7 Days Round trip
San Sebastian, Bilbao and Rioja
Guggenheim museum, Bilbao
This is a beautiful and eventful 7-days´ round trip in the lush green and hilly northern part of Spain, the basque region. The round trip includes visits at the amazing Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, the gourmet capital of San Sebastian and the wine region of Rioja.
Best time to visit is April-October.
Highlights on this roundtrip in the Basque country
7 Days in Bilbao, San Sebastian and Rioja
Day 1: Arrive in Bilbao
Day 2: Drive to San Sebastian along the northern coast (5 hours)
Day 3-4: San Sebastian
Day 5: Drive to Rioja (2 hours)
Day 6: Rioja
Day 7: Drive to Bilbao (1,5 hours)
Arrive in Bilbao
The airport is just outside Bilbao. After having picked up your rental car, drive to your hotel where you will stay for one night.
We suggest you stay in the old town, Casco viejo. It is really nice and close to everything you want to see. There is also a large parking by the Guggenheim museum which is quite easy to find if you check for the signs posted all along the way after arriving in Bilbao.
Bilbao is the largest city and the capital of the Basque county. A little more than 1 million inhabitants live in this lush green region of Spain and that makes it the tenth largest city in Spain. Bilbao was for long an industrial port town relying on the export of iron.
Biscaya bridge, Getxo
After checking in at your hotel, walk a few kilometres along the river Estuary of Bilbao to the Guggenheim museum (photo above) that was designed by Frank Gehry and opened in 1997. The museum´s facade is of bending titanium, limestone and glass.
By the entrance of the museum you find the famous Puppy, a large teddy bear covered with flowers that are changed twice a year. The Puppy was supposed to be temporary but so much loved that it was decided to be permanent. You also find the giant spider of bronze and stainless steel designed by Louise Bourgeois.
"By the entrance of the museum you
find the famous Puppy, a large teddy
bear covered with flowers..."
You get a perfect view of the museum from the bridge (photo above). You can very well visit the museum of contemporary art. For us it was a disappointment though and we could have skipped it.
After having a look at the Guggenheim museum, walk to Plaza Moyua and then follow the avenue Don Diego López Haroko Kale Nagusia. It is a lovely avenue that takes you to a roundabout. Turn left and follow the Buenos Aires Kalea to the river and then back to the lovely atmospheric Casco Viejo (old town) with its cobblestoned streets and houses from the 15th century.
Where to stay in Bilbao?
Staying in Casco viejo is a good choice. It is quiet, filled with narrow cobblestoned streets and lovely squares. Hotel Tayko Bilbao has a perfect setting.
We chose to stay in Getxo by the coast outside Bilbao as we arrived in Bilbao early in the morning and had well enough time to explore the city during the first day. Getxo is a luxuary suburb of Bilbao yet the hotels are cheaper. There we stayed at Ercilla Embarcadero which was great. We got an upgrade to a room with balcony (photo below).
Drive along the northern coast to San Sebastian
Try to start early if you want to stay at many of the lovely little villages along the northern coast.
The first stop is Gaztelugatxe, an islet along the coast nowadays famous after representing Dragonstone in Game of Thrones.
"The first stop is Gaztelugatxe,
an islet along the coast..."
From Bilbao it is a little less than an hours drive east along BI-631 for 35 kilometres. You finally arrive in a small village with a few restaurants and a parking lot. If it is full, turn right to a smaller parking lot. If the weather is sunny, it might be difficult to find a parking lot if you arrive after 10 a.m. On the other hand, it does not take long until someone leaves since walking the stairs to the church on top and back does not take more than 1,5 hours. There is no parking fee.
After its fame through Game of Thrones you will not be there alone. You can book tickets (for free) in advance to be sure to enter here. If you have forgotten to book tickets, don´t give up! It is also possible to get a ticket by the entrance. Perhaps you have to wait for a while though.
The islet is connected to the mainland by a stone bridge. The bridge then transitions into a narrow path of 241 steps all the way to the top. It is a very easy hike. The difficulty lies in that is an ascent and if it is sunny and warm it might be streneous for everyone.
"The bridge then transistions into a
narrow path of 241 steps all the way to the top."
The church at the top has a bell in the front of its facade. After compleeting the climb, if you ring the bell three times you can make a wish.
There is a restaurant at the top but it was closed during our visit in June so be sure to bring the food and water you need.
After this hike it is time to explore more of the lovely northern coast line between Bilbao and San Sebastian.
Next stop should be Elantxobe, a lovely typical basque village with proud basque traditions. Drive along BI-2235 and then turn left on BI-2238. It is a lovely drive partly along the coast that will take you about 40 minutes.
