Galicia deserves way more than two or three days, but one has to make the most of the time he has available.
Let’s face it: most people in the world don’t have endless amounts of time (and money) to travel. To be fair, not even I do – though it is my job to travel the world and inspire others to do the same! Sometimes work constraints force me to literally flashpack through a destination. But at times, just a quick visit is enough to make me fall in love with a place and make me vow to go again. This was the case with Galicia.
A First Taste Of Galicia
I visited Galicia for the first time at the end of June 2016, when I toured the North of Spain.
Back then, my trip started in the Basque Country, where I was impressed by the Guggenheim museum and drank the crisp txakolin wine.
I then continued to the lesser visited (yet gorgeous) Cantabria to marvel at the Altamira cave and get lost in the narrow alleys of Santillana del Mar (and drink more wine).
I crossed into Asturias and was impressed by the gorgeous beaches, the lively Oviedo, and by the beautiful, peaceful coastal villages – and since wine isn’t so much of a thing there, I opted for cider.
I finally visited Galicia, where I could not believe the beauty of Playa de las Catedrales. I concluded my tour in Santiago de Compostela, where I didn’t spend nearly long enough to properly get to know it.
I went to Galicia again last October, and unfortunately I didn’t get to spend long enough there this time around either. I guess though that between the two trips, I managed to get a good feel for this beautiful part of Spain.
Hence, I have decided to put together a post on just a few places that can be visited in Galicia on a two or three days break – just about the amount of time that most tourists would have on a weekend break – and using Santiago de Compostela as a starting point for exploration.
Five Gorgeous Places To Visit In Galicia In Just Three Days
Santiago de Compostela
The most obvious place to start exploring Galicia is Santiago de Compostela, whose airport is connected to the rest of Europe via budget airlines flights. The city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and it is the ending point of a pilgrimage (Camino de Santiago, or Way of Saint James) that each year sees over one hundred thousand pilgrims walk across Spain through various routes.
The city is beautiful – crowded with tourists and pilgrims, yet completely enjoyable. The Cathedral is stunning, and the view of Obradoiro square from the Cathedral museum is worth seeing: the square is huge, packed with people and busy with life, especially on sunny days (keep in mind that the North of Spain does get a lot of rain!).
The Mercado de Abastos de Santiago is another must see. Open from Mondays to Saturdays, from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm, not only it is the perfect place to buy groceries (especially the fish and seafood which are always delicious in this part of the country) but also to just observe life, and take photos. Apparently most of the action happens earlier in the morning, and towards the end of the week.
The rest of Santiago is a series of narrow alleys. Some of them are quite busy, others surprisingly quiet. Either way, it is lovely to take a walk around to enjoy the interesting layout and breathe the great atmosphere.
Pazo de Oca
At around 30 minutes drive from Santiago de Compostela, there’s a beautiful palace called Pazo de Oca, often referred to as the Galician Versailles. Though the interiors can’t be visited (the owners still live in the palace, how amazing is that?!) it is possible to roam through the incredibly well kept gardens.
There is a labyrinth of hedgerows, beautiful flowers galore, and even a large pond with swans in it.
Pazo de Oca is open every day from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm (November to March); or 9:00 am to 8:30 pm (April to October).
Sobrado dos Monxes
The Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria de Sobrado dos Monxes is one of the most unique churches I have ever visited in my life. Located at about 1 hour drive from Santiago, it is a very important landmark during the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
Nowadays, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It originally was a Benedectines monastery, which had been built in the 10th century and then abandoned at the very beginning of the 12th century. In 1142 it was re-founded as a Cistercian monastery, and the baroque church was built in 1708.
While the facade of the church is simply stunning, it is the interior that attracted my attention. The church is completely empty inside: no furnishing, no decorations and paintings, no statues or crosses. Just the bare floor and walls. Walking inside is a strange feeling. But the church is still enjoyable and worth visiting.
Playa de las Catedrales
Known as Praia das Catedrais in the Gallego language, Playa de las Catedrales is one of the most unique and beautiful beaches in the world. The fact that it is at a good 2 hours drive from Santiago de Compostela should not be a deterrent to visit. Trust me, it is worth it.
The peculiarity of Playa de las Catedrales is the rock formations which, carved by the sea and the wind, have taken the most incredible shapes – thus looking like cathedrals.
I recommend planning a visit after having previously checked the tide timings, because it is beautiful to walk along the beach at low tide. Otherwise, there is a footpath to follow from where there are gorgeous views.
Pazo de Galegos Winery
Despite being a light weight, I love wine, and I love visiting vineyards and wineries. The good news is that Galicia produces some of the best wines of Spain, Albariño and Mencia, and it is a great region to learn a bit more about the process of making wine, from growing the grapes to filling up the bottles; and from cracking a bottle open to enjoying its scent and taste.
I recommend visiting Pazo de Galegos, a fabulous vineyard and winery with an annexed hotel at only 30 minutes drive from Santiago. The wine is really good, but should not be the only reason to visit this place.
The palace (Pazo) where the hotel is located used to be the residence of the Canon of the Cathedral of Santiago. According to history this man, himself a historian and a writer, is the one who located the hidden remains of Saint James.
Yet, what makes Pazo de Galegos a special place and a real treat is the owners (and their assistant cat), who put all their passion and care in producing excellent wines, running this family business, and in welcoming their guests. There’s also the bonus that they speak perfect English.
Where to eat and sleep in Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is packed with good accommodation and eating options. There’s something for any budget and any kind of travelers. The following are the hotels and restaurants that I have had the pleasure to try.
Hotel Spa Relais & Chateaux A Quinta da Auga: wonderful hotel set in a renovated 18th century building. It is located a bit outside the center of Santiago. Rooms are cozy and incredibly comfortable, decorated in a style that mixes traditional furniture with modern touches. There’s a beautiful garden where guests can enjoy a drink. There’s also a spa. The staff is very kind and helpful.
