A Basque Country road trip is one of the best you can do in Spain. It takes you around one of the most interesting regions in the country and lesser-visited too.
Bilbao and San Sebastian are two fantastic cities with a lot to see. Bilbao has some fascinating architecture such as the Guggenheim Museum, while San Sebastian is arguably the most beautiful city in Spain!
Outside of these cities, you’ll find plenty of mountainous areas where you can go hiking and enjoy the incredible scenery. San Sebastian also has two fantastic beaches that are a great place to spend a warm summer’s day.
Renting a car is the best way to get around the Basque Country. This way you can stop when you please and admire the beauty of your surroundings which you’ll be doing a lot while you’re here!
This guide will provide you with an itinerary for driving around the Basque Country, including the best places to stop, what to do and how much it will cost!
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Basque Country road trip
Quick Basque country road trip itinerary Distance – 426.3 km (264.8 miles) Time – 6 days Day 1 – Bilbao to San Sebastian: 101.4km (63 miles) Day 2 – San Sebastian to Biarritz: 49.6 km (30.8 miles) Day 3 – Biarritz to Pamplona: 103.8 km (64.4 miles) Day 4 – Pamplona to Vitoria-Gasteiz: 95 km (59 miles) Day 5 – Vitoria-Gasteiz to Urkiola National Park: 31.1 km (19.3 miles) Day 6 – Urkiola National Park to Bilbao: 45.4 km (28.2 miles)
Spain is a bigger country than most people realise. But the good thing about driving around the Basque Country is that distances are shorter compared to other parts of the country.
You can do the trip in six days and see most of the region. You can go slower if you wish, or extend it into a wider Northern Spain road trip. It’s up to you!
Before setting off
Before you do any road trips in Spain, you should have as much sorted as you can. The most important thing to have is a vehicle in which to do the trip. This can be your own car or one that you rent when you arrive in Bilbao.
You can drive from most of Europe to the Basque country, but depending on where you’re driving from, it could be a reasonable journey or a very long one.
If you’re planning on visiting the region for a few days, a good option might be to fly in instead. Unless you’re within a days drive of the Basque Country, it’s a long drive just to get there, drive around and then drive all the way back.
Flying in and renting a car is the better option in this scenario. If you’re renting a car, make sure it has all the relevant paperwork, safety gear and is in good shape before you set off!
You can book a rental car directly with companies, but my advice would be to use Rentalcars.com instead. They are a comparison website, which takes all the prices from the main rental car suppliers and gives you the best price. You can often get an upgrade free of charge when you go to pick up your car too! Click here to book your rental car.
Driving in Spain can be tough at times due to the size of the country. Although driving in Catalonia doesn’t involve long distances, you’ll still be on the road a lot.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you drive on the right-hand side of the road in Spain. If you’re from a country that drives on the left, like me, this is one of the most important things during the trip. It may seem weird at first but you soon get used to it!
Road trips can be tiring so If you feel tired while driving, take a break. Driving can sap you of energy and the longer you drive the more tired you’ll be. It’s better to get to your destination a bit late, then risk causing an accident!
No road trip should be done at the expense of safety. This includes keeping yourself well fed and hydrated during your trip. Check out my road trip food ideas too, to ensure you know how to do this while you’re on the road.
It’s important you take regular breaks while you’re driving. Even though the distances aren’t great between places in Catalonia if you feel tired take a rest or 30 minutes or so. This is how accidents happen. Plus, the stops are a good excuse to check out the amazing scenery in this part of the world!
Before doing any road trip, ensure that you have proper travel insurance! I use World Nomads to keep me safe on the road, it’s designed for backpackers and adventurous travellers.
As well as the items listed below, it’s important to compile a Spain packing list too. Depending on where you travel in Spain and what time of the year it is, the climate varies a lot. It will be hot during the summer, but temperatures can plummet during winter, especially inland.
If you’re doing this trip in winter, a jacket and warm clothes are essential. While waterproofs will be necessary if you planning on hiking while you’re in Catalonia.
