NORTHERN SPAIN ITINERARY
Total 760 km – 14 days north of Spain road trip itinerary
If you are going to visit Spain and you are a nature lover, the north coast of Spain should be your self-drive road trip itinerary. The north of Spain is famous for its wild beaches, for how the mountains collide with the ocean, and for its simple but high-quality food wine and cider. This road trip should take around 2 weeks. If you have 3 weeks to visit Spain you could extend your stay in the following spots I will mention or add stops from the Basque Country road trip itinerary described in this article.
The weather can be treacherous especially if you are in mountainous regions since the weather can change abruptly. The best months of the year to plan this trip are from April – September. A Tip for you, even if you go in mid-summer take your rain jacket and don’t forget your trekking boots.
San Sebastian is one of the most famous cities in Spain for many reasons. La Concha Bay embraces the whole city making it look like a Fishing town but it actually is an economically important city. The beach where the bay meets the city is beautiful and great for beginner surfers and paddle surfers.
Things to do in San Sebastian
a) ‘La Concha’ or the shell: This is the name of the impressive beach that embraces the city. This massive bay is surrounded by traditional buildings and bars and restaurants. I really recommend walking from the very beginning to the very end of the bay and if you have the chance, taking the boat that takes you to the island in the middle of the bay (there is a very nice restaurant with very special views)
b) The old town of San Sebastian: If you want to immerse more in its culture, you should go to the Old Town area where the more traditional bars & restaurants are located. Here you will get to taste the best Tapas & Wine in the city
c) Rent a bike: You can rent a bike and visit the whole city, get on a boat and see the city from a different point of view and simply chill and surf in the beach. This bay is very protected from the swell making it a very good spot for beginners and for swimmers, but remember that in winter the north coast of Spain can get very cold.
Actually, Bilbao is my hometown and I have to say that it is the best city in the north of Spain and the best place to visit in your vacations along with San Sebastian.
Bilbao is built alongside the river or ‘La Ría’. If you follow the river you do not lose the most important sights and as you go deeper into the river path the more you will emerge in its culture. The best way to see this city is walking, therefore, park your van or car in one of the multiple free parking areas, like in Erandio Metro Station, and take the metro to the city center (Moyua Station).
Things to do in Bilbao
a) Guggenheim Museum: Your first stop should be the Guggenheim Museum. This Museum is worldwide known due to its unique architecture. I personally recommend taking the time to enter the Museum and to try to understand the pieces of art.
b) Wine & Tapas along the river: Go straight to El Casco Viejo. You should then follow the walking path along ‘La Ría’ to ‘El Casco Viejo’ or ‘Old Town’ to the different Bars to have a taste of probably the best food you can have in Spain or in your vacations. We call ‘Pintxos’ or ‘Tapas’ to small portions of food you can simply grab in the bar. Tip, taste the Bacalao Fish or ‘Cod stuffed in Pepper’. The wine of the Basque Region is also astonishing, the most known type of wine is called ‘Txakoli’. If you feel like moving on, simply get lost along the many streets of Old Town or keep on walking along the river.
c) Soccer match in Athletic Bilbao’s stadium, San Mamés: If you are lucky enough to coincide with a soccer game in San Mamés it is extremely worth it, even if you are not a soccer fan. Athletic Club is not a soccer club but a religion, the crowd goes wild in any game singing local popular songs that will embrace you. It is the only time along with Barcelona and Real Madrid that have never descended to the second league and the Stadium is new and categorized as one of the best in Europe.
Santoña is a lovely fishing town famous worldwide for its sardines. My favorite restaurant is the one that is just beside the bullring. If you walk along with the port you will eventually fishermen arriving with their catch.
Just 10 minutes north from the town center you will get to ‘El Peñón de Santoña’ which is a small mountain with an awesome walking track along the coast. This walking track is one of my favorite routes in all of Spain. In the middle of the route, there is a lighthouse called ‘El Faro del Caballo’ which is really worth it to descend through the multiple steps and go for a swim. For the most reckless there are 3 meters, 8 meters or 16-meter jumps! I would really recommend taking your scuba diving gear and go for a swim into the multiple caves that surround this small mountain.
