Road trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao: the amazing Basque Coast – travel drafts (2024)

In this post, we chose an itinerary from San Sebastian to Bilbao, but you can do it backward, from Bilbao to San Sebastian, as easily.

When you think about visiting the Basque Country, you probably think of San Sebastian or Bilbao, which are both incredible cities that deserve to be visited! Thus, if you are visiting both, you’ll need to go from one to another. So, if you are going to make the trip, you might as well enjoy it!

Planning a trip to Spain? Have a look at the 50 things you need to know before traveling to Spain.

On this road trip through the Basque Coast, you will see amazing beaches, incredible lookouts, cute villages, stunning cliffs, great hikes, unbelievable islets, and a unique bridge. Spain‘s coastline is much more than the southern beaches!

Road trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao: the amazing Basque Coast – travel drafts (1)

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Road trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao – itinerary

San Sebastian

This trip starts in San Sebastian, but we assume you have already visited the city. It is the most beautiful city on the Basque coast, and it should take 2 or 3 days to visit it. You won’t have time to visit San Sebastian and the destinations below in just one day.

Check this article about the best things to do in San Sebastian in 3 days.

Road trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao: the amazing Basque Coast – travel drafts (2)


From San Sebastian, we suggest you avoid the highway and go on the road closer to the sea. You start by going to Mount Igueldo and then continue to Zarautz through a small road withbeautiful views, and it’s very pleasant to drive.

Zarautz’s main attraction is definitely its 2.5 km long beach.This massive stretch of sand is known as “the queen of the beaches” and has attracted beachgoers since the 19th century. If you are traveling in Summer, you really shouldn’t skip it! During summer, this sleepy beach town changes completely, becoming very lively—Watersports and surfers love this town.

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Getaria is very close to Zarautz (less than 5 km), and the maritime road connecting them was beautifully built on the edge of the cliffs right in the sea. It’s definitely a place to enjoy the views and the road.

Getariawas a whaling town, much like many others on the Basque coast, and nowadays, it’s an attraction by itself where you could easily spend a whole day. You have an old town, a seaport, the ocean, beaches, anda mountain islet with a lighthouse.

We suggest you start by having a walk through the old town, visiting thechurch of San Salvador and its tunnel underneath! Interestingly the church used to belong to the wall that surrounded the town.

Road trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao: the amazing Basque Coast – travel drafts (4)

If you like quick hikes (and stunning views), we strongly suggest you climb Mount San Antón. There are several paths leading to the top. On the way up, you will discover the lighthouse, from which they used to observe whales.

On the top, you will be rewarded with beautiful panoramic views of the town and the coast. We really enjoyed this! It’s a very gratifying piece of exercise during a road trip and after several days of eating pintxos!

Visiting Spain? Check the 50 things you need to know before traveling to Spain!


Zumaia is the next beach town in the Basque country that really needs to be visited. This small town hastwo beautiful beaches, an interesting Old Town, a modern leisure port, and several interesting buildings, however, we will focus on the Flysch Cliffs and the Geopark because that’s what makes this town unique.

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Flysch Cliffs

Between Zumaia and Deba, the mountains descend abruptly to the sea, forming one of the most spectacular natural areas in the Basque Country.

Over thousands of years, the sea waves have eroded the smooth clayey materials of the Flysch, sculpting the fantastic cliffs that form a plane surface on the coastal line. Besides being unique and a geologist’s dream, the Flysch cliffs’ incredibly photogenic scenery just invites us for a hike, both on the beach and on the edge of the cliffs.

To have more info about Flysch Cliffs and why these are so important check here.

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Hiking in the Geopark

Hiking around the Basque Coast Geopark is one of the best ways of discovering the local Flysch, Karst, and its history. Between Zumaia and Dena you can do a 60 million years trek in an 8-hour walk! I mean, you can watch60 million years of geological history in 8 hours while taking in the magnificent views!

Though, if you don’t have a full day, you can also do shorter treks. We strongly advise you to take theAlgorri trail, which starts from the San Telmo chapel and covers the most exciting chapter of the Flysch. This is also where the most you can find the most beautiful views. It’s a scene that you won’t forget easily!

It’s a fairly easy walk with only 1.5 Km, although you should take about 1 hour to do it because you’ll want to stop, enjoy and take lots of pics. Note that the trail takes you to the cliff’s edge, which could be dangerous and difficult for children and people who are afraid of heights.

