Pico Maladeta

A week in Green Spain


The incredible landscapes of the north

We suggest a route from east to west covering the four regions that make up this part of Green Spain: the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. The route starts and finishes near two major international airports: Bilbao, and Santiago de Compostela.

Discover the routes you can travel in Green Spain:

Day 1: Bilbao, in the Basque Country

Our suggested tour of Bilbao starts with the origins of the city.


Morning in the old town

Our starting point is Paseo del Arenal, next to the river. On one side you can see the City Hall, and on the other, the Arriaga Theatre. After that, you’ll head to the old town. This is one of the busiest areas, brimming with small bars with counters full of pinchos, small pedestrian cobblestone streets and squares, such as Plaza de Unamuno and Plaza Nueva.You simply must walk along the so-called “Seven Streets” (Somera, Artecalle, Tendería, Belosticalle, Carnicería Vieja, Barrenkale and Barrenkale Barrena). They are the origins of the city (even though there were only three initially: Somera, Artecalle and Tendería) and their medieval layout has hardly changed at all over the centuries. At one end they lead to the Cathedral of Santiago and at the other, to La Ribera Market.A large part of the route is within the former walled area of Bilbao, which you can still see remains of on Calle Ronda. For lunch, you can choose between the bars in the old town, try Basque cuisine in La Ribera Market or cross Ayuntamiento Bridge to eat in the Ensanche neighbourhood, near the Albia gardens.

La Ribera Market in Bilbao

An afternoon of contemporary art

Many people describe Bilbao as an open-air laboratory of contemporary architecture. To see what they mean, we suggest exploring the triangle formed by the Albia gardens, the Guggenheim Museum and the Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall and the surrounding areas. For example, in a route of barely one kilometre you will see buildings by four Pritzker Prize winners: Frank O. Gehry (Guggenheim Museum Bilbao), Rafael Moneo (Deusto Library), Álvaro Siza (University assembly hall) and Norman Foster (entrances to the metro stations). If you head to the river, you will also see the set of sculptures surrounding the Guggenheim, with works by Louise Bourgeois, Jeff Koons and Anish Kapoor.Finally, reserve some time to visit the Guggenheim Museum. It is the symbol of the city and one of the world's best-known contemporary art museums. You will also find the Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao nearby, with around 30 other art galleries in the area.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

More ideas in Bilbao

Boat rides. Take a boat trip along the river and discover the new architecture on the river bank as you go.Going on the cable car. Take the cable car up Mount Artxanda for one of the best panoramic views of the city.Vizcaya transporter bridge. Visit the first iron transporter bridge constructed in the world, which remains in operation today. It is located in Portugalete (some of the boat trips along the river will take you there, about 15 kilometres from Bilbao) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.Go for pinchos. Go out for tapas, or pinchos (or “ir de potes”, as they say in the Basque Country) to taste Bilbao's cuisine in bite-sized servings. Popular areas include around the “Siete Calles”, and Calle Diputación, Calle Ledesma and Calle Ercilla in Ensanche.

Puerta Isozaki Atea in Bilbao

Day 2: Donostia-San Sebastián, in the Basque Country

San Sebastián is a city that opens up to the sea from its beautiful urban beach, La Concha. It has wide shopping streets and an elegant old town, where the pincho is king.

Distance:100km Journey: By car / Duration: 1 hour

 Wind Comb by Chillida in Donostia-San Sebastián

Panoramic views of the bay

You can spend the morning discovering the city from the heights of Monte Urgull and Monte Igueldo. The former is closer to the centre and you can enjoy the views after walking about a kilometre from the Basilica of Santa María. You can see the city’s three beaches from the viewpoint. For Monte Igueldo, we recommend taking the funicular up (just three kilometres from the Basilica of Santa María). The view from here is also spectacular and there is a small amusement park.

Views of Donostia-San Sebastian.

The old part of the city

It is at the foot of Monte Urgull and is one of the liveliest areas in the city. Why? Its cobbled streets are home to many of the best pinchos places. First, you can walk through the area and visit the Church of San Vicente, the oldest in San Sebastián, and the Basilica of Santa María. When it's time for lunch, make a note of these streets: Pescadería, 31 de agosto, Puerto, Fermín Calbetón, Nagusia, San Jerónimo and Plaza de la Constitución, and remember that the tradition of eating pinchos involves going from bar to bar to try different ones. The most popular pinchos include ones with anchovies, seafood or mushrooms, skewers, and creative cuisine.

