10-day Northern Spain Itinerary – Classic, Foodie + Active

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When most people imagine the coast of Spain, they picture sun-soaked beaches, warm crystal clear water, and a vibrant nightlife that never seems to sleep. Comparing the two coasts of Spain is like flipping a coin. One side of the country is almost completely different from the other, however, the north holds unimaginable treasures that need to be seen to believe. In the north, cool air sweeps across the Atlantic bringing milder weather and rainfall to create lush forests, grassy hillsides, and pristine beaches that outdoor lovers dream to explore. Rolling waves in the Bay of Biscay beckon surfers, paddleboarders, and kayakers from across the country to dive in water despite the chilly ocean temperatures. Among the rugged rocky cliffs, adventures await, and in between them, tiny medieval villages charm the hikers and horseback riders with hearty meals fit for a king.

Those dishes in the taverns are world-renowned. Many travel to the region solely for the cuisine. Northern Spain created a culinary legacy that Michelin chefs couldn’t ignore. With distinct seafood flavours presented in the simple form of pinchos, they created a recipe for perfection after pairing it with stellar cider and wine made from the stunning landscapes that stretch from France to Portugal. Like the pilgrims who walk across the entire northern coast of Spain on the Camino de Santiago, the only way to truly capture the essence of the region is to travel it for yourself. With the different itineraries provided below you can make your way from San Sebastian to Asturias, knowing you truly experienced the best of what northern Spain has to offer.

Northern Spain Itineraries

Getting To Northern Spain

With several airports on the coast and high-speed rail lines running directly from Madrid and other large cities in the country, getting to northern Spain is fairly simple.

For those coming from international destinations, flying into one of the major airports such as Bilbao, Santander, or Asturias allows for east transit to the best cities and villages on the coast to visit.

Bilbao Airport (BIO), the largest airport in the north, is located in the heart of the Basque Country and serves as a major hub for travellers visiting the nearby cities of Bilbao and San Sebastián.

Santander Airport (SDR) offers easy connection to the quaint coastal villages and stunning beaches of the Cantabrian Coast, while Asturias Airport (OVD), near Oviedo and Gijón, serves as a gateway to the beautiful natural landscapes of Asturias.


Travellers can opt for a scenic train ride to northern Spain from larger cities like Madrid and Barcelona, or from several destinations in France, including Paris and Bordeaux.

Getting Around

With several transportation options available on the northern coast of Spain, getting from point to point in the region comes down to personal preference and the time allotted for your trip.

Rental cars:

Rental cars offer freedom and flexibility for reaching your destination quickly but add stress when trying to find parking in the cities or smaller coastal villages. Just be sure to brush up on your parallel parking skills before you go and watch out for oncoming traffic on the narrow coastal roads.

With a rental car, you can venture out to hidden beaches, stop and wander through old fishing villages, and take driving breaks at the scenic viewpoints off the beaten path.

Rental cars are available directly from the airport and in major cities such as Bilbao, Santander, and Gijón, making it easy to pick up a set of wheels and hit the road when you arrive. It’s worth comparing rental car rates online before you go to save money.


Trains whisk you across the countryside as you watch rocky cliffs, and the sparkling sea zip past you on the way to your destination. Spain’s national railway company, Renfe, covers many major cities and coastal villages in the north.

The high-speed AVE trains offer rapid transit between Bilbao, Santander, and Gijón, while the regional trains stroll along at a leisurely pace. With comfortable seating and several daily departures, travelling by train is a stress-free option for getting around northern Spain.


Buses are a budget-friendly way to reach the coastal cities and villages, allowing time to escape the midday sun with air conditioning and comfortable seating. ALSA is the main bus operator in the region and offers routes connecting all the major destinations.

With flexible ticket options and direct routes, you can adjust your itinerary to your liking, and add more time to explore at your own pace, while saving money for other travel expenses.

Local bus transportation in Spain offers another level of convenience for hopping around the city. If you plan to spend more than a day in one location, look into getting a local bus pass to save on fares. Bus passes can be purchased at kiosks, local bookshops and tobacconists. Most trips cost less than 2 euros in cash.

Other transportation options:

In cities like Bilbao and Santander, you can also hop on the metro or tram to reach different neighbourhoods and landmarks in the city.

Taxis are widely available and can be hailed in most urban areas or booked in advance online with ridesharing apps on your mobile phone.

Uber, Bolt, and Cabify are also quite common in the region, providing rapid transportation options at a reduced fare.

Download the ride-sharing apps before your trip.

