The Basque region of Spain, also referred to as Pays Basque, is tucked into the northeast corner of the country amongst the Pyrenees mountains. It touches, and technically reaches into, France. Its northern border is the Atlantic Ocean and on all other sides it is surrounded by Spain. The area is warm, humid and wet with hot summers and cool, wet winters.
Why visit Basque Country?
The Basque region is a distinctly separate experience from the rest of Spain. The people pride themselves on their unique culture, heritage, language and food. It’s important to go into the area understanding a bit about it and visiting is integral to understanding even more about it. You’ll also want to put aside plenty of time for eating pintxos, drinking wine, exploring the cities, and tanning on the beaches.
Best time to visitSummer, specifically July and August are the busiest times of the year with the beaches and parking lots getting very crowded. June and September are the warmest months with the fewest crowds. There is always a good bit of rain in the region so no matter when you go you may get a little wet, don’t let that deter you from any time of the year. Though winter is wettest.
Top things to see and do
- Guggenheim Museum: Along Bilbao’s river you’ll find the Guggenheim Museum which is renowned for its exterior architecture but also has an impressive interior art collection.
- Eat & Drink: Famous not only for its delicious and bountiful pintxos, Basque region also has a mean wine crop thanks to the Rioja region. Stairway to Heaven: At the religious site, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, enjoy the magnificent trek to the top of the island along a long, winding staircase.
- Surf: Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned pro, grab a board and hit the waves in San Sebastian. You’ll be more than welcome.
- Sunbathe: Some of the country’s best city beaches can be found in Basque country, in the seaside city of San Sebastian to be exact.
- La Rioja region: World famous for wines, picturesque hilltop towns, and award winning architecture of its wineries.
- Bilbao: Much more than the Guggenheim, full of old town charm, and an industrial past reborn into contemporary edgy culture.
- San Sebastian: Classy, seaside town full of pintxo bars, shopping, and people watching along its nice boardwalks.
Where to stay in Basque Region
Many visitors consider the cities - San Sebastian, or Bilbao. Good for beaches, pintxo bars, nightlife and nature. Close to the sea, national parks, and France. A glimpse into alternative culture and people watching. Smaller beach towns and villages in La Rioja are also becoming popular options.More : Where to stay
Getting around in Basque Region
A car is not a bad idea but it’s also not essential. Once you’re in your city, or cities, of choice, you’ll have little need for it and parking will prove difficult and expensive. Your best option is to take out a daily car hire when you want to get out of the cities for a day trip and return it when you arrive, you’ll save yourself the headache of parking.More : Essential information
Day trips from Barcelona
There are many excursion and day trip options on the Basque coast, inland, and within easy reach from the cities of San Sebastian and Bilbao. Even luxurious, glamorous seaside cities in France. La Rioja in the southern part of Basque country is renowned for its wine and you’ve probably been drinking it at every restaurant in the area. You can easily reach most destinations in an hour’s drive from wherever you are, or you can hire a tour.More : Day trips ideas
What to eat and drink in Basque Country
Basque country is a big region for food and drink. From the humble Pintxos to Michelin starred restaurants. The region is cozy and intimate enough to pop across towns for a meal, 3 meals of the day in 3 different towns.
- Chuleta (eat): rib-eye steak, inherently Basque and perfectly delectable. Where: Restaurante Urbano, San Sebastian.
- Pil-pil cod (eat): salted cod cooked in simply in a clay pot with oil, salt and often served with potatoes. Where: Bascook, Bilbao
- Squid in its own ink (eat): While the black of the ink may be off putting this is a simple, delicious seafood dish. Where: La Muralla, San Sebastian
- La Rioja wine (drink): The local wine is absolutely drinkable and smooth. Get it almost anywhere.
- Txakoli (drink): A dry, fizzy, low alcoholic white wine can be found at many a pintxo bar around town.
- Cider (drink): Fresh from barrels, made from apples around the region. Best had in the sprint at cider houses outside San Sebastian.
Planning a Basque Region visit as a family
The Basque region works for everyone. Cities - San Sebastian and Bilbao - have nearby, sandy, shallow beaches, and open green spaces. The whole region is full of pintxo bars which are great for youngsters grazing style of eating. Do keep an eye on seating, many bars don’t have any.
Visiting Basque Region as a couple
The old towns in the region are a magically romantic place. Stroll the old, narrow streets, sometimes only steps from the stunning sea. Go on a wine tasting tour through the Rioja region. Or grab an overnight in one of the magical vineyards in the area.