Filigrana at Hotel Spa Relais & Chateaux a Quinta da Auga: annexed to the lovely hotel, Filigrana is a classy restaurant that serves traditional Galician food cooked in modern, innovative ways. It is simply delicious.
Carrís Hotel Casa da Troya: lovely hotel located in the Old Town of Santiago de Compostela. Rooms are beautifully decorated in a modern, stylish way – some also have a balcony. All bathrooms have a large bathtub.
Restaurante Casa Marcelo: one of the best restaurants of Santiago, Casa Marcelo serves fusion food, gracefully mixing local dishes and international cuisine and only using the best quality ingredients. The environment is classy yet easygoing.
If you haven’t been to Galicia yet, I bet you want to go now! Time to book a flight to Santiago then!
This article is written in partnership with Spain Tourism Board and the local tourism board of Galicia, and in cooperation with The Travel Mob as part of the #InGreenSpain campaign. 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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Nestled between the mountains of Cantabria and the Bay of Biscay, Asturias, Spain is one of my favorite parts of the country. I have been there twice already, and enjoy it every time. What I love about it is the peaceful atmosphere, and the feeling I have of being let in to a secret place.
Indeed, despite the many places to visit in Asturias, the region doesn’t get much international tourism. I suppose in a way this is what makes it what it is: charming, full of character, and with a great, unspoilt local feel.
When I visited for the first time, in June 2016 as I walked parts of the Camino del Norte to Santiago de Compostela, I discovered the many gorgeous beaches – they are among the reasons people visit Asturias, and so different from the beaches in Sardinia I am used to. Yet, I found them beautiful and soothing.
Read more about my Camino del Norte on my post “Amazing Places To Visit In Spain Along The Camino Del Norte.”
I had the opportunity to visit Asturias, Spain, again last October, and had the chance to explore more of its beautiful cities and coastal villages and to learn about the local culture.
Here’s a list of 10 of places that anybody who decides to visit Asturias should not miss.
The Indianos Archive of Colombres is a must for those who visit Asturias, in order to learn more about its history
10 Gorgeous Places To Visit In Asturias, Spain
Colombres and its Indianos Archive
Not many people who visit Asturias, Spain, venture to Colombres – but they should. The tiny Colombres is located in Ribadedeva municipality. The village itself is a pleasant, peaceful place to walk around.
The main point of interest in Colombres is La Quinta de Guadalupe, a palace that used to be the mansion of Iñigo Noriega, a man born in Colombres who emigrated to Mexico in search of fortune, thus becoming an “Indiano.” Those who visit Asturias do know what an Indiano is, but in case, let me clarify this is how those who went to the colonies in search of a better life.
Nowadays, La Quinda de Guadalupe hosts the Fundación de Archivos de Indianos, a large archive of documents (which also include lots of press clippings and photographs) about the people who emigrated to the Americas in the 19th century. It’s a good place to learn more about the history of this part of the country, hence making it one of the most interesting places to visit in Asturias.
Lovely hidden churches and narrow alleys make Llanes one of the nicest places to visit in Asturias
The lovely Llanes is traditionally a fishing port, which is still very active. The town is pretty, packed with good bars and restaurants, and some lovely shops. The main point of interest is the romanic-gothic Basilica of the Virgin Mary. This should be enough to make it one of the places to visit in Asturias.
Yet, Llanes receives a lot of (local) tourists, especially in the summer, as it is right by the sea and there are some amazing beaches nearby – these are some of the places that anybody who visit Asturias should not miss. One, Sablon, is right in town and it is famous for Los Cubos de Memoria, designed and painted by Augustin Ibarrola to break the water and protect the harbor and eventually become a lovely permanent art installation.
The best place to get a view of Llanes, Sablon beach and the gorgeous Bay of Biscay is a promontory that can be easily accessed from the beach and from where it is possible to reach Paseo de San Pedro. This path goes all the way to the nearby beaches, it is wonderful to walk, bike or even go on a horseride and it is a favorite of locals, especially at weekends. Easy to see why those who go to Asturias, Spain shouldn’t skip Llanes.
The lovely Ribadesella is one of the nicest places to visit in Asturias
Who said that the best beaches in Spain are all in the south of the country? I am actually positive that the most scenic coastline of the country is in the north: Asturia beaches are simply gorgeous.
Aside from Llanes, those who visit Asturias and are looking for a beautiful beach should not skip Ribadesella. This pretty small town takes the name from the river Sella, which has its delta right there.
At easy reach from the waterfront, there is a lovely viewpoint that offers views of Playa de Santa Marina. From there, it is quite easy to understand why Ribadesella is one of the nicest places to visit in Asturias.
Llagar de sidra “Sidra Crespo” (Colunga)
While most of Spain is famous for its wine (see for example the wonderful, crisp Txakoli of the Basque Country), and wine tourism is sprouting more and more, those who visit Asturias should not miss on the fabulous cider.
Find out more about the Basque Country on my post “Seven Great Reasons To Visit The Basque Country.”
Forget about the sweetened, carbonated drink that most people are accustomed to and that one can get off the shelf in any shop. Cider in Asturias, Spain, means serious business, and the traditional cidery Sidra Crespo takes it to a higher level: it only uses local apples and water to make its fabulous cider. The tour of the cidery is so interesting that it easily qualifies as one of the places to visit in Asturias.
Bottled cider is served in a rather spectacular and artsy way, by which whoever pours it, holds the bottle high up and the glass as low as possible, in order to fully oxygenate the drink which then becomes slightly bubbly and has to be drunk in pretty much one sip. It is a fun thing to observe, and a great drink to have and nobody who goes to Asturias, Spain should miss on it!
