Visiting Basque Country is highly recommended! This is a list of the best places to visit in Basque Country Spain, with villages, beaches, and hiking trails.
About Basque Country Spain
Where is the Basque Country located in Spain? The Basque Country is located in northern Spain on the Atlantic Ocean, roughly the area between Bilbao and the French border. The Basque Country is one of the seventeen autonomous regions in Spain and therefore has its own government.
Good to know: there is also a Basque Country France, which is located in the southwest of France and borders the Spanish Basque Country. This article is specifically about Basque Country Spain.
Did you know that they have their own language in the Basque Country? Both Spanish and Basque are official languages in the Basque Country and more than 50% of the inhabitants speak Basque. In addition, many people also speak French, especially in the places near the French border. In the larger cities and the more touristy places, they also speak English pretty well.
It is always good to learn a few Basque words before arriving in Spain, it is much appreciated!
- Hello = Kaixo
- Good morning = Egun on
- Thank you = Eskerrik asko
- Bye = Agur
Places to visit in Basque Country Spain
What is there to see and do in the Basque Country? These are the most beautiful places in Basque Country Spain.
Bilbao is the largest city in Spain’s Basque Country and so much fun to visit! The city is a great combination of old and new. It has a beautiful old city center full of narrow streets, and in addition, Bilbao is one of three cities in the world with a Guggenheim Museum. The building that houses the museum is a work of art in itself and a spectacular sight.
- Where to stay: Vincci Consulado de Bilbao – This 4* hotel is in a great location: right next to the Guggenheim Museum.
- The best thing to do: Visit the Guggenheim Museum.
- Travel guide: Insight Guides Pocket Bilbao
Read more: What to do in Bilbao Spain? 18 tips!
Gaztelugatxe is a small island about 35 kilometers north of Bilbao. The island is connected to land by a bridge and in the middle stands a small hermitage called San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
The island is incredibly photogenic, the coast here is quite rugged and the waves crash violently against the rocks. There is something mysterious about this place, so it is no surprise that it was used as a filming location for the famous tv series Game of Thrones.
- Where to stay: Ureta Landa Gaztelugatxe – nice apartments in nature the countryside near Gaztelugatxe. It’s a beautiful house made of large stones and wooden beams.
- Best thing to do: Guided tour to Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao
The charming San Sebastián is perhaps the most beautiful city in the Spanish Basque Country. Located in a bay and surrounded by high mountains (with beautiful viewpoints), it is sometimes called the Rio de Janeiro of Spain. There are several fine sandy beaches and the city has a beautiful historic city center with narrow streets and beautiful churches.
San Sebastián also happens to be the culinary epicenter of Spain. As many as nine restaurants have one or more Michelin stars, including three restaurants with three (the maximum number of) stars. You can really get good food on every street corner.
- Where to stay: Zenit Convento San Martin – 4* hotel in a former convent near La Concha Beach. Booking a room including breakfast is highly recommended since it’s very tasty.
- Best thing to do: Gourmet Pintxo Tour
- Travel guide: Lonely Planet Pocket Bilbao & San Sebastian
Read more: 19 fun things to do in San Sebastian
Oñati and Santuario de Aránzazu
Oñati is a small town in the middle of the Basque Country and is full of interesting buildings. For example, you have Universidad Sancti Spiritus, an impressive and richly decorated building from the sixteenth century. Also special is the San Miguel Arcángel, a fifteenth-century Gothic church built on a river. As such, it is an incredibly fun place to walk through.
The most striking structure, however, is found just outside the city. Through many winding roads, you drive into the mountains and arrive at the impressive Santuario de Aránzazu (The Sanctuary of Arantzazu), a sanctuary in the mountains. A great place to visit and to walk around, there are many hiking trails in the area.
- Where to stay: Hotel Torre Zumeltzegi – 3* hotel in a beautifully restored building from the thirteenth century, in the middle of the center of Oñati.
- Did you know? From Bilbao, you can also book an organized tour to Oñati and the shrine of Arantzazu.
Hondarribia is a town on the east side of San Sebastian, against the French border. It has ancient city walls (you enter the city center through a gate) and incredibly beautiful narrow streets and cozy squares. Very photogenic!
It is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. Is it too warm to walk around? Then there are also several beautiful sandy beaches to be found in the Hondarribia area.
