The Best Places To Visit In Northern Spain

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There are many beautiful places to visit in Northern Spain. Often overlooked for the more famous places in the South – Andalucia, Costa Brava, Costa del Sol and the famous Barcelona and Madrid, Northern Spain will blow your mind with its stunning landscapes, its charming cities, its beautiful villages, its lovely beaches and the delicious food and wine. 

I have been to Spain more times I can remember – probably at least once a year since I was 8, when my parents took me there on what was my very first trip abroad. This is a country I love through and through – I appreciate and understand its culture, I speak its language, I love its people, and I am even obsessed with Spanish cinema and TV series.

What many people seem to ignore, however, is that Spain is actually very diverse. For as much sun and light you are going to find in the South, the North is gloomy, rainy and incredibly green. Come to think of it, Northern Spain is called “Green Spain” – for very good reasons! 

If this part of the country caught your attention, or if you want to visit places that have yet to fall under mass tourism radar, you have come to the right place. Continue reading this post for a selection of the best places to visit in Northern Spain.

Northern Spain can be easily reached from anywhere in Europe and you will find direct budget flights. It is also included in the countries that accept the Eurail Pass

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Bilbao is a fantastic city and one of the best places to visit in Northern Spain

The Best Places To Visit In Northern Spain

Bilbao

Bilbao, the capital of the Basque Country, is a lively city where locals, tourists and the occasional pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela happily meet. Not many know, but the city is indeed along the Camino del Norte, one of the many official ways of the Camino de Santiago.

What makes Bilbao one of the places to visit in Northern Spain is a great mixture of old and new architecture: next to cobbled streets, colorful balconies and windows, you will find the gothic style Basilica de Begoña.

The beloved basilica – locally called “La Amatxo” – was built on the site of a shrine. Legend narrates that the Virgin Mary appeared there during the 16th century. Construction of the church started in 1519. Walk inside to check out the Neo-Classical Main Altarpiece. It’s where you can admire the Camarín de la Virgen (Virgin’s chamber).

If you love contemporary architecture as well as art, you will definitely enjoy visiting Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum. The exhibit is mind-bogging – with fantastic installations both inside and outside; and the exhibition space is absolutely incredible too.

To make the most of Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, consider joining this guided tour of the Guggenheim Museum – it’s a private tour, so you will be going at a nice, slow pace and will be able to ask any question that comes to mind.

Guggenheim isn’t Gehry’s only work in the Basque Country. He also planned the building of Hotel Marqués de Riscal, in Elciego, which is beautifully immersed in the vineyards.

Bilbao is a very pleasant city to explore on your own. If you feel you’d like more guidance you can definitely join one of the many guided tours offered locally.

I recommend this Bilbao like a local: customized guided tour which gives you the opportunity of picking up the attractions you want to visit.

Another excellent option is this Bilbao 3 hour guided bike tour which is one of the best rated in the city. The tour is nicely paced so you get to see lots of the city with a knowledgeable guide.

Make sure to check out my post 7 Great Reasons To Visit The Basque Country.

At easy driving distance from Bilbao, you should also visit Delica Canyon, home to the Salto del Nervion (Nervion Waterfall), one of the most impressive in the country. It’s a great place for hiking.

Vitoria Gasteiz
Photo by Jon Chica @shutterstock

Vitoria Gasteiz

Vitoria Gasteiz is a truly pleasant city and you can actually go there on a day trip from Bilbao. Among its must-see there are the interesting Artium Museum, which is a museum of contemporary art with a comprehensive collection of contemporary art by Basque artists, and lots of temporary exhibits.

You should also visit Cathedral of Santa María, a Gothic-style church built between the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th century.

If you are looking to do some people watching, head to Plaza de la Virgen Blanca, which is one of the prettiest squares in town. Finally, plan to go for a walk along the medieval walls and by all means enjoy food at one of Vitoria’s many fantastic restaurants.

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The gorgeous Pasai Donibane is one of the nicest places to visit in Northern Spain

Pasai Donibane and Pasai San Pedro

Of the many places to visit in Northern Spain, Pasai Donibane and Pasai San Pedro are probably among my favorites. These fishing villages are on two different sides of an estuary. A series of tiny, cobbled alleys goes a long the river and they are great for a walk.

The pace of life in these villages is slow: elderlies sit at coffee shops for a drink, to observe people passing by; groups of kids make the most of a hot summer day jumping in the water dogs in toe. The atmosphere is incredibly pleasant.