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Boat trip in the Geopark

There are several organized boat trips to see the cliffs better, usually between Zumaia, Deba, and Mutriku. The impressive Flysch cliffs can be observed from the sea allowing you to witness more than 60 million years of geological history. Plus, with a guide explaining the importance and the details of the cliffs, you can enjoy more than just its beauty but also understand its relevance.

Although available all year, boat trips are a better option in summer. During winter, the wind and waves make the trips less pleasant and the boat can’t approach the cliffs. Moreover, the trips may even be canceled or shortened if it’s terrible weather! This happened to us, and it was very frustrating.

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San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

It’s really difficult to choose the highlight of this trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao, but I think that the islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is our favorite! The whole setting is astonishing, and being a Game of Thrones fan will only make your experience even better as you will remember the stone bridge and stairs as the real-life Dragonstone!

San Juan deGaztelugatxe islet is connected to the mainland via a man-made footbridge which transitions into a narrow path that contains241 stepsand zigzags its way back and forth to the top.

Descending the hill, crossing the bridge, and climbing up to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a small adventure that will reward you with impressive views. On top, there’s a tradition of ringing the chapel’s bell three times and making a wish.

Road trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao: the amazing Basque Coast – travel drafts (9)

Vizcaya Bridge

Our last stop before arriving at Bilbao is the Vizcaya Bridge, connecting Portugalete and Getxo! This is a bridge unlike any other we have ever seen. Why? People and traffic are carried on a high-suspended gondolaoperating every 8 minutes during the day.

Each gondola can transport six cars and several dozen passengers in one and a half minutes. Yes, you read it right! You don’t actually drive (or walk) through the bridge, you drive the car into a gondola that “floats” to the other side!

Pretty cool, ah? We had to try it. We have to say that the trip was really smooth, and the bridge is a perfect combination of beauty and functionality.

This 45-meter-high bridge, spanning 160 meters, merges 19th-century ironworking traditions with the then-new lightweight technology of twisted steel ropes. The bridge was built to connect Portugalete and Getxo without disrupting the Port of Bilbao maritime traffic and at a reasonable price.

In 2006 the Vizcaya bridge was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (in the industrial heritage category), it wasthe first to use a combination of iron technology and new steel cables which began a new form of constructing bridges that were later imitated throughout the world. It is one of the most famous landmarks in Spain.

Road trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao: the amazing Basque Coast – travel drafts (10)


Bilbao is the biggest city in the Basque country and the last stop of this road trip. As we said about San Sebastian, Bilbao deserves at least one day of your time.

In Bilbao, you must visit the Guggenheim Museum, or at the very least, take some time to look around and enjoy the views of that remarkable and iconic building. You should also visit Casco Viejo, the old town of Bilbao, full of old buildings, narrow streets, and charm of its own.

Road trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao: the amazing Basque Coast – travel drafts (11)

This trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao could be a full day, or even 2 or 3 days, depending on the time you have. The Basque country, particularly the Basque coast, is beautiful and has plenty of things to do.We strongly advise you to take your time and enjoy!

If you can visit both, we compared San Sebastian and Bilbao, explaining if it is better to visit Bilbao or San Sebastian.

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Road trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao: the amazing Basque Coast – travel drafts (12)
Road trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao: the amazing Basque Coast – travel drafts (2024)


Where should I stop between San Sebastian and Bilbao? ›

Best stops along Bilbao to San Sebastian - Donostia drive. The top stops along the way from Bilbao to San Sebastian - Donostia (with short detours) are Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Beach of La Concha, and Gaztelugatxe. Other popular stops include Casco Viejo, Old Town, and Santa Maria Katedrala.

How many days do you need in Bilbao and San Sebastian? ›

In a mere five days, you can enjoy an unforgettable Spanish vacation. This is possible when you make the culturally rich Basque region your destination. This itinerary includes tours of Bilbao and the Guggenheim Museum, plus a coastal drive to San Sebastián, a seaside resort city of singular beauty.

Should I spend more time in Bilbao or San Sebastian? ›

In general, Bilbao is best if you're after a big city, want to visit the Guggenheim and enjoy an eclectic atmosphere. On the other hand, San Sebastian is ideal if you're looking for a beachy vibe and want to indulge in Basque cuisine.

How many days in Bilbao is enough? ›

Bilbao is a relatively small city, so two nights is plenty of time to explore. The city thrives on tourism, so there are a wide range of options when it comes to accommodation – and the city has a solution for every budget. The narrow streets of the Casco Viejo (Old Town) are the most popular and touristy area.

