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5 Reasons to Go to Northern Spain

northern spain

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe on the Basque Coast, source, Flickr Creative Commons

Spain is such a culturally diverse, vibrant and enthralling country. It often feels like a dozen small countries rolled into one.

There is so much to see and do, which is why when people only go to the Big Four (my own invention) – Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla and Granada – it thoroughly GALLS me! Granted, these are great cities, but are they my favorite cities in Spain? Um, nope. Not even close.

I like to think of myself as a certified Spain expert whereas my friends and probably many of you think I am a Spain know-it-all. What’s the difference really? I have lived in Spain for over 3 years in many different cities, I’ve got a lot to say on the matter. I’ve even written a post with 5 reasons to go to southern Spain, but now it’s time to shine the spotlight on my favorite region: the great green north.

Last year I lived in Logroño, the capital of itty bitty La Rioja wine country in the north, nestled in between Pamplona, Bilbao, Soria and Zaragoza. Two types of tourists come to La Rioja: wine snobs and people hiking the camino de santiago. Spaniards don’t even really know where it is, and I’ve elicited more than a few raised eyebrows when I said not only do I lived in Logroño, I freaking loved it!

In fact, I think northern Spain is really, REALLY under-appreciated and overlooked. 

northern spain

Boom. I’m throwing down the gauntlet (I’m looking at you, Andalucía), northern Spain is the best side of Spain. Northern Spain has the best food, wine, and landscapes on the entire Iberian Peninsula, I’ll just come out and say it. I’ve been everywhere except for Murcia, but I’m guessing that little region isn’t going to blow the entire northern coast out of the water. If you want to come to Spain and try something a little different, head north, not south.

Given its staggering diversity, it was hard to pick just 5 reasons to go to northern Spain, but I’ve narrowed it down to some of my favorite activities, some are well-known, some are not. Either way I hope to inspire a little spark in all of you to want to visit one of these places in the future.

Have you ever been to northern Spain? Would you go to some of these places after reading my tips here?

northern spain

Cordillera Cantábrica, source

1.  Discover San Sebastián and the Basque Coast

San Sebastian is the shining crown of northern Spain. Expensive and luxurious, it demands to be wined-and-dined. Donostia in Basque, the language spoken in this region, San Seb is probably one of the most visually-stimulating, mouth-watering treat of a city. It’s very well-known among Spaniards and Europeans but it’s often overlooked by tourists seeking the more “traditional” Spain, since well, the Basques don’t even consider it to BE Spain.

northern spain

Only a few kilometers from France and situated on the playa de la concha beach (where I famously lost my bikini top), it’s also famous for it’s cuisine and basque pintxos (tapas). It’s a popular town and for a good reason. If you are going to go to one place in northern Spain, let it be San Sebastián.

Tip: San Sebastian is best visited in summer when you can enjoy the beaches and it’s warm enough to swim, otherwise the rest of the year it’s known for being foggy and rainy on the Basque coast. Best to rent a car and drive around the coast to Bilbao or up into Bayonne in France. So beautiful. 

northern spain

2. Visit a winery in La Rioja

I can’t write a list about northern Spain and leave out my favorite region! La Rioja is wine country, plain and simple. Red wine, full of fruit, body and flavor that costs next to nothing. In this tiny area, there are hundreds and hundreds of wineries to chose from, make a week of it. The best time to come is in the fall when the leaves change on the vineyards and you drive through miles of golden, red and yellow fields. Many wineries are located around Logroño and Haro, easily accesible by train or bus, otherwise you’ll need 4 wheels to get to them. Logroño, the capital of La Rioja was also named the gastronomic capital of Spain last year, which means you’ll eat very, very well.

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Tip: The famous Wine Battle (Batalla del vino) takes place in Haro every summer in June and Logroño celebrates the wine harvest with a huge festival in September, San Mateo, both excellent times to visit the region. 

3. Go hiking in Navarra

There is so much more to Navarra than 10 days in July for the Running of the Bulls at San Fermín in Pamplona. Overlooked, even by locals, Navarra is one of my favorite regions in Spain for its anonymity, beauty and diversity. This summer I spent teaching in English camps in different villages around Navarra and I wasn’t disappointed. Navarra is at a crossroads between France, the Basque Country and the rest of Spain, so most of my students were trilingual. Talk about impressive.

northern spain

My favorite discovery was this beautiful park called Urederra. Famous among locals but completely unknown to outsiders, it is a series of pools, creeks and waterfalls in the woods and mountains with the most sparkling cerulean blue water you have ever laid eyes on. Strikingly similar to Lake Plitvice in Croatia, it’s on a smaller scale, more enclosed within the forest and utterly secret. Read more about it here.

