Top 10 things to do in the Spanish Basque Country

Vignes à Zumaia, San Sebastian, Espagne

Interested in visiting the Spanish Basque Country? Here are 10 things you can do to embrace the culture of this unique region!

Looking for a change of scenery without going too far? Then head for Euskadi, just the other side of the Pyrenees. Forget arid meadows and flamenco dancers, this is green Spain… and above all, Basque Spain! The region is bathed in this very special culture, whose origins are unknown and unique in Europe. Come and listen to the Basque language sing in your ears and enjoy tapas evenings! Not to mention the region’s rich historical and natural heritage. So how do you get the most out of your visit to the Spanish Basque Country? Here’s our selection of must-sees!

1. Bilbao

Vue sur le musée Guggenheim au coucher du soleil, Bilbao

Photo Credit: Shutterstock – Sasha64f

Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque Country, is above all famous for its contemporary art museum, the Guggenheim. This metal structure sparkles in the sunlight, offering visitors a veritable play of shapes and lights. Its impressive architecture has earned it a worldwide reputation. Keep up to date: one Friday a month, part of the collection remains open at night. You can take advantage of this while enjoying a cocktail to the mix of a leading DJ.

But there’s much more to Bilbao than its museum. Visit its historic center, a melting pot of life and diverse architectural influences.

2. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe monastery

lever de soleil sur l'île de gaztelugatxe, au pays basque, Espagne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Jon Chica

Looking for a timeless experience in the Spanish Basque Country? Go to Gaztelugatxe. This monastery of ancient origins is perched like an eagle’s nest on a small islet. Access is via a narrow stone path that winds sinuously for 200 meters. All around, the Atlantic Ocean brings the place to life, giving it a different atmosphere every day.

This simply magical place was already a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. Despite this, you’ll find a unique maritime biodiversity, endemic to the Bay of Biscay. It’s even referred to as the Gaztelugatxe biotope!

3. Fontarrabie

Visiter le pays basque espagnol en passant par Fontarrabie

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Eneko Aldaz

Fontarrabie (also known as Hondarribia) is located just opposite the French town of Hendaye. It takes just five minutes to cross the inlet that separates the two towns, but it’s a complete change of scenery. While Hendaye exudes a sense of calm, Fontarrabia is a true Spanish town! Here, the alleyways are brimming with life. All generations come together at the end of the day to enjoy the famous paseo and tapas.

But Fontarrabie’s main attraction is its picturesque medieval center. Situated on a hill, it offers superb panoramic views of the Atlantic coast.

Also read in the Spanish Basque Country guide :

4. San Sebastián

Visiter le pays basque espagnol en passant par San Sebastian

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Beach, tapas and heritage… Three words that sum up why San Sebastian is a must for any visit to the Spanish Basque Country. Bordered by the beautiful Las Conchas beach, the city boasts a rich historical center. Stroll along its cobbled streets to discover the plaza Mayor, the basilica of Santa María or the church of San Vincente. But it’s only after nightfall that San Sebastián reveals its full potential.

This is the best place in the Spanish Basque Country to eat tapas and party!

5. Guernica

Vieille ville de Guernica, Espagne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – tichr

Everyone knows Guernica. It’s one of Picasso‘s most famous paintings, indeed one of the most famous paintings in the world. It depicts the sinister events that took place in the small Basque town of Guernica on April 26, 1937. The bombing murdered hundreds of civilians and became a symbol of fascist barbarism.

What can you do in the Spanish Basque Country to grasp this facet of its history? A visit to Guernica is a must. Although scarred by the events of the past, today the town has a warm atmosphere. Visit the House of Assemblies, the Guernica Tree or the Peace Museum.

6. Iraty forest

La forêt d'Iraty en Automne, Espagne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – tlunamarina

Straddling the border between France and Spain, the Iraty forest is home to bucolic landscapes steeped in pastoral traditions. It’s an ideal place to visit the Spanish Basque Country on hiking trails. Its biodiversity is unique in the world, and it is the largest beech forest in Europe. Among the rustling leaves and birdsong, you’ll come across etxolac and cayolar. These are the traditional huts of Basque shepherds.

If you’d like to find out more about these age-old traditions, visit the Chalet de Cizen, a themed site dedicated to pastoralism.

7. Oñati

Intérieur du sanctuaire de Arantzazu, Onati, Pays Basque, Espagne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Alberto Loyo

What can you do in the Spanish Basque Country to embrace the region’s complexity? Head for Oñati, nicknamed « Little Toledo » for its architectural heritage. At first glance, this municipality hidden away in the mountains doesn’t give much away. And yet, as you explore its historic center, you’ll be amazed!