In summer, you’ll need sunscreen, sunglasses and light fitting clothes. It will be hit and humid in Catalonia. You certainly won’t need a jacket in those conditions!
Below are a few items you can find on my road trip packing list, I recommend you take on your Barcelona to Madrid road trip, to make the drive that little bit easier!
If I had to sum up the reason in one sentence, it would be this: The Basque Country is, arguably, the most beautiful part of Spain.
It’s as simple as that. The main reason I decided to visit the region was that I’d always been intrigued by the language, Euskara, and the two football clubs in the region, Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad.
What I found when I was visited was a region more fascinating and full of natural beauty than I realised.
The whole region is fascinating. It feels like a part of Spain and France, but it also feels distinct. Living in Barcelona, it was clear there was a huge difference between the two places but also similarities. Not least in the pride, both have in their regional languages.
Another reason to do this road trip is the fact it’s one of the most underrated parts of Spain. Most people tend to visit Barcelona, Madrid, or visit Andalucia. The Basque Country is an afterthought.
This is a shame because there’s so much to see and do here. This road trip is one of the best in Spain and will take you to some of its most interesting places.
Spain is a diverse country. This is forgotten by a lot of travellers. By visiting the Basque country, you’ll appreciate this and see a different side of the country!
Where to stay in the Basque Country
The good thing about this road trip is that there are plenty of places to stay along the way. The Basque Country is well populated, although not as much in the rural areas. Outside of the two main cities, accommodation won’t be as plentiful.
Finding accommodation in Bilbao, San Sebastian or Pamplona won’t be a problem. You’ll find there are fewer options when it comes to staying in Urkiola National Park. But you could always drive to Bilbao if there was nowhere to stay.
You’ll be able to find a range of places to stay in the Basque Country from hostels to budget hotels. The good thing about Spain is that prices are reasonable, especially in this part of the country.
You won’t have any difficulty finding somewhere to stay that won’t cost you a fortune!
Places to visit on a Basque Country road trip
The Basque Country has some of the best places to visit in Spain within its boundaries. From Bilbao to San Sebastian and the small towns in the hills, the Basque Country has a lot to offer.
On this road trip, you’ll get to see all of them and venture to some lesser-known parts too. Here are my suggestions for the places you need to include on your Basque Country itinerary.
Bilbao is one of the most interesting cities to visit in Spain. My Bilbao travel guide came about because I was eager to see the city when I was living in Barcelona.
What I found was a fascinating place with a lot to see and do. The Guggenheim Museum is arguably the biggest attraction in the city, and for good reason. It’s a wacky building that needs to be seen to believed! An architectural masterpiece with many intriguing sculptures outside it too.
One of my favourite spots in the city was Mt Artxanda. After you take the funicular to the top, you’re presented with a fantastic panorama view of the city and the surrounding area. The Basque country is one of the most picturesque parts of Spain and the view from atop Mt Artxanda exemplifies why.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Bilbao while there is a football match on, you have to go to San Memes and watch Athletic Bilbao in action. They are one of the biggest football clubs in Spain, unique for the fact they only field players born in the Basque Country. Plus, the stadium is magnificent too!
Whether you start or end your road trip in the city, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Bilbao!
San Sebastian was one of my favourite stops when I was travelling around the basque country. I didn’t know much about it before I visited, but I was blown away by how beautiful it was.
The city is based at the northern end of the Basque region close to the border with France. It’s on the Bay of Biscay and has some of the best scenery in the country. La Concha Bay is an amazing beach with rock outcrops out into the bay reminiscent of what you’d find at a beach in Thailand.
My favourite place in San Sebastian was Monte Igeldo. It’s a hill that is located at the end of La Concha. Not only will you find a marvellous view of the city below at the top, but there is also an old amusement park up there too!
There’s no doubt that San Sebastian is one of the best places to visit in Northern Spain. It’s a stunning city and there are plenty of things to do too. This is especially true if you visit during the summer where you can relax at the city’s two beaches!
It might surprise you to know Biarritz is in the Basque Country, but the region does extend into France. As Biarritz is a short drive from San Sebastian, it would be stupid not to visit!