Tip: You have to go by car and there aren’t many places to eat nearby so it’s a good idea to bring a picnic. It’s most beautiful in the summer in the sunshine, but it’s also nice in the fall when the leaves change. 

northern spain

northern spain

4. Make the pilgrimage to St. James’ Cathedral in Galicia

Galicia is perhaps one of the most overlooked regions in Spain, I think because it’s so remote. Nestled in the top left corner of the Iberian Peninsula, it’s green, rainy and very different from the other regions, so different in fact they have their own official language, gallego, and Spaniards tend to harken it to Ireland for it’s Celtic history and diverse landscape. If people have heard of it, mostly likely it’s because of its famous city, Santiago de Compostela, where the apostle St. James is supposedly buried.

northern spain

Source, Flickr Creative Commons

Since the early middle ages, the Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way) has been the most trafficked pilgrimages in Europe. To walk the whole way from the French-Spanish border takes at least a month, though it’s very popular to walk bits and pieces, or even cycle it. I haven’t walked the camino yet, but it’s at the top of my to-do list, though I have made a pilgrimage of sorts to Santiago 5 years ago on an 8 hour overnight bus from Salamanca, pure hell. Between the beautiful medieval city, the rugged coastline, and the unique food, Galicia is a worthy destination all on it’s own.

Tip: there are many domestic flights into Santiago, making it a great weekend getaway from Madrid, Barcelona or the rest of Europe. Galicia is also next door to Portugal and beautiful Porto with plenty of buses and trains in between.

northern spain

Source, Flickr Creative Commons

5. Explore the famous Picos de Europa mountains in Asturias 

I have never actually been to these mountains but from I have heard from friends and their photos, they are just incredible. And let’s be honest, when are mountain ranges ever disappointing? Asturias holds a special place in my heart, a place I have been dreaming about in Spain for almost a decade and one I will wait until I have enough time to do it justice. Apart from being home to beautiful cities like Gijón and Oviedo (Vicky, Christina, Barcelona anyone?) Asturias is famous for it’s unique green landscape, delicious cider, beautiful coastline and uh-mazing mountains known as los Picos de Europa (the Peaks of Europe). Renting a chalet in these mountains is at the top of my summer to-do list, who’s with me?

Tip: Asturias can be rainy so it’s best in the summer. Make sure to visit Oviedo and try the famous Asturias cider and cider dishes. Be sure to visit Covadonga, where the first successful battle against the invading Moors began the Reconquest of Spain by the Christians in 722.

northern spain

Source, Flickr Creative Commons

northern spain

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85 Responses to 5 Reasons to Go to Northern Spain

  1. Josh January 20, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

    Great post, and one that came just at the right time!

    I fancy a cheeky jaunt up to the Northern peninsular during semana santa but hadn’t decided where yet. I’ll probably have 4-5 days. Do you reckon I could get the best out of both San Seb and Bilbao in that amount of time?

    Josh

    • Liz January 21, 2013 at 12:04 am #

      Yeah you can definitely visit both in 5 days, even with a day trip or two thrown in there. I love the Basque Country!

    • Trevor Huxham January 21, 2013 at 11:02 am #

      It makes me so, so happy that you put San Sebastían as number one on this list. I visited there for only two nights over Christmas break and LOVED the city, from its creative pintxos to its beautiful scenery (even in winter!) and even just the general, positive mood about the town. Bilbao I didn’t like so much but San Seb became one of my favorite cities in Spain.

      And I am really excited to move to Galicia in the fall for Year Two of the language assistant program. I’m a little uneasy since I love living in warm Andalucía (okay, it’s really cold and rainy here right now…) but, like you said, it’s a really-unknown corner of the country that my inner hipster would love to explore.

      BTW I totally agree with your Big Four of Spanish cities. Although I feel like Barcelona-Granada-Sevilla-Madrid are perhaps the must-visit places in Spain for a first-time visit, Northern Spain definitely merits a trip all on its own. I wouldn’t say it feels like a whole different country, but it’s a VERY different part *of* the country, another angle or facet that is still 100% Spain.

      • Liz January 24, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

        I can’t wait to hear about your next year in the north!!

  2. Julia January 21, 2013 at 1:28 am #

    You’re TORTURING me. In the best way possible. I think I’ve read all of your posts on Spain at least twice. I’m officially moving back to Spain in September, and I swear each post makes me more excited/makes the pain of waiting more excruciating!
    I spent last year studying in Granada, but will now be heading north to Madrid. I had never thought too much of making my way above Madrid as I’m enchanted by Andalucía, but with all your posts on La Rioja and now this, the north has risen to the top of my list! Thanks for a great post :)

    • Liz January 24, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

      Wahoo! I can’t wait to hear more about your move! Definitely make your way up north, I promise you won’t regret it

  3. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas January 21, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    You know I’m particularly partial to Seville, having lived here for so long, but I’m fortunate to have a summer job in the North. In fact, after Seville, my favorite cities in Spain are mostly in the north: Coruna, Gijon and practically all of Asturias! I’m begging my parents to come in the summer so I can take them to anywhere with good cheese and cider.

    • Liz January 24, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

      Yes! I just love the food up there, it’s amazing!

  4. Ashley of Ashley Abroad January 21, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    Love this post! I agree that the north is deeply over-looked by tourists (for which I suppose we should probably be grateful!) The areas of the north that I am dying to see next are Basque Country and Asturias… that being said Spain is my absolute favorite country out of the 27 I have visited- truly I would love to go anywhere in Spain, as soon as possible!

