This guide to the Basque Country’s travel tips will help you plan your trip to this autonomous community in northeastern Spain. It stands out for its landscapes, cities with history, beautiful old towns and fishing villages, and unique landscapes.
These, combined with one of the most exquisite cuisines in the world, make this one of the most incredible trips you can imagine.
We have taken various trips to the area and have driven the route through the Basque Country many times, so we have compiled what we believe are the top 10 essential tips for getting around in the Basque Country. Let’s start!
10 Essential Travel Tips For Visiting Basque Country
1. What is the best time to visit Bosque Country?
As with most Spanish destinations, we could say that any time of the year is suitable for a Basque country trip. However, if we consider the weather, there are undoubtedly some months that are better than others.
High season (June to August): The central months of the year are undoubtedly the best time to travel to the Basque Country to ensure good weather and have more hours of sunshine to enjoy long days of visits.
Despite that, we also have to be clear that these months are usually the busiest of the year, so most tourist places are generally more crowded and the prices of accommodation will be somewhat higher than the rest of the year.
Mid-season (April and May / September, and October): After our experience, we believe that these months are the best options to make this trip.
Although the weather can be a little more unstable than in summer, the days still have enough daylight hours, and temperatures are usually pleasant, so spring and autumn are a perfect choice for a trip to the Basque Country.
Low season (November to March): These are the months with more unstable weather and fewer daylight hours, so that they would be the least advisable.
Keep in mind that if you are traveling in the high season, it is highly recommended to book flights, rental cars, and accommodation well in advance to have more options and to be able to get better prices.
2. How to start the trip to Basque Country?
If a flight is chosen as the mode of transportation to reach the Basque Country, finding a flight is the first step. We recommend that you use a flight search engine to find the best options and prices to fly to Basque Country.
As soon as you have your flight, the next important step is to select your accommodation in each of the cities and towns you will pass through or in which you will stay to get to know this area of Spain.
Having already had the flight and accommodation booked, the next most important factor is to rent a car, which gives you complete freedom of schedules and movements and thus allows you to stop in some of the most beautiful villages in the Basque Country, some of the best beaches.
Finally, once you have solved all the reservations that we discussed above, it is highly recommended to review the available excursions. When you do things in the Basque Country, make sure to book them as far in advance as possible, especially if you want to guarantee your spot in places like San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
Remember that as mentioned above, if your trip to the Basque Country is in high season, it is highly recommended to book as far in advance as possible to have reasonable prices and more options to choose from.
3. Route through the Basque Country
Although we know that it would take a lifetime to know this autonomous community, in our experience and taking into account that most travelers have limited time to make this trip, our recommendation is to have about 7 days or so to travel to the Basque Country, because with these days you can see all the best places in the Basque Country.
4. Villages of the Basque Country
It is no wonder that so many travelers want to travel to the Basque Country after looking at the photos and reading about many of its villages which are living symbols of the region’s history and are famous for their architecture, their atmosphere, the environment they are situated in and, of course, their cuisine.
Although it would be impossible to talk about them all in this post, we want to leave you a selection of some of the most famous and representative so that on your first trip to the Basque Country you can get to know them and enjoy them to the fullest.
Apart from these villages, we also recommend that you visit the following three important cities:
Bilbao: Known for being one of the most complete and cosmopolitan cities in the country, Bilbao is undoubtedly one of the must-sees you should include in any trip to Basque Country.
This would be our suggested route for those 7 days:
1st day: Bilbao.
2nd day: Vizcaya Bridge, Sopelana Beach, Butron Castle, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Bermeo and Mundaka.
3rd day: Gernika, San Pedro de Atxarre viewpoint, and beaches of Laida and Laga, Elantxobe, Ibarrangelu, and Lekeitio.
4th day: Mouth of Deva, Zumaia, San Telmo Hermitage, Itzurun Beach, Getaria and Zarautz.
5th day: San Sebastian
6th day: Pasajes, Hondarribia and Vitoria.
