Travel Documentation on northern Spain
National border - overview
Basque and Navarra
Names of the Basque region:
Basque: Euskal Herria or Euskadi,
⧚ Spainish: País Vasco or Vasconia, French: Pays Basque
Names of the Navarra region:
⧚ Spainish: Navarra, Basque: Nafarroa
⧚ Spainish: Comunidad Foral de Navarra
⧚ Basque: Nafarroako
⧚ English: Chartered Community Navarra
The journey through the Basque Country and Navarre aimed to visit
both: cities and nature. Described is a round trip, (starting and ending
in Bilbao) with a bathing stay on the coast and some excursions.
The route crosses the Way of St. James a few times.
Plan: entire itinerary with excursions
Plan: entire itinerary without excursions
A detailed description of cultural history highlights is omitted,
as these facts can be found on numerous websites.
The main purpose of this itinerary is to describe itineraries and
to document them with plans so that the traveler can easily find the
places to visit.
(at least 3 nights)
Walks in Bilbao
Bilbao has developed from an industrial city to a tourism metropolis.
Main attraction is the Guggenheim Museum. There is a tiny old town (really ancient houses).
The new town, which is right next to it, is touristically interesting. The main street
(Gran Via Don Diego López de Haro) is a pure commercial street and and attractive for shopping only.
During a walk through the new town, it is recommended to visit side streets,
especially the "Ledesma musikariaren kalea" with its numerous bars and taverns is heavily visited.
Many guests stand with their glasses on the street, some even just sit on the floor.
This number of bars is surpassed only by the Calle Somera in the old town. Especially the alternatives are bustling here. The audience is similar to the hippie crowd as it was 40 years ago. Here, most people sit with their drinks on the floor and in front of the entrances. The babble of voices is extremely loud, not just the clothes and the posturing reminiscent of earlier times: No one uses a smartphone, all discussing and talking to each other blindingly.
In the old town there is also a cathedral with a worth seeing interior.
A nice vantage point can be reached with the Funicular,
which leads from Matiko to Atxanda. The viewpoint is also accessible by car.
The distances are not so far, you can walk to all points of interest in the oldtown and the new town.
Uncommonly you need to go by bus, tram or metro (two lines only).
An interesting subway station is Zazpikaleak,
whith an entrance near the city center, connected by a mooving floor.
There is a second entrance 20 meter higher (convinient accesible by an elevator)
for the upper district.
From city center to the upper district one can use the stairs
"Calzada de Maiona" also or economized without walking upstairs,
the metro station without entering the subway.
Bilbao Bizkaia Card: As in many major cities,
Bilbao has a combination card for public transport
(including funicular) and discounts at museums. The acquisition of
this card is worthwhile only if you really intend to visit many
museums and cultural events. In this case, a longer stay in Bilbao
is also recommendable.
Excurtions from Bilbao
Plan Excursion 1
Portugalete (50.000 Res.)
Worth seeing is the combination ferry / bridge over
the mouth of the Ria del Bilbao. This trip can also be made by subway.
Algorta (40.000 Res.)
Visiting this coastal town can be combined with the drive to Portugalete (also accessible by metro).
Castillo di Butron
The Castillo di Butron stands like an enchanted castle
in the forest, but can only be surrounded by the outside.
Plan Castillo di Butron
Castillo de San Juan de Gaztelugatxe ⭐
One of the most attractive destinations in the area is
the Castillo de San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. The journey time
by car is about 40 minutes, also by bus the destination is
directly accessible from Bilbao. The hike should take about 2
hours, although the signpost shows the destination is only 1km
away. Sturdy footwear recommended.
Outside the path on the road to Bakio, there is a Mirador
that offers a view of the Castillo de San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
A further trip to the viewpoint Matxitxako is not profitable,
especially in the afternoon (view against the sun).
Plan Excursion 2
Guernika-Lumo (20.000 Res.)
The highlight of the excursion is the reproduction of the Picasso
painting, which is not easy to find without exact address information.