    • Liz January 24, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

      Yay! That’s what I like to hear!

  5. Season January 21, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    Let’s hear it for the north of Spain! I’ve been in the Basque Country for 6 years now, traveled all over the north and can definitely attest to its greatness! I do love a weekend getaway now and again down south to escape the cold, rainy weather but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!

    • Liz January 24, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

      Excellent! I am in love with the Basque Country, it’s so lovely and different! I prefer living in the north out of anywhere I’ve lived in Spain!

      • Karady February 28, 2014 at 4:41 am #

        hey liz!! I’m a teacher in madrid currently but i’m ready to move on from city life and this post and helped me decide to put down the north as my preference for next year. which city do you suggest?!

        • Karady February 28, 2014 at 4:44 am #

          I think i put Pais Vasco down as my first choice. But what do you suggest? I love nature, greenery, good wine, amazing food (not the BIGGEST fan of traditional spanish food, however, and i like madrid because it has SO many different kinds of food), and not too many clouds in the winter if possible…i’m from Florida :)

  6. Cassandra January 21, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    The north, the north!

    I have loved the places I’ve visited there and definitely want to explore more of these regions. In 2007 I went hiking in the Picos–they are stunning. Potes, the tiny town I stayed in in this mountainous region, actually reminded me of Switerland!

    • Liz January 24, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

      Jealous, I want to go hiking in the picos so badly, but I am waiting for the right moment :)

  7. Jess January 21, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

    Galicia is VERY underrated. Out of all of Spain, it is my favorite place. It may even be my favorite place in the world. The people, the food, and the parties! Although parties in the rest of Spain are intense….no one compares to the gallegos! Cities like A Coruna, Baiona, and Vigo are among some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, along with San Sebastian!

    • Liz January 24, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

      I love Galicia, I can’t wait to go back one day, oh man the food, yum!

  8. Alex @ ifs ands & butts January 21, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Ah wow, I had no idea how much is in Southern Spain because definitely all I ever hear about is Southern Spain (and I’m guilty having only been to Barcelona). I would really love to check out Urederra and La Rioja!

    • Liz January 24, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

      Yay! Yes no one talks much about the north and it drives me bonkers, its really really beautiful, and totally untapped

  9. Katherina January 21, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    The North of Spain is really beautiful! I want to hike the Camino de Santiago in the next few years… I heard you get to eat amazing tapas, have great views (specially in the Northern route) and meet great people!

    • Liz January 24, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

      Exactly! You heard correct! the camino is high on my to-do list too :D

  10. Lauren @ roamingtheworld January 21, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

    Hi Liz,
    nice post. Now I’m living in the North!
    Planning a trip with my mom and curious if you have any recommendations for wineries/bodegas in Logroño? I imagine you must have a few since you lived there!

    Would love to hear about them!

    • Liz January 24, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

      Yes! Muga, Marques de Riscal, LAN, Dinastia Vivanco and Bodegas Franco-Españolas, check them out :D

  11. Sharon Loh January 22, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    Oh my God… I never knew that Spain is that beautiful! I wish I could go there someday. No, I should! I love your post :D

    • Liz January 24, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

      Yes please go to northern Spain! It’s really beautiful up there xx

      • MARTHA April 16, 2014 at 9:48 am #

        i am planning to go to northern spain in september but I am reading that there is a lot of rain, i do not want to travel where is a lot of rain, how much of rain i can expect, will be raining all day or just few hours, how long is the rain in one day, i was in the southern spain in september but never rain, thank you for your advise, martha

  12. Neil Gratton January 24, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    I lived in Asturias, it’s beautiful – you should go :) Can’t wait to be back there next month for a long weekend.

    • Liz January 24, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

      WOW, those pics blew my mind! Thanks for sharing them Neil :D

  13. Neil Gratton January 24, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    Oh, and some of my photos of Asturias for you and your readers:
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.238978100365.295974.723550365&type=1&l=68cd8ddf6a

  14. Sara January 25, 2013 at 3:10 am #

    Your blog posts are making my mouth water with Spainstalgia. I don’t miss the bureaucracy… but oh man, everything else.

  15. Nicholas January 25, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    Hi there,

    Nacedero de Urederra looks beautiful! I want to go there (and I probably will, given I usually stay in Logroño at least twice a year :-)!

    Do you know if one is allowed to swim in those pools? After all, it is a natural reserve.

    Thanks!

    Nick

  16. Lauren February 8, 2013 at 1:32 am #

    I love this post and your blog (which I’ve been reading religiously as I just applied to Auxiliares and BEDA.) I wish Cantabria was mentioned here, I know you mentioned Santillana del Mar in another post, but all of Cantabria is absolutely beautiful like the rest of northern Spain! It has a portion of Picos de Europa and many famous caves known for geology and cave paintings; particularly Altamira. Not to mention delicious food and gorgeous beaches! My boyfriend is from Santander so I’ve spent the past two summers there with him. I’m so glad someone else appreciates the north of Spain, I feel like it is usually forgotten.