Church in the Old Town of Donostia-San Sebastián

La Concha and the romantic city

Walking along the seafront promenade at La Concha beach, taking a break with a view of the sea or having a coffee on a terrace are all good ideas after lunch. The City Hall is on the seafront promenade, and plenty of sights are near La Concha, such as the Cathedral of El Buen Pastor and the Victoria Eugenia Theatre. This area is known as the romantic city and is a good place to walk and discover its elegant 19th-century architecture. It also has several pedestrian streets full of shops. If you are looking for a good photo to remember the city by, great spots include María Cristina bridge and Plaza Bilbao.In the evening, one of the easiest local pleasures to enjoy as a tourist is the sunset. Any of the three beaches are good options: La Concha, leaning on its iconic balustrade; Zurriola, with the Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium floodlit to the side; or Ondarreta, where you can also see Chillida’s “Wind Comb”.

Playa de La Concha, Donostia-San Sebastián

More ideas in San Sebastián

Five-star cuisine. Fine dining is always a hit. The city has several Michelin stars. The Akelarre and Arzak restaurants stand out with top honours, as does the Martín Berasategui restaurant, located in the region, only 10 kilometres from the centre of San Sebastian.Boat rides. Take to the sea, with a trip on a catamaran with glass floors, or boat trips around the bay.Nightlife. San Sebastián has great nightlife with bars open until two or three in the morning. The best known areas are: La Parte Vieja (bars and pubs); Calle Reyes Católicos (alternative music and modern bars); El Gros neighbourhood (younger crowds and more scattered bars); and Egia (with microtheatres and live music).

Pinchos in Donostia-San Sebastián

Day 3: Santander and Altamira, in Cantabria

Now we arrive in the region of Cantabria to visit the city of Santander with its beautiful bay and to discover the famous cave paintings of Altamira.

Distance:230km Journey: By car / Duration: 2 hours

La Magdalena Palace in Santander

Morning in Santander

Sardinero beach is a stunning first contact with Santander. You can walk along the beach, enjoying a peaceful stroll in the sand or the surf while heading to the Magdalena Peninsula. The area around the Magdalena Palace is a must-see, with a surprise: penguins playing in the open air in Santander, in a small marine park.Continue walking along the Paseo de Pereda until you reach the other end, where you will see the modern Centro Botín. In this 3.5 kilometre stroll you can discover the essence of the city, with several mansions and historic landmarks, such as the central headquarters of Banco Santander. This area also hosts markets and fairs, especially on Sundays. The cathedral is also very close. If you fancy a break, head to the nearby Barrio Pesquero (around Avenida Sotileza) and try the fish of the day or a plate of the local rabas (calamari).

Centro Botín, in Santander

Afternoon of prehistoric art in Altamira

The Altamira Cave is unique and its cave paintings are considered among the most important in the world. The tour includes an extremely detailed reconstruction of the original cave in the Altamira National Museum and Visitor Centre to ensure the original cave is preserved. The Neocave and the museum are in Santillana del Mar, around 35 kilometres from Santander. At the end of the day, take the opportunity to explore Santillana del Mar, one of the most beautiful villages in Cantabria. A good way to do this is to go along Calle Río and Calle Carrera, Plaza Mayor and Plaza de las Arenas.

Cloister of the Collegiate Church of Santillana and bison in the Altamira Cave

Visit the Neocave and the National Museum of Cave Paintings

Remember to buy your ticket in advance on the website for the Altamira National Museum and bear in mind the closing times (May to October at 8 pm, rest of the year at 6 pm, and all Sundays and holidays at 3 pm).Visit to the Altamira Cave: controlled access and very limited public tours. The waiting list is currently closed to new applications; only five people per week (260 people per year) who signed up years ago can get in.

More ideas in Cantabria

Fishing villages. Feel the sea in seaside villages, such as Laredo, Santoña and San Vicente de la Barquera (a route of about 100 kilometres)Art Nouveau in Comillas. Go to the Art Nouveau town of Comillas and visit El Capricho by Gaudí and the Sobrellano Palace. It is about 50 kilometres from Santander.Travel in nature. Spend a day surrounded by nature in special places, such as the Picos de Europa National Park (for example, going up in the Fuente Dé cable car) and the Cabárceno Wildlife Park (highly recommended for children, because they can see animals, such as bears and lynxes, in semi-captivity).


Day 4. Picos de Europa National Park, in Asturias

The Picos de Europa National Park extends for almost 70,000 hectares over the regions of Asturias, Cantabria and Castile and Leon. On this route, we suggest visiting one of its most popular areas: the Lakes of Covadonga, close to the municipality of Cangas de Onís.

