small city famed for its architecture. The Cathedral of Valladolid is a sight to behold, as is the Museo Nacional de Escultura and the exhibits inside.

Valladolid, Spain

The final stop in the region is Salamanca, which has a burgeoning foodie scene that really delivers the heart and soul of Northern Spanish cuisine. In between the culinary experiences, enjoy visits to the Old and New Cathedral , Clerecía Church, and the Convento de San Esteban’s plateresque. For incredible viewpoints over some of the city’s attractions, be sure to visit the Roman Bridge.

Salamanca, Spain

Where to Stay on a Northern Spain Road Trip

If you’re wondering where to stay in northern Spain, here are a few of my top choices along this route.

Hotel Palafox , Zaragoza

This is a great luxury hotel, offering sweeping city views from the rooftop pool.

Villa Palafox

Hotel Carlton , Bilbao

This grand hotel in Bilbao offers spacious rooms with chic decor and a great restaurant serving regional delicacies.

Hotel Carlton, Spain

Hotel Villa Soro , San Sebastian

Enjoy a tranquil and chic hotel stay, just a short walk from the old town. This smart villa offers a country-house feel for your foodie city trip. Wondering how to get around? This hotel offers free bikes, making it easy to get around and see the sights. 

Villa Soro, San Sebastian

Parador de Turismo de León , León

This luxury hotel’s rooms feature antique furnishings and a balcony. There’s also a restaurant serving the region’s top wines.

Parador de Turismo de León

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my Northern Spain road trip itinerary. There are so many great places you could visit, it’s been hard to narrow it down to just a handful.

My best advice is to use this guide as a starting point, but don’t be afraid to add some extra spots along the way too. If you’re wondering where else to visit in Spain, check out my southern Spain road trip itinerary .

For more great road trip itineraries, check out my detailed guides to driving northern Italy and southern Italy .

Chloe Gunning

With a passion for food, fun and adventure, Chloe is the content creator behind one of the UK's top travel blogs Wanderlust Chloe. From volcano boarding in Nicaragua, to sailing around Sicily and eating her way around Japan, her travels have taken her to some of the coolest spots on the planet. Named Travel Influencer of the Year in 2022, Chloe regularly works with a number of tourism boards, producing inspirational travel content across multiple platforms. Find out more about Chloe here.

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Road Trip EuroGuide

Incredible Northern Spain Road Trip: 7-Day Itinerary

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The wonderful surprise about this 7-day Northern Spain road trip is that the farther west you move from Bilbao to Santiago, the more remote and authentically Spanish it gets. Be prepared for small towns along rocky coastlines, delicious meals of octopus and pintxos in standalone restaurants tucked in the cliffside ( nothing fancy, rather deliciously local ), and a generally serene and slow, non-connected world.

I spent about a month doing this route in September last year because I like to travel slowly and meet friends along the way. This weeklong, more off-the-beaten-path itinerary is the best of the best stuff that I liked, and it optimizes the drive times so you’re not constantly on the road. Here’s the high-level itinerary:

  • 2 Days: Basque Country – Bilbao – Guggenheim Museum – Gaztelugatxeko – San Sebastian
  • 2 Days: Asturias – Picos de Europa Hikes – Town of Llanes – Gijon
  • 3 Days: Galicia – Playa de las Catedrales – Santiago De Compostela

View of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao on my northern Spain road trip.

I would recommend more time in Bilbao, San Sebastian , and the region around Llanes , especially if you’re keen on hiking portions of the Picos de Europa mountains.

Table of Contents

Northern Spain Road Trip: Full 7-Day Itinerary

You can land in Madrid or Barcelona and take a connecting flight to Bilbao Airport or San Sebastian Airport (smaller, but services a lot of European airlines). I started in Bilbao, rented a car, and went wild on this itinerary.

DRIVING TIP : Driving from one end of northern Spain to another, from Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela, takes about 6 hours , so nothing on this road trip is too long of a drive when you break it up into 7 days.

Day 1: Bilbao & Guggenheim Museum

Today is about exploring the food scene (tapas and pintxos) of the Basque Region and visiting one of the most famous museums in Spain.

Pintxos in Bilbao.

I booked a guided tour because it came recommended by a local friend, and headed towards the big dog built of flowers, where the museum is located. It is one thing to wander the Guggenheim Museum on your own looking at the pretty pieces of art and saying “ ooo !”, and it’s another completely to have an art history guru walk you through the context and purpose of each piece and have a discussion around it.

➡️ Book a guided tour, as there’s a lot of context behind the art: Guggenheim Museum Private Tour with Admission . ⬅️

I spent the afternoon walking around and getting acquainted with the vibe of the city. I loved Casilda Iturrizar Park .

You are in the Basque Region now, and it is all about the Pintxos ( adorably pronounced “pinch-ohs” ), the most intelligent way to eat a variety of foods and not over-stuff yourself. These are small snackies, bites of meats, cheeses, and pickled delicacies on fresh toasty bread.

If it’s a bar-hopping kind of night, start at La Antigua Cigarreria  and make your way around the winding streets, grabbing pintxos as you go.

PRO TIP : Order a “Marianito Preparado” and enjoy a super yummy spin on the Italian negroni with Spanish flair!

Day 2: San Sebastian & San Juan de Gaztelugatxeko

Today is a little road trip east to San Sebastian, where the drive is 1.5 hours each way. On the way to San Sebastian, stop at Gaztelugatxeko ! I spent a couple of hours on the hillside overlooking the sea and grabbing lunch at the restaurant there.

San Sebastian is a great day trip from Bilbao on the Northern Spain Road trip.

In San Sebastian, here are some of my favorite places to visit:

  • La Concha Beach : Renowned for its picturesque bay and fine sands, La Concha is perfect for sunbathing, and enjoying the views.
  • Parte Vieja (Old Town) : Explore the little streets, filled with historic buildings, busy pintxo bars, and trendy shops.
  • Monte Igueldo : Offers panoramic views of the city and coast. Accessible by a funicular, it’s a great spot for photos and lazy walks.
  • Miramar Palace : A historic building with beautiful gardens with splendid views over La Concha Bay.

I would make a reservation and grab dinner at one of the many Michelin-rated restaurants in town. To be honest, no matter where you eat, low-key or high-end, know that this is one of the biggest gastronomic towns in Spain, backed by Anthony Bourdain himself. Mornings or late afternoons are best for popular spots to avoid crowds.

For pintxos, visiting during traditional meal times will have you feeling the Spanish vibe. It’s an easy 1-hour, 15-minute drive back to Bilbao afterward.

Day 3: Explore Llanes

A little hidden gem on the northern Spain road trip is the town of Llanes in the mountainous Asturias Region, just 2 hours away from Bilbao. Llanes is known for its beautiful beaches around town, a well-preserved old town with medieval streets, traditional architecture, and the impressive Basílica de Santa María, and the stunning Picos de Europa mountains are nearby, which we are hiking tomorrow.

Llanes is a great spot on the northern Spain road trip to spend a couple of days.

Here are the best things to do in Llanes:

  • Playa de Toró : A unique beach known for its peculiar rock formations
  • Playa de Gulpiyuri : A hidden and unusual inland beach, set in a meadow and accessible only by foot.
  • Cuevas del Mar Beach : A stunning beach known for its natural caves.
  • The Historic Center : Stroll through the charming streets, visit the Basilica, and see the ancient defensive tower, Torre de Llanes.
  • Paseo de San Pedro : A scenic cliffside walkway with spectacular views of the Cantabrian Sea and the town – I did this after lunch and it was great!

Don’t leave Llanes without sampling the local Asturian cuisine, including fresh seafood, cheeses (like the famous Cabrales), and sidra (cider).

Or grab a bocadillo from the bakery, and head to one of the beaches above. Bocadillos are little sandwiches on fresh baguettes filled with meat (Fuet salami or Jamon Iberico) and a spread (tomato or butter). They are delicious, fresh, and always cheap!

Day 4: Hike the Picos de Europa

You’ve been eating like a little chunk this whole time, so it’s time to hit the trails! Get into the mountains and do a hike in the Picos de Europa.

Picos de Europa are a fantastic stop on the Northern Spain road trip.

➡️ Book a Guide for a Day Hike in the Picos de Europe Mountains. ⬅️

Either choose your own adventure or grab a professional mountain guide and journey through the Vega del Torro and down to Lake Moneta – this was one of the highlights of my trip.

Here are some AllTrails treks that I also have my eye on for next time:

  • Ruta del Cares (Hard, 13 miles) : Known as the “Divine Gorge,” this trail is one of the most popular hikes, offering stunning views of the gorges (a shorter, easier alternative ).
  • Lagos de Covadonga (Hard, 10 miles) : This hike includes the famous glacial lakes of Enol and Ercina and offers spectacular mountain views.
  • Fuente Dé – Cable Car and Hike (Hard, 4.6 miles): Take the cable car up and hike around the upper parts of the mountains for breathtaking views.

Day 5: Gijon & Playa Madre

The drive from Llanes to the first stop of the day, Playa Madre, is 40 minutes. I spent the morning on Playa Madre, and if you’re up for a little detour drive, this is worth it: Mirador del Fitu . The drive from Playa Madre to Gijon for the afternoon is another 40 minutes

Keep the ta-tas out on Playa Madre on your northern Spain road trip.

I spent a few lazy days in this cute city just wandering, doing a little shopping, sleeping, and bar hopping. Plenty of brewpubs and delicious restaurants around.

My best advice is to visit a Sidrería to see how cider is poured from a height to aerate it (similar to Turkish tea ). I also love walking around Cimavilla , the old fisherman’s quarter, full of narrow streets, colorful houses, and sidrerías (cider bars). I recommend eating your way through Gijon at night, especially fresh seafood and traditional dishes like fabada Asturiana.

Day 6 : Playa de las Catedrales

The drive from Gijon to Playa de las Catedrales is 1.5 hours along the coast. After you explore the caves and arches, it’s another 1.5 hours on to Santiago de Compostela, where I made a home base for the last bit of the road trip.

Playa de las Catedrales on the northern Spain road trip.

Playa de las Catedrales , or the Beach of the Cathedrals, is a stunning natural wonder located in Galicia, Spain. Known for its awe-inspiring rock formations, this beach is famous for its towering arches and cave-like structures that resemble the buttresses of a cathedral, hence its name.

The beauty of Playa de Las Catedrales is dramatically altered by the tide , so best to visit during the morning. During high tide, it appears just like a regular beach, but low tide reveals the magnificent arches and caves.

➡️ Local Site To Schedule a Time To Visit Playa de Las Catedrales ⬅️

There is also a wooden walkway about 12km long along the coast next to the entrance to the beach and a few local restaurants in the nearby little town of Rinlo – I loved Restaurante a Mirandilla . Go for the baked octopus ( pulpo ), it’s a specialty of Galicia!

Spend the afternoon making your way to Santiago de Compostela for dinner in the old town. This is where I spent a few days diving into the history around El Camino pilgrimage walk and the Galician culture.

Day 7: Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela is a destination of its own, not just the end of our road trip. This is where all the pilgrimages and caminos end and the capital of the Galician region. Most, if not all, of Santiago de Compostela’s top tourist attractions are located in the Old Town.

The Basilica of St. James on the northern Spain Road trip.

The Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is a ‘holy moly’ sight to see. Looking up at the massive cathedral literally left me as breathless as when I saw the Vatican for the first time. The tomb beneath the cathedral’s main altar is the burial site of St. James, and it’s the final destination of all pilgrimage walks in the region.

FUN FACT: It is just one of three known churches built over the remains of an apostle. The other two are St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica in Chennai, India.

➡️ Grab A Guided Cathedral Tour for more fun facts. It’s super cheap and educational! ⬅️

After the Cathedral tour, walk around the old town and explore the little shops and wine bars. Right around sunset, head into the Parque de Alameda for a walk.

Grab dinner at O Gato Negro and try percebes . Percebes, or “Lucifer’s Fingers”, is a delicacy along the Galician and southern Portuguese coasts. They are nicknamed not just because of their devilish appearance, but because they’re super hard to get. Give it a go – it’s an unusual regional food that you can’t have just anywhere.

Map: Road Trip Through Northern Spain

If you were to drive from one end to another, from Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela, it would take you 6 hours total.

The route of the northern spain road trip.

Unique Places I ❤️ In Northern Spain

Beyond the major cities of San Sebastian, Bilbao, Gijon and Santiago de Compostela, which are all amazing, here are my favorite little places to visit on this northern Spain road trip.

✅ Gaztelugatxeko

Gaztelugatxe is not a town but a small islet on the coast of Biscay in the Basque Country, Spain, about 30 minutes from Bilbao. The islet is connected to the mainland by a man-made bridge, which leads to a narrow path with over 240 steps.

It’s best known for being the hermitage of Saint John the Baptiste de Gaztelugatxe. This place has gained international fame, especially after being featured in Game of Thrones as the fictional Dragonstone.

Gaztelugatxeko is a stop on the northern spain road trip.

✅ Town of Llanes

Llanes is an ideal destination for people looking for a blend of beach time, hiking the Picos de Europa, and a fish-forward foodie scene. It’s a small town, but the combo of natural beauty and traditional Asturian charm makes it a memorable stop in northern Spain.

✅ Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is an iconic symbol of modern and contemporary art. It’s one of those museums you should visit once in your lifetime, similar to the Prado in Madrid and the Louvre in Paris.

Bilbao should be your starting point on the northern spain road trip.

My Favorite Thing: Outside the museum stands one of its most famous installations, “Puppy” by Jeff Koons, a gigantic floral sculpture of a West Highland Terrier, showcasing a living, organic artwork contrasting with the metallic facade of the museum.

Designed by Frank Gehry, the museum is a masterpiece of 20th-century architecture. Not only that, but it has played a pivotal role in the transformation and revitalization of Bilbao from an industrial city into a cultural hub. It houses an impressive collection of thought-provoking modern and contemporary art, and its exhibitions are constantly evolving.

✅ Picos de Europa Mountains

The Picos de Europa mountains, located in Northern Spain, are a part of the Cantabrian Mountains. The highest peak is Torre de Cerredo, standing at 2,650 meters (8,690 feet). It’s a popular destination for hikers and there are plenty of day hikes to go on.

✅ Playa de las Catedrales

Playa de las Catedrales is one of the most spectacular natural wonders in Galicia. The beach is renowned for its massive rock arches and caves, which can be seen and explored at low tide. These formations resemble the flying buttresses of Gothic cathedrals, giving the beach its name. I think the beach provides an interesting glimpse into the power of the sea and what erosion and tides can show you.

PRO TIP: It’s crucial to check the tide schedule before planning your visit. The times for low tide change daily, so it’s important to align your visit accordingly. Also, wear water shoes when you visit, lots of slippery rocks.

During peak times, a free ticketing system is in place to protect the beach from overcrowding. You can reserve these online through the official website of the Xunta de Galicia.

Where To Stay in Northern Spain

Following the weeklong Northern Spain road trip, here is where I stayed each night, with hotel recommendations I loved.

Bilbao [2 nights]

From Bilbao, I made a day trip to San Sebastian, which is 1.5 hours away. I opted to drive back to Bilbao because it was more cost-effective, and I liked the grungy vibe in Bilbao better.

📍 Luxury: Vincci Consulado de Bilbao – View of the Guggenheim Museum, a fantastic hotel with great services, breakfast, and breakfast. 📍 Mid-Range: Bilder Boutique Hotel – Charming and modern hotel in Old Town Bilbao, great value and service.

Llanes [2 nights]

This was my home base in the Asturias region, opting for one day of beach hopping in Llanes and one day of hiking the Picos de Europa Mountains.

📍 Luxury: Hotel Rural La Lluriga – A country estate, this family-run, cozy hotel is an amazing little nature escape, with a pool, gardens, 100-year-old trees, a reading room, and a fireplace. Great home base for exploring the region. 📍 Mid-Range: Don Paco – Right in the heart of town, this hotel is actually a restored convent. Think high vaulted ceilings, exposed brick, and fireplaces with modern furniture and decor.

Gijon [1 night]

To break up the drive from Llanes to Santiago de Compostela, I spent a day in Gijon and took a little cooking class.

📍 Mid-Range & Chic: El Moderne Hotel – great for a night, has a dark masculine modern vibe to it, great price for the amenities and location.

Santiago de Compostela [2 nights]

On the way from Gijon to Santiago de Compostela, I stopped and spent a morning at Playa de Las Catedrales, but because there is not much else around, I kept driving the 2 hours all the way to Santiago and spending the last 2 nights sleeping in the beautiful town.

📍 Chic & Cozy: RoomPEDRA – A super nice little apartment, great for a 2-night stay, 5 minutes walk from the Cathedral. It’s not the usual luxury hotel I recommend, but I really liked how clean and cozy it was, and the fact that it had a kitchen because I was a bit tired of eating all my meals out. 📍 Mid-Range: Hotel Altaïr – cute boutique hotel just outside Casco Viejo (Old Town) so you can actually find parking. Comfy rooms, beds, and all the exposed brick you can get.

Getting Around Northern Spain

This route can be done by either renting a car or sorting out the public transportation – busses and trains – from city to city. I recommend renting a car and doing this as a road trip.

This is what I personally use to check prices: Discover Cars: Rental for Northern Spain Road Trip

The public transportation and Uber in Spain , especially up north in the more rural areas of this road trip are not great (or existent).

Where should I start my road trip?

I recommend starting in Bilbao or San Sebastian and renting a car to take you along the road trip to Santiago de Compostela. From here, you can either take half a day to drive back or return the car in Santiago de Compostela and fly back home.

There is a small fee that rental car companies impose if you rent in one city and return it in another, but it should not be much because you’re in the same country.

Is Driving in Northern Spain easy?

Yes, it is. Not only are the roads in good condition, but the northern Spain road trip has you driving along the rocky coastline for a few hours every couple of days.

For the longer drives from Gijon to Playa de las Catedrales, here are a few unique ways to pass the time – from road trip games to documenting your trip for friends and family!

Budgeting For A Northern Spain Road Trip

General costs depend on the time of year you go. I went in September and the weather was gorgeous, still good for the beaches and hiking, and a little past the high summer season. That said, here are some numbers and tips for you.

TOTAL COST : ~€1,200 for a weeklong road trip.

  • Car Rental: $100/week
  • Hotels : $60-90/night
  • Food : $30-50 a day per person
  • Wine : About $2 for a glass of amazing Rioja wine ( and Spaniards have a very generous pour!)

FAQ: Northern Spain Road Trip

Here are a few frequently asked questions about going on this road trip.

Is Northern Spain worth visiting?

Firstly, this region is fairly inexpensive and scenically gorgeous – you’ll have the sea on your right and the mountains on your left as you make your way west along the coast. Best of all, cell reception is spotty ( nightmare for some, heaven for others ), but it forces an unplug from a hectic world, which I truly appreciate.

Santiago de Compostela at sunset on the northern Spain road trip.

And secondly, you’ll be driving, hiking, and eating along the 1,000-year-old pilgrimage route to the shrine of St. James in Santiago de Compostela . This is known as the Way of St. James or the Camino de Santiago in Spanish.

Over 200,000 pilgrims (people like you and me) travel to the city each year from various starting points all over Europe. I would love to do this walk one day for many reasons – health, inner peace, being one with nature, be one with myself.

All in all, Northern Spain is more than just Barcelona and San Sebastian. Be brave, and come see for yourself!

When Is The Best Time to Visit Northern Spain?

The best times for hiking, beach days, and generally sunniness will be in the summer or fall seasons. I went in September and the weather was a little chilly at night but sunny and warm during the day.

How Many Days Do I Need To Visit Northern Spain?

To really give it a solid go, from San Sebastian to Santiago de Compostela, I recommend a minimum of 1 week . You can follow the 7-day itinerary of my road trip through Northern Spain above. I spent 3 weeks altogether doing this same route, spending 3x the time in each place, and I still felt like there were things I was missing.

Do I Need Travel Insurance For This Trip?

If you’re traveling outside of your home country, and especially if you’re out there hiking and adventuring, I recommend getting some travel insurance for the duration of your stay.

SAFETYWING: Nomad Travel Insurance

Travel medical insurance with SafetyWing is my favorite because it’s flexible, less expensive than the other big insurance companies at ~$40 a month worldwide, and it covers COVID-19 quarantine situations. Here’s the link so you can look into it.

What should I pack for this road trip?

This northern Spain road trip is about a few nights out in towns like San Sebastian and Bilbao (where people dress nice), beach life, a day of hiking the Picos de Europa and visiting the famous Santiago de Compostela church. A lot to pack for, but here’s my packing list beyond the basics like toothbrush and passport:

  • Backpack : A comfortable daypack for hiking and city exploring.
  • Casual Outfits: T-shirts, tank tops, and comfortable shirts for the daytime.
  • Nicer Outfit : A couple of dressier outfits for nights out in San Sebastian and Bilbao. Think smart-casual – a nice dress or blouse and skirt for ladies, and chinos with a polo or button-up shirt for men.
  • Swimsuit : At least 1 swimsuit, cover-up, and one pair of flip-flops, a compact and quick-drying towel
  • Hiking Gear : A pair of good hiking pants and a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt to protect against the sun and brush. I hiked in my sneakers and opted to leave the hiking boots at home.
  • Types of Shoes : Comfortable walking shoes like sneakers (that you can do a day hike in the mountains in), one pair of flip-flops, and a pair of nicer shoes for evenings (I did opt for a low heel and it was ok).
  • Light Jacket : A lightweight, waterproof jacket for unpredictable weather, especially in the mountains and coastal areas. Sometimes at night, even in the summer, there’s a chill in the air.
  • Accessories : Sunglasses, a hat or cap for sun protection, and a lightweight scarf for cooler evenings.
  • Travel Adapters : If you’re coming from outside Europe.

👉 PRO TIP: Pack light, because you’ll be moving your luggage frequently on the road trip. Opt for a carry-on suitcase or backpack that’s easy to handle.

Final Thoughts: Northern Spain Road Trip

I loved road-tripping through Northern Spain. I spent 3 weeks going from San Sebastian to Santiago de Compostela, and have put together a maximized 7-day Northern Spain itinerary that hits all the good spots.

Seafood is fantastic in Llanos.

This road trip also highlights some of the churches and cities famous for their history and food. Speaking of, most of this road trip is an adventure into the world of pintxos, riojas, and ciders of the Basque and Galician regions. So if this is your vibe, take the trip!

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Mariana Barbuceanu is the owner and author of the Road Trip EuroGuide, a blog that inspires fellow travelers to explore Europe more authentically through slower travel and digging deeper into the culture of a place. When she isn't writing about her adventures, she is planning trips for her community and coaching people on how to take that next step towards a much-needed sabbatical.

San Sebastián, cities in northern spain

10 Best Places to Visit in Northern Spain | Itineraries + Map

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Deciding where to go and what to see in northern Spain is no easy feat. There are so many beautiful places worth visiting, so your itinerary will depend on your interests and the length of your trip. Regardless, I can assure you that the north of Spain is full of green landscapes and delicious food, so you won’t be disappointed.

The biggest challenge when traveling in northern Spain is choosing a route since there are different autonomous communities you can go through. The northern part of the country generally refers to the regions of Galicia , Asturias , Cantabria , and the Basque Country , so those are the areas I’m focusing on in this guide.

Each of these communities has lovely places and attractions, so keep reading to discover the best northern Spain itinerary and travel ideas.

Guide to planning your northern Spain road trip

There are numerous beaches, mountains, and cities in northern Spain ’s four autonomous communities, so I recommend planning ahead. This way, you can make the most of your trip and see all the places that match your interests and preferences.

In this guide, I’ll include several itineraries through the north of Spain to help you organize a route through this region. You’ll find travel ideas for a weekend getaway as well as longer trips up to two weeks. I’m also sharing some tips for your vacation and my top 10 best places to visit in northern Spain .

  • 10 Best places to visit in northern Spain

Northern Spain map

  • Weekend getaway
  • 10-day trip
  • 15-day trip
  • Other tips for traveling to northern Spain

1. Bilbao, one of the best cities in northern Spain

First, Bilbao is one of the most popular cities in northern Spain , so it’s a must-see. It’s located in the Basque Country and has undergone some impressive changes in recent years, making it a hub for culture and history.

One of the crown jewels of Bilbao is the Guggenheim Museum , which was designed by famous architect Frank Gehry. In addition to its iconic façade, floral puppy sculpture, and unique structure, the inside of the museum is full of intriguing contemporary art exhibits. If you plan on visiting, I recommend getting your tickets in advance to avoid long lines.

Bilbao, cities in northern spain

Besides the Guggenheim, I also suggest watching the sunset from the Marzana Pier, a fun place to socialize and grab drinks. You should also stroll through the Arenal, La Ribera Market, and the arches of Plaza Nueva.

You can get a general overview of the city by taking this free tour . Also, Bilbao has some of the best food in northern Spain , so I recommend going out for pintxos , or tapas. Some common pintxos here include gilda (green olives, gherkins, pickled green chiles, and anchovies) as well as various cheeses and meats.

  • Recommended accommodation : If you can, book a room at the Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao , one of the best 5-star hotels in Spain that’s located in front of the Guggenheim Museum. It was designed by Spanish artist Javier Mariscal and has a spectacular rooftop terrace overlooking the city.

2. San Sebasti án, a city with some of the best food in northern Spain

Another city in northern Spain ’s Basque Country that you must visit is San Sebastián . It’s always included in the top 5 lists of the most beautiful cities in Spain , and it’s not hard to see why.

One of the most striking features of San Sebastián is that its bay is framed by Mount Igueldo and the island of Santa Clara. This city is home to a couple of urban beaches as well as Playa de la Concha , one of the best beaches in Spain . So, if you’re traveling during the summer, this is a stop you must make along the north coast of Spain .

San Sebastián, cities in northern spain

2. San Sebastián, a city with some of the best food in northern Spain

While you’re here, I recommend taking a stroll along the Zurriola Beach Promenade. Follow it around Monte Urgull, along the Paseo Nuevo, and cross the bay to Ondarreata Beach. There, you can see the Peine del Viento , an impressive sculpture by Spanish artists Eduardo Chillida and Peña Gantxegi.

It’s also worth visiting the city center, which is full of plazas, bridges, buildings, and restaurants. In fact, San Sebastián is another great place to eat in northern Spain , thanks to its delicious pintxos . The best way to sample all the delicious options is by taking this gourmet pintxos tour .

  • Recommended accommodation : This city is home to one of the best luxury hotels in Spain that has welcomed famous faces like Woody Allen and Elizabeth Taylor. The Hotel María Cristina, a Luxury Collection Hotel is across from the Victoria Eugenia Theater and offers stunning views of the Cantabrian Sea and the Urumea River, so it’s a phenomenal place to stay.

3. Cudillero, one of the most charming places in northern Spain

Over in Asturias, Cudillero is considered one of the most beautiful towns in Spain , so I highly recommend adding it to your northern Spain itinerary . The town’s biggest draw is its unique landscape, which features colorful houses nestled around the blue sea and among the green trees.

Cudillero, best things to do in northern spain

In addition, the nearby community of Castañeras is home to Playa del Silencio , one of the best beaches in Spain with virgin sands and a rustic environment. It’s in the shape of a shell that curves around a rocky cliff, which acts as a natural barrier against the wind. This makes the waters here very calm, so it’s a pleasant beach in northern Spain that you can visit for some peace and quiet.

  • Recommended accommodation : Stay at Casona de La Paca , an old Asturian country house with a welcoming atmosphere. It’s surrounded by lush gardens filled with the typical vegetation of Asturias, so it’s a relaxing place to rest before continuing your trip.

4. Santiago de Compostela, a must-see on your route through the north of Spain

If there’s one thing in the north of Spain that you must do at least once in your life, it’s the Camino de Santiago . This is one of the most important hikes in Spain and a sacred pilgrimage that ends in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.

This city is the perfect place to end such a monumental hike, as it’s full of history and religious significance. One of its most iconic landmarks is its cathedral, which was built at the site where the hidden tomb of the Apostle Santiago was discovered in the 9 th century. Since then, devout followers have been making the pilgrimage here, and in 1805, King Alfonso VI ordered that a Romanesque cathedral be built. You can learn more about the Santiago Cathedral on this guided tour .

Santiago de Compostela, northern spain road trip

I also suggest you go to the Church of San Martiño Pinario, Alameda Park, and the Plaza de Cervantes, as well as stop at some of the bars and restaurants for some delicious Galician food. Another excellent city tour is this one , which goes to sites like the Palacio de Rajoy, the Plaza de Laterías, and the University of Santiago.

  • Recommended accommodation : Stay at the Parador de Santiago – Hostal Reis Católicos , a beautiful 15 th -century building next to the Santiago Cathedral. It used to be an accommodation for traveling pilgrims, and it still has its original vaulted ceilings, stone arches, and tapestries. It also has two restaurants where you can order Mediterranean and Galician dishes.

5. The Lakes of Covadonga, another place to visit in northern Spain

While you’re exploring the northern region of Spain , you can’t miss the Picos de Europa. Not only is this one of the top national parks in Spain, but it’s also home to the Lakes of Covadonga , a magnificent natural treasure.

If you love nature, I can’t recommend this place enough since it has the most beautiful landscapes in the north of Spain . The famous Enol and Ercina Lakes are gorgeous, and the Queen Viewpoint is the perfect spot to look for native birds like bearded vultures and golden eagles.

Lakes of Covadonga, best things to do in northern spain

Also, some of the best tours through the north of Spain leave from the Lakes of Covadonga, so if you want to discover more about this incredible environment, you can do so. I recommend this excursion , which includes a visit to a vega , a dwelling where shepherds live during the summer to rest and make Gamoneu cheese, a famous product of this area.

  • Recommended accommodation : The Arcea Gran Hotel Pelayo is in the center of the Picos de Europa National Park, so it’s a good place to spend the night. From here, you’ll have nice views of the Cathedral of Covadonga.

6. Santillana del Mar, a medieval town in the north of Spain

Santillana del Mar is another one of the best places to visit in northern Spain . While its name refers to the town being holy, flat, and by the sea, it has none of these characteristics, which is why it’s also known as “the town of the three lies”. That said, there is a lot to do and see in this Asturian town, so I recommend adding it to your northern Spain itinerary .

First, this is one of the most important medieval towns in the country, with thousands of years of history. The best way to learn more about its great historical and artistic value is by taking this free tour (in Spanish). A guide will lead you through the cobbled streets and past iconic landmarks like the House of the Marqués de Santillana and the House of the Archduchess of Austria.

Santillana del Mar, northern spain weather

If you prefer something more adventurous, check out the Altamira Museum and the Neocave, a life-size replica of the original Paleolithic caves. This excursion includes a guided tour of the archaeological wonder, its cave paintings, and other curiosities.

  • Recommended accommodation : To make your stay extra special, stay at the Parador de Santillana Gil Blas , one of the best paradores in Spain . This modern hotel is in the town’s main square and has a private patio.

7. Playa de las Catedrales, one of the best beaches in northern Spain

The northern coast of Spain is absolutely gorgeous, and it has one of the most unique beaches in the entire country. Playa de las Catedrales in Lugo, Galicia is considered one of the best beaches in Spain , so you must include it in your travel plans.

Playa de las Catedrales is one of the most popular tourist attractions in northern Spain , so much so that it’s known by its nickname rather than its original name of Aguas Santas (Holy Waters). Tourists began calling it the “Beach of the Cathedrals” since the gigantic rock formations here create arches and towers that resemble churches.

Playa de las Catedrales, beaches in northern spain

If you want to visit this beach in northern Spain but if you don’t have a car, consider this excursion from La Coruña. It’ll take you to Playa de las Catedrales as well as the city of Lugo so you can see its Roman wall.

  • Recommended accommodation : Stay at the Hotel Playa de las Catedrales , which faces the Cantabrian Sea and is within walking distance of Playa de las Catedrales and Arealonga Beach.

8. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, an amazing place to see in northern Spain

Back in the Basque Country, in the town of Bermeo, the island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a unique place to add to your northern Spain road trip . This gorgeous setting looks like a fantasy land, and it kind of is since it was one of the filming locations for Game of Thrones .

The island is connected to the mainland by a stone bridge, and you can walk along the 241-stepped path to reach the top. It’s worth the effort to climb these famous stone steps, which lead to a hermitage and a place that’s believed to have been visited by John the Baptist. The hermitage has a bell, and it’s said that if you touch it three times, you’ll have good luck, while others think that if you make a wish here, it’ll come true.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, northern spain itinerary

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is just over 20 miles from Bilbao, another must-see city in northern Spain . You can easily drive there or take this tour from Bilbao if you don’t have a car. The tour includes a stop at the historic city of Guernica, where the first Nazi air raid occurred.

  • Recommended accommodation : The Ureta Landa Gaztelugatxe apartments are a good option since they are surrounded by a beautiful landscape and are located just over a mile from Areaga Beach.

9. C íes Islands, a dreamy place to visit on the coast of northern Spain

Another wonderful stop to include on your itinerary through northern Spain is the Cíes Islands . These islands have a privileged location in Galicia and are full of history and beauty.

Back when the Romans passed through this archipelago, they left behind traces of their culture, including pottery and artifacts. Today, you can see these objects in the Pontevedra Museum along the Lérez River in Galicia. Legend has it that Julius Caesar came here during the persecution of the Portuguese people of herminios, who sailed here after fleeing the troops of the Empire.

Cíes Islands, most beautiful places in northern spain

9. Cíes Islands, a dreamy place to visit on the coast of northern Spain

In the Middle Ages, various religious communities began to inhabit the Cíes Islands, but they were wiped out in the mid-18 th century by pirates and the English navy. After this, people began repopulating the island, and by the late 20 th century, the area had become a declared Natural Park and a Special Protection Area for Birds.

Since 2002, the Cíes Islands have been part of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park, along with the archipelagos of Ons, Sálvora, and Cortegada. If you come here, you must visit Playa de Rodas , one of the best beaches in northern Spain with impressive pine forests. Be aware that only 2,200 people can visit per day, so it’s best to book this ticket in advance, which includes the ferry ride and permit to access the beach.