  17. Julie February 14, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    Totally going to use this when I visit Northern Spain in the fall! I used to live in Amsterdam, so I can relate to missing life on the other side of the pond. Hope you get back over there one day. x

  18. Mike February 25, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    Great post! I love northern Spain. Although, I have just as big of a place in my heart for southern Spain. Spain is a diverse land, and each region’s differences seem to captivate me with their own individualities. Ironically, I put País Vasco and Andalucía for my top two regional preferences for the auxiliar program for next year!

  19. Alex February 26, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    It’s so hard to describe to people why Asturias (or northern Spain) is so unique, given that most people’s perception of Spain is that it’s all just like Andalucía. I myself was a little taken back for the first time I arrived in Oviedo, where I studied for 6 months. We got there in January and there was a bit of snow on the ground so needless to say we were all a bit surprised. After the initial shock, however, it was easy to see how amazing and perfect Oviedo is. It is like the ideal city, almost utopic. Asturias also has a lot of untold history to the outsider that’s really fascinating. “Asturias es España y el resto tierra conquistada.” jeje

  20. asturian lover March 7, 2013 at 12:31 am #

    Hey Alex, thank you for sharing your passion about Asturias :) I’d say it is even more underrated than Galicia, Vascongadas and Santander… sadly, because it has so much underneath….

    And Liz, do not forget about the great gastronomy! It is amazing! :) – By the way, rather that Oviedo, I’d suggest Villaviciosa as typical place for cider- not that fancy as the city, but it is “the region of the cider” ;)

    Thank you for sharing a wonderful perspective of a “different Spain”. Sometimes I get annoyed by the typical image that has been shared abroad on Fiesta+Toros+Beach + Sun…..ugh.

  21. Danyel May 3, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    Amazing review Liz!

    I am 30yrs backpacker andI will visit Europe this summer, and in the end of July I will see Spain for the first time!
    I already got a ticket and booked 4nights at Barcelona.
    I got 4 more full days + 2 travelling days for Spain so I thought I SHOULD go to Madrid and Andalusia(Sevilla). After that I must go to Lisbon.

    But Now I totally don’t know where to go! :(
    I love hiking, and nature, and seaside and also experiencing the people and architecture by wandering around.

    Should I stick to Barcelona-Sevilla-Madrid-Lisabon or it’s totally ok for the first time in Spain to go with 4 days in Bilbao (with daytrips) and then head to Lisabon from there?

  22. Adonis Villanueva May 16, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    This article is just what I needed. I’m planning to lease a car, picking it up in Barcelona and then returning it in Paris, I have a one way ticket will be exploring Europe for several months. Thanks for the wonderful pictures and inspiration.

    -Adonis

  23. Holidays Asturias May 24, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    Great post with great photos of northern Spain! all the places you have visited are really amazing! Congratulations for your blog!

  24. Basque-Galician June 28, 2013 at 4:21 am #

    Your article is very good, and the pics are very accurate… It’s true that the north is overlooked but that is something I (we) love, i would hate it a lot if the (Cantabrian) atlantic coast turn into a new mediterranean coast (destroyed by hotels and aparments right next to the sea) i guess this will never happen due to N.Spanish climate . regarding the Spanish feeling… Northerners are more pure spaniards than southeners (yes, we were the ignorant barbarians who faced the culturally superior Arabs) but we don’t feel part of the modern concept of “Spain” in which it seems that Spain is just 1 cultural entity, when the truth is that it is the union of different ethnics (with different cultures and languages) the real problem is that most spaniards don’t accept it ( they still believe in Franco’s “una grande y libre” (one, great and free) idea)…Everybody is welcome here, we love Foreigners a lot to be honest… but don’t expect us to dance flamenco…

  25. Vince July 2, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Spain is really a great travel destination, famous for its culture, arts, foods and its unique architecture. On my last vacation I was at San Sebastian and really enjoyed a lot.

  26. Alan July 3, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    I am a fitness trainer/physio , seriously contemplating moving to this lovely area , would I get employment in my line of work?

  27. Vera July 12, 2013 at 4:33 am #

    We decided to do the tour of northern Spain (Madrid-Salamanca-Santiago de Compostela-Leon (or Oviedo)-Bilbao-San Sebastian-Pamplona) on August. Do you suggest to pass from Leon or Oviedo?

