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July trip to Barcelona - is adding Girona and Basque Country too much?

Hi all,
My wife and I will be in Spain (flying in and out of Barcelona) arriving July 4 and departing July 18th. It seems like loads of time but having a hard time making things fit. We like more leisurely wandering (not people who want to cram all the sites into a day). Not planning on driving but if it would make things way easier we could consider it.

We have to be in Barcelona from the 4-7th to drop our son at a program. That is the only thing we have to work around in other than departure date.

It’s going to be hot so we are considering spending part of the time in Bilbao and/or San Sebastián. It’s an area that seems good for us (food, museums, walkable size cities). Better temps than other places we would love to go (like Sevilla).

But I’d also like to spend a couple nights in girona. The town itself seems nice smaller and more laid back. And from there we would do a day tour to Dalí, coast etc.

Problem is doing this without spending tons of our time getting from place to place. Seems like we’d be going in and out of Barcelona a lot with no direct way between girona and Bilbao.

Ideas or insights on how to do this efficiently?
Thank you!

Posted by
8065 posts

I've been everywhere you are wanting to go.

You should save Bilbao/San Sebastain for another trip or fly there and spend July 8-16, then day trip to Girona (it is 35 minutes on the train from Barcelona) two days before returning home.

Barcelona is not leisurely, mega touristy with grifters in full force that time of year which will make it seem hotter with all the bodies walking on your heels; I see no point in driving anywhere given where you want to go.

Posted by
27419 posts

That's a great time of year for the Basque Country, and also for the Pyrenees, but I have no experience actually getting up into those mountains. I recall a few earlier posts indicating it can be done via bus, at least to some degree, but I'm sure a car would be very helpful.

For the Spanish Basque Country public transportation works well for getting to a lot of places, though the train link from Barcelona isn't especially fast. The train to Bilbao (8:45 AM departure) takes almost 7 hours. There's a 7-1/2 hour trip to San Sebastian/Donostia departing at 9:05 AM.

Return trips depart from S.S. at 7:10 AM (6-hour travel time) or 2:04 PM (7-1/2 hours) and from Bilbao at 3:20 PM (7 hours). The late departures aren't strange, given Spain's extremely late dinner hour. All those times are for weekday travel. Things could be different on Saturday or Sunday.

The trains from Barcelona to Bilbao make a number of stops in places you might like to see, so you could break the journey somewhere rather than sitting on the train for so long. For me, Zaragoza sounds like the most interesting option (it's the only one I've been to), but that city can be perishingly hot in the summer, which could be a concern. Maybe one of the other towns the train passes through would be more suitable, meteorologically.

En route to San Sebastian the train makes some of the same stops as the Bilbao train (including Zaragoza), then veers off onto another route. One of its stops in Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of the Basque Country. I liked it a lot, but it's inland and could be quite a bit warmer than the coastal cities (though one hopes not as hot as Zaragoza).

Traveling between Bilbao and San Sebastian is done best by bus. The train is scenic but much slower; it could be worth it in one direction. Other places of interest accessible by train or bus include Hondarribia, Zarautz/Getaria/Zumaia, Guernika, Lekeitio and Bermeo. I'm sure there are others. Some folks manage to include a visit to the French Basque Country. Bayonne (my favorite), St-Jean-de-Luz and Biarritz are easy enough (though not fast) by train and/or bus. I'm not sure about the small French mountain villages Rick writes about in his guide to Spain (no info in the guide to France).

Girona's very easy to reach from Barcelona by train. You have a choice of a faster, more expensive train or a slower, cheaper one. At a moderate pace you can see a lot in Girona in two days. Some travelers like to go on to Figueres to see the Dali Theatre-Museum there. Figueres also has service via both express trains and regular trains. Especially if you want to see both Girona and Figueres, it would make sense to spend a few nights in Girona rather than making multiple trips from Barcelona.

I'd just take the train to the Basque Country, but I really hate mid-trip flights. The Bilbao airport is larger than the San Sebastian airport and might offer more flight options.

In terms of the time you have available, including both Girona and the Basque Country would require you to move a bit faster than I did or see fewer towns, but I don't think it would be a foolish decision, and I am an unusually slow traveler, being retired.

Is this your first trip to Barcelona? Are you likely to make another one there in the relatively near future? Even if you needed no time to help your son get settled, I'd say arriving in the city on July 4 and departing on July 8 was the minimum time needed for a not-too-rushed visit. I think the first thing to do is decide how much time you want to spend in Barcelona. That will depend to a fair degree on how how tied up you are with your son on July 5-7 and how interested you are in the city's modernista architecture. Pinning down the time required for Barcelona will reveal how many days you have for other places. I assume you'll be flying home from Barcelona, so part of July 17 will be spent getting back to that city.

Posted by
564 posts

Been to all these places you mention, and I would just do day trips to Girona and Figueres from Barcelona and save the Basque Country for another time. I have no insights on how to get from Girona to Bilbao. On our last trip We flew from Bilbao to Barcelona, and the plane stopped in Madrid, so it was a half day journey, Then rented a car at Barcelona airport and drove to Cadaques, via Figueres and Girona.