7th day: Laguardia and Elciego.
San Sebastian: Located in a stunning setting in the Bay of Biscay, San Sebastian is another place you cannot miss when traveling to the Basque Country.
Vitoria: Sometimes overshadowed by its neighbors Bilbao and San Sebastian, Vitoria is one of the most beautiful cities you can visit in the Basque Country.
5. Beaches you must visit when traveling in the Basque Country
Any trip to the Basque Country must also include a stop at one of its beaches, noted for their crystal clear waters, for their waves perfect for surfing, and their accessibility, making them ideal places to stop for a swim or just to enjoy the scenery while touring.
As with the towns, it is impossible to mention them all in one post. We chose a few of the most beautiful, accessible, and best-known to us.
- Itzurun Beach
- Beaches of Sopelana
- Beach of La Concha
- Beaches of Lekeitio
- Beach of Malkorbe
- Zarautz Beach
- Beach of Santiago de Deba
- Beach of Laga
- Beach of Laida
6. Where to sleep on a trip to the Basque Country?
Having traveled to the Basque Country many times, we know how difficult it is to choose accommodation.
That is why we wanted to include in this post a selection of the accommodations we stayed at during our last trip to the Basque Country, as well as some alternative suggestions we have made previously, in case the first ones don’t suit your needs.
Bilbao: The recommended accommodation in the city is the Hotel Abando, located 300 meters from the old town, close to the pintxo area, and 500 meters from the Guggenheim. Besides its excellent location, the hotel offers spacious and comfortable rooms, a good breakfast, friendly staff, and one of the best values in the city.
Another good option is the Hotel Bilbao Plaza, located a 10-minute walk from the historic center and the Guggenheim.
San Sebastian: In San Sebastian, our recommended hotel is the Pensión Régil, located 500 meters from the Calle Mayor and a two-minute walk from La Concha. In addition to its excellent location, the hotel has comfortable rooms, a very friendly owner, and is one of the best value for money in the city.
Vitoria: Hotel Arts is located in the old town, 150 meters from the Santa Maria Cathedral. In addition to its excellent location, the hotel has comfortable rooms, friendly staff, and parking spaces at number 4 Calle Francia.
Another accommodation with an excellent quality/price ratio and located 3 minutes walk from the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca is the Hotel Centro Vitoria.
Hondarribia: Our recommended accommodation in Hondarribia is the Hotel San Nikolas, located in the Plaza de Armas. In addition to its magnificent location, the hotel has several rooms with views of the sea, the square, and the mountains.
Suppose you have more budget and are looking for a hotel with an excellent quality/price ratio. In that case, we recommend you book the Hotel Sercotel Jauregui, located a 5-minute walk from the beach.
Bermeo: We recommend the Hostal Aldatzeta Ostatua located in the center and with attentive staff.
Another good option is to take an apartment in the Andra Mari Apartamentu Turistikoak, located in the historic center and with an excellent quality/price ratio.
Zumaia: We liked the Flysch Hotel, located near the center, the Ermita de San Telmo and the flysch. In addition to its fantastic location, the hotel has parking, friendly staff, a full breakfast, and one of the town’s best quality/price ratios.
Another good option is to book at Landarte, a bed & breakfast located 700 meters from the center and the marina.
Getaria: The recommendation in this town is the Saiaz Getaria Hotela, located in a historic tower in the old town and overlooking the sea. Another good option with an excellent quality/price ratio is the Katrapona, situated on the beachfront.
Zarautz: Our choice was the Pensión Txiki Polit, located in the historic center and close to the beach.
Another good option, with an excellent quality/price ratio, is the Zerupe Hotel, located 200 meters from the beach.
Gernika: We recommend the Hotel Gernika, located in the center of town, with 24-hour reception and free parking. Another good option is to stay outside the town in a rural house such as Aristieta, located about a 5-minute drive from Gernika and surrounded by a beautiful natural environment.
