“Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.” – Alan Keightley
Spain. A hot summer holiday by the pool, cocktail in one hand, book in another.
Not this time. You want an adventure. How does exploring the Biscay Coast sound?
On the menu: scenery that will stay with you for a lifetime, exquisit gastronomy and a colourful and welcoming culture. Here are our favourite spots for you to discover.
Perfect for: Adventure, Game of Thrones fans, dramatic views
Visit the birthplace of dragons. Gaztelugatxe is an islet just north of the popular city, Bilbao, and is the filming location for Dragonstone in the epic TV series, Game of Thrones.
Spoiler alert: the castle of Dragonstone was CGI’d onto the top of the islet, but in its place you will find a beautiful 10th century church.
You can get to Gaztelugatxe by walking along the man-made bridge (which we’ve dubbed ‘The Bridge of Many Many Steps’) that connects the islet to the mainland.
Once across, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning perspective of the coast and surrounding ocean – see what stunning images you can conjure with a camera!
For those who want to see the islet but don’t fancy a tricky walk, head out for dinner at Eneperi and enjoy the breathtaking views of Gaztelugatxe – a fine place to fill your belly with delicious local cuisine.
Perfect for: Basque culture, food, beaches, mountain views
San Sebastian has one of the best city beaches in Europe. Spend an afternoon at the shell-shaped Concha Bay swimming in crystal clear waters and lazing on white sands, then head inland for dinner. But not just any old evening meal …
San Sebastian has the highest concentration of Michelin starred restaurants per square metre. In other words, it’s foodie heaven.
In terms of dishes, we personally recommend one of the Basques cuisine’s finest delicacies: Steak (txuleta) from grass-fed Galician cows cooked over hardwood charcoal and served on the bone. Pair it with red wine from La Rioja and treat your taste buds.
San Sebastian also sits beneath lush mountains. Avid explorers and photographers can ride the funicular railway (Funicular Monte Igueldo) to ascend the mountain of Igueldo (return tickets less than two euros) for unsurpassed views of the city.
Perfect for: mountains, natural beauty, hiking
Fuente Dé is a gorgeous mountain range in the Cantabria province. It can be accessed either by foot or cable car, and those who reach its summit are rewarded with an out-of-this-world vista that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Don’t be disheartened by bad weather. It changes quickly here and it may well be blue skies at the top of the mountain. Those making the ascent on foot can enjoy a rigorous 12km hike up very steep routes (walking maps are available at nearby hotels).
After an afternoon frolicking in the mountains, head down to Potes, a characterful old town surrounded by rolling green hills and forests. Enjoy a well-earned meal at Tasca Cantabra sampling local tapas dishes to your heart’s content.
Perfect for: history, architecture, dramatic photography
Covadonga is a rare gem unfrequented by tourists nestled in the Picos de Europa mountains, Northwestern Spain.
It’s home to Basilica de Santa Maria la Real, a striking Catholic cathedral that sits against the mountainous backdrop of Picos de Europa.
From the cathedral you can head to Cueva de Santa Maria – a hermitage built into a natural cave in the mountainside for more architectural delights.
Beneath it lies a waterfall cascading into a natural pool, reflecting shimmering light against the dark rocks.
Both cathedral and hermitage make for stunning photo opportunities no matter the weather thanks to their unique architecture and setting.
Santillana del Mar
Perfect for: culture, history, food and shopping
Santillana del Mar is a gorgeous little town that will transport you back to medieval times with its cobbled streets and baroque houses.
Escape the crowds by exploring Santillana del Mar at dusk. You’ll find a range of shops and restaurants to keep you busy and well fed.
For history fans, head over to Colegiata de Santa Juliana. It’s a beautiful ex-monastery featuring stunning romanesque hand carvings that can be seen in its many columns.
It was built to hold the remains of Santa Juliana, a third-century martyr from Turkey who met a grim end after renouncing her faith in Christianity. Her tomb can be found in the centre of the church and is certainly worth a visit.
Perfect for: culture, art, contemporary buildings, architectural and street photography
Avilés is a city in Asturias and will capture your attention thanks to the modern and minimalist international arts and cultural centre: Centro Niemeyer. It was designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in 2011 and can be found on the estuary of Aviles.
Spend the afternoon wandering around the centre, admiring the futuristic white painted buildings. There are seasonal exhibitions running in the dome and auditorium all year round (check this website for more information).
You can’t leave Aviles without trying some locally produced cider famous to this region. Head over to Tierra Astur, a traditional Asturian sideria, and sample freshly-brewed cider poured traditionally by skilled servers.
Adventure Doesn’t End Here
Anyone familiar with Northern Spain may wonder why we didn’t mention the beautiful city of Bilbao or the stunning coastal town of Ribadesella.
Well, we love these places so much that we’ve decided to give them an entire post of their own. We’ll be publishing these soon so stay tuned!
Your Travel Planning Assistant
In the meantime, if the destinations, sights and experiences mentioned here stir your desire to explore Northern Spain, we’ve created a guide specifically for you.
Download it today for golden insights into Gaztelugatxe, San Sebastian and all our other favourite spots within this spectacular region.
Our obsessively researched (in-person!) guide takes all of the leg work out of planning a fantastic trip. You gain a full itinerary that covers the best hotels to stay in, how much to budget for, where to eat and everything in between to effortlessly travel around the beautiful Biscay coast.