- Where to stay: Villa Magalean Hotel & Spa – Beautiful 4* hotel in a luxury villa within walking distance of the old town.
- Best things to do: From San Sebastian and Bilbao, several fun guided day tours are organized to Hondarribia and other beautiful places on the Basque coast.
Vitoria-Gasteiz is the capital of Spain’s Basque Country and it is also the second largest city after Bilbao. It is a city with a beautiful medieval center full of impressive churches. Also make sure to visit the beautiful squares, such as Plaza de la Virgen Blanca and the walled Plaza España.
A good thing to know is that Vitoria-Gasteiz was named the greenest city in Europe in 2012. It is beautifully situated in the green hills and there are an awful lot of parks and green areas.
- Where to stay: Silken Ciudad de Vitoria – Nice 3* hotel in a really cool building right in the city center of Vitoria-Gasteiz.
- Best things to do: Visit the La Rioja winery with a tour (a traditional lunch is included).
Zarautz is a seaside resort west of San Sebastian and the place to be for surfers. So you see a lot of people in wetsuits with surfboards walking around. And yes, you can rent surfboards in many places.
In addition, there is a fine wide sandy beach and a broad promenade full of pleasant terraces. You can also take beautiful walks in the area around Zarautz to various viewpoints. So it’s a fun place to be both active and lazy!
- Where to stay: Hotel Berazadi Berri – Hotel with beautifully decorated rooms just outside Zarautz. From your bed, you look out onto the mountains or the sea.
Elciego is a small village in the mountains. It is one of the most beautiful villages in the Spanish Basque Country because of its photogenic location. The village has one major attraction: Hotel Marqués de Riscal. This unusual and modern hotel was designed by Frank Gehry, who also designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. It’s in a spectacular location in the green hills and the vineyards.
- Where to stay: Hotel Marqués de Riscal of course! This is a 5* hotel (it also has quite a price tag) and almost every room has its own unique decor.
The city of Guernica is world famous for two things. First, because of the horrific bombing in 1937 led by Franco. More than 1600 people were killed (some sources say more than 3000) and about 75% of the city was in ashes. A terrible event that became even more famous thanks to Pablo Picasso.
Pablo Picasso painted his Guernica the same year, in response to this event. A chaotic painting with black, white, and gray tones. The original hangs in Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid, but an impressive replica can be seen in Guernica itself.
- Where to stay: Hotel Castillo de Arteaga – One of the most extraordinary hotels in the Basque Country! You sleep in a castle dating back to the thirteenth century. It is located about 7 kilometers northeast of Guernica.
Do you feel like seeking out nature during your vacation in the Basque Country? Then Urdaibai is the place to be. This is located just north of Guernica and it is a large bio reserve with lots of water, beaches, and birds! Along the edges of the reserve, you will find many forests where you can take endless walks. Truly a place to completely unwind.
- Where to stay: Hotel Atalaya – Neat 2* hotel in the center of Mundaka, a 2-minute walk from the beach.
The best thing to do: Visit Laga Beach, perhaps the most beautiful beach in the Basque Country.
Zumaia is a town located just west of Zarautz and again it is wonderfully located on the water. It is located at the mouth of the Urola River and it has a beautiful historic city center. The reason why many people visit this place is because of Playa de Itzurun.
This beach is one of the most impressive beaches in Basque Country Spain, with hugely steep cliffs on either side and bizarre rock formations in the water. Really awesome to see!
- Where to stay: Hotel Flysch – Nice clean rooms and in a prime location, it’s just a 3-minute walk to Playa de Itzurun.
The best thing to do: Boat ride along the cliffs during sunset.
Photo: Jordi Vich Navarro | Unsplash
Parque Natural de Gorbeia
Do you feel like going for a hike in the mountains and forests? Parque Natural de Gorbeia is located between Bilbao and Vittoria-Gasteiz and is the largest natural park in the Basque Country. There’s also several caves and a 100-meter-high waterfall. The park has numerous trails for hikers, and mountain bikers, and you can also canoe.
Cueva de Pozalagua
Are you ready for more nature? At the very west of the Basque Country, you will find the extraordinary Cueva de Pozalagua. Discovered by accident in 1957, this cave is now a major tourist attraction. You will find one of the largest caves in the world full of extraordinary stalactites and stalagmites, it looks like a richly decorated cathedral!
