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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 02 March, 2023
Expert travel writer: Dana Facaros

The Basques, the oldest nation in Europe, make their home on a delicious slice of Spain’s northern coast. Until recently, most outsiders only knew the area for the beautiful old resort town of San Sebastian.

Today, though, Basque cuisine and Basque restaurants have become world-famous, while the opening of the Guggenheim Museum marked Bilbao’s remarkable metamorphosis into an international cultural centre.

Suddenly Euzkadi (the Basque country) is popular. As the food and art draw in sophisticated travellers from around the globe, they discover its golden beaches, its historic monuments and, perhaps best of all, the ancient culture and traditions of the Basques themselves.


The three Basque provinces of Spain, called Euzkadi in Basque, lie along the northern coast, bordering France. Most of the country is ruggedly mountainous, and green thanks to year-round abundant rainfall.

The only major city is Bilbao, once known for iron and steel but now increasingly famous for culture and art. The coast’s fine beaches have given rise to many resorts, notably San Sebastian.

Along Basque’s southern borders lies Rioja, Spain’s most important wine region.

When to go

This is tourist country, and July and August are intense with lots of loud, international fun. This continues into late September in San Sebastian, with the film festival and other events keeping the city booked up tight.

The weather is problematic, with plenty of light rain throughout the year. Winter is definitely not the time for touring the countryside or the wine regions, but it offers a chance to enjoy Bilbao and San Sebastian when they’re not so crowded. May and June are pretty much perfect in every respect.

Getting there and away

There are plenty of flights from Britain to Bilbao, but unfortunately no direct ones as yet to San Sebastián. A yellow airport bus runs from Bilbao airport to the city centre until midnight.

For a more leisurely approach, Brittany Ferries sails twice a week between Portsmouth and Bilbao from late March to October. The journey takes 24 hours and there are often discounted fares.

Getting around

In Bilbao and San Sebastián, most of the major sights are walkable. Neither city is car-friendly. Leave it in a garage and make use of the good bus systems, taxis, bike lanes and Bilbao’s metro.

Inter-city train and bus services are fine (approx 1hr from Bilbao to San Sebastián by bus), but a car is very useful for touring the countryside or wine touring in Rioja.

Buy a BilbaoCard (one, two or three days) at the tourist office for reductions on public transport, museums and many participating shops, hotels and restaurants. Well worth it.

Other guides relevant to this destination


Basque Country, Spain

Exterior view of the museum

Renowned for its Guggenheim Museum and edgy arts scene, this northern Spanish city has delicious Basque food and nearby golden beaches.

San Sebastian

Basque Country, Spain

Concha beach with beachfront hotels

A grand but charming beach resort in northern Spain famous for its glut of Michelin-recognised restaurants and superb pintxos.