For more quaint city charm, make sure to visit Laguardia, a 10th century walled city that is beautifully kept.

Not far from Pasai San Pedro, Albaola, the Sea Factory of the Basques, is a museum as well as a research centre where historical whale ships are being built, to uncover one of the most traditional occupations of the Basque Country: whale oil trading. Make sure to add it to your list of places to visit as it is incredibly interesting and a great way of learning about the culture and history of the Basque country.

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It’s easy to see why Urdaibai is one of the best places to visit in the region

Urdaibai Bird Center

If you wish to discover the nature and environment of Northern Spain, go to the Urdaibai Bird Center, in the Basque Country.

The center was opened to monitor and research the migration and reproduction cycle of various birds, and there even is a stunning view of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve (a UNESCO site since 1984) from which you can observe various species, including ospreys.

You will learn that this part of Europe is one of the areas used by various species of birds to stop along their migrations: a lot of them come here to nestle.

best places to visit in Northern Spain
San Sebastian is a perfect surfing spot

San Sebastián

If surfing is one of the most popular things to do in Spain, San Sebastián is its capital. This pleasant coastal town has several lovely urban beaches with incredibly clear waters. It’s no wonder it is a favorite of both locals and tourists, who flock there during the hottest days of the summer.

Its most famous beach is Playa de la Concha beach (known as La Perla) – which you can admire from Mount Idalgo and Palacio Miramar.

On Monte Urgull you will find the 12th century Castillo de la Mota. Back when it was built, this was a natural enclave in the center of the city, a safe spot to protect against the enemies. un enclave natural en pleno centro de San Sebastián.

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The main beach in San Sebastian

Another interesting sight is the Museo de San Telmo, which is the museum of the city of San Sebastian where you can learn a lot about the history of the city. You should also explore the Parte Vieja – AKA Old Town San Sebastián – which is where most locals hang out at night too. It’s a fantastic maze of alleys, shops and unique sights.

Finally, San Sebastián has a thriving nightlife and is one of Spain’s best places in Spain for food, home of the famous Pintxos – Northern Spain version of the Tapas. The best food is known to be at Murador de Ulía.

If you would like some guidance when visiting San Sebastian, you may want to consider this San Sebastian bike tour – it lasts 3 hours and covers a great portion of the city.

You also have the option of joining a San Sebastian walking tour – I particularly recommend this one as it includes pinxto tastings!

Hondarribia
Photo by Jon Chica @shutterstock

Hondarribia

Hondarribia is a lovely fishing village 20 km (around 12.5 miles) from San Sebastian.

This small town is known for its walled medieval Old Town and the stunning Sandy Hondarribia beach which is at the mouth of the Bidasoa River. Make sure to visit the Castle of Emperor Carlos V, built in Gothic style, and the 16th-century Iglesia del Manzano church.

Not far from Hondarribia, Guadalupe Fort – a Spanish Civil War prison – located on Mount Jaizkibel is another interestin place to visit.

Small as it is, Hondarribia has some excellent restaurants. And in case you decide to spend the night there, you can stay in a fabulous hotel – the Parador de Hondarribia – located in a 10th century fortress.

Hondarribia is easy to visit on a day trip if you have a car – you can also go there easily by public transport. You also have the option of joining this guided day trip to Hondarribia from San Sebastian. You get to spend a good amount of time in the small town, so you can fully appreciate it.

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Gatzelugatxe is one of the most impressive places to visit in Northern Spain

Gatzelugatxe 

Located near Bermeo, in the Bay of Biscay, the hermitage of Gatzelugatxe is famous for being one of the filming locations of Game of Thrones. I have never been a fan of Games of Thrones – in fact, I have never watched an episode. But the mystic beauty of this place is hard to beat.

There is a trail that will take you all the way to the 10th century (though some suggest it’s a 9th century )hermitage dedicated to John the Baptist. Along the trail you can get impressive coastal views – though watch out, it can get incredibly muddy after it rains.

You can easily get to Gatzelugatxe by bus from Bilbao. Alternatively, I recommend this Gatzletugatxe and Gernika tour from Bilbao – it lasts 5 hours so you get a good overview of the place.

Santander
The pleasant Santander is worth a visit

Santander

The capital of Cantabria is one of the most pleasant places to visit in Northern Spain. This beautiful, elegant city by the sea used to be a favorite of Spanish aristocracy who up until the beginning of the 20th century traveled there for their summer holidays. The center of town was unfortunately destroyed by a fire in 1941.

