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The Basque Country Road Trip

The Basque Country Road Trip: from San Sebastián to Bilbao

The Basque Country Road Trip


Spanning across southwestern France and northeastern Spain, the Basque Country is one of the most fascinating places in Europe. The autonomous community stretches along the Bay of Biscay to the north and the Ebro river to the south, incorporating the Basque Mountains in its centre. The region has a lot to offer year-round: impressive modern architecture, rich art and cultural life, a warm climate, luxurious sea resorts with European glamour. The reputable wine region, Rioja, borders with the south of the country.

Meet the friendly Basque people away from the hustle and bustle of holiday resorts during a memorable road trip in the Basque Country. Many small and colourful towns are located in the north of the country and can be easily reached from larger cities. To be able to explore the country, get off the tour bus and make your own trip instead.

Be free in your travels to make the most of what the country has to offer and go on a road trip through the Basque Country. Discover red-roof buildings located along the coast, the hills, and rivers of the Basque Mountains with breathtaking panorama. Getting on the road in the Basque Country will be hassle-free thanks to multiple car hire pick-up locations. Make yourself familiar with local traffic regulations by visiting our driving guide.

The optimal start point of the road trip will be picking up your car hire in San Sebastián, situated at the Bay of Biscay. The city lures visitors with its sunny beaches surrounded by the mountains. The city centre is perfect for sightseeing on foot. San Sebastian, with a romantic and youthful atmosphere, will put you in a holiday mood in no time! 

Having begun your road trip in San Sebastián, you will be ready to explore the countryside, meet hospitable local people and learn the unique Basque language, older than the Romance languages. Admire the local medieval and Romanesque architecture of Vitoria-Gasteiz and traverse the picturesque Rioja region before you reach the end of your road trip in Bilbao, home to some of the world's great museums.

Let us be your travel partner on the Basque Country road trip. Read our guide for travel inspiration and see the best of the autonomous community. Thanks to a car hire in Spain from Auto Europe, you will be able to travel at your own pace!

The Basque Country Road Trip Overview


Road Trop to San Sebastián       Road Trop to Vitoria-Gasteiz

Road Trop to Haro       Road Trop to Bilbao

DistanceTravel Time
Main Road
San Sebastián to
61 miles
1 hour 16 minutesAP-8 & AP-1
Vitoria-Gasteiz to
30 miles
35 minutesAP-1 & N-124
Haro to Bilbao
59.5 miles
1 hur 2 minutesAP-68


Total:150.5 miles
2 hours 53 minutes

The Basque Country Road Trip Day 1: San Sebastián


The Basque Country Road Trip: San Sebastián

Attractions in San Sebastián:

With its picturesque coves and characteristic red roofs, it is hard to believe that the city is not a Mediterranean hotspot. San Sebastián, or Donostia as it is called in the local language, offers you much more, this is your entry ticket to the magical atmosphere of the northern Basque Country. Pick up your car hire in San Sebastián Airport and drive to the fabulous beaches Playa de la Concha or Playa de Ondarreta. These urban beaches are perfect for a relaxing walk on golden sands and a refreshing swim in the sea. Surfers could try the little less busy Playa de Gros. The crystal-clear waters of the Biscay Bay become lively during the Fishing Boat Regattas of La Concha in early September. See more of the underwater world in the city's Aquarium. Go up the Igueldo Mountain by an old funicular railway to see Donostia in all its glory from the top of the mountain. September is also the time of the San Sebastián International Film Festival, a great opportunity to watch world's best cinema.

Restaurants, Bars and Nightlife in San Sebastián:

Restaurants in San Sebastián

A road trip to San Sebastián cannot not be complete without visiting Parte Vieja, a historic district of Donostia with some splendid restaurants and tasty tapas and pintxos bars. Visitors often hop from one place to another, to sample local delicacies. We recommend paying a visit to the popular La Cuchara de San Telmo for creative meals like risotto with squid ink and foie a la plancha. La Mejillonera, on the other hand, serves traditional dishes, such as patatas bravas, calamari, or mussels. Try Astelana for tapas with Asian twist or head to Michelin-starred Arzak offering delicious seafood dishes. 

