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Help with North Spain Itinerary

Planning a trip in and out of Bilbao for 7 days in July.
1st night Bilbao - looking for hotel and bar, restaurant suggestions. 2nd day going to Guggenheim and then on to San Sebastián for Jazz Festival for 2nd night.
Nights 3-7 thinking Oviedo, Leon. Want to see the stain glass I
in Leon.
Would love transportation suggestions bus, train, not sure how driving is and if we want a car.
Also not sure if Asturias is too far or Salamanca?
Looking for $75-$100 per night.

Posted by
5648 posts

This past November we took a train from Madrid to Bilbao, then after visiting the Guggenheim we returned to the train station and picked up a rental car for visiting San Sebastian for a couple of days. We were ultimately heading to Barcelona, but it was MUCH cheaper flying from Bilbao than from San Sebastian, so we drove back to Bilbao to turn in the rental car. Driving in Bilbao was a pain. Driving in San Sebastian was less of a pain (in November) but parking is difficult and very expensive - about $25 a day, to stow you car in an underground garage while you walk to your hotel and then walk around town. Train was going to be slow and we opted for a car, not knowing that parking would be such a pain. The highways are very vell marked and constructed, and traffic moves well outside the cities. After turning in the car in Bilbao, with an early flight the next morning (we took a taxi to the Bilbao airport), we stayed in the Old town (Casco Viejo) and stopped in a couple of places for tapas, then checked menus at several places before choosing a place for dinner with great seafood and local cider. I don't recall the name of the restaurant, but stroll the compact Old Town for a few minutes and you'll find a place that works for you.

By the way, the restaurant at the Guggenheim is overseen by Martin Beresategui, a 3-Michelin-star chef, so it's THE place for lunch!

Posted by
245 posts

Thanks for the info. Any suggestions for hotel in Bilbao or San Sebastián?

Posted by
5648 posts

In San Sebastian (Donostia) we stayed at Rick's recommended Pension Edorta (info@pensionedorta.com), which had a tiny elevator and a great en-suite shower. Some of their rooms use a communal bathroom down the hall, but our room was quiet and not disturbed by people in the hall during our stay in rainy November. Javier at the front desk was extremely helpful. It's a block from the main plaza in the old town, so finding a place for breakfast was easy, and so was doing a tapas crawl for dinner.

It's a bit of a walk from any of the town's parking garages, but that's what you get when staying in the old town. Arriving in the evening, rolling our suitcases thru the crowds standing in the narrow streets outside the tapas bars, was a little challenging, and walking back to the car in the rain for departure was damp :-)

I'll have to look back to see where we stayed in Bilbao, also in the old part of that city.

Posted by
16883 posts

When on a tight budget and loose itinerary, I took buses in this region, no problem. More recently, with more money and less time, I very much enjoyed driving (except for one traffic jam on the highway into San Sebastian). I found Rick's Spain book useful for sightseeing, hotel, and dining suggestions. With a whole week, you do have time for Gijon, Leon, and the Picos de Europa. Driving time between Leon and Santiago de Compostela is about 4.25 hours, or Santiago back to Bilbao about 7 hours (see www.viamichelin.com, but round up the time estimates, so you won't feel rushed).

Posted by
9110 posts

You could make the Bilbao, Oviedo, Leon, Burgos, Bilbao loop in about nine hours of hard road time. Divide the nights as you wish, but one ought to be Burgos. Driving is easy. Day four through seven give you plenty of time.

On the Bilbao to San Sebastian run, one way should be along the river and the old coastal highway starting at about Elgoibar and continuing eastward for spectacular scenery. Driving is also easy, but you won't make great time once you leave the freeway. You'd also have time to fit in Guernica on the day you took the faster route.

The grand dame of Bilbao hotels is the Carlton on Moyua Plaza which, for some reason, remains surprisingly inexpensive for it's type. It's a about a ten minute walk down the Gran Via to the bridge into Old Town, and maybe half that much over to the museum.

Asturias is obviously included in the loop above. Salamanca is at least four hours away and not the greatest place in the country, anyway.

Bars and restaurants are where you find them. The only places not worth spit are the few right on the Plaza Berria in Bilbao's old area (which is really it's new town since the town was first built up on the hill in what's now called New Town right around the Carlton - - take that one up with the natives).

Posted by
245 posts

Latest itinerary is
Bilbao
San Sebastián
Burgos
Leon
Oviedo
Santander
Bilbao

One night each but have another night not sure where to double
Up. Would love to have amazing seafood which Asturias is known for but not sure how to fit it
In.
I'm into history, art, architecture, not sun or beaches.
Will be doing all train but having a hard firming up Oviedo to Santander.
Looks like there may be a feve train for that.
Any suggestions on the extra night would be great.

Posted by
9110 posts

Possible glitch and also possible problem solver: what's in Santander that's ringing your bell?

Posted by
245 posts

Heard Santander is a nice town possibly taking a boat along coast.
Booked this when thought we'd spend a few days in San Sebastián for the
Jazz festival but the lineup is disappointing and only want to see 1 act so don't
Want to pay high hotel prices when I can go back at a less crowded time of year.

Posted by
5648 posts

For the record, in Bilbao we stayed at Rick's recommended Iturrenea Ostatua, and after wandering around the old town looking for the best place for dinner, it also turned out to be Rick's recommended Bar Kasko - great fish!

