Looking for the perfect road trip in Northern Spain? I’ve got you covered! Ever since my recent solo road trip around Alberta Canada, I’ve been completely hooked on road trips as a new way to travel – and I keep thinking about my next one.
The north of Spain is easily among one of the most beautiful, charming and cultural parts of the world, making it perfect to explore via a road trip. Rugged landscapes, incredible seafood, and a fascinating history create the ideal backdrop for a road trip with a difference.
My route starts in the port city of Bilbao, and continues on through the Basque region, Cantabria, Asturias, and finally Galicia. We end in the gorgeous city of Santiago de Compostela, as countless pilgrims have before us; the cathedral here is the endpoint for the famous Camino de Santiago.
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Road Trip in the North of Spain
Bilbao, Basque Country
There’s simply no better place to start than Bilbao’s Port. The port is directly accessible from Portsmouth via direct ferry and, from here, you’ll have great motorway connections to wherever in Spain you want to head next.
Bilbao also makes a great jumping-off point for exploring the Basque Country. This autonomous region in the north of Spain has its own special vibe, its own distinct cuisine, and even its own language. Be sure to try a few pintxos dishes, the region’s answer to tapas.
Things to do in Bilbao include:
- Indulge your arty side at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Museum of Fine Arts
- Explore Bilbao Cathedral
- Go pintxos-bar hopping along Calle Ledesma
- Soak up the views from the top of Mount Artxanda
Next, drive west to the fishing village of Santoña in rugged Cantabria. This spot is perfect for clifftop walks or lazing on secluded beaches. There’s also, unsurprisingly, plenty of delicious seafood to try.
Things to do in Santoña:
- Visit the clifftop lighthouse of Faro del Caballo (Horse Lighthouse)
- Discover the wildlife of Santoña, Victoria and Joyel Marshes Natural Park
- Hit the beach – Playa de Berria is one of the most popular
Surrounded by stunning beaches and rugged coastline, Llanes was one of my favourite discoveries Spain, and makes a perfect road trip stop.
Things to do in Llanes:
- Take a day trip to the tiny fishing village of Cudillero, nestled along the rocky coast inside a natural amphitheatre formed by the surrounding mountains.
- Hike or bike to the secluded, crescent-shaped beach of Playa de Torimbia
- Go hiking in the Sierra de Cuera mountain range
If time permits, take the long way to Oviedo and stop for some hiking in the Picos de Europa – one of the best national parks in Spain. This dramatic mountain range is one of the most incredible landscapes I’ve ever seen. Oviedo itself is a beautiful city, known for its stunning medieval old town.
Things to do in Oviedo:
- Visit the Gothic Oviedo Cathedral with its 9th-century Holy Chamber
- Enjoy the views from Monte Naranco
- Eat your way around the city, enjoying all the traditional foods of Asturias
The next stop along this road trip in the north of Spain is Ortigueira, a beautiful town tucked between mountains and sea. It’s the first stop in the stunning region of Galicia, where you’ll find some of the best food in Spain.
Things to do in Ortigueira:
- Visit the Convent of Santo Domingo, where you’ll find the architectural jewel of the Teatro de la Beneficencia – originally a wine warehouse for the monks!
- Explore the protected wetlands of Ría de Ortigueira e Ladrido
- Visit the Old Market in the Barrio do Ponto
Santiago de Compostela, Galicia
The end-point of the classic Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, Santiago de Compostela is one of Spain’s most charming cities. Its stunning cathedral is reputedly the burial place of Saint James (or Sant Iago in Spanish, hence the city’s name), one of the apostles of Jesus Christ.
Things to do in Santiago de Compostela:
- Visit the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and pay your respects to St James
- Wander through the Mercado de Abastos de Santiago
- Eat and drink your way around the city’s incredible food scene
- Try a Torta de Santiago – an almond-based cake you can only find in this city. It’s a traditional reward for pilgrims reaching the end of the Camino.
If you have a little longer and fancy getting a little off the beaten path, why not add on a trip to the Cíes Islands: a stunning, near-uninhabited archipelago off the west coast of Galicia. Check out this guide on how to visit the Cies Islands to find out more.
Don’t Forget Your ETIAS Visa
If you’re booking a road trip in northern Spain, be sure to check what requirements are needed for you to travel to the country and drive there. Depending on where you are visiting from, you may need to apply for a visa. So check in with your government for advice.
You might also need an International Driving Permit in order to drive in Spain. Again, check with your government for advice or contact the Spanish tourist board for more information.
Another helpful thing to have is breakdown cover. Check out my recent review of the AA’s new Smart Breakdown, because that could be really handy for your next road trip.
Do you have any tips or advice for planning a road trip in Northern Spain? Are there any must-visit spots missing from this list, or things that could be added to the itinerary? Scroll down to leave a comment in order to share your tips with fellow travellers.