San Sebastián, cities in northern spain

10 Best Places to Visit in Northern Spain | Itineraries + Map

Deciding where to go and what to see in northern Spain is no easy feat. There are so many beautiful places worth visiting, so your itinerary will depend on your interests and the length of your trip. Regardless, I can assure you that the north of Spain is full of green landscapes and delicious food, so you won’t be disappointed.

The biggest challenge when traveling in northern Spain is choosing a route since there are different autonomous communities you can go through. The northern part of the country generally refers to the regions of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, and the Basque Country, so those are the areas I’m focusing on in this guide.

Each of these communities has lovely places and attractions, so keep reading to discover the best northern Spain itinerary and travel ideas.

Guide to planning your northern Spain road trip

There are numerous beaches, mountains, and cities in northern Spain’s four autonomous communities, so I recommend planning ahead. This way, you can make the most of your trip and see all the places that match your interests and preferences.

In this guide, I’ll include several itineraries through the north of Spain to help you organize a route through this region. You’ll find travel ideas for a weekend getaway as well as longer trips up to two weeks. I’m also sharing some tips for your vacation and my top 10 best places to visit in northern Spain.

1. Bilbao, one of the best cities in northern Spain

First, Bilbao is one of the most popular cities in northern Spain, so it’s a must-see. It’s located in the Basque Country and has undergone some impressive changes in recent years, making it a hub for culture and history.

One of the crown jewels of Bilbao is the Guggenheim Museum, which was designed by famous architect Frank Gehry. In addition to its iconic façade, floral puppy sculpture, and unique structure, the inside of the museum is full of intriguing contemporary art exhibits. If you plan on visiting, I recommend getting your tickets in advance to avoid long lines.

Bilbao, cities in northern spain

1. Bilbao, one of the best cities in northern Spain

Besides the Guggenheim, I also suggest watching the sunset from the Marzana Pier, a fun place to socialize and grab drinks. You should also stroll through the Arenal, La Ribera Market, and the arches of Plaza Nueva.

You can get a general overview of the city by taking this free tour. Also, Bilbao has some of the best food in northern Spain, so I recommend going out for pintxos, or tapas. Some common pintxos here include gilda (green olives, gherkins, pickled green chiles, and anchovies) as well as various cheeses and meats.

  • Recommended accommodation: If you can, book a room at the Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao, one of the best 5-star hotels in Spain that’s located in front of the Guggenheim Museum. It was designed by Spanish artist Javier Mariscal and has a spectacular rooftop terrace overlooking the city.

2. San Sebastián, a city with some of the best food in northern Spain

Another city in northern Spain’s Basque Country that you must visit is San Sebastián. It’s always included in the top 5 lists of the most beautiful cities in Spain, and it’s not hard to see why.

One of the most striking features of San Sebastián is that its bay is framed by Mount Igueldo and the island of Santa Clara. This city is home to a couple of urban beaches as well as Playa de la Concha, one of the best beaches in Spain. So, if you’re traveling during the summer, this is a stop you must make along the north coast of Spain.

San Sebastián, cities in northern spain

2. San Sebastián, a city with some of the best food in northern Spain

While you’re here, I recommend taking a stroll along the Zurriola Beach Promenade. Follow it around Monte Urgull, along the Paseo Nuevo, and cross the bay to Ondarreata Beach. There, you can see the Peine del Viento, an impressive sculpture by Spanish artists Eduardo Chillida and Peña Gantxegi.

It’s also worth visiting the city center, which is full of plazas, bridges, buildings, and restaurants. In fact, San Sebastián is another great place to eat in northern Spain, thanks to its delicious pintxos. The best way to sample all the delicious options is by taking this gourmet pintxos tour.

3. Cudillero, one of the most charming places in northern Spain

Over in Asturias, Cudillero is considered one of the most beautiful towns in Spain, so I highly recommend adding it to your northern Spain itinerary. The town’s biggest draw is its unique landscape, which features colorful houses nestled around the blue sea and among the green trees.

Cudillero, best things to do in northern spain

3. Cudillero, one of the most charming places in northern Spain

In addition, the nearby community of Castañeras is home to Playa del Silencio, one of the best beaches in Spain with virgin sands and a rustic environment. It’s in the shape of a shell that curves around a rocky cliff, which acts as a natural barrier against the wind. This makes the waters here very calm, so it’s a pleasant beach in northern Spain that you can visit for some peace and quiet.

  • Recommended accommodation: Stay at Casona de La Paca, an old Asturian country house with a welcoming atmosphere. It’s surrounded by lush gardens filled with the typical vegetation of Asturias, so it’s a relaxing place to rest before continuing your trip.

4. Santiago de Compostela, a must-see on your route through the north of Spain

If there’s one thing in the north of Spain that you must do at least once in your life, it’s the Camino de Santiago. This is one of the most important hikes in Spain and a sacred pilgrimage that ends in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.

This city is the perfect place to end such a monumental hike, as it’s full of history and religious significance. One of its most iconic landmarks is its cathedral, which was built at the site where the hidden tomb of the Apostle Santiago was discovered in the 9th century. Since then, devout followers have been making the pilgrimage here, and in 1805, King Alfonso VI ordered that a Romanesque cathedral be built. You can learn more about the Santiago Cathedral on this guided tour.

Santiago de Compostela, northern spain road trip

4. Santiago de Compostela, a must-see on your route through the north of Spain

I also suggest you go to the Church of San Martiño Pinario, Alameda Park, and the Plaza de Cervantes, as well as stop at some of the bars and restaurants for some delicious Galician food. Another excellent city tour is this one, which goes to sites like the Palacio de Rajoy, the Plaza de Laterías, and the University of Santiago.

  • Recommended accommodation: Stay at the Parador de Santiago – Hostal Reis Católicos, a beautiful 15th-century building next to the Santiago Cathedral. It used to be an accommodation for traveling pilgrims, and it still has its original vaulted ceilings, stone arches, and tapestries. It also has two restaurants where you can order Mediterranean and Galician dishes.

