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traveling from San Sebastian to Porto.

We will be traveling from San Sebastian to Porto, Portugal and are wondering about taking time to explore that whole northern coast/mountain area of Spain. There seems to be little information about this area in the major guide books. we would be in a rental car, and we can devote a few days.

Can anyone give me some feedback on this area?

Posted by
3438 posts

Hopefully acraven responds because she’s visited places I haven’t like Comillas and Guernica. Places along the north and west coast I enjoyed; Getaria, Zumaia, Santillana Del Mar, Praia Catedrais (AguasSantas) beach near Ribadeo, Cabo Ortegal, Muxia, Betanzos, and Santiago de Compostela. At a leisurely pace, taking time to enjoy the places you stop I mentioned, it will take 3 days to get from San Sebastián to Santiago. The main road is an interstate, but once off of it, it’s two lane roads that wind and go through every town. Nice views, but it slows you down. Santiago is worth a full day’s visit. From there you still need to get to Porto. I haven’t driven that part of your itinerary.

Posted by
19404 posts

It will probably be terribly costly to pick up a car in Spain and drop it off in Portugal--but perhaps that's not what you are planning to do.

What time of year is your trip?

Jaimeelsabio has seen more than I have, but I can add that the inland cities of Burgos and Leon are historic, pretty and lively. Within Galicia I liked Pontevedra and A Coruna in addition to the obvious Santiago de Compostela, plus the smaller towns of Betanzos, Combarro and Cambados. The inland border town of Tui is worth a stop, but the direct driving route from San Sebastian would cross the border east of Tui (also missing all the other places we've mentioned in Galicia). Vigo is imminently skippable.

In the Basque Country I liked Bilbao and Vitoria-Gasteiz even more than San Sebastian, but I'm not a beach-goer or a gregarious bar-hopper.

The Picos de Europa area is dramatically pretty. I just took a bus tour there so can't provide specifics beyond saying that the old stone town of Potes is touristy but handsome. As you would expect, there roads there are windy; don't expect to make good time in that area.

The Basque Country is also lovely.

From your reference to "a few days", I gather that you don't have a great deal of time. You may need to focus more on scenery seen on-the-go and some convenient stops mostly in small towns. Visiting places like Bilbao, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Burgos, Leon and Santiago de Compostela may slow you down too much. Those are all places where an hour or two might be more frustrating than enjoyable.

If you decide on the inland route that takes you past Vitoria-Gasteiz, you'll be near the very atmospheric small hill town of Laguardia, which sits near the La Rioja wine country.

I tossed each chapter of the RS "Spain" book as I left the area and don't remember exactly what is covered, but I think there's info on at least SS, Bilbao, the Picos de Europa, Burgos and Santiago de Compostela. I just checked Amazon and found a Lonely Planet book that may cover more towns (but in less depth). There are DK Eyewitness Guides to both Spain and Northern Spain--too heavy to travel with in my view, but good for advance research.

Posted by
132 posts

We have 3 weeks to go from Bordeaux into Portugal. we were planning on 4- 5 days Lisbon, and the rest in Portugal and northern Spain. We have had many people tell us how much they like San Sebastian but we art NOT beach goers and bar hoppers. when I looked at VRBO apartments, I was concerned that the beach looked like typical beach town -- maybe we skip and go straight to Bilbao?

Yes, we are concerned about rental car drop off fees --- will look into dropping the car in Spain and taking a train to Porto and then renting again if we need to.

We are going for the month of May.

Posted by
7124 posts

Bordeaux to Lisbon via the coast of northern Spain is a huge swathe of ground to travel in just 3 weeks. Short cut the mid section by flying from Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela.

  • Bordeaux (3 nts)
  • San Sebastián (2 nts)
  • Bilbao (2 nts)
  • Santiago de Compostela (2 nts)
  • Rias Baixas (3 nts)
  • Porto (3 nts)
  • Coimbra (2 nts)
  • Lisbon (4 nts)
Posted by
19404 posts

I wouldn't characterize San Sebastian as a typical beach town. It has some pretty architecture. There's a small historic district (from my perspective, 100% touristy) plus some attractive later buildings--I'd guess late-19th and early 20th century. There isn't much ticky-tacky architecture in evidence. The Santa Cruz Museum is worthwhile. If I didn't have time for side-trips to any of the smaller places to the east (Hondarribia and Zarauta/Getaria/Zumaia), I'd probably just base in the larger Bilbao (with more "sights" and what seems a larger historic district) and bus to SS for one day. If you're willing to do that, you don't need to make any arrangements ahead of time. I'd prefer not to have two short stays, especially back-to-back.

You might Google "Photos San Sebastian" and see what you think.