San Roques is easily one of the best places to visit in Asturias
San Roque viewpoint (Lastres)
I love sunsets, and I love photographing sunsets. One of the unmissable places to visit in Asturias to enjoy a splendid sunset is Lastres, from whose viewpoint of San Roque the sights embrace both the ocean and the mountains in the distance. I ventured across the village to get to a good lookout and from there took a few good shots.
Add Gijon to the list of places to visit in Asturias
Not nearly as touristy as the rest of the region, Gijón is a good place to visit in Asturias for a few hours. The city is a nice mixture of modern architecture and old sights. It is right by the sea, and there is a lovely beach to walk (or swim, in the warmest months) called San Lorenzo. This may not be the best among Asturias beaches, but it is a nice place to walk around. Parque del Cerro de Santa Catalina offers splendid views of the ocean and the bold sculpture “Elogio del Horizonte.”
Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, is pretty in the sun!
The beautiful Oviedo is the capital of Asturias, Spain. It is a city packed with history and culture, with a gorgeous cathedral and beautiful squares galore. I enjoyed its easy going vibe. It was very sunny when I visited, and there was a market, so it was nice to just walk around and see a bit of local life. Even if only for a short while, those who visit Asturias should not skip it – if anything, for the incredible restaurant scene (more about that later).
Planning to visit Asturias? Don’t miss Cudillero!
I went to Cudillero the first time I visited Asturias, Spain, and I was so happy that I could go again. This has to be the most beautiful small coastal town in the region, and those who visit Asturias should simply not miss it.
Cudillero is a lovely fishing village with a small harbor, and plenty of colorful buildings all located on the side of the mountains and overlooking the sea. The village is a medina of narrow alleys and pathways, and given how tiny these are, there are virtually no cars. Perfect for a stroll and to admire the splendid views and quite easily one of the nicest places in Asturias.
The colorful fishing boats in the harbor make Luarca one of the nicest places to visit in Asturias
Luarca is another coastal town that those who visit Asturias should not miss. Known as the white town, the view of it from the beautiful viewpoint next to the old cemetery and lighthouse, and a walk across town below reveals a pleasant charming, place.
Luarca is built around an S-shaped cove sitting between cliffs. I particularly enjoyed walking along the promenade and the harbor where I could admire the fishing boats. It definitely is one of the nicest places to visit in Asturias.
The splendid views make Cabo Vidio one of the places to visit in Asturias
Cabo Vidio, Oviñana
Cabo Vidio is like the cherry on the cake of a visit to Asturias, Spain; a place that those who visit Asturias should not miss. It is located right outside the city of Oviñana, and overlooks the gorgeous Bay of Biscay. The views from there are simply breathtaking. Various hiking trails start from it – unfortunately I didn’t have time to go on a hike. There’s also lots of goats roaming freely, just to add a bit of rough charm to the already incredible scenery.
How to best enjoy Asturias, Spain
Public transportation works quite well in this part of the world, but I think that the best way to enjoy Asturias, Spain, is on a road trip. I wholeheartedly recommend to rent a car to drive around at a slow pace, stopping in the various places to enjoy the sights, the atmosphere and the lovely people. Here’s a good car rental company.
Where to eat and sleep in Asturias, Spain
Fact: food in Spain is good, and it is easy to find a good restaurant. The accommodation options vary depending on one’s budget. The following is a list of places where I ate and slept myself during my visit to Asturias, Spain, and I enjoyed all of them.
Llagar Sidrería El Cabañón en Naves (Llanes): great restaurant, but definitely not a good option for vegetarian as it mostly serves meat and meat dishes. Meat lovers will definitely enjoy the huge steaks that are grilled in the massive barbecue. It is a bit smokey inside. Cider is the drink to enjoy.
Sidrería La Finca: lovely sidrería and restaurant with an easygoing atmosphere. It serves fish, meat and vegetarian dishes – the fried calamari are delicious. There are “cider pourers” located near each table so that customers can get fresh cider just pressing a button. Quite a cool thing to do for those who visit Asturias.
Hotel Palacio de la Llorea (Gijón): fantastic hotel a bit outside of Gijón. Rooms are large and comfortable, there is a spa for those that need to relax, and a great restaurant on site. Click here for reviews and here for the best rates.
Hotel Blanco (Navia): Navia isn’t generally on the itinerary of those who visit Asturias, but those who go have the option of staying at Hotel Blanco, which boasts enormous rooms, and a fantastic restaurant that serves huge portions of local and international food. Click here for reviews and here for the best rates.
Hotel and Spa Princesa Munia (Oviedo): as Oviedo is one of the nicest places to visit in Asturias, there’s some great accommodation options. Hotel and Spa Princesa Munia has beautiful, cozy rooms and a fantastic spa to relax before going out for dinner. Click here for reviews and here for the best rates.
Apartamentos la Casa del Pintor (Cudillero): the village is tiny, but anyone who goes to Asturias, Spain, is bound to fall in love with it and so there’s some cute places to stay. La Casa del Pintor is a lovely apartment with stunning views. Click here for reviews and here for the best rates.
Villa la Argentina (Luarca): in a seaside town such as Luarca, there’s nothing better than staying by the beach. Asturias beaches are beautiful and Villa Argentina allows access to them. Click here for reviews and here for the best rates.
Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with Spain Tourism Board and the local tourism board of Asturias, and in cooperation with The Travel Mob as part of the #InGreenSpain campaign. 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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Think of Spain and places to visit there and the first region that will come to mind will hardly be Cantabria. One may think about Madrid, the famous Andalucia, Costa Brava, the up and coming Valencia, and the newly discovered (and beautiful) Basque Country.