5. The Lakes of Covadonga, another place to visit in northern Spain

While you’re exploring the northern region of Spain, you can’t miss the Picos de Europa. Not only is this one of the top national parks in Spain, but it’s also home to the Lakes of Covadonga, a magnificent natural treasure.

If you love nature, I can’t recommend this place enough since it has the most beautiful landscapes in the north of Spain. The famous Enol and Ercina Lakes are gorgeous, and the Queen Viewpoint is the perfect spot to look for native birds like bearded vultures and golden eagles.

Lakes of Covadonga, best things to do in northern spain

5. The Lakes of Covadonga, another place to visit in northern Spain

Also, some of the best tours through the north of Spain leave from the Lakes of Covadonga, so if you want to discover more about this incredible environment, you can do so. I recommend this excursion, which includes a visit to a vega, a dwelling where shepherds live during the summer to rest and make Gamoneu cheese, a famous product of this area.

  • Recommended accommodation: The Arcea Gran Hotel Pelayo is in the center of the Picos de Europa National Park, so it’s a good place to spend the night. From here, you’ll have nice views of the Cathedral of Covadonga.

6. Santillana del Mar, a medieval town in the north of Spain

Santillana del Mar is another one of the best places to visit in northern Spain. While its name refers to the town being holy, flat, and by the sea, it has none of these characteristics, which is why it’s also known as “the town of the three lies”. That said, there is a lot to do and see in this Asturian town, so I recommend adding it to your northern Spain itinerary.

First, this is one of the most important medieval towns in the country, with thousands of years of history. The best way to learn more about its great historical and artistic value is by taking this free tour (in Spanish). A guide will lead you through the cobbled streets and past iconic landmarks like the House of the Marqués de Santillana and the House of the Archduchess of Austria.

Santillana del Mar, northern spain weather

6. Santillana del Mar, a medieval town in the north of Spain

If you prefer something more adventurous, check out the Altamira Museum and the Neocave, a life-size replica of the original Paleolithic caves. This excursion includes a guided tour of the archaeological wonder, its cave paintings, and other curiosities.

7. Playa de las Catedrales, one of the best beaches in northern Spain

The northern coast of Spain is absolutely gorgeous, and it has one of the most unique beaches in the entire country. Playa de las Catedrales in Lugo, Galicia is considered one of the best beaches in Spain, so you must include it in your travel plans.

Playa de las Catedrales is one of the most popular tourist attractions in northern Spain, so much so that it’s known by its nickname rather than its original name of Aguas Santas (Holy Waters). Tourists began calling it the “Beach of the Cathedrals” since the gigantic rock formations here create arches and towers that resemble churches.

Playa de las Catedrales, beaches in northern spain

7. Playa de las Catedrales, one of the best beaches in northern Spain

If you want to visit this beach in northern Spain but if you don’t have a car, consider this excursion from La Coruña. It’ll take you to Playa de las Catedrales as well as the city of Lugo so you can see its Roman wall.

  • Recommended accommodation: Stay at the Hotel Playa de las Catedrales, which faces the Cantabrian Sea and is within walking distance of Playa de las Catedrales and Arealonga Beach.

8. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, an amazing place to see in northern Spain

Back in the Basque Country, in the town of Bermeo, the island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a unique place to add to your northern Spain road trip. This gorgeous setting looks like a fantasy land, and it kind of is since it was one of the filming locations for Game of Thrones.

The island is connected to the mainland by a stone bridge, and you can walk along the 241-stepped path to reach the top. It’s worth the effort to climb these famous stone steps, which lead to a hermitage and a place that’s believed to have been visited by John the Baptist. The hermitage has a bell, and it’s said that if you touch it three times, you’ll have good luck, while others think that if you make a wish here, it’ll come true.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, northern spain itinerary

8. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, an amazing place to see in northern Spain

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is just over 20 miles from Bilbao, another must-see city in northern Spain. You can easily drive there or take this tour from Bilbao if you don’t have a car. The tour includes a stop at the historic city of Guernica, where the first Nazi air raid occurred.

  • Recommended accommodation: The Ureta Landa Gaztelugatxe apartments are a good option since they are surrounded by a beautiful landscape and are located just over a mile from Areaga Beach.

9. Cíes Islands, a dreamy place to visit on the coast of northern Spain

Another wonderful stop to include on your itinerary through northern Spain is the Cíes Islands. These islands have a privileged location in Galicia and are full of history and beauty.

Back when the Romans passed through this archipelago, they left behind traces of their culture, including pottery and artifacts. Today, you can see these objects in the Pontevedra Museum along the Lérez River in Galicia. Legend has it that Julius Caesar came here during the persecution of the Portuguese people of herminios, who sailed here after fleeing the troops of the Empire.

Cíes Islands, most beautiful places in northern spain

9. Cíes Islands, a dreamy place to visit on the coast of northern Spain

In the Middle Ages, various religious communities began to inhabit the Cíes Islands, but they were wiped out in the mid-18th century by pirates and the English navy. After this, people began repopulating the island, and by the late 20th century, the area had become a declared Natural Park and a Special Protection Area for Birds.

Since 2002, the Cíes Islands have been part of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park, along with the archipelagos of Ons, Sálvora, and Cortegada. If you come here, you must visit Playa de Rodas, one of the best beaches in northern Spain with impressive pine forests. Be aware that only 2,200 people can visit per day, so it’s best to book this ticket in advance, which includes the ferry ride and permit to access the beach.

10. San Vicente de la Barquera, the perfect place for a northern Spain holiday

Finally, San Vicente de la Barquera is a spectacular destination in northern Spain that you should visit. This fishing village is on the western coast of Cantabria and is surrounded by one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.

What stands out about this place is its medieval history and architecture, including the Puente de la Maza and the ruins of the Convent of San Luis. You should also check out the old town (Puebla Vieja), which has been declared a Historic-Artistic Site.

San Vicente de la Barquera, north of spain tours

10. San Vicente de la Barquera, the perfect place for a northern Spain holiday

From there, you can continue along Calle Alta to the Palacio de los Corro, which has been converted into the Town Hall. The Church of Santa María de Los Angeles is at the end of the street, and the Castillo del Rey is also nearby.

