To prevent yourself from having to choose between visiting Bilbao or San Sebastian, it’s a great idea to plan a proper Basque Country itinerary so you have the time to see a good portion of this beautiful corner of Northwestern Spain (and part of Southwestern France!). Spending 5 to 7 days in the Basque Country is never a bad idea when you consider just how much there is to see and do in this unique region.
The Basque Country can seem a world away from bustling metropolises like Madrid and Barcelona or the sun-baked cities and towns of Andalucía. This corner of the country is a bit more rugged and rainy, with a dramatic coastline and a shockingly green countryside.
Though it boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the nation, come prepared for variable weather patterns and don’t be surprised if you have more rain than sunshine.
Erratic weather aside, planning to visit the Basque region is an excellent idea for anyone wanting to see a different part of Spain. So long as you pack an umbrella and an empty stomach – this is the gastronomic heart of the country, after all – mapping out an ideal route is an incredibly pleasurable task so long as you know where to go.
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How Many Days in Basque Country?
How many days should you spend in the Basque Country? Knowing how long to spend in this beautiful region will allow you to adequately map out your route and figure out what you have time for and what you do not.
There is a surprising amount to see in this region and you could spend a lot of time exploring it. However, if you want to get a good feel for the region, enjoy both the major cities and some smaller towns in the countryside and maybe even have some time to relax, I would highly recommend spending 5 days in Basque Country.
If you are going to plan a 5-day Basque itinerary, then the route mapped out below can be altered to fit your needs.
You will likely need to cut out the day trips from Bilbao or, if you’re not as interested in the city, then you can cut out one day in Bilbao itself. You would also need to do the same for San Sebastian – either cut out the day trips on the last day or cut out a day in the city itself.
If you have 7 days, you will have a lot more time to devote to both Bilbao and San Sebastian and also to some smaller towns both inland and on the coast. Should you want to venture into the French Basque Country, then there is even an option to do that on the final day.
It’s worth noting that even if you plan a week here, you likely won’t have time to see absolutely everything that this beautiful region has to offer. However, a week can give you enough time to dig deeper in a number of places and also cover quite a lot of ground.
Getting To & Around the Basque Country
Getting to the region isn’t a difficult process, as the starting point of this route and the region’s largest city, Bilbao, is home to its own international airport. Bilbao airport is small, but it serves a number of major airlines and destinations across Europe and further afield, meaning that it is easy to reach the Basque Country from a number of different areas of the continent.
Major cities in the Basque Country are also relatively easily accessible via bus or train from other metropolitan areas of Spain. San Sebastian is also located incredibly close to the French border, so you can very easily reach Spanish Basque Country from France, as well.
When in the cities like Bilbao and San Sebastian, you can get around mostly on foot or by using the public transit system – in fact, the is the easiest way to get around the cities.
However, you will likely find it easiest to undergo the rest of this route if you make this a Basque Country road trip itinerary. Doing any of the day trips mentioned and visiting the smaller towns on your own terms is much easier if you choose to hire a car.
If you choose to do this, we suggest browsing for a great deal on RentalCars.com, which has a number of different options across many car hire companies.
If you don’t drive or simply don’t want to, you can easily get between major cities relying on the bus and train (you can view schedules here), but you will not have as much freedom or flexibility. The day trips are also mostly reachable by public transit, but you will be at the mercy of erratic timetables that may not align with your plans or wishes.
Going on day trips by organised tour is also an option, but again, you don’t have the freedom or flexibility when doing this than you would if you had your own vehicle. You can view day trip options here on GetYourGuide or here on Viator.
All in all, it is definitely best to rent a car to really get the most out of your time exploring Spanish Basque Country.
5 to 7-Day Basque Country Itinerary
This itinerary begins in Bilbao and ends in San Sebastian, however, you could easily reverse it if you happen to be beginning in San Sebastian. As mentioned above, if you only have 5 days in Basque Country, then you can opt to cut out either day 2 or 3 and days 6 or 7 of this route in order to adequately plan out your time.
Day 1 – Bilbao
Begin in the region’s largest city, Bilbao. Once a gritty and industrial place, Bilbao has seen a massive transformation in recent decades and it is now a modern, eclectic and artistic metropolis. Known for being home to its own branch of the famed Guggenheim Museum, there is far more to this city than this home of modern art.
Spend your first day in Bilbao wandering through the lovely La Ribera Market and exploring the sites of the Old Town. Gorge yourself on pintxos (the Basque version of tapas) in some of the many fantastic bars in this area before taking a leisurely stroll along the Estuary of Bilbao where you can take in all of the lovely architecture along the water.
