We are planning on traveling at the end of October flying from LA to San Sebastian. We plan on renting a car there and then going to Bilbao --2 days between San Sebastian and a day trip to Bilbao. We would like to drive to Porto for 2 overnight stays then onto Lisbon for 3 days and 1 day to the castles--Sintra, etc. Are there places that we should be visiting and does this itinerary work. We have a few extra days so we could add stops or head to Paris for the end of our trip. Any help would be appreciated.
It sounds as if you are not planning to return to Spain at the end of your trip. Is that correct? There is usually an extremely high charge (hundreds of euros) for picking up a rental car in one country and dropping it off in another.
I'm confused about how much time you actually have. I don't count my arrival day in Europe as a real sightseeing day, because I'm zombified after the overnight flight. I would want a minimum of 4 nights in the Basque Country so I could have a full day for Bilbao and most of a day for San Sebastian. The third day could be used in either city, in Vitoria-Gasteiz, or in one or more of the smaller towns in the area (Hondarribia, Zarautz/Getaria/Zumaia).
Bilbao has a larger historic area than San Sebastian plus more/larger museums. It's also less touristy, and I preferred it.
ViaMichelin.com estimates the driving time from Bilbao to Porto at over 7 hours, and that's with no stopping, no getting lost, no traffic issues, no looking for parking, etc. So two nights in Porto will give you only one day there, and you won't have time for the Douro Valley other than perhaps blasting through it on your way to Porto.
The three possible routes suggested by ViaMichelin pass through or near a number of attractive cities. They include Burgos, Leon and Salamanca in Spain and Guarda, Viseu and Guimares in Portugal. I'm sure there are many more; those are just the ones I happen to have been to.
I haven't been to Portugal recently, but I'd consider 4 nights in Lisbon the minimum if a day-trip to Sintra is to be included.
It sounds as if you may have 10-12 nights, which is rather short for covering as much geography as you have planned. I'd be more inclined to spend that time in northern Spain (you'll still be short) and leave Portugal for another trip. However, northern Spain tends to have a lot of overcast weather even in mid-summer, and October is wetter, with an average of 15 rainy days (4.4 inches). Lisbon is warmer but gets substantially more inches of rain than Bilbao.
I biked from Bilbao to San Sebastian in 2018 and spent nights in Gernika, Lekeitio, and Getaria. All were wonderful. The last two are on the coast and none should be missed if you have the time.
Thank you so much for your replies. I have scraped renting a car in Spain and returning it in Lisbon due to the cost of the one way penalty. I am mapping out our trip based on your great insights. Thank you again. I very much appreciate your assistance.