    • Liz July 12, 2013 at 8:20 am #

      Oviedo > Leon

  28. Casey July 15, 2013 at 2:42 am #

    I spent a short but wonderful 2 weeks in Asturias this summer after a class in Madrid and I LOVE the north of Spain. I love the unconquered by the Moors pride that the people feel, the joy i felt when i could finally sort of follow a conversation in Asturiano, and the night we went out in Candás, a small town about 20 minutes from Gijón. I visited a friend there who studied at my University in the states last year and she brought me to all kinds of wonderful gems of the north coast. My stay began with driving up to the Picos de Europa and hiking the Ruta del Cares and ended with a trip to Cudillero, a BEAUTIFUL colorful town where I had my first experience of Asturian cider. I love Asturias and I learned more being there for 2 weeks than any other spanish experience thus far. I’ll be returning the northish Spain in August for 10 months and I have plans to hit up Galicia, Cantabria, Pais Vasco, Navarra, and of course tu querida La Rioja. Thinking back.. when I was in La Granja to see the fountains, an adorable group of girls from a colegio in La Rioja came up and talked to an American friend and I that were practicing Spanish on the streets. They laughed at our accents and tried to show off some of the english that they knew :) 45 days until I return!

  29. Peter - Winery tours Spain July 26, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    I suggest to visit Spain is a good place to visit specially the wine tours and see the Wineries and crops meet the Iberic place and see the work of the people.

  30. Ainara August 3, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    this is so true!!
    Love this post. I’m from the Basque Country, but live in Germany. Whenever people ask me about Spain, I always tell them to make time to visit San Sebastián. It’s such a beautiful city with the most amazing food ever.

    And if you’re ever next to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (you actually walked to the island… that’s hard work!), make sure you visit the Eneperi, a restaurant right by it. It has amazing views and some of the best pintxos ever.

    Daaaang, this made me homesick!

  31. Paula August 9, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Hey, I live in Murcia, it’s wonderful!!!!!!!

  32. Tonio September 2, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

    I’m from the capital of Asturias, Oviedo. Northern Spain is so unknown & underrated. I wish more people would realize Spain is NOT Madrid or Barcelona. There is so much more to my country!

  33. HitchHikers Handbook September 24, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    Hey, We have been checking out your blog and we must say that we are really impressed. It’s really great.

    We have particularly been following your posts about Oviedo as we visited there too. We have even written a guide, which you can check out here: http://hitchhikershandbook.com/country-guides/spain-2/oviedo/. We would love your feedback and any tips, information, advice that you might have would be warmly appreciated.

    Keep up the good work!

    Ania & Jon

  34. mike teall October 3, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    I am not surprised San Sebastian is being discovered, it has 2 of the best restraunts in the world and hands down the best Pintxos in the Basque country. Hiazea Bar for the Bric da Bacalao alone is worth flying to Spain for. Having been to Italy, France, the UK. San Sebastian offers everything needed from a summer vacation to a romantic long weekend. It is a must see for all travelers. Food is hands down better and cheaper than anywhere in europe. And wines to die for.

  35. Srinivas November 21, 2013 at 2:04 am #

    Hi Liz,
    Mind boggling and breadth taking pictures of Spain.
    May i request you to please advise me as i have planned to visit Spain thru a travel agency Thomas Cook and the tour itinerary is Lisbon,Seville,Toledo,Madrid and Barcelona.
    Please recommend which is the best month for visiting the above cities.
    I with my family wish to visit Spain when the weather is cool and do not like rain but love snow.
    Pl advise and give your expert opinion whether it is worthwhile to visit the cities mentioned in the itinerary.
    I live in Bangalore India for your kind information.
    Awaiting eagerly your quick and prompt response.
    Pl email me your response at the earliest to enable advance booking of the tour to your home country the exciting Spain.
    .

  36. Pablo November 24, 2013 at 6:24 pm #

    Hi Liz!!

    Thank you for tell so nice things about Northern Spain, I live in Avilés, a small city in Asturias. It’s one of the three big cities in Asturies. All them are very near each others… and each one has its own charming places… You should visit us…!! I think you’ll enjoy it!! ;-)
    I apreciate everything that you tell and how you tell,

    a huge hug… from Asturies

    • Liz November 24, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

      I love northern Spain and I miss it every day!

  37. Kabi December 2, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    Congratulations! Awesome post, we will repost it on our Facebook page. We are trying to sell the marvels of the Basque Country and de Pyrenees to the world and this is a great example.

  38. Tivi December 8, 2013 at 5:10 am #

    Hola!

    I am planning to visit northern Spain during spring break. What city or cities do you recommend during this season?

    Muchas gracias.

    • Liz December 8, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

      San Seb, Bilbao, Logroño, Oviedo, Santiago :) oh and Pamplona

  39. Alistair January 31, 2014 at 4:02 am #

    Hi Liz,

    great article!

    i’m looking to surprise my girlfriend with a road trip this May starting in carcassonne and driving to san sebastian then Rioja and then onto Porto in Portugal followed by ending in Faro.

    Can you recommend in any of these places or places along to way to look at or eat.

    I’m looking for fabulous food and wine, natural sights and beaches for the GF. I’ve wanted to go to Rioja for years now is my chance. I love the red wine!!!

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreicated.

  40. Meg February 1, 2014 at 2:56 am #

    Hey Liz- Great advice! Is May a good time to go? My husband and I have 10 days available in May and I want to go everywhere you suggested!!! Thanks.

  41. Wade February 4, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    Aw, this was a really good post. Taking the time and actual effort to create a top notch article… but what can
    I say… I procrastinate a whole lot and don’t seem to get nearly anything done.