Guernika-Lumo can also be reached by train from Bilbao.
Forest of Oma
At the time when we wanted to visit the forest of OMA, it was closed
because of pest infestation. Passable was only the beginning of
the path, which is right next to the road.
Near to the parking, there is a nice, very short way to the cave Santimamiñeko
(cave not visitable).
Plan Forest of Oma
Plan without excursions
Salto del Nervion (Monte Santiago) ⭐
This trip can be made as a day trip from Bilbao as well.
For us it was the beginning of the tour over the country onward to Estella-Lizarra.
The gorges are really worth seeing, although sometimes
the waterfall has dried up.
Starting from the visitor center,
it is best to first take Route 44, then Route 45 and back to Route 41.
Plan Monte Santiago
Vitoria-Gasteiz (200.000 Res.)
Vitoria-Gasteiz is an industrial city that is of little interest to foreigners.
The only thing it has to offer is that it is the capital of the Basque Region.
We had the misfortune to come to Vitoria-Gasteiz on a festive day (Festivo),
when roaring teenagers roamed the streets.
Estella-Lizarra (1 night) 10.000 Res.
For a round trip, this place, with a very nice old town, is a place to stay one night.
Puente La Reina (3.000 Res.)
Not only the famous "bridge romantico", is
worth seeing. There is also an old town worth visiting.
Plan Puente La Reina
Santa Maria de Eunate
Only a few kilometers further on is Santa Maria de Eunate.
Olite (4.000 Res.) ⭐
In this place, especially the castle with winding
corridors and 2 towers with impressive views is worth seeing.
However, the rooms of the castle are not historically equipped (= bare).
Ujué (200 Res.) ⭐
A small medieval mountain town.
Tudela (2 nights) 40.000 Res.
This town is surprisingly diverse and almost indispensable
as a starting point for Bardenas Reales.
Excursions from Tudela
Excursion 3: Bardenas Reales ⭐
This semi-desert is a highlight of the trip!
Starting from the visitor center, you will drive one round
counter-clockwise on gravel roads with views of many impressive rock formations.
Plan Excursion 3
Continuation of the Grand Tour
Sangüesa (1 night) 5.000 Res.
A noteworthy place with several churches and a convent.
Castillo de Javier
The Convento San Francisco Javier is certainly worth a visit.
Plan Castillo de Javier
Offside the monastery without any further infrastructure.
Although the monastery has been developed as a large hotel,
but one is contingent on the sparse catering facilities of the bar
and the hotel restaurant (unfortunately there are no alternatives).
The rooms are clean and spacious, but there is no minibar, not even a fridge.
Overnight is therefore unnecessary.
Foz de Lumbier ⭐
Starting from the parking near the village of Lumbier,
there is a circular path, which can be mastered in 2.5 hours.
The relatively short section at the end of the hike,
which leads straight through the gorge, is really spectacular.
If you want to save time, go directly from the parking lot through
the canyon and the same way back again.
You can also visit the canyon as a day trip from Pamplona (50km distance).
Plan Foz de Lumbier
Pamplona (1 night) 200.000 Res.
The city has become famous for the annual public bull run in June.
The cathedral with the attached museum is worth a visit.
Also a hike through the old town should not be missed.
Parking is practically only outside the city, for example,
on the banks of the Rio Arga, from where you come with an
inclined elevator into the city. Near the river area strong odor nuisance!
Tolosa (20.000 Res.)
Village with a typical old town, suitable for a short stay between Pamplona and the coast.
Zumaia (10.000 Res.)
Zumaia is famous for the flysch formation.
Nice old town, 2 beaches. One of them (Itzurun hondartza)
is a surfing paradise, right next to the flysch formation.
The second is a family bathing beach.
There are few hotels, only one directly on the beach.
The location Zumaia is recommended for a stay of
several days when planning excursions. Incidentally,
Zumaia can also be reached by train from Bilbao.
Excursions are possible from all the places mentioned
in the description, but for bathing purposes especially
Gerateria and Hondarribia are recommended.