If you want to see the sites with some context, consider taking a walking tour of Bilbao. There are both free walking tours and paid options available.
End your day by taking the funicular up to Mount Artxanda and enjoying the fantastic views of the city below. After you come down, unwind on another pintxo crawl while enjoying the fresh and delicious Basque cuisine. Join a food tour if you want to explore with a guide!
Where to Stay in Bilbao
Hotel Gran Bilbao – If you’re looking for a luxury option in Bilbao, then this swanky hotel is a great option. It is centrally located and excellent for exploring the city and they have a number of lovely rooms on offer to ensure you have a great stay.
Hotel Bed4U Bilbao – An excellent mid-range option, this hotel is located within easy walking distance of all of Bilbao’s top attractions. They have a number of clean and comfortable rooms available and even have an on-site fitness centre and bar should you want it.
Latroupe la Granja – For those travelling solo, on a tight budget or who simply want a social atmosphere, this central hostel is an excellent choice. They have both private and dorm rooms available, there are great common areas where you can meet other travellers and all rooms are ensuite.
Private Rental – If you want to live like a local in Bilbao, then a private apartment rental is an excellent choice. There are lots of properties to choose from – like this modern flat in the Old Town – that can suit all kinds of travel styles and budgets.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Bilbao hotels!
Day 2 – Bilbao
The second day of this itinerary has you going deeper into exploring beautiful Bilbao. Today, take the time to head over to the New Town and see the sites over here. Begin your day by admiring the Zubizuri Bridge before wandering over to the lovely Casilda Park.
Then, head over to the Guggenheim Museum. Even if you don’t opt to visit the interior of the museum, make sure to take the time to admire the architecture of this beautiful building. For those interested in modern art, consider taking a guided tour which also includes skip-the-line tickets.
You can also visit some of the museum’s most popular sculptures, like the famous “Puppy.” If the Guggenheim doesn’t interest you but you are a classical art fan, then you could also opt to visit the Fine Arts Museum located in Casilda Park.
After your time in the museum, visit some of the great pintxos bars that make their home in the New Town for lunch. And once you’ve had your fill, hop on the metro and head to the town of Getxo.
This is a city that is separate from Bilbao, however, it is still accessible on the city’s public transit system. Located at the mouth of the Estuary of Bilbao, Getxo has a small beach and a lovely seaside promenade. It is also known for the impressive Vizcaya Bridge, which is definitely worth seeing.
If the weather is fine, then it can also be a great idea to take the metro even further to Sopelana, which is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the Bilbao metro area.
Day 3 – Gaztelugatxe, Bermeo & Guernica
On day 3, take the time to get out of the city and explore some small sites and towns in the region. You can either visit these sites independently if you have a car or you can join a guided tour.
Start your day by visiting the striking island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. This place is known to be a filming location for HBO’s Game of Thrones (where it was used for Dragonstone). You cannot visit the castle and island itself at this point, but you can hike to some viewpoints and get a very scenic lookout at this striking spot.
Next, mosey further along the coast until you reach the charming seaside village of Bermeo. This place is small but it is very worth visiting for a classic Basque charm. There is a lovely harbour you can walk along and there are also some great restaurants, so it makes for an excellent lunch stop.
Your final stop for the day should be the city of Guernica. This town is perhaps best known for Pablo Picasso’s painting of the same name, which depicts the horrific aerial bombing of the town on a market day in 1937. The city itself is known to be a capital of Basque culture and it is very much worth visiting and exploring for a number of reasons.
Day 4 – Bilbao to San Sebastian
Day four will see you going from Bilbao to San Sebastian. This is a great opportunity to take the time to explore some more areas along the coast en route to your final destination.
Because we already will have visited a few places on the previous day, make your first stop on the Bilbao to San Sebastian drive be the small coastal village of Ondarroa. This is a lovely little town with a charming waterfront that is very much worth wandering around for a quick stop.
Next up, make sure you pull over at some viewpoints to take in the incredible scenery along the coast. Dramatic cliffs and beautiful beaches abound in this area. You can also opt to make a stop in the lovely town of Getaria. This little village is located on a small peninsula about 25 kilometres west of San Sebastian and is very much worth visiting.
You can make your final stop before arriving in San Sebastian the lovely city of Zarautz. This city is located about 20 kilometres west of San Sebastian and is home to an expansive beach with a lovely seaside promenade. Wandering in the city centre, there are also countless bars and restaurants to enjoy and wonderful streets to explore.