Posted by
2983 posts

Right, no car so I'd probably do as follows:

Base 1: BARCELONA, optional day trips to Montserrat, Tarragona, Tossa de Mar, Vilafranca del Penedès... -all easily reachable via public transportation

Base 2: GIRONA, optional day trips to Besalú, Cadaqués, Figueres...

Then, high-speed train from Girona to Barcelona (40'), switching trains at the same Estació de Sants station and catching another high-speed train to Bilbao (6h 30') OR getting a train to the airport (30') and flying out to Bilbao (75')

Note that coastal towns are packed in July.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you so much everyone. Just another question for folks who said to not do the Basque Country. Is it bc it isn’t worth doing or bc just too much hassle?

And if we don’t split up the trip and go to Bilbao…
Would training south with a couple stops on the way ending up in Valencia be a good option? I don’t think I need two weeks in Barcelona esp with as busy as everyone says it will be. But I don’t think we can handle the heat in someplace like Sevilla.

Thanks so much!

Posted by
27419 posts

I've never read a negative comment about the Basque Country. It's a question of the time required to get there vs. the time you'd actually be there. Folks vary a lot in how they feel about that issue. What bugs me more than the travel time itself is feeling like I'm not going to have enough time at my destination to see what I want to see (which is usually a rather long list), partly because of the time it takes to get there. Other folks will happily take a day trip from Rome to Pompeii, passing right by Naples and Herculaneum. For me, travel is always about trade-offs: What do those six hours spent on trains cost you? What could you see in Barcelona or somewhere close by in that amount of time?

You have enough time that I wouldn't say "Don't go to the Basque Country"--in fact, I think Barcelona + the Basque Country makes a good combination at the time you'll be traveling. Still, it's smart to realize there may be other good options for you on this trip.

Catalunya has a lot of variety--great cities, coastline and mountains. There have been a few posts in the past by our experts on what one might do in that region, though I think the travelers were renting cars. What's practical by public transportation is somewhat different. Girona, Figueres, Cadaques, Besalu, Sitges, Tarragona and Valencia are all fine via train or bus. I've been to all those places except Tarragona myself; I have been to nearby Reus, which has a couple of fabulous modernista buildings that can be toured. The first four on my list sort of call for basing oneself in Girona, as I believe I mentioned before.

I believe there's at least one tour company offering a one-day tour to medieval villages in Catalunya. It includes Besalu but also some places that are perhaps more difficult to reach without your own car. I think I'll probably take that trip the next time I'm in Catalunya. I see online evidence that the company Explore Catalunya offers such a trip. It may not be the only one.

Another place on my "next-time" list is Vic, which I gather is a very nice, non-touristy town.

I'd recommend making a separate post in the Spain forum here with a title like "Exploring rural Catalunya without a car". If you want to focus some time on the mountains, use "Exploring the mountains of Catalunya without a car", or something like that. I think you'll get input from knowledgeable folks.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you for the
Thoughtful responses. Yes, it is always a trade off
Isn’t it! If it wasn’t July we would totally just want to hang around small coastal towns near Barcelona. But thinking the relaxed feel we would want would need to happen in the off season.
Thank you again!

Posted by
4007 posts

In Catalonia during the summer time, the foreigners hoard the coasts, but we locals make for the hills. Inland in the Pyrenees foothills there are plenty of charming medieval towns and villages that are popular with local Catalan families on their summer holidays. Rupit, Besalú, and Castellfollit de la Roca come to mind, with good hiking in the nearby Vall de Núria. I'd rent a car and make a side trip of a few days into the Catalan countryside, I think you will find it a relaxing respite from hectic Barcelona.

Posted by
296 posts

If driving is an option…we did, and thoroughly enjoyed, this itinerary:

Day 1 - Arrive Barcelona early AM, drive to Zaragoza

Day 2 - Zaragoza to Laguardia to Vittoria-Gasteiz

Day 3 - To Bilbao

Day 4 - To San Sebastion

Day 5 - San Sebastion

Day 6 - To Hondaribbia

Day 7 - Drive through French Basque vilages, back to Hondaribbia

Day 8 - To Bayonne via St. Jean de Luz

Day 9 - To Carcassone

Day 10 - To Barcelona via Figueres, drop car

Day 11 - Barcelona

Day 12 - Barcelona

Day 13 - Barcelona

Day 14 - Return travel

You could do something similar, or an abbreviated loop, beginning after time with your son in Barcelona. The one thing we would change is Carcassone. Would definitely skip there and find a lovely, authentic place to stop over. The Basque country is beautiful and relaxing. Driving was a pleasure. We loved it!

Posted by
11368 posts

Fly to Bilbao from Barcelona if you want to spend some time in the Basque region.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you everyone. We decided split
Our time between Barcelona and the Basque Country. We will fly in to Bilbao and out of San Sebastián. We will be back another time in a shoulder season to enjoy more of Spain without as many crowds or as much heat. Have made note of all the lovely places you all have mentioned. Thank you!