Nestled in between France and Portugal, Spain is more diverse that you could ever imagine. With stunning coastline in both the north and south of the country and mountain ranges including the Pyrenees and Picos, one visit to Spain just won’t be enough to satisfy your travel desires. This itinerary takes you to the northern part of Spain for an exciting road trip!
3 Reasons to go
- Stunning scenery. Spain is a country with very diverse scenery. If you want beautiful sandy beaches you’ve got them in both the Mediterranean south and the slightly cooler north. Mountains can be found in either the Pyrenees or the Picos and then there are rolling hills and wide open fields all over Spain just waiting to be explored.
- Food. Spanish cuisine varies hugely depending on the area you visit. For pintxos (tapas) visit the northern regions including; the Basque country and Cantabria. For seafood as fresh as can be visit the south and for hearty stews and soups head to the Asturias region and the Picos mountains.
- The relaxed way of life. The people of Spain exude a relaxed vibe. Likely due to the laid back lifestyle that includes a siesta, often a 2-3 hour break from work mid afternoon! The siesta is more common in southern Spain so make sure you plan ahead and don’t decide to shop mid afternoon as you’ll likely find most of the shops are closed!
Destination A: Isla & Noja
These two small towns are home to some of northern Spain’s best coastline. As perfect for surfers as it is for swimmers and those who just want to relax with a good book, a couple of days on the beach will get your holiday off to a great start!
Destination B: Bilbao
Bilbao is home to the famous Puppy statue by Jeff Koons. A giant dog made out of fresh flowers, Puppy, stands guard outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
Destination C: San Sebastian
Famed for it’s world class cuisine and pintxos, San Sebastian’s old town is full of charm and well worth a few hours of exploring.
Destination D: Pamplona
The Running of the bulls which takes place every July in Pamplona has become a huge event where the brave (or mad) run through the streets of Pamplona whilst being chased by bulls.
Destination E: Burgos
A popular destination along the Camino de Santiago, the city of Burgos is situated in amongst the Spanish countryside. Steeped in history, the city of Burgos has many churches and cathedrals to explore.
Destination F: Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is the end of many pilgrims’ journeys and is the destination of those taking the Camino de Santiago. The Cathedral, where St James is believed to have been buried, is also home to the Botafumerio. The Botafumerio is a decorated container which is swung up to the roof of the cathedral whilst incense is burned inside it.
Destination G: Picos mountains
The beautiful Picos mountains may not reach the heights of the Pyrenees but are full of great walking trails for keen hikers of all abilities!
How to book your vacation?
If you enjoy organizing your own trips.
Start booking hotels:
The road trip starts in Santander, which is easily accessible from many European airports.
Day 1: Arriving at Santander, head east towards Isla. Following the coastal road gives you the perfect opportunity to jump out of the car whenever you see fit. For example you may chose to explore the small town of Somo; a surfers’ paradise. Isla and Noja are very close to each other and both have stunning sandy beaches. There’s plenty of rock pools to explore when the tide is out too!
Day 2: Make the most of your holiday and spend day 2 relaxing on the beach.
Day 3: Leaving Isla and Noja early in the morning head further east towards Bilbao for a cultural few hours spent in the Guggenheim museum. The museum is fairly small and can be explored fully in a couple of hours. Make sure to buy your tickets online before visiting to avoid the queues!
After the Guggenheim museum, continue on to San Sebastian. San Sebastian has many Michelin starred chef so you’re bound to find some delicious Spanish cuisine here. The city’s old town is the place to wander around the cobbled, narrow streets before deciding on somewhere to have your dinner. In this part of Spain pintxos (tapas) are very popular. They’re small dishes that often line the bar counter. Simply walk, order a couple and head to the next bar for the ultimate pub crawl! After dinner continue on to Pamplona, about a 2 hour drive from San Sebastian.
Day 4: Spend the morning exploring the streets of Pamplona where the bulls run through once a year during the typically Spanish festival of ‘The Running of the Bulls’. To see the festival through your own eyes, make sure to visit during the first week of July.
Driving west, leave Pamplona and head towards Burgos. Burgos is one of the main stops for pilgrims taking the Camino de Santiago; a pilgrimage across Spain. Expect to see many weary looking hikers in Burgos, as well as many old churches and cathedrals all of which are very well kept.
Day 5: The longest leg of the journey in this itinerary is from Burgos to Santiago de Compostela. Expect a full day of driving so leave Burgos early. Places to stop along the way include Léon (another picturesque old city) and Las Médulas.
Las Médulas is the name given to a strange moon-like scenery in Spain. Formed as a result of an old mining technique during the Roman period, this reddish ground forms peaks as it juts out of the ground. Hikes are available around Las Médulas or just drive past and take a look.
If you arrive in Santiago de Compostela on a Friday evening during summer you may be lucky enough to see the Botafumerio in action. Usually reserved for special religious occasions, the Botafumerio is in action every Friday evening mass from 7:30pm during the summer for the pilgrims that make it to Santiago de Compostela. Queues form early so make sure you’re in Santiago from around 6pm – it’s well worth watching this spectacular event!
Day 6: The Picos mountain range in the Asturias region of Spain is little well-known by anyone other than the Spanish. Whilst not reaching the same heights as the Pyrenees mountains, the Picos offer plenty of routes for keen hikers as well as beautiful scenery. The Lakes of Covadonga are a particular highlight, although they get very busy and you have to book onto a tour to be able to visit them in the summer months. For a fantastic view, without having to climb for hours, take the cable car at Fuente De on the eastern side of the Picos range. From at the top of the cable car there are several hiking routes to take and even a hotel!
Day 7: From the mountains head back out to the coast and visit Lanes a charming seaside village. Take the coastal road back towards Santander and stop along the way at some of the more secluded bays for a relaxed end to the holiday; you’ve earned it!
Day 8: Leave Santander for home.
Tips & advice
- The Spanish take their dinner a lot later than in northern America or England. Don’t expect restaurants to be busy much before 9pm so arrive around then for the real atmosphere!
- Spain still takes its siesta very seriously, especially in the south where it can get very hot in the summer. Don’t expect many shops to be open during the siesta hours which takes place from around 1.30pm until 4pm; including supermarkets!
- If you’re visiting southern Spain, in particular the coastal towns near Malaga, you’ll often be given a small tapas dish when you order a drink at a bar. This is often fried fish or sometimes paella. Sometimes what you’re given is enough to fill you up for lunch so it can be worth just ordering a drink and seeing what else you’re given!
- Water throughout Spain is safe to drink.
Hannah is the avid adventurer behind the travel blog That Adventurer. She has an insatiable appetite for travel which started at a young age with one of her earliest travel memories being the time she climbed mount Vesuvius aged 6!
Photo credit: Hannah