The Basque Country is an autonomous region located in the North of Spain and Southern France and is culturally and historically different from both France and Spain. This is partly why some of the most interesting places to visit in the Basque Country are truly unlike anywhere else in Europe.
Even the Basque language predates the establishment of modern romance languages, such as Spanish and Italian and so, although relatively small as a region is one part of Europe you have to experience! (Also, they eat A LOT of good food here and for hours at a time so if you’re a foodie like I am, you’ll find yourself very happy here! 😀 )
Confusing, the Spanish part is referred to as The Basque Country and the French part as the French Basque Country or Northern Basque Country.
Just for re-clarification, we’re referring to the Basque Country of Spain for the when it comes to the places below (though there’s nothing stopping you from exploring the French part while you’re at it). 😀
To give you a sense of what it’s like here, where to eat and spots to look out for when you’re here, here are 10 interesting places to visit in The Basque Country.
1.) La Concha Beach
You’ll find La Concha Beach in San Sebastian and it is regarded by many to be one of the most beautiful beaches, not just in Spain but in Europe. San Sebastian is one part of the Basque Country that has enthralled holidaymakers (especially wealthy ones) for quite some time and La Concha is a huge reason why.
The beach has soft, fine sand paired with turquoise waters makes it pretty idyllic location and picture perfect! If you are feeling more adventurous, this is also a popular spot for surfing (you’ll find me with a good book relaxing on the beach instead…).
When you’re done with the beach, stroll along the promenade and remember to pop into town for pintxos. The (informal) rule is one pintxos and one drink in each restaurant so you get to try as varied a menu as possible.
2.) The Guggenheim Museum
Located in Bilbao, this museum is one amazing piece of art in an of itself and one of the most fascinating places to visit in the Basque Country Designed by renowned arctitect, Frank Gehry – it is worth taking the time to appreciate this properly from outside before you head in. (The bridge next to it has great views, as does the other side of the river).
In the Guggenheim, you will find a huge variety of work from Basque artists, from centuries ago right through to present day. There’s also work by renowned artists from all over the world here and with installations coming and going, you’ll always find many reasons to return back here.
One of the most famous displays is Maman (located outside the building itself), this is a giant spider-like sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, which is meant to represent the maternal protective spirit. Oh, and be sure to look out for the Jeff Koons flower dog at the back (it’s gigantic – you won’t miss it) as well as his ‘tulips’ in the balcony area of the ground floor.
Check out more from the Guggenheim in this post here.
3.) Marques de Riscal Winery and Hotel
In Rioja Alavesa, you’ll find this fantastic Basque winery, connected to a gorgeous historical hotel and designed by none other than the same Frank Gehry who designed the Guggenheim.
Sip on a number of Rioja blends before partaking in a guided tour that will lead you through the wine cellars while providing you with interesting facts about the region. Hungry? The Marques de Riscal Restaurante offers pretty amazing food made from locally sourced ingredients (it’s seriously good here and totally worth dining here at least once).
Located in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Artium is a gorgeously-designed museum with some rather impressive displays from Basque and Spanish artists, including Jorge Oteiza, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.
This is one of the best places to visit in the Basque Country to get a broad and vivid insight into art across not just the Basque Country but also across Spain. The gallery is also home to a lot of modern art and is considered to be one of the most important art galleries in Spain.
5.) La Bretxa Marketplace
Located in San Sebastian, this bustling market offers the absolute freshest selection of seafood you will find anywhere! Granted, you’re probably on holiday here and have no plans to cook seafood, let along buy any yet it’s still a spot worth visiting for the energy, sights, non-seafood samples just waiting to be tasted and to get a sense of day-to-day Basque life.
6.) Casco Viejo
This is the old town of Bilbao and is arguably one of the top places to visit in the Basque Country to get a true sense of the history and architectural prowess of this magnificent area of Spain! Be sure to roam the original seven streets of Bilbao, known as Las Siete Calles, which date back from the 1400’s!
On Sunday mornings, there is a relatively small but still impressive flea market here as well that is not to be missed, as you can find one-of-a-kind treasures for pretty fantastic prices.
There are lots of unusual shops to browse through and plenty of bars and restaurants for to stop and fill your tummy – case in point, Sorginzulo, which offers pretty fantastic tapas paired with an incredible wine selection.
7.) The Cathedral of Santa Maria
Also located in Vitoria-Gasteiz, this magnificent Gothic-style cathedral was built in the 13th and 14th and was actually built as a church-fortress to be part of the city’s defence structure.
Today, it is open for public visits, though if time allows, you really should take part in the guided tour, where you will learn the history of the place and see what it looked like in its glory days during the Middle Ages!
8.) The Cristobal Balenciaga Museum
This is one of the best places to visit in the Basque Country for any fashion lover. Located in Getaria, will find some of the best designs from local turned international fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga. (Yup! It’s the very same Balenciaga!)
Cristobal Balenciaga rose to enormous fame in the 1950’s and 1960’s for his beautifully elegant gowns which saw him dress Spanish royalty as well as celebrities across the pond including first lady Jackie Kennedy. Suffice to say, if you’re looking for an evolution of fashion over the ages – or just generally love the art-form, this one spot you definitely don’t want to miss out on.
9.) Txoko Getaria
This is perhaps the best restaurant in Getaria. Famous for its outstanding fresh seafood dishes in an area where competition is fierce, you can relax at an outside table overlooking the water while sampling the black rice with calamari or a freshly grilled fillet of or turbot! Be sure to sample a glass or two of from their impressive wine menu as well or opt for a refreshing sangria to beat the summer heat!