But Cantabria, really? Most people outside of Spain hardly know where it is. And it is a real shame. One of the smallest regions of Spain, right on the Bay of Biscay and part of Green Spain – that is, the greenest region of the country thanks to the regular rain and oceanic climate – Cantabria has a lot to offer to its visitors.
I have been there twice, already, each time with a different itinerary, and I am completely in love with it. I find that Cantabria, despite having open up to (mostly local) tourism, has retained its original character – and that makes it all the more charming to me.
It is about time that people from all over the world start visiting, and when they will, they’ll find a region rich in history and culture, with beautiful cities, where the landscape is breathtaking, the archaeological sites unique, and the food and wine delicious.
Indeed, there are many reasons why I love Cantabria, and why every other traveler will. Here’s a just five of them.
The lovely Santillana del Mar
Five Reasons Why I Love Cantabria
The cities are gorgeous
Santander, the capital of Cantabria, is a beautiful, elegant city right by the sea, with some lovely golden beaches. So pretty it is, that it was the place where the Spanish aristocracy would go spend the summer months in the early 20th century. The centre of the city was destroyed by a fire in 1941, so most of it had to be rebuilt.
Nevertheless, the city is a very pleasant place to visit. A bit outside of the city, Palacio de la Magdalena is one of the top sights. It was built between 1908 and 1912 and gifted by the city to the royal family (on the one condition that they’d spend their summers there) with the aim of attracting more aristocrats (who’d follow the royal family). Pretty much a form of tourism marketing!
The palace overlooks the ocean, and the view from there is splendid. It can be visited on a guided tour, though in the summer months it hosts the courses and the students of the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo.
The stunning view from Palacio de la Magdalena in Santander
For as nice as Santander is, to me Santillana del Mar is the most beautiful small city in Cantabria. Known as the “town of the three lies” as it is neither saint (santa), flat (llana) or by the sea (del mar), Santillana del Mar actually owes its name to Santa Juliana (or Santa Llana).
The most important building in Santillana is the Colegiata Romanesque Church, where the remains of Santa Juliana are kept. Other than that, the city is a maze of lovely medieval lanes, packed with shops, lovely cafés and small but interesting museums.
Santillana is also the perfect starting point to visit Altamira.
There are some unique archaeological sites
The Cave of Altamira is perhaps the most famous site of Cantabria, and the main reason people visit the region. The cave, discovered by pure chance in 1879 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been completely closed to visitors in 2002 in order to preserve the microclimate that has protected its paintings.
Nowadays, only 5 persons are allowed to visit every Friday, and for no longer than 30 minutes: the lucky visitors are picked through a ruffle among the visitors of Altamira Museum. This includes a perfect replica of the cave, which has some of the most incredible examples of prehistoric art, with paintings that depict hunting scenes and represent bisons, horses and deers. There’s a good reason the Cave of Altamira is considered to be the Sistine Chapel of Paleolithic Art.
Beautiful cities and villages: this is Cantabria
It’s packed with historic homes and beautiful palaces
Scattered around Cantabria there are some beautiful palaces built in different historical periods. Palacio de Sobrellano is unique in its gender, and a real gem. Built in 1888 by architect Martorell, it is a neo-gothic palace that used to belong to the Marqués de Comillas.
Yet, it is the palaces belonging to the Indianos which I found the most interesting.
In the late 19th century and in the early 20th century, many men (and women) of Cantabria left in search of fortune. Most went to nowadays Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, Chile and other countries of Latin America, and made a fortune while there – often working in the ingenios, sugar cane plantations where African slaves were regularly used.
Those who went back to Cantabria (and who were called indianos – because they had been in the “West India”) usually made a show of their fortune by building beautiful mansions, and making generous donations to the local communities in the form of schools and clinics.
Some of these palaces can be visited, as they have been turned into interesting museums that provide insights into the way of life of the time, as well as into the history of the Indianos.
One of them is the Marqués de Villa of Valdecilla. The property is simply stunning: 3 gorgeous buildings, a beautiful garden, they are perfect for an afternoon visit. At the moment, tours are only offered in Spanish so most visitors are locals. I speak Spanish and could fully enjoy it – but even those who don’t can at least get a rough idea of the place and its value.
El Capricho is one of the must sees in Cantabria
It is where El Capricho de Gaudì is located
Comillas, a small village of Cantabria, is home to El Capricho, one of Gaudì’s masterpieces. They say one either loves or hates Gaudì. Certainly a genious in his own ways, I have to say I am not a huge fan of his hyper-eclectic style. Nevertheless, visiting El Capricho is a must when in Cantabria.
El Capricho was built between 1883 and 1885 with the purpose of being the summer residence of Màximo Dìaz De Quijano. Though he had said he wanted a small but comfortable home, Gaudì had something different in mind and came up with a building that had the obvious intention of capturing the attention of visitors. It is an incredibly unusual – very colorful, with a tower that looks much like a minaret, and entirely built to capture the sunlight.
Guided tours of El Capricho are offered every day in a variety of languages.
Walking through the beautiful vineyards of Cantabria
Rivers of wine flow through it
One of the things I love the most about Cantabria is the presence of many vineyards and wineries. Perhaps that’s because vineyards remind me of Sardinia. Wine production is a long established tradition of Cantabria, and going on one (or more) wine tasting tours is a must when in the region. I did three, just to make sure I fully understood how good Cantabrian wines are.
The first vineyard I visited was Bodega Vidular, owned by two friendly brothers who have taken wine tourism to a whole new level. The Bodega is completely immersed in the countryside, and visitors are invited to try samples from the various stages of the production of wine. But there’s more: a beautiful rustic hotel, with 5 lovely, cozy rooms, offers accommodation to those who feel the urge to escape the city and breathe the clean air of Cantabrian mountains for a while.