  • Recommended accommodation : Stay at the Pazo Los Escudos Hotel Spa & Resort , which offers ocean and garden views as well as relaxing spa facilities.

10. San Vicente de la Barquera, the perfect place for a northern Spain holiday

Finally, San Vicente de la Barquera is a spectacular destination in northern Spain that you should visit. This fishing village is on the western coast of Cantabria and is surrounded by one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.

What stands out about this place is its medieval history and architecture, including the Puente de la Maza and the ruins of the Convent of San Luis. You should also check out the old town ( Puebla Vieja ), which has been declared a Historic-Artistic Site.

San Vicente de la Barquera, north of spain tours

From there, you can continue along Calle Alta to the Palacio de los Corro, which has been converted into the Town Hall. The Church of Santa María de Los Angeles is at the end of the street, and the Castillo del Rey is also nearby.

Of course, a different way to explore this northern Spanish town is by taking this kayaking excursion through the San Vicente estuary. You’ll get great views of the historic town center while enjoying some exercise.

  • Recommended accommodation : Just over a mile from the town center, you’ll find the Posada Punta Liñera . This charming rural property has a terrace overlooking the countryside, the Bay of Biscay, and the beautiful surroundings of Cantabria .

To help you organize your northern Spain itinerary , here is a map with all the attractions and cities I mentioned:

I’m also sharing some ideas for planning a road trip through northern Spain , whether you just have a weekend, or you can stay for a couple of weeks .

Best road trip itineraries in northern Spain

Now that you know the best places to visit in northern Spain , here are some itinerary suggestions for a weekend trip and longer road trips of 4, 7, 10, and 15 days .

Weekend trip to northern Spain

For the best weekend visit in northern Spain , consider spending some time exploring the Basque Country. Below you’ll find the route we took during one of our trips.

Day 1: Bilbao

Bilbao is one of the best cities in northern Spain ’s Basque Country, so I definitely recommend adding it to your itinerary. It’s not very big, so you should be able to see most of it in one day.

If you prefer a guided overview of the city, consider doing this free tour in the morning. If you’re exploring on your own, check out the Guggenheim Museum. It’s worth seeing both the outside and inside of the museum, so book your ticket in advance to avoid long lines.

In the afternoon, walk along the water toward Casco Viejo, where you can see the beautiful Arriaga Theater. This area is also full of bars and restaurants where you can try the most delicious pintxos .

I also recommend visiting La Ribera Market and the Santiago Cathedral, then ending your day in Plaza Nueva.

  • Recommended accommodation : Stay at the Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao , one of the best 5-star hotels in Spain that’s across from the Guggenheim Museum.

Day 2: San Sebastián

The next day, get up early and head to San Sebastián , another lovely city in northern Spain . It’s about 60 miles away, so it’ll take about an hour and 15 minutes to drive there.

Once you reach San Sebastián, check out the Zurriola Beach Promenade and walk around Monte Urgull and Paseo Nuevo. From there, you can cross the bay to Ondarreta Beach, where you’ll find the Peine del Viento sculpture.

Then, head into the city center and discover its plazas, bridges, and buildings. It’s also worth doing this gourmet pintxos tour to try some delicious food. Also, a visit to San Sebastián isn’t complete without a stop at La Concha Beach, one of the best beaches in Spain .

  • Recommended accommodation : You’ll love the Hotel María Cristina , one of the most luxurious hotels in northern Spain with great views of the Cantabrian Sea and the Urumea River.

4-day trip through the north of Spain

If you have a couple more days to add to your itinerary through northern Spain , you’ll be able to discover some of the charming areas in Cantabria and Asturias.

Day 1: Santander and San Vicente de la Barquera

Start your northern Spain road trip in Santander , Cantabria with a tour of the Magdalena Peninsula. Then, continue along the Sardinero to see the most beautiful beaches in Santander, including Mataleñas Beach and the Cabo Mayor Lighthouse. Finish up the morning with a visit to the Botín Center and the Paseo Marítimo.

For the second half of the day, go to San Vicente de la Barquera , which is about 35 miles (30 minutes) from Santander.

Start your visit here by crossing the Puente de la Maza to the ruins of the Convent of San Luis. Then, follow Mata Linares Street to the Puebla Vieja (old town) and see the Tower of the Provost. Along Calle Alta, you can see the Palacio de los Corro, which is now the Town Hall, as well as the Church of Santa María de Los Angeles. If you have time, go to the Castillo del Rey.

  • Recommended accommodation : Stay at the Posada Punta Liñera , a rural estate that’s a mile from San Vicente de la Barquera’s city center. It has a lovely terrace that overlooks the countryside and the Bay of Biscay.

Day 2: Llanes and its beaches

After spending the night in San Vicente de la Barquera, get up early and head to Llanes , Asturias. It’s 25 miles away, so it’s only about a 30-minute drive.

Take this opportunity to visit beautiful Gulpiyuri Beach, one of the best beaches in Spain and one of the smallest beaches in the world. It’s also worth seeing Playa de Poo, a family-friendly beach with gentle waves.

In the afternoon, you can visit the port of Llanes and its famous Cubes of Memory, which are painted rocks that serve as a breakwater. Then, take a walk through Llanes’ historic center, which is an Asset of Cultural Interest and a Historic-Artistic Site. Later, enjoy a nice dinner to end your day.

  • Recommended accommodation: One of the best places to stay is the Hotel Sablón , which is located on a cliff. Along with lovely views, it offers direct beach access.

Day 3: Ribadesella, Lastres, and Tazones

The next stop on this northern Spain road trip is Ribadesella . It’s also in Asturias, and it takes less than 30 minutes to drive the 20 miles to Ribadesella from Llanes.

Once you arrive, head to the pier where you can take a stroll along the water and through the old town. Check out the Casa de los Ardines, the Casona del Escudo, and the Prieto Cutre Palace, which is now the Town Hall.

Before lunch, I suggest going to Lastres , one of the most beautiful towns in Spain that’s about 20 miles from Ribadesella. It’s known for its steep and narrow streets as well as the Mirador de San Roque, an incredible viewpoint where you can see the town, the sea, and the mountains.

Then, end the day at Tazones , which is less than 20 miles from Lastres. You must walk through the town center and see the iconic shell house (Casa de las Conchas).

  • Recommended accommodation : The Apartamentos Rurales Les Mestes has super cozy rooms in a peaceful area of Tazones.

Day 4: Cangas de Onís and Lakes of Covadonga

To start the fourth day of your northern Spain itinerary , go to Cangas de Onís in Asturias. It’s about 45 miles (1 hour) from Tazones, so I recommend getting up early to maximize your time.

The highlights of this city include the Roman Bridge and the old town, where you can people-watch and relax at a cider house ( sagardotegi ), a staple of Basque Country culture.

Then, go to the Lakes of Covadonga , the most beautiful place in northern Spain to end your trip. The Lakes of Covadonga is one of the best national parks in Spain and home to magnificent natural wonders like the Enol and Ercina Lakes. You must explore this impressive landscape, and if you prefer a guide, I suggest this excursion .

  • Recommended accommodation : I highly recommend staying at the Arcea Gran Hotel Pelayo , which is in the middle of the Picos de Europa National Park and overlooks the stunning Covadonga Cathedral.

7-day northern Spain road trip

A 7-day itinerary through northern Spain is ideal if you want to explore the areas of the Basque Country, Cantabria, and Asturias. You can see my top destinations and recommendations below, but feel free to change things around to suit your travel plans.

Day 1: Hondarribia and San Sebastián

I’d start this trip through the north of Spain in Hondarribia , in the Basque Country. If you have a rental car, you can park it in the lot by the Puerta de Santa María, then walk into the walled city to see landmarks like Plaza del Obispo, Calle Mayor, and Plaza de Armas.

In the afternoon, head to San Sebastián , which is about a 30-minute (15-mile) drive away. San Sebastián is one of the most charming Spanish cities with an impressive town center. It’s also home to some of Spain’s best beaches , including La Concha Beach.

  • Recommended accommodation : The best place to stay in is the Hotel María Cristina , one of the best luxury hotels in Spain . it’s across from the Victoria Eugenia Theater and offers great views of the Cantabrian Sea and the Urumea River.

The next day, take some time to explore the hidden gems of San Sebastián. Walk along Zurriola Beach and go around Monte Urgull. If you follow the Paseo Nuevo and cross the bay, you’ll find Ondarreata Beach and the Peine del Viento sculpture by Spanish artists Eduardo Chillida and Peña Gantxegi.

Afterwards, you can go back to the town center to enjoy some delicious pintxos and Spanish cuisine. This gourmet tour is the best option if you want to try all the typical pintxos of this region.

  • Recommended accommodation : Return to the Hotel María Cristina for a good night’s sleep before continuing your northern Spain road trip .

Day 3: Bilbao

For day three, wake up early and make the drive to Bilbao , one of the best cities in northern Spain . It’s about 65 miles away, so it’ll take about an hour and 15 minutes by car.

Check out the famous Guggenheim Museum and its stunning exterior, which was designed by architect Frank Gehry. It’s also worth browsing the art exhibits inside, so if you plan on visiting, get your ticket in advance.

I also recommend going past the Arenal, La Ribera Market, and the arches of Plaza Nueva. Depending on your interests, it’s worth doing a pintxos tasting or taking this free tour for more insights into the city.

To end your day, you must watch the sunset from the Marzana Pier. It’s a dreamy location where you can spend a romantic evening with your partner and grab a drink.

  • Recommended accommodation : If you can, book a room at the Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao , one of the best 5-star hotels in Spain . It was designed by Spanish architect Javier Mariscal and has an impressive rooftop terrace where you can see the city and its surroundings.

Day 4: Santillana del Mar and Comillas

To start this fourth day of your northern Spain trip , get up early and make your way to Santillana del Mar in Cantabria. It’s 75 miles away, so it’s about a 1.5-hour drive.

Santillana del Mar is a medieval Spanish town with lots of historical and artistic value. You’ll love strolling through its cobblestone streets and past picturesque landmarks like the House of the Marqués de Santillana or the Palace of the Archduchess Margarita of Austria. If you have time, book this free tour (in Spanish) or this guided tour to visit the Altamira Museum and Neocave.

Next, continue your journey by visiting the beautiful town of Comillas , which is about a 20-minute (15-mile) drive away. Don’t miss the most important monuments here like the Plaza de los Tres Caños, the Plaza de la Constitución, the Church of San Cristóbal, and the Capricho Villa by Gaudí.

  • Recommended accommodation : I suggest returning to Santillana del Mar and spending the night at the Parador de Santillana Gil Blas , a modern hotel in the main square.

Day 5: Llanes and Ribadesella

If you spent the night in Santillana del Mar, then you can wake up early and drive to Llanes , Asturias. It’s about 40 miles away, so the drive takes about 45 minutes. Once you reach Llanes, check out the port and see the famous Cubes of Memory along the shoreline. Then, take a walk through the old town, which is a declared Historic-Artistic Site and Asset of Cultural Interest.

Grab some lunch, then drive to Ribadesella , which is just 20 miles from Llanes. You should have enough time to stroll along the pier and see the most famous sights in Ribadesella’s old town.

  • Recommended accommodation : Stay at the Hotel Don Pepe in Ribadesella, a clean hotel with bright and spacious rooms.

Day 6: Cudillero and Luarca

Next, it’s time to visit Cudillero , a must-see area of northern Spain . It’s about 70 miles from Ribadesella, so I suggest getting up early to make the 1 hour and 15-minute drive.

Cudillero is one of the most beautiful towns in Spain and is located on a cliff, so it’s quite scenic. Go up to the La Garita Viewpoint for an amazing perspective of the town, then spend some time exploring the narrow streets of the center. Make your way to the Plaza de la Marina, where you can grab a bite to eat and see the port.

Since Cudillero is pretty small, you should have time to also visit Luarca , which is less than 30 minutes away. This is another charming Spanish town with a bustling port. Take a walk through this small seaside town and discover the Puente del Beso, the Casas de Indianos, and the Gardens of the Fonte Baxa.

  • Recommended accommodation : The Hotel Villa de Luarca is an elegant accommodation with a great location by the town center and the beach.

Day 7: Ribadeo, Playa de las Catedrales, and A Coruña

For the last day of this week-long holiday in northern Spain , go to Ribadeo , which is 30 miles from Luarca and a 30-minute drive away.

One of the sites here that you can’t miss is the Plaza de España. It’s where several iconic buildings and monuments are located, such as the Pazo de Ibáñez and the Torre de los Moreno. Some other places to see in town include the Convent of Santa Clara, the lively port, and the Chapel of San Miguel, which has lovely views.

Also, before leaving Ribadeo, you must visit Playa de las Catedrales , a National Monument and one of the top beaches in Spain . Then, get in the car and head to A Coruña , which is about an hour and a half (95 miles) away.

There are many beautiful things to see in this city, so I suggest taking this free tour (in Spanish) to see as much as possible. You could also visit the historic center on your own and check out popular sites like the Galerías la Marina, the Plaza de María Pita, and the Jardines de Santiago.

  • Recommended accommodation : The NH Collection A Coruña Finisterre has a great location that’s within walking distance of the center and some of the city’s main attractions.

10-day itinerary for northern Spain

With 10 days in northern Spain , you can expand your itinerary to include the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia.

Day 1: San Sebastián

San Sebastián is one of the most beautiful Spanish cities , as well as an excellent starting point for your northern Spain itinerary . Begin your visit with a stroll along Zurriola Beach, then go around Monte Urgull and follow the Paseo Nuevo to Ondarreta Beach. There, you can see the famous Peine del Viento sculpture.

Continue your adventure by walking through the city center and getting lost among the streets, squares, bridges, and historical buildings. To all this, I must add La Concha Beach, one of the best beaches in Spain . I also recommend this gourmet tour , especially if you want to try the most popular pintxos in San Sebastián.

  • Recommended accommodation : Stay at the Hotel María Cristina , one of the best 5-star hotels in Spain that’s across from the Victoria Eugenia Theater. Not only is the inside gorgeous, but you’ll have great views of the Cantabrian Sea and the Urumea River.

Day 2: Bilbao

Bilbao is another city in northern Spain that you can easily explore on foot, and you can see all its main tourist attractions in one day. It’s 65 miles from San Sebastián, so I recommend waking up early to make the one hour and 15-minute drive.

Start your visit to Bilbao with this free tour , or check out the famous Guggenheim Museum . It was built by famed architect Frank Gehry and is known for its floral puppy sculpture out front. If you plan on looking at the art exhibits inside, I suggest getting your ticket in advance.

Afterwards, head toward the estuary and follow it to the Casco Viejo, where you can see the Arriaga Theater. It’s also worth visiting La Ribera Market, the Santiago Cathedral, and Plaza Nueva. Along the way, be sure to stop for delectable pintxos .

  • Recommended accommodation : Stay at the Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao , one of the best 5-star hotels in Spain . It was designed by Spanish architect Javier Mariscal and is in front of the Guggenheim Museum.

Day 3: Castro Urdiales, Faro del Caballo, and Santander

The third day of this northern Spain road trip begins with a visit to Castro Urdiales , a city in Cantabria with beautiful beaches, a lively port, and an interesting old town. It’s just 20 miles from Bilbao, so it’ll only take about a half hour to drive there.

After spending the morning discovering Castro Urdiales, make your way to Santander, stopping at the Faro del Caballo along the way. This picturesque place is located between some seaside cliffs, and it’s about 25 from Castro Urdiales. Be aware that if you make this pitstop and climb the 763 steps of the cliffs, it’ll cut into your time at Santander, which is 30 miles from here.

Regardless of whether or not you take this detour, you should get to Santander with enough time to walk through the Sardinero and enjoy a cold beer at the Cabo Mayor Lighthouse, which offers stunning views.

  • Recommended accommodation : The NH Ciudad de Santander is a simple, clean hotel with a great location, so it’s a good value for your money.

Day 4: Santillana del Mar, Altamira Caves, and Comillas

For day four, I suggest making a stop in Santillana del Mar , where you can see the famous Cuevas de Altamira , one of the most important Paleolithic sites in the world. Santillana del Mar is an intriguing medieval town in northern Spain that’s less than 20 miles from Santander, so it’ll only take a half hour to get there.

Use your time in Santillana del Mar to visit the Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana, Plaza Mayor, and the historic town center, which is characterized by cobblestone streets and small mountain homes. You can either do this free tour to learn more about the city, or this guided tour , which takes you to the Altamira Museum and the Neocave.

Later, make the 20-minute drive to Comillas , one of the most scenic towns in Cantabria. Here, you can see one of the few works by Gaudí that’s outside of Catalonia, the Capricho Villa. Some other highlights of this city include the Sobrellano Palace, the Chapel Pantheon of the Marquises of Comillas, and the historic center, where you’ll find the Fuente de los Tres Caños (the Fountain of the Three Pipes).

I recommend returning back to Santillana del Mar to spend the night.

  • Recommended accommodation : Stay at the Parador de Santillana Gil Blas , a modern hotel located in the main square.

Day 5: Cabezón de la Sal Sequoia Forest, Llanes, and its beaches

If you spent the night in Santillana del Mar, you’ll be less than 20 minutes from the Cabezón de la Sal Sequoia Forest . This is one of the best places to visit in northern Spain , especially for nature lovers, as the redwoods here reach up to 130 feet tall. The route through the forest takes about two hours and is absolutely breathtaking.

After your forest trek, go to Llanes , which is just 30 minutes away. This Asturian city is full of beaches and coves, although it also has a lovely historic center. Take some time to enjoy the coast as well as the interesting monuments and buildings in town.

  • Recommended accommodation : Sleep at the Hotel Sablón , a cliffside accommodation with amazing views and direct beach access.

Day 6: Lakes of Covadonga, Covadonga, and Cangas de Onís

Next, it’s best to get up early so you can make the one hour and 20-minute drive to the Lakes of Covadonga with time to spare. This place is within the Picos de Europa National Park, one of the best national parks in Spain and a must-see during your tour of northern Spain .

This natural wonder is full of pristine landscapes, the glacial lakes of Enol and Ercina, as well as incredible attractions like the Sanctuary of Covadonga. This is where you can take a nature walk, breathe the fresh mountain air, and mingle with the grazing cows.

You can visit the Lakes of Covadonga for free, although I like this guided tour since it starts from Cangas de Onís , another place I recommend visiting. There, you can see the old Roman Bridge and the historic center. It’s full of churches and hermitages, most notably the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption of St. Mary and the hermitage of Santa Cruz.

  • Recommended accommodation : The Arcea Gran Hotel Pelayo is in the middle of the Picos de Europa National Park and offers beautiful views of the Covadonga Cathedral, so it’s the perfect place to rest after a full day.

Day 7: Gijón and Oviedo

The next stop is Gijón , which is about 60 miles away, so get up early to make the 1.5-hour drive. Once you get there, start with a walk along San Lorenzo Beach, then go up to the Cerro de Santa Catalina and see the Elogio del Horizonte sculpture over the water.

Later, check out the Cimadevilla neighborhood, the oldest part of the city with interesting sites like the Palacio de Revillagigedo, Plaza del Marqués, and Plaza Mayor. You can also do this free tour (in Spanish) if you prefer a guided walk through the city.

Depending on how much time you have, you can stop by the port or go to Oviedo , which is about a 30-minute drive away. This city in northern Spain is full of historic attractions like El Fontán Square and the Plaza de la Catedral, where you can see the Cathedral of San Salvador.

I also recommend walking through the city center and looking for the interesting statues of famous figures. For example, on Calle Milicias Nacionales, you’ll find a Woody Allen statue, while San Francisco Park has a statue of the Argentine cartoon character Mafalda. Finally, you can’t leave Oviedo without stopping at La Gascona for delicious cider.

  • Recommended accommodation : The beautiful Gran Hotel España is the best place to stay thanks to its spacious rooms and great location by the city center.

Day 8: Ribadeo and Playa de las Catedrales

Ribadeo should be included in any northern Spain itinerary , so don’t miss it. Make sure you get up early so you can drive the 85 miles to Ribadeo from Oviedo, which will take about 1.5 hours.

Among the many attractions here, the Plaza de España stands out. It’s home to two historical monuments, the Pazo de Ibáñez and the Torre de los Moreno. You should also walk through the streets of the city center to see the Convent of Santa Clara and the Chapel of San Miguel, as well as the port.

There are also excellent lookout points here, such as the Ribadeo Watchtower and the Isla Pancha Viewpoint. That said, you should definitely make time to visit Playa de las Catedrales , one of the best beaches in Spain that’s also a National Monument.

  • Recommended accommodation : Stay at the Hotel Playa de las Catedrales , which faces the Cantabrian Sea and is next to Arealonga Beach. Plus, it’s just a ten-minute walk from Playa de las Catedrales.

Day 9: A Coruña

If you’re leaving from Playa de las Catedrales, then make sure you wake up early enough to make the 1.5-hour drive (95 miles) to A Coruña . This city in northern Spain ’s Galicia region is a must-see, and if it’s your first time here, consider taking this free tour .

If you’re visiting the city on your own, I recommend stopping by the promenade, where you can see the Castle of San Antón and the Sculpture Park of the Tower of Hercules. Another iconic site is the Ciudad Vieja, the old part of the city with some of the best tapas.

You’ll also find some of the best beaches in Galicia here, such as Riazor Beach, a beautiful place in northern Spain to go swimming or sunbathing. Finally, I suggest ending your day with a walk around the port and admiring the amazing views of A Coruña from Monte de San Pedro.

  • Recommended accommodation : The NH Collection A Coruña Finisterre has a great location that’s within walking distance of the city center and main attractions.

Day 10: Santiago de Compostela

The last day of this northern Spain itinerary involves a visit to Santiago de Compostela , which is about 50 minutes from A Coruña by car.

Once you reach the city, consider taking this free tour or exploring the tourist attractions on your own. Of course, one of the sites you must see is the Santiago Cathedral, which is the final destination for pilgrims making the trek along the Camino de Santiago, one of the most important hikes in Spain . You can learn all about the secrets of this church by taking this guided tour .

I also recommend roaming the streets of the old city and walking through the Parque de la Alameda, an urban park full of chestnut, eucalyptus, and oak trees. The Mercado de Abastos is a market that’s been around for over a century, so I suggest stopping by to browse or pick up some products. If you like art, the City of Culture of Galicia is a complex of cultural and artistic buildings that you’ll find interesting.

  • Recommended accommodation : Stay at the Parador de Santiago – Hostal Reis Católicos , a beautiful 15 th -century building next to the Santiago Cathedral. It still has some of its original architecture, as well as two delicious restaurants specializing in Mediterranean and Galician food.

15-day road trip through northern Spain

A 15-day road trip through northern Spain is the perfect opportunity to get to know this area of the country in depth. Here is the route I suggest following:

This 15-day northern Spain itinerary begins in Hondarribia in the Basque Country. I recommend leaving your rental car in the parking lot by the Puerta de Santa María and heading into the city on foot. There, you can visit points of interest like Plaza del Obispo, Calle Mayor, and Plaza de Armas.

After strolling through town, head to San Sebastián , which is about a 30-minute (15-mile) drive from Hondarribia. San Sebastián is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain , as well as where you can see La Concha Beach, one of Spain’s best beaches .

  • Recommended accommodation : Stay at the Hotel María Cristina , one of the best luxury hotels in Spain . It’s across from the Victoria Eugenia Theater and offers great views of the Cantabrian Sea and the Urumea River.

Dedicate day two of your tour through northern Spain by exploring the ins and outs of San Sebastián . I recommend going around Monte Urgull, where you’ll find the Paseo Nuevo. If you follow it to the end, you’ll reach Ondarreta Beach and the famous Peine del Viento sculpture.

Continue your visit by spending some time in the city center, which is full of interesting plazas, bridges, and historical buildings. You also can’t leave San Sebastián without trying the typical pintxos , either by stopping at a café or taking this gourmet tour .

  • Recommended accommodation : Spend another night at the Hotel María Cristina , or book this place for your second night if you didn’t stay here the first night.

On day three, wake up early and head to Bilbao , which is 65 miles from San Sebastián, or about a one hour and 15-minute drive away. This is another city in northern Spain that you can explore on foot, so consider taking this free tour to get to know all the main attractions.

Of course, the crown jewel of Bilbao is the Guggenheim Museum , which is known for its floral puppy sculpture and mesmerizing architecture by Frank Gehry. If you want to go inside the museum and peruse the art collection, I recommend getting your tickets in advance.

Afterwards, follow the estuary to the Casco Viejo (old town), where you can see the Arriaga Theater. Some other cool places in Bilbao include La Ribera Market, the Santiago Cathedral, and Plaza Nueva. Of course, be sure to stop and try some pintxos that are typical to Bilbao.

  • Recommended accommodation : Located by the Guggenheim Museum, the Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao is one of the best 5-star hotels in Spain and has a beautiful structure designed by Spanish architect Javier Mariscal.

Day 4: Santander

The next day, take some time to discover the beautiful city of Santander . This free tour is a great introduction to Santander, although you can also explore the city on your own. If you do, I recommend starting with a little tour around the Magdalena Peninsula, one of the most beautiful places in northern Spain .

For your next stop, head to El Sardinero, one of the most popular beaches in Santander. It’s also worth visiting Mataleñas Beach, where you can admire the lovely views from the Cabo Mayor Lighthouse. Another way to get a panoramic perspective of the area is by taking the Río de la Pila funicular.

End your day with a visit to two iconic places in the city, the Botín Center and the Paseo Marítimo.

  • Recommended accommodation : The NH Ciudad de Santander is a simple hotel, but it’s clean, well-located, and a great value for your money.

Day 5: Santillana del Mar and Comillas

Santillana del Mar is a must-see in northern Spain , so for day five of your itinerary, I suggest heading there. This medieval Spanish town is less than 20 miles from Santander, so it’s only about a 30-minute drive.

The Cuevas de Altamira is the most famous attraction in the city, although you should also check out the Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana, Plaza Mayor, and the historic old town, with its cobbled streets and small mountain homes. If you have time, consider this free tour (in Spanish) or this guided tour to the Altamira Museum and Neocave.

That same day, you can go to Comillas since it’s just 12 miles (20 minutes by car) from Santillana del Mar. This city is home to some beautiful structures, like the Sobrellano Palace, the Chapel Pantheon of the Marqueses de Comillas, and the Fuente de Tres Caños (The Fountain of Three Pipes). This is also where you can see one of the few works by Gaudí outside of Catalonia, the Capricho Villa.

  • Recommended accommodation : Return to Santillana del Mar and spend the night at the Parador de Santillana Gil Blas , a modern hotel in the main square.

Day 6: San Vicente de la Barquera and Cueva del Soplao

The sixth day of this northern Spain itinerary begins in San Vicente de la Barquera in Cantabria, just 25 minutes away. I suggest starting your visit here by crossing the Puente de la Maza and seeing the Convent of San Luis, an iconic landmark in the city.

Then, cross the town and follow Mata Linares Street to Puebla Vieja , or the old town. Here, you can see the Provost Tower and the Palacio de los Corro, which is now the Town Hall. If you have time, you can visit the Castillo del Rey, although I highly recommend seeing the Cueva del Soplao . This impressive rock formation is a must-see in northern Spain, and you can book a guided tour and entry ticket here .

  • Recommended accommodation : Spend another night at the Parador de Santillana Gil Blas , which is very close by.

Day 7: Llanes and Ribadesella

If you spent the night at the Parador de Santillana Gil Blas , you’ll be just 45 minutes from Llanes , Asturias, the next stop on this northern Spain road trip .

Llanes is a city that’s full of lovely beaches and coves, although the historic old town is also worth seeing. In fact, it has been declared an Asset of Cultural Interest and a Historic-Artistic Site, so check it out and be sure to see the Cubes of Memory breakwater rocks.

Then, you can grab something to eat and head to Ribadesella , which is 20 miles away. Take a walk through the port and stroll through the old town, which is super scenic and full of historic structures.

  • Recommended accommodation : The Hotel Don Pepe is a nice place to stay with spacious rooms and a good location.

Day 8: Gijón

For day eight, drive to Gijón , Asturias, which is 40 miles, or about 45 minutes, from Ribadesella. You can start your visit here with this free tour (in Spanish) or by exploring on your own. There are lots of cool places to check out, such as San Lorenzo Beach, the Cerro de Santa Catalina, and the Elogio del Horizonte, a sculpture by the water.

Then, journey into the Cimadevilla neighborhood, the oldest part of the city where you can see Revillagigedo Palace, Plaza del Marqués, and Plaza Mayor. To end the day, go to the port and Poniente Beach, where you can watch one of the most beautiful sunsets in the north of Spain .

  • Recommended accommodation : Hotel Begoña is quite basic, but it’s clean, comfortable, and situated in the heart of the city.

Day 9: Oviedo

Oviedo is another city in northern Spain you can’t miss, and it’s only 30 minutes from Gijón. Among the many attractions here, the Plaza del Fontán, the Plaza de la Catedral, and the Cathedral of San Salvador stand out.

I also suggest going into the city center and looking for some of the interesting statues here, like those of Woody Allen or the Argentine character Mafalda. The former is on Calle Milicias Nacionales, while the latter is in San Francisco Park, another place in Oviedo you should spend some time at.

Moreover, Oviedo is home to three pre-Romanesque churches that you should see: Santa María del Naranco, San Miguel de Lillo, and San Julián de los Prados. If you feel like going shopping, you’ll find all kinds of goodies on Calle Uría, and for the most delicious food, go to La Gascona.

  • Recommended accommodation : The Gran Hotel España is one of the best places to stay. In addition to its spacious, beautiful rooms, it’s close to the city center and several tourist attractions.

Day 10: Cudillero and Luarca

Cudillero is a beautiful Asturian town situated on a cliff, making it one of the best places to visit in northern Spain . It’s about 40 miles from Oviedo, so wake up early in the morning and make the 45-minute drive to this gorgeous city.

Once you arrive, go to the La Garita Viewpoint for a spectacular overview of the town. Then, head down into the city center and walk among the narrow streets as you make your way to Plaza de la Marina. This is one of the liveliest areas of Cudillero with numerous bars and restaurants.

Check out the port, then make the 30-minute drive to Luarca , another lovely city in northern Spain . Here, you can stroll through the town center and see the most popular attractions, such as the Puente del Beso, the Casas de Indianos, and the Jardines de la Fonte Baxa.

  • Recommended accommodation : The Hotel Villa de Luarca is an elegant hotel with a great location by the town center and the beach.

Day 11: Ribadeo and Playa de las Catedrales

Spend the next day visiting Ribadeo , another beautiful city in the north of Spain that’s just 30 minutes from Luarca. Among the many attractions in Ribadeo, you can’t miss Plaza de España, which is where the Pazo de Ibáñez and the Torre de los Moreno are located.

As you walk through the town’s streets, you’ll find other interesting sites like the Convent of Santa Clara and the Chapel of San Miguel. It’s worth going inside the chapel for the views, although you’ll also get a nice perspective of the city from the port.

Also, if you want to capture some amazing photos, go to the Ribadeo Watchtower or the Isla Pancha Viewpoint. Finally, make sure you leave enough time to visit Playa de las Catedrales , a National Monument and one of the best beaches in Spain .

  • Recommended accommodation : Have a good night’s sleep at the Hotel Playa de las Catedrales , which faces the Cantabrian Sea. It’s right next to Arealonga Beach and just a ten-minute walk from Playa de las Catedrales.

Day 12: A Coruña

For day 12, it’s time to visit A Coruña , an incredible area of northern Spain . It’s about 95 miles from Playa de las Catedrales, so get up early and get the 1.5-hour drive out of the way.

In A Coruña, you can take this free tour (in Spanish) to visit some of the city’s highlights and learn more about its history. If you’re touring the city on your own, I recommend starting at the promenade, which leads to the Castle of San Antón and the Sculpture Park of the Tower of Hercules. Also, be sure to check out the Ciudad Vieja (Old Town), where you can stop for yummy tapas.

After lunch, take a walk along Riazor Beach, one of the most picturesque beaches in Galicia. Then, stroll around the port and end your day by watching the sunset from Mount San Pedro.

  • Recommended accommodation : You’ll have a comfortable stay at the NH Collection A Coruña Finisterre , which is just a short distance from the city center and several main attractions.

Day 13: Santiago de Compostela

One of the best places in northern Spain that you must add to your route is Santiago de Compostela , which is a 50-minute drive from A Coruña.

Have fun exploring the city on your own or taking this free tour . Santiago de Compostela is the final stop on the Camino de Santiago, a religious pilgrimage and one of the most important hikes in Spain . The route specifically ends at the Santiago Cathedral, which you can learn more about on this guided tour .

You should also spend some time wandering the streets of the Old City, as well as visiting Alameda Park. I also recommend browsing the Mercado de Abastos, where you can buy fresh Galician cheeses and products. If you’re an art lover, you can’t miss the City of Culture of Galicia, a complex full of contemporary galleries and artistic spaces.

  • Recommended accommodation : Stay at the Parador de Santiago – Hostal Reis Católicos , an old pilgrim accommodation that’s inside a 15 th -century building. It’s next to the Santiago Cathedral and has some original architectural elements as well as a Mediterranean and Galician restaurant.

Day 14: Vigo

People sometimes overlook the city of Vigo , but if you’re taking a 15-day road trip through northern Spain , you’ll have time to visit it. Vigo is 55 miles (one hour) from Santiago de Compostela, so get up early and make your way there in the morning.

You can take this free tour of Vigo to get a general overview of the city and learn more about its top attractions. Some of the most famous places here include the Praza da Constitución, the Mercado da Pedra, the Plaza de los Pescadores, and the Praza do Berbés.

You should also check out the Bouzas neighborhood, a traditional seafaring community. For the best views, go to Mount O Castro, where you can see the entire city and the Cíes Islands.

  • Recommended accommodation : The Hotel Pazo Los Escudos Spa & Beach is one of the best options with a spa and rooms overlooking the ocean and the gardens.

Day 15: Cíes Islands

For the last day of this northern Spain itinerary , take a boat from Vigo and go to the Cíes Islands . You can book this ferry ride , which also includes your permit to access the islands.