Northern Spain is known for its great bicycle paths and long promenades on the coast.

Bike rental services are available in many villages and cities or you can rent a bike from an auto-serve station by using an app on your mobile phone.

It’s a fun and eco-friendly way to see the sights while getting some exercise.

Why not hop aboard a ferry and see the northern coast by sea?

Ferries cross the waters between many coastal destinations, and with onboard amenities like cafes and outdoor viewing decks, it’s a great way to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Hoof it! Walking through the charming old villages is the best way to fully immerse yourself in Spanish culture.

New surprises await around every street corner.

You never know what unique boutique shop or quaint cafe you might find!

Where To Stay

In northern Spain, travellers are treated to a wide range of accommodation options, from charming guest houses to luxurious beachfront resorts.

Whatever your preference is for a good night’s sleep, you are sure to find it.

For a taste of authentic Spanish hospitality, quaint guesthouses and bed-and-breakfasts in the coastal villages offer cosy accommodations and personalised service.

With charming decorations, these family-run establishments typically feature home-cooked meals and a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

For more comfort and amenities during your stay, you can opt for a mid-range hotel which offers modern rooms, onsite restaurants and cafes, and swimming pools, spas, and fitness centres.

Many are situated inside historic buildings in the heart of the city or perched on hillsides overlooking the sea.

If you are seeking pure elegance, the luxurious upscale resorts and beachfront hotels offer top-notch service and lavish amenities such as private beaches, gourmet restaurants, and exclusive spa facilities.

These properties are located in more private areas and provide an idyllic setting to relax.

In addition to the options above, travellers can also discover a variety of alternative lodging choices.

Rural homes (casas rurales) allow guests to fully experience a quiet life in the countryside.

Rural cottages or farmhouses are typically set in areas away from the cities and offer cosy rooms and home-cooked-style meals.

Solo travellers and backpackers will feel right at home in a local hostel in northern Spain.

These accommodations cater to budget travellers and backpackers who typically hike through the region on the Camino de Santiago during the warmer months.

With dormitory-style accommodation and private rooms, hostels have communal areas, kitchen facilities, organised activities, and a lively social atmosphere.

If you love sleeping under the stars, the campsites along the coast offer spaces for tents, caravans, and camper vans.

Many campsites also feature basic facilities such as toilets, showers, and hook-ups for electricity.

Paying And Tipping

Paying for meals at restaurants in Spain is straightforward.

Here’s a breakdown of the various payment methods and tipping customs:

Cash is widely accepted in restaurants across the country.

Always keep some extra euros on hand, particularly for the smaller cafes or rural village bars.

Credit and debit card payments are very common in large cities and tourist areas.

After you are finished dining, present your card to the server, who will bring the card machine to your table for payment and prompt you to enter your PIN if necessary.

Many restaurants also accept contactless payments (NFC).

Mobile payment methods like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay are also popular in Spain.

If the restaurant supports these payment methods and you have a compatible device, simply hold your phone near the card reader to complete the transaction.

Tipping is not mandatory in Spain, as the service charge is usually included in the bill.

However, leaving a small tip (typically 5-10%) is appreciated if you’re impressed with the service.

Feel free to ask about payment or tipping policies with the restaurant beforehand, especially if you’re in a smaller village where payment options may be limited to cash only.

10-Day Classic Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San Sebastian

Start your northern Spain adventure in San Sebastian, known across Europe for its spectacular beaches and world-class cuisine.

Spend the morning exploring the Old Town (Parte Vieja) and wander through the narrow cobblestone streets lined with pintxos bars and boutique shops.

Sample a variety of delicious Basque tapas paired with local Txakoli wine for lunch and then take a short walk to the bustling Plaza de la Constitución, to see where the bullfights once took place.

Afterwards, soak up the sun on the golden sand of the famous La Concha Beach. When it starts to cool off, enjoy a pleasant stroll on the promenade while window shopping for souvenirs.

Day 2: San Sebastian

San Sebastian In Spain
San Sebastian Northern Spain itinerary 7 days.

Begin your day with a visit to the iconic San Telmo Museum, housed in a 16th-century Dominican convent, to learn about Basque history and culture through its impressive collection of contemporary art and archaeological artefacts.

When you are finished, walk along the picturesque waterfront promenade, Paseo Nuevo, and admire the stunning views of the sea and the city’s skyline.

You can also hike to 12th-century Castillo de la Mota from this location for superb panoramic views from above.

In the evening, catch a performance at the renowned Kursaal concert hall or enjoy a memorable dinner at one of the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants, where you can savour innovative Basque cuisine prepared by talented chefs.