Drinking wine is one of the nicest things to do in Cantabria
Bodega Señorío del Pas has fully embraced the concept of organic, vegan wine. Everything that is used in the production of wine is 100% natural, with outstanding results.
Last but not least, Bodega Miradorio de Ruiloba has impressive vineyards overlooking at the same time the sea and the mountains. I got to visit during one of the last days of the harvest, and the atmosphere was festive and friendly.
Where to stay and eat in Cantabria
Located in the Cantabrian countryside Palacio de la Peña is the perfect place to treat oneself. It is expensive, but worth it. The owner is a charming architect who enjoys sharing stories on how he came about the concept of the hotel, which is a fully renovated 16th century palace. There’s a wonderful restaurant on site.
Abba Palacio de Soñanes in Villacarriedo is a splendid Baroque style palace with beautifully decorated rooms and a fabulous on site restaurant.
Palacio de Guevara, in Treceño, is a lovely hotel located in a small yet charming village. The rooms are cozy, the personnel incredibly friendly and helpful, and there’s a good restaurant on the premises.
Bodega El Riojano is a fantastic and very popular restaurant in Santander where it is possible to try some of the best local cuisine. Service is spot on and the environment sophisticated but friendly.
Palacio de Mijares is a beautiful restaurant fully immersed in the countryside, and the perfect location for important occasions. The food is delicious.
Have you ever been to Cantabria? What did you like the most about it?
Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with Spain Tourism Board and the local tourism board of Cantabria, and in cooperation with The Travel Mob, for the #InGreenSpain campaign. 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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I had the chance to visit the Basque Country (Euskadi in the Basque language, or Pais Vasco in Spanish) a year and a half ago, when I walked part of the Camino del Norte to Santiago de Compostela. I was so impressed with both its natural beauty and lively cities, that I vowed to visit again.
I suppose it is clear by now that I like to keep my promises, so I decided to visit the Basque Country again, this time in the fall (though the weather turned out to be incredibly pleasant and almost summery), and with a slightly different itinerary from last time.
That’s how I managed to visit Bilbao, and ended up admiring some of the most incredible contemporary art and architecture in the world, discovering the gorgeous Gaztelugatxe, tasting some delicious local wines and gorging on pinxtos in San Sebastian.
Here are a few reasons why I think everyone should visit the Basque Country, and a few tips on how to make the most of it.
Laguardia is only one of the many cities to visit in the Basque Country
Seven Great Reasons To Visit The Basque Country
The cities are beautiful
During my first time in the Basque Country, I hardly had the opportunity to visit Bilbao. This time, I didn’t want to miss on it and I made sure to make the most of my limited time there.
Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country, and it was hardly more than a big industrial city until the 1990s. Fast-forward 20 years and those who visit Bilbao find a lively city, with state of the art museums, a perfectly kept Casco Viejo (historic quarter), fine restaurants and coffee shops, a great market and lots of beautiful shops.
The beautiful Plaza Mayor is a must for those who visit Bilbao
But there are more cities to visit in the area.
Vitoria is often overlooked by most people who visit the Basque Country. I only spent a few hours there, but found it incredibly pleasant and I would not recommend stopping by. It has a gorgeous 13th century cathedral, a beautifully kept historic center, and some fine art galleries.
The beautiful San Sebastian is one of the most popular cities in the Basque Country, and it is easy to see why. I had visited it in June 2016 on a beautiful, sunny day, when the beaches were crowded with people trying to escape the heat, and surfers were busy catching the great waves.
I found it incredibly pleasant even on a rainy, fall day: its Playa de la Concha beach is charming when empty (there is a gorgeous view of it from Mount Idalgo and Palacio Miramar). And the nightlife is thriving. Easy to see why those who visit the Basque Country fall in love with it.
Finally, I got my fix of small cities with Laguardia, a walled city founded in the 10th century. I had seen pictures of it taken by a friend, who went to visit the Basque Country just one week before I did (such are the coincidences in life) and it looked really quaint. So I decided to explore its narrow alleys and enjoyed its quiet, relaxed atmosphere.
Those who visit Bilbao can’t miss on the Guggenheim
There are some fine architecture and art pieces
Those who visit Bilbao are generally astonished by the incredible Guggenheim museum – and rightly so. Designed by Frank Gehry, this is one of the finest example of contemporary architecture. It is an incredible structure that at the same time resembles a ship, a tower, flying fins, cliffs.
The Guggenheim remains one of the best sights to those who visit the Basque Country not only because of the building, but also for the groundbreaking art exhibitions it hosts – either permanent or contemporary.
At the time of my visit of Bilbao, there was an incredible installation by Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya, which I initially mistook for “just morning mist obstructing my view” (I swear that caused much laughter among my friends). Imagine my stupor when I learned it was an exhibit by which steam is sprayed in the outside area of the museum every hour.
More examples of fine architecture in the Basque Country: the Hotel Marqués de Riscal
But the Guggenheim isn’t the only architectural wonder that those who visit the Basque Country come across to. Gehry also planned the building of Hotel Marqués de Riscal, in Elciego. This is completely immersed in the vineyards, so the scenery is stunning. And the hotel simply fabulous, both inside and obviously outside.
Gatzelugatxe is a beautiful hermitage that shouldn’t be missed on a trip to the Basque Country
The sanctuaries look fantastic – literally
I admit I have never seen an episode of Game of Thrones. Everyone keeps saying it is an incredible show, but I have little interest for it. But I like visiting its filming locations. And one of them is the stunning heritage of Gatzelugatxe, near Bermeo in the Bay of Biscay. Those who visit the Basque Country should not miss on it.
Gatzelugatxe can be easily reached by public transportation from Bilbao. The path to get down from the parking lot to the hermitage gets muddy and slippery, but it is short and doable and the views along the way are breathtaking. It is one of the coolest places to visit in the Basque Country, even for people who are not Game of Thrones fans!