One of the main attractions of Santander is actually located a bit out of the city: the Palacio de la Magdalena, built between 1908 and 1912. The palace was gifted by the city to the royal family and overlooks the ocean and offers breathtaking ocean views. During the summer months it hosts the courses and the students of the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo.

Make sure to read my post 5 Reasons To Love Cantabria.

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One of the unmissable places to visit in Northern Spain: Altamira museum

Altamira Caves (Museum)

You can’t skip the Altamira Caves when exploring northern Spain. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Altamira Caves are a fabulous example of prehistoric art, with paintings of animals such as bisons, deers, horses and boars that date back to up to 16000 years ago. They are often referred to as the Sistine Chapel of pre-history!

The actual caves are close to the public in order to preserve their delicate environment. However, the Altamira Museum is home to a perfect reproduction, so make it a point to go. The photo above was actually taken at the museum!

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Gorgeous even on a rainy day, Santillana del Mar is one of the places to visit in Northern Spain

Santillana del Mar

The perfectly kept medieval village of Santillana del Mar is locally known as the “town of the three lies.” Indeed, it is neither saint (santa), flat (llana) or by the sea (mar). The name actually derives from Santa Juliana, whose remains are kept in the Colegiata, a former Benedictine monastery.

The Colegiata is definitely the most interesting sight in the village. The church was founded in 870 AC, and was then changed into a collegiate church in the 11th century. The collegiate church features three naves, a dome, transept, three semi-circular apses and even tower.

Other than the Collegiate Church, Santillana del Mar is a lovely village to explore. It is a series of narrow cobbled alleys, lovely small souvenir shops, nice wine bars and cafés so give yourself plenty of time to visit. Keep in mind it’s a popular local destination for day trips, so avoid visiting at the weekend if you are not a fan of the crowds.

You can visit Santillana del Mar and Altamira Museum on day trips departing from Santander. I recommend this guided tour of Santillana del Mar and Altamira Museum as a good option that also includes transportation and admission to the Colegiata of Santillana.

Cantabria
El Capricho is a must see when in Cantabria

El Capricho 

Located in Comillas, a small village of Cantabria, El Capricho is one of Gaudì’s masterpieces.

Built between 1883 and 1885 with the purpose of being the summer residence of Màximo Dìaz De Quijano, Gaudì mastered in his intention of capturing the attention of visitors as well as sunlight. It is a colorful unusual building with a tower that looks much like a minaret.

You can visit Comillas and El Capricho on day trips from Santander. For a hassle-free day, you may want to consider this guided tour of El Capricho that includes transportation from Santander and a guide to take you around the site.

Sobrellano Palace
Photo by Blanca San Juan @shutterstock

Palacio de Sobrellano

Unique in its gender, Sobrellano Palace, located in Comillas (the same village where you will find Gaudi’s Capricho, in Cantabria), is a real gem. It was built in 1888 by architect Martorell in a neo-gothic and modernist style, and used to belong to the Marqués de Comilla D. Antonio López López.

Together with the palace, you should also visit the Capilla-Panteón, the chapel which was also designed by Joan Martorell. The palace was actually built after the chapel, and meant to be the summer residence of the Marques and his family.

Sobrellano Palace can only be visited on guided tours. Make sure to visit the official website for more information.

One of the best kept palaces in Cantabria is the one that belonged to the Marqués de Villa of Valdecilla.

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Incredible views along the Camino Lebaniego, in the Picos de Europa

The Picos de Europa

A post about the best places to visit in Northern Spain would not be complete without a mention of the Picos de Europa. This is an incredible area to visit, especially for the nature and hiking lovers reading this.

For stunning views, make sure to walk the Camino Lebaniego, a 65 km (40.3 miles) route that connects the Camino del Norte with the Camino Francés and which is often used by pilgrims to move from one route to the other. I walked bits of it and came across lovely villages and really quaint views.

For more impressive views, hop on the cable car from Fuente De all the way to the Mirador de Santa Catalina – but make sure to go on a clear day, and layer up as it is freezing up there, even on summer days!

Unfortunately the day I visited it was very cloudy and the mountain was literally enveloped in a cloud and there were no views. There is a nice local restaurant once you get off the cable car, they serve hearty portions of comforting local cuisine.

