There is so much to love about Spain it can be hard to choose where to go and what to see when planning a trip. Sitting on the west coast of Spain, undiscovered by most tourists, is the Basque Country, a region full of beauty, amazing experiences, fantastic food, beautiful beaches, historic architecture and friendly people. These are five cities and towns you shouldn’t miss in the Basque Country.
Bilbao is a small city with a beautiful contrast between the historic and the modern. It is home to the Guggenheim, perched beautifully in the middle of the city and overlooking the river-which divides the city into two parts. The more modern part of the city is full of great shopping, world class restaurants, beautiful boardwalks and bridges along the river as well as a great train and metro system to get around town and beyond. There is a sense of community in Bilbao that doesn’t exist in the larger cities. The locals are happy to welcome you in.
Historic Bilbao is like stepping back in time. When you cross the river from the modern side of the city you enter a maze of small streets full of restaurants, bars, shops, and incredible buildings stacked together with balconies overflowing with flowers. There are several squares where the community gathers either, on the stairs leading up the hill surrounding the city, or next to the ancient church, or the tree lined riverwalk. Get an aerial view of the city by taking the funicular up the mountain then spend some time in the park or walking around the small neighborhood. The views are stunning as is the artwork around the park.
The pintxos, the popular food fare in the Basque country, are on display as beautiful as artwork, in one of Europe’s largest food markets, the La Ribera Market along the river. Bar hopping for a small plate of pintxos here and there is encouraged and will create a delectable experience. The bars are full of locals drinking wine, eating and celebrating life. The laid back attitudes are contagious. Soon you are swept in and hopping from bar to bar filling your plate with delicious pintxos.
Getxo is a short 15-minute drive or 30-minute train ride from Bilbao. It is easy to spend days here exploring the massive art-nouveau era mansions overlooking a beautiful bay and marina. Take a day and walk the gorgeous cliffs in the region, stopping for a nice lunch or coffee in the elegant cliffside restaurant before taking in the historic Aixerrota Windmill and La Galea Fort. Getxo is a stunning example of the beauty Spain’s Basque Country holds. The rocky cliffs are each more breathtaking than the last, and the tree lined walkway and paths are the perfect respite from hectic travel schedules. The bay area of Getxo pulls no stops in its architecture, scenery and walkability. There is nothing like it anywhere else on the Spanish coasts.
Getxo is home to the Vizcaya hanging bridge that is the only one of its kind in the world. The gondola glides under the bridge carrying passengers and vehicles from Getxo to Portugalete. The Vizcaya Bridge has gained UNESCO world heritage status due to its perfect balance of beauty and function.
The town of Orio is a rare bit of untouched coast in the Basque country. The large beach area is popular with locals and Spanish tourists but otherwise relatively unknown. This is evident the minute you walk across the bridge and into what feels like a town time forgot. The small town is built into the side of a mountain with the stone walkways weaving themselves among the old stone buildings and up the mountain. At the base of the mountain town is a square with restaurants, bars and a couple of shops. Traveling further through town is the beach area complete with restaurants serving great seafood and drinks, and a few ice cream stands. The beach is wedged between two mountains, which help to protect it from the heavier winds in the area and create a perfect swimming zone for beachgoers. These winds create a great atmosphere for paragliding, or sitting on the beach watching the colorful gliders gently sway through the sky. The area is surrounded by hiking paths so you can explore for a day or head out for longer treks using Orio as a base or just a great day of relaxation.
Game of Thrones fan or not, Zumaia is worth the trip to see the longest rock strata formation in the world. These incredible jagged formations rise out of the earth to create jagged lines in the sand, which flow up to form jaw dropping cliffs. The surrounding ocean is full of surfers waiting for the next big wave. You can sit and enjoy the day on Itzurun beach or in the café above where you can take in the surrounding beauty and watch as more grey and black strata is revealed with each change in tide. There is trekking along the top of the surrounding cliffs which lead you past historic white buildings situated on the edges of the cliff formations or rent some surfboards and hit the waves yourself. If you are a GOT fan, don’t worry you can get some memorabilia of the show and stand where the cast did while filming the scenes outside of the Dragonstone castle. There are small shops in Zumaia worth taking in as you make your way through the town where the waterfront is lush and green and you may just catch some paddle boarders learning how to navigate the rougher waters.
The magic of San Sebastian isn’t only its beautiful beaches. The beautiful architecture, amazing food, incredible weather, endless shopping and history all make this town a great getaway.
You can spend your days walking along the wide promenade along La Concha beach with its famous white railing then head over to Old Town. Here you are surrounded with 400-year old architecture, which now house bars serving great pintxos, shops, churches and what used to be the old bullring. From old town you can make your way to the majestic River Urumea. The river runs through the city with beautiful bridges and tree lined streets on either side. Here you will find the Victoria Eugenia Theater, the home of the International Film Festival where each fall Hollywood and European film stars gather. There is also the stunning five-star Hotel Maria Cristina.
A quick walk from the river and you are in the romantic center of San Sebastian, filled with beautiful parks and squares to pass the afternoon in. You can also get lost in the shopping, tour the Good Shepherd Cathedral, or hang out in the bars and restaurants. A stroll around the Romantic Center will have you reminiscing about how Paris was years ago.
As one of the world’s top dining destinations, holding 15 Michelin stars, there is never a shortage of amazing food to try, along with the famous Txakoli (sparkling white wine). Be adventurous and try several places, eating small plates of pintxos and drinking some Spanish wine at each then enjoy a stroll down the streets, enjoying the glorious Basque country sun.
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