If you don’t feel like walking you can take a boat in the port which will guide you around the different caves. Take your scuba diving since there are some boats that enter the caves and let you jump to the water. Big fish can be seen here! But be aware that caves can get dark…
Noja is a lovely beach town with a very long and extremely beautiful beach. At low tide, the rocks that were covered by the salty water get exposed and you find yourself surrounded by this labyrinth of rocks. Families of crabs inhabit these rocks which are like ninjas since they hide as soon as they see you. This beach is great for snorkeling.
Surfers tip: At the easterly part of the beach, there can be very good waves. Not for beginners, these very hollow A-framed beach break only gets pumping when the conditions are perfect. The wind has to be glassy or south, and the swell should be NW 3-6 meters. It autumn the banks are usually better. To get there follow the dirt road till the very end of the beach, you can free camp there.
Your self-drive road trip should include many ‘chiringuitos’ which means bars that are located close to the beach. This is one of the coolest and most Spanish things, the ‘chiringuitos’. There is a great one in the very middle of the beach which can be accessed by car and has a huge car park.
Santander is a great place for your road trip if you want to experience a different type of culture from the one seen in Bilbao and San Sebastian. It once used to be a fishing town but with time grew into a city.
Things to do in Santander
a) Palacio de la Magdalena: One of my favorite tourist attractions in the north of Spain. Mark this spot in your itinerary. This palace was granted to the Spanish Royal Family which became their summer vacation residence. Its gardens and the sights of the bay and the city are simply unique and totally worth it.
b) El Sardinero beach: This beach is the main beach of the city. It can get crowded in summer but it is very nice to see how everyone in town goes for a swim. There is a very nice coastal walk along this beach, great for jogging or riding a bike.
c) Somo beach: Great for surfers or for a more wild and relaxed experience.
d) Peña Herbosa Street: This classic street is very lively from the afternoon onwards, especially on weekends. Taste everything, you will be surprised by the delicacies. For drinking, taste the fresh natural apple cider.
San Vicente de la Barquera
San Vicente de la Barquera is one of my favorite nature sights on the whole coast. Ride the roads of this bay with your vehicle and go for a swim in the area. You will be embraced by the mountains and its dense forests.
Your north coast Spain road trip itinerary should also include Asturias and Galicia region. Llanes is one of the most historic and beautiful towns in this area. There is a beautiful coastal walk where the high cliffs are with historic monuments.
You can go for a meal in any local restaurant and order ‘El Menu del Día’ or the Day Menu. Close to the train station you will find 2 local cheap restaurants and cheap accommodation for travelers.
Destination tip! Andrin is a small town that belongs to Llanes, and its beach is one the best for bodyboarding in the north of Spain. Check it out!
It is a very special fisher town that is located in the river mouth of the ‘EL Sella’ river. This river is my favorite to kayaking and there are awesome sites for Canyoning as well, available for all the levels. There are very Good and not expensive restaurants along with the port.
If you are traveling for more than 10 days along the north coast of Spain I really recommend getting to Galicia and visiting La Coruña. This fishing city has a medieval old town area with lots of history. It is beautiful to see the contrast between the medieval sites and the more modern ones. This area is great for food, wine, and cider.
Hercules’ lighthouse is also a must. These roman lighthouse stands at the most northern part of the city and is surrounded by majestic views of the city and the surroundings.
Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is a magical place to finish your Spanish road trip itinerary. This famous city is worldwide known due to its majestical cathedral. This cathedral is the finishing point for all the pilgrims of the famous ‘Camino de Santiago’.
There are plenty of tourist sites, restaurants, and bars around the area of the cathedral. I would recommend you get lost in this area and get to speak with the different pilgrims, everyone has a different story to share.
And this is it! I hope you have enough information to plan our next trip to the north of Spain. In case you need an extra hand organizing it, do not hesitate to contact me and we will organize together with the journey of your dreams !
DO YOU WANT TO BECOME A FULL-TIME TRAVELER?
Download my free travel guide ''How to become a full-time traveler | Budget breakdown'' and become part of the Nomadic Community where you will benefit from special content and exclusive products.
YES! I WAN'T IT NOW!