This French seaside city is a brilliant place to visit. it shares some similarities with san Sebastian: a brilliant beach, amazing food and great surfing opportunities.
What really makes Biarritz a spectacular destination is the scenery. This part of the Bay of Biscay is stunning and walking along the coastline is the best way to experience it all!
All of the above makes Biarritz a place you can’t leave off any Basque Country itinerary!
Pamplona is one of the most well-known places in pain, but one most people won’t have heard of.
The reason for this strange paradox?
The running of the bulls! Every July, Pamplona plays host to this crazy event as bulls are let loose to rampage through the streets!
Thankfully, they’re present for the remainder of the year. This means you can enjoy the sights of Pamplona without fear of being attacked by a bull. As with most of Spain, Pamplona has a lot of history and fascinating places to visit.
La Catedral de Santa María la Real de Pamplona is one example and you’ll find many more as you amble around this beautiful city!
You may not have hard of Vitoria-Gasteiz before, but, surprisingly, it’s the capital of the Spanish part of the Basque Country.
It’s not as big as Bilbao or San Sebastian, but there are still plenty of things to do there. For a city that’s not well-known outside of Spain, it’s a lovely place.
One of the best places to visit in the city is the Atrium, a contemporary art museum. You’ll find some beautiful art pieces inside which are worth checking out even if you’re not into arts.
You’ll also find beautiful buildings such as the Catedral de Santa María and Iglesia de San Miguel Arcángel. If this doesn’t float your boat, you can go fora cycle along the Anillo Verde. A path which takes you along the green belt outside Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Things to do while driving around the Basque Country
The Basque Country may be one of the most underrated parts of Spain, which is strange considering how much stuff you can do there.
You won’t find many other regions in the country where you can relax at a beach, go hiking or enjoy top-quality food. That’s why it’s such a good place to visit. There’s just so much to do!
Below are a few things I think you should set aside time to do while you’re on this trip.
One of the best things about travelling around the Basque Country is the quality of the food. The cuisine in this part of the world is incredible.
A large part of that is down to a local delicacy known as pintxos. These are snacks that are eaten as appetisers, or with a drink at a cafe.
Normally, they consist of a piece of meat, fish, or some vegetables on top of a piece of bread, but they can vary from place to place. One of the best things about them is that they’re cheap.
You can get a coffee for under €5 and perhaps even cheaper if you’re lucky. Considering how delicious they are, they’re a bargain. when I visited the Basque Country, I found myself popping in and out of cafes and bars to try the pintxos.
Don’t miss out on these delicacies while you’re in the region!
The Basque Country has some of the best spots to go hiking in Spain. In San Sebastian, you can hike to the top of Monte Igeldo to get a fantastic view of the city and the Bay of Biscay.
The mountainous and woodland areas of the Basque Country are a fantastic place to go adventuring in. The Mirador Arbola – Ataloi Loop just outside of San Sebastian is another fantastic hike you can do in the region.
You may not have the towering mountains you’ll find on an Andalucia road trip, but the Basque Country still has a lot to offer in this area!
If you like the outdoors and want to see some of the best scenery in Spain, the numerous hikes and trails in the Basque country will be right up your street!
You may not associate the Basque Country with surfing, but you’d be surprised. The region has some great beaches where you can catch a few waves.
Playa Zurriola in San Sebastian is perhaps the most well-known. The beach is right in the centre of the city and although it’s smaller than La Concha, the waves here are great.
If you’re looking to try out surfing for the first time, this is a great place to give it a try. While the waves will be good enough for experienced surfers to break out their boards too!
Mundaka, near Bilbao, Zarautz, outside of San Sebastian and Biarritz in the French part of the Basque Country are som more great surfing spots in the region.
Example Basque Country road trip itinerary
This itinerary is an example of a road trip in the Basque Country. You can stick to the exact itinerary if you want, but you can mix it up as well.
You can do the route in reverse, start from a location or go to different places. It’s up to you. This example is to give you an idea of a route and the kind of places you can visit.