These paradisiacal islands are home to Playa de Rodas, one of the best beaches in northern Spain , and the entire world. There are also four awesome trails, so you can find a northern Spain hike to suit your fitness level. The trails are the Cíes Lighthouse (2.1 miles), the Faro da Porta (1.6 miles), the Alto do Príncipe (1.1 miles), and the Faro do Peito (1.6 miles).

Without a doubt, this day out in nature is the best way to end your two-week trip through the north of Spain .

  • Recommended accommodation: Spend another night at the Hotel Pazo Los Escudos Spa & Beach .

Best time to visit the north of Spain

The best time to visit northern Spain is during the spring and autumn months when the temperatures are milder. If you plan on going to some parks or natural areas, the autumn season offers the most stunning colors.

Playa del Silencio, Asturias, beaches in northern spain

That said, the summer weather in northern Spain is more pleasant compared to other areas of the country, so this time of year can also be a good time to visit. You can take advantage of the summer temperatures to enjoy the best beaches in northern Spain .

If you planned on going to the north of Spain in the winter, you still can, although you should be aware that there will be much more precipitation. On the other hand, the prices for flights and hotels will be cheaper.

Main airports in northern Spain and other ways to get there

There are several airports in northern Spain , so you shouldn’t have trouble finding a good place to arrive in the country, regardless of your starting point.

In Galicia :

  • A Coruña Airport
  • Santiago-Rosalía de Castro Airport
  • Vigo Airport

In Asturias :

  • Asturias Airport

In Cantabria :

  • Santander Airport

In the Basque Country :

  • Bilbao Airport
  • San Sebastián Airport
  • Vitoria Airport

To find the best flight deals to the north of Spain , I recommend using Kiwi and Skyscanner . We’ve had the best luck finding cheap flights with Kiwi, and you can even activate price-drop alerts and keep track of the flights that interest you.

How to get around the north of Spain

The easiest way to get around during your northern Spain road trip is by renting a car. We have a complete guide on how to rent a cheap car , although I’ll tell you now that we always use DiscoverCars since they offer the best prices.

Of course, if you don’t want to drive, you won’t have any problems getting around since there are all kinds of tours in northern Spain . You can also get to different towns by train or bus, and I recommend checking Omio and Flixbus for discounted tickets .

Other tips for your road trip through northern Spain

If you’ve decided to take a road trip through northern Spain by car, make sure you calculate the driving times in advance so you can plan your route as accurately as possible. This is particularly important if you’re visiting two towns in one day since you’ll want to spend half the day in one town, then head to the other town and spend the night there.

Remember, there are many beautiful places in northern Spain , and the cities I mentioned are just my recommendations. Feel free to add or replace any attractions that don’t fit your schedule or interests. It’s also important to consider the weather, especially if you’re traveling in the winter. You may need snow tires or chains for the car depending on which area you go to.

Best food in northern Spain, itinerary for north of Spain

Always keep water and some food with you in the car and try to keep your cell phone charged so you can make emergency calls or locate the nearest gas station.

Finally, if you want to enjoy the best food in northern Spain , try to avoid the more touristy areas. When in doubt, ask the locals and they’ll give you some great restaurant suggestions.

That’s it for this guide to the north of Spain ! I hope you feel better prepared to organize your northern Spain itinerary , and that you have the best time exploring this gorgeous part of the country.

If you have any questions, or if you want to share your favorite destinations in northern Spain , leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Have a fantastic trip!

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Northern Spain Tours & Trips

Sweeping coastal views, lush greenery and an inviting culture are just few of the reasons why you should visit Northern Spain. Cities such as A Coruna in Galicia or Madrid, the country's capital city, combine world renowned attractions with off the beaten path spots, turning every visit into an authentic experience. Explore Northern Spain with an adventure to make sure you dont miss a thing.

135 Northern Spain tour packages with 733 reviews

Walk the Camino de Santiago Tour

  • Hiking & Trekking

Walk the Camino de Santiago

The tour was marvelous! Pau was a fabulous CEO. He took care of everything and was a storehouse of information. We were a diverse group of pilgrims all with different needs, and he met them all. Pau is one of the reasons that my walk on the Camino was so fabulous. Thank you!

North Spain Discovery Tour

  • In-depth Cultural

North Spain Discovery

Our tour guide, Carlos Sanchez, took our trip to the next level. He knew every popular bar, restaurant, and pincho! He was attentive to each person's individual wants and needs throughout the entire trip. Because of him, this was one of the best guided tours I've ever been on!

North of Spain & Portugal, 8 days Tour

North of Spain & Portugal, 8 days

Maria was a great guide-experienced and attentive. She interpreted everything for us well. She listened and she worked hard to make the tour a great experience for us.
  • 10% deposit on some dates Some departure dates offer you the chance to book this tour with a lower deposit.

Best of Northern Spain Tour

Best of Northern Spain

Although Igor was ok, the start of the tour gave the impression of weak organization. Why? He said there was a first night meal, but didn't say the guests would be paying. This goes against most other tours I've been on where the first and last night meals are paid by the tour. None of us minds paying, but the guide should have made that clear. So too the last day of the tour in Madrid-- after a long long bus ride, to make us take the metra to our hotel was more than we should have had to put up with. Because it gave us no time in Madrid. Many elderly and one disabled on the tour. Igor was kind and helpful and always attentive, but the tour didn't allow the budget needed for taxis to our hotel.

North of Spain & Portugal from Barcelona Tour

North of Spain & Portugal from Barcelona

Great trip! I enjoyed it. It would have been great if we had stayed a few hours more in Vigo and Salamanca. Other than that, it met my expectations.

Northern Spain Real Food Adventure Tour

  • Food & Culinary

Northern Spain Real Food Adventure

Above my expectations, really good!

Spanish Bliss end Barcelona Tour

Spanish Bliss end Barcelona

I had a reallly good experience

Madrid and North of Spain ( 5 days ) Tour

  • Coach / Bus
  • Sightseeing

Madrid and North of Spain ( 5 days )

Was a great tour with very good tour guides

Northern Spain (Classic, End Barcelona, 11 Days) Tour

Northern Spain (Classic, End Barcelona, 11 Days)

A truly amazing trip!

Walking the Picos de Europa Tour

  • Mountain Hikes

Walking the Picos de Europa

I had a great time on this tour, but there are some treks more difficult than I expected. One guy in our group feel down and broke a rib. Maybe the treks should be graduate again. Apart that, everything else was wonderful. Good hotel , Torrecerredo, with great food and very nice people.Totally recommend. Gustavo

Northern Spain and Galicia from Madrid Tour

Northern Spain and Galicia from Madrid

Good tour but more information required prior to departure. We only found out basics such as itinerary details, were to depart from and specifics after emailing Julia travel direct several times. English spoken by second guide was basic and we missed a lot of info and one optional tour entirety - again that could have been outlined in an email previously so we had information and time to decide on options.
  • €50 deposit on some dates Some departure dates offer you the chance to book this tour with a lower deposit.

Basque Country to Asturias Self-Guided Cycling Tour Tour

Basque Country to Asturias Self-Guided Cycling Tour

it was a wonderful journey. A beautiful route with breathtaking viewpoints. Excellent hotels and good guidance and support from Iberia Tours. Highly recommended!

Premium Northern Spain Tour

Premium Northern Spain

Northern of Spain, Galicia & Portugal (Multi country) Tour

Northern of Spain, Galicia & Portugal (Multi country)

The bus tour surpassed my expectations.

Northern Spain (Classic, End Madrid, 11 Days) Tour

Northern Spain (Classic, End Madrid, 11 Days)

Simon made sure everyone had a great time. He went beyond what was expected. We had the best time there was nothing we could complain a bout. Accommodation great food really good safety great. Other people on the tour fantastic. Best time!

What people love about Northern Spain Tours

Our guide got us safely to Santiago which was a big part of his job. We had a nice group of people on our tour. The leader had good recommendations for restaurants and city tours. However, the guide was very impatient with me when my backpack was missing, and I only found my pack due to my air tags. Gadventures was responsible for moving my pack during the day so I am not sure about the reason for the impatience.
Before I arrived on this tour I thought my highlights would be Barcelona and San Sebastian but honestly, I enjoyed every moment of the holiday! The food and drink in this region is excellent and relatively cheap compared to the UK. You don't spend much time on the tour at the start in Barcelona or at the end in Madrid so I would recommend booking at least an extra night pre/post tour to be able to both great cities. Pamplona has a nice historical old town with some nice walks. San Sebastian is just the place to go to for foodies but is also a nice place in its own right! Logrono is the capital of the La Rioja region so you know you'll get to taste some good wine. I will definitely be coming back to this region! For the tour overall, I felt that we didn't really need 2 nights in Logrono and could have done with either an extra night in San Sebastian to visit Bilbao or a night in Bilbao itself. And that's taking into account the included evening tour of Logrono and the winery tour activities. Beware the 4hr + coach journey from Logrono to Madrid. Our tour leader, Maria Christina did a great job considering that she had to take over at short notice. She organised all our public transport and organised the optional meals, selecting some very decent restaurants. I definitely think she made the trip more enjoyable! I had great fun on this trip and hopefully have made some good friends for life!
Overall very happy! Amazing driver Guillermo made all the difference. I just wish he had a nicer car to drive. This car was not comfy at all. The sights, the itinerary were fantastic. Guide is required, but was not always available.

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The Gap Decaders

North Spain Road Trip: Itinerary, Route & Tips

This post may contain affiliate links, from which we earn an income.

Northern Spain offers an exquisite coastline, breathtaking natural and architectural sights, numerous world-class museums, and exceptional Spanish food.

This Northern Spain road trip itinerary takes you through some of Spain’s most stunning natural scenery, atmospheric coastal towns, and beautiful national parks. You’ll also find plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, cultural experiences at UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and culinary delights.

We traveled from Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela on a motorbike, and in this North Spain road trip guide we share travel tips, the best routes between towns and cities, things to do and see along the way, and hotel recommendations to help you plan your perfect road trip through the north of Spain.

Northern Spain road trip

Getting to Spain

Whether you’re taking a north of Spain road trip in a car, motorcycle, campervan or motorhome, self-driving is absolutely the best way to explore this spectacular part of the Iberian Peninsula.

You can stop whenever you want, try new activities, visit places you see along the route, and have the freedom to change plans at the last minute.

RELATED POST: Driving from UK to Spain – Routes & Tips

Fly into Pamplona Airport to start your roadtrip in northern Spain. If you’re coming from further afield, head to Madrid Barajas International Airport , or Barcelona-El Prat Airport and drive through Spain to Pamplona. It’s easy to add stops along the way and extend your road trip to include both these cities. We recommend booking through Skyscanner for live deals and the best prices.

At the end of this linear road trip, you could head south through Vigo into Portugal and fly out of Porto Airport , or take the fast route back to Madrid in 6 hours, or go via León and Burgos to Pamplona , which takes around 7 hours.

Are you planning to rent a car in Spain? As one of the largest car hire aggregator companies in the world, we recommend Rentalcars.com because they have massive purchasing power which enables them to secure the best car rental prices, which benefits you when you’re planning a roadtrip in Spain.

For a real adventure , hire a motorhome or campervan in Spain. We recommend Motorhome Republic , an aggregate booking site who pull together all the best deals from a number of rental agencies, to offer you a wide choice of options alongside an excellent English speaking expert motorhome Concierge Team.

Use the Park4Night app to find campsites and places to stay along the route, and park for the night on a mountain pass, flower filled meadow of with a glorious view of the sea.

Best Time for a Northern Spain Road Trip

March to may.

Spring is a fantastic time to visit Spain, with temperatures warming up across the country, blooming wildflowers and lush greenery in the mountains, although you can expect a few rainy days – that’s why it’s called Green Spain! You’ll find the roads and cities less crowded, and most attractions will be open.

June to August

In summer, Northern Spain enjoys beautiful weather and the prospect of outdoor adventures and activities. It’s not as hot as in southern Andalucia , but still warm enough to swim in the sea and eat al fresco.

September to November

Autumn is a fantastic time for a Spanish trip . The grapes and crops are being harvested, food festivals celebrate the bounty of the land, and you might enjoy an Indian summer, with the fall colors of the vines aflame.

December to February

The winter months in northern Spain can be very cold. Most people travel here during this time for winter sports, with the northern region experiencing the most snow and rain in Spain. It’s not the best time for a road trip, as the roads can be challenging to drive.

Woman with blonde hair in motorbike clothes overlooking a sandy beach with turquoise water.

Is this your first time visiting Spain? Get all the information you need in our Spain Travel Guide , including what to pack, the best time of year to go, getting there, and practical tips to help you have the best trip!

North Spain Road Trip Map & Route

The starting point for our eight day Northern Spain ultimate road trip  itinerary is Pamplona in Navarre province. The route heads west along the Cantabrian Coast, hitting all the top spots, highlights, and must-sees along the way.

You’ll pass through the autonomous communities of the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia, each with their own unique history, culture and tradition.

We’ve added a couple of side trips which need a bit of extra driving, but really enhance this itinerary if you have a few extra days.

  • Get the Travel Guides
  • DK Eyewitness Northern Spain
  • Insight Guides Northern Spain
  • Lonely Planet Spain

Northern Spain Road Trip Itinerary

Pamplona – San Sebastián – Bilbao – Santander – Llanes – Oviedo – Lugo – A Coruña – Santiago de Compostela

  • Distance 900km
  • Duration 8-10 days
  • Drive Time 10 hours

How to use this map – Use your fingers (or computer mouse) to zoom in and out. Click or touch the icons to get more info about a place, and click the arrow in the box top left to open the index. To add to your own Google Maps account, click the star next to the title of the map.

Day 1: Pamplona to San Sebastian

The first day of your Basque country road trip starts in Pamplona and ends in the seaside town of San Sebastián.

Pamplona 

Start your northern Spain road trip in Pamplona , a charming city known for its rich history, stunning architecture, and lively atmosphere.

Walk along Pamplona’s 16th century walls to see breathtaking city views and the adjacent countryside. From there, make your way to the Plaza del Castillo. The square is in the middle of the city, surrounded by historic buildings, cafés, and shops, perfect for buying all those Spanish souvenirs !

A short walk from the square, you can find other landmarks;

  • Monumento al Encierro: a bronze sculpture depicting participants in Pamplona’s iconic annual bull run which takes places during the San Fermín Festival .
  • Pamplona Cathedral : A magnificent Gothic building with stained glass windows, ornate altars, and a museum that houses some of the cathedral’s most precious treasures.
  • Plaza de Toros de Pamplona: Pamplona’s bullring (established 1922) which is currently used for bullfighting and other sporting events.

A great way to see the city is by taking a Pamplona city walking tour . You’ll walk the route of the festival of San Fermín, discover Hemingway’s favorite places as he wrote The Sun Also Rises , and learn about the historic significance of the city.

Enjoy the local cuisine at Verduarte or Restaurante Kabo for a Michelin-starred lunch.

If you want your Spanish road trip to coincide with Pamplona’s annual Running of the Bulls Festival , which takes place on 7th-14th July , you will need to book accommodation at least a year in advance .

San Sebastián

Approximately 51 miles north of Pamplona is the beautiful seaside city of San Sebastián , which boasts stunning beaches, a rich cultural heritage, and exceptional cuisine fresh from the sea. On your way there, stop at Azpirotzeko Behatokia, an observation deck with beautiful views of the mountainous surroundings.

Spend a couple of hours on La Concha Beach . This stunning crescent-shaped beach is close to Santa Clara Island and famous for its clear waters and picturesque architecture. For exquisite views of San Sebastián’s old town and the bay, walk up Mount Urgull or take the funicular to the top. 

History enthusiasts will appreciate the San Telmo Museum in a beautiful 16th century convent. It features many exhibits, including art, artifacts, and interactive displays.

If you prefer something more hands-on, participate in this highly-rated gastronomy tour and cooking class to learn about the local ingredients and traditional Basque cooking techniques.

Enjoy a twist on traditional Spanish pintxos (tapas on bread with a toothpick piercing the middle to hold it all together) at Mendaur Berria or go to Trikuharri Taberna Jatetxea – don’t be fooled by the exterior, the food is amazing!

  • Where to Stay in San Sebastián

Upmarket: Akelarre Relais & Châteaux – Booking.com | Agoda

Mid-Range: Boulevart Donostia – Booking.com | Agoda

Budget: Pensión Amara – Booking.com | Agoda

A busy Spanish pedestrian street with five and six story historic buildings on either side.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Side Trip

Between San Sebastián and Bilbao is the dramatic island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, jutting out into the Bay of Biscay. It may remind you of somewhere you’ve seen before, and you’d be right if you’re a Game of Thrones fan – San Juan de Gaztelugatxe doubled as the island fortress of Dragonstone, which featured in season 7 of the blockbuster show. 

The island is connected to the mainland by a man-made stone bridge that contains 241 steps and snakes its way to the highest point of the promontory. Once at the top of the island, you will find the chapel with a bell on its facade which you should ring three times and make a wish, although we’re not sure it works as our wishes didn’t come true!

With a back story which includes being used as a defence against the King of Castile, Alfonso XI, and being attacked by Sir Francis Drake and his pirates, this raw and wild spot deserves its place in history.

To get here will add another hour and 20 minutes onto the drive time for the day, or you can take a Game of Thrones day trip from Bilbao and see this and the other nearby GOT filming sites; Muriola Beach in Barrika which played the part of King’s Landing beach, and Itzurun beach in Zumaia, which became Dragonstone beach.

Small island with a church reached by a long walled staircase

Day 2: San Sebastián to Bilbao

The second day of your eight day itinerary is filled by only one place: the vibrant and exciting coastal city of Bilbao.

About 63 miles west of San Sebastián is Bilbao . You need a full day in this modern, vibrant city known for its outstanding cuisine, marvelous architecture, and world-class museums. 

When in Bilbao, explore the iconic Guggenheim Museum with this skip-the-line guided tour . Designed by Frank Gehry, this museum is located by the waterfront in the Abandoibarra district. The city’s most iconic landmark boasts an impressively modern and contemporary art collection.

The museum’s exterior is something to behold, with its curves and titanium cladding reflecting the light, emulating fish scales, and huge sculptures dotted around, like Puppy by Jeff Koons.

Explore the rest of Bilbao’s old town, Casco Viejo . It offers charming squares, shops, and historic buildings. Visit the Gothic Cathedral of Santiago in the city center, replete with stunning stained glass windows and ornate altars.

Take Artxanda’s Cable Car, which is actually a funicular railway, up Mount Artxanda, one of Bilbao’s most emblematic spots which offers stunning city views and the surrounding countryside.

End the day with a delicious meal at Il Basilico , or if you’re die hard carnivore visit Sugarra in the Uribarri neighborhood for their Kamado grilled T-bone steak.

  • Where to Stay in Bilbao

Mid-Range: Radisson Collection Bilbao – Booking.com | Agoda

Budget: Casual Arriaga Guest House – Booking.com | Agoda

a contemporary building on a riverside with a spider sculpture outside

Don’t forget your road trip essentials! Our free road trip checklists help you remember everything, including road trip snacks , podcasts , and road trip songs for the journey!

Day 3: Bilbao to Santander

The third day of this northern Spain trip lets you explore Laredo and Santander, as you move into Cantabria.

If you made an early start this morning, make a stop at Castro Urdiales , a charming seaside town. Perched on a hill jutting into the sea are the city’s main landmarks, the Gothic Church of Santa María, the medieval castle of Santa Ana, and the Hermitage of Santa Ana, all of which are worth a visit.

From here, drive 25 minutes west to the charming coastal town of Laredo , nestled between the Treto estuary and Santoña bay in the province of Cantabria. 

Visit the beautiful La Salvé Beach, at 5km it is one of the longest beaches in the region. Here you can enjoy golden sand, clear waters, and activities like surfing and windsurfing, and then take a walk on the Paseo de la Costa promenade for scenic views of the Bay of Biscay.

Explore the narrow streets of Laredo’s old town to see historic buildings and landmarks, including the magnificent Gothic church of Santa María de la Asunción. If you travel through Laredo during August you can enjoy the colorful Battle of the Flowers Festival, and in September the Fiestas de la Virgen del Puerto includes parades and live music concerts.

Laredo is known for its traditional seafood dishes, like marmita de bonito (tuna stew) and chipirones en su tinta (squid in ink). Try these for lunch at Restaurante La Viña de Laredo or El Pescador .

A short drive, 29 miles from Lardeo, is the capital of the Cantabria region, Santander . En route there, stop at Parque Mitológico de Mina Pepita (Mina Pepita Mythological Park). The park offers stunning geological formations and sculpture installations representing Cantabria’s most iconic mythological characters.

Once in Santander, visit the Palacio de la Magdalena. This early 20th century palace, built initially for the Spanish royal family, sits atop a hill offering scenic city views.

Other notable architectural landmarks to explore are Santander Cathedral in the city center and the majestic Palacio Real de La Magdalena . 

Nature lovers will enjoy walking through the lovely Jardines de Pereda, home to various plant and flower species. Or you can go to Playa del Sardinero, where you can swim, sunbathe, and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Cantabrian anchovies are famous the world over, and just along the coast from Santander is Santoña, a fishing port that produces canned anchovies in olive oil – those cute colorful little tins you see all over Spain and Portugal.

Spend a delightful morning taking a boat trip to the fishing village of Santoña , learning about the history of fishing here and visiting an anchovy factory, where you get to try this deliciously salty fish.

Explore the traditional market, Mercado del Este, for fresh produce, seafood, and other local specialties, or treat yourself to dinner at La Gruta De Jose with its captivating, cave-like interior, or El Serbal for excellent sea views and a Michelin-star menu.

  • Where to Stay in Santander

Upmarket: Hotel Real – Booking.com | Agoda

Mid-Range: Soho Boutique Palacio de Pombo – Booking.com | Agoda

Budget: Plaza Pombo B&B Hostel – Booking.com | Agoda

A long sandy beach with a small pier

Make sure you have travel insurance you can trust when visiting Spain. We recommend True Traveller for their 5-star TrustPilot reviews, variety of cover options, best activities cover as standard, great prices, and excellent service.

Day 4: Santander to Llanes

The fourth day of the itinerary offers the historic Santillana del Mar and Llanes in Asturias.

Santillana del Mar

Santillana del Mar is a picturesque medieval town less than half an hour’s drive from Santander. It is known for its well-preserved historic buildings, charming cobblestone streets, and beautiful surroundings.

Santillana del Mar is often called the town of the three lies or el pueblo de las tres mentiras ; it’s not holy (santi), flat (llana) nor by the sea (del mar) .

The most significant landmark in Santillana del Mar is the Altamira Caves on the city’s outskirts. These prehistoric caves are UNESCO World Heritage Sites containing the first human cave paintings. 

Due to their delicate nature, access is limited. Still, a cave replica is available to visit at the Altamira Museum. The museum also holds other exhibitions dedicated to the history and culture of the Cantabrian region.

Visit the impressive Romanesque church, Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana, closer to the town center. The church features a stunning abbey and beautiful stained glass windows.

If you are fascinated by the medieval era, plan your trip to Santillana del Mar for July. During this time, the town comes alive with knights, musicians, and medieval performers during the annual Medieval Festival.

End your day with a delicious meal at Restaurante Gran Duque or El Bisonte Rojo. 

About 31 miles from Santillana del Mar, stop at Bufones de Santiuste . The bufones (blowholes) are a natural phenomenon created by limestone erosion caused by rain and the sea. This erosion forms cracks in the stone, almost like a chimney, through which water shoots up in the air. These jets of water can reach up to 30 meters high!

Upon arrival in Llanes , visit the Basilica de Santa Maria del Concejo or the Llanes Museum – both in the city center. Afterward, walk along the scenic Paseo de San Pedro, which offers stunning coastline views and the town’s historic buildings.

Watch the sunset while relaxing on Playa de Toró beach, one of the most popular beaches in Llanes. Enjoy some cuisine, including arroz con bogavante (lobster rice) and fabada asturiana , a hearty bean stew made with chorizo, morcilla, and pork belly, at Mirador de Toro or Restaurante La Marina .

  • Where to Stay in Llanes

Upmarket: Silken Spa La Hacienda De Don Juan – Booking.com | Agoda

Mid-Range: Don Paco – Booking.com | Agoda

Budget: Hotel Sablón – Booking.com | Agoda

A cobbled street lined b stone buildings and balconies with red flowers

Picos de Europa Side Trip

This is the perfect point in your north Spain road trip to explore the small but perfectly formed Picos de Europa, so called because they were the first landmark to be seen by sailors of old on approaching the continent.

The Picos are a miniature masterpiece wedged between three great river gorges. 40km across with the highest peak of Torre de Cerredo at 2650m, the Picos de Europa National Park is home to fabulous hiking amongst the tortuous landscape, shaped by millennia of ice and water, unique wildlife like the bearded vulture, and breathtaking views everywhere you look.

The drive up to Covadonga is one of the most scenic drives in northern Spain, but if driving into the mountains isn’t for you, pick up a Picos Mountains day trip from Cangas de Onís , and relax whilst someone else drives and you admire the scenery!

A mirror lake in the Picos mountains

Day 5: Llanes to Oviedo

The fifth day of your Asturias road trip takes you through Colunga and ends the day in Oviedo. 

About 27 miles west of Llanes is the small town of Colunga , known for its beautiful beaches, charming old town, and striking natural surroundings. 

Before arriving in Colunga, make a stop at Ribadesella for the Tito Bustillo Cave, discovered in 1968, which contains 25,000-year-old Paleolithic rock art, perfectly preserved after the cave’s original entrance collapsed thousands of years ago, and only discovered in 1968.

Once in Colunga, start by visiting the Jurassic Museum of Asturias to explore the history of dinosaurs through life-size models, fossils, and interactive displays.

Follow it up with a visit to the 17th century Chapel of San Roque and the 13th century Church of Santa Maria, which offers magnificent Gothic architecture. Both churches can be found near the city center.

Venture slightly out of the center to relax on Playa de la Griega beach or take on one of Colunga’s several hiking trails. 

The Ruta de las Xanas trail, named after the mythical creatures said to inhabit the area, offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside as you hike a gorge cut into the rock where stalactites from old caves are exposed.

If you venture further out, you can explore Sierra del Sueve, an incredible Cantabrian mountain range, on foot or by bicycle to experience breathtaking views.

En route to Oviedo , stop at Restaurante Feleches (just off the A64) for a hearty local lunch. 

Oviedo is the capital of the Asturias province and has much to offer visitors. An excellent introduction to the city is a walk along the Oviedo City Walls, dating back to the 9th century, to see incredible views of the town and its surrounding countryside.

Visit the Gothic Cathedral of San Salvador, which features stunning stained glass windows and an impressive altarpiece. Keep to the tune of the arts and explore the Museum of Fine Arts of Asturias , which boasts art from local and international artists, including Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. 

Explore the beautiful San Francisco Park and see if you can find the statue of Mafalda, created by Argentine graphic humorist Joaquín Salvador Lavado Tejón.

Walk through Oviedo’s historic center towards the Plaza del Fontán. Here you will find a lively square with a traditional market where you can sample great local cheeses, cured meats, and other local delicacies. 

Alongside all that fantastic produce, Oviedo is also the home of Spanish cider. You’ll find traditional sidrerias along Calle Gascona, known as cider boulevard.   Visit in September for  Fiestas de San Mateo , a live theatre and music spectacular, and if you go in October, you’ll be in the middle of the Asturias apple harvest.

Outdoor enthusiasts will love the opportunity to canoe the nearby Nalón river , surrounded by the natural beauty of Asturias. With a little white water to get your adrenalin pumping, and calmer stretches to relax and enjoy, this is the perfect antidote to hours behind the wheel!

If you still have space for dinner, treat yourself to the Michelin-star Cocina Cabal . For a cheaper alternative, yet loved by the locals, try Meson El Viso .

  • Where to Stay in Oviedo

Upmarket: Gran Hotel Las Caldas – Booking.com | Agoda

Mid-Range: Barceló Oviedo Cervantes – Booking.com | Agoda

Budget: Gran Hotel España – Booking.com | Agoda

A creamy stone church with intricate carvings and wrought iron gates

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Day 6: Oviedo to Lugo

The sixth day of the northern Spain itinerary offers Gijón and the historic town of Lugo. 

Travel 30 minutes to Gijón , a beautiful coastal town with stunning natural landscapes. You can experience the local flora at the Jardín Botánico Atlántico , the Atlantic Botanic Garden, or by hiking in the Monte Deva Natural Park, which offers stunning views of the city and the sea. 

Stroll along the Playa de San Lorenzo (San Lorenzo Beach), a beautiful sandy beach with crystal-clear waters and stunning sea views, before continuing to Lugo.

Just after Ribadeo as you head west along the coast, stop at the breathtaking La Playa de las Catedrales , or in the local Galician dialect, Praia das Catedrais.

This natural monument is located on the Cantabrian Ridge, a flat surface located between the Cantabrian Sea and the mountainous foothills, which generates a type of linear coastline where the formation of beaches at the foot of cliffs and sandbanks is common.

The beach is also known as As Catedrais and is a must-see on any Northern Spain road trip itinerary. Try and time your visit with a low tide , so you can explore the narrow corridors between the cliffs, cracks, and caves and pass under its huge arches.

The trip from Gijón to Lugo is the longest on this itinerary, covering 153 miles as you cross from Asturias into Galicia. Stop halfway at Restaurante San Miguel in Ribadeo for a great lunch and a view. 

After the drive to Lugo, you will appreciate the opportunity to stretch your legs. Walk along Lugo’s well-preserved Roman walls, which date back to the 3rd century and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From the top of the walls, you can enjoy beautiful city views.

Some other highlights of the old town include the Romanesque 12th century Cathedral of Santa María, the even older 10th century Igrexa de San Pedro, and the busy Plaza Mayor, which is lined with cafés, shops, and restaurants.

Museo Provincial de Lugo , or Provincial Museum, is dedicated to regional archaeology and art. The museum was established in 1932 but has been in its present location, the former San Francisco convents, since 1957.

Afterward, dine at Las Cinco Vigas or La Pizzeria di Toto for the best pizza in town.

If you are in Lugo during June, see if you can experience the annual Arde Lucus festival, which celebrates the town’s Roman heritage. 

  • Where to Stay in Lugo

Upmarket: Hotel Monumento Pazo de Orbán – Booking.com | Agoda

Mid-Range: Hotel Forum Ceao – Booking.com | Agoda

Budget: Hotel Mendez Nuñez – Booking.com | Agoda

rock formations on the beach in northern Spain

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Day 7: lugo to a coruña.

The seventh day of your Galician road trip lets you visit Betanzos and the beautiful A Coruña.

Northwest of Lugo is the small town of Betanzos , located in the province of A Coruña. 

Betanzos has a charming and historic town center with many narrow streets, old buildings, and historical landmarks such as the Church of Santa María del Azogue. Visit the Museo das Mariñas in an old convent to explore Galician art, crafts, and objects related to the town’s history.

Take a relaxing walk along the river Mandeo to see the Ponte Viejo , or old bridge, or stroll through the Jardines del Pasatiempo, a park designed in the 19th century with an exciting layout of hidden paths, sculptures, and fountains. Go for lunch at A Artesa da Moza Crecha .

Betanzos hosts several festivals throughout the year, so see if you can catch the Medieval Festival in July and the Festa de San Roque (patron saint festival) in August.

A Coruña is a beautiful city just half an hour from Betanzos. Start your visit with a trip to the Tower of Hercules , a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the world’s oldest working lighthouse (built in the 1st century) and offers stunning views of the city and the ocean.

For more scenic views, walk through the tranquil San Carlos Gardens or bike along A Coruña’s seafront promenade, the Paseo Marítimo. While at the coast, catch an hour or two of the sun at a beach – both Playa del Orzán and Playa de Riazor are good options. 

A Coruña ‘s most famous product is Estrella Galicia, a delicious blonde beer beloved in Spain. Visit MEGA Estrella Galicia , a beer museum within Estrella Galicia’s brewery in A Coruña to learn the history, origins, and traditions of this famous beer, and get to pull your own draught beer.

End the day at Pulpeira de Lola la Antigua de Melide (their octopus is a must-try menu item) or Terreo Cocina Casual for a Michelin-starred experience.

  • Where to Stay in A Coruña

Upmarket: NH Collection A Coruña Finisterre – Booking.com | Agoda

Mid-Range: Attica21 Coruña – Booking.com | Agoda

Budget: Hostal La Provinciana – Booking.com | Agoda

A large square lighthouse lit up at night

Want to plan your own road tri p? Get our step-by-step road trip planning guide to help you organize the perfect trip, or check out our Europe road trip ideas .

Day 8: A Coruña to Santiago de Compostela

The final day of the northern Spain trip is spent in Santiago de Compostela before you head on to your next destination or set homeward. 

Approximately 45 miles south of A Coruña is Santiago de Compostela , a gorgeous city famous for being the end of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. It is thus fitting that it is also the final destination on this northern Spain itinerary. 

Even if you’re not a pilgrim, you can still walk a section of the Camino de Santiago and become a pilgrim for the day. This highly rated semi-guided walk of the Camino de Santiago takes you lets you experience arriving in Santiago like a pilgrim, seeing your first view of the Cathedral from Monte do Gozo , the Mount of Joy, and walking the last 4 miles / 7km on the French Way, one of the most important pilgrimage routes in Christianity.

Once in the city, you should visit the beautiful Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, the city’s most iconic landmark and an important pilgrimage site for Catholics. Anyone can admire the Romanesque and Gothic architecture, with its grand façade, stunning interior, and a crypt containing the tomb of St. James.

Galicia is famous for its delicious seafood, and mussels are a particular specialty. Grab our recommended boat trip and winery tour and explore the south Galician rivers and ancient villages famous for wine, with delicious fresh mussels and local Spanish wine to sample onboard.