Where to Stay in San Sebastian
Hotel Boutique Villa Favorita – If you’re after a luxury hotel in San Sebastian, then this swanky hotel is an excellent choice. Located on La Concha Promenade close to everything this beautiful city has to offer, they have a number of great rooms available. There is also an on-site bar and free parking for guests!
Hotel Villa Katalina – For those looking for a lovely hotel on a mid-range budget, then this spot is an excellent choice in San Sebastian. Centrally located within easy walking distance of all of the city’s top attractions, they have a number of lovely rooms available and plenty of amenities to ensure you have a great stay.
Private Rental – If you’d like to experience San Sebastian like a local, then a private rental is an excellent choice for you. Places like this sunny apartment near La Concha beach can give you a great idea of what it might be like to live in this beautiful Basque city.
Surfing Etxea – For solo or budget travellers looking for a great social atmosphere, this hostel located in the Gros neighbourhood is a great choice. They have both dorm and private rooms available and this hostel is great for those who want to try their hand at surfing!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more San Sebastian hotels!
Day 5 – San Sebastian
Day 5 of this itinerary is devoted to exploring one of the absolute highlights of the Basque Country – San Sebastian. Once the summer residence of the Spanish royal family and now considered to be one of the gastronomic capitals of Europe, San Sebastian is an absolutely lovely place to spend a few days in.
Spend your first day here exploring the sites of the old town and eating your fill at some of the countless pintxos bars that line the winding streets. Hopping from bar to bar is one of the best things to do in San Sebastian. Join a walking tour or a food tour if you prefer to explore with a guide.
Take the time to wander along La Concha Promenade and, if the weather allows for it, spend some time on the beautiful beach.
You can also visit the gorgeous gardens at Miramar Palace, which was once the residence of the Spanish royal family. At the end of the promenade, you will find the iconic “Comb of the Wind” sculpture and also an old-style funicular that will take you up to Monte Igeldo.
End your busy day enjoying views from Monte Igeldo and, if you’re brave, ride the wooden roller coaster at the hilltop amusement park. You can take your time wandering back to the old town and, of course, find some more pintxos bars to gorge yourself on some more local delicacies.
Day 6 – San Sebastian
Your second day in San Sebastian will see you exploring the city further. Begin your day at one or two of the market halls in the city. Both the San Martín and La Bretxa markets are located in the city centre or old town and are a very good place to explore just how fresh Basque produce is!
Then, head over to the San Telmo Museum where you can learn more about the Basque history and culture. The Basque people have a language and culture completely different to Spanish and French and it is fascinating to learn more about it.
Now, wander out of the old town and along the Pasealeku Berria Promenade toward Gros and Zurriola Beach. Zurriola Beach is the main surfing beach of San Sebastian and it is a great place to watch the surfers catch some waves – or even go for a surf yourself!
The Gros neighbourhood is a hip and cosmopolitan area of the city that many tourists don’t venture to. It is, however, home to some of the city’s top restaurants and it is a great place for yet another pintxos crawl!
End your day by exploring the grand Centro neighbourhood of San Sebastian and enjoying the beautiful buildings, nice parks and, yes, plenty of fantastic pintxos bars.
Day 7 – Hondarribia, San Pedro & San Juan
The final day of this itinerary sees you heading out of the city once again. You have a few options here, but I recommend heading to the town of Hondarribia located right on the French border before circling back to visit the small fishing ports of San Pedro and San Juan. You can join a small-group tour if you prefer.
If you don’t go for this option, there are a few places you could choose to go instead. For instance, you could opt to drive north and explore some towns in French Basque Country like St Jean de Luz, Biarritz or Bayonne.
You could also leave the Basque Country entirely and head south to the city of Pamplona, the capital of the Navarre region and home to the famous Running of the Bulls.
If you do opt for my suggested outing, however, you won’t be disappointed. Hondarribia is absolutely lovely and a very nice place to wander around. There is a pleasant seaside promenade where you can peer into France, a beautiful beach and a charming town centre.
The town of San Pedro serves as the main fishing port for the region and, as such, there are some great restaurants to enjoy here. The town of San Juan is located just across from San Pedro and there is a small ferry that can shuttle you across the waterway in just a few minutes. There is no timetable for this ferry, it just tends to go back and forth when there is a need.
Planning the perfect Basque Country itinerary can be tricky when you contemplate all of the fantastic places to go (and all of the delicious food to eat!). Whether you have 5 or 7 days to enjoy, you’re sure to fall in love with this unique and beautiful region.
Are you planning to visit Basque Country? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!