Trips from Zumaia
Excursion 4: GR 12.1 nach Debia (5 1/2 h) ⭐
From Zumaia you start behind the church of San Telmo Ermita.
From Deba there is a lift that leads to the start of the hike.
A route can also be covered by train or boat.
Plan entire hiking trail
Plan entry point Deba
Plan entry point Zumaia
Excursion 5: Coastal cities
Getaria (3.000 Res.)
Between Zumaia and Zarrautz on the coastal road lies Getaria (beautiful view, idyllic old town).
Between Getaria and Zarrautz there is a promenade that runs
right on the shore next to the road. In the part of the village,
which is located behind the main road, there is an escalator
and a lift, so that you can park your car comfortably up there.
Zarrautz (20.000 Res.)
Zarrautz has a slightly wider beach, but otherwise does not offer much.
Incidentally, Zarrautz can also be reached by train from Bilbao.
Parking is difficult to find in Zarrautz.
Hondarribia (20.000 Res.) ⭐
Behind Zarrautz you leave the coastal road and drive bypassing
San Sebastian on the highway to Hondarribia. Hondarribia is the
most impressive of the described coastal villages with 2 beaches,
one in Hondarribia itself, one reachable by ferry to France.
Mirador Jaizkibel ⭐
On the way to San Sebastian we recommend the road GI-3440
with the Mirador Jaizkibel, from where you can enjoy a
wonderful view in 2 directions (insider tip!).
Donostia-San Sebastián (200.000 Res.)
On the way back stop in San Sebastian: Disappointing impression,
huge beach, totally crowded (at least in midsummer).
Old town is not very impressive. From San Sebastian return to
the chosen coastal town, in our case Zumaia. In San Sebastian
there are big parking problems and you can park only in a parking deck (expensive).
Plan San Sebastian
Excursion 6: Upcountry
Plan Excursion 6
This excursion can also be made from Bilbao, especially if
you have planned a bathing stay in Hondarribia,
for example, that makes more sense logistically.
The Loiolako Basilica is a famous landmark.
Between Loyola and Oñati, it is advisable to turn off the
highway at the navigation device and take a shortcut over the mountain road.
Oñati (10.000 Res.)
Oñati is a pretty place that is worth a visit.
Elorirro (7.000 Res.)
Not necessarily worth seeing. If it is on the track, a stop is well worth it.
Durango (30.000 Res.)
Not necessarily worth seeing. If it is on the track, a stop is well worth it.
Pedestrian zones + parking
In most cities, the old town is entirely pedestrian.
In the new town there are only very few paid parking spaces
that can be used for short stays. Free parking is always
available outside the towns only within easy walking distance.
Exceptions are Bilbao and San Sebastian.
Anyway, you have to park the car in a parking deck.
In Bilbao, it is quite an option to arrive by train
(for example, from the airport), provided that the
timetable and timetable of the train are in line.
The train station in Bilbao is centrally located and
hotels in the new town (in the old town there are only
hostels!) are not too old to far away.
Food + drink
As a Central European, you have to adapt to the opening times of restaurants
opening for dinner not before 9pm.
Lunch is only from 13pm. In between you can get only tapas (here called pintxos)
in the bar.
In normal inns the food quality (apart from top gastronomy) is rather average.
Queso y Jamon can be bought everywhere in the best quality.
Red wine is well priced and excellent. The water is drinkable.
There are drinking fountains everywhere.
Parking in the coastal cities
Most cities have extensive pedestrian zones in the old town
and therefore little parking space. The descriptions therefore
always list the few parking spaces in the plan. In the coastal towns,
there is an additional problem: the remaining parking spaces
are reserved for the residents and they are not signposted
with the usual traffic signs. Only the letters "E" and "R" painted
at the edge of the lane indicate that the car park can not be used by tourists.
Wishes, suggestions, criticisms or simply comments to derNachdenker@gmx.at
The contents of these pages have been carefully compiled,
but errors may still be included, for which the author assumes no liability.