  42. Sahib Kohli February 22, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    Need help Liz..i am veryyyy confused.. how far is San sebastian to La rioja..i be flying from DUbai to barcelona and need to take the train to check the country :)

  43. Valerie February 28, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    Spanish is my first language, but I live in the USA. I FINALLY went to Northern Spain (Aviles) to visit family in September-October 2013. I was there for 6 weeks. I did get to see other areas in Northern Spain. Loved Oviedo-have family there as well, but I love Aviles, Asturias, Spain! I would love to move there. I did spend some time in Cudalliero-beautiful! I have two cousins who live In Aviles, but each have places in Cudalliero. The pictures above are beautiful! Northern Spain is indeed very green and yes–there are beautiful mountains. I am so ready to go back, but have to save up for my next trip.
    Just a note-probably not of much interest to many, but both sets of grandparents were from Spain and my parents both born in US, but Spanish as well. It took me many years to get to Spain mostly because of my profession. Never could get more than 2 weeks off at a time and that was not enough time to meet my family. Only a distant cousin still living in Andalusia so I did not get to Southern Spain.

    I would highly recommend seeing Northern Spain if you have a chance!! Sorry for those who do know Spanish–not using the computer with my Spanish keyboard so any “mark”s above letters, etc. are obviously missing).

  44. Underclassy March 12, 2014 at 1:22 am #

    Hi Liz – Just happened on your site looking for info on N Spain – really inspirational so ‘thanks for sharing’ as I believe the young people are saying these days.
    We’re arriving in Santander from UK on the 02/04/14 with a car and have a week to get to Pau for a choral event.
    Obvs we were going to go to Bilbao and San Seb but what else might you suggest in that time – Rioja winery definitely a favourite (can you recommend) but not sure what the weather will be like for walking. Asturias looks beautiful and we’re very in to walking – are maps easy to find?
    Also, should I be looking for a Basque phrasebook? – pronunciation looks a nightmare. Would the Basques prefer English to Castillian?
    Thanks again and keep it up!

  45. Alleah March 25, 2014 at 5:56 am #

    Hi! Can you recommend any small family owned vineyard/wineries to visit? I speak spanish and can contact for an appointment if necessary! Thanks! :)

  46. Michał March 30, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

    For those who have lived or been to Asturias for; is Spanish commonly/mostly spoken or is Asturiano the main language of day to day life? Looks like I may be moving there in September so just curious about language use there.

    ¡Saludos!

    • Valerie April 2, 2014 at 7:08 am #

      Michael,

      I just saw your comment about moving to Spain-Asturias being one consideration. I was born and raised in the US, but spoke Spanish at home and did not learn English until I was 6.
      When I went there to visit family in September/October of 2013, it was my first trip to Spain
      I posted above a bit about my background in an earlier post on this site..
      I had no problem communicating with any of my family there!! They have a little accent in some words that vary from the pure Castillian, but it isn’t anything you can’t understand. They have some different words for things also, but if you ask and they explain (briefly) you will know right away what they mean
      As far as where to live….my husband and I definitely plan to move to Asturias in about 4-5 years. I did not get to Rioja, so I can’t answer that portion. I can tell you the food, restaurants, the mountains—EVERYTHING about Asturias was awesome. I stayed in Aviles, but did get to travel to several destinations within 2 hours of there. As far as prices for restaurants, food, items I purchases, I thought they were reasonable. I took my blow dryer and my flat iron, but I had purchased the incorrect adapter here in the States. When my aunt realized this she told me not to worry. She said I would just go to the peluqueria (hair salon-you probably knew the word) with her. I had my hair washed, styled and flat ironed as well as having a french manicure every week. I almost fell over when they asked me for 10.50 Euros!!!! That was dirt cheap! Here I would pay about $39.00 for the wash, style, flat iron and then an additional $$5.00 for the French manicure on top of the regular price for a manicure of $18-22. I know you don’t plan on having this service done, but it was a good comparison I could use re: prices. I found prices in restaurants pretty reasonable as well especially since you have so many courses. You can do the math!
      At the airport the food was pricey, but I find that typical in airports anywhere in general. The airport I had a longer wait was in Madrid. They have an airport in Aviles and in Oviedo which is about 20 minutes from Aviles, but did not get food there so I can’t say anything about those locations.
      As far as housing, I can’t really tell you. The mountains are fabulous and the seafood was incredible. One tip: You should buy your seafood from Tuesday through Saturday. The reason is because these are the days the fish is straight “off the boats”. If you buy it on Monday you are buying Saturday’s fish and the boats do not go out on Sundays thus the Tuesday start day in the week. I am telling you this because my relatives were adamant about buying the fish this way.
      You can walk almost anywhere you wish. I walked downtown almost daily in Aviles and did a lot of walking to places in Oviedo (relatives there as well).
      I hope some of this information is helpful to you. Of course, there are other “towns” other than Aviles and Oviedo. I visited many of them as we were driving and they were all nice. Some get more rural such as Arlos. Bottom line is that I liked every place along the way and have no reservations about moving there. I am so ready to go back, but have to wait a bit.
      I do not have my Spanish keyboard on this computer so please excuse the accent marks. Before I finish you asked about improving your Spanish–you will sooner than you think. As I said, I had no problems, but I have a couple cousins who only spoke very limited Spanish and they picked it up very quickly when they were there visiting.
      Best of luck to you. If you don’t mind I would love to hear what you decide. You might have other questions, but I tried to keep it to what you wanted to know.

