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8 days Barcelona to Bilbao

My friend and I are planning a trip to Spain and concentrating on Barcelona and Bilbao. I have a tentative itinerary with some questions that I'd appreciate some of your thoughts, since we have never been there.

Is it worth staying in rioja area or should we go direct to Bilbao or San Sebastian from Barcelona
Should we stay in San Sebastián or Bilboa
What are the best day trips from Barcelona or San Sebastián/ Bilboa
Is it worth taking a day trip into basque area of France. Thanks so much.

Day 1. Arrive Barcelona
Day 2 Barcelona
Day 3 Barcelona
Day 4 drive to Rioja area and stay overnight - stop in Zaragoza for lunch...??????
Day 5 day trip to Pamplona or Vitoria-Gasteiz.. overnight in rioja or move on to San Sebastián ??????
Day 6 San Sebastián and overnight
Day 7 Bilbao ..Stay in Bilbao or San Sebastián?
Day 8 Day trip from Bilbao or San Sebastian
Day 9 Fly to Madrid and fly home

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Posted by
486 posts


I think that you will get better advice if you provide some more details. When are you going to be in Spain? Will you have a car or use public transportation? What do you like to visit? Do you like wine, the beach, museums, etc.

From Logroño, Rioja, Pamplona and Vitoria are an hours drive.
Many people prefer Bilbao over San Sebastian, which I agree with.

Posted by
26 posts

Thank you. More specifically, we like art, culture, outdoors, small interesting villages and wine, we like to walk and we will have a car.

Posted by
3741 posts

What are the best day trips from Barcelona or San Sebastián/ Bilboa

What does "the best" mean to you?

we like art, culture, outdoors, small interesting villages

What do you consider a "small village"?

I only ask because over the course of my time on the forum, I have learned that these are very subjective descriptions for Americans.

Posted by
486 posts

Carlos, I saw the village thread, but never posted. For La Rioja, thinking of small cute villages I would suggest:
Laguardia 1323 (it is part of Alava, but Rioja DOC)
San Vicente de la Sonsierra 1031
Briones 722
Abalos 260

@mblakemad, you didn't say when. These village are all surrounded by vineyards and in October they are quite beautiful. Also between San Vicente and Abalos there are various hiking routes that are generally pretty easy.

Posted by
399 posts

Just posted my trip report for these two cities, including day trips from both. As to the question of which one to stay in, I'd give it to San Sebastian by a hair. We really liked Bilbao, and it is a great city, but San Sebastian was just so beautiful. Really a special place. Honestly you can't go wrong with either. Maybe start identifying what you want to see and determine which makes the most sense logistically.

Posted by
25613 posts

Your initial plan has only two full, non-jetlagged days in Barcelona. For me that would be too short. Barcelona has a lot of highly popular (yes, crowded) sights for which you need to purchase timed entry tickets in advance to avoid extremely long ticket lines. That makes it a challenging city to visit on the run, because you have to guess how much time you'll want to spend at each sight, and it's rational in that situation to pad the schedule every step of the way. These are the problem sights:

La Sagrada Familia
Parc Guell
Casa Mila/La Pedrera
Casa Batllo
Picasso Museum
Palau de al Music Catalana (English tours can sell out)

The city has many other worthwhile sights, but they generally do not require pre-purchased tickets. How much do you want to see in Barcelona?

Zaragoza is a very interesting city. A lunch stop won't really give you time to see much; I think the single most important sight is Aljaferia, an 11th-century Moorish Palace. if not planning to allow hours of sightseeing time, I'd probably choose a smaller place where I'd be less likely to spend time in traffic or looking for a place to park the car. I don't have an alternative to suggest, however.

ViaMichelin estimates the driving time from Barcelona to Zaragoza at 3 hr. 14 min. The fastest trains take less than half as long--only 1 hr. 23 min. The train station in Zaragoza is a bus or taxi ride from the Aljaferia or the historic center (in the same direction as the palace, but farther). I don't know anything about the convenience of renting a car in Zaragoza vs. in Barcelona.

I found Vitoria-Gasteiz considerably more interesting than Pamplona, which seems to get lots of tourists because of Hemingway but really doesn't have all that much going on except during the actual running of the bulls.

The hilltown of Laguardia is very atmospheric and worth a stop if you are passing nearby. Check out the location of the parking lot(s) below the town. There's an elevator up to the historic area.

I preferred Bilbao to San Sebastian. The latter is a lot more touristy.

I'm not sure you'll get much benefit out of the car except for one or two days. There's frequent bus service between San Sebastian and Bilbao, and there are also buses to nearby towns from both of those cities. You don't have a much time, so your opportunities for rural exploration will necessarily be limited. Not counting the arrival day and departure day, your trip is only seven days long. The most I'd attempt in that time would be Barcelona, San Sebastian and Bilbao.

Have you checked flights from Bilbao back to the states? Can you get something affordable on a single ticket? I wouldn't want to start the day of my transatlantic flight in Bilbao if I was traveling on two separate tickets.