  • Where to Stay in Santiago de Compostela

Upmarket: A Quinta Da Auga Hotel Spa Relais & Chateaux – Booking.com | Agoda

Mid-Range: Parador de Santiago de Compostela – Booking.com | Agoda

Budget: Hotel A Tafona do Peregrino – Booking.com | Agoda

A woman by a large motorbike outside an historic city centre hotel in Spain

Spanish Road Trip Resources

Here are the websites and services we personally use and recommend for traveling in Spain.

  • Search for affordable flights to Spain with Skyscanner
  • Search for availability and book hotels and accommodation in Spain with Booking.com
  • Find and book the best campsites in Spain with Eurocampings
  • Book the cheapest and most reliable hire cars in Spain with Rentalcars.com
  • Find and hire your perfect motorhome or campervan with Motorhome Republic
  • Get highly rated, reliable, and trustworthy travel insurance with True Traveller
  • Check if you need a visa and arrange your documents with Visagov

Driving in Northern Spain

Touring northern Spain by car is easy, with a good network of Autovias (A) and Autopistas (AP). The latter were toll roads until 2020 when many (but not all) became toll-free.

Fuel and parking are some of the cheapest in Europe making Spain a really cost-effective place to take a road trip. 

Whether you’re driving your own vehicle or you’re in a rental car for your road trip in northern Spain follow our driving in Spain tips;

  • You must have at least three months remaining on your passport (issued in the past ten years) at your intended date of departure from Spain.
  • You must have at least 3rd party insurance for your vehicle.
  • Citizens of non-EU third countries may require an IDP, you can check here .
  • You must carry two warning triangles for the front and rear. These warning triangles are now being phased out and from 1st July 2021, a new law requires that a V16 flashing emergency light is used, although both means of advising other traffic will be legal until the end of 2024.
  • You must also carry a reflective jacket (for the driver and all passengers) and a spare wheel and the tools to change a wheel or a tire repair kit.  
  • If you wear glasses you must also carry a spare pair in the vehicle.
  • The use of winter tires in Spain is regional. Look out for traffic signs indicating that winter tires or snow chains are compulsory where you are.
  • Anything with a screen (television, video, DVD, etc.) which could distract you when driving should be positioned where you can’t see it. This doesn’t apply to a sat nav but you must not touch or program your sat nav unless parked in a safe place.
  • Using radar detection equipment is prohibited under Spanish law and new regulations from January 2021 mean that it will also be illegal to be in possession of such equipment .
  • On roads with single carriageways, the speed limit established may not be exceeded by more 20km/h when overtaking

RELATED POST: Driving in Europe – Everything You Need to Know

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The ultimate road trip in Northern Spain - a 10 day Itinerary

Stretching along the Atlantic Coast from Portugal to France and inland over the lush Pyrenees Mountains, Northern Spain is a sight to behold. Remarkably, however, this region of Spain is often overlooked in favour of more popular city breaks in Barcelona and Madrid , leaving the northern cities of Bilbao and San Sebastián almost entirely to the locals. Ditch the Mediterranean for the Atlantic however and you’re sure to be glad, exploring any number of quaint coastal villages by car, driving through rolling hills scattered with vineyards, lake scenery, hiking trails and more. Read on for Mr Hudson’s ultimate 10-day Northern Spain itinerary.

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northern spain trip

Bilbao | Photo: Jorge Fernández Salas

Northern Spain

Touring the north of Spain by car is a joy, allowing you to see many of the lesser-known towns and villages dotting both coast and countryside. Besides Bilbao and San Sebastián, other places in Northern Spain worth checking out include Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria, but make sure to also tour the Basque Country to get a wider taste of regional cuisine and cultural traditions. Many of the best Spanish dishes were invented in the north, including the popular tapas dishes of pulpo a la gallega, aka Galician octopus, and cured chistorra sausage, owing to the region’s position on the Atlantic as well as its long-standing agriculture.

As well as eating your way through the region, vacations in Northern Spain can unfold on the beaches or even deep in the countryside at one of many wine country hotels. Our ultimate road trip Northern Spain skirts the Atlantic border passing through the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia.

The Best Time to Visit Northern Spain

A well-thought-out North Spain itinerary will take into account the travel season. Both rain and extremely hot weather are possible in the region, affecting what mischief you can get up to. Northern Spain in summer (particularly July and August) is considered the best for Atlantic getaways, in towns and cities such as Santiago de Compostela, Oviedo, Santander and San Sebastián, all offering full days of sunshine with the least amount of rain. Spring in these areas runs the risk of rain, while winter can be a little too chilly for the beach, but if indoor cultural venues appeal, winter is still great for museum touring and eating!

While summer is most likely to see warm and dry weather, the same is not uncommon from June to late November. Bear in mind that temperatures can get more unpredictable to later into fall you arrive and, if hiking in the Pyrenees and Picos de Europa, you should pack for cooler weather (even in summer) as there are micro-climates at higher elevation.

northern spain trip

Photo: Pedro Sanz

northern spain trip

Photo: LisboaInd

The Basque Country

Known by many names – Basques as Euskadi, Euskal Herria and El Pais Vasco in Spanish – The Basque region Spain is also one of many landscapes, varying from verdant peaks to rocky Atlantic coves. Within its clutches lie the cities of Bilbao, Vitoria and San Sebastián, as well as numerous towns and villages, all making for perfect jumping-off points into the wilderness. Of the smaller towns, Hondarribia (Fuenterrabía in Spanish) deserves a mention, hosting a cobblestone square lined with Basque houses, a Parador hotel and local church beside swimmable rivers that flow to France. Onwards from Hondarribia, there’s the small fishing village of Getaria on the Bay of Biscay. Wash down the freshest seafood with a local pouring of Txacoli wine, whiling an afternoon at the Balenciaga Museum or on a wine tour of the area (also bookable as a day tour from San Sebastián).

Day 1 - Basque Country: San Sebastián

Hosting one of the more well-connected North Spain airports and an easy starting point for your road trip is the city of San Sebastián. Here you can hire your vehicle direct from the airport, driving just 20 kilometres to the city centre to arrive at your coastal accommodation. The beaches of San Sebastián are renowned across the country as is the food, which has been awarded the most Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in Spain. Work up an appetite with a 2-kilometre walk along La Concha Promenade passing 3 separate urban beaches (Concha, Ondarreta and Zurriola), before coming back to town to enjoy specialty pintxos; the region’s own take on tapas.

Later in the afternoon you can see the architecture of the Old Town from prime position at one of the many traditional bars, or, if you’re feeling active, hop on the funicular railway for inspiring bay views atop Monte Igueldo. Discover more things to do in San Sebastián before moving on.

northern spain trip

San Sebastian | Photo: Ultrash Ricco

Day 2 - Basque Country: Bilbao

The largest city in Northern Spain and our next stop is Bilbao, around 2 hours 40 minutes’ drive from San Sebastián. To break the trip up, however, we’ll stop halfway in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a town popular for its appearances in Game of Thrones and often busy because of it (especially on public holidays). Stretch your legs on the 3-kilometre round trip hike, passing a number of fortified viewpoints and ending at a monastery where you can take turns to ring the bell for luck.

From there it’s one more hour in the car to Bilbao, where you can finally fill up on lunch at the Mercado de la Ribera, a fine introduction to the city’s foodie scene. A post-industrial city, Bilbao has fast become a cultural mecca, following the creation of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim which blazed the trail for arts and architecture in the region. Take a guided tour or save more time for other cultural attractions such as the Philippe Starck cultural centre based within an old wine cellar, or hopping on Norman Foster’s futuristic metro to quickly pass through the old town to the riverside and the Santiago Calatrava Bridge. With more time, check out all the other things to do in Bilbao .

Plaza Nueva Bilbao

Plaza Nueva, Bilbao | Photo: Kerry Murray

northern spain trip

Photo: Logan Weaver

A small-scale region next to Asturias, Cantabria offers a taste of everything, including sunny beaches, fishing villages and blustery cliffs that lead to inland mountains and valleys. The capital of Cantabria is Santander, though Santillana del Mar and Comillas both bring medieval and modernist allure. Archaeology lovers may also wish to see the prehistoric cave art in Altamira, El Castillo and Covalanas, the latter also hosting mountain ranges that lead to Picos de Europa.

Day 3 - Bilbao to Santander

With about a week in Spain left, we enter Cantabria on its east side, passing through the seaside village of Castro Urdiales where the gothic church, stunning beaches and Roman intrigue will almost certainly have you pulling over. Then, around halfway to Santander (with 50 kilometres to go), Comillas may also appeal, a former whaling town turned historic fishing village full of peaceful plazas and beaches.

Enjoy the rest of the hilly, green drive to Santander, waving at stumpy monchino horses and marvelling at vintage stone farmhouses, finally arriving in Santander for a late lunch. Since the Centro Botin museum was built here, Santander (like Bilbao) has seen a change of fate, now an artsy town and popular summer destination. Most of the action in Santander takes place on the coast, near the likes of El Sardinero Beach, Playa de Los Peligros, Playa de Los Bikinis and Playa del Puntal. Take surfing lessons, follow the coastal path to Cabo Mayor Lighthouse, or head straight for a feast at Mercado de la Esperanza, passing by the cathedral which is actually two Gothic churches built atop each other.

northern spain trip

Santander | Photo: Willian Justen de Vasconcellos

Along a stretch of almost 200 beaches, the road will take you through the colourful fishing ports of Ribadesella and Cudillero, with optional detours into the Picos de Europa and its valleys

As green as its neighbours with a coastline just as dramatic, Asturias is said to be the real Spain as it was the only part of the country never to be conquered by the Islamic Arabs in 700 AD. Along a stretch of almost 200 beaches, Northern road trips Spain will take you through the colourful fishing ports of Ribadesella and Cudillero, with optional detours into the Picos de Europa and its valleys. For the region’s pre-Romanesque architecture, it’s Oviedo that wins out as the cultural capital while Covadonga was the site of the first Spanish nation around 1,300 years prior.

Day 4 - Cantabria to Asturias

Day four has us happily lost in Asturias, stopping by a number of destinations before settling on a favourite for the night. Of your options, there’s Santillana del Mar for medieval streets and Renaissance palaces away from the coast, while you can also think about visiting the caves of Altamira before settling (possibly) on Llanes for the night. If passing back through Comillas, consider the fairy-tale house of El Capricho, designed by Gaudi in stained glass and wrought-iron to whimsical effect.

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Asturias | Photo: Carlos Urteaga Pintado

Day 5 - Asturias: Llanes

So, you’ve arrived in the tiny town of Llanes to find medieval magic at every corner. Move through town on foot to catch the best sights, careful not to fell the crumbling walls or waylay busy fisherman at the bustling harbour. Walk the waterways to eventually reach the town’s beaches, most notably Playa de Tóro, Playa del Sablon and Playa de Puerto Chico. Visitors who have rented cars in Spain can also venture further out to the snorkelling beach of Playa de Toranda, or surfer paradise of Playa de San Antolín among others.

Higher up above the Bay of Biscay, another walk awaits, namely the Paseo de San Pedro which runs along the dramatic cliffs that host some of the most dramatic scenery imaginable. If walking doesn’t suit, however, scour the art of Los Cubos de Memoria, a mural turning the harbour’s water barrier into a thing of beauty. Asturian cider is another thing of beauty you can get acquainted with on your travels, heading to a ‘sidreria’ to try apple-y dishes such as cachopo, chorizos a la sibra and more.

northern spain trip

Asturias | Photo: Javier Alamo

Day 6 - Asturias: Ribadesella, Oviedo & Gijón

Staying in Asturias, the morning is spent wandering the colourful plazas and narrow streets of Ribadesella, walking the promenade to take in the view over Playa de Santa Marina before cheers-ing at a harbourside bar. For an added spot of history, head inland from the beach to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cueva de Tito Bustillo for cave drawings dating back 35,000 years.

Now our path forks to give us two options: the old capital of Oviedo or the even older coastal city of Gijón. Those who choose Oviedo will find a lively student environment within the historic casco antiguo, lending modern shopping streets and restaurants to the north and west, despite the humming of textile factories towards the outskirts of town.

Day 7 - Asturias: Cudillero & Luarca

Two more choices to end your stay in Asturias are Cudillero and Luarca. Firstly let’s talk Cudillero, the perfect choice for Spain road trips looking for coastal views and seafood. The houses that line the waterfront here come pastel coloured while the cove further down is the place for leisurely meals of fresh local catch. Despite some over-tourism, Cudillero remains authentic, especially on the wonky streets around the 13 th century Humilladero Chapel. To avoid the people, simply hop back in the car and drive the 10 kilometres to Cabo Vidio. Eighty metres above sea level, these rugged cliffs provide awesome views over the Atlantic showcasing caves and a lighthouse looking out over Punta de Estaca de Bares, the northernmost point of the Iberian Peninsula.

Driving just 25 minutes from Cabo Vidio you can then reach Luarca, either exploring the fishing port by late afternoon or in the cool morning air the following day.

northern spain trip

Cudillero | Photo: Moises Muniz

The most distinctive region in Northern Spain, Galicia comes with its own language and culture, as well as a unique travelling scene centred around the Santiago de Compostela, starting point of the famed pilgrim trail known as Camino de Santiago. While the epic hiking route is the main draw, the city of Santiago itself is magical too, edged by 1,200 kilometres of wild coastline, strung with cliffs, coastal inlets and beaches. Off the coast you’ll find various islands but, closer to home, fishing ports are said to net the best seafood in Europe.

Day 8 - Asturias to Galicia

Those trekking the Camino de Santiago will see the region at its best, traversing verdant valleys, medieval monasteries and century-old vineyards, but Galicia’s beauty is accessible to everyone, entering via Asturias’ Castropol to Ribadeo in Galicia’s Lugo province. Vegadeo is another Galician town on the border, showing off more of the same mansions and palaces on a hillside overlooking the ports. Those looking for a beach day out of season should definitely move to Playa de Las Catedrales, while everyone else can head straight to Rías Baixas, stopping at Cambados to refuel on Galician food amongst old-world charms. Travellers coming on the first weekend of August will be lucky enough to take part in the Albariño Wine Festival, though wineries in the area operate all year round.

For the purest form of Galicia, Combarro takes the biscuit, offering cobbled streets edged with traditional houses and typical ‘horreos’ or granaries that serve as a key industry in the region. On a day trip from Combarro, head to Monte de Santa Tecla, where the Miño River flows into the ocean near the border to Portugal. Sea, river and mountains make up the landscape here though archaeological history at the Celtic Roman ruins above La Guardia attract many.

northern spain trip

Galicia | Photo: Gervasio Ruiz

Days 9 & 10 – Galicia

Finishing all the best itineraries for Spain is a jaunt in Galicia, home of cured meats and Spain’s greatest trek. Running 800 kilometres across thousand-year-old ruins embedded in the Spanish countryside, the Camino de Santiago is reserved for the fittest hikers. Nevertheless, regular visitors can easily visit Galicia’s capital of Santiago de Compostela, moving through the granite maze of the UNESCO Old Town using the Romanesque churches, museums and squares for navigation. Eat at the Mercado de Abastos, following the ‘De Viños’ wine trail from Rúa do Franco to Obradoiro Square for a merry time of it.

Though the airport is just 15 minutes’ drive out of town, one last day trip out to La Coruña could tempt you with its historic port and bustling beach fringing a cultural city centre. The layout of La Coruña is interesting enough, on a narrow stretch of land jutting 2 kilometres north into the Atlantic. Lighting the way is the peninsula’s World Heritage-listed Roman lighthouse, named Torre de Hércules, with the Paseo Marítimo coastal walkway and bike path connecting all the key attractions. If you’d like to extend your trip further, Vigo is yet another option, providing history and culture in grittier, industrial surrounds. Still home to Europe’s largest fishing fleet, Vigo is both full of sailors and commerce, acting as the main gateway to Illas Cías. Before boarding a ship to the island, get lairy after dark with the locals in the Casco Vello (Old Town), tapping into a buzzing tapas scene and lazing on the greens of Praza de Compestela. Check out our article for more things to do in Vigo , or head on to the airport one happy camper.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia | Photo: Victoriano Izquierdo

Santiago de Compostela | Photo: Victoriano Izquierdo

northern spain trip

Islas Cíes, Galicia | Photo: Isabel Pineiro

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Covadonga, Asturias | Photo: Tony Prats

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Photo: Alberto Frias

northern spain trip

Galicia | Photo: Algooalguien

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Vilán Lighthouse, Galicia | Photo: Hector Martinez

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Asturias | Photo: ELG21

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The Tower of Hercules, Galicia | Photo: Manuel Torres Garcia

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Picos de Europa, Asturias | Photo: ELG21

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Islas Cíes, Galicia | Photo: Gervasio Ruiz

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Galicia | Photo: Miguel Alonso

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Asturias | Photo: Iveth Q Encalada

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Photo: Stefan Stefancik

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Ribera Sacra, Galicia | Photo: Locuig

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Spain | Photo: Alejandro Pinero Amerio

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Cantabria | Photo: Milan Pieteraerents

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Photo: Juan García

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Cathedral Santiago | Photo: Javier Alamo

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Photo: Ines Alvarez Fdez

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Photo: Ian Dooley

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Photo: Manuel Torres Garcia

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Cudillero, Asturias | Photo: Javier Alamo

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Galicia | Photo: David Gil de La Canal

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Photo: Alberto Gasco

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Northern Spain Travel Itinerary | 9 Perfect Days

A northern spain travel itinerary is one of the most spectacular road trips you can take in Spain. Northern Spain is a region full of scenic highlights. The sea here is usually very rough, the cliffs very steep and yet the landscape here is characterized by dense forests and green meadows. It rains quite a lot, at least much more than in the more popular region of Andalusia in the south of Spain. Northern Spain has so far been spared from mass tourism, so you rarely see foreign license plates along the way.

This is somewhat surprising, as northern Spain is not short of spectacular sights. In addition to the rugged coastline, there are beautiful beaches that are reminiscent of the beaches of the Algarve in Portugal. There is also a high mountain range right on the coast where you will feel like you are in South Tyrol. And the most striking highlight, which you wouldn’t expect to find here, is an arid desert that reminded us strongly of the Atacama Desert in Chile.

We’ll now tell you the best way to pack all these northern Spain highlights into a two-week itinerary and what important tips we have for your northern Spain road trip.

We are Sabrina and Andreas, two adventurous travelers who never miss an opportunity to discover the world. Whether by plane to distant countries or with our campervan Bruno, we just love to travel. We hope to give you helpful tips for your next trip on our blog.

Sabrina & Andreas Globetrotters, Travelers, Adventurers

northern spain trip

Northern Spain Road Trip Itinerary – Overview

The itinerary for our northern Spain road trip is clearly based on the natural must sees of northern Spain and the most beautiful scenic sights. We have largely left out cities, partly because we are more nature than city types and partly because there are only a few cities in northern Spain that we think are really worth seeing. Exceptions, such as San Sebastian, prove the rule here.

Northern Spain Travel Itinerary | 9 Perfect Days

Our route starts in the east of northern Spain in San Sebastian and ends in the west in Santiago de Compostela. The route can therefore be used to travel to Portugal and discover the highlights of Portugal on a road trip .

Facts about the Northern Spain Travel Itinerary

Duration: 7-10 days Kilometers: 1200 km Best time to travel: June-August (peak season) or May/September (quieter off-season) Further information : Travel route on Google Maps

Highlights on the route

Bardenas Reales Playa de las Catedrales Picos de Europa San Sebastian

Northern Spain Road Trip Day 1 | San Sebastian

We start our northern Spain travel itinerary in the north-east of Spain on the border with France, where a very special city awaits you.

Although we are not really city people and prefer to be out in nature rather than in civilization, San Sebastian totally blew us away. Our northern Spain travel guide said it was the “most beautiful city in the world” and although we tend to have an aversion to such exaggerations, we wanted to give the city a chance. And what can we say, it was really worth it.

San Sebastian Nordspanien

The old town of San Sebastian is super small, but also really worth seeing. There are medieval walls, beautiful churches, authentic restaurants and lots of charm. There is also a great city beach framed by Concha Bay. You can climb the hills that rise up on both sides of Concha Bay and enjoy a wonderful view of the sea and the old town from the top.

Accommodation Recommendation

Northern Spain Travel Itinerary | 9 Perfect Days

Check Prices*

Not to miss

  • Be sure to climb one of the two hills at Conchas Bay
  • Treat yourself to a few delicious pintxos in the old town
  • Further information : San Sebastian Donostia | The 6 Best Things To Do

Day 2 | Bardenas Reales

The highlight of today’s northern Spain travel itinerary is about 2 hours south of San Sebastian. And you will hardly believe your eyes when you see this area for the first time. And you will hardly meet any other people here, because the Bardenas Reales is a little insider tip in northern Spain.

The spectacular Bardenas Reales is a rugged and inhospitable desert in the Navarra region and is located some distance from the coast of northern Spain, but is still worth the long journey.

The desert is a spectacular highlight in northern Spain and should not be missed on any northern Spain travel itinerary.

Castil de Tierra Bardenas Reales

The Bardenas Reales consists largely of bizarre, ochre-colored clay landscapes spread over several hundred square kilometers. Sometimes you feel like you’re in the American Grand Canyon, although everything is much smaller here.

The semi-desert Bardenas Reales de Navarra covers over 400 km² and is therefore roughly the size of Cologne. You can drive through it in half a day and see landscapes that you wouldn’t expect.

Find out more about this incredible desert here:

  • Bardenas Reales Spain | 8 Things To Know Before You Go

Northern Spain Travel Itinerary | 9 Perfect Days

Check prices*

Not To Miss

  • Stop as often as possible to marvel at the scenery
  • You won’t need more than one day on site (including arrival and departure)
  • Further information : Bardenas Reales Spain | 8 important tips for your visit

Day 3 | Bilbao

Bilbao is not the most beautiful city in Spain, but as it is on the route of a northern Spain round trip, it is still a good stop. It will take you just under 2.5 hours to get from the Bardenas Reales desert back to the coast.

Bilbao is actually an industrial and port city but is still visited by many tourists. This is because it is home to the world-famous Guggenheim Museum. Its exterior is the real highlight for many, but inside it houses some famous modern and contemporary works of art. The museum is absolutely worth a visit for art lovers.

If you are more interested in architecture or technology, we can recommend a very special ferry, which is actually a bridge. The Puente de Vizcaya (Vizcaya Bridge) was inaugurated on July 18, 1893, making it the oldest floating ferry in the world.

The special thing about it is that you are pulled across the Nervion River on a platform. The platform is suspended from a 45 high bridge that spans 160 meters across the river. You can cross the river in your car for just a few euros. You can also reach the upper part of the bridge by elevator and cross the structure on foot.

Puente de Vizcaya Bilbao

  • If you are not interested in art, then the city is not particularly worth seeing
  • But if you want to visit the museum, then you should spend 1-2 days here
  • Tickets for the Guggenheim Museum (no queuing): buy here*

Day 4-5 | Picos de Europa

On your northern Spain road trip today, you will continue along the coast and pass Santander. The city itself is not really worth seeing, but it has an impressive coastline to offer. Here you can walk for miles along the sea and climb over the rugged cliffs.

It is best to park behind the soccer pitch on a large meadow (Google Maps ) and set off from there. There are great views for several kilometers in both directions.

About an hour further on is one of the most impressive national parks in Spain. The Picos de Europa (in the national park of the same name) are a high mountain range on the coast of northern Spain and totally remind us of the Dolomites in South Tyrol. The mountain massifs are over 2000 meters high and there are many opportunities to hike and discover the fantastic mountain world.

One hike in particular is considered one of the most beautiful ones in Spain and is definitely the most spectacular in the Picos de Europa. On the Ruta del Cares , you hike over 11 km along a gorge that is only a few meters wide in places.

Picos de Europa Nordspanien

But there is also plenty else to discover. Beautiful mountain lakes in picture-book scenery, authentic mountain villages and narrow serpentines that wind their way up the mountains.

  • More about the Picos de Europa: Picos De Europa | 6 fantastic highlights you have to see

Northern Spain Travel Itinerary | 9 Perfect Days

  • Make sure you do the Ruta del Cares hike
  • There is an incredible amount to see and discover here. The routes are also very long due to the mountains. Take your time
  • Further information : Picos De Europa | 6 fantastic highlights you have to see

Day 6 | Playa de las Catedrales

Today we continue along the coast for about 2 hours in a westerly direction. On the way, you will pass the beautiful Silence Beach. Although there are hardly any parking spaces and pebbles instead of sand, the beach is still well worth a visit. But today’s destination is even more impressive.

Playa de Catedrales is probably the most spectacular beach in northern Spain and probably in the whole of Spain. This beach should definitely not be missed on your northern Spain road trip.

The beauty of Playa de Catredales is due to the numerous rocks and arch-like rock formations on the beach and the fact that almost the entire beach is under water at high tide. This means you can only visit the beach and the crazy rock formations at low tide.

Playa de las Catedrales schwimmen

Because it is so beautiful, you are of course never alone on the beach. Playa de Catedrales is extremely popular and always well frequented. As a result, you even have to buy limited tickets to visit the beach in high season.

You can find out where to park at Playa de Catedrales, where to get tickets and everything else you need to know here:

  • Playa de las Catedrales | Tips on the beach, parking & camping

Northern Spain Travel Itinerary | 9 Perfect Days

  • Bear in mind that the beach can only be visited at low tide.
  • Apart from the spectacular rocks, the beach is also suitable for swimming and lying on the beach
  • Further information : Playa de las Catedrales | Tips on the beach, parking & camping

Day 7 | Cova da Doncella

About an hour to the west, right by the sea, lies a wonderful little attraction. The Cova de Doncella is a small but beautiful cave right on a steep cliff in the Galicia region. The way down here is not easy to find. You have to park in this parking lot (Google Maps ) and then walk about 500 meters through a beautiful dense forest. When you reach the cliff, turn right onto a small path and after a few meters you will find yourself in front of the small cave entrance.

You will almost have to crawl to get through, but at the end you will be rewarded with a fantastic view. You can also walk around on the narrow rock that you can see from the cave opening.

Cova da Doncela

There is also a beautiful beach right next door, which is not within walking distance, but can at least be reached by car in a few minutes. Praia Abrela offers a very wide sandy beach with gently sloping waters. There are picnic tables and a beach bar in summer. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed.

Northern Spain Travel Itinerary | 9 Perfect Days

  • Not only the sights described above are beautiful and totally worth seeing, but also the route and landscape itself.
  • So don’t forget to enjoy the panorama from time to time and stop to marvel at the beauty of Galicia.

Day 8 | Cabo Ortegal & Sierra de la Capelada

Cabo Ortegal is a cape on the north coast of Galicia and a very special highlight in northern Spain. There is a lighthouse, which was built in the 1980s and protects shipping from the steep cliffs and numerous rocks in the water in the often very rough sea.

The view from this small cape is truly indescribably beautiful. You look out over the numerous rocks that rise out of the sea in front of you and on which thousands of seabirds nest.

To the southwest of the cape is the Serra da Capelada with its numerous steep cliffs, which look really fantastic from Cabo Ortegal.

The Serra da Capelada is a 20 km long mountain range in Galicia and, at 620 meters, is the highest elevation in south-western Europe. The cliffs drop steeply down to the sea and offer an impressive spectacle with the rugged coastline and rough sea.

Serra da Capelada Spanien

The road winds here at some distance from the coast over the numerous hills and through many tight bends along wind farms and great nature and always offers beautiful viewpoints of the coast.

Fun fact : There are free-roaming horses and herds of cattle throughout the Serra da Capelada, which can sometimes be right on the road. So be sure to drive carefully here.

  • Take advantage of the numerous viewpoints along the road
  • Don’t miss the opportunity to see the rugged coastline
  • There are free-roaming horses and cattle everywhere. Be especially careful if you have a dog with you!

Day 9 | Santiago de Compostela

The destination of our route through northern Spain is a very well-known city in the northwest of Spain. Santiago de Compostela is known as the destination of the Way of St. James. But even if you are not interested in pilgrimage, this city in the far west of northern Spain is well worth a visit.

Santiago de Compostela Nordspanien Highlights

The highlight of Santiago is certainly the large square in front of the cathedral, where all the pilgrims arrive after a long journey and celebrate the end of their journey. No matter when you arrive here, you will definitely see some happy pilgrims on the floor of the cathedral square.

But even apart from that, the old town of Santiago de Compostela is very beautiful and invites you to take a long stroll through the city.

Northern Spain Travel Itinerary | 9 Perfect Days

  • Santiago is the destination of all pilgrims, so you’re sure to come across a few.
  • Soak up the atmosphere on Cathedral Square and stroll through the historic old town. But you don’t need to spend more than a day here.

The most beautiful beaches in northern Spain

Northern Spain not only has spectacular cliffs and rocky coasts to offer, but also beautiful beaches that reminded us of the Algarve . For a list of the most beautiful beaches in northern Spain, just take a look here:

  • The 7 most beautiful beaches in northern Spain

Playa da Arnia - Strand Nordspanien

Northern Spain Road Trip | The Best Travel Tips

There are regional official languages in northern spain.

In the northern Spanish regions of Galicia, Navarre, the Basque Country, Cantabria and Asturias, there are regional dialects in addition to Spanish that some people learned at school.

These dialects are official languages and so place names and other designations on signs are always described in two languages. This can sometimes be confusing, as some dialects have nothing to do with Castilian Spanish, which is the official national language.

How many days should you plan for a tour of northern Spain?

We recommend planning at least one week for a tour of Northern Spain. However, it is also no problem to stay in this region for 2 weeks or even longer. In addition to the rugged coastal landscape, there are also wonderful beaches where you can relax in summer.

Northern Spain Travel Itinerary | 9 Perfect Days

Northern Spain – The best time to visit

Northern Spain is much harsher than, for example, the Andalusia region in the south. The weather is correspondingly less appealing. It rains much more here and the hours of sunshine cannot be compared with the sun-drenched regions in southern Spain. The Spanish Atlantic coast is even considered the rainiest region in Spain. As a result, you should be prepared for a lot of rain here.

The main season is the summer months of July and August. Here you have the best chance of good weather with around 25 degrees. However, this is also when most of the other tourists are out and about. We therefore also recommend the low season with the months of May/June and September. However, it is a little cooler here and swimming in the sea is not always pleasant.

How much does a round trip to northern Spain cost?

Prices in Spain are generally comparable to those in Germany, but tend to be slightly lower. You pay a little less than in Germany, especially in supermarkets.

Northern Spain Travel Itinerary | 9 Perfect Days

Is northern Spain very touristy?

In contrast to Andalusia or the Algarve in Portugal , northern Spain is not touristy at all. Most of the tourists you will meet are locals or French. The north of Spain is not really on the agenda for Germans. If at all, then as a transit region on the way to Portugal .

Of course, it can still get quite crowded at the tourist hotspots in summer. In general, however, the region is far from being overrun by mass tourism.

Northern Spain Camping | Is Northern Spain suitable for camping?

Northern Spain is perfect for vanlife and a round trip in a motorhome. There are many great opportunities for free-standing and wild camping in the countryside. We have summarized all the information you need for camping in northern Spain in a separate article.

  • Northern Spain camping & free standing 2023 I The 8 most important tips

Nordspanien Freistehen

We hope you enjoyed our route and our tips for a round trip to Northern Spain. If you have any questions, please write us a comment!

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20 Best Places to Visit in Northern Spain

Written by Lisa Alexander Updated Nov 26, 2021 We may earn a commission from affiliate links ( )

Northern Spain extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, bounded by the Pyrenees Mountains at the border with France. With its diverse landscapes and distinct provinces, this beautiful area of Spain offers something for every type of traveler.

The energetic, culture-packed city of Barcelona has fabulous art museums and fantastic architecture. San Sebastián is an elegant beach resort with a quaint Old Town and an outstanding restaurant scene. The ultimate destination of the medieval Way of Saint James pilgrimage, Santiago de Compostela immerses visitors in the spiritual ambience that has animated the city for a millennia.

Besides Barcelona's Gaudí monuments and Santiago de Compostela's historic center, other UNESCO World Heritage sites are scattered throughout northern Spain, including a breathtaking cathedral in Burgos , the Roman ruins of Tarragona , pre-Romanesque churches near Oviedo, and the Ordesa and Monte Perdido Natural Park in the Huesca province.

Travelers searching for a soul-inspiring experience should take a journey to the remote Monastery of Montserrat . For picturesque fishing villages and coastal scenery, the Costa Brava in Catalonia is sure to impress. Thrill-seekers flock to Pamplona for its annual Running of the Bulls event, but the town itself is an interesting place to visit any time of year, and the nearby Navarra countryside has wonderful hiking trails.

Plan your Spanish sightseeing itinerary with our list of the best places to visit in Northern Spain.

1. Barcelona

2. san sebastián & hondarribia, 3. santiago de compostela, 4. seaside resorts on the costa brava, 6. pamplona, 7. tarragona, 11. zaragoza, 12. monastery of montserrat, 13. santander, 15. heusca province, 16. ponferrada, 17. la coruña & rías altas villages, 18. santillana del mar, 19. picos de europa natural park, 20. la rioja region, map of places to visit in northern spain.

Parc Güell in Barcelona

The sparkling crown jewel of Catalonia , the region's vibrant capital boasts an alluring seaside setting, fabulous Modernist architecture, and a delightful medieval quarter.

Visitors can soak up the city's ambience by strolling the bustling La Rambla boulevard, stopping at the colorful La Boqueria covered marketplace, getting lost in the narrow pedestrian streets of the Barri Gòtic , admiring the whimsical Gaudí monuments, and basking in the sun on sandy beaches.

Must-see tourist attractions include the Basílica de la Sagrada Família , created by Antoni Gaudí in his signature surrealistic style; the Picasso Museum in the Gothic Quarter ; the Casa Milà and the Casa Batlló , UNESCO-listed buildings designed by Gaudí; and the Parc Güell , with its splendid landscaping and sweeping city vistas.

Barcelona is also well known for its gastronomy. Near the Casa Batlló is Moments restaurant , an award-winning fine-dining establishment within the Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona that has earned two Michelin stars and specializes in contemporary Catalan cuisine.

