Picture yourself in a place where soaring mountains meet roughing sea, where vibrant cities meet ancient traditions. Welcome to Northern Spain, the ultimate blend of hiking adventures, captivating sightseeing, and cultural marvels. Whether you’re an avid explorer, a food enthusiast, or a history buff, this extraordinary region has something for everyone. Our Northern Coast of Spain itinerary takes you on a road trip from the Basque Country through the rugged landscapes of Asturias and Cantabria before reaching Galicia. In this article, we list each destination’s highlights and how to prepare for your 14-day road trip.

Why a Northern Coast of Spain Itinerary

While most visitors tend to head to places like Barcelona, Madrid, or Costa del Sol, Spain has so much more to offer, and the Northern Coast is one of these less-traveled gems!

Our Northern Spain Itinerary took us through four different regions:

  • Basque Country
  • Cantabria
  • Asturias
  • Galicia
Northern Coast of Spain Itinerary: 14 Day Road Trip from Basque Country to Galicia // Map Northern Spain - CC 3.0

Map Northern Spain – CC 3.0


We spent about three days per region but could have easily stayed longer in each place. See below our itinerary and things to do and see in this part of Spain.

Discover the Vibrant Cities of the Basque Country

The Basque Country, known as Euskadi in the Basque language, has a distinct culture, breathtaking landscapes, and a rich history. One element we did not know before going to the Basque Country was how strong the culture was and how much the language was used daily. Expect to see road signages in both Spanish and Basque and hear people chatting in Basque.

Day 1: San Sebastián (Donostia)

We started your journey in San Sebastián, a coastal gem renowned for its stunning beaches, world-class cuisine, and lively atmosphere. With its iconic crescent shape, La Concha Beach is perfect for sunbathing and swimming.

Basque cuisine is renowned worldwide for its exceptional quality and flavor. Try pintxos (small, elaborately prepared dishes) in San Sebastián’s bars or dine in Michelin-starred restaurants like Arzak. These pintxos were finger-licking, and I would definitely go back to San Sebastián just for them!

Day 2: Bilbao

Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country and home to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, a modern architectural masterpiece showcasing contemporary art. Stroll along the Nervión River promenade and explore the Casco Viejo (Old Town) for a taste of Basque culture.

For delicious Basque Cuisine in Bilbao, head to Azurmendi. Now, between San Sebastián and Bilbao, when it comes to pintxos, I have to say that I am not sure which city wins… You have to try them all!

Day 3: Gaztelugatxe

This unique and picturesque islet is connected to the mainland by a stone bridge. Climb the 241 steps to reach a hermitage at the top and take breathtaking views of the rugged coastline. And, of course, any Game of Thrones like us will recognize the area as one of the famous movie filming locations.

Explore the Rugged Coast of Cantabria

After the urban wanders of Basque Country, it’s time to venture into the rugged landscapes of Cantabria. This region is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering many hiking trails and breathtaking vistas.

Cantabria boasts a diverse natural playground and a suggested coastline, where towering cliffs meet the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Golden sandy beaches meet dense, green forests. From the enchanting landscapes of the Picos de Europa to the stunning coastal scenery of the Bay of Biscay, there is no shortage of wonders to explore. Take a stroll along the Camino del Norte, a section of the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, and soak up the tranquility of the surroundings.

Days 4-5: Santander – Altamira Cave – Coastal Towns

We skipped Santander, the region’s capital. But we did a quick drive-through, as the city is known for its elegant architecture, beautiful beaches, and lively atmosphere. We were told that we should visit the stunning Palacio de la Magdalena, a royal palace turned university campus overlooking the Bay of Santander.

One of the highlights of Cantabria for us was the visit to the prehistoric Altamira Cave, often referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of Paleolithic Art.” While the original cave is closed to the public to preserve its ancient paintings, you can visit the Altamira Museum, which features a replica of the cave and informative exhibits.

Next, we explored Cantabria’s coastline, dotted with picturesque fishing villages like Castro Urdiales, Laredo, and San Vicente de la Barquera. These towns offer stunning beaches, fresh seafood, and a glimpse into the region’s maritime traditions.

You might notice we don’t list Santillana del Mar here. While the village is a well-preserved medieval village with cobbled streets and an impressive Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana, the place also feels fake. It is purely focused on tourist shops and restaurants. Moreover, besides having to pay for everything, we did not feel welcome there. So even though Santillana has its charm, other places in the region are better deserving of your time and money.

Don’t leave Cantabria without trying some of its delicious dishes, such as cocido montañés (a hearty bean stew), seafood paella, and sobaos pasiegos (buttery sponge cakes). Pair your meal with a glass of local cider or orujo, a traditional liquor.

Reach the Sky in Asturias

Asturias, located on the northern coast of Spain, is a region characterized by its stunning natural landscapes, historic architecture, and rich cultural heritage. It’s a destination that offers a little bit of everything for travelers, from rugged mountains to beautiful beaches and charming villages. Here are some of the top attractions and things to see in Asturias:

Day 6: Ribadedeva – Cangas de Onís

Another day, another coast drive – but nothing boring about it! The scenery is stunning, and we couldn’t get enough of it!

Such a drive took us to a side road leading to an ancient monastery. We hiked around and loved the surrounding forest and atmosphere. Nestled down towards the steep cliffs, the area was stunning!

Later, we reached Cangas de Onís, known for its well-preserved Roman bridge. The area is also famous for being the place where the resistance against the Muslim invasion started with the Battle of Covadonga in 722.