Hotels and Accommodation in San Sebastián:

The city has numerous accommodation on offer, also for budget travel. For travellers looking to a cheaper option, boutique guest houses and hotels like Pensión Bellas Artes and Pensión Aida are a good choice. These places offer comfortable rooms at competitive rates. More options with simple comfort include Pensión Amaiur or Pensión Altair. If you opt for a more luxurious place, check in to the Gothic-style Hotel Villa Soro with a land house charm. The city centre is reachable within 20-minutes walk. Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra invites travellers with rooms with the sea view.

Scenic Drives on your road trip to San Sebastián:

While planning your stay in San Sebastián, make sure to reserve some time for day trips to regional towns and villages. Thanks to a car hire from Auto Europe, you will be able to see the most of the region. Head to the beautiful sand beaches in Hondarribia, a city located nearby. Try out local cuisine it the old town part, home to fantastic restaurants. The lovely town of Irun is the perfect place for a day trip with lots of outdoor attractions: golf, horse riding, hang gliding, or canoeing on the river Irun. The fishing village of Getaria, hometown of naval explorer Juan Sebastián Elcano, will enchant you with fresh seafood. 


Plan in Advance: Your Road Trip Services



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The Basque Country Road Trip Day 2: Vitoria-Gasteiz


The Basque Country Road Trip: Vitoria-Gasteiz

Attractions in Vitoria-Gasteiz:

Votoria-Gasteiz, the capital city of the Basque Country lies off the popular tourist tracks. However, thanks to your rental car, the road trip to Vitoria-Gasteiz will only take one hour or so. Most of the city attractions date from the Middle Ages. Take a stroll along the 11-century city walls and find yourself in a place packed with historical monuments. The well-preserved city centre is home to impressive Renaissance buildings like Bendańa Palace, Escoriaza-Esquivel Palace or Catedral de Santa Maria. Enjoy your time in one of the many parks in the city; Vitoria-Gasteiz was named European Green Capital in 2012.
Walk to the most popular meeting spot in the city, Plaza de la Virgen Blanca, a lively square and setting for local festivities. 

Restaurants, Bars and Nightlife in Vitoria-Gasteiz:

Vitoria-Gasteiz Restaurants

If you are looking for something very special, park your car hire in Vitoria-Gasteit downtown, walk down the Calle Correría along the 15-century stores to El Portalón, the former stagecoach inn renewed into a charming restaurant. You will be served by the staff dressed in 15-century farmer-style costumes. Classically-decorated Zaldiarán offers eight-course menu for affordable prices. Go on a culinary trip and order "surprise menu" at Restaurante El Clarete. Fresa y Chocolate Vitoria serves home-made pastries and fresh juice.

Hotels and Accommodation in Vitoria-Gasteiz:

As you will be travelling by car, your accommodation can also be located outside the city centre, where you will find some fantastic hotels, like Hotel Restaurante Araba. With its  quiet location and a restaurant, the hotel is a very popular choice. Gran Hotel Lakua caters for business travellers. Should you like to stay in a modern-design place, try Jardines de Uleta located more centrally. 


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The Basque Country Road Trip Day 3: Haro

The Basque Country Road Trip: Haro

Attractions in Haro:

Now for something special for wine lovers -a road trip to Haro! Spanish wine is ranked among the best in the world, especially Rioja. The third day of the Basque Country road trip takes you to Haro, a town located in the north of La Rioja province in which you will be able to drive your car hire in Haro to the many high-acclaimed wineries. The region is known for Tempranillo, oaky red wine with velvet texture and hints of cherry and vanilla aroma. White wine is also produced in here and is the perfect match for seafood dishes. Haro, home town to famous wineries, is best to visit in summer when the annual Haro Wine Festival is being held and the locals and oenophiles are literally soaked up with wine. The festival begins with a parade of men dressed in white shirts and red scarves carrying various containers filled with wine. The parade ends with the men being showered with wine until their clothes are completely soaked in wine. Should you miss the festival, there are various charming wineries to explore. In López de Heredia Vińa Tondonia you can see the traditional 19-century wine produce equipment. Vinedos Gomez Cruzado welcomes you with a friendly staff and wine tasting. For a once-in-a-lifetime memory, try out balloon flights offered by Globos Arcoiris and admire the spectacular vineyard countryside.    