Within walking distance of the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Montjuic is a gourmet destination run by renowned chef Albert Adrià. This trendy restaurant serves tasting menus in an intimate dining room that channels a fantastical modern speakeasy.

The surroundings of Barcelona appeal to travelers in search of a beautiful coastline, cute fishing villages, and culture-rich medieval towns. Popular day trips from Barcelona are the majestic hilltop Montserrat Monastery , the seaside resort of Sitges , and the Costa Brava beaches.

San Sebastian

One of Spain's most stylish beach resorts, San Sebastián dazzles visitors with its dreamy natural scenery and refined urban elegance.

The town is ensconced along the Bahía de la Concha, a crescent-shaped bay that encloses a sheltered sandy beach, called La Perla . A spacious pedestrian promenade invites seaside strolls, while many shops and restaurants are found on the Alameda del Boulevard just steps away from the beach.

Among the highlights of San Sebastián are the 12th-century Castillo de la Mota on Monte Urgull, the Museo San Telmo (fine arts museum), and the Parte Vieja (Old Town), where locals and tourists enjoy wandering the cobblestone streets in search of authentic pintxo s (Basque tapas) restaurants. San Sebastián is well known for its superb gastronomy.

For exceptional meals and stunning sea views, the Mirador de Ulía is a wonderful choice. This Michelin-starred restaurant serves traditional Basque cuisine, as well as vegetarian and vegan menus prepared from seasonal ingredients.

A worthwhile detour (about 20 kilometers from San Sebastián) is the Basque filling village of Hondarribia , which has a walled medieval Old Town and an expansive beach that is popular during summertime.

Renowned for its cuisine, Hondarribia is brimming with excellent restaurants helmed by top chefs, and authentic pintxos bars that serve Basque tapas. (Most of the restaurants and pintxos bars are found in the seaside Marina neighborhood.)

Santiago de Compostela

During the 11th and 12th centuries, Santiago de Compostela was Europe's most important pilgrimage destination. The faithful endured long, treacherous journeys by foot, from France, Spain, Portugal, and other European countries, to arrive at the hallowed Catedral de Santiago .

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela contains the Crypt of Saint James , the venerated tomb that is the ultimate pilgrimage object and explains why the pilgrimage routes are called the "Way of Saint James." Modern-day pilgrims still embark on the Camino de Santiago , following the medieval pilgrimage routes.

A marvelous example of early Romanesque architecture, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is Spain's most important Christian monument. The ornate exterior blends the original 12th-century sculpted doorway with lavish Baroque twin towers, while the grandiose sanctuary offers a sense of serenity.

In the late 15th century, the Catholic Monarchs created the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos to provide lodging for pilgrims. Today, this gorgeous Gothic Plateresque building still welcomes overnight guests as the Parador Santiago de Compostela , considered to be the world's oldest hotel. This luxurious five-star hotel has magnificent reception halls, sumptuous guest rooms decorated in traditional style, and two restaurants that specialize in the cuisine of Galicia.

Other must-see attractions of Santiago de Compostela include the Old Town ( Casco Antiguo ) of Santiago de Compostela, around the Plaza del Obradoiro and the Hostal de Los Reyes Católicos. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site , this pedestrianized area is an appealing jumble of narrow medieval streets, historic churches, and monasteries.

Santiago de Compostela is located in the Galicia region and is a good starting point to discover northern Spain's west coast, including La Coruña, Ferrol, and Cedeira.

Calella de Palafrugell

Rated as one of Spain's top beach destinations , the Costa Brava is a delightful stretch of coastline characterized by its rugged natural beauty and charming coastal villages. The Costa Brava extends along a hilly landscape for over 200 kilometers from Blanes to the border between Catalonia and France. Alongside the Mediterranean Sea, secluded golden-sand beaches are surrounded by cliffs and tucked into coves.

Popular beach resorts are found in Blanes , a historic town with expansive beaches; Tossa de Mar , a walled medieval town; Lloret de Mar , which has elegant gardens and pristine waters; and Santa Susanna prized for its wide sandy beaches backed by groves of fragrant pine trees.

Cadaqués is a quaint fishing village nestled on the Cadaqués Bay of the Cap de Creus (peninsula), a rocky coastline with sheer cliffs and peaceful coves. This historic whitewashed town attracted famous painters during the 20th century. Several art galleries and museums attest to the town's artistic heritage.

One of the houses in the Old Town of Cadaqués was the home of Salvador Dalí and is now the Salvador Dalí House - Portlligat Museum . Fans of Salvador Dali and surrealist art should also visit the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres and the Gala Dalí Castle in Púbol .

Calella de Palafrugell has retained the feel of a small fishing village even though its sandy beaches get very crowded during summertime. Tourists also adore the old-world charm of the perched town of Begur overlooking the sea and L'Escala , which has an atmospheric historic quarter and Greek ruins from the 2nd-century BC at the Empúries archaeological site.

Water sports enthusiasts find plenty of things to do on the Costa Brava, from snorkeling to sailing and windsurfing. The uninhabited nature preserve of the Medes Islands (boat ride from L'Estartit) is a great place for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Perched on the Punta d'es Muts cliffs, a supremely picturesque spot on the Costa Brava, the Parador de Aiguablava (46 kilometers from Girona) affords panoramic vistas of the coastline and the Aiguablava Beach, where azure waters lap up against golden sandy shores. This contemporary-style resort hotel has an outdoor terrace, swimming pool, sauna, fitness center, and beachside restaurant that serves traditional cuisine of the region.

La Ribera market, Bilbao, Spain

The spectacular modern architecture and avant-garde art of the Guggenheim Museum draw many visitors to Bilbao. This world-class museum was designed by the famous architect Frank Gehry. Masterpieces of modern and contemporary paintings and sculptures are presented in twenty galleries covering 24,000 square meters of exhibition space.

To learn about the art from an official guide, tourists can take a Guggenheim Bilbao Museum Private Tour , which covers many of the collection's highlights.

Another must-see museum among the top attractions of Bilbao is the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao (Museum of Fine Arts), which displays a collection of European paintings from the 14th to 17th centuries. The Spanish Old Masters are well represented, including El Greco, Zurbarán, and Velázquez. There is also an assortment of paintings by Francisco de Goya.

Besides art and architecture, Bibao is renowned for its gastronomy. The city boasts six Michelin-starred restaurants, including Nerua at the Guggenheim Museum. For more casual and convivial dining, traditional pintxos (tapas) restaurants are the best choice.

Town Hall in Pamplona

Pamplona owes its fame to the religious festival in July, the Fiesta de San Fermín , devoted to the patron saint of the Navarra province, San Fermín. Although the Fiesta de San Fermin begins with a Catholic Mass at the Chapel of San Fermín and includes a traditional procession, it is the Running of the Bulls (El Encierro) event during the festival that really put Pamplona on the tourist map. The legendary event draws thrill-seeking visitors from all over the world.

For those who want to watch the Running of the Bulls from the safe space of a private balcony, the five-star Gran Hotel La Perla is a perfect choice. Some of the hotel's exterior rooms overlook the Calle de la Estafeta, where a portion of the Running of the Bulls course takes place.

When the festival crowds leave town, it's worth exploring the attractions of Pamplona , especially the Casco Viejo . Partially enclosed by medieval ramparts, this warren of narrow cobblestone streets and elegant squares is brimming with historic monuments: the Gothic and Neoclassical cathedral ; the 16th-century citadel built by King Felipe II; the Plaza del Castillo , where locals hang out at sidewalk cafés; and the opulent Baroque town hall .

Outside Pamplona, the Navarra countryside is a paradise for nature lovers. The Parque Natural Urbasa-Andía (70 kilometers from Pamplona) is a lush mountainous terrain with scenic hiking trails.

Worthwhile detours in the Pamplona surroundings include the Museo Oteiza in the idyllic pastoral landscape of Alzuza (10 kilometers from Pamplona) and the 11th-century Monasterio de Leyre (50 kilometers from Pamplona), which holds church services, including Gregorian chants, and also has a small hotel, the two-star Hotel Hospedería de Leyre , with a traditional Spanish restaurant.

Roman amphitheater in Tarragona

The sun-soaked seaside city of Tarragona seems to have it all: stunning coastal scenery, alluring old-world ambience, and fascinating historic monuments.

The setting couldn't get much better than Tarragona's, along the Catalonian Costa Dorada (the Golden Coast), named for its fine sandy beaches. Playa El Milagro is a lovely beach within easy walking distance of the historic center of town.

Tarragona has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site , because of its archaeological structures. Modern-day Tarragona was built above remains of the Roman-era city of Tárraco. The Roman ruins reveal an ancient town that was well planned, with a port, forum, theater, aqueduct, and defensive fortifications.

The most impressive site is the 2nd-century AD Roman amphitheater that overlooks the Mediterranean. Built during the reign of Emperor Augustus, this enormous stadium was designed to seat an audience of 12,000 spectators.

Plaza Mayor in León

Remarkable historic monuments distinguish León , which displays its impressive heritage through architectural masterpieces such as a 10th-century Romanesque church, an Early Gothic cathedral, and a Spanish Plateresque monastery. In addition to the amazing landmarks, the charming Old Town ( Casco Antiguo ) and several top-notch museums provide enough cultural attractions to keep visitors busy.

For atmospheric dining, locals and tourists alike head to the Plaza Mayor (public square). Enclosed by 17th-century Baroque buildings, this elegant square is the center of the city and a hub of social activity. Within the square's arcaded buildings are several restaurants, many of which have terraces that spill out onto the sunny square.

The Plaza Mayor hosts a traditional, open-air farmers market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

Within a short walk from the Plaza Mayor is the Palacio del Conde Luna , a 14th-century Gothic-Mudéjar palace that was the residence of the valiant Count Luna. The palace served as a court during the Spanish Inquisition. Today, the Palacio del Conde Luna is a museum that presents exhibits of León's history.

A truly special place to spend the night is at the luxurious Parador de León . This five-star hotel occupies the 16th-century Convento de San Marcos , considered a gem of Spanish Plateresque style and one of the most important Renaissance monuments in Spain.

Since the 12th century, this convent has welcomed pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela. However, the original building was reconstructed in the 16th century by the Catholic Monarchs. Hotel amenities include a concierge, garden, sun terrace, and a gastronomic restaurant that specializes in traditional cuisine of the Castile-León region.

View of Burgos

Spanish Gothic architecture finds perfect expression in the magnificent Catedral de Burgos . This soaring UNESCO-listed monument features an extravagantly decorated twin-towered exterior and an immense interior of breathtaking proportions, which makes it the third-largest church in Spain after the cathedral of Seville and Toledo.

Other must-see sights in Burgos include the ancient hilltop Castillo (castle) and the Monasterio de las Huelgas , an austere 12th-century Cistercian monastery built in the Mudéjar style and later converted to a Royal Pantheon.

Burgos has been welcoming visitors since the Middle Ages, when pilgrims stopped here on the Way of Saint James route to Santiago de Compostela. The town's legendary Christian heritage imbues the place with a special ambience, while historic buildings and cobblestone streets add to the old-world charm.

Along the riverbanks is a pleasant tree-shaded promenade, and nearby are many inviting restaurants.

View of Girona, Spain

An enchanting medieval city in the Catalonia region, Girona packs an incredible wealth of attractions into the historic areas within its ancient walls. The Força Vella follows the outline of a Roman fortress dating to the 1st-century BC (portions of the ramparts are still visible), while the walled Medieval Quarter is a maze of narrow, winding pedestrian streets and hidden squares.

The rich multicultural heritage of Girona can be discovered through its remarkable monuments, including a Romanesque basilica, the Gothic convent of Sant Doménech , and 12th-century Arab Baths . Girona also has a well-preserved Jewish Quarter .

Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar and the Ebro River in Zaragoza

Steeped in two millennia of history, Zaragoza is the capital of the Aragon region and has a fascinating multicultural heritage. Splendid old monuments reveal the legacy of Roman, Moorish, Jewish, and Christian civilizations.

The remnants of ancient Roman walls are found in the city center, and two museums contain archaeological sites dating to the 1st century AD (including the Roman Theater and the Roman Forum ). Several historic churches exemplify Aragon Mudéjar architecture , influenced by the geometric details of Islamic design.

Presiding over the banks of the Ebro River, the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar is the city's most iconic landmark. This exuberant Baroque building was built in the 17th and 18th centuries. A noteworthy fresco by Goya titled Queen of Martyrs adorns the interior.

Zaragoza is also known for its cultural events and gastronomy. The local cuisine features hearty regional dishes such as pan-fried trout, huevos en salmorejo (baked eggs with sausage), and bacalao al ajoarriero (salted cod fish in tomato and garlic sauce).

The biggest festival, the Fiestas del Pilar , takes place in mid-October to celebrate the feast of the city's patron saint, the Virgin del Pilar. A mass is held on October 12th, and the festival continues for a week with music concerts, puppet shows, dance performances, fireworks, and a parade.

Monastery of Montserrat

As early as the year 1025, Montserrat Mountain was the site of a little hermitage devoted to Santa Maria de Montserrat. Soon after it was founded, the monastery became associated with miracles. Faithful pilgrims have traveled here for a thousand years. The basilica's main object of adoration is the Romanesque Black Madonna ( Our Lady of Montserrat ), a 12th-century sculpture called La Moreneta.

The Monastery of Montserrat still functions as a working monastery (approximately 80 Benedictine monks live here) and continues to be an important pilgrimage site. The monastery's difficult-to-access location creates the sense of being a world apart. However, it is easy to get here thanks to a cable car (Aeri) that conveys visitors on a 1,350-meter journey to the top of the mountain.

As one of Catalonia's top tourist attractions, the Monastery of Montserrat is well prepared to welcome visitors. The monastery grounds include a basilica , a noteworthy art collection at the Museum of Montserrat , and several shops. Tourists will appreciate the meal options, including a food market that sells local products, two fine-dining restaurants , a casual cafeteria that offers buffet meals, and a picnic area .

For those who would like to spend the night at Montserrat, there is three-star lodging, the Hotel Abat Cisneros , and a budget-friendly hostel.

Listening to the Escolania boys' choir sing at the basilica (which occurs daily) is an essential experience at the Monastery of Montserrat. Visitors may also participate in prayer services (mass and vespers), which are held several times a day. One of the shops at Montserrat sells CDs of the choir's musical sessions.

Montserrat Mountain is a place of serenity and sublime natural beauty, protected as a natural park. Many scenic hiking trails begin at the monastery and offer spectacular panoramic views of the Catalonian countryside.

Santander

The sophisticated city of Santander nestles on a small peninsula between the Cantabrian Sea and a wide bay. This picturesque coastline is prized for its soft sandy shores and crystalline turquoise waters.

The city's main beach, the Playa del Sardinero , draws many vacationers during the sunny summer months. Another centrally located beach, the Playa del Magdelena has a shoreline of fine golden sand and an area for recreational sports.

Besides being a fun-loving holiday destination, Santander appeals to those who appreciate culture and history.

The Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueología has an exceptional archaeology collection, ranging from Paleolithic-era artifacts to Roman antiquities. Two other museums are dedicated to contemporary art: the Centro Botín and the Museo de Arte Moderno y Contemporáneo de Santander y Cantabria .

Santander's most beautiful architectural landmarks are the Palacio Real de la Magdelena (a royal palace built in 1911) and the medieval Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunciónare . The cathedral features an exquisite 15th-century cloister and a somber 13th-century crypt.

Oviedo cathedral

A remarkable number of pre-Romanesque churches sets Oviedo apart from other historic towns in northern Spain. The architectural heritage speaks to the importance of this city as the 9th-century capital of the Asturias kingdom.

King Alfonso II chose the location in the rolling hills of the Picos de Europa mountains because the remoteness made the town less vulnerable to attacks from the Moors of Córdoba.

Today, visitors enjoy the peacefulness of Oviedo's natural landscape, as well as the historic ambience of the Old Town with its pedestrian lanes and inspiring architecture. Oviedo's striking, single-towered cathedral is considered one of the finest Gothic monuments in Spain.

Outside of Oviedo's historic center are three UNESCO-listed pre-Romanesque churches (built in the 9th and 10th centuries): the Iglesia de Santa Maria del Naranco, the Iglesia de San Miguel de Lillo, and the Iglesia de San Julián de los Prados.

Oviedo has noteworthy museums of fine arts and archeology, and the town is equally renowned for its gastronomy. Local cuisine of the Asturias region includes delicious specialties such as bean stew and braised chicken with peppers.

Village below the Aguero Mountains in Heusca Province

The medieval town of Heusca captivates visitors with its labyrinth of narrow, winding streets and historic monuments, including an impressive 13th-century cathedral and 12th-century Romanesque church.

Heusca is a good base for exploring the UNESCO-listed Parque Nacional Ordesa y Monte Perdido in the Pyrenees Mountains, which is a great place for hiking and other outdoor sports. This national park features rushing rivers, lush canyons, dramatic gorges, and soaring rocky peaks.

12th-century Templar castle

A formidable 12th-century castle stands guard over the historic town of Ponferrada, which was on the medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. The Knights Templar castle now houses a museum that presents the history of Ponferrada.

A short drive (20 kilometers) from Ponferrada in a tranquil valley is the ancient Monasterio de San Pedro de Montes , a rare example of pre-Romanesque architecture dating to the 7th century. The monastery's Romanesque church was renovated in the 18th century.

Buildings in La Coruna, Spain

In the Galicia region, La Coruña is a historic port town with a bustling harbor and superb beaches. The city center, bordering the waterfront, is a captivating collection of winding streets, pleasant squares, and medieval churches.

The most iconic monument in La Coruña is the 1st-century Tower of Hercules , designated as a National Monument and a UNESCO World Heritage site .

La Coruña is also well known for its aquarium and restaurant scene. Many local establishments serve delicious meals, featuring regional cuisine based on fresh-caught seafood.

Nearby are the Rías Altas villages in the northern estuaries of the Galicia region. Some of the top destinations within easy driving distance are Betanzos , which has an interesting Old Town that is listed as an Historic-Artistic Site; Pontedeume , a picturesque seaside village; and Ferrol , a fishing village (and military port) that is known for its Easter celebrations.

For relaxing seaside accommodations, travelers will appreciate the Parador de Ferrol , which occupies a stately Galician-style mansion overlooking the waterfront. The traditional decor includes nautical touches. A gourmet restaurant treats guests to sea views and superb Galician cuisine, with specialties such as fish stew and filloas , a special type of crêpe prepared in the region.

Santillana del Mar

About a 30-minute drive from Santander is the lovely historic town of Santillana del Mar, which was a stop on the medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.

Santillana del Mar dates back to the 8th century, and the entire town center is designated as a National Monument . The 12th-century Collegiate Church of Santa María is remarkable for its sculpted facade and Romanesque capitals in the cloister.

Snowcapped mountains in the Picos de Europa Natural Park

The Picos de Europa Natural Park delights visitors with its awe-inspiring scenery and refreshing mountain air. The Picos de Europa are the Cantabrian Mountains' highest peaks, and the 646-square-kilometer natural park covers terrain in the Asturias, Cantabria, and León provinces.

Dramatic alpine landscapes define the Picos de Europa. The terrain includes jagged mountain peaks, verdant valleys, deep gorges, pristine rivers and lakes, and dense woodlands.

Three distinct massifs form the Picos de Europa mountain range. The loftiest, Urriellu Peak (the central massif, also known as the " Naranjo de Bulnes "), reaches an elevation of 2,648 meters. The Urriellu Peak is a legendary destination for mountaineering and rock climbing in Northern Spain.

The enchanting mountain village of Bulnes on the Urriellu Peak may be reached by hiking up a steep pedestrian path or by taking a funicular railway from the town of Poncebos.

Another charming village in the Picos de Europa is Potes , built up along the rushing Quiviesa River. The village has many historic bridges that span the river, as well as old buildings that date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. The area around Potes is popular for hiking, fishing, and mountain biking.

Also not to be missed, the town of Cangas de Onís is nestled alongside the Sella River in the valley of the Picos de Europa. The town boasts an ancient Roman Bridge and a chapel that stands on the site of an 8th-century hermitage.

San Vicente de la Sonsierra in La Rioja

La Rioja is a gorgeous region in Northern Spain, prized for its idyllic scenery of vine-covered rolling hills and lush oak forests. The region also has a rich cultural heritage, linked with the medieval Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.

The town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada reveals the legacy of the medieval pilgrims. In the 12th century, Santo Domingo de la Calzada offered lodging for pilgrims at a hostel (now converted to the four-star Parador de Santo Domingo de la Calzada ), and its cathedral provided a place for pilgrims to pray. The entire town, with its narrow stone-paved streets and attractive squares, is classified as a National Historic Interest Site .

Another destination tied to the Way of Saint James (Camino de Santiago) pilgrimage route is the town of San Millán de la Cogolla , tucked away in a valley traversed by the Cárdenas River. San Millán de la Cogolla has two UNESCO-listed monuments: the Monastery of Suso (built between the 6th and 11th centuries), which blends Visigothic, Mozarab, and Romanesque architectural styles, and the Monastery of Yuso , an 11th-century Romanesque monument.

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

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Other Top Destinations in Spain : With so many cultural treasures, Spain gives travelers endless reasons to extend a vacation. Among the best places to visit in Spain are the capital city of Madrid and the cultured port town of Valencia on the Mediterranean Sea. The UNESCO-listed Old Town of Segovia and the historic city of Toledo fascinate visitors with their marvelous Gothic monuments that seem out of a fairy tale.

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Highlights of Southern Spain : Steeped in the legacy of its multicultural past, Andalusia is an emblematic region famous for flamenco, festivals, and a sociable spirit. Granada boasts amazing Islamic architecture seen in the UNESCO-listed Alhambra palaces and Generalife gardens. Córdoba dazzles visitors with its 8th-century Great Mosque, another UNESCO World Heritage site. The romantic city of Seville is home to the largest Gothic church in the Christian world, as well as a medieval Moorish palace.

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Northern Spain Road Trip: Must-See Places in 10 days

Posted by Anna | Jul 9, 2023 | Road Trips , Aragon , Asturias , Basque Country , Castile-Leon , Navarra | 5

Northern Spain Road Trip: Must-See Places in 10 days

This Northern Spain Road trip itinerary includes a few of my favorite spots to explore in 10 days. But you can easily make this trip shorter or longer with tons of suggestions from me. Ready for an epic adventure across the Spanish North?

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Table of Contents

Northern Spain Road Trip: Must-See Places in 10 Days

Why you should plan a northen spain road trip.

Northen Spain would be a perfect match for those of you who enjoy wild nature and hiking in Spain , looking for jaw-dropping cliffs and charming fishing villages. It´s also one of my favorite Spanish destinations to enjoy a quiet getaway: Northern Spain could barely compete with Andalusia, Barcelona, or Madrid in terms of international visitors (even during the summer peak season).

While Northern Spain definitely has a few epic beaches along the Atlantic coast, the region is honestly not the best match for a laid-back sunny vacation in Spain. You should be ready for occasional rains and pack up some extra layers. However, to be fair, that´s never been a drawback for me, personally. Being based in the Valencia Region with its hot touristy summers, you learn to appreciate lesser-known destinations in Spain.

This itinerary is flexible

Northern Spain actually includes more regions than one could possibly fully discover on one single trip – Rioja, Navarra , Asturias , Cantabria, Castille-Leon , Galicia , and The Pyrenees . But this does not mean that you couldn´t get a brief preview of each Northern province, and maybe, pick favorites to plan your next road trip in Spain .

Therefore, I´ve curated this 10-day itinerary to show you a bit of everything Northern Spain has to offer.

But, let me make this clear from the very beginning – most likely, you won´t be able to visit every single place I´m suggesting in this post. Yet, my aim is to give you as many alternatives and ideas, as possible – so that you can adapt this Northern Spain Road Trip and turn it into your Spain Bucket List adventure.

Your travel preferences usually depend on many factors: first time in the region? traveling with kids? Solo? with a partner on a romantic getaway ? – All these things do matter. So, I feel obliged to give you as many travel suggestions as possible. Feel free to see this Northern Spain Road Trip as something flexible and easy to personalize.

Where to begin

This Northern Spain Road Trip is planned so that you have less than 2 hours of driving between each of the main city stops. It does not include Asturias or Galicia, and focuses on The Basque Country , Cantabria, La Rioja, with a stop in Burgos ( Castile-Leon ).

I set Bilbao as the first stop: but this route is actually circular (e.g.. Bilbao – San Sebastian – La Rioja – Burgos – Santander – Bilbao ). Therefore feel free to begin your Northern Spain Road Trip in San Sebastian, Burgos, or Santander .

In case you have more time for this trip – you can add to this itinerary my Pyrenees Road Trip , a few places from my recent Aragon Getaway , and even Andorra .

Still, need more ideas? – Check my list of Spanish road trips , where I´ve divided Northern Spain into 2 separate itineraries – 1) The Basque Country+Cantabria+La Rioja+Navarra and 2) Asturias+Galicia.

If it´s your first time in Northern Spain, checking out some local landmarks via Spain virtual tours might be a great idea.

When to visit Northern Spain

Summer is a great moment to plan a Northern Spain Road Trip. The temperatures in the North are really comfortable for sightseeing, and except for Bilbao and San Sebastian, you won´t even feel the well-known peak season in Spain.

By the way, early autumn and late spring would work great for any Northern Spain Road Trip.

Traveling in winter might be tricky, a few years ago we experienced a heavy snowfall on the road in Oviedo. So, Spain in winter has been about the Southern regions of the Iberian Peninsula for me ever since.

Driving in Spain

Driving in Spain for the first time? – You might find handy this Driving in Spain Guide , with Expert Videos, 360 Driving Tours and an On-The-Go PDF.

10-days Northern Spain Road Trip

1. the basque country (2 days), the city of bilbao.

Bilbao is one of the must-stops on every Northern Spain road trip. It is the capital of the Basque Country and home to one of the most famous landmarks in Spain – the Guggenheim Museum. Even if you´re not a fan of modern and contemporary art, you can´t possibly deny the eye-catching shapes and forms of this avant-garde museum, created by the genius architect Frank Gehry.

Some of the biggest art pieces of Bilbao´s Guggenheim Museum include names like David Salle, Eduardo Chillida, Jeff Koons, Louis Bourgeous, Andy Warhol, Anselm Kiefer, and Robert Rauschenheim . The good news is that the museum embraces  virtual travels with  its online tour .

Another interesting place in Bilbao is Akzuna Zentroa Alhondiga Bilbao , another unique modern art center.

Unique experiences to book in Bilbao:

  • Bilbao Basque Food Tour with Guide
  • Bilbao Pintxos and Wine Tasting Tour with Local Guide
  • Guggenheim Museum Private Guided Visit
  • Bilbao Like a Local: Customized Guided Tour
  • Basque Pintxos and Tapas Cooking Class with Open Bar

spanish landmarks gaztelugatxe

The Basque Country

While you can find enough things to do in Bilbao for two days, I suggest you plan at least a day trip to see something else across the Basque Country. While Bilbao is a must-stop for first-timers in Northern Spain, in my opinion, the gems of the region do actually overshadow the city. You definitely can´t see it all in 2 days. Exploring the Basque Country is a separate road trip .

However, depending on your travel tastes you can pick a few places. Nature lovers can´t miss Salto de Nervion , Cascadas de Toberia , Salinas de Añana , and Gaztelugatche (also one of the GOT filming locations in Spain ). The first one is a 7,2 km-long hike, the rest are easy walks: the second – 3 km, the third – 2,6 km, and the fourth – 3,6 km. Therefore, most of the Spanish natural wonders in the Basque country could be quickly done with the kids.

If you are not into hiking even in the slightest way, there are more places in the Basque country you might enjoy – Santuario de Arantzazu , Guernica (commemorated by a famous painting of Pablo Picasso ), and Cueva de Pozalagua (a unique cave with the greatest concentration of eccentric stalactites in the world).

In case you are on this Northern Spain road trip with kids, don´t miss Pagoeta Natural Park , full of animals and child-friendly hikes. Drop by Centro de Visitantes de Iturraran for detailed info about their activities. Other cool museums to visit in the Basque country are Chillida Leku in Hernani, and Topic in Tolosa (don´t forget to try local sweets –  tejas, xaxus, cigarillos ).

Unique experiences to book in The Basque Country

  • From Bilbao: Gaztelugatxe, Gernika, and Mundaka Group Tour
  • From Bilbao: Vitoria and Rioja Day Tour
  • From Bilbao: Biarritz and San Sebastian Full-Day Tour
  • From Bilbao: Loyola, Getaria, Zarauz and San Sebastian Tour
  • From Bilbao: Mountains and Sea Full-Day Tour

2. San Sebastian (2 days)

basque country san sebastian

The city of San Sebastian

San Sebastian is one of the most beautiful cities on the whole Iberian Peninsula and one of my favorite places to visit in Spain . Although I should admit that since my first visit (back in 2011) the city has become way more touristy. Nevertheless, San Sebastian still preserves its original charm and could be a perfect match for any Romantic Getaway in Spain .

While Spain’s Basque Country  is one of the best dining destinations in the world (with 40 Michelin-starred restaurants over only 21 000 square km), the foodie obsession in San Sebastian mainly rolls around the famous  pintxos (diverse mini-bites all laid out in front of you). Every year a local competition Euskal Herria Pintxo Championship takes place, where local bars and restaurants pitch themselves against each other to make yummy creations. 

I´d recommend you take a  pintxo  tour or at least research the recent winners to make the most of your foodie experience in San Sebastian. Although it´s almost impossible to choose a bad place to dine since everything everywhere is delicious. You can spend a whole evening  pintxo-hopping  from bar to bar. Pay attention to the walls, they usually display certificates from past  pintxo  competitions so you´ll know exactly what to order.

basque country spain travel road trip hourses

Besides its unique and diverse food arena, San Sebastian is unapologetically beautiful. What could possibly be more romantic than a long stroll at San Sebastian´s Bay of Concha, set amongst scenic mountains and swelling waves? The atmospheric Old Town of San Sebastian with its quaint cobblestone streets and excellent  pintxo  bars never goes out of style.

The panoramic views of San Sebastian from  Monte Igeldo ,  Monte Urgull , and  Monte Ulia  are simply to die for. San Sebastian gets a fair share of tourists in Spain – its allure is undeniable. No wonder historically, the Spanish monarchy used to spend their summers at Palacio de Miramar in San Sebastian.

As this Northern Spain Road trip itinerary is meant to be packed with experiences, I´d leave for the city of San Sebastian only one day (but you could easily spend the whole weekend, if not a week). But as there are quite a few interesting places to visit near San Sebastian, you simply owe it to yourself to plan at least one day trip.

Unique experiences to book in San Sebastian

  • San Sebastian: Guided Food Tour with Pintxo Tasting & Wines
  • San Sebastian: Guided E-Bike Tour
  • San Sebastian: Highlights Walking Tour with Pintxo and Drink
  • Getaria Txakoli Wine Tour From San Sebastian

You can check out my full  San Sebastian Travel Guide in this post .

San Sebastian is located close to the French border, so you can easily head to the charming small town of Biarritz , which is very dear to my heart. Years ago I spent two weeks in Biarritz learning French and taking surfing classes – it was one of the most unique solo experiences in my entire life. On the way from San Sebastian to Biarritz , don’t miss Hondarribia (also called Fuenterrabia ) – one of the most colorful villages in Spain .

Hondarribia basque country

Unique places in France to visit on Northern Spain Road Trip:

  • From San Sebastian: Lourdes Private Full-Day Tour
  • From San Sebastian: Biarritz & French Basque Coast Day Trip

Another cool San Sebastian day trip idea is to visit the Caves of Zugarramurdi , one of  the trendy mysterious places in Spain . While the cave belongs to the Navarra region, it´s actually located closer to San Sebastian. Since the XIIth century, it used to be a place to celebrate witch covens. Consequently, locals suffered a lot from the Saint Inquisition ( you may have heard that especially since Isabel I of Castile Spain has been an extremely religious country).

Also, the city of Pamplona could be a day trip option, as it is only a 1 h-long drive from San Sebastian. Navarra´s capital is globally known for the Festival of San Fermin (from July 6 to July 14). As I do not include Navarra on this itinerary, you can read more about my recent weekend in Navarra and La Rioja in this article . Also check out all the top attractions of Navarra in this post (especially if you have more than 10 days for this Northern Spain road trip).

The region of Navarra is also known for a few great adventure parks you can enjoy as a family – Sendaviva, Irrisarri Land, Bertiz Abentura Park, Baztan Abentura Park, Urbasa Aventura, and Artamendia.

olite navarra spain sightseeing

Unique tours to book in Navarra:

  • Bardenas Reales: Guided tour in 4×4 private vehicle
  • Pamplona: Best of the City Private Tour

3. La Rioja Region (2 days)

Visiting la rioja.

One of the top things Spain is known for internationally is the Rioja wine.

The region of Rioja extends over 41,505 hectares of vineyards and has around 600  bodegas . In case you´re on this Northern Spain road trip with your significant other you can focus on some romantic experiences across La Rioja , like visiting a few ancient bodegas in search of your perfect sip or trying a hot-air balloon ride over the vineyards.

However, if you´re exploring Spain with kids – keep in mind that some bodegas do offer family tours. Your little ones will learn a lot about local history and the wine-making process ( for the wine-tasting part they´ll be offered grape juice). Last year we went to Bodegas Franco Españolas ( you can check it on IG ), which back in 1956 were visited by Ernest Hemingway himself. During his tour, the legendary writer reportedly said: “My only regret in life is that I did not drink more wine.” Can´t say it´s relatable for me, but I have honestly enjoyed the bodega tour with kids anyway.

In case you´re not into Spanish wine at all, consider visiting Arnedo caves, San Millan Yuso and Suso Monasteries, or hiking in the natural park of Sierra de Cebollera. Kids will definitely enjoy Tierra Rapaz – a theme park and educational center for birds of prey (raptors). Check the schedule as the park is mostly open during the weekends.

For more details on the La Rioja region check my Quick Guide to La Rioja.

