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Northern Spain- allocating 14 nights

Our interests are historic old towns, drinking sangria/wine/coffee/etc in town squares, local culture, walking tours, some museums and UNESCO World Heritage sites. Our transport will be by car; timing is June; and we are older, but healthy travelers.

With the above in mind, we have tentatively allocated our 14 nights as follows:

Salamanca-3 (after a long flight, so we need an extra night here)
Santiago de Compostela-2
Leon- 1 (transit)
Pamplona-2
San Sebastian- 4
Bilbao-2

We will make stops at places like O Cebreio, Vitoria & Burgos on the drives between the overnights. Ideally, we would like another night in both Leon and Bilbao, however both cost and our available time limit us to 14 nights.

So, what do you think?. Do we have it about right? Suggestions/improvements appreciated.

Posted by
11368 posts

Leon-2 So much to see, absorb, and explore. You can take a day away from the less important
Pamplona-1

Posted by
6818 posts

I’m not sure how set in stone visiting those cities is, but there’s a lot of travel time getting to the next stop.

If you didn’t want to drive all the way to Salamanca (2.5 hours from the airport) you could spend your first night in Ávila, since you need to drive right past it anyway, to get over jet lag.

Salamanca to Santiago is about a 4.5 hours drive. En route you could take breaks in Zamora or Puebla de Sanabria. Sanabria is small and has a nice castle and compact town center.

Since you’re interested in UNESCO sites, when leaving Santiago head up to Lugo for its Roman wall that surrounds the town, then head over to O Cebreiro. It doesn’t take long to visit. Continuing east, you could makes short stops in Ponferrada or Astorga before arriving in León.

Burgos and Vitoria-Gasteiz Gasteiz are between León and Pamplona, but they both deserve more than a couple hours visit. Just outside of Burgos is Cartuja de Miraflores (Royal Pantheon of the parents of Queen Isabella the Catholic, John II and Isabel of Portugal.)

Of the places you mentioned, Pamplona probably the least interesting. One full day there is more than one needs. By dropping it and one day in San Sebastián you could add a night in León and two in Burgos.

You may want to consider dropping off the rental car the day prior to departure and spending the last night closer to the airport or in Madrid.

In 2017 we took a northern Spain trip, but had a few more days. My website has photos to give you an idea of how we divided our time. Many of our stops were at places along the French Camino de Santiago. We visited Lugo in 2019 on a different trip.

Posted by
14 posts

Suki & jaime, Thanks for the input.. Both of you agree that Pamplona could be reduced. Do you think even a one night stop there makes sense? We like the idea to add a night in Leon.

The suggested enroute stops are good thoughts. We will include most of them.

I had not considered overnighting in Burgos. The cathedral is UNESCO, I realize. How attractive is the historic Burgos old town compared to Leon and Pamplona?

Greatly appreciate your input.

Posted by
690 posts

Unless you plan for trips outside Pamplona, I see no reason to stay there two days. Burgos has a wonderful gothic cathedral, but not much of an old town. León is perfect for a night too, maybe two. And forget about sangría in the north...

Posted by
6818 posts

Unfortunately with your time constraints you’ll need to make some difficult choices regarding how much time to spend in each place. On our 2017 trip our stays in the areas you’ll be was broken down as:
1 night - Zamora, Villafranca Del Bierzo, Ribadeo, Santillana Del Mar, Pamplona, Santo Domingo de la Calzada
2 nights - León, Santiago de Compostela, Hondarrbia, Burgos

We always spend our last night in Madrid.

To me León and Burgos are similar. I think León’s historic center is a little more spread out. Burgos’ center is essentially the area in front of the cathedral and one other plaza a few minutes walk away. I liked both cities equally, but I like Burgos’ cathedral much more than the one in León. León does have the spectacular Museo de San Isidoro. The frescos are beautiful.

I sent you a PM.

Posted by
14 posts

jaimeelsabio,
Which of your 2017 trip places would you have most liked more time?

You and others have convinced me that Leon should not be a one-night stop.
Appreciate your input.

Posted by
6818 posts

An interesting conundrum. It’s like asking which of your children you like more. On that trip we feel we spent an appropriate amount of time in each place. We would have liked more time in Picos de Europa, but it isn’t on your list.

Had we not already been to Santiago de Compostela another night there would have been nice. Since that trip we have been back to Santiago de Compostela (when we walked part of the Camino de Santiago) and Burgos too, to meet some friends. We also intend to return to the north coast and visit more of the smaller towns.

For us, if we spend more than a couple nights anyplace it’s because we’re taking day trips to smaller towns and villages. For most of the medium sized or smaller cities 1-1.5 days is sufficient to get a good feel for them.

We’ve been to Spain six times since 2011 and will be returning later this year. I still have enough places to visit bookmarked for another seven visits.