We have yet to visit the Basque Country in northern Spain but our good friend Oli is a veteran visitor to the region. He has been kind enough to share his favorite hidden treasures of Spain’s Basque Country. Hope you enjoy, and as always, please remember to comment and share. God Bless!
The Basque country has been coming onto the radar of travelers more and more in recent years. Most visitors to Spain head to picturesque Barcelona and Seville, or the beaches of Andalusia. But the rugged northern coast offers something different for the intrepid explorer looking for a unique experience.
For many, if you find yourself in the Basque country you’re probably on the pilgrimage route, Camino de Santiago, which winds its way across the north of Spain to Santiago de Compostela.
But a trip to Spain’s Basque country (or Pais Vasco if you’re going native) has plenty for the casual visitor. From the bustling art and culture scene of Bilbao to foodie Mecca San Sebastian, travelers will be spoiled with choices.
As a big fan, and return visitor to the region, here are some of the best things to do in the Basque country of Northern Spain. Remember to pin my picks for the best kept secrets of Basque country!
When it comes to food Spain is a gourmands dream. Tapas has become a global export but the local Basque variation is a work of art. Pintxos (pin-choss) are bite sized morsels, exquisite and perfectly presented and almost a shame to eat because they look so good.
Often a slice of French stick topped with anything from a simple tuna mayo or slice of tortilla, through to carefully balanced works of art, finding the best pintxos in town can become an obsession.
Walk in to any bar in the Basque country and you’ll see these creations lined up, tempting you to load up your plate.
The Basques go for a bebida y algo para picar (a drink and something to pick), meaning a few pintxos over a beer or vermouth.
Be careful, as much as these tempting delicacies look fantastic, at around €2 each they can soon add up. Most will grab a few pintxos with friends or as an appetizer before a meal.
If you’re a fan of wine or cider then you’ll love txakoli. Pronounced cha-KOH-lee (you emphasize the koh bit and I always get it wrong), this effervescent apple wine is tart and fruity and goes great with a big plate of pintxos. Not only that but the barman has to pour it in a theatrical head height to low glass style, so it’s always quite a head turner.
The Guggenheim Museum
The iconic destination of Bilbao, the Guggenheim Museum has been responsible for transforming Bilbao from an unfashionable industrial city to a global destination. There’s no missing this incredible structure and the artwork inside is equally eye catching. With permanent collections featuring Van Gough and Picasso, you can easily while away a couple of hours browsing.
Even if you’re not ‘into art’ the museum is an incredible structure inside as well as out and is one of the most popular things to do in the Basque country.
To read about more incredible buildings around the world, check out our post here: 5 Free Things To Do in Reykjavik. It lists the Harpa Concert Hall as our favorite free activity in Iceland’s Capital!
La Concha Beach
Featuring probably one of the best city beaches in Spain, if not the world, San Sebastian is a popular draw for tourists every summer. In fact, its such a beautiful city it even features a royal palace, The Miramar, for regal escapes.
La Playa de la Concha is a wide sweeping beach that dominates the landscape, and features incredible views. Its made for lazy lounging in the sun and the sheltered bay is perfect for splashing with kids or those who aren’t fans of big waves.
Having spoken about how sedated La Concha is, just head around the corner and you’ll find some incredible surf breaks. In fact, pick any spot along the Basque Coast and you’ll find surfer friendly beaches.
Just over the border in France you’ll find Biarritz, which is still in Basque country. This is one of the best known surf breaks in Europe and is a beautiful town, not dissimilar to San Sebastian.
Keen surfers will probably start their Basque country journey in Biarritz and then head to towns like Zarautz and Mundaka (which is set inside a UNESCO recognized biosphere no less!).
Try saying that after a few of the local drinks…! Pronounced gas-tell-luga-chay, this fortress and walkway has become a postcard image of the Basque region.
Fans of Game of Thrones will recognize this rocky outcrop in the sea as, well, I don’t watch GOT but apparently it was featured quite prominently.
The whole coastline is quite spectacular and if you’re on the Camino pilgrimage you will drop by here. But if you simply want to get away from Bilbao for a day, this makes a great outing. The fresh air, the view and the rustic feel in the towns around here gives you a real sense of the Basque country culture.
It might be a cliché, but the people truly make this region special. Arriving in any bar you’ll find the people tend to be very engaging and even if your Spanish is of the school level variety, they will make an effort to engage with you.
Having said that, although Pais Vasco straddles France and Spain, the local language, Basque (known as Euskadi in the local parlance) bears very little in common with French or Spanish. Don’t worry though, everyone speaks Spanish and English is widely understood, especially in San Sebastian.
If you’re heading to Spain and you want to experience a more authentic side of the country; not just the tapas and party of Barcelona, or the music scene of Ibiza, Basque country is a captivating travel experience.
How to get to Basque Country
The main city and biggest airport in the Basque region is Bilbao. From there you can easily take a train or bus connection to the rest of the region, including San Sebastian. If you’re in mainland Spain, catch a train from Barcelona or Madrid to Bilbao in around 5 hours.
Biarritz in France is part of the Basque country and has good connections to many big cities in Europe including London, Paris and Frankfurt. You can also catch a bus from Biarritz airport direct to San Sebastian. But that would be a shame!
I hope you have all enjoyed my picks for the best kept secrets of Spain’s Basque country! Where would you most like to visit? Have you ever been to Spain? Let me know in the comments section!
About the Author:
Oliver Lynch is the editor and chief writer for GoneTravelling.co.uk and GlobalPlayboy.com. He’s based in London and can often be spotted in random European cities looking for the best budget food or snowboarding badly.