Day 7: Picos de Europa National Park Hiking

For good reasons, this is one of Spain’s most iconic natural attractions. The Picos de Europa mountain range offers breathtaking scenery, with jagged peaks, lush valleys, and deep gorges. We simply could not visit!

We headed to the Lakes of Covadonga for a day hike, though other longer hikes are possible throughout the park. The Lakes of Covadonga are well known, especially the glacial Enol and Ercina lakes, which have turquoise colors and are surrounded by impressive mountain scenery. The Mirador del Príncipe viewpoint offered breathtaking views of the lakes.

Northern Coast of Spain Itinerary: 14 Day Road Trip from Basque Country to Galicia // Hiking Picos de Europa

Hiking Picos de Europa

As you drive up and down the mountain road, make sure to stop here and there to take in the scenery. And watch out for cattle that walk on the road! The return drive was quite challenging, with visibility down to the car bumper.

Hiking, rock climbing, and wildlife watching are also popular activities here.

Day 8: Oviedo

The capital city of Asturias is known for its historic old town, where you can explore narrow streets, squares, and impressive architecture. The Oviedo Cathedral, San Miguel de Lillo, and Santa María del Naranco are must-visit landmarks.

We spent a few hours in Oviedo and enjoyed the city.

Asturian Cuisine is famous for its hearty and delicious cuisine. Don’t miss trying regional specialties like fabada asturiana (a hearty bean stew), cider, and various seafood dishes. Finish with a sweet quesada pasiega, a local cheesecake. Moreover, the region is famous for its cider houses (sidrerías). Visit traditional cider houses to experience the Asturian tradition of pouring cider from a height to aerate it. Enjoy this refreshing drink with local cheeses and dishes.

Uncover the Ancient Traditions and Mystical Beauty of Galicia

Galicia, located in the northwest corner of Spain, is a region renowned for its rugged coastline, lush landscapes, rich history, and distinct cultural traditions. One of the most captivating aspects of Galicia is its deep-rooted connection to its Celtic ancestry. This can be seen in the vibrant festivals and traditional music that fill the air, creating an atmosphere of celebration and joy. The haunting melodies of bagpipes echo through the ancient stone streets, transporting you to a time long past.

From ancient pilgrimage routes to picturesque coastal towns, here are some of the top attractions and things to see in Galicia:

Day 9: As Catedrais, Fragas do Eume

Our first stop was As Catedrais Beach – a very scenic area with rock formations and arches that remind us of cathedrals – hence the name! We were there at low tides but not low enough to see all the cathedral’s arches. Watch the tides as you don’t want to get caught with rising waters far down the beach.

In the afternoon, we hiked up to the Mirador de Carbueira, which provides excellent views over the forest area.

Day 10: La Coruña, Dombate, and Muxia 

La Coruña (or A Coruña as it is known locally is a fantastic city with a lovely seafront promenade, a historic old town, and the impressive Tower of Hercules, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world.

We stopped at the Dombate Dolmen, a must-see! Indeed, the real-size duplicate dolmen showed that some of the stones were painted. Something I never realized or never saw before! After witnessing some cave paintings, it made sense that Dolmen could also be painted.

After diving by beautiful beaches like Praia Lago, we reached the small village of Muxia. Make sure to drive up to the end of the road, where you can appreciate the Muxia Chapel facing the Atlantic Ocean. Quite a sight indeed!

Days 11-12 : Finisterra & Camino de Santiago

As we continued driving along the coast, we ended up at Finisterra – the end of the road. Literally and figurately! Similar to another Finistere, that one in Brittany. And a reminder of a common Celtic ancestry.

Finisterra is the actual end of the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. While all several different paths of the popular hike lead to Santiago de Compostela as a symbolic stop, the way carries on to reach the ocean. The most popular route, the Camino Francés, offers a unique opportunity to hike across the Galician countryside, visit charming villages, and meet fellow pilgrims.

The capital of Galicia, Santiago de Compostela, is one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the world. Pilgrims and hikers from all around the globe come to reach the magnificent Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. The historical part of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – narrow streets, covered alleys, and small shops nestled between buildings dating back to the Middle Ages.

A stop in Santiago allows you to try some of Galicia cuisine, renowned for its fresh seafood like pulpo a la gallega (Galician-style octopus), hearty stews, and popular sweets like the tarta de Santiago (almond cake).

Day 13: Barquina & Barona

A testimony to Celtic culture, Galicia is home to several dolmens, and we made another stop at the Axeitos Dolmen to appreciate these huge rocks. Return to Santiago or continue to Portugal.

We ended our Galicia travels with a visit to the Castro de Baroña. A well-preserved Iron Age fortified settlement that was inhabited between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. The location is quite impressive, and it’s easy to imagine the life between the ocean and the forest.

Day 14: Vigo

The last stop on this Spain’s northwest coast road trip was Vigo. The city is the main hub for reaching the Cíes Islands, which belong to the Atlantic Islands National Park. The islands are known for their birdlife, and for the unusual crescent-shaped form of the Rodas Beach.

We really enjoyed this trip in Northern Spain, such a contrast from what we saw in Navarre and Aragon. We would go back in a heartbeat and take a more leisurely approach to take in the peaceful settings of the region.

Our trip continued into Portugal, but for those interested in a stand-alone loop itinerary, one can simply return and fly back from Santiago.

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