Day 1 – Bilbao to San Sebastian
101.4 km (63 miles)
Time without stops
1 hour 12 minutes
The first leg of the road trip takes you from Bilbao to San Sebastian, as you travel between the two biggest cities in the region.
I recommend you spend some time in Bilbao before you start the road trip. It’s a fascinating place with a lot to see. It would be a shame to leave it without checking out the Guggenheim Museum or seeing the view from the top of Mt Artxanda.
The drive from Bilbao to San Sebastian takes just over an hour if you follow the direct route. As it’s a short drive, you can include a few places to stop along the way. One of them I’d recommend is the town of Guernica.
The town is now infamous as the site of a massacre during the Spanish Civil War when it was bombed by the Nazis in 1937. It was this atrocity which inspired Picasso to create his masterpiece depicting the massacre.
Another place you can stop is Zarautz. It’s a coastal town close to San Sebastian. If you want a quick break before you arrive, or to go surfing at the beach, it’s worth stopping.
Once you get to San Sebastian, you should spend as much time looking around the city as possible. It’s arguably the most beautiful city in Spain and you’ll be blown by La Concha Bay and the majesty of the buildings here!
Day 2 – San Sebastian to Biarritz
49.6 km (30.8 miles)
Time without stops
The second part of this road trip takes you from San Sebastian across the French border to Biarritz. The Basque Country extends into France and this is a perfect opportunity to explore an underrated part of the country.
If you haven’t already, you should explore as much of San Sebastian as you can before you leave. The drive to Biarritz takes 45 minutes. Spending the morning in San Sebastian and heading to Biarritz is a good idea if you haven’t seen as much of the city as you’d like.
The short nature of the drive means there’s not much point in stopping along the way. It’s better to get to Biarritz and start exploring than stopping every so often.
Just like in San Sebastian, you can go surfing in Biarritz. If you’ve not tried it, or you’re basically a pro, giving it a try while you’re here is a must!
You have to check out the picturesque Le Rocher de la Vierge (the virgin’s rock) while you’re in Biarritz. It’s a rock formation that sits in the Bay of Biscay. It offers a fantastic view of the ocean and the surrounding area.
If you’re a sports fan, and you visit during rugby season, watching a match is well worth it. Biarritz is home to one of the top rugby teams in France. The sort may not be for everyone, but the opportunity to watch top-quality rugby should not be passed up if you’re a fan of the sport, or curious about it.
Day 3 – Biarritz to Pamplona
103.8 km (64.4 miles)
Time without stops
1 hour, 36 minutes
The next part of the Basque Country road trip takes you back across the border into Spain, more specifically, Pamplona.
The city isn’t strictly in the Basque region but Navarre is closely related to their neighbours. Plus, not visiting Pamplona while it’s only a short distance away is crazy!
The first part of the drive takes you back the same way you came as you reenter Spain. Then, you head inland through the country towards Pamplona.
The scenery on this drive is impressive. You’ll see lots of nature and some stunning views, but not much in the way of civilisation.
This part of Spain is largely unpopulated save for a collection of rural towns. Unless you’re stopping to refuel or get some food, you’re best to drive straight to Pamplona.
Once you’re in Pamplona, you’ll find plenty of things to do. The city is famous for the running of the bulls. If you want to witness this, it’s best to time your trip to coincide with the event in July.
Aside from this, you’ll find plenty of historical buildings such as the Vuelta del Castillo Park and La Catedral de Santa María la Real de Pamplona. It’s a beautiful city and one that is worth visiting early in the day so you can take everything in.
Day 4 – Pamplona to Vitoria-Gasteiz
95 km (59 miles)
Time without stops
1 hour, 15 minutes
The fouth part of the road trip sees you drive from Pamplona to the capital of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz.
This is one of the easiest drives of the trip. You leave Pamplona, join the AP-15, then onto the A-10 straight towards Vitoria-Gasteiz. With the drive being a short one, there isn’t much point in stopping along the way.
You should send the morning exploring Pamplona, making sure to see everything you wanted to and then head off in the afternoon.
This means you’ll have a bit less time in Vitoria-Gasteiz, but you can always set off earlier if you wish, or set off later the following day.