Of course, a different way to explore this northern Spanish town is by taking this kayaking excursion through the San Vicente estuary. You’ll get great views of the historic town center while enjoying some exercise.

  • Recommended accommodation: Just over a mile from the town center, you’ll find the Posada Punta Liñera. This charming rural property has a terrace overlooking the countryside, the Bay of Biscay, and the beautiful surroundings of Cantabria.

Northern Spain map

To help you organize your northern Spain itinerary, here is a map with all the attractions and cities I mentioned:

I’m also sharing some ideas for planning a road trip through northern Spain, whether you just have a weekend, or you can stay for a couple of weeks.

Best road trip itineraries in northern Spain

Now that you know the best places to visit in northern Spain, here are some itinerary suggestions for a weekend trip and longer road trips of 4, 7, 10, and 15 days.

For the best weekend visit in northern Spain, consider spending some time exploring the Basque Country. Below you’ll find the route we took during one of our trips.

Day 1: Bilbao

Bilbao is one of the best cities in northern Spain’s Basque Country, so I definitely recommend adding it to your itinerary. It’s not very big, so you should be able to see most of it in one day.

If you prefer a guided overview of the city, consider doing this free tour in the morning. If you’re exploring on your own, check out the Guggenheim Museum. It’s worth seeing both the outside and inside of the museum, so book your ticket in advance to avoid long lines.

In the afternoon, walk along the water toward Casco Viejo, where you can see the beautiful Arriaga Theater. This area is also full of bars and restaurants where you can try the most delicious pintxos.

I also recommend visiting La Ribera Market and the Santiago Cathedral, then ending your day in Plaza Nueva.

Day 2: San Sebastián

The next day, get up early and head to San Sebastián, another lovely city in northern Spain. It’s about 60 miles away, so it’ll take about an hour and 15 minutes to drive there.

Once you reach San Sebastián, check out the Zurriola Beach Promenade and walk around Monte Urgull and Paseo Nuevo. From there, you can cross the bay to Ondarreta Beach, where you’ll find the Peine del Viento sculpture.

Then, head into the city center and discover its plazas, bridges, and buildings. It’s also worth doing this gourmet pintxos tour to try some delicious food. Also, a visit to San Sebastián isn’t complete without a stop at La Concha Beach, one of the best beaches in Spain.

  • Recommended accommodation: You’ll love the Hotel María Cristina, one of the most luxurious hotels in northern Spain with great views of the Cantabrian Sea and the Urumea River.

If you have a couple more days to add to your itinerary through northern Spain, you’ll be able to discover some of the charming areas in Cantabria and Asturias.

Day 1: Santander and San Vicente de la Barquera

Start your northern Spain road trip in Santander, Cantabria with a tour of the Magdalena Peninsula. Then, continue along the Sardinero to see the most beautiful beaches in Santander, including Mataleñas Beach and the Cabo Mayor Lighthouse. Finish up the morning with a visit to the Botín Center and the Paseo Marítimo.

For the second half of the day, go to San Vicente de la Barquera, which is about 35 miles (30 minutes) from Santander.

Start your visit here by crossing the Puente de la Maza to the ruins of the Convent of San Luis. Then, follow Mata Linares Street to the Puebla Vieja (old town) and see the Tower of the Provost. Along Calle Alta, you can see the Palacio de los Corro, which is now the Town Hall, as well as the Church of Santa María de Los Angeles. If you have time, go to the Castillo del Rey.

  • Recommended accommodation: Stay at the Posada Punta Liñera, a rural estate that’s a mile from San Vicente de la Barquera’s city center. It has a lovely terrace that overlooks the countryside and the Bay of Biscay.

Day 2: Llanes and its beaches

After spending the night in San Vicente de la Barquera, get up early and head to Llanes, Asturias. It’s 25 miles away, so it’s only about a 30-minute drive.

Take this opportunity to visit beautiful Gulpiyuri Beach, one of the best beaches in Spain and one of the smallest beaches in the world. It’s also worth seeing Playa de Poo, a family-friendly beach with gentle waves.

In the afternoon, you can visit the port of Llanes and its famous Cubes of Memory, which are painted rocks that serve as a breakwater. Then, take a walk through Llanes’ historic center, which is an Asset of Cultural Interest and a Historic-Artistic Site. Later, enjoy a nice dinner to end your day.

  • Recommended accommodation: One of the best places to stay is the Hotel Sablón, which is located on a cliff. Along with lovely views, it offers direct beach access.

Day 3: Ribadesella, Lastres, and Tazones

The next stop on this northern Spain road trip is Ribadesella. It’s also in Asturias, and it takes less than 30 minutes to drive the 20 miles to Ribadesella from Llanes.

Once you arrive, head to the pier where you can take a stroll along the water and through the old town. Check out the Casa de los Ardines, the Casona del Escudo, and the Prieto Cutre Palace, which is now the Town Hall.

Before lunch, I suggest going to Lastres, one of the most beautiful towns in Spain that’s about 20 miles from Ribadesella. It’s known for its steep and narrow streets as well as the Mirador de San Roque, an incredible viewpoint where you can see the town, the sea, and the mountains.

Then, end the day at Tazones, which is less than 20 miles from Lastres. You must walk through the town center and see the iconic shell house (Casa de las Conchas).

Day 4: Cangas de Onís and Lakes of Covadonga

To start the fourth day of your northern Spain itinerary, go to Cangas de Onís in Asturias. It’s about 45 miles (1 hour) from Tazones, so I recommend getting up early to maximize your time.

The highlights of this city include the Roman Bridge and the old town, where you can people-watch and relax at a cider house (sagardotegi), a staple of Basque Country culture.

Then, go to the Lakes of Covadonga, the most beautiful place in northern Spain to end your trip. The Lakes of Covadonga is one of the best national parks in Spain and home to magnificent natural wonders like the Enol and Ercina Lakes. You must explore this impressive landscape, and if you prefer a guide, I suggest this excursion.

  • Recommended accommodation: I highly recommend staying at the Arcea Gran Hotel Pelayo, which is in the middle of the Picos de Europa National Park and overlooks the stunning Covadonga Cathedral.