Recommended tours:

Day 3: Bilbao

Cityscape Of Bilbao Reflected In The Water
Bilbao, Northern Spain itinerary 10 days.

Head to Bilbao, home to the world-famous Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, an architectural masterpiece designed by Frank Gehry.

Spend the morning discovering the museum’s impressive collection of contemporary art, including works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Yayoi Kusama.

Afterwards, wander through the historic Casco Viejo (Old Town) and marvel at the charming streets, traditional Basque houses, and lively squares like Plaza Nueva.

Be sure to stop by the Mercado de la Ribera.

It’s one of Europe’s largest covered markets offering local pintxos, fresh seafood, and artisanal cheeses.

Recommended tours:

Day 4: Santander

View Of Santander, Spain
Santander Barcelona and Northern Spain itinerary.

Make the trip to Santander and begin your day with a visit to the Palacio de la Magdalena, a beautiful royal palace overlooking the Bay of Santander.

Explore the palace’s lush gardens and take in the breathtaking views from the terrace.

Next, head to the Playa del Sardinero and spend the afternoon relaxing on one of the sandy beaches (Sardinero or El Camello) and take a refreshing swim in the Cantabrian Sea.

In the evening, stroll along the elegant waterfront promenade El Paseo de Pereda and admire the various sculptures, historic buildings, and gardens before dining out in the city.

Recommended tours:

  • From Santander: Cabarceno Natural Park Half-Day Trip
  • Santander: Comillas, modernist architecture and Gaudi

Day 5: Santillana del Mar

The Cantabrian Town Of Santillana Del Mar
Santillana Del Mar Northern Spain driving itinerary.

Journey to the medieval village of Santillana del Mar, often referred to as the “town of three lies” due to its name, which means “Holy Flat Land by the Sea” despite being located in the hills and having no connection to the sea or any religious history.

Explore the village’s well-preserved medieval architecture, including its winding cobblestone streets, historic stone buildings, noble houses, and ancient churches.

Be sure to visit the Altamira Cave Museum (Museo de Altamira), a UNESCO World Heritage site that showcases prehistoric cave art dating back thousands of years.

Recommended tour: From Santander: Santillana del Mar & Altamira Museum Tour

Day 6: Comillas

Sobrellano Palace, Comillas
Comillas Northern Spain travel itinerary.

Discover the beautiful village of Comillas. Start your day with a visit to El Capricho de Gaudí, a unique Modernist mansion designed by the renowned Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí.

Marvel at its whimsical design, colourful tiles, intricate ironwork, and fantastic motifs inspired by nature.

This masterpiece is one of Gaudi’s earliest works.

Next, explore the historic centre, home to Pontifical University.

Wander the streets to find the 16th-century Church of San Cristóbal and the Casa del Duque.

Save some time to relax on the Playa de Comillas in the afternoon and take in the stunning beauty of the Cantabrian Sea.

Recommended: Comillas: Gaudí’s El Capricho Entrance Ticket & Tour Option

Day 7: Llanes

Llanes Harbour
Llanes itinerary Northern Spain.

Travel to the charming coastal village of Llanes, and stretch your legs with a stroll along the picturesque seafront promenade, lined with colourful fishing boats and small cafes.

Explore the old medieval village ‘Casco Antiguo’, and admire the medieval walls and historic landmarks such as the Basilica de Santa Maria and the Tower of Llanes.

If the sun is shining, take a swim at Playa de Toró or Playa de Sablón, where beautiful rocky cliffs and rugged hillsides flank either side of the beach.

Recommended tour: Oviedo: Ribadesella, Llanes, and Colombres Day Trip

Day 8: Gijón

Beach Of Gijon City
Gijon Northern Spain itinerary 14 days.

In Gijón, begin your day by exploring the historic Cimavilla neighbourhood, and admire iconic landmarks such as the Palacio de Revillagigedo and the Church of San Pedro.

Next, venture to the Laboral Ciudad de la Cultura, a cultural complex housed in a former industrial building, where you can explore art exhibitions, botanical gardens, and architectural wonders.

During the summertime, Playa de San Lorenzo is the most popular beach in the area to relax in the sun while enjoying fantastic views of the city and church in the distance.

Recommended tours:

Day 9: Asturias

Ribadesella Village Aerial View In Asturias Of Spain
Asturias, Northern Spain road trip itinerary.

Venture into the remarkable landscapes of Asturias, and prepare for outdoor adventures in the rugged mountains, deep gorges, lush forests, and pristine beaches of the region.

