Top Menu

5 Things You Need To Know When Visiting the Basque Country

visiting the basque country

One of my favorite regions in Spain is the Basque Country. Seriously beautiful and seriously misrepresented, I feel like this tiny, unique area is often overlooked and skipped on classic Spain itineraries. People are put off by the distance or the fact that it’s just so different from the rest of Spain, being that they have their own language, Basque, which is linguistically different and unrelated to any other language in the world. Most see that as a challenge, I see it as being pretty damn cool. Luckily, my blog BFFL and blonde twin, Liz from Liz en España and now  A Midwestern Life has agreed to share her thoughts with us on the complex region of Spain.

What do you think of when you think of the Basque Country? Have you even heard of it before now?

1.  You can’t generalize

There are lots of preconceived notions and stereotypes about the Basque Country. The most prevalent, of course, is that they’re all terrorists. The region’s history with ETA, the Basque independence group, is complicated and has been, at times, bloody. However, the people that live in the Basque Country are on every end of the spectrum. I’ve met Basque-born people who identify as strictly Spanish, and those that vehemently deny any association with Spain and Spanish heritage. Those who went out and celebrated when ETA disbanded, and those who protested. You can’t make assumptions about anyone you meet, and most Basque people are willing to share their views on independence and the Basque Country.

visiting the basque country

2. It’s bigger than you think

The Basque Country isn’t just in Spain. In Basque, Euskal Herria is formed from four provinces in Spain (Alava, Vizcaya, Guipuzkoa, and Navarra) and three in France. These are the traditional lands of the Basque people, and you sometimes see graffiti that shows 3+4=1, which means the three French provinces plus the four in Spain equal the Basque Country. French Basque country is beautiful, and has some of the best surfing in the world. Check out Biarritz, St. Jean de Luz, and Bayonne if you find yourself there.

visiting the basque country

3. That language with all the k’s and tx’s? That’s Basque

If you’re linguistically obsessed, then the Basque Country is a good place to be. Basque  (or Euskara) is the language spoken by the Basque people. It is one of the only pre-Romanic languages still in existence today, and no one really knows where it comes from, as it is not related to any other language in the world. It doesn’t sound at all like Spanish, although many modern Basque words have been influenced by Spanish (Txocolate=chocolate, for example). Depending on where you are in the Basque Country, you may or may not hear Basque. When I was living in Bilbao, I didn’t hear it too often, especially since my school taught only in Spanish (which is very rare in the Basque Country). In the smaller villages, it’s more common to hear, as many speak it as a first language. There are also several different dialects of Basque, so the Basque people speak in Bilbao is different from the Basque that is spoken in San Sebastián. Looking for some Basque words to pepper your vocabulary while in the Basque Country?

Hello-Kaixo, aupa
Goodbye- Agur
Thank you- Eskerri asko

visiting the basque country

4. It’s more than meets the eye

Many people go to see the Guggenheim in Bilbao, hit the beach in San Sebastián, and call it a weekend. Bilbao is way more than just the Guggenheim. If you want to stick to the Basque theme, there’s the Museum of Fine Arts, the Maritime Museum, and the Basque Museum to keep you busy. San Sebastián has some of the best food in all of Spain, with their pintxos (Basque tapas, more or less) being innovative and daring. Many people don’t even visit Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of the Basque Country, which has a picturesque old town and is generally less expensive than the other two cities. There are also countless tiny villages in the mountains and on the beach that kept me bust for years. For example, Getaria, a small fishing village is the home of the Balenciaga museum. Bermeo has San Juan de Gatztelugatxe, a small hermitage situated on an island in the sea.

visiting the basque country

5. It rains. A lot.

Somedays, it seems like all it does is rain in the Basque Country. They even have a word for that light, misty rain that seems to never stop-txirimiri. If you’re planning on spending any amount of time in the Basque Country, you’re going to want to make sure you pack an umbrella. If you’re planning on being there for an extended period of time, you’re going to want to invest in a good, sturdy umbrella. Rain boots are also a good idea, as if you let the rain stop you from getting out and about, you’ll never go anywhere. The rain pays off in the spring and summer, when the mountains become lush and verdant.

