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Suggestions for Transportation around San Sebastián and northern Spain

My husband and I will be spending about 10 days in northern Spain while our daughter is doing her study abroad in San Sebastián. Last week July, first week August. We are flying into Madrid and then heading to San Sebastián via train after a rest day. We are looking at booking 6-7 days accommodations in San S. our first week and doing day trips. Planning on AirBnB or something similar. Then our daughter will be done with school and we’ll have a few days to see other sights including Madrid before we fly out. We are thinking we don’t want to rent a car. Will we be fine getting around to various places, including small towns via train and bus? Do we hire a driver for out of the way places that are a must see? May try a day trip into France also.
All suggestions and insights are appreciated!

Posted by
21327 posts

I bet you'll be able to get anywhere you decide to go by train or bus, but the only way you can be sure about that is to tell us what places are on your list of potential destinations or do some internet research. One thing that may be helpful to know is that there's relatively frequent, fast bus service between San Sebastian and Bilbao. There is also a train, but it takes much, much longer. The train route is quite attractive, so it's worth traveling that way once if you have time, but in this case the bus is considerably more efficient. Bilbao is a very interesting city with a large historic district and very few foreign tourists once you move away from the Guggenheim Museum.

Quite a few places you might want to go are accessible via both train and bus. In this part of Spain, you'll find it's not unusual for the bus to be faster; you should check for each trip.

Not only will you be able to get to Bilbao, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Hondarribia and several attractive, small coastal towns (including Lekeitio, Zarautz, Getaria and Zumaia) by train or bus (or both), you'll also be able to pop across the border to see some of the French Basque Country. The most obvious targets there are St-Jean-de-Luz, Bayonne and Biarritz.

There's a website you can use for some preliminary checking on transportation options:

Your origin will be Donostia / San Sebastian. (There are other San Sebastians out there--be sure to use Donostia, the Basque name of the city, to get the right one.) It's essential not to trust the fares, travel times and frequencies shown on Rome2Rio. Those are often far off base and can be misleading to a traveler. However, the website is usually accurate about whether there is rail service, bus service or both. And if you keep clicking down through the website you will usually find a link to the bus or rail company's website, where you can get accurate schedule information.

You can check schedules for the main Spanish rail lines here:

You can check schedules for the local train connecting San Sebastian and Bilbao (Euskotren) here:

You should have generally pleasant temperatures while you're in the north. That part of Spain tends to be coolish and cloudy. As you travel south to Madrid, it will probably get a lot hotter.

Posted by
8016 posts

Visit some of French Badque villages such as Sarè, Ainhoa, Ascain, Espelette, charming, in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks for the tips! Very helpful to know buses are a good way to travel for day trips. And several of the places mentioned we have read about and are interested in. Still planning!