      • Michał April 2, 2014 at 11:22 am #

        Thank you so much for taking the time to reply to me in depth Valerie, very much appreciated.

        I actually have decided after reading many other amazing experiences of life in Asturias to make it my first preference for where I’d like to move to. Now it just lies in the hands of the Spanish goverment as to whether that will be come a reality (hoping so!!). But if I don’t get assigned there this year, then I’ll reapply to be assigned there the next. Sounds like a truly magical place.

        Will definitely make sure only to have seafood between Tuesday and Saturday also. Thanks for the tip! And also nice to hear that the Spanish there doesn’t differ too much from what they’re speaking in Madrid and that I’ll be able to get by without a problem.

        Thanks again Valerie.

  47. Michał March 30, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    And another quick question for anyone who can answer; I’m massively torn between whether I should move to Asturias or La Rioja. If you take into consideration that I love my food, mountains, skiing, want to improve my Spanish, connectivity with the rest of Spain and cost of living, which would you choose? Difficult question I know, which is why I’m finding it so hard to answer!

    ¡Muchísimas gracias de antemano!

    • Ondina April 2, 2014 at 7:27 pm #

      Hi Michal. While the whole country has amazing food, and Asturias & La Rioja have a reputation for being great at culinary arts, only Asturias has ski resorts within the province and the nearby ones. In La rioja you would need to travel further ( yet the Pirenees are second to no one) to go tot skii. Weather has change significantly in these past 50 years and now ski/snow season is quite short. La Rioja is flat and inland, Asturias has mountains, valleys and sea within one hour drive yet is not as well communicated -locals give thanks for it- as the rest of the country. You won’t regret going to either place, enjoy your visit.

      • Michał April 16, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

        Forgot to thank you for your reply Ondina. As it turns out I’m moving to Asturias and am very much looking forward to it. Also La Rioja only seems to be a few hours away so can picture the odd weekend trip down to the renowned wine region. Excited! Also the possibility of moving to La Rioja after the year in Asturias if it catches my fancy is also an option. Either way, can’t wait to explore Spain and call Asturias home.

  48. Nancy March 31, 2014 at 4:44 am #

    My daughter is in Gijon, as I write this. She is on a three week exchange with high school students from Buffalo, NY. The pictures she has sent are absolutely amazing, with more culture and activities than you could see or do in a lifetime. She has done a mountain bike ride, drank cider with the locals, walked on the beach at night, visited a university in the mountains, gone to the bars/discos (drinking age is 18…), spanish dance class, art class etc etc etc. We have been to Europe, but she is absolutely in LOVE with Asturias and swears she will study or live there one day. Interesting change for American high school students….everything is within walking distance and they have only been in the family car, once!!! Everything Liz says above is true, according to my daughter!! I want to go there now….

  49. Frances April 8, 2014 at 4:09 am #

    Thinking of going to Spain in May for a couple of days (Wed to Sun 3.5 days) Maybe fly in/out of Biarritz with Ryanair. Thinking of either of these two itineraries.

    Fly to Biarritz bus to San Sebastian – day trips to Bilbao and Pamplona Dept Biarritz
    or
    Fly to Biarritz bus to San Sebastian do one day trip to either Bilbao or Pamplona and spend last night in Biarritz.

    Which towns/cities are better to spend longer in we are looking for scenic areas, nice bar/cafes/restaurants/nightlife with a bit of culture thrown in for good measure. Beach would be nice too as guessing weather will be nice end of May.
    Any restaurant, hotel tourist recommendations in these areas would be greatly appreciated.
    __________________

  50. Raymond April 15, 2014 at 2:39 am #

    The only places I have been in Northern Spain are Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Leon and a quick stop-over in Oviedo. That said, I feel I have not even scratched the surface of this part of Spain. I am always drawn to Spain for reasons I cannot fully explain. I have traveled the world many times over but Spain is truly special. Can anyone of you explain?