The scenery in the Basque Country is gorgeous
The scenery is stunning
The Basque Country is among the rainiest parts of Spain, located as it is on the Atlantic coast. The combination of beautiful green hills, cliffs and beaches means that the scenery is always breathtaking, and that there are some great nature and wildlife reserves, as well as hiking trails. One more reason to visit the Basque Country.
Whenever I visit the Basque Country, I get to enjoy delicious wine
There are some fantastic wineries
I had been warned that I could not visit the Basque Country without trying its wines. I had to oblige, after all I am a wine lover, coming from a wine producing region – Sardinia – and I have often gone out of my way to tour famous wine regions such as those of Mendoza, in Argentina.
I visited two different bodegas in the Basque Country. Talai Berri makes some excellent txakoli wine – an endemic grape of the Basque Country that makes a crisp, fruity wine. The winery is located in a gorgeous setting, with views of the vineyards.
Yet, one of the places that those who visit the Basque Country should never miss is the Bodega Marqués de Riscal in Elciego. Let alone that this is the home of the gorgeous hotel designed by Frank O. Gehry that I mentioned above, the winery is simply stunning – imagine old barrels, precious vintage bottles – and the wine delicious.
The market is a must for those who visit Bilbao
The food is always delicious
I am hardly a foodie, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize and enjoy good food. Every time I visit the Basque Country, I am impressed with its cuisine. Fish and seafood are always on offer, and the pinxtos – the equivalent of the southern tapas – have been taken on a higher level, becoming real works of art.
One of the coolest things to do, instead of sitting down for a traditional meal, is going from one pintxos place to the other, having various kinds and all the while enjoying a good glass of wine, just as the locals do.
Beautiful scenery, fabulous sights: this is the Basque Country
Where to stay and eat in the Basque Country
Those who visit the Basque Country will find a great range of accommodation and eating options. San Sebastian is known as the gourmet capital of Spain, but good restaurants are easily found all over the region.
For those who visit Bilbao: stay at Melia Hotel, a fabulous modern building at walking distance from the main attractions, with spacious and cozy rooms. Eat at La Ribera, on the other side of Bilbao market, for a great choice of fish and meat dishes, as well as excellent vegetarian options.
In San Sebastian: stay at Hotel Barcelò Costa Vasca, which has an excellent wellness centre. Enjoy pinxtos at Nestor and Ganbara, in the historic quarter of the city. Always look at what the locals eat – they know what’s fresh!
In Vitoria: stay at the lovely and cozy Hotel Silken Ciudad De Vitoria, right off the city centre. Enjoy a great seafood dinner at El Portalon, right behind the main square, in the historic town.
In Laguardia: eat at the excellent Hospedería Los Parades (which also is a lovely hotel) and enjoy the fresh food and the great service.
The Basque Country is rich in history, culture and art
Things to know about the Basque Country
There are various airports in the Basque Country, though the one with the most connections is that of Bilbao, which is also served by several budget airlines. It’s interesting to note that Bilbao airport was designed by famous Spanish architect Calatrava (the same who designed the Puente de la Mujer in Buenos Aires).
Though every time I visit the Basque Country I am so lucky to enjoy sunny days, one thing to keep in mind is that this is among the rainiest regions of Spain. No matter what time of the year one intends to visit, there will eventually be some rain – the thin, persistent rain that is so typical to have its own name: txirimiri. Packing an umbrella and wearing a rain proof jacket is a must.
Though everyone speaks Spanish in the Basque Country, and walking around Bilbao Spanish is the language usually heard, the Basque Country has its own language, Basque (Euskara). As a former human rights lawyer and academic who’s spent a whopping 15 years researching on issues related to minorities and cultural identities, I always appreciate the efforts of people to protect their culture, identity and language, much as it is being done in the Basque Country.
Have you ever been to the Basque Country? What did you like the most about it?
Legal disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with Spain Tourism Board and the local tourism board of The Basque Country, and in cooperation with The Travel Mob as part of the #InGreenSpain campaign. 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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I visited Spain for the first time when I was 8: my parents took me and my sister to Barcelona, one of the most well known places to visit in Spain. In fact, I think it was our very first trip overseas, and the one that eventually got me addicted to travel. It felt so exotic, so different from home (although growing up, I realized that Spanish culture is perhaps the most similar to the Italian one!) and there were so many cool things to do in Spain that were new to me, that I obviously loved it.
There are so many beautiful places to visit in Spain, such as the gorgeous beaches of Asturias
Since that time, I have been to Spain countless times – more than I can remember, actually. After all, it is fairly easy to visit Spain from anywhere in Europe (including from the United Kingdom, where I have lived for over 8 years) as there are direct budget airline flights and it is included in the countries that accept the Eurail Pass. Compared to the rest of Western Europe, the prices are still more than affordable. Besides, with so many places to visit in Spain, and with the amount of things to do in Spain, it is only obvious that I would want to go back.
Yet, for reasons I can’t really explain (other than obviously loving it there), every time I visit Spain I end up visiting the South of the country. Barcelona, Costa Brava, Costa del Sol, Andalucia, Valencia, the Baleares islands – I keep going again and again.
One of the top things to do in Spain is visiting its stunning beaches: this is Playa de las Catedrales, in Galicia
I ought to visit Spain – again
Until last time, when I eventually decided it was time for a change, and decided that of all the places to visit in Spain, I’d want to see some that really look different from the ones I already know so well.
Besides, I really wanted to fulfill one of my biggest traveling dream – walking the Camino de Santiago. This is considered one of the top things to do in Spain (if not in Europe). It literally is a pilgrimage, and there are a number of ancient pilgrim routes that all 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 hundreds of thousands of people embark on this journey, which is both a physical and spiritual one, not to mention a leisurely one that provides an incredible boost to Spain tourism. A bunch of my friends walked the Camino de Santiago – some of them more than once – and came back with some incredible stories. I thought that definitely, walking the Camino de Santiago must be one of the top things to do in Spain and it was finally time I also did it.