There are plenty of things to do in the city, such as checking out the various eye-catching buildings in the city. As well as cycling around the outer ring of the city to enjoy the natural scenery in the area.
Day 5 – Vitoria-Gasteiz to Urkiola Natural Park
31.1 km (19.3 miles)
Time without stops
The fifth day of the road trip sees you drive from Vitoria-Gasteiz to Urkiola National Park.
This a short drive, which means you have two choices. Either you can spend half the day in Vitoria-Gasteiz before heading to the national park, or set off early and spend the majority of the day there.
What you do will depend on what you prefer to do. If you love spending time in cities, more time in Vitoria is a good idea. If you enjoy the outdoors, then you’ll want to spend as much time in Urkiola as possible.
The national park is a hidden gem in the Basque Country, with a lot of things to do. Hiking and climbing are two of the most popular activities due to the Aramotz mountain range.
Climbing the highest mountain in the area, Anboto is a good idea if you’re the adventurous type. You can do the hike in a day. At 1,331 m (4,367 ft), it’s not the biggest mountain, but it’s still a challenge.
If climbing mountains isn’t your thing, there are several hiking routes you can do instead. You should also check out the Sanctuary of Urkiola, a church nestled in the national park, which dates back to the 8th century!
Day 6 – Urkiola Natural Park to Bilbao
45.4 km (28.2 miles)
Time without stops
The final leg of the trip sees you drive from Urkiola National Park back to the starting point in Bilbao.
This is another short drive, clocking in at 38 minutes. You have a few options about how you handle te drive. One option is to spend a part of the day in Urkiola before heading to Bilbao.
You could spend a part of the day in Durango before head back to Bilbao. This is a good idea if you already spent some time in Bilbao before you started the road trip.
The other option is to go straight to Bilbao. This is the best option if you haven’t seen much of the city yet. What you end up doing will depend on one of these three factors.
Whatever you end up doing, you’ll be ending your trip in the Basque Country in one of its most fascinating cities. The Guggenheim museum is a must-see, as the view from Mt Artxanda as you overlook the city.
Bilbao is a fascinating city, and I recommend spending a few days there
How much does a Basque Country road trip cost?
An element of road trips that is unavoidable is spending money. No matter how long or short your drive is, it’s going to cost money!
The good thing about doing a road trip in Spain compared to other countries in Europe is that it’s cheap. The cost of road tripping in Spain is a lot cheaper than in places such as Germany and the Netherlands.
If you do the trip in a campervan, it will be even cheaper as you won’t pay for accommodation. While it’s not expensive in Spain, if you’re in a group of four, renting a campervan is a good way to reduce costs.
Here’s a link to a fuel cost calculator, which will be useful on the trip. Using the fuel price data from a Google search for “petrol prices Spain”, input the figure into the calculator and you’re set.
I got a quote of €1.19 per litre driving the distance in a car with average fuel consumption of 5.7 litres per 100km. This led to a total of $28.92 for the trip, which is an absolute bargain!
This is a reasonable price for one person, with two or three of you, the cost becomes almost nothing between the lot of you. The cost of renting a car is around €60 a day, add in food and drink, any tours and activities you may do and the cost of the trip comes to about €180 per person.
If you’re backpacking in Spain or you fancy visiting this part of the country, this is an ideal trip to do if you’re on a budget. You get to visit some of Spain’s hidden gems at bargain basement prices! What’s not to love!?
Need a rental car?
I use Rentalcars.com whenever I need to rent a car. They offer the most comprehensive listings of rental cars on the web. Plus, their deals are often cheaper than if you went straight to the supplier!
A Basque Country road trip is a fantastic way to see a beautiful part of the world. The scenery here is fantastic and to appreciate it all, you have to drive to see the best spots!
The Basque Country has enchanting cities such as Bilbao and San Sebastian, where you’ll find two incredible beaches at the latter. While if you travel inland, the mountainous parts of the region are perfect for hiking!
Have you been to the Basque Country? Did you drive around to check out the region? Leave me a comment below and let me know your thoughts!
Need travel insurance?
You can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.