Start your day with a visit to the Picos de Europa National Park and hike through stunning alpine scenery, wander through picturesque villages, and spot wildlife such as chamois, deer, and golden eagles.

Next, visit the charming village of Cangas de Onís and see the famous Roman bridge, Puente Romano, which spans the Sella River, dating back to the 14th century.

In the evening, relax and unwind at a traditional sidrería (cider house), sample Asturian cider and enjoy delicious local cuisine.

Day 10: Departure from Asturias

If you have an afternoon or evening departure, start your day early by visiting Covadonga, a historic village nestled in the mountains.

Explore the Sanctuary of Covadonga and the cave shrine dedicated to the Virgin of Covadonga.

You can also drive or take a bus up to the Lakes of Covadonga, Enol and Ercina, for stunning views and leisurely hikes before you head out at the end of your 10-day journey to northern Spain.

7-Day Foodie Itinerary

Day 1: San Sebastián

Pintxos (Basque Tapas)
Pintxos (Basque Tapas) best Northern Spain itinerary.

Begin your foodie adventure in San Sebastián, where pintxos reign above all.

In the morning get your first taste of Basque cuisine with a breakfast of pintxos (small bites bursting with flavour) in the Old Town.

Sample delicacies like Gilda, a skewer of olives, anchovies, and pickled peppers, and txistorra, a savoury Basque sausage.

For lunch, head to a local seafood restaurant for marmitako, a hearty Basque fisherman’s stew made with grilled squid drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

In the evening, dive deeper into the lively pintxos scene.

Choose between bacalao al pil pil, and txuleta, a mouthwatering Basque-style ribeye steak.

End your day with something sweet such as pantxineta or gâteau basque at a pastry shop.

Day 2: Bilbao

In Bilbao, kickstart your morning with a cafe paired with pastel vasco, a traditional Basque custard tart, or bollo de mantequilla, a savoury buttery bun.

For lunch, try a plate of bacalao al ajoarriero, cod cooked with garlic and peppers, followed by pintxos like txipirones stuffed with Iberian ham.

Treat yourself to a memorable dinner at one of Bilbao’s Michelin-starred restaurants, where dishes like foie gras terrine and hake kokotxas in green sauce will blow your mind.

Wrap up your day with a nightcap of txakoli or Basque cider before heading home.

Day 3: Santander

Typical Spanish Tapa Of Battered Fried Squids
Battered Fried Squids Northern Spain itinerary 5 days.

Head to Santander, a city filled with traditional maritime cuisine and mouth-watering fresh seafood.

Enjoy a light breakfast with café con leche and freshly baked pastries while looking out over the sea.

For lunch, request chipirones en su tinta, baby squid in ink sauce, and pulpo a la gallega, Galician-style octopus, a must-try during your visit. For dessert, grab some artisanal helado on the promenade.

Explore the Cantabrian culianary scene at dinnertime with dishes like cocido montañés and almejas a la marinera.

Finish your day with a glass of local cider poured from high above the table.

Recommended tour: From Santander: Santillana del Mar & Altamira Museum Tour

Day 4: Santillana del Mar

In Santillana del Mar, start your day with hot chocolate and churros at a local café in the village centre for breakfast.

At lunch, try cocido lebaniego, a hearty stew made with chickpeas and pork.

In the evening, look for traditional restaurants serving other regional specialities like carne en salsa, and quesada pasiega, a creamy cheesecake famous in the region.

Day 5: Comillas

For breakfast in Comillas, save room for larger meals later in the day by sipping on cafe con leche while eating tostadas (toasted bread) with olive oil, tomato rallado, jam, or jamón Spanish-cured ham.

When lunchtime arrives, dive into one premier dish of Cantabrian cuisine, arroz con bogavante (rice with lobster).

In the evening savour the taste caldereta de cordero (lamb stew) which showcases the rich flavours and culinary heritage of northern Spain.

Day 6: Llanes

Journey to Llanes, and begin your day with a protein boost by having huevos estrellados (fried eggs) or tortilla española (Spanish omelette).

Head to a traditional cider house for lunch, and try fabada asturiana, a hearty bean stew typical of the region.

Explore the streets of the historic centre and stop by a pastelería for artisanal sweets for an afternoon treat.

Get your first taste of Asturian cuisine for dinner, with dishes like pote asturiano (beef stew) and calamares en su tinta.

Day 7: Gijón

Conclude your foodie adventure in Gijón by enjoying a relaxed breakfast at local cafe and arouse your senses with café con leche and ensaimada, coiled pastries dusted with powdered sugar

Bring your appetite for lunch and slice into some cachopo, a breaded beef dish loaded with tender meat and delicious melted cheese.