You should also read my post Hiking The Picos De Europa: The Best Trails.

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Sablon beachfront – easy to see why it’s one of the places to visit in Northern Spain

Llanes

Once a fishing port, Llanes is a charming small town with a bunch of good bars and restaurants, and some lovely shops. You can definitely visit on a day trip, but plan to spend a little longer if you want to enjoy the many beaches and appreciate the laid-back atmosphere.

The main attraction is the romanic-gothic Basilica of the Virgin Mary, and – especially in the summer months – the gorgeous Sablon, an urban beach where you will find Los Cubos de Memoria, designed and painted by Augustin Ibarrola to break the water and which, with time, became a nice art installation.

If you walk up the flight of stairs west of the beach you can get stunning views of Llanes, Sablon beach and the gorgeous Bay of Biscay. The photo of the beach above was taken from the viewpoint.

From there, you can also reach the Paseo de San Pedro, which goes all the way to the nearby beaches – you can walk it, bike it or even go on a horse ride. I did it on bikes and it was a real fun experience. You will find lots of places to rent bikes in Llanes – make sure to ask a map of the beaches!

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Oviedo, the capital of Asturias

Oviedo

Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, is a fun city. The historic center is beautiful, lively yet relaxing. The city is packed with history and culture, with a gorgeous cathedral and a number of beautiful squares and markets where you can observe some good local action. 

Plaza de la Catedral is home to the Gothic Cathedral of San Salvador of Oviedo. The church also have bits of Baroque and Renaissance styles, so it is quite unique. Make sure to pop inside as the interior is also quite spectacular!

One of the best places to visit in Oviedo is the Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias, spread across three buildings in the beautiful Plaza de la Catedral, and home of a collection of 15,000 pieces. Here you will be able to admire the works of Picasso, Goya, Dali and more.

Another museum you should visit here is the Archeological Museum of the Asturias, a small museum that will help you piece together the history of the region.

If you are looking for more beautiful squares, head to Plaza de la Constitución, where you will find the gorgeous building of the Town Hall. In Plaza del Paraguas you can see whatever is left Oviedo’s medieval walls.

Cider is king in Asturias, and if you enjoy it one of the coolest places to visit in Northern Spain is definitely a proper cider house such as Sidra Crespo, a 40 minutes car ride from Oviedo. This is a very local cider house, that still makes the real thing (and not the sweetened cider that is commonly found off the counter). Make sure to give them a call to plan your visit.

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Add Gijon to the list of places to visit in Asturias

Gijón

Lesser visited Gijón is a good place to browse around for a few hours. You will find an interesting mixture of modern architecture and old sights.

As it is located on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, you will find a pleasant beach perfect for a walk – San Lorenzo beach. Locals and tourists alike enjoy the beach on summer days and even off season for a pleasant walk.

Towards the Western end of San Lorenzo beach you will find Campo Valdes Roman Baths, an interesting site to visit to learn a bit more about the presence of Romans in the area. From there you can easily reach the Parque del Cerro de Santa Catalina for great coastal views and to admire the bold sculpture “Elogio del Horizonte” which was built in 1990. Personally I did not find the sculpture special, but the views from there are definitely worth the walk.

Other places to visit in Gijon include the botanical gardens and the Museum of the Asturian People, a truly interesting place to learn more about the culture and lifestyle of the area.

Check out my post 10 Gorgeous Places To Visit In Asturias, Spain.

Things to do in northern Spain
The scenic Cudillero 

Cudillero

Cudillero is a small picturesque fishing village that sits on the side of a mountain. This is definitely one of my favorite places to visit in Northern Spain. I have been twice, and loved it every time!

In Cudillero, the brightly colored houses literally hang from the cliffs and all overlook the small bay and the port. Here, life goes by slowly. Many of the houses in the village can only be reached on foot – most houses don’t have access to a road where cars can drive, so locals still walk everywhere and are easy to meet.

Cats hang out in the quiet streets. There are various viewpoints from which to enjoy the view. You can take any staircase from the historic center and you will be led to a nice spot from where to snap a photo.

Cudillero is roughly a 45 minute drive from Oviedo. It’s easy to get there if you have a car. Otherwise, I recommend this highly rated day trip to Cudillero from Oviedo which includes the service of a guide and stops in Aviles and Luarca.

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Isn’t Luarca darling?