What is the best beach between Bilbao and San Sebastian? ›

Karraspio Beach, Lekeitio

Half way between Bilbao and San Sebastian sits the small town of Lekeitio, at the mouth of the Lea River, where it meets the ocean. A sandy beach extends on one side of the estuary, while in the middle sits San Nicolás Island – accessible on foot at low tide.

What nice towns are between Bilbao and San Sebastian? ›

Lekeitio. The small seaside town of Lekeitio is precisely halfway between Bilbao and San Sebastián and about an hour's drive from Bermeo—an excellent place for a break. The town's draw is its unique Isuntza Beach, which changes shape based on the tides and often features a sandbar leading to San Nicolás Island.

What time of year is San Sebastian best? ›

The best time to visit San Sebastian is from May to July. While the majority of this time period falls during peak tourist season, these months offer the best temperatures. San Sebastian is generally a cooler destination, with spring and fall temperatures seldom topping 65 degrees.

What is the best season to visit Bilbao? ›

The summer season period from June to mid-September is the best time to visit the city. This the warmest part of the year and the weather remains well-balanced throughout this period. Fogs do tend to occur during the autumn season as the weather transitions from the warmth of the summer.

Do you need to speak Basque in Bilbao? ›

In the same way as in the rest of the Basque Country, Bilbao has two official languages: Spanish and Basque. Both are used interchangeably in the administration and in the public services and increasingly more in everyday life, the result of the endeavour to mainstream Basque in recent decades.

Do you tip in San Sebastian Spain? ›

In most situations, tipping in Spain is not compulsory and is entirely at the discretion of the customer. The majority of Spaniards will not tip as many restaurants that provide table service will already factor this in with the addition of a service charge. Look for “servicio incluido” on the bill.

Is San Sebastian better than Santander? ›

There is more to see in Santander than San Sebastian. Also hotels in Santander cost less than those in San Sebastian. I stayed a week last year in Santander and enjoyed it. I stayed at the Hotel Bahia, a very good hotel with one of the best restaurants in the city.

How many days in San Sebastian is enough? ›

As you can tell from above, 2 days is enough time to experience San Sebastian's top sights. Three days in San Sebastian, however, allows for a day trip in Basque country or to France. If I weren't already going to Pamplona, I would have loved to see Biarritz, France. It is only an hour from San Sebastian to Biarritz.

Is it difficult to drive in Bilbao? ›

Driving around Bilbao is as easy as any city in Spain. Expect pushy driving, but decent roads. The layout of the city is quite complicated but well signposted, and the Old Town is a pedestrian zone.

Is it OK to speak Spanish in Bilbao? ›

There is a growing population of bilinguals in Bilbao. Spanish is widespread and almost the whole population knows it. The vast majority speak Spanish the entire time. Spanish is a language where you pronounce the words as they are written.

Do you need a car in Bilbao? ›

There are many one way streets and the old town is mostly pedestrian-only. If you are not planning to get out of the city, however, you will probably not need/want a car during your stay in Bilbao. Using public transport and/or taxis will end up being a cheaper option, since you will save money on parking and gas.

What is the distance between Bilbao and San Sebastian? ›

It takes an average of 5h 50m to travel from Bilbao to San Sebastián by train, over a distance of around 48 miles (77 km).

Is Bilbao a day trip from San Sebastian? ›

Just an hour away from San Sebastian, Bilbao is a perfect day trip destination. The trip is easy: the fastest way to get there is to catch a bus from the station in San Sebastian.

Where to go after San Sebastian? ›

  • 1 | Zumaia. Zumaia is one of the easiest day trips from San Sebastian. ...
  • 2 | Getaria. Views of Getaria from the Monument of Juan Sebastian Elcano. ...
  • 3 | Bilbao. The Guggenheim Museum is one of the biggest draws to visit Bilbao. ...
  • 4 | San Juan De Gaztelugatxe. ...
  • 5 & 6 | Biarritz and Bayonne France. ...
  • 7 | Pamplona. ...
  • 8 | Logroño.

Where to stop between San Sebastian and Barcelona? ›

Best stops along San Sebastian - Donostia to Barcelona drive. The top stops along the way from San Sebastian - Donostia to Barcelona (with short detours) are Caribe Aquatic Park, Catedral del Salvador de Zaragoza, and Oficina de Turisme de Salou.


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