From City to Sand: The Ultimate Basque Country Road Trip

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If you’re keen to get plenty of sunshine and belly-busting cuisine on your next driving holiday, you can’t go wrong with a road trip through Spain’s beautiful Basque Country! Located on the nation’s north coast, the region is famed for its great surfing beaches, cosmopolitan cites and fab food. 

Sound like your kind of holiday destination? Here’s how to make the most of this charming corner of Spain in your car. 

Six epic places to visit on a Basque Country road trip

If you’re beginning your holiday in the city of Bilbao, the best way to see as much as possible of the region is to explore a little bit of the dramatic Bay of Biscay coastline first before venturing further inland. 

Whether you want to go wine tasting, mooch around art galleries or ride some waves, here are a few must-see spots to add to your itinerary:

Have an artistic baptism of fire in Bilbao

Whether you fancy yourself a bit of an afficionado or you don’t know your Van Gogh from your Da Vinci, Bilbao is an awesome city to swot up on your artistic knowledge. 

The biggest city in the Basque Country, it sits on the Bilbao Estuary and is packed with awesome creative venues. Hotspots include the space-age Guggenheim Museum, where you can view works by the likes of Andy Warhol and Mark Rothko, and the Museum of Fine Arts inside Doña Casilda Iturrizar park which houses collections from Picasso, Goya and various prominent local artists. 

Now if real art for you is served up on your plate, the city also has a top-notch restaurant scene, with seafood dishes a specialty on most menus. If you’re just after a light snack, head to a bar in the Old Town for a refreshing drink and some pintxos – the Basque Country’s answer to mouth-watering Spanish tapas. 

Driving time: If you’re driving from Bilbao International Airport, you’ll be in the heart of the city in around 20 minutes. 

Basque Country Road Trip

Channel your inner surfer dude (or dudette) in Mundaka  

Both keen surfers and complete novices will be in good hands with a pitstop in breathtaking Mundaka. Found on the region’s central coast and less than an hour from Bilbao, it’s listed as one of the top surfing beaches in the world. Hang ten dudes! 

Mundaka also sits within the stunning Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, making the beach and fishing town of the same name great locations to visit regardless of whether you want to hit the waves. If you’re not a surfer yourself or have only surfed a couple of times in the past, find a comfortable spot on the harbour walls or at a nearby café to watch the pros hit the water to master the Mundaka waves instead. 

Driving time: It takes about 40 minutes to reach Mundaka from Bilbao.

Get to grips with the area’s war history in Gernika

Recognise the name of this sleepy Basque town? That’s because it shares a name with one of Pablo Picasso’s most famous and moving masterpieces! The Gernika mural – which is actually housed in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid – brings to life a famous event in the town during the Spanish Civil War when it was bombed by the Nazis. 

To stand at the exact spot where the bombing took place or discover everything there is to know about the tiny town’s turbulent past at the Gernika Peace Museum, make sure you put the town on your Basque Country bucket list. 

Driving time: Gernika is just an easy 20 minute drive from Mundaka.

Visit visually stunning structures and rural vistas in Vitoria-Gasteiz

Thought Bilbao was the region’s capital? It’s actually the more southerly city of Vitoria-Gasteiz which is well worth spending a day or two in thanks to its numerous beautiful heritage sites. Make sure you visit the city’s medieval quarter to admire the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria and gaze up at the glorious Renaissance-era Montehermoso palace which now houses a fantastic cultural centre.

Vitoria-Gasteiz is additionally surrounded on all sides by beautiful green spaces if you fancy a day out in the Spanish sunshine. Wander through enchanting woodland in Zabalgana Park or spot local wildlife in the wetlands of Salburua. 

Driving time: The Basque capital is approximately 70 minutes south of Gernika by car.

The Basque Country Road Trip

Satisfy your inner wine lover in Laguardia

Rioja may be the most famous winemaking area in Spain – but did you know the Basque Country is also known for producing world-class vino? Wine lovers absolutely can’t miss a trip to the picture-perfect medieval town of Laguardia that sits at the very heart of some of the region’s most prominent wineries. 

Picture yourself strolling around the city’s charming cobbled streets and popping into a vineyard to sip on a glass of local Tempranillo and soak up spectacular countryside views. 

Driving time: From Vitoria-Gasteiz to Laguardia, you’ll be cruising in your rental car for around 50 minutes.

Treat yourself to lazy beach days and gourmet goodies in San Sebastián

If you’ve always wanted to vacation like a celeb, a few days in glam San Sebastián is the way to go. The coastal resort is the perfect destination to finish off a Basque Country road trip and it has oodles of appeal thanks to its golden Bay of Biscay coastline and fabulous restaurant scene. 

You’ll find dozens of places to sit, eat and celeb spot while feasting on local delights and delicious gourmet treats. The streets are paved with insta-ready spots perfect for a snap! There’s also no fewer than five restaurants which boast 16 Michelin stars between them – that’s the highest concentration of award-winning restaurants on the planet. That should keep you going for a while!

It’s around two hours to drive directly between Laguardia and San Sébastien. Why not make a quick detour and hop over the county border into Navarre to see Pamplona? The city is famed for its iconic Festival of the Bulls which takes place each July – just make sure don’t wear red!

Driving time: Two hours if you drive directly from LaGuardia.

Prepping for a Basque Country road trip 

Now you’ve got an exciting route and incredible itinerary mapped out, it’s worth thinking about where you’ll pick up and drop off your hire car. Bilbao Airport is a prime place to rent a car, plus you’ll find a Europcar office in San Sebastien for when you’re finally ready to head back home. 

A bit rusty on the old’ European driving rules? Refresh your memory before you set off to avoid any delays or accidents during your unforgettable road trip around Spain’s Basque Country. 

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