Liz is a former Bilbao auxiliar who now resides in St. Paul, Minnesota. Since returning home, she now enjoys being able to do her laundry in less than 2 hours, and being able to wear sweatpants out of the house. Her newest blogging project is A Midwestern Life. Follow her on Twitter today!!

, ,

30 Responses to 5 Things You Need To Know When Visiting the Basque Country

  1. Matthew Hirtes March 1, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Absolutely adored Bilbao on my last visit to the Basque Country. Sounds like it’s time for a return trip.

  2. Cassandra March 1, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    Me encanta Pais Vasco y quiero volver!! I would really love to explore part of French Basque Country the next time I’m up north, as I’ve never been further than San Sebastian.

    Liz, I remember when we visited you and it hardly ever stopped raining. It was also of note that the locals would suddenly whip out their umbrellas before it started drizzling–they know what’s up, and you can follow their lead.

    • Liz March 1, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

      Haha, I know! It’s like they have a 6th sense for it!

  3. Emma March 1, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    Wonderful! I am moving to Biarritz in France in 3 weeks, which is very near the Basque country. I am planning to explore around that area lots!


    • Liz March 4, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

      I’ve been there, seriously beautiful! I’m jealous!

    • ops March 5, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

      “which is very near the Basque country.”

      Really near. Biarritz is part of Basque Country, the French Basque Country 😉

    • TITEN March 5, 2013 at 5:13 pm #


    • Maialen April 22, 2014 at 10:43 am #

      Biarritz is actually IN the Basque Country, French Basque Country :)

  4. Season March 2, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    I’ve been living in Euskadi for 6 years now and I can’t imagine living anywhere else in Spain! Great post about a fantastic region!

    • Liz March 4, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

      It rocks!

  5. Mike March 3, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    Great post! País Vasco was one of my preferences for the Auxiliar program. I’ve been to Bilbao, San Sebastián, and Zarautz before, and its always great to learn more about Northern Spain. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and cannot wait to go to Spain myself!

  6. Trevor Huxham March 5, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    I’ve only stayed there 2 nights (3 including Pamplona), but I love, love, love the Basque Country; San Sebastián is one of my favorite cities in Spain. This post is a great introduction for first-timers to the region, including #1; although not generalizing about people or places is good advice for anywhere you travel, you’re right that Basques have been especially stereotyped in the past.

    Have you read The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky, Liz? I’m partway through it right now and am really enjoying this enlightening, fascinating read about how the Basque people came to be who they are today and how their culture, cuisine, etc. was shaped by their connection to the sea and their often-uncomfortable relationship with their Spanish and French neighbors.

  7. Candace March 6, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    The part about the rain reminds me of how Japan has many different words for different kinds of rain. Basque sounds like a wonderful place, despite the wet weather!

    • Set March 23, 2013 at 2:26 am #

      Well, the weather is not that bad. We have our sunny days too, specially in summer.
      I’m born and raised in Bilbao, so this is first hand information 😉

  8. Jeremy March 12, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    Great post and thanks for spreading the word about this lovely place. I fell in love with it when I first visited many years ago and have since put together a complete travel guide for the entire Euskal Herria (Navarre & The French Basque Country included). Hopefully it can help people plan their trip there and even convince them how amazing it really is. Check it out:

    Eskerrik asko!

  9. carles March 25, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    The good- the food.
    The bad- the weather is awful. Rain,rain,and more rain. The people never smile.

    • Liz March 26, 2013 at 2:20 am #

      I feel like people smile less in Spain too, but then again in the US, we smile so much! GOt to show off our expensive teeth care 😀

  10. Josh March 26, 2013 at 1:37 am #

    This couldn’t have come at a better time Liz. I’m up in país vasco for semana santa and loving it. Rainy, but just fantastic. I’m learning so much about the history here. Can’t get enough!