A 7-day itinerary through northern Spain is ideal if you want to explore the areas of the Basque Country, Cantabria, and Asturias. You can see my top destinations and recommendations below, but feel free to change things around to suit your travel plans.

Day 1: Hondarribia and San Sebastián

I’d start this trip through the north of Spain in Hondarribia, in the Basque Country. If you have a rental car, you can park it in the lot by the Puerta de Santa María, then walk into the walled city to see landmarks like Plaza del Obispo, Calle Mayor, and Plaza de Armas.

In the afternoon, head to San Sebastián, which is about a 30-minute (15-mile) drive away. San Sebastián is one of the most charming Spanish cities with an impressive town center. It’s also home to some of Spain’s best beaches, including La Concha Beach.

Day 2: San Sebastián

The next day, take some time to explore the hidden gems of San Sebastián. Walk along Zurriola Beach and go around Monte Urgull. If you follow the Paseo Nuevo and cross the bay, you’ll find Ondarreata Beach and the Peine del Viento sculpture by Spanish artists Eduardo Chillida and Peña Gantxegi.

Afterwards, you can go back to the town center to enjoy some delicious pintxos and Spanish cuisine. This gourmet tour is the best option if you want to try all the typical pintxos of this region.

  • Recommended accommodation: Return to the Hotel María Cristina for a good night’s sleep before continuing your northern Spain road trip.

Day 3: Bilbao

For day three, wake up early and make the drive to Bilbao, one of the best cities in northern Spain. It’s about 65 miles away, so it’ll take about an hour and 15 minutes by car.

Check out the famous Guggenheim Museum and its stunning exterior, which was designed by architect Frank Gehry. It’s also worth browsing the art exhibits inside, so if you plan on visiting, get your ticket in advance.

I also recommend going past the Arenal, La Ribera Market, and the arches of Plaza Nueva. Depending on your interests, it’s worth doing a pintxos tasting or taking this free tour for more insights into the city.

To end your day, you must watch the sunset from the Marzana Pier. It’s a dreamy location where you can spend a romantic evening with your partner and grab a drink.

  • Recommended accommodation: If you can, book a room at the Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao, one of the best 5-star hotels in Spain. It was designed by Spanish architect Javier Mariscal and has an impressive rooftop terrace where you can see the city and its surroundings.

Day 4: Santillana del Mar and Comillas

To start this fourth day of your northern Spain trip, get up early and make your way to Santillana del Mar in Cantabria. It’s 75 miles away, so it’s about a 1.5-hour drive.

Santillana del Mar is a medieval Spanish town with lots of historical and artistic value. You’ll love strolling through its cobblestone streets and past picturesque landmarks like the House of the Marqués de Santillana or the Palace of the Archduchess Margarita of Austria. If you have time, book this free tour (in Spanish) or this guided tour to visit the Altamira Museum and Neocave.

Next, continue your journey by visiting the beautiful town of Comillas, which is about a 20-minute (15-mile) drive away. Don’t miss the most important monuments here like the Plaza de los Tres Caños, the Plaza de la Constitución, the Church of San Cristóbal, and the Capricho Villa by Gaudí.

  • Recommended accommodation: I suggest returning to Santillana del Mar and spending the night at the Parador de Santillana Gil Blas, a modern hotel in the main square.

Day 5: Llanes and Ribadesella

If you spent the night in Santillana del Mar, then you can wake up early and drive to Llanes, Asturias. It’s about 40 miles away, so the drive takes about 45 minutes. Once you reach Llanes, check out the port and see the famous Cubes of Memory along the shoreline. Then, take a walk through the old town, which is a declared Historic-Artistic Site and Asset of Cultural Interest.

Grab some lunch, then drive to Ribadesella, which is just 20 miles from Llanes. You should have enough time to stroll along the pier and see the most famous sights in Ribadesella’s old town.

  • Recommended accommodation: Stay at the Hotel Don Pepe in Ribadesella, a clean hotel with bright and spacious rooms.

Day 6: Cudillero and Luarca

Next, it’s time to visit Cudillero, a must-see area of northern Spain. It’s about 70 miles from Ribadesella, so I suggest getting up early to make the 1 hour and 15-minute drive.

Cudillero is one of the most beautiful towns in Spain and is located on a cliff, so it’s quite scenic. Go up to the La Garita Viewpoint for an amazing perspective of the town, then spend some time exploring the narrow streets of the center. Make your way to the Plaza de la Marina, where you can grab a bite to eat and see the port.

Since Cudillero is pretty small, you should have time to also visit Luarca, which is less than 30 minutes away. This is another charming Spanish town with a bustling port. Take a walk through this small seaside town and discover the Puente del Beso, the Casas de Indianos, and the Gardens of the Fonte Baxa.

  • Recommended accommodation: The Hotel Villa de Luarca is an elegant accommodation with a great location by the town center and the beach.

Day 7: Ribadeo, Playa de las Catedrales, and A Coruña

For the last day of this week-long holiday in northern Spain, go to Ribadeo, which is 30 miles from Luarca and a 30-minute drive away.

One of the sites here that you can’t miss is the Plaza de España. It’s where several iconic buildings and monuments are located, such as the Pazo de Ibáñez and the Torre de los Moreno. Some other places to see in town include the Convent of Santa Clara, the lively port, and the Chapel of San Miguel, which has lovely views.

Also, before leaving Ribadeo, you must visit Playa de las Catedrales, a National Monument and one of the top beaches in Spain. Then, get in the car and head to A Coruña, which is about an hour and a half (95 miles) away.

There are many beautiful things to see in this city, so I suggest taking this free tour (in Spanish) to see as much as possible. You could also visit the historic center on your own and check out popular sites like the Galerías la Marina, the Plaza de María Pita, and the Jardines de Santiago.

  • Recommended accommodation: The NH Collection A Coruña Finisterre has a great location that’s within walking distance of the center and some of the city’s main attractions.

With 10 days in northern Spain, you can expand your itinerary to include the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia.

