Are you one of those people who plan their road trips around food? Then there are two options – you either have been to Basque Country or you are already planning to go. Check out our curated Northern Spain road trip itinerary!
Either way, check out this comprehensive Spain road trip itinerary around the Basque region in Northern Spain and the South-West of France. It’s an unforgettable weekend getaway, perfect for foodies. During this road trip, you’ll be able to see some of the best places to visit in Spain.
Bilbao to San Sebastian- 100 kilometers (60 miles)📍 13.95 Euro Highway Toll
San Sebastian to Biarritz- 50 kilometers (30 miles)📍 5.6 Euro Highway Toll
Biarritz to Dune of Pilat- 170 kilometers (105 miles)📍 11.4 Euro Highway Toll
390 kilometers (240 miles) in total
Tags: Travel guide, road trip, drop-off at another location, Basque country, Spain, France, gourmet, short trip
Planning: Before you go
What is the best time to visit Northern Spain?
The best season to visit the North of Spain is during the Summer months, as well as early September. Even during those months, the weather can be tricky due to the region’s location next to the ocean. Be well prepared and pack some warmer clothes and a rain jacket, just in case.
How much time should you dedicate for this road trip?
There are just about 6 and a half hours (about 450km / 280 miles) of driving in total. However, Rentalmoose recommends taking some extra time to enjoy the locations to the fullest. So foodies, ready to pack your bags?
This road trip can be done in both directions – whether you land in Bordeaux and depart from Bilbao or vice versa.
You can rent a car at either one of the airports and drop off at another location. Find your suitable rental car for this road trip in Spain via Rentalmoose.
Don’t forget to use the Rentalmoose app and take check-in photos of the rental car before starting your journey to qualify for a 50% rebate from the excess coverage fee.
Road Trip Extensions
You can extend your Spain road trip to explore the nearby regions even further! Take a look at these possible road trip extensions.
The South of France
Once you’re in Bordeaux, consider driving east and exploring the picturesque French Riviera. See the European Grand Canyon, stroll down the famous Promenade des Anglais in Nice, or try some of the regional delicacies. Click here for the travel guide.
Normandy and Brittany
This road trip requires the least amount of driving. When you’re in Bordeaux, make your way to Nantes (roughly 3 hours away) and explore the best of Normandy and Brittany, before finishing in Paris. Check out the guide here.
Costa del Sol and Andalucia
This trip extension is ideal for long trip lovers. Drive south across Spain for around 8 hours until you reach the sunny city of Malaga, one of the hotspots on the dreamy Costa del Sol. Sunbathe at the best beaches in Europe and indulge in delicious seafood. Don’t forget to check out our travel guide when planning your trip.
Can tourists drive in Spain?
Yes! France and Spain both accept most driving licenses in the world. Although International Driving Permits are recognized, they are not mandatory when driving in either of the countries. Click here to find out all you need to know about International Driving Permits for any of your future trips.
Make sure to follow the speed limits carefully when driving around Spain. There are lots of speed cameras set up all over major roads, some of them are nearly impossible to spot.
International tourists are required to pay their fines on the spot, or online via the DGT website. Keep in mind that the price will be two times higher if you decide to pay online. Speeding tickets range from 50 to 250 Euros, depending on the excess speed and the road type.
As the driving goes through wine regions, don’t forget that both France and Spain have extremely strict drink driving laws – 0,5mg/ml of alcohol per liter in your blood. Don’t take any risks to drink and drive.
Now that you’re prepared, let’s dive into your Spain road trip!
The Guggenheim museum photographed by Phillip Maiwald/Wikimedia Commons.
Your road trip in Spain starts in the city of Bilbao. Take some time for the cultural program the city has to offer. Bilbao is a genuinely cool place – it has a rich history as well as the vibe of a young and modern metropolis.
What are the best restaurants in Bilbao?
Nerua Guggenheim at the Guggenheim Museum
Just take a look at the architecture of the Guggenheim museum! And of course take a look at the inside of it, too. It’s one of the best places to visit in Bilbao, and a top pick for any road trip in Spain.