Unique tours in La Rioja:

  • From Pamplona or Logroño: Rioja Wineries Day Trip w/ Tasting
  • Rioja: Private Wine Tasting Tour

4. Burgos (2 days)

the cathedral of burgos northern spain road trip

You simply can´t miss one of the most stunning Spanish cathedrals on your Nothern Spain road trip.

The Cathedral of Burgos is one of my favorite landmarks in Spain and one of the top Gothic architectural gems in Europe. Its full name in Spanish is  Catedral de   Santa María de Burgos .

The Burgos Cathedral was built from 1221 to 1260, although there once was a medieval Romanesque Church in its place (since the 19th century). Despite the record-long time of construction of Burgos Cathedral, the addition of the new structural elements and chapels went on till the XVIIIth century.

The Cathedral houses the tomb  El Cid  or  Cid Campeador  ( Spanish legendary knight Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar ). Also, the Burgos Cathedral is one of the main stops on the Way of Saint James (or  Camino de Santiago  in Spanish).

Additionally, the city of Burgos has quite a few amazing sights you´ll enjoy – like the monastery Monasterio de las Huelga , the arch of Santa Maria , and MEH Museum of Human Evolution .

Also, there are two cool places for kids close to Burgos – Territorio ARTLANZA (the real-life medieval town) and Paleolítico Vivo (the only one in Europe park with Paleolithic animals).

In case you plan to stay in Burgos (or Castile-Leon ) for a few days – check my post about Soria for more travel ideas.

5. Santander (2 days)

The city of santander.

For some reason, most of Northern Spain’s road trip itineraries skip Cantabria. In my opinion, it´s one of the coolest regions for adventurous family travel in Spain. Also, it´s conveniently located close to Bilbao (only 1h by car).

The city of Santander is the capital of the Cantabria region. Don´t miss the palace Palacio de la Magdalena , the views from funicular de Río de la Pila , the art center Centro de arte Botí n, the central square Plaza del Ayuntamiento , the cathedral of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

If you´re traveling in summer and looking for more laid-back vibes, don´t miss the beaches of Playa de los Peligros and Playa del Puntal . You can also check this post of mine about the most epic Northern Spain Beaches .

cantabria northern spain road trip

Unique tour to book from Santander:

  • Santander: 1-Hour City Cruise Around the Bay
  • Cabarceno Natural Park Half-Day Trip
  • Picos, Santo Toribio Monastery and Potes Day Tour
  • Santander: Surf Lessons on Playa de Somo
  • Soplao Cave Excursion
  • Potes, Santillana and Altamira Day Tour
  • Lakes of Covadonga Guided Day Trip
  • Comillas, modernist architecture & Gaudi
  • Pilgrimage Day to Santo Toribio
  • Santoña: Anchovy Factory Tour and Boat Trip
  • Gastronomic Tour From Santander

More of the Cantabria Region

As I´ve previously mentioned, Cantabria is an amazing destination for adventurous family vacations . Yes, you can´t see it all in a few days, but you can definitely choose something for your own taste from this list:

  • Altamira Caves (one of the top Spanish national landmarks )
  • Bosque de Secuoyas ( a park full of giant sequoias, very rare in Spain)
  • Laberinto de Vilapresente (with its 5625 m 2 , the biggest labyrinth in Spain)
  • Cueva el Sopla o (a unique cave, one of the greatest Spanish wonders of geology)
  • Teleferico de Fuente De ( a cable car to one of the most stunning National parks in Spain –  Parque Nacional de los Picos de Europa )

From the small towns of Cantabria, you´ll definitely love San Vicente de la Barquera , Santoña (famous for its anchovies), Castro Urdiales ( read its famous legend of The Mermaid of Castro-Urdiales ), and Santillana del Mar .

At this point, you can end your Northern Spain Road Trip and return back to Bilbao, as it´s only a 1h-long drive from Santander.

Asturias Best Beaches Northern Spain: 3 Beaches to Awaken Your Wanderlust

In case you want to drive further along the coast of Northern Spain check my posts about traveling to Asturias and the beautiful villages of Asturias . Unfortunately, I currently have nothing published on Galicia (as I visited the region long before I had my blog) – but it´s not going to stay this way for long (as Galicia is in my travel plans for this Autumn). Also, you can consider adding to this Northern Spain Road Trip Itinerary my Pyrenees Road Trip , Asturias Road Trip , Weekend in La Rioja and Navarra , a few places from my recent Aragon Getaway , and even Andorra .

northern spain trip

For more tips and ideas follow my Pinterest boards – Best of At Lifestyle Crossroads Blog and The Ultimate Spain Travel Collection .

at lifestyle crossroads travel blog resources

  • Accommodation : For short stays, I usually book via Agoda , Booking , and Hotellook
  • Tours&excursions : My favorites for guided tours are GetYourGuide and Viator
  • City breaks&sightseeing: Go City helps to avoid multiple entry fees and paper tickets
  • Travel Insurance : find the best trip insurance plans via VisitorsCoverage , EKTA , and Insubuy
  • Driving in a new country? – Check out Tripiamo (do not miss Tripiamo Driving in Spain Guide )
  • Flights : To find the best deals I like WayAway and Aviasales
  • Airport Lounge: Get independent airport lounge access worldwide via   Priority Pass
  • Train&bus tickets : Currently, I book via Trainline and Busbud
  • Car rental: To find the best deals I use Rental Cars , Discover Cars , and GetRentalCar
  • Transfers: For individual transfer services I like Kiwitaxi
  • For Foodies:  Eatwith  is great for finding culinary experiences with locals
  • Suitcases&Luggage : To eliminate problems of early arrivals/late departures I find helpful Radical Storage
  • Compensation for delayed/canceled flights: AirHelp is useful for all flight cancellation or delay claims
  • To avoid roaming fees I use Airalo eSIMs around the world
  • Valencia Tours: get an extra 5% off any Valencia&Go tour with the code crossroads5
  • Budget-friendly stays: Check   Hostelworld to find the best deals around the world
  • Events: To find the best offers I use  Ticketmaster  and    TicketNetwork
  • Renting Bikes: to find motorcycles, scooters, quads, and bicycles I use   BikesBooking
  • Package Tours: head to  CheapOair ,  Expedia UK ,  Tourhub, and   loveholidays
  • For Bloggers : To monetize my blog I use Travelpayouts

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Traveling in Spain non-stop is my biggest obsession. Looking for Spanish hidden gems and local travel tips? - You are in the right place! Let me be your insider guide to Spain!

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What a great itinerary for Northern Spain. I always read a lot about the southern parts of the country but I think I would enjoy a road trip around the northern parts just as much. Thanks for sharing it, I’ll save your post for my future travels.

Wow, the views at San Sebastian look amazing! And I like the tip of heading over to France to see two countries in one trip. Awesome tips!

Gaztelugatche is gorgeous. If I ever go back to northern Spain…

What a great road trip itinerary through Northern Spain! I think San Sabastian would be my favorite. It looks beautiful, and I’d want to check out Biarritz, France.

We’re doing Spain in April, and we’re not even halfway done planning. I’ve heard a lot of great things about San Sabastian. Sharing this with my travel party now!

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The Geographical Cure

10 Days In Northern Spain Road Trip Itinerary, From Barcelona to Bilbao

Planning a road trip in northern Spain? Here’s the perfect 10 day road trip itinerary takes you from the cultured city of Barcelona in Catalonia to the culinary and architectural haven of Bilbao in the Basque region.

Gaudi's Park Güell in Barcelona

These regions are divine, renowned for their sun-kissed beaches, architectural masterpieces, must see art museums, and rich gastronomic traditions. And wine!

A road trip is the perfect way to take in the wide variety of amazing destinations in northern Spain.

Let’s hit the road for the perfect route from Barcelona to Bilbao. You’ll be rewarded with a world rich in contrasts — tranquil medieval villages, golden sand beaches, dazzling contemporary and Gaudi-designed architecture, the best red wine, and some world class art.

Pinterest pin for 10 Days In Northern Spain Itinerary

Overview Of 10 Days In Northern Spain

Here’s a snapshot glance at the path you’ll follow for this ten days in northern Spain itinerary:

  • Day 1 : Explore Barcelona
  • Day 2 : Explore Barcelona
  • Day 3 : Drive to the La Rioja region, stop in Zaragoza en route
  • Day 4 : Explore La Rioja
  • Day 5 : Optional Day Trip to Pamplona

Day 6 : Day Trip To Vitoria-Gasteiz

  • Day 7 : Drive To San Sebastian
  • Day 8 : Explore San Sebastian
  • Day 9 : Drive to Bilbao, stop in Getaria en route

Day 10 : Explore Bilbao

This detailed 10 day Spain road trip itinerary is perfectly adjustable. You can make it shorter or longer, depending on your available vacation time or personal fast/slow travel pace. I’ve tried to give you a mix of cities, leisurely villages, and nature.

You’ll have four bases for touring Spain’s northern exposures: Barcelona (2 nights), La Rioja region (4 nights), San Sebastian (2 nights), Bilbao (2 nights). Don’t pick up your rental car until you leave Barcelona and drop it off right away in Bilbao. You won’t want a car in these two cities.

aerial view of Las Ramblas in Barcelona

10 Day Itinerary for a Northern Spain Road Trip

Days 1-2: explore barcelona.

You start your ten days in northern Spain in the beautiful city of Barcelona . You could easily spend a week in Barcelona and not get bored.

A city like no other, Barcelona is a non-stop feast for the eyes. Barcelona is rich in historic sites, with some of the world’s most unique and fantastical architecture . The city is bordered on one side by mountains and the other by golden sand beaches. Barcelona has nine UNESCO sites.

Gothic Quarter

Begin day 1 with a stroll down the teeming maze-like Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most celebrated central artery near the Gothic Quarter.

It’s an almost one mile walk from Placa Catalunya to the old port, taking you past historic sights in a sensory free fall with a dash of carnival atmospherics.

Placa Catalunya

There’s a lot to see in the Gothic Quarter . You may want to book a guided walking tour . You can also book a guided food tour in the evening.

It’s magical and ancient district of history-steeped back streets and charming squares. The must see sites include Barcelona Cathedral, the Picasso Museum, Placa Reial, Palau Guell, La Boqueria, and Palau de la Musica.

You can’t leave Barcelona without visiting two of Gaudi’s most famous masterpieces — Casa Batllo and La Pedrera . They’re only minutes apart on the the Passeig de Gracia in the Eixample neighborhood.

It’s essential to book skip the line tickets for each site well in advance. You can’t miss these two Gaudi gems, which still seem startlingly modern. Click here for skip the lines tickets to Casa Batllo and here for La Pedrera.

Casa Batllo in Barcelona

Sagrada Familia

A 5 minute taxi ride away is Sagrada Familia. The basilica is Gaudi’s wildly creative and vertigo-inspiring masterpiece.

It’s the undisputed jewel of Barcelona, with its beige-pink spires that culminate in glitter. Despite being under continuous construction, Sagrada Familia is a place of superlatives both inside and out.

The exterior of the basilica is audacious and “gaudy” in appearance, a mountain (or termite hill) almost. But the interior is entirely sublime.

Gaudi intended it to be a retreat into nature. And, indeed, you could be standing in a majestic star-lit white forest. It’s an astonishing space, an alternative reality full of detail.

Here’s my complete guide to Sagrada Familia . You’ll need to book a skip the line ticket to visit.

entrance to Park Guell

To complete your Gaudi architectural tour, visit Park Güell, perhaps at sunset. Park Guell also requires a timed entry pre-booked ticket .

Park Guell might be Gaudi’s most fantastical and hyperactive creation. It’s a large 30 acre public park and bejeweled garden complex, with stunning mosaic art, located on Carmel Hill in Barcelona’s Gracia neighborhood.

You should also explore Montjuic one afternoon or evening. You get there via taxi or glass cable car up to the hilly Montjuic area. Click here for information on taking the cable car.

On Montjuic, you’ll find the Miro Foundation, a beautifully designed museum with works by the Surrealist artist Joan Miro. You’ll also find the Magic Fountain, the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, National Museum of Catalan Art, Olympic sites, and a botanical garden.

Where To Stay In Barcelona : Mandarin Oriental ,  Cotton House ,  Hotel Arts , The Serras ,  Hotel Cataloinia Passeig de Gracia , Hotel Bagues  

Montjuic in Barcelona

Day 3-4: A Sip To Sip Tour of the La Rioja Region

On day 3 of your 10 days in northern Spain itinerary, pick up your car and head west to the La Rioja region. That will be your base for the next 4 nights.

There, you’ll indulge in wine and/or embark on day trips to the beautiful off the radar cities of Pamplona and Vitoria-Gasteiz. This Napa-like region is small and easily covered by car.

La Rioja is one of Europe’s best wine regions, specializing in world famous lush reds and crisp oak-aged whites. There are more than 600 wineries in La Rioja.

Most wineries require an appointment. La Rioja is studded with medieval villages, grape vines, and modernist architectural works by Frank Gehry and Santiago Calatrava.

You may want to book a wine tour .

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza Spain

1. Stop in Zaragoza

It’s an approximately 4.5 drive from Barcelona to the La Rioja region. Break up your drive by stopping for lunch in Zaragoza, a good midway point.

Zaragoza is a lovely hidden gem in Spain. Zaragoza is stuffed with Renaissance and Moorish buildings, wonderful museums, and a grand cathedral.

Zaragoza is known for its gastronomy, so you’ll have a delicious lunch on your stopover. Try Casa Lac, Casa Unai, Montal, Celebris, or Cafe Nolasco.

You can also book a guided walking tour or a guided wine tour in the city.

2. Bases for La Rioja

Here are the best four bases for visiting in and around La Rioja. Pick one that matches your personal taste, and visit the others during your time in La Rioja. Or, pick a couple that appeal, if you don’t mind changing your base.

old quarter of Logrono in la Rioja Spain

Logrono is the capital of La Rioja. It’s a small city, but the largest one in the region. You’ll find a fantastic selection of hotels, pintxos bars (Tastavin!), and restaurants.

Logrono has a unique mix of an atmospheric medieval quarter, tree-studded squares, and imaginative modern architecture.

If you’re looking for a relaxed rural atmosphere, this isn’t the place for you. If you’re into night life, then Logrono is the perfect place to stay.

If you’re going car-less, you should stay in Logrono and take buses or taxis to your chosen destinations.

Where To Stay In Logrono : Aurea Palacio de Correos , Hotel Sercotel Calle Mayor

the old town of Laguardia Spain

Competing with Logrono, Haro is also frequently dubbed the capital of La Rioja. It’s a smaller town.

But it still has an attractive medieval quarter, an intense concentration of historic wineries, and a fine selection of bars and restaurants. (Try Las Duelas.)

It’s not a big city, but there’s plenty to do, see, eat, and drink. On June 29th each year, you can experience the Haro Wine Festival.

Where To Stay In Haro : Eurostars Los Agustinos

San Martin Square in Haro Spain

Laguardia is located in the Basque side of Rioja wine region, Rioja Alavesa. It is a beautiful and atmospheric medieval town with loads of charm.

The town was originally built as a fortification against Castilian aggression in the 12th century. Despite its diminutive size, there’s still a decent selection of places to stay, restaurants, and wineries.

The titanium-canopied hotel has a Michelin starred restaurant and a spa. It’s also associated with the historic Marques de Riscal winery, which dates from 1858.

Where To Stay In Laguardia : Casa Rural Eruetxe , Hospederia de los Parajes

the Gehry-designed Hotel Marques de Riscal

For a splurge, check into the Hotel Marques de Riscal , just outside Logrono. Frank Gehry’s stunning redesign of a chateau is a true masterpiece and a La Rioja destination in and of itself.

Click here for a guide to the best wineries in Haro and here for the best wineries in Logrono. Be sure to visit Bodegas Ysios. It’s a boutique winery designed, in futuristic fashion, by famed (but controversial) architect Santiago Calatrava

Suso Monastery in San Millan

3. Other La Rioja Destinations

If you’d like to do some castle hopping along with wine imbibing, there are a few castles nearby — Castillo de Sajazarra, Castillo de Briones, and Castillo de Davlillo.

Another place you shouldn’t miss is San Millan de la Cogolla. The UNESCO town is the birthplace of Castellano, the modern written and spoken Spanish language.

Visit both Suso Monastery (book online in advance), consecrated in the 10th century, and the nearby Convent of Canas . Between the monasteries, is another great wine bodega, David Moreno.

Bodegas Ysios, designed by Santiago Calatrava

Day 5: Day Trip To Pamplona

On day 5, if you can tear yourself away from the wineries, head to Pamplona. Pamplona is the leafy and underrated capital of the Navarre region in greater Basque Spain.

It’s a well-heeled university town, home to one of Spain’s most famous and testosterone-fueled festival, the Running of the Bulls, which takes place one week in July.

The San Fermin Festival, a 24/7 party atmosphere, attracts 1 million visitors annually to watch men outrun bulls (or be gored). If it’s not festival time, you can walk the path men and bull follow, called the Encierro. They run through narrow streets to the bull ring, the Plaza de Toros de Pamplona.

But there’s more to Pamplona than bulls. Even if the bulls aren’t thundering down cobblestone streets, picturesque Pamplona will appeal.

It has a grand Gothic cathedral, well-preserved 16th century fortifications, and medieval streets and squares. Pamplona is also a stop on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.

colorful houses on the main square of Pamplona

Pamplona’s old town was beloved by Ernest Hemingway, who used to nibble pintxos and fill up on the local liqueur, Pacharan, at the historic Cafe Iruna. He set part of The Sun Also Rises in the pretty Plaza del Castillo and helped make the San Fermin festival famous.

You’ll also be in foodie heaven in Pamplona. Spain is known for its jamon, queso, and croquettas.

But Navarre is know for the intense freshness and quality of its local produce. If you stay for dinner, try La Olla, Bar Gaucho, El Mercao, or Bodegon Sarria.

Art lovers can head to Pamplona’s Museo de Navarra, which boasts a collection of Goyas, Roman mosaics, and murals. Just outside Pamplona, in the village of Alzuza, there’s a museum dedicated to the great Basque sculptor Jordge Oteiza.

To see it all, you may want to book a guided walking tour .

Plaza de la Virgen Blanc in Vitoria-Gasteiz

Vitoria-Gasteiz is a lovely art-filled small city about an hour from Bilbao. It’s surprisingly overlooked by tourists. But perhaps it won’t be for long, with the good press the town has received in the last decade.

In 2012, Vitoria-Gastiez was named Spain’s Green Capital, for its profusion of pedestrianized squares, gardens, and parks. In 2014, the town was named Spain’s Gastronomy Capital for its delicious restaurants and foodie culture.

In 2021, National Geographic named it among the 25 best travel destinations, calling Vitoria a “timeless place the will define our future itineraries.” I recommend booking a  guided walking tour of the historic center .

At the summit of Vitoria’s old town, you can stroll through the impeccably preserved medieval quarter. The streets are named after medieval craftsmen’s guilds.

Gape at the magnificent and imposing Cathedral of Santa Maria. The Gothic cathedral dates from the 13th and 14th centuries. Restoration is ongoing.

the new cathedral in Vitoria-Gasteiz

Browse in the beautiful Plaza de la Virgen Blanc. In the plaza, you’ll find lots of shops and eateries. Then, take a stroll through the old quarter and under the arcaded passageways of the Paseo de los Arquillos.

Vitoria-Gasteiz is also known as the “painted town” and there are street art murals scattered around the city.

Art lovers can’t miss the Atrium Museum, opened in 2002. In subterranean galleries, you’ll find a fantastic collection of modern art. It includes pieces by Chillada, Miro, and Oteiza. Vitoria-Gasteiz also has a fine arts museum, where you’ll find works by other Spanish artists.

If you stay in town for dinner, head to the Michelin-starred Zaldiaran. Another tasty option is Ikea. If you want pintxos, head to the award winning Sagartoki or Tolono. The tourist office also offers a “Pintxo Map,” so you can do a proper pintxos crawl of the town.

the beautiful La Concha beach of San Sebastian

Day 7-8 : Drive To and Explore San Sebastian

From Vitoria-Gasteiz, it’s a 1:20 drive to your next base, San Sebastian. The New York Times says “To visit San Sebastian, is to fall in love.”

San Sebastian is an incredible seaside Basque city, and tourists flock there. San Sebastian is renowned as a foodie resort town and beachy playground.

Its stunning beach, the crescent-shaped La Concha, is world famous and considered one of Europe’s best beaches. The city’s filigreed balconies and Belle Epoque buildings give it a classical elegance.

San Sebastian’s historic center, Parte Vieja, is picturesque. It’s sprinkled with an endless variety of upscale stores, churches, vibrant pintxos bars, and tony restaurants.

view of San Sebastian from Mount Igueldo

Be sure to check out the beautiful Bell Epoque City Hall, the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, San Vicente Church, and the Cathedral of the Good Shepard.

San Sebastian’s old town also has one of Basque Spain’s best museums, the San Telmo Museum . Housed in a restored convent and a contemporary wing, you’ll find both artifacts and cutting edge modern art.

If you want some exercise to leaven the sunshine and beach time, you can stroll along the dreamy C-shaped beachside trail.

At the far west end, just beyond Ondarreta beach, are metal sculptures — the Comb of the Wind , by renowned Basque artist Eduardo Chillada. It consists of iron installations in the rocks, which seems to “comb” the wind as the water crashes.

Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus in San Sebastian

Hike up Mount Igueldo for the classic San Sebastian vista. Or, hike up the lesser known Mount Urgull to the local castle, the 12th century Castillo de la Mota. The views are amazing.

If you’re a food traveler, you’ll be in seventh heaven. San Sebastian is frequently called the food capitol of the world. It has 25 Michelin restaurants and boasts three restaurants with the rarest of accolades: a three star Michelin rating. Be sure to book well in advance at Mugaritz, Arzak, or Kokotxa.

San Sebastian also has a thriving pintxos scene. The cardinal rule of Basque pintxos-bar dining is to never stop moving, sampling different haute cuisine bites on your nocturnal journey.

The best ones are Gambara and Txepeta. Or, just wander between Calle Fermin Calbeton and Calle 31 de Agosto and see what’s on offer. You can also go on a guided pintxos and wine tour .

Where To Stay In San Sebastián : Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra ,  Hotel Maria Cristina , Akellare Relais & Chateaux , Hotel La Galeria  

the hidden gem seaside town of Getaria Spain

Day 9: Drive To Bilbao, Stop in Getaria

On day 9, you’ll drive from San Sebastian to Bilbao. En route, stop for lunch or a visit in the pretty secret fishing village of Getaria, just 30 minutes from San Sebastian.

Getaria is one of the most charming towns on the Basque coast, jutting out into the sea with an attractive sandy beach (Gaztepe). It’s a pristine medieval fishing village with old world charm, stone houses, and gorgeous landscapes. You’ll have picture-perfect coastline views.

Getaria is home to the Basque regions’s signature drink, txakoli, a sparkling white wine. You can visit several wineries in and around the town. Getaria is also known for its seafood, particularly baby squid and turbot.

Getaria has a pretty Gothic church and is the birthplace of haute couture fashion icon Cristobal Balenciaga. There’s a museum dedicated to his life and work. You get there via an incongruous outdoor escalator at the outer edge of the town.

Try to depart Getaria and arrive in Bilbao by mid afternoon, so you can explore. It’s a one hour drive from Getaria to Bilbao.

El Ensanche neighborhood of Bilbao Spain

Bilbao is an incredibly cool and underrated city in Spain. It’s beautifully situated amid rolling green hills and mountain ranges — an urban landscape in a country setting. Glimmering on the Nervion River, Bilbao is chock full of historic landmarks, Michelin restaurants, and world class museums.

After you’ve arrived and settled in, explore Casco Viejo. Bilbao’s medieval quarter. You’ll find the “seven streets” of the historic center, where Bilbao was born.

They are teeming with lively and quirky cafes, pintxos (tapas) bars, tony shops, and tiny squares. Locals mix with tourists and there’s definitely Basque energy flowing.

The centerpiece of old town is Santiago Cathedral, a 15th century church with a Gothic facade and decorations. It’s free to enter. For 2 euros, you can peak into the cloister from the famous Door of the Angel.

Casco Viejo facades in Bilbao Spain

For a pre-dinner cocktail, head to 19th century Plaza Nuevo or the “New Plaza.” It’s a beautiful Neo-Classical arcade square.

Plaza Nuevo is a gourmet heaven. Popular pintxos spots in Plaza Nuevo include Cafe Bar Bilbao, Gure-Tok, and Casa Victor Montes. It’s common custom to hop from bar to bar sampling the wares.

Loosen your belt in Bilbao. Bilbao has 22 Michelin starred restaurants , including one three starred restaurant, and is considered a foodie haven. Azurmendi , with its three Michelin stars, is the jewel of Bilbao. Restaurant Mina is another culinary trendsetter and deserving Michelin star recipient.

Aside from these heavy hitters, Bilbao also has fabulous local restaurants, many scattered throughout its old town. You can find innovative pintxos and food at Irrintzi, La Vina Del Ensanche, Cafe Iruna, and Ledesma No 5.

the Guggenheim Museum and Louise Bourgeois' Maman spider sculpture

Bilbao is the Basque region’s premiere city, a foodie destination with great architecture. I advise booking a guided walking tour or a guided food tour .

Guggenheim Museum

Start your final day in northern Spain with a visit to the world famous Guggenheim Museum . It’s locatedin Bilbao’s Abando neighborhood. You can grab breakfast/brunch at the nearby at Sua San, a chic eatery just opposite the museum.

Inaugurated in 1997, Frank Gehry’s twisting shimmering museum is the star of Bilbao. It’s been likened to both a palace and a ship. The museum even has its own Michelin-starred restaurant, Nerua Guggenheim Bilbao, focusing on local Basque ingredients.

The museum exterior courtyards are scattered with world renowned sculptures: Jeff Koon’s massive flowering Puppy, Louise Bourgeois’ 30 foot Maman spider, Anish Kapoor’s Tall Tree and the Eye, and the newest piece Fujiko Nakaya’s The Fog Sculpture.

Jeff Koon's Tulips at Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum

On the inside, the architecture continues to amaze. There’s a glass-enclosed 50 meter atrium, crowned with a skylight in the shape of a metal flower. Light suffuses the place.

Inside lies a modern art collection on par with Europe’s best modern art museums. You’ll find works by Robert Motherwell, Cy Twombley, Yves Klein, Marc Chagall, Andy Warhol, Eduardo Chillada, and Anselm Kiefer.

A highlight for me was walking through Richard Serra’s outsize and powerful Matter of Time steel sculptures.

Book your skip the line ticket here .

Azkuna Zentroa

To the west of Guggenheim lies what may be Bilbao’s most beautiful and interesting building, Azkuna Zentroa . It’s a bizarre but brilliant culture and leisure center. The building was reimagined by French designer Philippe Starck.

Azkuna Zentroa

On the outside, it’s a mock medieval castle. On the inside, Azkuna is all Starck, an adventure in experiential contemporary art. Its vast foyer is supported by 43 squat stylized pillars.

It houses a public gym, swimming pool (with a glass bottom), a library, a restaurant, tapas bars, a rooftop terrace, and modern art exhibitions.

Mercado de la Ribera

For lunch, head to the foodie paradise of the Mercado de la Ribera food market on the Nervion River. La Ribera is Europe’s largest indoor food hall.

There’s been a market on this site since the 14th century. Today’s beautiful Art Deco building was built in 1929. As part of Bilbao’s urban renewal, the market was restored and reopened in 2011 to acclaim.

La Ribera market on the Nervion River

You’ll see goat carcasses and pig heads. But you can also check out the beautiful stained glass panels. Bilbao’s wolfish coat of arms is in the largest panel. Across from the Ribera you can admire the beautiful Neo-Baroque Teatro Arriaga, modeled after the Opera Garnier in Paris .

El Ensanche

After lunch, take a stroll through Bilbao’s El Ensache neighborhood. The main boulevard of this tony neighborhood, known as the Gran Via, is Gran Via Don Diego Lopez de Haro. It’s the most cosmopolitan area of the city. There are lots of first rate shops, restaurants, and bars.

On Gran Via, you can also inspect Bilbao’s “Fosteritos.” This is the nickname given to the graceful and sensuous segmented glass entrances to Bilbao’s metro system, designed by architect Norman Foster. The “Fosteritos” were built at the same time as the Guggenheim and are part of Bilbao’s urban architecture.

This area contains some of Bilbao’s most important renovated and eye catching buildings: La Equativo (by Manuel Galíndez), the Banco de Bilbao (by Pedro Guimón), the Naviera de la Sota y Aznar building (by Manuel María Smith Ibarra), and Bilbao Department of Health Building (by Juan Coll-Barreu).

the Zubizuri Bridge in Bilbao

Plaza San Jose is also a must visit square in El Ensanche. It was named after the brilliantly white Church of San Jose.

In the square, you’ll find three over-sized bronze sculptures by Vicente Larrea. Commissioned between 2003-05, the sculptures are made of folded sheets of steel resembling rock formations.

Funicular & Zubizuri Bridge

In the late afternoon, take a funicular ride from the Bilbao’s city center to Mount Artxanda for an aerial view of the city. It’s a must do activity in Bilbao. From the Guggenheim, cross the stark white Zubizuri footbridge and it’s a short walk to the funicular.

The Zubuzuri was designed by the acclaimed (but controversial) Santiago Calatrava, a Neo-Futuristic architect. It’s popularly known as the Calatrava Bridge. The bridge connects El Ensanche with the Calle Campo de Volatin, where you can take a pedestrianized stroll along the Nervion River.

the Guggenheim Museum on the Nervion River

The bridge almost looks like a sailboat on the river. Residents either hate it or love it. The glass tiled footpath became known as the “wipeout bridge” because of its slipperiness after frequent rain in Bilbao.

After enjoying the views, pick another of Bilbao’s fine restaurants for dinner. Or go on a pintxos crawl.

Where To Stay In Bilbao : Hotel Carlton , Vincci Consulado de Bilbao , Occidental Bilbao , Hotel Miro

I hope you’ve enjoyed my 10 day road trip itinerary for northern Spain. You may enjoy these other Spain travel guides and resources:

  • Day Trips From Bilbao
  • 3 Day Seville Itinerary
  • 2 Day Itinerary for Madrid
  • 10 Day Road Trip From Madrid to Seville
  • 10 Day Itinerary for Basque Spain
  • Six 1 Week Itineraries for Spain
  • 25 Famous Landmarks in Spain
  • 10 Day Itinerary for Andalusia
  • 30+ Hidden Gems in Spain

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Last Updated on March 27, 2023 by Leslie Livingston

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Northern Spain Guided Tour

11 Day Northern Spain Tour from Barcelona to Madrid

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Go beyond the normal northern Spain trip and immerse yourself in the region’s distinctive culture and history. On this trip up north, you’ll trace the footsteps of pilgrims, admire the architectural talents of Frank Gehry and relax on the sunny shores of Santander.

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Explore Barcelona, Santiago de Compostela, Salamanca and Madrid with a Local Specialist

Discover Pamplona, San Sebastián, Bilbao, Santander and Oviedo

Visit the Holy Cave of Covadonga, the fishing village of Luarca, St. James Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela and the Prado Museum in Madrid

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Jared Dillingham in Cudillero Spain

11 ‘Must See’ Cities in Northern Spain: A Guide & Itinerary

northern spain trip

A ROAD TRIP ITINERARY FOR THE BEST CITIES IN NORTHERN SPAIN

For this itinerary, we’ll fly into Bilbao, rent a car , and then make a loop over the course of several days.   The cities in this Northern Spain itinerary will include several large ones which may be familiar to Americans, along with smaller, picturesque villages and beach towns along the way.

Based on geography and the highway system through Northern Spain, it’s not a perfect circle loop.  We’ll backtrack a bit in spots, but it’ll all make sense and be worth it!

Our “Cities of Northern Spain Itinerary” will take us through several regions in the country, from the Basque Country, through Cantabria, and Asturias.

You can make this road trip through these cities in Northern Spain over the course of four days … or… two weeks! It all depends on how much time you want to spend in each!

Cities in Northern Spain: Cudillero view

Renting a Car in Northern Spain

The best way to visit the small towns and big cities in Nothern Spain is by renting a car .  Rates fluctuate, but it was only $100 for our first 6-day rental.

 I’ve had great luck using Discover Cars for rentals in Europe.  Their listings include locally-based car rental companies (like Centauro in Spain) in addition to Hertz and the other agencies we’re used to in the USA.

➡️ Rent a Car in Spain: Click Here!

How to Get to Cities in Northern Spain

In my opinion, the best way to begin a road trip of cities in Northern Spain begins by flying into a smaller city (like Bilbao) and renting a car from there.   This way, you avoid the hassle of trying to figure out how to navigate your rental car out of a huge city like Madrid!

Bilbao may be a smaller city with a small airport, but it’s worth searching as a flight destination when you start your planning. The convenience factor is high!

On the other hand, Madrid is probably the most economical option for a flight from the United States. It’s a hub for Delta Airlines, so many times you’ll find great deals from US cities to Madrid, and be able to begin your journey from there.   

PRO TIP :  To save a couple hundred dollars per flight (during certain times of the year) book midweek flights !   Flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are often less expensive than flights on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

From Madrid, it’s a four-hour drive north ( if you rent a car ) to the cities in Northern Spain.   Alternatively, you can take a train from Madrid to Oviedo, and begin your road trip from there.   

Map of Our Road Trip Through Cities in Northern Spain

We’ll start in Bilbao and first head east to San Sebastián. Days later, we’ll loop back west through Bilbao to hit Cangas de Onis, Santander and several other cities in Northern Spain.

1. First Stop: Bilbao

I’m starting our “Cities of Northern Spain Itinerary” in Bilbao simply for logistics.  I’d suggest flying into Bilbao and spending the night there to get your bearings and adjust to the time difference, before beginning your road trip to other cities in Northern Spain.

➡️ HOTEL SUGGESTION: NYX Hotel Bilbao

Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country (part of Northern Spain) and has a metropolitan population of over 1 million people.  