    • Liz March 26, 2013 at 2:15 am #

      PV rocks, right?!

  11. celt June 14, 2013 at 4:14 am #

    Love to hear people compain about rain in southern europe, come to Scotland we’ll show you rain lol.

    • Kaukasiaitor March 15, 2014 at 5:15 am #

      hahaha It rains the double in Bilbao and 3 times more in Donostia-San Sebastian comparing to Glasgow, Edinburgh or Aberdeen… So yeah it rains more in this area of “southern Europe” as you call it, than in Scotland… if you have any doubt, google it.

  12. Eneko June 25, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    Hi Liz,

    I’m from Vitoria-Gasteiz and I find your publication really interesting. It’s very nice to see my country from the perspective of a person who has lived with us or a visitor. Thank you very much for sharing your points of view and experience. :)

    Regarding to some of the comments which say that Basques don’t smile so much, I agree with them. hehe :) I don’t know what the reason is. Moreover, I would add that we don’t look at other people’s eyes so much. That’s what I felt after travelling for first time to the south of Spain, and it’s still what I feel living abroad.

    However, in summer, Basques are much happier because the weather is nicer and the towns are celebrating a lot of festivals and fiestas. The bigger fiestas are: San Fermines in Pamplona, Fiestas de Vitoria [Gasteizko jaiak], Semana Grande de Bilbao [Bilboko Aste Nagusia], Semana Grande de San Sebastin [Donostiako Aste Nagusia], Fêtes de Bayonne [Baionako bestak], and many others organized in small towns. We also like to party :)

    I hope you enjoyed your stay in the Basque Country.

  13. Can September 12, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    Will they pretend ? I wanna learn that whether they are buckled down or not in relationships?

  14. R.Burciaga August 26, 2014 at 8:57 am #

    The last name Burciaga is from the basque region. Anyone know of more burciaga’s in this area?

  15. Julieta October 14, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

    Hi! I loved reading this. My husband and I are going to visit Basque Country in the summer of 2015. While we are there we are hoping to find out more about his heritage that is connected to that region, do you happen to know of someone or somewhere that could help us build our family tree? Thanks in advance.

    • Ane January 9, 2015 at 11:04 am #

      Hi Julieta! I know that it’s too difficult you could read this but I live near San Sebastian, and I would love to help you in anything you need.

      Please contact with me in that case!
      Thank you!!!!

      • Stacy May 26, 2015 at 4:23 am #

        Hi Ane,
        I’m taking a chance you will read this. I am looking to find out family history in this area. If you could point me in the right direction I would appreciate it very much.


  1. Basque hunting in Bilbao, País Vasco | Spain For Pleasure - April 2, 2013

    […] and Vitoria-Gasteiz. This came as a surprise to me. Clearly, I hadn’t read Liz’s post on ‘5 Things You Need To Know When Visiting Basque Country’ closely enough. Inevitably, I began to draw comparisons with Catalan, a language that is spoken […]

  2. Basque hunting in Bilbao, País Vasco | Spain For Pleasure | Hunting - April 2, 2013

    […] and Vitoria-Gasteiz. This came as a surprise to me. Clearly, I hadn’t read Liz’s post on ‘5 Things You Need To Know When Visiting Basque Country’ closely enough. Inevitably, I began to draw comparisons with Catalan, a language that is spoken […]

  3. Basque hunting in Bilbao, País Vasco | Spain For Pleasure - December 27, 2013

    […] and Vitoria-Gasteiz. This came as a surprise to me. Clearly, I hadn’t read Liz’s post on ‘5 Things You Need To Know When Visiting Basque Country’ closely enough. I inevitably began to draw comparisons with Catalan, a language that is spoken […]

Leave a Reply