Whilst already there, why not try out the Nerua Guggenheim restaurant? It is a bit more expensive than other places in town but the food is totally worth the price.
Another fine-dining restaurant that the locals swear by is Azurmendi. The restaurant was chosen as Elite Traveler’s reader’s favorite restaurant in the world and used to be number 38 in the official World’s Best Restaurants chart back in 2017. One thing’s for sure, it is one of the best restaurants in the North of Spain.
One of the many delicacies at Restaurant Azurmendi. Photography by Dale Cruse/Flickr.com
If you are over the molecular gastronomy and want to eat something simple (but good!), then head over to Kate Zaharra. The cozy eatery is located in a charming farmhouse that overlooks the city, providing a breathtaking backdrop during your meal. Open for lunch between 1 and 4 PM, all week long.
Do you love seafood? Especially oysters? Then El Puertito is a place for you! The very first oyster bar in Bilbao. There is the best oyster selection you can dream of! But if you don’t love oysters, then El Puertito may not be the ideal place for you.
Don’t worry if your hotel doesn’t have parking, as Bilbao has many car parks around the city center. Find the closest ones to your locations on the map here.
What to see around Bilbao?
Bay of Biscay
Before continuing to San Sebastian, consider taking a little break at the picturesque coast of the Bay of Biscay.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
An optional trip to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe – a castle on the rock at the sea. This is a short 50-minute drive from Bilbao. As there is just one road, you’ll need to come back using the same way. All in all, there is around an hour and a half of driving in total.
Rentalmoose insider tip: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe was one of the shooting locations for Game of Thrones. If you’re a fan of the show, the castle is a must-visit!
On your way to San Sebastian, Rentalmoose suggests making a slight detour from the main road to one delicious restaurant. The detour will add less than 20 minutes to your trip, but the cuisine is well worth it! Be sure to drop by for lunch at Asador Etxebarri. Thank us later.
The next stop on this Spain road trip is the wonderful city of San Sebastian.
Next: San Sebastian (1 hour) 13.95 EUR Highway Toll
View of the city from 5* hotel Maria Cristina
One sentence is enough to convince you why San Sebastian is worth visiting during your road trip in Spain:
This northern Spanish city holds one of the highest numbers of Michelin stars per square meter in the world.
Michelin star restaurants in San Sebastian
Three of five 3-Michelin-star restaurants in Spain are in this city, complemented by another great selection of restaurants that add up to 16 Michelin stars in total.
Rentalmoose insider tip: These restaurants need to be booked way ahead. Check their websites for details.
Pintxos- a regional delicacy
If you don’t plan to spend a fortune on food then don’t worry; one of the foodie treasures in San Sebastián is its famous pintxos; culinary bites ranging from the original slice of bread piled with food to tiny miniature haute cuisine creations.
Where are the best pintxos in San Sebastian?
There are many pintxos bars around the town, for example Bar Sport or La Cuchara de San Telmo. Find these two, as well as a long list of other spots here.
The petit fours at Arzak restaurant
Parking in San Sebastian
Parking in San Sebastian can be hard to find during high season, although there are many underground parking places around the town. Unfortunately, these are not free of charge.
The best places to park in the city center are Parking de la Concha, Parking Boulevard, Parking Okendo, Parking San San Martin and Parking Buen Pastor.
There are also many parking places just outside the town and if you park in one of those, public transportation to the city center will be free for you.
Where to stay in San Sebastian?
San Sebastian has two very good and recommended luxury hotels: Hotel Maria Cristina and Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra. We recommend taking an overnight stop here before continuing on your Spain road trip.
Next: Biarritz, 50 minutes 5.6 EUR Highway Toll
La Grande Plage in Biarritz photographed by Moibtz.
San Sebastian was the last stop in Spain, now it’s time to cross the border into France! Head to Biarritz – a seaside city that was once the favorite spot of Empress Eugénie, Napoleon’s Spanish-born wife. The city lies just about 35km (22mi) from the Spanish border, and it is another stop on your road trip.