Cities in Northern Spain: Bilbao

While historically Bilbao is known for its industry, manufacturing, and shipbuilding, it’s become a hub for urban renewal and culture. The construction of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao played a crucial role in revitalizing the city and attracting visitors from around the world.

Bilbao Guggenheim at night

Things to Do in Bilbao

The Guggenheim is one of many art galleries, museums, and theaters in Bilbao.  

Jeff Koons’ flowery art installation outside the Guggenheim, called “ The Puppy ,” is reason alone to stop by, even if you’re not an art fan!

Jeff Koons Puppy Bilbao

We stopped by after sunset, to get photos without the crowd!

Jeff Koons Puppy Guggenheim Bilbao

Bilbao is also home to big brand-name shopping boulevards, as well as a beautiful and historic “old town.” The stone streets in the Casco Viejo neighborhood are pedestrian-friendly, and lined with shops and restaurants.

Bilbao Spain in the rain

You’ll find historic gems as you wander around, like the old drinking water fountain,  Txakurraren Iturria .  It translates to “Fountain of the Dog.”  The fountain itself is functional and provides fresh drinking water for tourists, businesses and people living nearby.

Cities in Northern Spain: Bilbao Fountain

Food in Bilbao

Bilbao is also known for its gastronomy, offering a wide array of Basque cuisine, including pintxos (Basque tapas). The streets of Casco Viejo are lined with bars and restaurants, featuring a wide array of pintxos to choose from.

Pintxos in Northern Spain

For a quieter spot at night, the cafe in the park west of the Guggenheim Museum ( Cafe Ona ) has a great patio with a pretty view.  Glasses of wine are only about $3 USD, and it’s open past 10:00pm in the summer!

2. Bilbao to Gaztelugatxe

  • Distance: 30 kilometers
  • Drive Time: 40 minutes

Gaztelugatxe is a small, rocky island located on the coast of the Basque Country in Northern Spain. It’s known for its iconic chapel, which sits atop the island and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape and the Bay of Biscay. 

Cities in Northern Spain: Gaztelugatxe

Gaztelugatxe’s popularity and notoriety soared a few years ago, after it was used as a filming location in “Game of Thrones.”  The steps led to Dragonstone, the fictional ancestral home of the House Targaryen on the show.  The actual castle you see in the show is all CGI, but the steps and rocks are real!

Visitors can walk the 241 steps across the rocks to the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Chapel . This small, medieval chapel dates back to the 10th century and is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.  

PRO TIP:  Book in advance!  A lot of people show up at Gaztelugatxe, expecting to just walk the steps to the chapel, but they have a timed entry system. Certain time-slots can sell out.

Parking in Gaztelugatxe

There are a few free parking lots around the entrance to Gaztelugatxe.  You’ll find plenty of space, especially if you arrive somewhat early in the day.

Parking here is free, whether you pay to walk the steps out to chapel, or just want to wander through the coastal trails.

Things to Do in Gaztelugatxe

In addition to walking out to the chapel along the famous steps, the cliffs along the coast at Gaztelugatxe are stunning and worth exploring!   Plus the Bay of Biscay’s clear blue water adds to the stunning views. I was truly surprised by how beautiful the water is here.

Cities in Northern Spain: Gaztelugatxe Coast

In addition to walking out to the chapel, you can also explore the trails through the forest above the coastline.  If you’re up for more of a hike, it’s a 2-kilometer walk from Gaztelugatxe to Bakio Beach through the forest.

Hiking Trail at Gaztelugatxe Spain

Food in Gaztelugatxe

Gaztelugatxe isn’t a big (or even small) town, so food options are limited.  You’ll find a couple cafes and restaurants right near the entrance to relax in, and grab a drink or meal.  They have great views of the coast!

Restaurant in Gaztelugatxe Spain

3. Gaztelugatxe to Bermeo

  • Distance: 12 kilometers
  • Drive Time: 25 minutes

Bermeo is a picturesque coastal town also in the Basque Country of Northern Spain. 

Bermeo has a long history as a fishing village, and its port has remained largely unchanged since the 1800s. 

Cities in Northern Spain: Bermeo Port

The tall, narrow houses along the water still stand as they were originally built, tucked into the rocks.  The facades are lined with balconies, and the windows you see on the front are the only windows in these long, narrow old homes.

Cities in Northern Spain: Bilbao to Bermeo

You’ll also find narrow staircases zig-zagging between the homes along the port.  

The ground floors, which used to be workshops and fish markets, are now mostly cafes and shops.

Bermeo Spain port

Parking in Bermeo

There’s a large free parking lot on the north side of Bermeo, which is a short walk away from the stone streets you’ll want to check out.

Things to Do in Bermeo

The town’s port remains one of the most important fishing ports in the region. It’s lined with cafes to choose from.

Bermeo’s Old Town  is a charming neighborhood with narrow streets and traditional Basque architecture. 

You might find a market open in the plaza outside the Santa Maria Iglesia (cathedral).

Bermeo Spain market

Food in Bermeo

Bermeo is renowned for its anchovies, which are caught in the Bay of Biscay and often served marinated in olive oil and vinegar. They’re also used in a variety of pintxos (Basque tapas).

Marmitako is a traditional Basque fisherman’s stew, which typically includes tuna, potatoes, onions, peppers, and tomatoes, cooked together.

Bermeo Spain market

4. Bermeo to San Sebastian

  • Distance: 120 kilometers
  • Drive Time: 90 minutes

San Sebastian , also known as Donostia in the Basque language, is one of the most beautiful coastal cities in Northern Spain. 

It’s a favorite among travelers for its beaches, hiking trails, culture, and food!

I’d definitely recommend spending at least a night in San Sebastian on your road trip through cities in Northern Spain.

Cities in Northern Spain: San Sebastián

Parking in San Sebastian

You’ll have to drive through town to get to the Okendo lot.  It’s an underground parking lot which charges by the hour, or about 28 Euros per day.  

It’s within easy walking distance from San Sebastian’s “Old Town” and the water.

Things to Do in San Sebastian

San Sebastian’s “Old Town,” known as Parte Vieja , is home to many blocks full of shops and restaurants.  It’s pedestrian-friendly with stone streets.

San Sebastián Old Town

San Sebastian is famous for its picturesque beaches. The most popular beach is La Concha , a crescent-shaped sandy beach with crystal-clear waters. It’s considered one of the most beautiful urban beaches in Europe.

San Sebastián beach

Boat crews offer ferry tours of the bay for 7 Euros from the port.

You can also rent bi kes, scooters, kaya ks , and more from businesses down by the water

San Sebastián ferry

Monte Urgull and Monte Igueldo are two hills that provide panoramic views of San Sebastian and its coastline. The walking paths wind up a mountain looking back at the city and out to Santa Klara Isand in the bay.

Cities in Northern Spain: San Sebastián bay

Where to Stay in San Sebastian

We enjoyed our stay at Casa Nicolasa .  It’s no-frills and definitely nothing fancy! But I appreciated the unlimited supply of espresso coffee pods, and I wanted a place with a small balcony.

San Sebastián Casa Nicolasa Hotel Balcony

Plus, location is always a priority, and Casa Nicolasa is in the perfect spot to explore the best parts of San Sebastian.

You can use this interactive map, centered on Casa Nicolasa , to see the rates and availability of hotels and rentals for your dates:

Casa Nicolasa in San Sebastián Spain

Food in San Sebastian

Everyone said: “ You have to try the cheesecake !”  They were right!  

It’s excellent, and different from what we’re used to in the USA.  Don’t be turned-off by the blackened top or crumbly mess I made.

San Sebastián Cheesecake

San Sebastian’s Old Town is particularly known for its pintxos bars, where you can sample a wide variety of bite-sized meals. Plus, as is the case in all of the cities in Northern Spain, you’ll love the glasses of wine, which cost 2 or 3 Euros! Check out this menu:

San Sebastián Spain wine

PRO TIP: If all the pintxos are making you feel “heavy” on this trip, you’ll enjoy a lighter-weight healthier meal at Tedone .  It’s largely a vegetarian restaurant, but they serve fish, too.  The salads were huge, and a welcome relief from the other foods we’d been eating!  Reservations are recommended, but not required.

Tedone San Sebastián Spain

5. San Sebastian to Llanes

  • Distance: 275 kilometers
  • Drive Time: 3 hours
  • ** This is the longest haul of the trip, and the annoying part that involves back-tracking back through Bilbao **

Llanes is a picturesque coastal town located in the Asturias region of Northern Spain.  It’s along the Bay of Biscay, surrounded by mountains, cliffs, and beaches. 

Cities in Northern Spain: Llanes

Over the centuries, Llanes has turned from a fortified medieval town to a popular destination for tourists traveling through the cities of Northern Spain!

Parking in Llanes

You’ll have to drive through town to get to the large free parking lot.  On Google Maps, it’s Parking del Sablon .   The lot is very close to the beach.

Things to Do in Llanes

Llanes is home to a few beautiful beaches, including Playa de Toró, Playa de Sablón , and Playa de Toro . 

Beach in Llanes Spain

In the town center, you’ll enjoy walking along the narrow streets, passing traditional Asturian houses and medieval buildings. 

The main square, Plaza de Santa Ana , is a lively hub with restaurants, cafes, and shops. 

These are a few of the medieval structures which have survived hundreds of years.  Some are in ruins, while others have been turned into modern-day businesses.

Llanes Spain castle

  • Basilica of Santa María : The Basilica of Santa María is one of the prominent landmarks in Llanes. This beautiful church dates back to the 13th century, and features a stunning rose window and intricate stone carvings on its facade.
  • Tower of San Pedro : The Tower of San Pedro (Torre de San Pedro) is a medieval tower located near the Basilica of Santa María. This defensive tower was built in the 13th century and served as a lookout and defense structure during medieval times. 
  • Wall of Llanes : Llanes had a defensive wall during the medieval period, of which some remnants can still be seen today. Although most of the original wall has been lost, some sections, particularly around the Old Town, still exist.
  • Arch of Llanes : The Arch of Llanes (Arco de Llanes) is another interesting medieval structure in the town. It is an arched gateway that formed part of the medieval defensive wall. This archway, constructed in the 13th century, is adorned with sculptural decorations and provides access to the Old Town.

Castle in Llanes Spain

Food in Llanes

Llanes, like the rest of the Asturias region, is known for its hearty stews, fresh seafood, and famous Asturian cider.  You’ll be entertained by the way the waiters pour the cider!

A lot of restaurants will feature local specialties like fabada Asturiana (a bean stew), and cachopo (a breaded and stuffed meat dish).

6. Llanes to Cangas de Onis

  • Distance: 50 kilometers
  • Travel Time: 40 minutes
  • I’d recommend spending the night in Cangas de Onis on your road trip through the cities in Northern Spain

➡️ HOTEL RECOMMENDATION: Hotel Granda

Cangas de Onis is a smaller city in Northern Spain, located in Picos de Europa National Park.  It’s in a picturesque valley, surrounded by mountains.  Cangas de Onis is known as the “Gateway to Picos de Europa,” and for its outdoor activities.

Cities in Northern Spain: Cangas de Onis

Parking in Cangas de Onis

Street parking in the downtown area is doable, though a bit challenging during the summer months.  Ideally, your hotel will have a parking option for you.

There’s also a large public lot adjacent to the bus station in Cangas de Onis.

Things to Do in Cangas de Onis

Most people who visit Cangas de Onis use it as a base to explore Picos de Europa and the other natural beauty in the area.

Picos de Europa Lakes

The ancient Roman Bridge is the town’s main landmark.  It spans the Sella River , and dates back to the 14th Century.

Roman Bridge in Cangas de Onis

Cangas de Onis is full of shops and restaurants in a very pedestrian-friendly downtown .

An old church, Santa Cruz , houses a replica of the Asturian cross, which holds significant cultural importance in the area.

Cangas de Onis in Spain

Plus different “adventure” businesses will take you horseback riding, on ATVs, kayaking, and anything else you’d like to do in the area.

Food in Cangas de Onis

In addition to cider from the sidrerías in town, Cangas de Onis is situated in close proximity to the Cabrales cheese-producing area in Asturias. It’s a pungent cheese made from cow’s milk, and aged in natural limestone caves. You’ll find several shops in town selling Asturian foods and other products.

7. Cangas de Onis to Covadonga

  • Distance: 10 kilometers
  • Travel Time: 15 minutes

Covadonga is just up the road from Cangas de Onis.  

It’s home to a famous sanctuary in the mountains of Picos de Europa National Park.  

Covadonga Cathedral

The Battle of Covadonga, which took place in 722 AD, was a crucial event in the early stages of the Reconquista, the Christian campaign to reclaim the Iberian Peninsula.

Parking in Covadonga

There are a few parking lots along the winding road just below Covadonga where you can leave your car and walk up.

Alternatively, you can take the bus (9 Euros roundtrip) from the bus station in Cangas de Unis.  The buses run constantly every 30 minutes all day.

Things to Do in Covadonga

Most people come to Covadonga to see the Basilica of Santa Maria .  This neo-Romanesque style basilica, built in the early 20th century, stands on a terrace overlooking the valley. 

Covadonga Cathedral and flowers

Adjacent to the basilica is the Cave of Covadonga (Cueva de Covadonga). This cave is believed to be the refuge where troops sought shelter during the Battle of Covadonga. Inside the cave, there is a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Covadonga, where visitors can pay their respects.  You’re likely to see a mass being held there when you visit.  

Covadonga from Cangas de Onis

Food in Covadonga

There are several restaurants and cafes in Covadonga, within walking distance from the sanctuary.

8. Cangas de Onis to Oviedo

  • Distance: 70 kilometers
  • Travel Time: 1 hour

Oviedo is one of the larger cities in Northern Spain, with a long history that dates back to the Middle Ages. The city served as the capital of the Kingdom of Asturias, and played a crucial role in the Christian resistance against the Moors during the Reconquista.

Today, it’s a mix of the old and the new, with a bustling downtown district and young crowd of students.

Cities in Northern Spain: Oviedo

Parking in Oviedo

Oviedo is a very large city, so ideally your hotel will have a parking option for you.  Otherwise, you’ll find a variety of lots to pay to park in.

We chose the Eurostars Hotel de la Reconquista for its free parking and gorgeous facade.

➡️ HOTEL RECOMMENDATION: Hotel de la Reconquista

Oviedo Hotel

Things to Do in Oviedo

Oviedo’s “Old Town” is known as the Casco Antiguo . It’s a mix of cobblestone streets, picturesque squares, and well-preserved medieval architecture.

Notable landmarks in the Old Town include the Cathedral of San Salvador , a Gothic-style cathedral with a beautiful rose window, and the nearby Holy Chamber (Cámara Santa), a UNESCO World Heritage site that houses important religious relics.

Oviedo Cathedral

There are art museums, large parks, theaters, and more to explore.

Most visitors just enjoy strolling the pedestrian-friendly boulevards in Casco Antiguo , shopping, eating, and drinking at the outdoor cafes along the way.

Food in Oviedo

Oviedo is renowned for its gastronomy, offering a variety of traditional Asturian dishes.

Some specialties include fabada Asturiana (a hearty bean stew), cachopo (a breaded and stuffed meat dish), and sidra (cider), which you’ll find all over Asturias.

Cities in Northern Spain: Oviedo Old Town

9. Oviedo to Cudillero

  • Distance:  60 kilometers
  • Travel Time: 45 minutes

Cudillero will be a favorite stop on your tour of cities in Northern Spain!  

After a drive through a rural part of Asturias, you’ll drive down a steep, windy road to the coast.  Out of nowhere, the old fishing village of Cudillero appears, tucked away in a rocky cove. It’s known for its colorful houses perched on a hillside overlooking the sea.

Parking in Cudillero

You’ll find a large, free public parking lot right on the edge of town. I’d avoid driving into Cudillero beyond the lot.

Things to Do in Cudillero

The village of Cudillero is built on a steep hillside, and the houses are tightly packed together.  It’s fun to just walk the streets and hike to the upper levels and viewpoints in town.

There are numerous restaurants to choose from in Cudillero, and several streets lined with stores.  You’re likely to see open-air vendors in a market, too.

Cudillero Spain

Fishing is still important in Cudillero, and the port is a hub of activity.

You’ll also find a cave near the port, which allows you to cross through the rocky mountain and into the town itself!

Cudillero Spain Port

While coastal, Cudillero isn’t home to a nice sandy beach.  Still, it’s a good spot for walks on the rocky shore.  Nicer beaches, like  Playa de Aguilar and Playa de San Pedro are a short drive away.

Food in Cudillero

The port of Cudillero is a focal point of the village. Numerous seafood restaurants and bars line the main town square area.

You’ll also find vendors selling cheese and other locally-made food products.

Cudillero Restaurants in Spain

10. Cudillero to Comillas

  • Distance: 180 kilometers
  • Travel Time: 2 hours
  • I’d recommend staying in Comillas for a night

➡️ HOTEL RECOMMENDATION: Hotel Josein

This is one of the longer hauls between the cities in Northern Spain we’re going to, but still not too bad.  You’ll cross from Asturias into Cantabria to get to Comillas.

Beach in Comillas Spain

Comillas is a lesser-known small city right on the Contabrian Sea, but it’s well worth a visit! 

The beach is long and sandy, and the town itself is full of historic charm and things to do.

Parking in Comillas

If your hotel doesn’t have parking, there’s a lot of free parking right along the beach.

Things to Do in Comillas

Check out one of architect Antoni Gaudi’s homes, Capricho de Gaudi .

The “ Old Town ” in Comilas is small but pretty and lined with stores and restaurants on its stone streets.

Cities in Northern Spain: Comillas

The main draw in Comillas is the beach, and its long, sandy coastline.​​​​​​​

The Josein Hotel is perched right above the beach, and has amazing views.

Hotel Josein in Comillas Spain

Food in Comillas

You’ll find the typical pintxos and tapas, along with seafood and cheese made in the region.

Plus, the 2-3 Euro glasses of wine never get old!

Wine in Cudillero Spain

11. Comillas to Santander

It’s a short drive over to Santander, which is one of the well-known cities in Northern Spain.  It’s more industrial and modern than it is charming, but still home to several beaches and a bustling shopping district.

Jared Dillingham on the beach in Santander Spain

Parking in Santander

Santander is a bigger city, so you’ll find parking lots and underground garages to choose from.

You can also park along the main beach in a large free parking lot.  In Google Maps, look for the lot next to Playa de el Camello .

Things to Do in Santander

Santander lacks some of the charm of the smaller coastal cities in Northern Spain, but you’ll definitely enjoy the beach.

As a side note, Santander is home to the smallest seashells I’ve ever seen!

northern spain trip

Pena Herbosa is one of the streets completely lined with restaurants.

Cities in Northern Spain: Santander

You’ll also find an escalator which takes pedestrians up the steep blocks in part of the city.  I’d never seen anything like it!

Santander Spain escalator

There’s no real “Old Town,” but Centro Historico is the place downtown where you’ll find streets closed to traffic and a lot of people walking around, shopping, and dining outside.

Cities in Northern Spain: Santander Centro Historico

12. Santander to Bilbao

  • Distance: 100 kilometers

And, we’re back in Bilbao!  Just in time to return our rental car, relax, and get ready for our flight back home the next day.  

NYX Hotel Bilbao exterior

It was nice to have an evening to relax and stroll through Casco Viejo one more time.  We sampled the food and enjoyed a few final 2 Euro glasses of wine, as our tour of cities in Northern Spain came to an end!

The Weather in Northern Spain

The weather in Northern Spain changes through the seasons.  While microclimates exist in different areas, and the mountains inland will be different from the coastal towns, here is *generally* what you can expect:

  • Spring (March to May):  Spring in Northern Spain is mild and often marked by sporadic rainfall. Temperatures gradually rise during this season, with average highs ranging from 14°C to 20°C (57°F to 68°F).  
  • Summer (June to August):  Summers in Northern Spain are typically warm and relatively mild compared to other parts of the country. Average temperatures range from 20°C to 26°C (68°F to 79°F), with some coastal areas experiencing slightly cooler temperatures due to sea breezes. Rainfall decreases during this time, and the region enjoys long hours of daylight. The sun doesn’t set until 10:00pm (or later) during parts of the summer!
  • Autumn (September to November):  Autumn in northern Spain is characterized by mild temperatures and occasional rainfall. Temperatures gradually decrease. In September, average highs are around 20°C (68°F), but by November, they drop to around 11°C (52°F).
  • Winter (December to February):  Winters in northern Spain can be quite cold, especially in the mountains. Average temperatures range from 8°C to 14°C (46°F to 57°F), with colder temperatures at higher elevations. Rainfall is relatively frequent during this season, and snowfall is common in the mountainous regions. 

Beach in Cudillero Spain

Best Time to Visit Cities in Northern Spain

Parts of Europe, including Madrid and Barcelona, are challenging to visit in the summer months due to big crowds and uncomfortable heat.  You’ll find a much more enjoyable climate, and far fewer people, in smaller cities in Northern Spain.

Plus, the daylight is really extended during the summer!  You won’t believe how light it still is outside at 10:00pm!

Taking those factors into consideration, I’d say the ideal time to visit Northern Spain would be from May through September.  

Jared Dillingham in San Sebastian Spain

OUR OTHER POSTS ABOUT TRAVEL IN SPAIN:

jd

Bilbao to San Sebastian

Cangas de onis & picos de europa, game of thrones locations in spain, barcelona in winter, day trip to cuenca, guide to cordoba, malaga on the mediterranean, madrid to toledo.

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solosophie

One week in Northern Spain and Portugal Itinerary

By: Author Sophie Nadeau

Posted on Last updated: 21st February 2024

Categories Itineraries , Portugal , Spain

Last Updated on 21st February 2024 by Sophie Nadeau

For those seeking sun, history, and plenty of quintessentially local cuisine, a road trip through Northern Spain and Portugal may well be the answer. After all, a little off the beaten tourist track in comparison with plenty of other European destinations, this seven-day adventure is the perfect way to experience stunning architecture and oodles of culture. Here’s your perfect guide on how to spend one week in Northern Spain and Portugal itinerary …

One week in Northern Spain and Portugal Itinerary: A complete guide to seven days in Western Europe!

If you’re planning a trip to this stunning destination for yourself, be sure to read our Portugal travel tips guide to help you avoid common travel mistakes that visitors to the South Western European country make! If you’re looking for a little keepsake from your trip, be sure to check out our suggestions for the best souvenirs from Portugal .

Santo Domingo de Silos, Spain

Burgos, spain, zamora, spain, amarante, portugal, lousada, portugal, porto, portugal, enjoyed reading this itinerary for how to spend one week in northern spain and portugal pin it now, read it again later:, suggested 7 day route through spain and portugal.

Stay | 1 Night

Located a couple of hours north of Madrid, the pretty town of Santo Domingo de Silos is the perfect way to begin any road trip through Northern Spain. After all, it’s home to a stunning Romanesque Monastery complete with well-preserved cloisters, several breathtaking reliefs, and plenty of traditional architecture.

Other highlights of the town include the viewpoint from the Ermita de la Virgen del Camino, as well as the 18th-century Iglesia de San Pedro. A short drive away from the town, the Desfiladero de La Yecla gorge is a stunning natural treasure.

The gorge is characterised by its metallic walkway wending through the winding crevices. Underfoot, a small river has carved out the rocks over the centuries, while eagles and vultures swoop overhead. All in all, the walk is a must-see, if only to experience the beauty of the rock formations in the wider Santo Domingo de Silos area.

Santo Domingo de Silos, Spain

Hands down one of the most beautiful places to visit in Northern Spain, no visit to this region of Europe would be complete without dedicating at least a few hours to exploring the wonderful city of Burgos. The final resting place of the legendary El Cid and his wife, their tomb can be found within the most famous monument of Burgos, the UNESCO listed Cathedral .

Reminiscent of Notre Dame in Paris thanks to a Gothic façade, the ecclesiastical building boasts no less than twenty chapels and several dozen stunning altarpieces. Otherwise, be sure to enter the historic city centre by passing underneath the Arco de Santa Maria .

This is the most ornate of 12 original medieval gates which would have guarded the entrance to the historical city and now provides the perfect introduction to Burgos. For those who are seeking out a laid back experience, purchase yourself a ‘Tinto de Verano’ (red wine and soda mix) in the town square, sit back, and relax watching the world go by.

View of Burgos Cathedral in Spain

Self-proclaimed to be the ‘Romanesque’ capital of Spain, Zamora is the capital city of a region of the same name and around 60,000 inhabitants reside within the city limits. Indeed, the Romanesque capital name is not undeserved considering that Zamora has the most Romanesque churches of any city in Europe.

Our first glimpse of Zamora came in the form of a jaw-droppingly narrow drive through this ancient city’s historic heart, a taste of the narrow winding lanes that characterise this quintessentially Spanish city.

Zamora lies alongside the River Duero and has no less than two dozen Romanesque churches. Among some of the best ecclesiastical buildings in Zamora are La Iglesia de Santa Maria Magdalena, the Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Horta, and the Cathedral of Zamora.

If you make it your mission to enjoy just one Romanesque place of worship while in the town, choose the cathedral. After all, once inside, you’ll soon discover the highly detailed tomb of Grado and the sparkling altarpiece that glitters from every angle.

For the best view of the Cathedral’s crowing cupola, simply head to the nearby ruins of the Castle of Zamora, from which the rest of the town can be spied below. Other highlights of Zamora include strolling across the 800 year old  Puente de Piedra and visiting the art museum of Museo Baltasar Lobo.

View of Zamora Cathedral from the Castle of Zamora

Pack up your bags and prepare some entertainment because the drive between Zamora and Amarante will be the longest stretch of your road trip yet. But once in Amarante itself, you’ll soon discover that the drive between Northern Spain and Northern Portugal is well worth it!

That, and the contrast in scenery is not only interesting (who doesn’t wish to drive through the Douro Valley at golden hour?) but will provide a great selection of backdrops for all of your holiday snaps!

The stunning city of Amarante itself is home to the likes of plenty of pretty architecture and great Portuguese cuisine. For those with a sweet tooth, a visit to the Confeitaria da Ponte pastry and sweet shop is an absolute must!

Producing traditional regional sweets since the 1930s, local delights include the São Gonçalos and the Papos de Anjo. The café even has outdoor seating where you can enjoy your sweets together with a cup of coffee and admire the 18th-century Ponte de São Gonçalo bridge.

The town of Amarante

Not far from the city of Porto, Lousada is a small Portuguese town with a population of less than 50,000. And thanks to its position between Porto and the rest of the Portuguese countryside, the settlement makes for a great place from which to explore the wider region.

For a true taste of luxury while in Lousada, be sure to book a room at the Lousada Country Hotel, where amenities include an indoor and outdoor pool and vineyard views. Otherwise, the top attraction in this sleepy town is the Interpretation Centre of the Romanesque.

New, modern, and recently opened to the public, this exciting space is not quite a museum (though has beaten plenty of museums to win some pretty prestigious cultural awards) and is a fun and interactive way to learn all about the Romanesque. Perfect for all ages on account of its many quirky exhibition spaces, there are six theme-based rooms to explore.

Another incredible place close to Lousada (a mere fifteen-minute drive away) is the  Quinta da Aveleda Gardens and winery . Set aside a few hours en route to Porto to visit the beautiful botanical gardens (filled with follies, hydrangeas, and even a ‘goat tower’), the gardens can only be seen on a guided tour. While at the winery, take the time to sit back, relax, and sample some locally produced wines (or vinhos as they are known in Portuguese)!

Quinta da Aveleda Gardens & Winery

Stay | 2 Nights

Finish your stay the right way by taking the time to enjoy Porto. As one of the largest cities in Portugal (second only to Lisbon ) , this stunning city is best-known for its wealth of tiled façades, cobbled up-and-down lanes (so be sure to pack your comfiest shoes to walk in!) , and of course, Port wine production!

Though you could easily condense your visit to Porto into just 24 hours , this is one European city that deserves extra time to be explored. Some of the top attractions you should make time for during your visit include a wander inside the wizarding famous Livraria Lello , as well as a stroll around the historic city centre so as to enjoy all of the beautiful architecture to be found there.

And for the wine drinkers out there, while in Porto, be sure to set aside the time to take a Port wine tasting tour. For example, visit the Cálem Cellars and you’ll learn all about the history of this famous Portuguese tipple, as well as get the opportunity to go on a little tasting for yourself. Purchase tickets in advance here.

Port wine tasting in a traditional cellar in Porto

Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A Francophile at heart, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She splits her time between Paris and London and travels as much as she can! Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.

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Tuesday 29th of August 2023

It would be really helpful if you were to include a map of your itinerary. But I enjoyed reading your write-up!

Sunday 7th of July 2019

Looks like you had a wonderful time - I really love the North of Spain, specially their cuisine! x

Ariadna || ARIADNA CHENG

Brogan Abroad

A 5-day Northern Spain Itinerary By Train – Cider, Bagpipes And A Surprising Gaudí

Posted on Last updated: 05/12/2023

Categories SPAIN

This Northern Spain itinerary by train takes you through some of the most underrated cities in the country. Find out how easy it is to travel around Northern Spain by train, and discover four off-the-beaten-path cities that will captivate you.

northern spain trip

As Agatha Christie once said, “Trains are wonderful…. To travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches, and rivers, in fact, to see life.”

And I have to agree with her. Train travel is the most wonderful way to travel and you do indeed get to see the world around you in a way that you wouldn’t from any other mode of transport.

Not only is it a very romantic way to travel, but train travel is the most sustainable and eco-friendly way too. So there’s no better way to explore this lesser known area of Spain.

northern spain trip

This 5-day Northern Spain itinerary by train includes a little bit of everything – from coastal cities and mountain views, to foodie destinations and architectural gems.

Whether you’re into history, culture or good hearty food, this North Spain itinerary has something for you.

Table of Contents

  • 1.1 Day 1 – Arrival in Asturias
  • 1.2 Day 2 – Gijón, ancient coastal city
  • 1.3 Day 3 – Oviedo, city of bagpipes and cider
  • 1.4 Day 4 – León, medieval wonders and Gaudí
  • 1.5 Day 5 – Valladolid, a vibrant university city

5-day Northern Spain itinerary by train

Day 1 – arrival in asturias.

Asturias is not the easiest region in Spain to get to, but with some of the best of Northern Spain on offer here, the extra effort is sure to be more than worth it. 

The quickest way to get here is by flying into Asturias airport from London. Vueling is the only international airline that flies directly, but you can fly from all over the world via Madrid. > Check the best deals on flights on Skyscanner here

northern spain trip

If you would like to avoid flying, you could take a ferry from Plymouth to Santander . Once there, take the train from Santander to Gijón , where this 5-day Northern Spain itinerary by train starts.

Another alternative would be to take the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao . Getting from Bilbao to Gijón by train is not straight forward, so if your first port of call in Spain is Bilbao, I would recommend doing this itinerary in reverse and starting in Valladolid.

You can get to Valladolid by train in 3h 20mins. > Check the best deals on train fares on Omio here

Day one of this North Spain itinerary is mostly a travel day, so take the opportunity to take it easy and settle in after you’ve arrived. 

northern spain trip

I stayed at the Abba Playa Gijón Hotel , which is right by the beach. If you stay here, you can take a leisurely walk along the promenade, and end the day with a cocktail or two on their rooftop bar. It has wonderful views over the bay. > Book Abba Playa Gijón Hotel here

Day 2 – Gijón, ancient coastal city

Gijón is an industrial port with a history that goes back to Roman times. It is the biggest city in Asturias and the perfect place to start this itinerary of Northern Spain by train.

Discover Medieval Gijón

What started off as a small fishing village called Cimadevilla, is now a bustling city with a vibrant atmosphere. And the best way to get a feel for Gijón is to wander around both the Old Town and neighbouring areas.

northern spain trip

The Old Town, still called Cimadevilla , was traditionally the fishermans’ quarter of Gijón. It’s located next to what once was the fishing port and is now the marina. 

Cimadevilla’s picturesque streets and squares have been witness to historical events through the ages – from Roman times, through the Middle Ages, to current times.

northern spain trip

During the day it feels like a sleepy village, but these seemingly quiet streets come alive at night, with people gathering around the many bars and restaurants in the area.

Enjoy the best views of the bay

As you walk through the Old Town, head to Cerro de Santa Catalina (St Catherine’s Hill). On your way to the top, you will find Batería de Santa Catalina (St Catherine’s Battery), a 19th century gunnery, now the home to a skate park.

northern spain trip

On the highest point of the Cerro is Chillida’s enormous concrete sculpture ‘Elogio del Horizonte’ ( Tribute to the Horizon ). Its size and abstract shape have led it to be dubbed as ‘King Kong’s Toilet’ by humorous locals.

northern spain trip

This striking monument has become the symbol of the city, and from here you can enjoy sweeping views of Gijón and San Lorenzo Bay .

As you walk down from the Cerro towards San Lorenzo Beach, make sure you stop at the Roman Baths , where you can learn how the Romans used public baths. Entry is free.

northern spain trip

Explore the Modernist architecture

If you are a fan of European cafe culture, you must not miss Cafe Dindurra , Gijon’s answer to European traditional cafes. This elegant modernist cafe can easily rival cafes in Vienna or Paris, with its majestic columns.

northern spain trip

Built at the start of the 20th century, Cafe Dindurra was built as part of an ambitious block, whose centre was a theatre. The cafe was designed to connect directly with the theatre. Jovellanos Theatre now occupies the centre of the block.

Modernist architecture is ubiquitous in Gijón. It reveals how forward thinking the city was at the start of the last century. And this attitude has carried forward with a city that has reinvented itself from being an industrial hub to being a city designed with its residents in mind.

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Corrida Street is a pedestrianised street where these two aspects of Gijón’s character come together. Don’t forget to look up as you walk down the city’s liveliest street.