For dinner, learn more about Asturian cuisine with a humble dish of fabes con almejas (beans with clams) followed by arroz con leche (rice pudding) for dessert.

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7-Day Outdoor Adventures Itinerary

Day 1: San Sebastián

Tourist At The Castle Of San Sebastian
San Sebastian Northern Spain itinerary by train.

Begin your day in San Sebastián with a morning hike along the stunning coastline of Monte Urgull.

Make your way up the winding trails to the top of the hill to find incredible panoramic views of the city and sea below.

If you’re feeling even braver, head to Zurriola Beach for a surfing lesson in the afternoon, and learn how to ride the perfect waves found in the Bay of Biscay.

You can also explore the underwater world on a snorkelling excursion in La Concha Bay. The crystal-clear waters are teeming with aquatic life.

Day 2: Bilbao

Summer Holiday Vacation In Spain
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Urkiola Natural Park south of Bilbao offers more than a full day’s worth of hiking and exploration in the pristine wilderness.

Wind through dense forest trails while passing by cascading waterfalls, and rushing rivers.

If you’re an adrenaline junkie, give rock climbing a try on the dramatic limestone cliffs of Monte Pagasarri, where experienced guides lead climbers of all skill levels through thrilling ascents to the top.

For something more laid back and casual, saddle up for a horseback ride through the Spanish countryside, and enjoy the tranquillity of nature on your journey.

Day 3: Santander

Picos De Europa National Park
Picos De Europa National Park, Northern Spain and Portugal itinerary.

Discover the coastal beauty of Cantabria from a better vantage point while kayaking along its rugged shores.

Paddle below towering cliffs, and discover hidden sea caves, and secluded beaches while getting a great workout.

If you would to stay dry on your adventure, sign up for a guided nature hike in the breathtaking Picos de Europa National Park.

Explore the diverse ecosystems, alpine meadows, and ancient forests so many have come to love.

If you’re up for a greater challenge, consider going on a canyoning expedition in the rugged gorges of the Miera River.

Feel the excitement as you rappel down waterfalls and plunge into crystal-clear pools.

Day 4: Santillana del Mar

Strap on a helmet and go on a cycling tour in the idyllic countryside surrounding Santillana del Mar.

Pedal down the old country roads and through the rolling hills, quaint villages, and rich farmland.

You can also explore the enchanting landscapes of the Saja-Besaya Natural Park and join a guided birdwatching tour where you will see a wide array of bird species in their natural habitat.

Day 5: Comillas

Oyambre Natural Park, Cantabria, Spain
Comillas Oyambre Natural Park, Northern Spain itinerary.

Hit the waves with a stand-up paddleboarding adventure along the pristine coastline of Cantabria.

Glide across crystal-clear waters while enjoying distant views of rugged cliffs and golden beaches nearby.

For a more serene outdoor experience, go on a guided horseback ride in Oyambre Natural Park.

Trot across sandy shores, through lush forests, and over rolling dunes.

Day 6: Llanes

Sign up for a coasteering adventure along the rugged cliffs and hidden coves on the Asturian coast.

Climb, scramble, swim, and jump your way through natural rock formations and sea caves to find remote landscapes and hidden treasures along the way.

For something more relaxed for the day, head to the verdant forests of the Sierra del Cuera Natural Park on a guided hiking tour.

Discover hidden waterfalls, ancient chestnut groves, and astounding vistas.

Day 7: Gijón

Conclude your week of outdoor adventures with a mountain biking trek on the winding trails of the Asturian countryside.

For a more leisurely outdoor experience, walk between San Lorenzo and Poniente beaches, and feel the soft sand between your toes, as you soak up the sun.

Playa de San Lorenzo is also great for surfing. The waves cater to beginners, encouraging everyone to try the thrill of surfing firsthand.

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Grant Doremus
Grant Doremus is a freelance writer from the United States, eager to share his travel experiences and knowledge about some of the best destinations in the world. He grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, and after a successful career in finance, he decided to chase his dreams of becoming a digital nomad. As an avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast he went on a road trip across the U.S. visiting 26 states, exploring most of the country's national parks, and climbing some of the highest peaks in the country. After a year on the road, he headed to Europe where he backpacked through 10 countries before finally settling in Spain. Grant loves to write about Spanish culture, its rich history, and traditions. His favourite destination so far is Mallorca, but he hasn’t finished his travels just yet!