Luarca

Another coastal village you shouldn’t miss is Luarca, known as the white town. I am not sure why, since I actually found it quite colorful. The village is actually along the trail of the Camino del Norte, so if you are walking the Camino de Santiago following this trail you will also pass by it.

Luarca is built around an S shaped bay. Here the buildings all preserve their original charm. Notable landmarks include the lighthouse, the chapel of Atalaya and the cemetery. In particular, this overlooks the sea and is where Luarca native Severo Ochoa, a Nobel prize winner, is buried.

In Luarca you will also find the impressive Gardens of Fonte Baixa, which are known to be the largest, private botanical garden in Spain and were built by José Rivera Larraya.

Make sure to also spot the seven bridges of Luarca, scattered along the Negro River. The most famous one if the Puente de Besos – Bridge of Kisses. It is the site of a local legend that saw a pirate win the love of Hidalgo’s daughter and both of them being killed as they were spot kissing. The legend suggests that at times, if you listen carefully, you can hear them talk!

The atmosphere in Luarca is special: welcoming locals enjoy a late afternoon drink and love talking to visitors. 

Luarca is about 30 minutes by car from Cudillero, and can be easily visited on the same day. If you don’t have a car, you may want to consider this highly rated day trip to Cudillero and Luarca from Oviedo which includes the service of a guide and also stops in Aviles.

places to visit in Asturias
The Indianos Archive of Colombres is a must for those who visit Asturias

Colombres and its Indianos Archive

Colombres, located in Ribadedeva municipality, is yet another pleasant, peaceful village to walk around. Its main attraction is La Quinta de Guadalupe, once the mansion of Iñigo Noriega, an “Indiano”.

The word “indiano” (Indian, in English) is used to refer to a person from Spain and more spefifically from Northern Spain who – back in the 19th century – emigrated to Latin America (in this specific case, Mexico but it could have been anywhere in the Caribbean region and even in South American) in search of fortune, and then returned back to sPAIN.

The Quinta de Guadalupe palace hosts the Fundación de Archivos de Indianos, a large archive of documents about the people who emigrated to the Americas in the 19th century. 

When I last visited most of the exhibit was in Spanish, so not exactly easy to follow for non-Spanish speakers. I speak Spanish so it was great to me, but you may find it interesting regardless of your language skills.

Asturias beaches
The lovely Ribadesella

Ribadesella

Ribadesella is one of Spain’s best kept secrets, and definitely one of the nicest places to visit in Northern Spain. This pretty small town taking the name from the river Sella, which has its delta right there, has a beautiful waterfront and a viewpoint to enjoy views of Playa de Santa Marina.

Elsewhere in town, you will enjoy a stroll around the Historic Quarter. Make sure to visit the Romanesque church of Santa Maria de Junco and San Esteban de Leces, the Gothic chapel of Santa Ana, which dates from the 15th century, and the 16th century Renaissance chapel of Nuestra Señora de Guía.

Scattered around town there are some gorgeous stately homes dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. You can also spot several Modernist style villas, including the Villa Rosario, which was built by a local “indian” family.

Castropol
Photo by Joaquin Ossorio Castillo @shutterstock

Castropol

This lovely coastal village is a pleasant place for a quick stop. Pancha Island and Playa de Mexota are perfect on a sunny day. You may also want to spend some time at the Playa de Penarronda or Playa de Arnao.

Not far from Castropol, another place worth visiting for nature lovers is the Cioyo Waterfall, beautifully immersed in the forest of the Asturias region.

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The splendid from Cabo Vidio

Cabo Vidio, Oviñana

Outside the city of Oviñana and overlooking the Bay of Biscay, Cabo Vidio offers some of the most stunning coastal views in Asturias. The area is packed with good hiking trails, so there is plenty to explore.

When I visited, I literally just stopped for the panorama. It’s a nice area, a bit off the beaten path so you won’t really find many tourists there. The area is also home to several beaches where you can relax waiting for the sun to set.

For one of the best sunsets in Northern Spain, go to Lastres – the viewpoint of San Roque will have views that embrace both the ocean and the mountains in the distance. 

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Playa de las Catedrales surely is one of the best places to visit in Northern Spain

Playa de las Catedrales

This is one of the most unique beaches you can ever hope to see, and definitely one of the best places to visit in Northern Spain. It uniqueness is due to the rock formations that have been carved by the wind and by the sea, forming curious shapes that can either be observed from the beach itself when the tide is low, or from above, when the tide starts rising.