Day 1: San Sebastián

San Sebastián is one of the most beautiful Spanish cities, as well as an excellent starting point for your northern Spain itinerary. Begin your visit with a stroll along Zurriola Beach, then go around Monte Urgull and follow the Paseo Nuevo to Ondarreta Beach. There, you can see the famous Peine del Viento sculpture.

Continue your adventure by walking through the city center and getting lost among the streets, squares, bridges, and historical buildings. To all this, I must add La Concha Beach, one of the best beaches in Spain. I also recommend this gourmet tour, especially if you want to try the most popular pintxos in San Sebastián.

  • Recommended accommodation: Stay at the Hotel María Cristina, one of the best 5-star hotels in Spain that’s across from the Victoria Eugenia Theater. Not only is the inside gorgeous, but you’ll have great views of the Cantabrian Sea and the Urumea River.

Day 2: Bilbao

Bilbao is another city in northern Spain that you can easily explore on foot, and you can see all its main tourist attractions in one day. It’s 65 miles from San Sebastián, so I recommend waking up early to make the one hour and 15-minute drive.

Start your visit to Bilbao with this free tour, or check out the famous Guggenheim Museum. It was built by famed architect Frank Gehry and is known for its floral puppy sculpture out front. If you plan on looking at the art exhibits inside, I suggest getting your ticket in advance.

Afterwards, head toward the estuary and follow it to the Casco Viejo, where you can see the Arriaga Theater. It’s also worth visiting La Ribera Market, the Santiago Cathedral, and Plaza Nueva. Along the way, be sure to stop for delectable pintxos.

Day 3: Castro Urdiales, Faro del Caballo, and Santander

The third day of this northern Spain road trip begins with a visit to Castro Urdiales, a city in Cantabria with beautiful beaches, a lively port, and an interesting old town. It’s just 20 miles from Bilbao, so it’ll only take about a half hour to drive there.

After spending the morning discovering Castro Urdiales, make your way to Santander, stopping at the Faro del Caballo along the way. This picturesque place is located between some seaside cliffs, and it’s about 25 from Castro Urdiales. Be aware that if you make this pitstop and climb the 763 steps of the cliffs, it’ll cut into your time at Santander, which is 30 miles from here.

Regardless of whether or not you take this detour, you should get to Santander with enough time to walk through the Sardinero and enjoy a cold beer at the Cabo Mayor Lighthouse, which offers stunning views.

  • Recommended accommodation: The NH Ciudad de Santander is a simple, clean hotel with a great location, so it’s a good value for your money.

Day 4: Santillana del Mar, Altamira Caves, and Comillas

For day four, I suggest making a stop in Santillana del Mar, where you can see the famous Cuevas de Altamira, one of the most important Paleolithic sites in the world. Santillana del Mar is an intriguing medieval town in northern Spain that’s less than 20 miles from Santander, so it’ll only take a half hour to get there.

Use your time in Santillana del Mar to visit the Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana, Plaza Mayor, and the historic town center, which is characterized by cobblestone streets and small mountain homes. You can either do this free tour to learn more about the city, or this guided tour, which takes you to the Altamira Museum and the Neocave.

Later, make the 20-minute drive to Comillas, one of the most scenic towns in Cantabria. Here, you can see one of the few works by Gaudí that’s outside of Catalonia, the Capricho Villa. Some other highlights of this city include the Sobrellano Palace, the Chapel Pantheon of the Marquises of Comillas, and the historic center, where you’ll find the Fuente de los Tres Caños (the Fountain of the Three Pipes).

I recommend returning back to Santillana del Mar to spend the night.

Day 5: Cabezón de la Sal Sequoia Forest, Llanes, and its beaches

If you spent the night in Santillana del Mar, you’ll be less than 20 minutes from the Cabezón de la Sal Sequoia Forest. This is one of the best places to visit in northern Spain, especially for nature lovers, as the redwoods here reach up to 130 feet tall. The route through the forest takes about two hours and is absolutely breathtaking.

After your forest trek, go to Llanes, which is just 30 minutes away. This Asturian city is full of beaches and coves, although it also has a lovely historic center. Take some time to enjoy the coast as well as the interesting monuments and buildings in town.

  • Recommended accommodation: Sleep at the Hotel Sablón, a cliffside accommodation with amazing views and direct beach access.

Day 6: Lakes of Covadonga, Covadonga, and Cangas de Onís

Next, it’s best to get up early so you can make the one hour and 20-minute drive to the Lakes of Covadonga with time to spare. This place is within the Picos de Europa National Park, one of the best national parks in Spain and a must-see during your tour of northern Spain.

This natural wonder is full of pristine landscapes, the glacial lakes of Enol and Ercina, as well as incredible attractions like the Sanctuary of Covadonga. This is where you can take a nature walk, breathe the fresh mountain air, and mingle with the grazing cows.

You can visit the Lakes of Covadonga for free, although I like this guided tour since it starts from Cangas de Onís, another place I recommend visiting. There, you can see the old Roman Bridge and the historic center. It’s full of churches and hermitages, most notably the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption of St. Mary and the hermitage of Santa Cruz.

  • Recommended accommodation: The Arcea Gran Hotel Pelayo is in the middle of the Picos de Europa National Park and offers beautiful views of the Covadonga Cathedral, so it’s the perfect place to rest after a full day.

Day 7: Gijón and Oviedo

The next stop is Gijón, which is about 60 miles away, so get up early to make the 1.5-hour drive. Once you get there, start with a walk along San Lorenzo Beach, then go up to the Cerro de Santa Catalina and see the Elogio del Horizonte sculpture over the water.

Later, check out the Cimadevilla neighborhood, the oldest part of the city with interesting sites like the Palacio de Revillagigedo, Plaza del Marqués, and Plaza Mayor. You can also do this free tour (in Spanish) if you prefer a guided walk through the city.

Depending on how much time you have, you can stop by the port or go to Oviedo, which is about a 30-minute drive away. This city in northern Spain is full of historic attractions like El Fontán Square and the Plaza de la Catedral, where you can see the Cathedral of San Salvador.