Why is Biarritz famous?
In 1854, the emperor Napoleon III and Eugénie bought several acres of dunes in Biarritz. The couple gave the engineer Dagueret the task of establishing a summer home surrounded by gardens, woods, meadows, a pond and outbuildings.
Napoleon III chose the location near Spain so his wife would not get homesick for her native country. The house was called Villa Eugénie, which today is Hôtel du Palais.
The presence of the imperial couple attracted other European royalties, like the British monarchs Queen Victoria and the Spanish king Alfonso XIII. This, of course, made Biarritz extremely well-known.
Biarritz has one of the highest real estate prices in France to this day. The luxurious seaside tourist hotspot is also known for its oceanfront casinos, and its surfing culture. It’s a great place to stop for a day and soak in the sun during your road trip!
Where can you find the best food in Biarritz?
For the best fine dining experience, don’t wander further from the Hotel du Palais. Their gourmet restaurant has the same name the building once used to have – Villa Eugénie. This is definitely one of the most royal experiences you will have in Biarritz. The spectacular ocean view is the cherry on top.
With spectacular views of the Basque Country coastline, the lighthouse, and the famous Grande Plage, this restaurant is fine dining at its finest. Expect white tablecloths, multiple sets of cutlery, and impeccably dressed waiters with a strong focus on showcasing local and regional dishes.
The best seafood
If you happen to be a fan of seafood then Chez Albert is a must for you! Open between 12:15 PM and 2 PM for lunch, 7:30 PM and 10 PM for dinner service. Closed on Wednesdays.
Rentalmoose order tip: Don’t forget to try their seafood soup which Chez Albert is very famous for.
Or just go to Port des Pêcheurs – a small and romantic fisherman port, where you’ll find plenty of restaurants with a selection of fresh seafood. Don’t expect to find glamour here, though these places serve high-quality food!
Marché aux Halles de Biarritz
Foodies should definitely visit also Marché aux Halles de Biarritz. Built in 1885, it’s not only the main local market but also a place to have a drink and meet friends. You can find everything you need there, fruits and vegetables, the best local products, meat, cheese, bakeries and a few nice places to eat.
The second and smaller part of the market is dedicated to fish and seafood where you can buy a plate of fresh oysters for 6 euros. You should know, however, that the market isn’t very cheap. Don’t count on staying on a tight budget when visiting it.
What are the best things to do in Biarritz?
La Grande Plage
An absolute must when visiting Biarritz is going for a swim in the ocean. When you plan to have a break from all the eating and wandering around the place, go to relax in Biarritz’s famous beach La Grande Plage. If you are traveling with kids, keep in mind that there are quite big waves.
Plage Port Vieux
If you want a quieter beach with safer swimming options for kids, go to Plage Port Vieux. It’s located on a tiny bay between two cliffs creating a very sheltered beach which makes it the safest place for kids and adults to swim.
Promenade & Le Phare Lighthouse
If you are not the type who can sit still and sunbathe all day, take a walk along the promenade to the famous Le Phare Lighthouse. Go to the top and see the whole view of Biarritz from above.
If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to visit the museum of the sea – La musée de la Mer. It’s an aquarium in the Art Deco building just in front of the sea. It’s possible to see countless underwater creatures there.
Where can you park in Biarritz?
Trying to find parking in Biarritz? There are seven payable parking houses in the heart of the city. These are the best free car parks in Biarritz:
- Jai Alai d’Aguiléra,
- Floquet (Avenue Charles Floquet),
- Hippodrome des Fleurs,
- SNCF train station,
- Atabal (Allée du Moura),
- Biarritz Lighthouse,
- Lac Marion,
- Plage Marbella et Milady,
- Club Hippique.
Where to stay in Biarritz?
When you plan a lavish and extraordinary vacation then why not walk in the footsteps of Napoleon and Eugénie and stay in the Hotel du Palais which is so full of history.
Next: Dunes of Pilat, 2 hours 11.4 EUR Highway Toll
Dune of Pilat
The tallest dune in Europe photographed by Julia Casado.