  51. Alisha May 20, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

    HI Liz!,
    I absolutely adore your blog and your taste..after several posts on lonely planet and still feeling clueless about my choice of places, here i am!..finally feeling awesome about your post on La Rioja and San Sebastian.!.. after doing my bit of research i somehow landed up with more places to visit in the north than in the south..(BTW im planning a trip this September to Spain, Portugal and Morocco with my husband(we’re 29 and 33 yrs old) – we have 35 days at hand, and i was almost exhausting my entire holiday in Spain!..not realising i had 2 more countries on my list..i cant wait to visit all three but Spain definitely promises so much, it makes me anxious and wanting to add more days to the itinerary everytime!..No one except you has finally given me the confidence of going ahead with my plans to visit La Rioja!..(any added info on where to stay in La Rioja (under max 150euros please- im planning 2 nights)..We love scenic drives(who doesnt..;)…so any suggestions are welcome.
    Anyway, so i really think you could help me best, I have a cousin in Valladolid and my itinerary might revolve around when she’d be available too, coz shes travelling in that period as well… But my current rough route plan is : Enter Barcelona to La Rioja to Bilbao (was planning a day trip to San Sebastian), to Valladolid – Madrid,- Lisbon(Portugal),- Faro (Portugal),- Seville,- (enter Morocco – visit Fes, Marrakesh) Exit to Mumbai-India..If possible please do help me out..I plan to do a couple of day trips in almost all places i’ve listed here..I wanted to visit Granada too for the Alhambra but i’m unable to manage it in my route..infact i even let go off Valencia..I might come across as someone who’s only focussing on the cities here..but i’ve read soo much about them i couldnt resist.i would love to add the countryside too..atleast 2-3 days..but i dont think im left with much time.. not sure what to trade too for a countryside visit.
    I’m really keen on a beautiful/ scenic drive at some point between 1 or 2 destinations if that sounds possible… Also, we’d like to take back unique experiences for memories..not a veryyy adventurous person – but yes i’d like to try some..paragliding?..hot air ballooning(i’ve done this in Cappadocia before)..anything else you really recommend?..we are absolute food lovers too..though my husband has the palette for spicier food…I could go on..Anyways..all/ any help is much appreciated..Thanks in advance!..i will now make a run for the rest of your posts..cant wait to read them all… Anxiously awaiting your replies! Thanks and sorry to bother u..

  52. mike spangler May 25, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    I was stationed at Zaragoza AB 79-81 & living in Spain are some of my best memories. I can’t believe how much it has changed. It used to be called the Iberian Peninsula, not really part of Europe. There used to be lot’s of bodega’s. Sitges was a popular small party beach town with cobblestone streets, open air bar/clubs/eateries all competing, saltwater showers…all dramatically changed. The historic seaside church remains, the rest is condo’s as far as the eye can see & store fronts with asphalt streets.

    Pamplona’s running of the bulls was more fun than Octoberfest in Germany. The food & people are still wonderful. I did not want to leave!

    Back in the day, the military was not permitted to go to San Sebastian, so I have to go there. I think it’s still my favorite country in the world!

  53. Kait May 28, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    I love this! I was just contemplating southern or northern spain and your article just decided it for me! thanks for the great info! p.s. San sebastion in june? Yay or nay?

  54. Haizea July 29, 2014 at 11:33 pm #

    I was just randomly searching for information and this post got my attention. I’m a 23-year-old girl from San Sebastián, and I feel incredibly honored to be a part of “the shining crown” in this blog. Thank you for taking the time to write about my city!

    For anybody that plans to come to San Sebastian, I would recommend visiting in spring or summer. It’s incredibly beautiful in autumn, but I’d check the weather because walking in the rain might not be your cup of tea. Although the majority of bars and restaurants are pretty expensive, there are some pocket-friendly places where locals go. For example, there’s this thing called “Pintxo-pote” every single Thursday (And if you’re lucky, some tuesdays as well) where everyone meets in an area (or district, or barrio as we call it here) and 90% of the bars offer a drink and a pintxo for just 2 euros. It’s becoming more popular now and not every bar has a super cool offer, but it’s searching your kind of pintxo and being with your friends what makes it fun. I’d like to reccommend the Gros area, and specially a place called La Piazzetta (Because let’s be honest, we all want a cold beer and an incredible risotto for 2 euros on a summer night).

    Oh, and if you’d like to visit the city like a local, I’d suggest renting a bike and following the “bidegorri” (It’s literally ‘red road’ in basque, there’s a special road for the bikers all over the city)

    Okay I’m writing too much now. Thank you so much!

  55. Valeria July 30, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

    The pictures look like a dream, just too good to be true! I would take a car and just drive around for a month!

  56. paul July 31, 2014 at 7:31 am #

    Great photos ! I am not city guy, i love the Country side i am in paris know but was looking at spain hard seeing the north looked good but your blog confirmed it ! I am traveling alone if you want to do a month of wine country and stay in chaley on the mountain a few days lot me know ? Paul ps i have gourgous Ranch in usa i love nature ! I

    • Sharon Mclean August 26, 2014 at 1:24 am #

      Hi paul, I live in Marbella in southern Spain and although it is very different to Northan Spain it is also a great place to visit, so if you ever go there I could show you around, also if you, d consider a holiday swap I, d love to , I have never been to the U.S.A.my email is sharonmclean8@gmail.com.

  57. ashwin October 11, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

    Hi!
    I am planning a trip to spain next year, wondering if August is a good time to goto north spain. And is 3-4 days good enough for Picos De Europa? Which are the best places in the mountains that you would suggest?

    TIA,
    Ashwin.

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