I also recommend walking through the city center and looking for the interesting statues of famous figures. For example, on Calle Milicias Nacionales, you’ll find a Woody Allen statue, while San Francisco Park has a statue of the Argentine cartoon character Mafalda. Finally, you can’t leave Oviedo without stopping at La Gascona for delicious cider.

  • Recommended accommodation: The beautiful Gran Hotel España is the best place to stay thanks to its spacious rooms and great location by the city center.

Day 8: Ribadeo and Playa de las Catedrales

Ribadeo should be included in any northern Spain itinerary, so don’t miss it. Make sure you get up early so you can drive the 85 miles to Ribadeo from Oviedo, which will take about 1.5 hours.

Among the many attractions here, the Plaza de España stands out. It’s home to two historical monuments, the Pazo de Ibáñez and the Torre de los Moreno. You should also walk through the streets of the city center to see the Convent of Santa Clara and the Chapel of San Miguel, as well as the port.

There are also excellent lookout points here, such as the Ribadeo Watchtower and the Isla Pancha Viewpoint. That said, you should definitely make time to visit Playa de las Catedrales, one of the best beaches in Spain that’s also a National Monument.

  • Recommended accommodation: Stay at the Hotel Playa de las Catedrales, which faces the Cantabrian Sea and is next to Arealonga Beach. Plus, it’s just a ten-minute walk from Playa de las Catedrales.

Day 9: A Coruña

If you’re leaving from Playa de las Catedrales, then make sure you wake up early enough to make the 1.5-hour drive (95 miles) to A Coruña. This city in northern Spain’s Galicia region is a must-see, and if it’s your first time here, consider taking this free tour.

If you’re visiting the city on your own, I recommend stopping by the promenade, where you can see the Castle of San Antón and the Sculpture Park of the Tower of Hercules. Another iconic site is the Ciudad Vieja, the old part of the city with some of the best tapas.

You’ll also find some of the best beaches in Galicia here, such as Riazor Beach, a beautiful place in northern Spain to go swimming or sunbathing. Finally, I suggest ending your day with a walk around the port and admiring the amazing views of A Coruña from Monte de San Pedro.

Day 10: Santiago de Compostela

The last day of this northern Spain itinerary involves a visit to Santiago de Compostela, which is about 50 minutes from A Coruña by car.

Once you reach the city, consider taking this free tour or exploring the tourist attractions on your own. Of course, one of the sites you must see is the Santiago Cathedral, which is the final destination for pilgrims making the trek along the Camino de Santiago, one of the most important hikes in Spain. You can learn all about the secrets of this church by taking this guided tour.

I also recommend roaming the streets of the old city and walking through the Parque de la Alameda, an urban park full of chestnut, eucalyptus, and oak trees. The Mercado de Abastos is a market that’s been around for over a century, so I suggest stopping by to browse or pick up some products. If you like art, the City of Culture of Galicia is a complex of cultural and artistic buildings that you’ll find interesting.

  • Recommended accommodation: Stay at the Parador de Santiago – Hostal Reis Católicos, a beautiful 15th-century building next to the Santiago Cathedral. It still has some of its original architecture, as well as two delicious restaurants specializing in Mediterranean and Galician food.

A 15-day road trip through northern Spain is the perfect opportunity to get to know this area of the country in depth. Here is the route I suggest following:

Day 1: Hondarribia and San Sebastián

This 15-day northern Spain itinerary begins in Hondarribia in the Basque Country. I recommend leaving your rental car in the parking lot by the Puerta de Santa María and heading into the city on foot. There, you can visit points of interest like Plaza del Obispo, Calle Mayor, and Plaza de Armas.

After strolling through town, head to San Sebastián, which is about a 30-minute (15-mile) drive from Hondarribia. San Sebastián is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain, as well as where you can see La Concha Beach, one of Spain’s best beaches.

Day 2: San Sebastián

Dedicate day two of your tour through northern Spain by exploring the ins and outs of San Sebastián. I recommend going around Monte Urgull, where you’ll find the Paseo Nuevo. If you follow it to the end, you’ll reach Ondarreta Beach and the famous Peine del Viento sculpture.

Continue your visit by spending some time in the city center, which is full of interesting plazas, bridges, and historical buildings. You also can’t leave San Sebastián without trying the typical pintxos, either by stopping at a café or taking this gourmet tour.

  • Recommended accommodation: Spend another night at the Hotel María Cristina, or book this place for your second night if you didn’t stay here the first night.

Day 3: Bilbao

On day three, wake up early and head to Bilbao, which is 65 miles from San Sebastián, or about a one hour and 15-minute drive away. This is another city in northern Spain that you can explore on foot, so consider taking this free tour to get to know all the main attractions.

Of course, the crown jewel of Bilbao is the Guggenheim Museum, which is known for its floral puppy sculpture and mesmerizing architecture by Frank Gehry. If you want to go inside the museum and peruse the art collection, I recommend getting your tickets in advance.

Afterwards, follow the estuary to the Casco Viejo (old town), where you can see the Arriaga Theater. Some other cool places in Bilbao include La Ribera Market, the Santiago Cathedral, and Plaza Nueva. Of course, be sure to stop and try some pintxos that are typical to Bilbao.

Day 4: Santander

The next day, take some time to discover the beautiful city of Santander. This free tour is a great introduction to Santander, although you can also explore the city on your own. If you do, I recommend starting with a little tour around the Magdalena Peninsula, one of the most beautiful places in northern Spain.

For your next stop, head to El Sardinero, one of the most popular beaches in Santander. It’s also worth visiting Mataleñas Beach, where you can admire the lovely views from the Cabo Mayor Lighthouse. Another way to get a panoramic perspective of the area is by taking the Río de la Pila funicular.

End your day with a visit to two iconic places in the city, the Botín Center and the Paseo Marítimo.

  • Recommended accommodation: The NH Ciudad de Santander is a simple hotel, but it’s clean, well-located, and a great value for your money.

Day 5: Santillana del Mar and Comillas

Santillana del Mar is a must-see in northern Spain, so for day five of your itinerary, I suggest heading there. This medieval Spanish town is less than 20 miles from Santander, so it’s only about a 30-minute drive.

