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Bucket list destination:

Last updated: 21 June, 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.

Orientation

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.

Travel advice

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

Bilbao and San Sebastian are the primary international airport gateways to visiting the Basque Country. High speed trains also from major Spanish cities like Madrid and Barcelona.

Getting around

In Bilbao and San Sebastian, 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.

Who to go with: tour operators

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YellowWood Adventures [N Spain]

YellowWood Adventures [N Spain]

London, United Kingdom (UK)

Well-regarded tour operator specialising in small group and private/bespoke tours to the undiscovered parts of Northern Spain. They’re renowned for cultural & hiking tours that take the ‘lesser known path’, avoiding the crowds, but still taking in the main sights.

Destination guides

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Other guides relevant to this destination

Bilbao

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. Thie foodie destination is also a short hop from the world-class wines of La Rioja.