To reach the center of the village you have to park your car and walk down the narrow streets. It is a quite steep descent. Well down in Elantxobe there are a few restaurants by the harbour. We had some lovely (and cheap) shrimp tapas here. If you feel that the descent is too difficult you can have a view of Elantxobe from above (photo below).
From Elantxobe continue along the BI-3238 and BI-2238 to Lekeito a pretty village with a beach. We did not stop there but it looked really nice. So did the village Zumaia.
We continued to Getaria hoping to get a table at the famous fish restaurant Elkano. We had not booked in advance since we were not sure about when to get there. Of course, it was full.
"Next stop should be Elantxobe,
a lovely basque village
with proud basque traditions."
It was a Sunday and really difficult to find a parking lot so we continued to Zarautz and had lunch there at a beach restaurant. Not the best meal we have had. Zarautz was not much to see either except for the long beach.
Next stop is San Sebastian where you will stay for three nights.
Where to stay in San Sebastian?
There are a lot of hotels along the promenade by the beach La Concha. They are all quite expensive though. Hotel SANSEbay has a perfect location in the old town by the beach.
That worked just fine since we had a car, but if you want to feel some of the city pulse you should definately stay in San Sebastian. We had also been to San Sebastian before which was part of the reason for staying a little outside.
San Sebastian is a popular resort with about 200 000 inhabitants. It has a very charming old town with narrow streets passing by beautiful houses, a lovely promenade along the beach of La Concha (shell in Spanish). And it is the food capital of Spain, some would say the world!
There are an endless amount of lovely tapas or Pintxos restaurants in the old town of San Sebastian and you will probably be happy no matter which restaurant you choose. Even though most tapas look more or less the same they do differ so do a little check around the offered pintxos before choosing where to go.
We did a mistake being in San Sebastian on a Monday and then all the best restaurants are closed. But since you are here for two days you will be sure of that at least one of them will not be a Monday! And we realized that even on Mondays there are plenty of restaurants open.
Tapas in San Sebastian are called Pintxos because they stick a little pin in the tapas. The Pintxos can be hot as well as cold and differ some in price depending on the ingredients. Pintxos with Serrano ham are the most expensive ones. The Spanish people set large pride in their dry-cured ham. The average price for a tapas in San Sebastian is 3 Euros. On the country-side like in Elantxobe or in Getxo the price was 1 Euro.
In San Sebastian you find super famous restaurants like Arzak run by the fourth generation of the family Arzak that serves tasting menus for lunch and dinner. Be sure to check up that even if you are not here on a Monday the restaurant may be closed for vacations in July and November. Prices start at 210 Euro pp plus wine pairing.
San Sebastian actually has the highest number of Michelin stars per square kilometres, a total of 17 so the story goes on and on. Arzak has three stars. So does Akerlare which is outside San Sebastian in Gipuzkoa. Kokotxa and Zuberoa in San Sebastian has one star each.
Another restaurant that is a little cheaper is Misura about 2 kilometres from La Concha beach. Misura serves vegetarian tasting menus. Prices start at 58 Euros pp.
Top 5 things to do in San Sebastian
Read more about top 5 things to do in San Sebastian here.
Today you will drive for 2 hours across the green and lush hills and mountains south of San Sebastian. It is so beautiful and reminds me of some parts in Switzerland!
You have well enough time before you leave San Sebastian so you don´t have to start early. Have a last swim at la Concha or a walk along the promenade.
There are several villages in Rioja. Some are really lovely while others have not kept their historical character. Laguardia is lovely and so is Elciego. Lots of people go to the larger city of Logrono.
A lot of people recommend going to Haro, but we did not like it so much. The small city has a nice square, but then there is nothing. Outside the village are several wine yards. Haro is the center of Rioja Alta. Read more about Rioja wines and where to go here.
After checking in at your hotel it is time for some visits at the wine yards!
Where to stay: We checked a lot of different places to stay in the region but finally ended up chosing the Marquez de Riscal in Elciego. One reason was that it has a perfect location close to Laguardia. Another one is that is designed by Frank Gehry, who also designed the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. We are totally into great design and happy with our choice even though it was expensive. You will stay here for two nights.
Besides being a hotel Marquez de Riscal is also an old wineyard. The mix between the old traditional buildings and the super modern hotel is perfect!
You can also read more about this hotel at favourite boutique hotels.
If you are into it you can very well bike along the River Ebro. We borrowed bikes at the hotel and biked to nearby Laguardia.
Leaving the Basque Country
This is your last day and you have about 1,5 hours to the airport of Bilbao along AP-68.
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