The Basque Country (also known as Euskadia) is considered one of the most interesting and fascinating regions of Spain. Euskadia has its own identity, culture, cuisine and language, which makes it a unique destination that you should not miss if planning to visit the Iberian Peninsula. Similarly to other regions in the north of Spain, the Basque Country is wild, with rugged coastlines and untamed mountainous landscapes. This 7-day itinerary will help you make the best of your trip to this incredible region.
1-WEEK BASQUE COUNTRY ITINERARY
DAY 1 - SAN SEBASTIÁN
Located just across the border from France, Sab Sebastián (Donostia in Basque) is the most popular destination in the Basque Autonomous Community, and it is easy to understand why. Miles of sandy beaches, perfect surf conditions, belle époque architecture and a food scene second to none make Donostia a dream place to visit.
This gorgeous view from the summit on Monte Igueldo (181m) overlooking la Bahia de la Concha and the surrounding coastline is definitely worth the 1-hour hike, but if you want to save yourself some time you can take the historical funicular railway (4€ return) that will take you to the top of the hill inside one of its traditional wooden carriages.
Head to Playa de la Concha if you feel like going for a swim or hire a paddleboard to explore the bay and maybe even visit Santa Clara Island. Alternatively, you can head to San Sebastian’s second beach, Playa de Zurriola for some surfing. Unlike la Concha, Zurriola is more exposed to the Cantabrian sea, which makes this the perfect location for some of the best waves in the Bay of Biscay.
After an active day at the beach, immerse yourself in the bustling alleys of the city of San Sebastian. The city’s architecture is stunning, and it will make you stop at every corner to admire the fancy boutiques and terraced buildings, but most of all try as many different pintxos as you can manage. Pintxos are the Basque version of the Spanish tapas, but the people of Sab Sebastian brought this tradition to the next level. Pintxos are not just little snacks, but bite-size morsels of culinary art. Some of the most famous pintxos bars are Borda Berri, la Cuchara de San Telmo, Paco Bueno and Bodega Donostiarra, but the overall quality is mind-blowing, so just go where your palate leads you.
I would ideally recommend spending two days in San Sebastian, but even 24 hours in this vibrant city will make this a fantastic start to your Basque adventure.
DAY 2 - ZUMAIA AND SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE
This second day is dedicated to all the Game of Thrones fans out there, since today we will explore two of the filming locations of this epic series. Do not worry if you are not into the TV show, these places have been chosen for their outstanding natural beauty, so you will not be disappointed. From San Sebastián drive west for thirty minutes until you reach Zumaia. The Beach of Itzurun, one of the two beaches of Zumaia, was the place in which (spoiler alert) Daenerys’ landing in Westeros was filmed at the start of season seven (in the picture below you can see me pathetically trying to recreate the scene).
Itzurun Beach is surrounded by impressive 150-meter-high sandstone and shale strata formations known as flysch. If you visit at low tide, it will be possible to admire the large abrasion platform rising from the sea, which creates a magical continuum with the stratified pattern of the cliffs. Overlooking the beach you will find the chapel of Saint Elmo, the patron saint of sailors.
From Zumaia drive 90 minutes east to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a small islet connected to the mainland only by a narrow stoney bridge. The popularity of this location grew exponentially after the island was used to depict Dragonstone, the fortress of House Targaryen in the TV show Game of Thrones. Although I have to warn you that you will not find the majestic black castle you have admired in the show, as this was created through CGI technology. On the other hand, atop the island stands a 9th century hermitage dedicate to John the Baptist.
To reach the hermitage, you have to walk the long, winding 241-steps staircase that will take you from the mainland to the highest point of the islet. From here enjoy the stunning views of the Basque wilderness and the rugged Cantabrian sea crashing on the rocky coastline. It is also a local tradition to make a wish after ringing the bell outside the church for three times. Beware of the hoards of tourists that will be queuing for doing this on a busy day, but if you wisely decide to go early, I guess a bit of luck does not hurt, does it?
DAY 3 - BILBAO
Just 40 minutes from San Juan de Gaztelugatxe you will find one of the most vibrant and artistic cities in Spain: Bilbao. Mostly known for its Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao is so much more than that. Staggering architecture, an atmospheric historic centre, an amazing food scene and art at every corner make Bilbao a place you definitely should not miss in your itinerary.
Despite half a million people live in Bilbao, the city feels somewhat like a quiet place in which you can walk around unencumbered by the crowds of other major European cities. As previously mentioned, the Guggenheim is the most popular attraction in Bilbao. Despite this, the vast majority of visitors do not visit the inside, but rather admire the sculptures that are exposed on the outside, such as the spider Maman (see picture above) or the famous Puppy, an enormous dog statue covered in flowers.
After visiting the surroundings of the Guggenheim, dive deep into Bilbao’s historic quarters, also known as Casco Viejo. The narrow lanes and plazas of Casco Viejo host an infinite number of pintxos bars, art galleries, shops and boutiques, but also grandiose buildings such as the Catedral de Santiago. The best way to explore the city is just getting lost through the alleys, with frequent breaks for a few pintxos and a glass of Txakoli, a very dry and highly acidic white wine that is produced here in the Basque Country.