Mundaka: Here, our selection of accommodation is the Hotel El Puerto, located in an old renovated fishermen’s house in the harbor, and the Mundaka Apartments, located next to the beach of Laidatxu and with an excellent quality/price ratio.
Lekeitio: The recommendation is the Hotel Villa Itsaso, located in a 19th-century villa overlooking the sea, 10 minutes walk from the center of Lekeitio and Karraspio beach.
If you prefer to sleep in the center, we recommend Hotel Zubieta, located in an 18th-century building and with an excellent breakfast.
Do not forget to book your accommodation in advance, especially if traveling to the Basque Country in the high season. At that time, the most touristy places received many travelers. It is possible that many of the most recommended hotels are not available.
7. Driving in the Basque Country
As we mentioned at the beginning of the post, we did it by car on our last trip to Basque Country. It was undoubtedly the best decision.
It allowed us to visit all the places we wanted, with total freedom of schedules and movements. This added a lot of value to the route, not having to worry about public transport schedules. This does not reach all the points that we included in the trip.
If you do not have your car or do not want to take it, another option is to use this car rental search engine to find the best options at the best prices.
They also offer Premium insurance, a kind of all-risk insurance that lets you travel with total peace of mind, but at a much-reduced price than if you hired it from the car rental company itself.
Here are some other tips that might help you:
- There are very few accommodations in central areas of big cities, such as Bilbao and San Sebastian, that have parking. However, do not worry, as there are several private parking lots in the city’s center where you can leave your car for about 22-25 euros per day.
Unlike the above, in most towns, there are free parking lots in fairly central areas. However, it is difficult to find parking spaces if you are traveling in the high season and arrive at noon.
- The roads are in excellent condition, so you will not have any driving problems. You only have to follow the regulations, as you usually do.
- In tourist places like San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, there is also free parking. However, it tends to fill up early, especially in the high season and holidays. Therefore, booking tickets early in the morning is advisable if you do not have parking problems.
- Another important thing is to carry GPS, either online or offline, to orient yourself easily.
Another great reason to travel to the Basque Country is its gastronomy. We cannot forget that this is considered one of the most exquisite in the country (and the world).
Although there are hundreds of dishes and, as you can imagine, it is impossible to describe them all in a few lines, we would like to give you a sample of some of the most typical, famous, or representative ones. Of course, you cannot miss it when visiting the Basque Country.
Hake Basque-style: Hake stew to which clams, shrimps, peas, or potatoes are added.
Pintxo: Without a doubt, this is the dish par excellence in Basque gastronomy. On a piece of bread, a small portion of food is placed, just like a tapa. There are (we are) many of us who have eaten lunch and dinner with a delicious selection of pintxos.
Gilda: This is one of the best-known pinchos or pintxos. It is made with chili pepper, anchovy, and piparra.
Bacalao en salsa vizcaína: cod cooked with choricero bell pepper sauce.
Porrusalda: leek, potato, and fish soup.
Marmitako: tuna stew with potatoes that is exquisite.
Goxua: This is a delicious dessert, a kind of custard, which is highly addictive.
After selecting some of the most representative dishes of Basque gastronomy, it is time to talk about the restaurants where you can taste them.
9. Excursions in the Basque Country
It is also essential to consider the excursions you can or want to do before visiting Basque.
Although there are many to choose from, one of the most famous and most recommended is the visit to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, one of the fascinating places you can see in the Basque Country, which we are sure will leave you speechless.
You can find much more information about this fantastic place in this guide to visiting San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
We recommend that you also take advantage of the free tours offered in the different cities and towns. The activities, which are currently the most popular excursions, have the unique characteristic of not having a fixed price. You will be the one who, after the experience, will decide how much to leave the guide as a tip.
10. More tips for traveling to the Basque Country
- As always, we recommend using the N26 card. It’s the one we use, it’s free, and it will save you a lot of money.
- Another tip to remember when traveling to Basque Country is to get up early o see some of the most famous places, such as San Juan de Gaztelugatxe or Hondarribia, because they are usually not very crowded early in the morning.