Basque Country at a glance
Bilbao evolved from a heavily industrialised port city to become a distinct cosmopolitan destination with cultural sophistication. The city is best known for the Frank Gehry designed, Museo Guggenheim Bilbao. This distinctive building, hailed by critics and the public alike, houses works by contemporary Spanish and international artists and is considered globally as one of the most important pieces of architecture of the last 30 years. From the success of the Guggenheim, other exciting architectural and infrastructure projects have allowed the city to grow, maturing to a recognised centre for art, architecture and performing arts.
The city’s medieval neighbourhood, Viejo Casca, is made up of seven historical streets brimming with markets, taverns, restaurants and some of the city’s oldest buildings including St. James’ Cathedral, Arana Palace, and the Basilica of Begoña. Bilbao also has plenty of green spaces in the city, especially at the coast and the mountains which are easily accessible from the city.
San Sebastian was just a humble fishing village when the Spanish royal family chose it as the destination for their summer retreat. The town already boasted impressive Gothic and Baroque churches and beautiful sandy beaches when, in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was given a makeover that has left a legacy of elegant Belle Epoque architecture. The magnificent City Hall, formerly the Gran Casino, looking on to Alderdi-Eder Gardens and the beautiful beachfront La Perla Spa, built for Queen Maria Cristina in 1912, are just two of many examples. San Sebastian’s contrasting styles, art galleries and open-air sculptures, alongside its lively atmosphere and gastronomy have contributed to its status as European City of Culture in 2016.
Frequently topping lists of the world’s best places to eat, San Sebastian is a foodie’s paradise, renowned for its numerous Michelin-starred restaurants and its pintxos (tapas) culture which is incomparable to anywhere else in Spain.
Just as outstanding are San Sebastian’s beaches, with the Playa de la Concha perfect for basking in the sun and the surfing waves of Playa de Gros for the more energetic. The dynamic Parte Vieja (old town) lies across the neck of Monte Urgull, where the most popular pintxo bars can be found. South of Parte Vieja is the shopping quarter, and the east of the River Urumea is a pleasant and relaxed enclave.
Perfect if you’re looking for:
- A bustling atmosphere
- Beachfront attractions
- Indulgent cuisine
- A multi-centre break
Bilbao has a convenient metro system, with frequent trains during peak hours. Ticket prices are based on the number of zones your journey covers. A CreditTrans card, which comes in 5, 10 and 15 Euro denominations is a good option if more than a couple of journeys are anticipated, as it can provide up to half price discounts on each journey.
San Sebastian’s main bus stop is a 20-minute walk south of the Parte Vieja, the local buses number 28 and 26 connect with Alameda del Boulevard, this is also a good starting point for walking into the historic centre, especially pleasant when walking along the river. The city doesn’t have a proper station, but the bus companies have offices and ticket stands near the bus stop.
Shopping in Basque Country
The shopping areas of Piazza Moyua and Gran Via are great places to find high end and international brands, as well as large boutique shops, while historic Casco Viejo offers art galleries, small boutiques, as well as unique handcrafted items and gifts. For something a bit different, visit one of Europe’s largest indoor markets located on the south corner of the Old Town. Stretched along the riverfront, the market houses a large selection of local, fresh products including fish and seafood.
Shopping in San Sebastian is very convenient with shops concentrated in the same areas. Foodies, be sure to add local specialities like a jar of Cantabrian anchovies, Idiazabal cheese or a bottle of txakoli wine to your shopping list. The Old Town is also the venue for souvenir shops and designer stores, the centre is home to upmarket stores with recognisable international brands and the Gros District has a brilliant selection of art galleries, antique shops and sports shops.
Dining in Basque Country
Food is an important part of Basque culture and a great way to experience the ingenuity of the region. Venture out to a traditional cider house on the hills of the Basque Country, where you will find quality grass-fed beef with distinct and complex flavours.
Much like the rebirth of Bilbao, traditional recipes are continually being reinvented with local produce and culinary expertise that has awarded many restaurants in the city with Michelin recognition.
Like Bilbao, San Sebastian is home to an impressive number of Michelin-starred establishments, foodies will enjoy gastronomic fusions of fresh produce and seafood specialities in many restaurants and bars.
Be sure to try the Basque Country’s version of tapas called Pintxos, traditionally served with bread on a toothpick.
Must-try local dishes:
- Bacalao al Pil-Pil – salt cod, seasoned with garlic and olive oil.
- Piperrada – a traditional Basque dish consisting of onions, green peppers, and sautéed tomatoes flavored with red Espelette pepper..
- Txuleton – quality aged cut of beef, chargrilled, served simply with a sprinkle of sea salt. Found in traditional cider houses located on the hills of the region.
- Gâteau Basque – the region’s signature butter cake that comes with a variety of fillings including chocolate, black cherry or pastry cream.
Get your tailor-made city break itinerary
Osprey Holidays can create a fabulous short break to the Basque Country designed completely around your needs. We can arrange whatever you need, including:
- All travel and transfers on days of your choice
- Accommodation from our handpicked range of hotels, to suit your budget and requirements
Our award-winning team can provide expert advice and recommendations, from general questions to tiny details. Contact us now for your tailor-made itinerary.
- Important information
Population 2.189 million Languages Spanish Currency Euro Visa Information No visa required for EU citizens
- Average temperatures
(monthly highs °C)
- Distance from airports
Bilbao Airport San Sebastián Airport
- Railway stations
Bilbao-Abando railway stationv Estación del Norte