The Cuevas de Altamira is the most famous attraction in the city, although you should also check out the Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana, Plaza Mayor, and the historic old town, with its cobbled streets and small mountain homes. If you have time, consider this free tour (in Spanish) or this guided tour to the Altamira Museum and Neocave.

That same day, you can go to Comillas since it’s just 12 miles (20 minutes by car) from Santillana del Mar. This city is home to some beautiful structures, like the Sobrellano Palace, the Chapel Pantheon of the Marqueses de Comillas, and the Fuente de Tres Caños (The Fountain of Three Pipes). This is also where you can see one of the few works by Gaudí outside of Catalonia, the Capricho Villa.

Day 6: San Vicente de la Barquera and Cueva del Soplao

The sixth day of this northern Spain itinerary begins in San Vicente de la Barquera in Cantabria, just 25 minutes away. I suggest starting your visit here by crossing the Puente de la Maza and seeing the Convent of San Luis, an iconic landmark in the city.

Then, cross the town and follow Mata Linares Street to Puebla Vieja, or the old town. Here, you can see the Provost Tower and the Palacio de los Corro, which is now the Town Hall. If you have time, you can visit the Castillo del Rey, although I highly recommend seeing the Cueva del Soplao. This impressive rock formation is a must-see in northern Spain, and you can book a guided tour and entry ticket here.

Day 7: Llanes and Ribadesella

If you spent the night at the Parador de Santillana Gil Blas, you’ll be just 45 minutes from Llanes, Asturias, the next stop on this northern Spain road trip.

Llanes is a city that’s full of lovely beaches and coves, although the historic old town is also worth seeing. In fact, it has been declared an Asset of Cultural Interest and a Historic-Artistic Site, so check it out and be sure to see the Cubes of Memory breakwater rocks.

Then, you can grab something to eat and head to Ribadesella, which is 20 miles away. Take a walk through the port and stroll through the old town, which is super scenic and full of historic structures.

  • Recommended accommodation: The Hotel Don Pepe is a nice place to stay with spacious rooms and a good location.

Day 8: Gijón

For day eight, drive to Gijón, Asturias, which is 40 miles, or about 45 minutes, from Ribadesella. You can start your visit here with this free tour (in Spanish) or by exploring on your own. There are lots of cool places to check out, such as San Lorenzo Beach, the Cerro de Santa Catalina, and the Elogio del Horizonte, a sculpture by the water.

Then, journey into the Cimadevilla neighborhood, the oldest part of the city where you can see Revillagigedo Palace, Plaza del Marqués, and Plaza Mayor. To end the day, go to the port and Poniente Beach, where you can watch one of the most beautiful sunsets in the north of Spain.

  • Recommended accommodation: Hotel Begoña is quite basic, but it’s clean, comfortable, and situated in the heart of the city.

Day 9: Oviedo

Oviedo is another city in northern Spain you can’t miss, and it’s only 30 minutes from Gijón. Among the many attractions here, the Plaza del Fontán, the Plaza de la Catedral, and the Cathedral of San Salvador stand out.

I also suggest going into the city center and looking for some of the interesting statues here, like those of Woody Allen or the Argentine character Mafalda. The former is on Calle Milicias Nacionales, while the latter is in San Francisco Park, another place in Oviedo you should spend some time at.

Moreover, Oviedo is home to three pre-Romanesque churches that you should see: Santa María del Naranco, San Miguel de Lillo, and San Julián de los Prados. If you feel like going shopping, you’ll find all kinds of goodies on Calle Uría, and for the most delicious food, go to La Gascona.

  • Recommended accommodation: The Gran Hotel España is one of the best places to stay. In addition to its spacious, beautiful rooms, it’s close to the city center and several tourist attractions.

Day 10: Cudillero and Luarca

Cudillero is a beautiful Asturian town situated on a cliff, making it one of the best places to visit in northern Spain. It’s about 40 miles from Oviedo, so wake up early in the morning and make the 45-minute drive to this gorgeous city.

Once you arrive, go to the La Garita Viewpoint for a spectacular overview of the town. Then, head down into the city center and walk among the narrow streets as you make your way to Plaza de la Marina. This is one of the liveliest areas of Cudillero with numerous bars and restaurants.

Check out the port, then make the 30-minute drive to Luarca, another lovely city in northern Spain. Here, you can stroll through the town center and see the most popular attractions, such as the Puente del Beso, the Casas de Indianos, and the Jardines de la Fonte Baxa.

  • Recommended accommodation: The Hotel Villa de Luarca is an elegant hotel with a great location by the town center and the beach.

Day 11: Ribadeo and Playa de las Catedrales

Spend the next day visiting Ribadeo, another beautiful city in the north of Spain that’s just 30 minutes from Luarca. Among the many attractions in Ribadeo, you can’t miss Plaza de España, which is where the Pazo de Ibáñez and the Torre de los Moreno are located.

As you walk through the town’s streets, you’ll find other interesting sites like the Convent of Santa Clara and the Chapel of San Miguel. It’s worth going inside the chapel for the views, although you’ll also get a nice perspective of the city from the port.

Also, if you want to capture some amazing photos, go to the Ribadeo Watchtower or the Isla Pancha Viewpoint. Finally, make sure you leave enough time to visit Playa de las Catedrales, a National Monument and one of the best beaches in Spain.

  • Recommended accommodation: Have a good night’s sleep at the Hotel Playa de las Catedrales, which faces the Cantabrian Sea. It’s right next to Arealonga Beach and just a ten-minute walk from Playa de las Catedrales.

Day 12: A Coruña

For day 12, it’s time to visit A Coruña, an incredible area of northern Spain. It’s about 95 miles from Playa de las Catedrales, so get up early and get the 1.5-hour drive out of the way.

In A Coruña, you can take this free tour (in Spanish) to visit some of the city’s highlights and learn more about its history. If you’re touring the city on your own, I recommend starting at the promenade, which leads to the Castle of San Antón and the Sculpture Park of the Tower of Hercules. Also, be sure to check out the Ciudad Vieja (Old Town), where you can stop for yummy tapas.

