If you happen to travel to the North of Spain, you really should visit the Basque Country. Known as Euskadi in the Basque language, or Pais Vasco in Spanish, this is where the Camino del Norte to Santiago de Compostela (St. James Way Northern Route) starts from. It’s a place you will easily fall in love with, as it is packed with beautiful cities, small villages galore, breathtaking landscapes, delicious food and even better wines.
Are you curious to find out more about this incredible part of Spain? Continue reading to discover why you should go, and get a few tips to make the most of it.
7 Reasons To Visit The Basque Country
The cities are beautiful
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 if you visit Bilbao you will 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. To make the most of the city, you may want to join a guided tour such as this Bilbao like a local: customized guided tour or this this Bilbao 3 hour guided bike tour.
But there are more cities to visit in the area.
Vitoria is often overlooked by most people who visit the Basque Country, yet it is incredibly pleasant and I would recommend stopping by. It has a gorgeous 13th century cathedral, a beautifully kept historic center, and some fine art galleries. You can visit Vitoria on day trips from Bilbao such as this Vitoria and Rioja day tour.
The beautiful San Sebastian is one of the most popular cities in the Basque Country, and it is easy to see why! It has some of the nicest beaches in Spain, with waves that are perfect for surfing, and that can be enjoyed throughout the year. Playa de la Concha beach is charming when empty (there is a gorgeous view of it from Mount Idalgo and Palacio Miramar). Nightlife in San Sebastian is thriving and the food scene – with all the pinxtos (more about those later) you can gorge on. To make the most of San Sebastian you may join a guided tour such as this San Sebastian bike tour or this San Sebastian walking tour
Finally,Laguardia, a walled city founded in the 10th century, is another gorgeous find packed with narrow allwys and a cozy, relaxed atmosphere.
There are some fine architecture and art pieces
Should you visit Bilbao you will be 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 in the Basque Country not only because of the building, but also for the groundbreaking art exhibitions it hosts – either permanent or contemporary. Last time I visited, 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.
But the Guggenheim isn’t the only architectural wonder you will come across when you visit the Basque Country. 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.
The sanctuaries look fantastic – literally
Game of Thrones fan will know that one of the most famous filming locations is actually in the Basque Country! The stunning heritage of Gatzelugatxe, near Bermeo in the Bay of Biscay. It really is an unmissable place to visit.
You can get there easily 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.
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 go!
There are some fantastic wineries
You can’t visit the Basque Country without trying its wines. You see, I come 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.
There are many bodegas you can visit in this part of Spain. The ones I recommend are Talai Berri, which 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.
The other one is 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 food is always delicious
If you only need one reason to visit the Basque Country, let me tell you it will be its cuisine. Fish and seafood are always on offer, and the pinxtos – the equivalent of the southern tapas – here 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. The best places to do that are Bilbao and San Sebastian. Not sure where to start? Join a guided tour such as this Bilbao guided pintxos tour or this gourmet pintxos tour of San Sebastian.
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To The Basque Country
How to get to 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.
GOOD TO KNOW: Bilbao airport was designed by famous Spanish architect Calatrava (the same who designed the Puente de la Mujer in Buenos Aires).
Where to stay and eat in the Basque Country
You will find a great range of accommodation and eating options in the Basque Country. San Sebastian is known as the gourmet capital of Spain, but good restaurants are easily found all over the region.
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.
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!
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.
LAGUARDIA: Eat at the excellent Hospedería Los Parades (which also is a lovely hotel) and enjoy the fresh food and the great service.
Weather in the Basque Country
The Basque Country is among the rainiest regions of Spain. No matter what time of the year you intend to visit, there will eventually be some rain – the thin, persistent rain that is so typical of this part of the country to the point it has its own name: txirimiri. Make sure to pack an umbrella and bring a rain proof jacket.
Language in the Basque Country
Though everyone speaks Spanish in the Basque Country, and walking around Bilbao Spanish is the language you will usually hear, the Basque Country has its own language, Basque (Euskara). Most people also speak really good English, so you won’t have any troubles getting by even if you don’t speak Spanish.
Are you traveling to Spain? Make sure to read my other posts:
- 31 Awesome Things To Do In Madrid
- The Best Places To Visit In Northern Spain
- 5 Reasons To Love Cantabria
- 10 Gorgeous Places To Visit In Asturias, Spain
- 5 Gorgeous Places To Visit In Galicia In Just 3 Days
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.