- Where to stay: Hotel Alma de Romero – A cozy and charming hotel just a 15-minute drive from the caves.
- The best thing to do: Visit the caves on a guided tour.
Another beautiful village in the Basque Country! Located between Zarautz and Zumaia on the coast, Getaria has an impressive peninsula. It is a charming fishing village (guess what you should eat here?) with a small historic center. The views from the peninsula and the surrounding mountains are truly stunning. In addition, it’s also a great place to relax because of the sandy beaches.
This is also a great place to visit for fashion lovers since the famous fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga was born in Getaria. That’s why you’ll also find a Balenciaga museum in this town.
- Where to stay: Saiaz Getaria Hotela – Awesome hotel in a historic tower house from the fifteenth century. From some rooms, you have a spectacular view of the sea.
Pasai Donibane & Pasaia
Pasai Donibane and Pasaia are two small villages near San Sebastian. They are both cute fishing villages full of colorful houses. A fine place to spend an afternoon. Just wander through the streets and eat some delicious fresh fish at a restaurant. You can visit both villages by taking a boat across the water.
- Where to stay: Donibanea – A beautiful guest house in a historic building on the waterfront.
The Jaizkibel is a substantial 543 meters high hill between Hondarribia and San Sebastian. There are several hiking trails on the Jaizkibel (including the famous El Camino del Norte) and the hill is also very popular with cyclists. For example, every year, the Jaizkibel is part of the famous cycling race Clásica San Sebastián.
From the Jaizkibel you have a beautiful view of the green hilly landscape, the rugged coastline, and the beautiful bays at Irun/Hendaye and San Sebastian.
- Where to stay: Casa Rural Arotzenea – Country house with several rooms in a beautiful setting.
- The best thing to do: Guided hiking tour on the Jaizkibel with visits to various caves and natural pools.
Would you like to visit a beautiful, but undiscovered, fishing village? Then Lekeitio is a fun place to visit! It is located between the mountains and has two beautiful sandy beaches. In the bay there is a small island called San Nicolás, where only birds and goats live. Lekeitio is a really nice place to unwind.
- Where to stay: Hotel Villa Itsaso – Rooms in a gorgeous villa from the nineteenth century. From the terrace, you have a beautiful view of the coastline and the beach.
Camino del Norte
Did you know that the Camino del Norte, one of the most famous pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela, runs right through the Basque Country? The route starts at Irun/Hondarribia and you then pass through several beautiful places you can find on this list of beautiful places to visit in Basque Country Spain.
Among other places, you will hike right through San Sebastian, Getaria, Guernica, and Bilbao. When you’re hiking, you’ll also pass some other beautiful tiny villages and the occasional views of the coastline are stunning. So, hiking (this stretch of) the Camino del Norte is really recommended for a hiking vacation!
Read more: The Camino del Norte | The Ultimate Guide
Book a trip to Basque Country Spain
After reading this article, do you feel like going on a vacation in the Basque Country? Here are some useful websites for you to book your trip.
- You can travel to northern Spain by train from most places in Europe pretty easily. Pick Hendaye (France) as your final destination. This is the last TGV station in southwest France and from here you can walk across the border into Basque Country Spain. Check Rail Europe for train tickets.
- Bilbao has an international airport and is easily accessible by plane. Check WayAway or Skyscanner for tickets.
- Within Spain, it’s easy to travel around by bus. Check Busbud for tickets and prices.
- The best way to discover the Basque Country is by renting a car. Book a rental car through Rental Cars or Discover Cars.
- Hotels, guesthouses, and apartments can be booked via Booking or Agoda.
- Book a bed in a hostel via Hostelworld.
- Prefer to go camping? Check EuroCampings for the most beautiful campsites in Basque Country Spain.
Tours & Activities
You can do an awful lot of fun tours and activities in the Spanish Basque Country. Check Get Your Guide and Viator for all the possibilities.
Read more about Basque Country and Spain
These were all my Basque Country tips! Do you also want to go on vacation in the Basque Country? These are some fine travel guides with even more tips:
Rick Steves Snapshot Basque Country: Spain & France
In addition, you can also find more tips for a vacation in Spain on this website. For example, also read these articles:
- Spain Bucket List: 25 incredible places to visit
- What are the best things to do in Seville?
- The best things to do in Girona
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