You should try to spend enough time at the beach to enjoy high and low tide. On low tide you can walk along the beach and take lots of photos, on high tide walk along the coastal trail for the views.

Playa de las Catedrales can be visited on day trips from Santiago de Compostela or A Coruña. If you have a car, it will take you roughly 2 hours to get there from Santiago; and 1.5 hours from A Coruña. Otherwise, you can join a guided tour that will also take you to other destinations.

I recommend this Playa de las Catedrales tour from Santiago. It lasts 10 hours so you have plenty of time to enjoy the beach.

Galicia
An unmissable stop in Galicia: Sobrado dos Monxes

Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria de Sobrado dos Monxes

The last stop along the Camino del Norte before actually reaching Santiago de Compostela, Sobrado dos Monxes is a UNESCO Heritage Site, originally a Benedictines monastery dating back to the 10th century, then abandoned and eventually re-founded as a Cistercian monastery in the 12th century.

It has a gorgeous Baroque façade which was built in 1708. However, the interior is completely empty – there are no paintings, no furnishing, no statues. It is a truly unique place. As it is a stop along the Camino, there is a very large pilgrim hostel right next door that is a fairly good place to spend the night if you wish to live a unique experience.

Galicia
The roofs of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, as seen from the Cathedral Museum

Santiago de Compostela

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, Santiago de Compostela is famous for its Cathedral which is a real work of art and where the Crypt of St. James is found. The first building of the church was actually in Romanesque style and it was nothing more than a chapel (it was built in the 9th century).

The church was subsequently enlarged to host the many pilgrims visiting every day. It’s a truly beautiful church and definitely an unmissable place to visit in Galicia.

Make sure not to miss the view of Obradoiro square from the Cathedral museum, and to explore the lovely Mercado de Abastos – this is a good place to try some of the best dishes in Galicia.

To make the most of the Cathedral and the Museum, you should consider this Santiago de Compostela Cathedral and museum guided tour – it’s actually quite budget friendly and it will help you understand the importance of the church and unveil all its mysteries.

Another place to visit in Santiago de Compostela are the Hostal de Los Reyes Católicos, a lodging for pilgrims since the 15th century. The Old Town itself is a really pleasant place to explore on foot. You will see many pilgrims hanging out at local cafés and restaurants, tired after weeks of walking, and the atmosphere is truly unique.

To fully enjoy Santiago, I recommend this this private Santiago de Compostela downtown tour. It lasts 2 hours and goes to all the most important places in the city. It will give you a good introduction to the city.

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The gorgeous gardens of Pazo de Oca, in Galicia

Pazo de Oca

Known as the Galician Versailles, Pazo de Oca is just 30 minutes drive from Santiago de Compostela but a world apart. You can only visit the gardens, a fantastic example of manicured gardens in a typical Galician country estate. There are trails, fountains, various species of plants and plenty of photo opportunities.

Since the owners still live in the palace you can’t actually visit the villa – though trust me, it is worth going.

Pazo de Galegos Winery

For a taste of Albariño and Mencia, Galicia’s most famous wines, head to Pazo de Galegos, a fabulous vineyard and winery just 30 minutes drive from Santiago.

The palace (Pazo) used to be the residence of the Canon of the Cathedral of Santiago and is now a beautiful hotel. You don’t need to stay at the hotel to visit. You can simply opt for a wine tasting experience, and for a meal. There is a great tour of the vineyards included – in English. Needless to say, wines are excellent.

Cies Islands
Photo by karengoncalvese @shutterstock

Cies Islands

Near Pontevedra and right off the Atlantic Coast of Galicia, the Cies Islands are part of Galicia National Park – which was funded in 2002 (the islands are actually a national park since 1980). There are three islands in the archipelago: Monteaguto, which is known as the North island; do Faro, also known as Del Medio (middle); and San Martiño, which is the South island.

Monteaguto and do Faro are linked by Playa de Rodas and by a footbridge.

They are the perfect place for walking – there are four easy to follow hiking trails – and to spend a quiet day at a gorgeous beach away from all the tourists after finishing the Camino de Santiago

To get to the islands and enjoy the stunning beaches you will have to take a boat from Vigo (the ride lasts about 45 minutes so it’s an easy day trip). Vigo itself is actually one of the nicest cities on the Atlantic Coast and home of a nice Museum of Contemporary Art and of the Castle of Vigo.