After lunch, take a walk along Riazor Beach, one of the most picturesque beaches in Galicia. Then, stroll around the port and end your day by watching the sunset from Mount San Pedro.

  • Recommended accommodation: You’ll have a comfortable stay at the NH Collection A Coruña Finisterre, which is just a short distance from the city center and several main attractions.

Day 13: Santiago de Compostela

One of the best places in northern Spain that you must add to your route is Santiago de Compostela, which is a 50-minute drive from A Coruña.

Have fun exploring the city on your own or taking this free tour. Santiago de Compostela is the final stop on the Camino de Santiago, a religious pilgrimage and one of the most important hikes in Spain. The route specifically ends at the Santiago Cathedral, which you can learn more about on this guided tour.

You should also spend some time wandering the streets of the Old City, as well as visiting Alameda Park. I also recommend browsing the Mercado de Abastos, where you can buy fresh Galician cheeses and products. If you’re an art lover, you can’t miss the City of Culture of Galicia, a complex full of contemporary galleries and artistic spaces.

  • Recommended accommodation: Stay at the Parador de Santiago – Hostal Reis Católicos, an old pilgrim accommodation that’s inside a 15th-century building. It’s next to the Santiago Cathedral and has some original architectural elements as well as a Mediterranean and Galician restaurant.

Day 14: Vigo

People sometimes overlook the city of Vigo, but if you’re taking a 15-day road trip through northern Spain, you’ll have time to visit it. Vigo is 55 miles (one hour) from Santiago de Compostela, so get up early and make your way there in the morning.

You can take this free tour of Vigo to get a general overview of the city and learn more about its top attractions. Some of the most famous places here include the Praza da Constitución, the Mercado da Pedra, the Plaza de los Pescadores, and the Praza do Berbés.

You should also check out the Bouzas neighborhood, a traditional seafaring community. For the best views, go to Mount O Castro, where you can see the entire city and the Cíes Islands.

Day 15: Cíes Islands

For the last day of this northern Spain itinerary, take a boat from Vigo and go to the Cíes Islands. You can book this ferry ride, which also includes your permit to access the islands.

These paradisiacal islands are home to Playa de Rodas, one of the best beaches in northern Spain, and the entire world. There are also four awesome trails, so you can find a northern Spain hike to suit your fitness level. The trails are the Cíes Lighthouse (2.1 miles), the Faro da Porta (1.6 miles), the Alto do Príncipe (1.1 miles), and the Faro do Peito (1.6 miles).

Without a doubt, this day out in nature is the best way to end your two-week trip through the north of Spain.

Best time to visit the north of Spain

The best time to visit northern Spain is during the spring and autumn months when the temperatures are milder. If you plan on going to some parks or natural areas, the autumn season offers the most stunning colors.

Playa del Silencio, Asturias, beaches in northern spain

Best time to visit the north of Spain

That said, the summer weather in northern Spain is more pleasant compared to other areas of the country, so this time of year can also be a good time to visit. You can take advantage of the summer temperatures to enjoy the best beaches in northern Spain.

If you planned on going to the north of Spain in the winter, you still can, although you should be aware that there will be much more precipitation. On the other hand, the prices for flights and hotels will be cheaper.

Main airports in northern Spain and other ways to get there

There are several airports in northern Spain, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding a good place to arrive in the country, regardless of your starting point.

In Galicia:

  • A Coruña Airport
  • Santiago-Rosalía de Castro Airport
  • Vigo Airport

In Asturias:

  • Asturias Airport

In Cantabria:

  • Santander Airport

In the Basque Country:

  • Bilbao Airport
  • San Sebastián Airport
  • Vitoria Airport

To find the best flight deals to the north of Spain, I recommend using Kiwi and Skyscanner. We’ve had the best luck finding cheap flights with Kiwi, and you can even activate price-drop alerts and keep track of the flights that interest you.

How to get around the north of Spain

The easiest way to get around during your northern Spain road trip is by renting a car. We have a complete guide on how to rent a cheap car, although I’ll tell you now that we always use Rentalcars since they offer the best prices.

Of course, if you don’t want to drive, you won’t have any problems getting around since there are all kinds of tours in northern Spain. You can also get to different towns by train or bus, and I recommend checking Omio and Flixbus for discounted tickets.

Other tips for your road trip through northern Spain

If you’ve decided to take a road trip through northern Spain by car, make sure you calculate the driving times in advance so you can plan your route as accurately as possible. This is particularly important if you’re visiting two towns in one day since you’ll want to spend half the day in one town, then head to the other town and spend the night there.

Remember, there are many beautiful places in northern Spain, and the cities I mentioned are just my recommendations. Feel free to add or replace any attractions that don’t fit your schedule or interests. It’s also important to consider the weather, especially if you’re traveling in the winter. You may need snow tires or chains for the car depending on which area you go to.

Best food in northern Spain, itinerary for north of Spain

Other tips for your road trip through northern Spain

Always keep water and some food with you in the car and try to keep your cell phone charged so you can make emergency calls or locate the nearest gas station.

Finally, if you want to enjoy the best food in northern Spain, try to avoid the more touristy areas. When in doubt, ask the locals and they’ll give you some great restaurant suggestions.

That’s it for this guide to the north of Spain! I hope you feel better prepared to organize your northern Spain itinerary, and that you have the best time exploring this gorgeous part of the country.

If you have any questions, or if you want to share your favorite destinations in northern Spain, leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Have a fantastic trip!

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CHIEF ADVENTURER, TRAVEL GURU, AND MASTER PLANNER AT CAPTURE THE ATLAS
Hey there, I'm Ascen, your personal trip planner on a mission to help you craft the most incredible adventure of your life. While I'm based in Las Vegas, you won't find me there often. As a full-time traveler, I'm always on the go, exploring new destinations and capturing the world through my lens. From the enchanting shores of Almeria, Spain, where I grew up, to the far reaches of the globe, I'm here to provide you with detailed travel guides and practical tips to make your trip planning a breeze. Find out more about me here.
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