Posted by
245 posts

Thanks for the info Cyn and Ed. I will try your Bilbao suggestions.
As for Wonderful I am not flying 1000's of KM. How would you divide your days without driving?
This is just my first trip in Northern Spain and I appreciate the wisdom of the board.

Posted by
9110 posts

I grew up on the north coast and still go back every once in a while.

It looks to me like you have an excellent plan, but I'm still scratching my head about Santander. The allocation of days looks pretty good for a week, but I could make a strong case for driving in order to catch a few of the small villages along the way.

I'm a bit confused about the penultimate comment. If you have X days and want to get the flavor of Y places, you have to move around. What else would you do, spend the whole time in Burgos and neglect everything else? I'm not a train/bus person, but, going by driving times, each travel leg can't be more than a couple of hours - - giving you real close to a full day in each if you start moving early.

If you don't figure out what to do with the extra day, give it to Leon. If you decide to drive, give it to Bilbao and surrounds.

Posted by
9110 posts

For balance:

The Picos are one of the better small clump of mountains around, but it'd take a least two days to really get a flavor of them and it'd definitely take a car and an approach from the south. It's easy to spend a week hiking, but there's not much besides outdoor activities. I guess you could zip up the funicular south of Carrena and walk around for a bit, but I don't recall ever seeing a bus up in the parking lot - - still, you wouldn't have a view of the peaks. The Cares Gorge walk starts from about the same place, but it's a bit of a climb to get to the upper levels with any real view - - and an out-and-back with a sandwich at the turnaround is going to take eight hours or hard humping. Additionally, with only seven days, you don't have the luxury of squishing anything else into the program.

The prehistory museum in Burgos can easily be fit in with a walk around the old town and wandering through the cathedral - - the whole project would be a half-day, max. The museum's sort of unique for the fossils, but there are a couple in France that are much better overall.

Posted by
9110 posts

I only point out what can be done reasonably/realistically in response to questions asked. I don't indicate how I do things. I don't encourage others to follow a particular method since it's their trip.

Posted by
245 posts

Should have mentioned that we walk everywhere so hikings not really our thing and trains can be a treat though jolt stops and starts of a lot of stops on a train like we took from Valencia to BCN with no great views was not.
Treats are also cities and architecture

Latest Itinerary is:
Bilbao
San Sebastián
Burgos
Then have some new decisions that I would love advice on for the last 4 nights before a 5pm flight from Bilbao:
2 nights Leon 2 Oviedo
1 night Leon 2 Oviedo 1 Santander
Also am deciding whether to take Feve train Oviedo to Santander
Or back track to Leon and do Leon to Bilbao by faster train?
I've been trying to research reviews of the Feve route seems it's slow but beautiful?
We also can and have used Blablacar and buses so could also do that without the backtracking.

Posted by
245 posts

Decided 1 night Leon and 2 nights Oviedo.
Any feedback on the Feve Oviedo to Santander?

Posted by
2 posts

So glad you've added Santander to your itinerary! I lived there for three months last year and had the best experience of my life. It's a beautiful city! And visiting in July is the perfect time to take full advantage of the beaches.

Posted by
245 posts

Jordan,

Have you ever taken the Feve trains and would you recommend them?

Posted by
2 posts

I never had a problem with the feve trains, but I only ever traveled a few stops with them, so I couldn't give you my opinion on the longer journey you'll be taking.

Posted by
245 posts

Latest is thinking last night in Santillana Del Mar going via bus or train to Torrelavega. Then next day bus or train to Santander for a short stop before catching a bus or train to Bilboa for a late flight.
Any thoughts on Santillana Del Mar?

Posted by
9110 posts

Different, touristy, not much good food. Still, it's something you almost have to do once.

Posted by
245 posts

Ed, how different and why need to see at least once.
From the pics I can find it reminds me of Girona.
Would you suggest Llandes or Gijon?
Gijon would be a day trip from Oviedo to eat seafood.
We are in pursuit of good seafood that won't break the bank.
Can be at a dock, bar or casual restaurant.

Posted by
9110 posts

Because it's neat and damn near unique. Nobody should miss it, but nobody needs to go there twice - - except Mom made Dad take her over there every time she could hornswagle me into sitting on my little sister for the weekend. It's worth at least a late afternoon and a night. It's nothing at all like Girona except for the stone colors.

Llanes, except for right around the harbor, is more about easy hiking and caves. I don't care for the town at all.

Gijon has the grub- - anywhere along the waterfront is great. Eat two or three times since you probably won't get back for a while.

Posted by
245 posts

What shouldn't we miss eating in Gijon?
Loved your story about Santillana del Mar.
Any thoughts about Comillas vs Santillana del Mar?
Thanks again for your advice.

Posted by
9110 posts

Gijon is known for cheese and cider, I think. I eat lots of cheese and theirs is sold all over northern Spain, at least - - but have never cared for cider (but there are lots of cider taverns - - which I've never been in).

Anywhere in Asturias has good bean stew - - but if they put dead sheep in it, it ain't so hot. The kind with pork bones in it is best, better than cassoulet in southeastern France.

Were I only going to have one meal in Gijon, it'd be fish stew. It'll vary by place, by season, and by what came off the boat that morning, but it's always excellent. Also sitting on the table would be a big bowl of barnacles and another one filled with octopus. Look around at the cluster of places on the waist of the little peninsula that sticks out from the center of town.

Comillas I've never heard of. Looked it up on the map and have obviously passed through it, but remember nothing about it.

And, I took my wife to Santillana once and she really liked it.