DAY 4 - URKIOLA NATURAL PARK
After visiting some of the most popular spots on the Basque coast, it is now time to explore its wildest side. The first stop is Urkiola Natural Park, a rugged mountainous area, with limestone sheer precipices, ravines and deep valleys. The whole area is beautiful, and I would recommend choosing the activity for the day based on your level of fitness and mountaineering abilities. For those with a at least some experience in mountain environments, I would recommend climbing the second highest mountains in the Natural Park: Alluitz (1034m).
Txo, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Distance: 6km – Gradient: 740m – Approximate time (return): 3h15min
Do not let the just-above-1000m altitude trick you, climbing Alluitz is not a walk in the park, and only people with scrambling experience should attempt the summit. The hike starts at the car park in Arata. Follow the path through a steep beech forest on the southern slope of Aitz-Txiki. After reaching the Genzelai meadows follow the power line to the Artola col. From here continue diagonally to the north-east side of the mountain and climb the steep channel that leads to the ridge near the mountain summit.
From here enjoy the fantastic landscape views, or – if you are an experienced hiker and want something more challenging – follow the Infernuzubi Pass (Hell’s Bridge) that runs towards the mountain Anboto. For this section, the use of climbing equipment is recommended. Once finished admiring the lush landscape from the summit of Alluitz, head back to the trailhead through the same route.
DAY 5 - VITORIA-GASTEIZ
Today will be dedicated to visiting the capital city of the Basque Country: Vitoria-Gasteiz. Vitoria-Gasteiz is one of the most ancient cities in Euskadia, and it became an important political hub when the King of Navarra decided to build a fortress on the settlement of Gasteiz in 1181. The fortress was built to celebrate the victory (vitoria in Spanish) over the King of Castilla. Today the old Town ( Casco Medieval ) hosts some of the best-preserved medieval buildings and churches of Northern Spain, the finest of which are the Palacio de Escoriaza-Esquibel and the Palacio de Montehermoso.
Basotxerri, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Despite being a medieval city, Vitoria-Gasteiz has some distinctively modern features, including outdoor escalators leisurely ascending the steepest hills of the city and gigantic murals that create a fascinating juxtaposition with the ancient grey stones the city was built with. Needless to say, Vitoria-Gasteiz is one of the most well-respected culinary centres in the Basque Country, and here you will also taste some of the word-class wines produced in the wineries around the city.
DAY 6 - AIZKORRI-ARATZ NATURAL PARK
The Aizkorri-Aratz Natural Park separates the provinces of Álava and Gipuzkoa, and it is the second biggest Natural Park in the Basque Country. The park is one of the wildest areas in the Country, and it is home to some unique flora and fauna, including eagles and vultures. The sharp peaks of Aizkorri-Aratz NP have been the training grounds for some of the most famous Basque mountaineers, and it is also home to important cultural heritage such as dolmens, caves and Roman roads.
Keta, CC BY-SA 2.5 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5>, via Wikimedia Commons
The ideal starting point to visit the area is the spectacular sanctuary church of Arantzazu. The sanctuary is perched over a deep gorge, and its unique location and architecture make it a must-see place in the area. After visiting the sanctuary it is possible to explore the wilderness of the Natural Park, and the best place to do so is by hiking the Urbiako Xenda trail (Ruta PR-GI 3006).
The 10.8 km loop-trail will take you from the sanctuary of Arantzazu to the Urbia meadows, through mountain pastures surrounded by stunning limestone mountain peaks. The trail’s total elevation gain is 580m, which makes it suitable for moderately experienced hikers, and it requires hiking shoes and gear.
DAY 7 - SAN ADRIAN TUNNEL
For the last day of this trip through the Basque Country, we will be exploring one of the most iconic, yet unknown, places of Euskadia: San Adrian Tunnel.
Also known as Lizarette, the tunnel was created by natural erosion of the rock, which generated two openings in the mountain, on the north and south sides. Over time, the tunnel served a crucial strategic role in connecting the mainland to the Cantabric sea, especially during the middle ages until Castilla was annexed to Navarra in 1512.
Nowadays, the once strategic tunnel is a nostalgic reminder of a mystical past when traders and bandits used to walk these hills. The site can be reached following a two-hour circular hike which stars in Aldaola. On the route you will come across Casa de los Mikeletes (an old construction originally used for tax collection) and the hermitage located inside San Adrian Tunnel. However, the real highlight of this trail can be found upon the panoramic balcony of San Adrian, one of the most scenic points in the Aizkorri-Aratz Natural Park.
The Basque Country has a lot more to offer, and spending a prolonged amount of time here would allow you to explore many more fascinating villages and naturally outstanding areas.
Leave your favourite places and most beloved memories from the Basque Country in the comment section below!