One thing to note is that in order to visit you need special permission from the Xunta de Galicia well ahead of your intended day of visit. This is the website you need to use to get permission. You will need the permission (which is free to obtain) to book your boat ticket from one of the many local companies.

Other Cool Places To Visit In Northern Spain

I have been to Northern Spain several times and I have yet to see it all – and this list is by all means not an exhaustive one.

Other interesting places to visit in Northern Spain are Burgos, a lovely medieval city home to a stunning Cathedral, and of an impressive Museum of Human Evolution.

You could also go to Logroño, where you will find the Museo de la Rioja and from where you can visit the fabulous Rioja Wineries.

There’s Pamplona, with a gorgeous Casco Viejo (Old Town) and where the famous Fiesta de San Fermín is celebrated.

Another place you may want to consider is the beautiful city Leon, a famous stop along the Camino de Santiago.

There’s also Zaragoza, capital of Aragon and where you can see the 1700s Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar that was built in the 1700s and La Seo Cathedral.

Finally, there is Albarracin, a picturesque village in the province of Teruel.

Galicia
Santiago de Compostela is full of colors

A Quick Note On The Way Of St. James

Many of the places to visit mentioned in this post are part of the route of the Camino del Norte, one of the various trails of the Camino de Santiago – Way of St. James.

This ancient pilgrimage consists of a number of pilgrim routes that connect to the burial ground of Saint James (Santiago, in Spanish), one of the apostles, which was found in 814 in Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia.

Every year thousands of people embark on this journey, which is both a physical and spiritual one, but which also has the perk of creating life-lasting friendships and of taking you to incredible places which you wouldn’t otherwise happen to visit. 

Though the Camino Francés, which starts in St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz, in France, is the most popular route to follow, the Camino del Norte – which crosses the Northern regions of the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia – is an incredibly scenic one, perfect to do in the summer months when the rest of the country is terribly hot.

I have walked bits of the Camino del Norte and can guarantee you will have scenic views throughout, with mountain peaks, charming coastal villages and stunning beaches. You will also find some challenging walks and lots and lots of vegetation – there’s a good reason this part of the country is called “Green Spain!”

Further Readings

Are you planning a trip to Spain? Make sure to read my posts:

Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with the Tourism Board of Spain, and the local tourism boards of the The Basque CountryCantabriaAsturias and Galicia and in cooperation with The Travel Mob as part of the #InGreenSpain and #VisitSpain campaigns. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.

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12 thoughts on “The Best Places To Visit In Northern Spain”

  1. Thanks for sharing this post!! Very informative and your pictures are beautiful. I have wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago for a while now – hoping to make it happen in the near future!

  2. Thanks for your comment Alissa! If I can give you some advice, make sure to walk the Camino del Norte. I loved it. Would go back any time. So many places to visit in Spain along this route and… well, there’s nothing behind those pictures, my photography skills are limited: it’s just that the places are really THAT amazing!

  3. I like ”old stones”, and I have appreciated your subtle remark about ”spiritual” vs ”religious” …-)….keep up informing us , thanks a lot !

  4. Although Spain never fascinated me, your post makes me want to give it a try. Some of the photos here are really beautiful.

  5. I kept postponing another visit as I thought there were more interesting places to visit. Then I went with some friends and I had a total blast. There were so many places to visit in Spain that I had never even imagined of. I wholeheartedly recommend it <3

  6. Dear Claudia, I found your blog today searchig for things to do in Cuba (loved that post and will go back to it later in order to write down some of your advice), but got stuck on this post about El Camino Norte. Because I just come back from walking El Camino on the Camino Francés (from August 31 to October 6) and am still reminiscing the good times walking; anytime I see a blog post about El Camino and its many ways, I can’t prevent myself from reading.
    Hardly done with this walk, I’m dreaming of the next one, a much longer one, since I’d like to leave from Le Puy in France and hike the Northern Route in Spain. I see you had a great time and enjoyed it all too. Were you there this year too?
    Happy hiking and happy adventuring!
    I’ll most probably be back on your blog soon!
    Cheers!
    Jul’

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  9. I LOVED SOUTH SPAIN A GREAT DEAL. WHY DONT YOU PUBLISH THE LOVELY PLACES TO VISIT IN SOUTHERN SPAIN?

  10. Because the last time I was there was in 2000 – I’d need to visit again to be able to write about it 🙂

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