Take a trip back to the heart of the Renaissance with a visit to the Bidaurreta monastery and the Sancti Spiritus University, an architectural gem. Finally, take a trip to the Arantzazu sanctuary. Here you’ll find a basilica built in 1950 by eminent avant-garde artists.

8. Urdaibai

Biosphère d'Urdaibai, Pays basque, Espagne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – ABB Photo

Looking for something to do in the Spanish Basque Country to immerse yourself in nature? Then head for the wild and spectacular Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve. Here, vast green cliffs tower over the Atlantic Ocean. Their rugged relief is home to numerous pottoks, the famous Basque ponies! Along these grandiose panoramas, time seems to slow down. Further down, you’ll find beautiful beaches dotted with dark rocks. Be sure to visit Laga and Laida.

Don’t miss the village of Mundaka, right in the heart of the park. This picturesque village attracts surfers all year round. In fact, it’s home to one of the longest left-hand waves in the world!

9. Vitoria-Gasteiz

La cathédrale Maria Inmaculada de Vitoria est une cathédrale catholique romaine située à Vitoria-Gasteiz, Pays basque, Espagne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – saiko3p

Welcome to the capital of the Basque Country! Vitoria-Gasteiz is home to the Basque government and parliament. Surrounded by small mountains, it combines liveliness and tranquillity. Its cobbled streets are home to some remarkable buildings. Among them, don’t miss the superb Santa María Cathedral.

To enjoy the sunshine (or shelter from the rain, this is the Basque Country after all), head for the plaza de la Virgen Blanca. Lined with typical houses, it’s always bustling with activity.

10. Pasaia

Visiter le pays basque espagnol en passant par Pasaia

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Jess Kraft

Here’s a discreet destination that’s well worth a visit. The town of Pasaia is full of charming narrow streets, some of which plunge into the ocean. A number of Basque houses have their feet in the water, creating a unique landscape. You’ll also find a historic shipyard and a museum retracing the history of fishing in the region. But most visitors come to enjoy Pasaia’s succulent gastronomy!

After sampling the seafood specialities, take the path out of town along Pasaia Bay. A breathtaking landscape awaits you, at the gateway to the Atlantic Ocean!

And Navarre?

Pampelune Navarra en Espagne place du Castillo centre ville

Photo credit: Shutterstock – lunamarina

Some may be surprised not to see Pamplona in this top list. In fact, the so-called Basque capital is not located in Euskadi at all… but in the region of Navarre! Many Basques will tell you that Navarre is the Basque country. In fact, the kingdom of Navarre, founded by the Vascons, is said to be the cradle of Basque culture! But not all Navarrese claim to be Basque. They are in fact two distinct autonomous communities.

However, we do recommend a visit to beautiful Pamplona. Its lively streets are brimming with heritage treasures. Still in Navarre, the Bardenas Reales desert will surprise you with the change of scenery it offers. Its cornices and warm colors create landscapes worthy of the Far West… in the very north of Spain!

How to get to the Spanish Basque Country

By car

To visit the Spanish Basque Country by car, you can take the A63 freeway or the D810, but if you have time, we recommend taking the Corniche road. It takes you from Saint-Jean-de-Luz along the cliffs overlooking the ocean to Fontarrabie. One of the most beautiful roads in the Basque Country.

By train or bus

You can easily reach the Spanish Basque Country by train or bus. The following towns are particularly well served:

  • Bilbao;
  • San Sebastian;
  • Vitoria-Gasteiz;
  • Irun;
  • Pamplona.

Would you like to visit the Spanish Basque Country in a different way? The Transcantábrico train crosses the whole of green Spain: the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia.

By plane

The main airports are Bilbao and San Sebastian. Bilbao in particular is served by many French and international cities. To find the best deals, you can use the website of our partner Ulysse. It will select the cheapest flights according to your preferred dates.

Where to stay in the Spanish Basque Country

Wondering where to stay in Spain’s Basque Country? The major cities of Bilbao and San Sebastian are brimming with accommodation solutions. Airbnb, hotels, couchsurfing… Whether you opt for a hotel, B&B or apartment-hotel, remember to gauge offers and availability beforehand on a hotel comparator. You’ll be able to anticipate this aspect of your trip and benefit from advantageous rates.

If you’re looking for peace and quiet, turn to one of the country’s many typical villages. Some have charming gîtes. In summer, the Atlantic coast offers plenty of opportunities to combine discovery of Basque culture with idleness. Wherever you are, it’s easy to get to all the points of interest by car!

Map of hotels and accommodation – Autonomous Basque Country