Where to stay in Gijón

Stay a second night at Abba Playa Gijón Hotel for convenience and comfort. Alternatively, here are a couple of highly rated options:

  • El Môderne Hotel
  • Hotel Santa Rosa
  • Balenax Pensión
Train from Gijón to Oviedo Gijón to Oviedo journey time – approximately 27 mins Train type – ALVIA high-speed train > Check prices and book your tickets here

Day 3 – Oviedo, city of bagpipes and cider

Founded in the 8th century, Oviedo was once the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Asturias. Although no longer a Kingdom, Asturias is a Spanish principality with a strong local identity, and Oviedo is still its capital today.

Hunt for statues that tell stories

As you arrive in Oviedo, you will see that it is very different from Gijón. Oviedo’s Old Town oozes charm in every corner, and you will want to wander aimlessly through its narrow streets, getting lost and discovering hidden squares and picturesque lanes.

northern spain trip

Oviedo invites you to walk, and as you wander around you will notice an abundance of statues . There are over 170 scattered all over the city! Every other street, crossroad, and square has a statue offering a tribute to elements of Asturian culture. 

A couple that stood out for me were ‘La Lechera’ (The Milkmaid) in Trascorrales Square, which celebrates the milkmaids that used to distribute milk across the city with their donkeys. This practice continued until the 1970s.

northern spain trip

I would also like to mention the statue of ‘La Regenta’ (The Regent’s Wife), which can be found in the Cathedral Square. She is the character of a 19th century Spanish fictional novel. It is a classic that most Spaniards have read at school.

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While you are in the Cathedral Square, make sure you visit Oviedo Cathedral . It is an important symbol of Spanish Gothic architecture, and the Holy Chamber is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can climb up to the top of the tower for 360 degree views of the city.

Catch the bagpipe bands

If you are in Oviedo on a Saturday or Sunday, there is a good chance that you will come across one of the local bandas de gaitas (bagpipe bands) while you are in the vicinity of the Cathedral Square.

northern spain trip

You may be surprised to see and hear bagpipes, but this wind instrument, often exclusively associated with Scotland, is an important part of music in Celtic cultures such as Asturias, Galicia, and Brittany.

Try the local cuisine of Asturias

Another element that is deep rooted in the Asturian culture is the local cuisine . Known for its seafood and its hearty mountain stews, there are a few dishes that every visitor to Oviedo (or Asturias) should try.

The most famous local dish is fabada , a heavy but delicious bean and meat stew that will leave you feeling like you’ve just had the warmest of hugs. It is the epitome of comfort food.

northern spain trip

Another traditional Asturian dish is cachopo , the Asturian version of cordon bleu. And for dessert, arroz con leche (local rice pudding) is as Asturian as it gets.

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A well known place to try any of these dishes is La Corte de Pelayo Restaurant . Their fabada has been a finalist multiple times in the fabada competition, and their cachopo has won the best cachopo award with a recipe from 1947.

Immerse yourself in cider tradition

When it comes to drinks, cider is king in Asturias. In fact, you cannot visit this Northern Spanish region and not go to a sidrería (cider house), where cider is served by an escanciador (cider pourer). It is one of the most popular things to do in Oviedo .

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Cider in Asturias is flat, so the act of escanciar involves pouring it from a height to create bubbles that help enhance the flavour of the cider. Each pour is about two fingers’ worth of drink. More than that and the carbonisation is lost by the time you drink it.

Asturias, land of cheeses

For me, the highlight of the food I tried while in Oviedo was the cheeses.

Asturias is often referred to as the land of cheeses . With over 40 types, it is Spain’s largest cheese producer. The variety and quality is astounding!

northern spain trip

Don’t leave without trying a local cheese board. Sidrería Tierra Astur El Vasco has more than 40 varieties of cheese on offer, so the biggest problem you’ll have will be choosing which ones to try.

If you like strong and slightly spicy cheeses, try Casín . For blue cheese lovers, I recommend trying the world-famous Cabrales . And for those who prefer mild cheeses, Afuega’l Pitu is a fantastic choice!

northern spain trip

If after a busy day (and a full stomach) exploring Oviedo you still have the energy for more, head to Mon Street, the heart of Oviedo nightlife . With plenty of bars and pubs to choose from, you are guaranteed a good night out. But this is Spain, so make sure you don’t turn up before 11pm!

Where to stay in Oviedo

northern spain trip

I stayed at the Gran Hotel España in Oviedo. It is located at the edge of the Old Town and within a short walk from the main attractions. My room had a big balcony with great views over the city and the surrounding hills.

It’s also conveniently located opposite Camilo de Blas , a traditional sweet and patisserie shop where you can buy carbayones , a local specialty similar to eclairs. > Book Gran Hotel España here

Train from Oviedo to León Oviedo to León journey time – approximately 2h 20mins (ALVIA) or 2h 53mins (Regional) Train type – ALVIA high speed or Regional train > Check prices and book your tickets here

Day 4 – León, medieval wonders and Gaudí

Although it was my second visit to León, it was the first time I got to appreciate this historical city properly. My first visit was a quick overnight stay on my way to Santiago de Compostela while I walked the Camino .

northern spain trip

Despite not being a religious or spiritual person, the Camino was the most important experience I’ve ever had and I’d go as far as to say it is one of my personal seven wonders of the world . 

Discover a city built for pilgrims

León was, and still is, an important stop for pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago . And this has left an important legacy in the city.

northern spain trip

Proof of this is the Convento de San Marcos , a former convent originally built in the 12th century as a shelter for pilgrims.

It was rebuilt in the plateresque style in the 16th century, giving it its current grand appearance. Today it is a luxury hotel run by the state-owned Paradores brand.

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Enter the House of Light

Another clue of how important the city has been for the Camino de Santiago, is the magnificent León Cathedral . Its grandiosity is breathtaking, but the interior will truly blow you away. 

northern spain trip

The light coming through the 1,800 sq metres of stained glass windows will make you gasp as you walk in and look up, earning it the nickname of House of Light.

I was impressed by the largest expanse of stained glass in the Cathedral in York , but León Cathedral takes things to the next level. It is one of the largest collections of medieval stained glass in the world, so admiring it is one of the top things to do in León .

northern spain trip

What’s even more impressive is that around 80% of the stained glass is original, with the oldest glass dating back to the 13th, when the cathedral was built. You can clearly see that its construction was inspired by French Gothic cathedrals in Reims and Amiens.

Admire the Sistine Chapel of the Romanesque Art

Another important building in medieval León is the Real Colegiata de San Isidoro de León . The original church dates from the 9th century, but it was rebuilt in the 11th and 12th centuries after being destroyed.

northern spain trip

The church houses the tomb of St Isidore, Patron of Seville. But make sure you don’t miss visiting the Panteón Real (Royal Patheon), known as the ‘Sistine Chapel of Romanesque Art’.

This vaulted chamber contains the tombs of kings and nobles of the ancient Kingdom of León. The stunning frescos that cover the ceiling are a medieval masterpiece. Incredibly, they’ve never been restored, they have only been cleaned up.

Find reminders of Roman León

The Middle Ages was the time when León flourished, thanks to the pilgrim-related trade. But León’s beginnings go further back in time. Founded as a Roman camp, the name does not come from the word ‘lion’, but rather from the word ‘legion’, which refers to its origins.

northern spain trip

As you walk around the Old Town, you will come across sections of the medieval walls built on top of the original Roman city walls .

One curiosity is that locals have found a way of integrating the walls in everyday life. Walk down Serradores Street and you will see how residential houses have been built into the ancient walls.

northern spain trip

Discover Leon’s Gaudí surprise

One of the biggest surprises that León has in store for visitors, is one of only three buildings designed and built by Gaudí outside Catalonia – Casa Botines .

northern spain trip

Known for his modernist buildings in Barcelona such as Casa Batlló, Gaudí was commissioned to design a building by two cloth merchants in 1891. The building would serve as a residence for two families and a textile warehouse.

The result was a modernist building in the medieval style. Today the building houses a Gaudí museum about the building and his work, and also a small art gallery with works by artists such as Dalí, Goya and Chillida. 

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Get lost in the Barrio Húmedo

Once you finish exploring the cultural aspects of León, head to the Barrio Húmedo , literally translated as ‘wet quarter’ due to the large number of bars and restaurants located in a relatively small area.

northern spain trip

The Barrio Húmedo is centred around Plaza de San Martín (San Martin Square), and is one of the liveliest areas in the city. It’s the perfect place to get a taste of León nightlife , and to try the local tapas and the local wines.

northern spain trip

Make sure you try Leonese cecina – like serrano ham but from beef. It is a lot leaner, drier, and has a more intense in flavour than serrano ham.

Where to stay in León

northern spain trip

With so much history around León, it was only fitting that I stayed at the Hotel Real Colegiata de San Isidoro , once part of the old monastery. The rooms were once monastery cells, although you wouldn’t guess it now. All the rooms have views over the old cloister or the roman walls. > Book Hotel Real Colegiata de San Isidoro here

Train from León to Valladolid León to Oviedo journey time – approximately 1h (AVE) or 1h 11mins (ALVIA) Train type – AVE high speed or ALVIA high speed train > Check prices and book your tickets here

Day 5 – Valladolid, a vibrant university city

Valladolid is often overlooked as a destination by overseas visitors travelling on a Northern Spain itinerary, unless they are interested in the world famous Easter Week celebrations.

northern spain trip

But Valladolid was once so important that it was the capital of Spain not only once, but twice – under King Charles I in the 16th century, and again between 1601 and 1606 under King Philip III. 

It has always been at the centre of the Catholic heartlands in Spain, and this is apparent in the dozens of churches scattered around the city, and the abundance of religious art on display in its museums.

Visit the site of the first human rights debate

To understand Valladolid’s part in Spain’s religious history, it is important to visit at least one of the city’s museums, and my recommendation would be to visit the emblematic College of San Gregorio, today the National Sculpture Museum .

northern spain trip

The museum contains an expansive collection of religious art from the Middle Ages through to the 19th century. But even if you are not into sculpture as an art, the building itself is worth visiting.

The intricate carvings on the façade will have you staring at it and admiring the elaborate details. Inside, the 15th century cloister is stunning, and the ceilings of each room throughout the museum are also worth noting.

northern spain trip

It was in this building where the very first debate about human rights in European history took place in 1550-1551. Known as the Valladolid Debate , it concerned the rights and treatment of indigenous people by European colonisers.

There were a number of opposing views about the way natives of the Americas were being integrated into Spanish society, their conversion to Catholicism, and their rights.

Admire Valladolid’s architectural jewels

northern spain trip

As you wander around the city, it is worth highlighting two churches. Convent Church of San Pablo , with its plateresque-style façade, is one of Valladolid’s most famous buildings. Santa María La Antigua Church is a 14th century church with the tallest Romanesque tower in Spain.

Enjoy a bird’s eye view of Valladolid

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Another important building in Valladolid is the Cathedral , a large Renaissance building that was never finished due to lack of funds. You can go to the top of the tower for great views of the city and the countryside beyond.

Have a meal (or two) with wine pairing

Valladolid has one of the most recognised wine growing regions in Spain, the Ribera del Duero . It is a Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP – protected designation of origin) and it’s a region that has been producing wine for thousands of years.

northern spain trip

Because of this, Valladolid is a great city to do some wine tasting. But why not take it a bit further and enjoy the wine by pairing it with the local food?

For a lunchtime wine pairing experience, try Vinoteca Señorita Malauva , a wine pairing boutique run by Gustavo Calvo, an expert in wine tourism that also has his own winery. The food is made with local ingredients and is delicious too.

northern spain trip

For dinner, don’t miss Restaurante Mêlel , an innovative space where hedonism and becoming a bon viveur is at the centre of everything. This eclectic place serves surprising and creative food with well paired wines from all over Spain. My favourite thing? The beef heart ssam.

northern spain trip

Experience the Valladolid’s bars and nightlife

Valladolid is a university city. In fact, Valladolid University is one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to the 15th century. And where there is a large university, you are guaranteed a vibrant nightlife too.

northern spain trip

Valladolid is a city of bars and pubs. Head to Calle Paraíso , which is lined up with bars, and follow the crowds. You can’t really go wrong. Just make sure you are not out too early, as Valladolid’s party scene kicks off late.

Where to stay in Valladolid

northern spain trip

I stayed in Boutique Hotel Gareus , an elegant boutique hotel in an early 20th century building. It is located in the historic centre of Valladolid, so it was very convenient for the main attractions of the city and for the train station. > Book Boutique Hotel Gareus here

Do you have any questions about this Northern Spain itinerary by train? Let me know in the comments!

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A 5-day Northern Spain Itinerary By Train

Disclosure: This post has been created as a partnership with Spanish Tourism . As always, all views are my own. 

In a pink ice cream parlour, I am smiling as I look at 10 various flavoured ice cream cones and a large chocolate coated strawberry dessert

Teresa is an award-winning travel blogger based in London. She’s on a mission to explore the world through responsible cultural and adventure travel , and through deeper, more meaningful local experiences. She’s a lover of adventure, the outdoors and everything food related, and she’s always looking for ways to make a positive impact through sustainable travel .

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6 replies to this topic

People often make the mistake of picking out the "headline" places even though they are far apart and don't connect very well, taking up an inordinate amount of travelling.

Take a look at eg Pontevedra/Santiago/A Coruna as three very different cities close together, or Bilbao /San Sebastian/Pamplona. You might be able to travel via Salamanca (to the first options) or Burgos (to the second) if you fly via Madrid . Ideally, hire a car for at least part of the journey to visit the small towns, coastline, and scenery around each.

I would advise against picking opposite ends of the North - you don't need to do Santiago and San Sebastian as both areas have comparable cities.

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Public transport is good, especially between the big cities. Buses are usually better than trains.

northern spain trip

That's wonderful! Thankyou Mikel.

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Zelensky cancels trip to Spain ‘over Russian advances in northern Ukraine’: Sources say major cities like Kharkiv are at risk of falling to Putin

northern spain trip

UKRAINIAN president Volodymyr Zelensky has cancelled a planned visit to Spain amid Russian advances in northern Ukraine, according to reports.

Zelensky had been due to visit Spain in the coming days to sign a bilateral security cooperation agreement with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez that would reaffirm Spain’s commitment to supporting the war-torn nation in its fight against Russian forces.

Ukraine’s president had also been due to hold a reception with King Felipe VI on May 17, who was set to hold a meal in Zelensky’s honour at Zarzuela Palace.

According to CNN Portugal, where Zelensky was also set to visit, the trip has been called off thanks to the ‘serious internal situation in Ukraine at the moment’.

Some 30,000 Russian troops launched a new offensive into northeastern Kharkiv province last Friday with Ukrainian sources anxious that the region could fall to Vladimir Putin’s forces and sway the momentum of the war into Russia’s favour. 

READ MORE: Spain bends to pressure from EU and Nato and will send Patriot missiles to Ukraine

King Felipe of Spain defends his country's constitution as he opens congress after months of political deadlock

The Spanish government said they were unable to comment on the situation for security reasons.

Alongside other European Union nations, Spain committed to supporting Ukraine with financial and military aid in the wake of Russia’s invasion over two years ago.

The bilateral security agreement that Sanchez and Zelensky were set to agree to is similar to documents already signed by the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the UK. 

The trip, which had been expected to start this Friday, had remained a secret with Spanish and Ukrainian sources tight-lipped over security worries.

Jose Manuel Albares, Spain’s foreign minister, said: “For security reasons I am not going to make any comment, not to deny, confirm or add any information, about any of President Zelensky’s movements anywhere in the world”.

Zelensky and Sanchez most recently called on May 7, with the pair thrashing out details of the impending bilateral security agreement which further guarantees Spain’s support.

northern spain trip

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Ben Pawlowski

Ben joined the Olive Press in January 2024 after a four-month stint teaching English in Paraguay. He loves the adrenaline rush of a breaking news story and the tireless work required to uncover an eye-opening exclusive. He is currently based in Barcelona from where he covers the city, the wider Catalunya region, and the north of Spain. Send tips to [email protected]

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Climb to sacred shrines in Japan

The peaks of Japan’s densely forested Kii Peninsula have been venerated by Shinto, Buddhist and Shugen devotees for centuries. Take a deep dive into the ancient beliefs and timeless customs of this World Heritage-listed region by trekking its pilgrim trails on Inside Japan’s Honshu Hiking self-guided adventure. Prior to that, warm up in the Japanese Alps, slurping Matsumoto’s famous soba noodles, then strike out along the Nakasendo Way, the ancient highway linking former capital Kyoto with Edo (now Tokyo). You’ll explore both cities, as well as savouring culinary epicentre Osaka, before finishing on the trails of the Kumano Kodo network, where you’ll climb to the pagoda of the Nachi shrine alongside the cascading Nachi-no-Otaki waterfall.

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Follow france's original pilgrim trail.

Le Puy-en-Velay is quite the stunner. Built in, around and, in some cases, on top of a mini-forest of volcanic pinnacles, its holy sites have attracted pilgrims for over a millennium. They flock here to venerate relics such as the Black Madonna in its extraordinary cathedral, and to walk the Chemin du Puy (or Via Podiensis), the route taken by Bishop Gothescalk in 950 AD on what is thought to be the first French pilgrimage to Santiago. Macs Adventure’s Camino Le Puy Way: Stages 1 & 2 self-guided hike heads 201km west via the eerily beautiful moorlands of Aubrac, visiting impossibly picturesque medieval villages such as Estaing and ending at walled Conques, complete with a Romanesque church boasting a treasury of sacred relics.

More information: Macs Adventure . May–Oct; 11 nights from £1,395pp, excluding travel. Other stages are available.

Hike to Holy Island in Northumberland

The 156km waymarked St Oswald’s Way, named after the feisty 7th-century king, takes in Northumberland ’s historic and scenic highlights as it winds across England’s northernmost county. Starting from Heavenfield – site of the pivotal battle at which Oswald consolidated his vast medieval kingdom of Northumbria – HF Holidays’ St Oswald’s Way Complete Guided Trail tour visits Hadrian’s Roman border bulwark, market towns and the formidable castles at Alnwick and Bamburgh. Finish up with a toast of mead on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, where you can explore the storied remains of the medieval monastery founded by St Aidan on land granted by Oswald, and watch for dolphins and grey seals in the roiling sea.

More information: HF Holidays . 2 Aug 2024; 7 nights from £1,149pp, excluding travel.

Cycle coastal trails in Portugal

Even pilgrimages have to keep up with the times, so pedalling peregrinos (pilgrims) who cover the final 200km of any camino to Santiago are now awarded the prized Compostela certificate. Exodus Adventure Travels’ Cycle the Coastal Portuguese Camino guided tour notches up the required kilometres while traversing the glorious Atlantic shoreline. Gliding north from Porto, you’ll take in historic marvels such as the ancient port of Viana do Castelo, with its dazzlingly diverse architecture, and the medieval fortress at Caminha that guards the border on the Minho estuary. There’s ample time to feast on fresh seafood in traditional fishing villages and cool off in the surf before crossing into Spain for the final legs through Galicia to Santiago.

More information: Exodus Adventure Travels . 19 May, 9 & 23 Jun, 8 & 22 Sep 2024; 8 days from £2,099, excluding flights.

Trace the footsteps of saints in Wales

Pilgrimages aren’t supposed to be easy, but sometimes they’re plain impossible – as in 1123 AD, when the route to Jerusalem was off-limits during the crusades, so the pope recommended the alternative trek to the shrine of St David in Pembrokeshire. As long ago as the 6th century, Irish saint Aidan travelled here to study under the titular Welsh sage; his route is now traced by the newly recreated Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way. You can walk part of that trail alongside a respected local leader on Guided Pilgrimage’s Way of St David tour, absorbing legends and poems that reveal hidden facets of this region, as you make your way to the UK’s smallest city, St David’s, via burial chambers, seal colonies and beautiful coastal hamlets.

More information: Guided Pilgrimage . 13 May, 9 Jun, 12 Aug 2024; 5 nights from £825pp, excluding travel.

Read next: Walking the highlights of the Anglesey Coast Path

Join a spiritual hike to santiago, spain.

According to legend, after St James was martyred in 44 BC, his disciples carried his remains from the Atlantic coast across north-west Spain to what is now Santiago de Compostela. The route they followed, now known as the Variante Espiritual, isn’t only considered by many to be the oldest of all the caminos, it’s also among the most peaceful and diverse. On Inntravel’s Camino de Santiago: The Old Way self-guided walk from the Portuguese border at Tui, you’ll follow the distinctive scallop-shell markers between medieval monasteries, sip Galicia’s finest Albariño wines among the vineyards of Meaño, and board a boat for Europe’s only waterborne pilgrim route along the Ulla River before joining peregrinos in Santiago’s cathedral.

More information: Inntravel . Apr–Oct; 10 nights from £1,465pp, excluding international travel.

Amble olive groves to Assisi, Italy

St Francis knew a thing or two about walking – he spent years roaming Umbria on foot, equipped only with a staff and his humility. And the long-distance trail named after him is a corker, approaching his fresco-adorned hometown of Assisi via a string of medieval hilltop settlements. SloWays’ St Francis Way: Stage 3, Città di Castello to Assisi self-guided tour explores one of the finest sections, as you set out from an ancient city whose churches and galleries are lavished with artistic masterpieces by Renaissance painters. Over the following days your journey reveals the gastronomic glories of the Umbrian hills, shaded by olive groves and orchards, while you fill up on local specialities such as rocciata (Umbrian strudel).

More information: SloWays . Apr–Oct; 6 days from £504pp, excluding international travel. Other stages are available.

Trek the Camino's greatest hits in Spain

A little like the Silk Road, the Camino de Santiago isn’t one route but many, a network of trails spidering across Europe. Why tackle just one when you can pick highlights from several Spanish paths? That’s the idea behind Pura Aventura’s Three Caminos Inn to Inn Walking Holiday, which splices together sections from a trio of classic trails. From the French border, hike dramatic stretches of the Basque coast along the Camino del Norte between fishing villages and curious rock formations. Then explore the gleaming spires of the Picos de Europa mountains along the Camino Vadiniense. Finally, join the popular Camino Francés for the approach to Santiago’s soaring, russet-hued cathedral through woodlands, farms and thatched hamlets.

More information: Pura Aventura . Best Apr–Jul, Sep–Oct; 12 days from £3,560pp, excluding international travel.

You may also like:

The most exciting new wildlife trips for 2024, what a slow trip to northern spain by ferry is really like, the world's most epic walking trails.

Nine wondrous pilgrimage routes to embark on in 2024

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4 senior-friendly destinations in europe.

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Europe can provide a fulfilling and benefit-loaded life for older folks

American retirees looking to move overseas often wonder how they’ll be regarded in their new home abroad.

I’ve recently earned senior status myself in many countries, and from my vast anecdotal understanding to my own newly acquired experience, I can assure you that you have nothing to worry about as a senior moving overseas.

In fact, just the opposite.

You’ll find that as a senior in many places around the world, you’ll be welcomed with favorable laws, discounts, priority lines, and special visa incentives, as well as being treated with more respect on a day-to-day basis.

The United States has a unique perspective on age. Youth is equated with more societal value and is often seen as the most significant thing a person can bring to the table.

There’s a reason it’s been made illegal to discriminate against those over 40 in the hiring process in the States—because those under that mark are often given a societal edge.

Still, employers may have internal policies that prevent those over a certain age from being hired.

The American Psychological Association goes so far as to claim that “ Ageism is one of the last socially acceptable prejudices. ”

But that doesn’t have to be the case. Look across the U.S. border to Europe, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the differences in the ways seniors are perceived.

Here are my top recommendations for a fulfilling and benefit-loaded retiree life in Europe.

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With long-established social systems that consider care for its citizens to be an inherent right, Europe has lots of security nets in place for the elderly.

Plus, kids are generally taught to respect older people. Manners and formality are valued quite highly, especially in Northern Europe, and family inclusivity across generations reigns in the south.

You’ll notice more seniors out and about in Europe, living active and social lives, particularly around the Mediterranean, where the culture is similar to that of Latin America in respect to family values.

In Greece, you might even be referred to as geronda or gerontissa —literally, old man or woman. Far from being an insult, this is a term of endearment and respect.

While there aren’t any senior-specific residency programs here, there are some good discounts to be had in addition to the cultural benefits. These discounts are available to all EU residents, regardless of which country they call home.

Even if you’re just a tourist in Europe, many discounts apply, including 10% off the Eurail pass for those 60 and over.

Here are four senior-friendly destinations I recommend on the Continent.

Portugal offers a great climate, a wealth of history, vast entertainment options, cosmopolitan cities, a stunning coastline, and superb beaches.

Home to over 700,000 foreigners, a reported 7,000 of them Americans , this country is one of the most popular choices for expat life in Europe.

Throughout Europe, there are priority seats for seniors and those with physical handicaps on public transport and usually in government buildings, and Portugal is no exception.

In 2016, Portugal’s parliament passed a law that makes priority service for people 65 and older (as well as people with disabilities or incapacities) mandatory among all public and private entities that provide in-person service to the public.

At banks, supermarkets, hospitals, and other venues, people (including visitors to Portugal) must give up their first-come, first-served priority to comply with this law. Non-compliance is punishable by fines of up to 1,000 euros.

Social support that helps older people meet their basic needs as well as maintain a good standard of living is organized by the government. At community centers , for instance, older people can take part in social, recreational, and cultural activities.

On top of this, discounts of 25% to 50% are available to those 65 and older on entertainment and transport costs, and these may be available even if you aren’t a resident. It never hurts to ask.

Home to more expats than any other country in Europe, Brits have been coming to Spain by the hundreds for years, and American expats number nearly 36,000 .

As in Portugal, you’ll find priority seating in public transport for seniors, and as of 65, you’re eligible for discounts on transport and entertainment.

There’s a card for retirees ( carnet de pensionista o jubilado ) that gets you the senior discount easily and that you may be able to claim under the age of 65 if you can prove you’re retired. Otherwise, just showing your ID to prove your age is enough.

Some institutions give discounts as early as age 60, so be sure to check the restrictions on an individual basis. Renfe, for example, the national train system, offers 25% to 40% off ticket prices to those 60 and older (with the purchase of a 6-euro Tarjeta Dorada card, which, by all accounts, pays for itself within a trip or two).

Supermarkets and food vendors of all types will deduct IVA (sales tax) from seniors’ purchases. Gyms offer senior rates, as do some phone and internet companies.

When it comes to hotels and other businesses, be sure to ask if any discount is offered, as some companies give special rates of their own accord. I’ve seen hotels and travel companies offer 30% off as of age 55.

Anecdotally, Spain is one of the most generous countries when it comes to giving senior discounts, so even if there’s no special price listed, be sure to ask if one is offered.

Occasionally, these may be limited to EU residents, but Spain has the best track record for extending senior rates to those of all nationalities, although you may find that if you’re not an EU citizen, the discount is given at the discretion of the ticket office.

No one takes retirement and its benefits more seriously than the French, and they protest regularly to defend their retiree rights here.

Culturally, children are trained to respect their elders in France, and la politesse (manners) are paramount to society.

Throughout the country, retirees enjoy their leisure from the age of 60 or 61 and avail of discounts of 30% to 50% on transportation, cheaper tickets to cinemas, theaters, museums, and monuments,

For a subscription fee of 44 euros (or 54 for a couple), the Reduc-Seniors card gives access to dozens of discounts from 5% to 52% off on everything from entertainment and spas to shopping, hotels, and travel for those 55 and over.

Little-known Slovenia is an underrated gem that shares the Adriatic Sea with Italy at a fraction of the cost.

Those 65 and over, or those who can show they are retired, are offered free bus and train rides nationally, with deep discounts given when crossing the border.

Many hotels, travel companies, and tour operators also offer senior discounts to EU residents over 65.

Entertainment also comes with discounts, up to 50% off for many tourist sites and museums.

Kathleen Peddicord

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The huge solar storm is keeping power grid and satellite operators on edge

Geoff Brumfiel, photographed for NPR, 17 January 2019, in Washington DC.

Geoff Brumfiel

Willem Marx

northern spain trip

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of solar flares early Saturday afternoon. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there have been measurable effects and impacts from the geomagnetic storm. Solar Dynamics Observatory hide caption

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of solar flares early Saturday afternoon. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there have been measurable effects and impacts from the geomagnetic storm.

Planet Earth is getting rocked by the biggest solar storm in decades – and the potential effects have those people in charge of power grids, communications systems and satellites on edge.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there have been measurable effects and impacts from the geomagnetic storm that has been visible as aurora across vast swathes of the Northern Hemisphere. So far though, NOAA has seen no reports of major damage.

Photos: See the Northern lights from rare solar storm

The Picture Show

Photos: see the northern lights from rare, solar storm.

There has been some degradation and loss to communication systems that rely on high-frequency radio waves, NOAA told NPR, as well as some preliminary indications of irregularities in power systems.

"Simply put, the power grid operators have been busy since yesterday working to keep proper, regulated current flowing without disruption," said Shawn Dahl, service coordinator for the Boulder, Co.-based Space Weather Prediction Center at NOAA.

NOAA Issues First Severe Geomagnetic Storm Watch Since 2005

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"Satellite operators are also busy monitoring spacecraft health due to the S1-S2 storm taking place along with the severe-extreme geomagnetic storm that continues even now," Dahl added, saying some GPS systems have struggled to lock locations and offered incorrect positions.

NOAA's GOES-16 satellite captured a flare erupting occurred around 2 p.m. EDT on May 9, 2024.

As NOAA had warned late Friday, the Earth has been experiencing a G5, or "Extreme," geomagnetic storm . It's the first G5 storm to hit the planet since 2003, when a similar event temporarily knocked out power in part of Sweden and damaged electrical transformers in South Africa.

The NOAA center predicted that this current storm could induce auroras visible as far south as Northern California and Alabama.

Extreme (G5) geomagnetic conditions have been observed! pic.twitter.com/qLsC8GbWus — NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (@NWSSWPC) May 10, 2024

Around the world on social media, posters put up photos of bright auroras visible in Russia , Scandinavia , the United Kingdom and continental Europe . Some reported seeing the aurora as far south as Mallorca, Spain .

The source of the solar storm is a cluster of sunspots on the sun's surface that is 17 times the diameter of the Earth. The spots are filled with tangled magnetic fields that can act as slingshots, throwing huge quantities of charged particles towards our planet. These events, known as coronal mass ejections, become more common during the peak of the Sun's 11-year solar cycle.

A powerful solar storm is bringing northern lights to unusual places

Usually, they miss the Earth, but this time, NOAA says several have headed directly toward our planet, and the agency predicted that several waves of flares will continue to slam into the Earth over the next few days.

While the storm has proven to be large, predicting the effects from such incidents can be difficult, Dahl said.

Shocking problems

The most disruptive solar storm ever recorded came in 1859. Known as the "Carrington Event," it generated shimmering auroras that were visible as far south as Mexico and Hawaii. It also fried telegraph systems throughout Europe and North America.

Stronger activity on the sun could bring more displays of the northern lights in 2024

Stronger activity on the sun could bring more displays of the northern lights in 2024

While this geomagnetic storm will not be as strong, the world has grown more reliant on electronics and electrical systems. Depending on the orientation of the storm's magnetic field, it could induce unexpected electrical currents in long-distance power lines — those currents could cause safety systems to flip, triggering temporary power outages in some areas.

my cat just experienced the aurora borealis, one of the world's most radiant natural phenomena... and she doesn't care pic.twitter.com/Ee74FpWHFm — PJ (@kickthepj) May 10, 2024

The storm is also likely to disrupt the ionosphere, a section of Earth's atmosphere filled with charged particles. Some long-distance radio transmissions use the ionosphere to "bounce" signals around the globe, and those signals will likely be disrupted. The particles may also refract and otherwise scramble signals from the global positioning system, according to Rob Steenburgh, a space scientist with NOAA. Those effects can linger for a few days after the storm.

Like Dahl, Steenburgh said it's unclear just how bad the disruptions will be. While we are more dependent than ever on GPS, there are also more satellites in orbit. Moreover, the anomalies from the storm are constantly shifting through the ionosphere like ripples in a pool. "Outages, with any luck, should not be prolonged," Steenburgh said.

What Causes The Northern Lights? Scientists Finally Know For Sure

What Causes The Northern Lights? Scientists Finally Know For Sure

The radiation from the storm could have other undesirable effects. At high altitudes, it could damage satellites, while at low altitudes, it's likely to increase atmospheric drag, causing some satellites to sink toward the Earth.

The changes to orbits wreak havoc, warns Tuija Pulkkinen, chair of the department of climate and space sciences at the University of Michigan. Since the last solar maximum, companies such as SpaceX have launched thousands of satellites into low Earth orbit. Those satellites will now see their orbits unexpectedly changed.

"There's a lot of companies that haven't seen these kind of space weather effects before," she says.

The International Space Station lies within Earth's magnetosphere, so its astronauts should be mostly protected, Steenburgh says.

In a statement, NASA said that astronauts would not take additional measures to protect themselves. "NASA completed a thorough analysis of recent space weather activity and determined it posed no risk to the crew aboard the International Space Station and no additional precautionary measures are needed," the agency said late Friday.

northern spain trip

People visit St Mary's lighthouse in Whitley Bay to see the aurora borealis on Friday in Whitley Bay, England. Ian Forsyth/Getty Images hide caption

People visit St Mary's lighthouse in Whitley Bay to see the aurora borealis on Friday in Whitley Bay, England.

While this storm will undoubtedly keep satellite operators and utilities busy over the next few days, individuals don't really need to do much to get ready.

"As far as what the general public should be doing, hopefully they're not having to do anything," Dahl said. "Weather permitting, they may be visible again tonight." He advised that the largest problem could be a brief blackout, so keeping some flashlights and a radio handy might prove helpful.

I took these photos near Ranfurly in Central Otago, New Zealand. Anyone can use them please spread far and wide. :-) https://t.co/NUWpLiqY2S — Dr Andrew Dickson reform/ACC (@AndrewDickson13) May 10, 2024

And don't forget to go outside and look up, adds Steenburgh. This event's aurora is visible much further south than usual.

A faint aurora can be detected by a modern cell phone camera, he adds, so even if you can't see it with your eyes, try taking a photo of the sky.

The aurora "is really the gift from space weather," he says.

  • space weather
  • solar flares
  • solar storm

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