Cantabria is one of the places to visit in Spain
My reasons were spiritual (though not religious, because I am an atheist, but I feel the two things don’t necessarily have to be connected): I felt the need to spend some quality time with myself, and to challenge myself too. But there was more than that: as I am an insatiable traveler, I felt ready to see some new places to visit in Spain that I hadn’t seen yet, and to hit both some of the most well known as well as some of the less famous Spain tourist attractions.
Walking the Camino del Norte – one of the top things to do in Spain
Of all the routes that from various places in Europe lead to Santiago de Compostela, I opted to walk the Camino del Norte – which crosses the Northern regions of the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, considered among the most beautiful places to visit in Spain. I decided not to follow the more popular Camino Francés, which starts in St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz, in France.
A number of reasons made me opt for this route. First of all, the weather conditions would be more favorable. I knew I would be walking in June, when the most well known places to visit in Spain get incredibly hot. On the other hand, this would be the best season to visit the North of the country, which is typically much colder and gets much more rain, but where the summer months are more pleasant and not nearly as hot.
Whenever I visit Spain, I fall in more in love with it
Furthermore, as one of the best things to do in Spain, especially along the Camino de Santiago, is walking, I wanted to make sure that this was fully enjoyable, with pretty views throughout. Rumor had it that of all the places to visit in Spain, the North would be the one with the most varied landscape and challenging walks, with lots of vegetation, mountains, beautiful beaches, charming coastal villages and nice cities. There must be a reason why this is considered the greenest part of Spain, after all.
Top this off with the fact that significantly less people opt for this route and that the accommodation options are generally of a better quality (I can do with some pampering at the end of a long day of walking!), and add the fact that food in this part of Spain is delicious (there’s so many dishes to try in Galicia!)and it is easy to see why I decided to walk the Camino del Norte and cross the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia: I wanted to visit Spain on my own terms and I knew the North of Spain would suit my needs.
Looking to discover more Spain tourist attractions
Discovering more of Spain tourist attractions
I knew the minute I arrived in Bilbao, the capital of the Basque Country, that I had made the right choice: there wouldn’t be shortage of places to visit in Spain, there wouldn’t be wanting for more things to do in Spain, as I would hardly have a break from being completely amazed.
Of all the places to visit in Spain along the Camino del Norte, some completely stole my heart and I would love to go again and spend more time there. However, it would be impossible to mention them all. So, here’s what I think are the most beautiful places to visit in Spain along the Camino del Norte.
The gorgeous Pasai Donibane in the Basque Country is one of the places to visit in Spain
Amazing places to visit in Spain along the Camino del Norte
Amazing places to visit in Spain – the Basque Country
I truly enjoyed visiting the Basque Country, it is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Spain. For some reason, it really reminded me of Sardinia. Not so much for what I saw, as in this sense it is obviously different, but because of its character: independent, resilient, proud and unique.
Find out more about Sardinia on my post “Beyond the sea: fantastic things to do in Sardinia other than going to the beach.”
Of the many places to visit in Spain that I had the pleasure to explore in the Basque Country, I was charmed by Pasai Donibane and Pasai San Pedro. These fishing villages are on two different sides of an estuary. A series of tiny, cobbled alleys goes a long the river. The pace of life is slow: elderlies sit at coffee shops for a drink, to observe people passing by; groups of younger kids enjoy a hot summer day jumping in the water (after all, swimming in the sea is one of the best things to do in Spain), dogs in toe. The atmosphere is incredibly pleasant.
Whenever I visit Spain I have a great time – photo courtesy of Duncan Rhodes
Not far from Pasai San Pedro, Albaola, the Sea Factory of the Basques, is one of the places to visit in Spain that I wholeheartedly recommend. It 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.
One of the best things to do in Spain is discovering its nature and environment. One of the best places to visit in Spain in order to do so is the Urdaibai Bird Centre, in the Basque Country. Before visiting, I had no idea 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. The centre 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 it is possible to observe various species, including ospreys.
It’s easy to see why Urdaibai is one of the best places to visit in Spain
I have never been one to fully enjoy cities. Even the most beautiful ones tire me after a short while. So I ran away from Buenos Aires after a few days, for example.
Read more about Buenos Aires on my post “Great things to do in Argentina.”
Yet, I have recently developed more of a taste for them, and in fact I fell in love with Bangkok.
Find out why I enjoyed Bangkok on my post “Nine fabulous things to do in Bangkok.”
Sure enough, there are a few cities that are among the most incredible places to visit in Spain. I really liked Bilbao, the capital of the Basque Country. It is a lively city where locals, tourists and the occasional pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela happily meet. What makes Bilbao one of the places to visit in Spain is a great mixture of old and new architecture: next to cobbled streets, colorful balconies and windows, and the gothic style Basilica de Begoña, there are state of the art examples of contemporary architecture such as the Guggenheim Museum, for sure one of Spain tourist attractions.
San Sebastian is one of the top places to visit in Spain – clearly!
One of the best things to do in Spain that is particularly popular in the Basque Country is surfing. San Sebastián is a pleasant coastal town with several lovely urban beaches with incredibly clear waters where locals and tourists go during the hottest days of the summer. It is such a pleasant town that it well deserves to be mentioned among the places to visit in Spain.
Amazing places to visit in Spain – Cantabria
I love archeological sites and I never miss an opportunity to visit one, when I can. One of the most incredible places to visit in Spain is the Altamira Caves, and it is located in the gorgeous region of Cantabria. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Altamira Caves contain some of the best examples of prehistoric art, with paintings of animals such as bisons, deers, horses and boars that date back to up to 16000 years ago.