Take a break in Dune of Pilat which is on the way to Bordeaux, the last point of this Spain road trip itinerary. Dune of Pilat is the tallest dune in Europe at 110 meters above sea level.
Due to its exposed location along the sea and steep angle, the Dune of Pilat is a famous paragliding spot, so if your soul wants some action then this is an option for you to try.
Pick your activity, whether you like climbing on the sand dunes to see the marvelous views, or try paragliding – this place offers you a rush of adrenaline before driving to your final destination, Bordeaux, where you can continue indulging in delicious food.
Next: Bordeaux,1 hour
Bordeaux photographed by Niki Nagy.
Now you have reached your final destination on your great road trip, it’s time to find your hotel, park your car and enjoy the best of what France has to offer – wine! Bordeaux is a very famous wine region and its unique due to its closeness to the sea. The city is praised as the wine capital of the world!
Well, there has to be something special about Bordeaux. Even the Queen of England herself claimed that Bordeaux is “the very essence of elegance”. It’s a must-see!
What can’t you miss in Bordeaux?
Museums and Art Galleries
Bordeaux offers plenty of attractions for art lovers. If you love the work of old masters, go to The Musée des Beaux Arts.
If you are a fan of modern art, you should head to the CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art instead.
Day trip to the vineyards
When you plan to stay longer in Bordeaux, a day trip to a vineyard is a must. You can either drive there with your rental car (but in this case you’re going to need a sober driver) or visit the Tourist Office where the transportation will be organized for you. That way, you can enjoy the amazing wine as well.
Day trips from Bordeaux
Other day trip options are the beautiful town of St Emilion, then Médoc (home to many famous Bordeaux wine châteaux like Latour, Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild) and also Arcachon – an endearing seaside spot known for its oysters.
La Cité du Vin
When talking about wine, Bordeaux has the greatest wine museum in the world – La Cité du Vin. The building is odd in architecture but it’s well worth a visit. Of course, there is a wine shop (with 800 different wines!) and wine tastings there.
This isn’t a museum of Bordeaux wine but Bordeaux’s museum of world wine – from Greece to Chile, you can learn a lot about world wine cultures there.
What are the best places to eat in Bordeaux?
Yes, wine is great in Bordeaux. What else is amazing? Food, of course! The French chef Joel Robuchon has said: “Bordeaux has produced that is world-famous: oysters from the Bay of Arcachon; milk-fed Pauillac lamb, grazed on the Médoc marshes; and cèpes de Bordeaux, in my opinion, the best mushrooms in France. They grow superb raspberries just a few kilometers from here; their ducks for magret de canard (duck breast); and the asparagus, too, is wonderful.”
La Grande Maison
Robuchon used to have his restaurant in Bordeaux, but it has now been taken over by another famous French chef – Pierre Gagnaire. The Michelin 2* restaurant is in a fabulous hotel La Grande Maison which belongs to the wine magnate Bernard Magrez who predominantly owns Bordeaux wine estates (and also other wine regions in France, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, Japan, Morocco, and the US).
Of course, the hotel and restaurant are both very expensive. However, the restaurant offers a great deal for weekday lunch: a 3-course menu for 60 euros. This way you can enjoy the grand architecture and interior design of this amazing place on a slightly tighter budget.
The best restaurants in Bordeaux
Parking in Bordeaux
There are very limited options to park your car on the street in Bordeaux. Cheap parking is offered on the outskirts of the city in several locations.
Rentalmoose parking tip: park your car in one of the car parks in the city center, which is closest to your destination and is not expensive.
Where to stay in Bordeaux?
There is a huge selection of grande 5* hotels in Bordeaux, each of them has a gourmet restaurant as well. But there are many gorgeous options which don’t cost a fortune. Try your travel dates at Villa Victor Louis or Hotel Burdigala.
For maximum convenience, drop off your rental car directly at Bordeaux-Merignac Airport right before leaving. Browse through rentals that support drop-off at another location via Rentalmoose.
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