Restaurants, Bars and Nightlife in Haro:

Haro's Wineries

Andre Simon, the French wine merchant and writer once said "Food without wine is a corpse; wine without food is a ghost." Nothing more pleasurable than combining the two in Haro's amazing restaurants. Take in the atmosphere of Asador Beethoven, or rustic Restaurante Mesón Atamauri; both places serve traditional Spanish dishes made of lamb, asparagus, or mushrooms accompanied by wine at affordable prices. Centrally located Arrope offers friendly service and a selection of vegetarian meals.

Hotels and Accommodation in Haro:

Hotel Los Agustinos is an excellent choice if you are looking for something special and luxurious. Dating from 13th century with an interesting history, the former monastery has  large, comfortable rooms and a good location: numerous restaurants are in the vicinity of the hotel. If you are travelling in two, opt for a romantic hotel Casa de Legarda, set in a small village, a mile away from Haro's centre - the perfect distance for a walk for couples. Choose a family-run Hostal Aragón as a budget option, ideal for a short stay.


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The Basque Country Road Trip Day 4: Bilbao


The Basque Country Road Trip: Bilbao

Attractions in Bilbao:

The last day of the Basque Country road trip takes you to Bilbao. Arts enthusiasts will certainly enjoy their time in lively Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque Country and economical hub for northern Spain. The city's highlight is the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao designed by an American architect Frank Gehry. The modern and futuristic design is as much fascinating as the contemporary art exhibitions held inside. Museo de Bellas Artes exhibits modern and classical art as well as works of the Basuqe artists, such as Jorge de Oteiza and Eduardo Chillida. Pay a visit to the decadent Teatro Arriaga Antzokia, inspired by the Paris Opera House. Located in a historic building, the theatre holds opera, ballet, concerts and theatre plays. To learn abut Basque art, visit Euskal Museoa, set in a previous monastery. The museum hosts various exhibitions from different epochs, from prehistoric times to the 21st century.

Restaurants, Bars and Nightlife in Bilbao:

Bilbao Restaurants

Top your road trip to Bilbao with a special meal! Journey into Mercado de la Ribera, a large market place in Casco Viejo, to find something delicious for a picnic. Head to La Plaza Nueva square to choose from an ample selection of tapas bars. Be adventurous and try traditional Basque cuisine in Rio-Oja offering squid in its own ink. 



Hotels und Accommodation in Bilbao:

The streets of Bilbao are packed with peculiar independent shops. The hotels in the city are also very characteristic. Pensión Iturrienea Ostatua, for example, is decorated with paintings of regional artists, antiques and other curiosities. Brightly coloured Hostal Begońa welcomes travellers with modern art. A traditional Hotel Miró is located not far away from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The hotel offers chic rooms and is known for friendly staff. Should you need assistance in finding your accommodation, try Bilbao tourism authority, its reservations department will be happy to help you.

Scenic Drives on Your Road Trip in Bilbao:

Scenic Drives in Bilbao

Thanks to a car hire in Bilbao, you will be free to tour the regional countryside. Make a day trip to Guernica, a city with a tragic history. It was an aerial bombing target during the Spanish Civil War, when it was destroyed in 1937 by the Nazi German air forces, allies to the Spanish nationalist government. The bombing served as an inspiration to Pablo Picasso's famous black and white mural-sized painting Guernica. The city, a famous meeting point for the Basque politicians, is only a 40-minutes drive away from Bilbao. Visit Gernika Peace Museum to learn about the history of the city. Also, go to the Assembly House, close to the symbol of the Basque Country, the Tree of Gernika. Another one-day trip from Bilbao you could make would be visiting nearby Lekeitio. Outside the holiday season, the place is a charming fishing village, while during high season, it changes to a vibrant seaside resort. If your holiday ends in Bilbao, take a flight home form Bilbao Airport, located 4 miles away from the city. 


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