One of the unmissable places to visit in Spain: Altamira museum
The caves have been closed to the public in order to preserve their delicate atmosphere. However, the Altamira Museum hosts a perfect reproduction and a visit to this museum is one of the top things to do in Spain for any archeology or history lover.
Another of the most gorgeous places to visit in Spain that is located in Cantabria is Santillana del Mar. This is a perfectly kept medieval village, 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 Benedectine monastery and one of the most interesting sights in the village.
Gorgeous even on a rainy day, Santillana del Mar is one of the places to visit in Spain
I had heard that Cantabria is one of the greenest regions of the country, making it one of the top places to visit in Spain for nature lovers. Sure enough, I got proof of it when I walked part of the Camino Lebaniego, a 65 km 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.
A curious kitty welcomes visitors in Cantabria, one of the fantastic places to visit in Spain
If one of the best things to do in Spain is hiking, Cantabria is where to go and the Camino Lebaniego won’t cease to amaze. From the small villages I walked through, to the creeks that run along deep valleys; from the beautiful Picos de Europa – so called because it was the first sight that sailors coming from the other side of the Atlantic would get when they approached Europe – to the sights of herd of goats that block the traffic: Cantabria is one of the most fantastic places to visit in Spain to savor a bit of nature and traditional lifestyle.
Incredible views along the Camino Lebaniego – one of the best things to do in Spain
Not only that: Cantabria is one of the best places to visit in Spain to enjoy the sights. The views from the Mirador de Santa Catalina are simply spectacular, and one of the best things to do in Spain, and preferibly on clear days, is taking the cable car from Fuente De to get to the view point. Unfortunately when I visited the sky was completely covered in clouds. It was still enjoyable – although incredibly cold!
Amazing places to visit in Spain – Asturias
I got the perfect introduction to Asturias as I arrived in Sablón beachfront, in Llanes. This has to be one of the top places to visit in Spain. It is a small, urban beach where locals go during summer days. Picture fine, golden sand, clear waters and all surrounded by gorgeous cliffs. It is simply stunning. I even walked all the way to the viewpoint of San Pedro, and from up there it was even better.
Sablon beachfront – easy to see why it’s one of the places to visit in Spain
I then rented a bike to follow the pilgrims’ path and had views over some splendid beaches – so beautiful that I could not help thinking that Asturias must be the most incredible place to visit in Spain.
Taking in the gorgeous views: one of the top things to do in Spain
Lots of people who regularly visit Spain told me that Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, is a fun city. I must say I really enjoyed it. The historic centre is beautiful and I was immediately captured by the lively yet relaxing atmosphere. If one of the best things to do in Spain is enjoying its delicious food and drinks, Oviedo is definitely one of the places to visit in Spain. I had a fantastic dinner at Tierra Astur – a pub style restaurant where the waiters serve the famous sidra (cider) in a very choreographic way, slowly pouring it onto the glasses as they stretch their arm way up above the head.
Cudillero is one of the places to visit in Spain
Cudillero is a small picturesque fishing village that sits on the side of a mountain. The brightly colored houses literally hang from the cliffs and all overlook the small bay and the port. Here, life goes by slowly. Locals still walk everywhere (most houses don’t have access to a road where cars can drive). Cats hang out in the street. There’s various viewpoints from which to enjoy the view, which is simply stunning – making Cudillero one of the nicest places to visit in Spain.
Enjoying the pretty view of Luarca, one of the nicest places to visit in Spain
Another coastal village that I truly enjoyed is Luarca, also along the route of the Camino del Norte. It is known as the white town, and here the buildings all preserve their original charme. The atmosphere is special: welcoming locals enjoy a late afternoon drink and enjoy talking to visitors. I recommend going to anybody who decides to visit Spain.
Isn’t Luarca one of the top Spain tourist attractions?
Amazing places to visit in Spain – Galicia
I love a good beach and Playa de las Catedrales, which is the first place I visited in Galicia, didn’t fail to amaze me. It is one of the most unique beaches I have ever seen (and you know, being from Sardinia I am not exactly a newbie when it comes to beautiful beaches). But I felt this was really special, and indeed one of the most incredible places to visit in Spain.
Playa de las Catedrales 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 – one of the best things to do in Spain is walking on a beautiful beach – or from above, when the tide starts rising.
Playa de las Catedrales surely is one of the best places to visit in Spain
The intricate facade of Sobrado dos Monxes make it one of the most unique places to visit in Spain
Since the Camino de Santiago is meant to be a pilgrimage, one of the places to visit in Spain when walking it is the Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria de Sobrado dos Monxes. What makes this place special is that it is one of the last stops before actually reaching Santiago de Compostela.
Sobrado dos Monxes is a UNESCO Heritage Site, originally a Benedectines 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’s no paintings, no furnishing, no statues. It is so unique, that I would say it is one of the best Spain tourist attractions.
Last but not least, one of the places to visit in Spain is Santiago de Compostela, which is the arrival point of the many pilgrim routes. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a beautiful city, whose Cathedral is a real work of art. Yet one of the things that makes Santiago de Compostela one of Spain tourist attractions is the atmosphere. A mixture of locals, tourists and pilgrims walk along the street and crowd the squares and the many bars and restaurants to exchange anecdotes about their Camino. Most of the pilgrims look exhausted. But all look content. It is evident that they enjoyed their Camino.
Sure enough, I would love to visit Spain again and to walk the Camino de Santiago one more time – perhaps following a different route this time. With so many places to visit in Spain, I doubt I will ever tire of it.
Have you ever been to the North of Spain? What did you like the most about it?
Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with the Tourism Board of Spain, and the local tourism boards of the The Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias 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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