Distance:130km Journey: By car / Duration: Approximately 1 and a half hours

Lake Ercina, Picos de Europa

The Lakes of Covadonga

This is a day to enjoy the defining feature of Green Spain: nature. The entire setting is stunning and we recommend spending some time doing a bit of walking. By car, you can easily reach the two main points of interest: the Shrine and the Lakes of Covadonga (Enol and La Ercina).There is also a bus service from Cangas de Onís. Bear in mind that private vehicle access is usually restricted in summer and for a few weeks around Easter.One of the most popular viewing points in the national park is very close if you have time. It is called Mirador del Fito, located less than 20 kilometres from Cangas de Onís and has spectacular panoramic views.

Lake Enol at Covadonga

Cares river route in the Picos de Europa National Park

This could be the most popular route in the national park. It is around 22 kilometres and has spectacular views as you pass through the gorge. The route can be completed in just over six hours and goes from Poncebos (Asturias) to Caín (León).

San Isidro Port towards Leon

More ideas in Asturias

Fishing villages. The fishing villages of Asturias. In one day you can visit Llanes, Ribadesella, Cudillero and Luarca, which is a journey of around 175 kilometres.Visit Avilés. Discover the transformation of Avilés, which has one of the best-preserved historic quarters in Asturias and the avant-garde architecture of the Niemeyer Centre. About 30 kilometres from Gijón.La Cuevona. Visit La Cuevona, a large natural cave, which is the only point of access to the village of Cuevas.

Plaza de España square in Avilés

Day 5. Oviedo and Gijón

Today we will enjoy the heritage and atmosphere of two of the largest towns in Asturias: Oviedo and Gijón.

Distance:100km Journey: By car / Duration: 1 hour

Oviedo Cathedral by night

Oviedo and pre-Romanesque Asturian art

If you arrive early in Oviedo, you can use the time to walk around Plaza del Fontán and Plaza del Ayuntamiento, and see the 9th-century Foncalada fountain (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the façade of the Campoamor Theatre (where the prestigious Princess of Asturias Awards are presented). To recharge your batteries, we recommend taking a break in one of the traditional cake shops in the centre and trying some of the popular cakes, such as carbayones or moscovitas. A visit to the city would be incomplete without visiting the Cathedral, which houses the Holy Chamber, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.You can find some of the best examples of pre-Romanesque Asturian art five kilometres from the centre: the churches of San Miguel de Lillo and Santa María del Naranco. You can also enjoy beautiful views of the city, including the Príncipe Felipe Conference Centre-Auditorium, for example.

Santa María del Naranco

Afternoon in Gijón

As you will have only a few hours in Gijón, head straight to the Cimadevilla neighbourhood. It is the former fishing neighbourhood, with charming squares between small streets. Along the walk, you will see the Plaza Mayor, the Town Hall and Revillagigedo Palace, located opposite the marina. The area is full of cider houses and restaurants where you can try the traditional local cuisine of Asturias. If you want to take a beautiful picture of the bay, climb up to the nearby Elogio del Horizonte, a sculpture on Cerro de Santa Catalina. This is also a great place to enjoy the sunset.Depending on how much time you have in Gijon, you can complete your visit by walking along San Lorenzo beach and seeing the Roman baths, the Church of San Pedro and La Laboral, City of Culture. This is a cultural complex that combines artistic creation and an exhibition centre in a majestic Neoclassical building, completely remodelled and equipped with technological innovations.

Church of San Pedro in Gijón

Day 6. Ribeira Sacra in Galicia

The Ribeira Sacra is pure nature with spectacular views and impressive canyons. It is also home to one of the largest concentrations of Romanesque religious constructions in Europe.

Distance:300km Journey: By car / Duration: Around 3 hours

Cabezoas viewpoint in the Ribeira Sacra, Galicia

Land of monasteries, nature and cliffs

Monforte de Lemos is the main town in the Ribeira Sacra. Some of the monasteries we recommend visiting are San Pedro de Rocas (dug into the rock); Sant Esteban de Ribas de Sil (completely renovated and turned into a Parador hotel) and Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil. The proximity of these monasteries to the river Sil means you can take in the views from viewpoints such as the Balcones de Madrid and Amandi.The suggested route is: Monforte de Lemos – Mirador de Amandi – Balcones de Madrid – Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil Monastery – Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil Monastery and San Pedro de Rocas Monastery. This covers around 100 kilometres.The area is also very famous for its wine and has several wineries that can be visited. Another way to explore the Ribeira Sacra is by taking a catamaran trip down the Sil and Miño rivers or riding in a hot air balloon (normally in summer).

Santo Estevo Ribera Sacra

More ideas in Galicia close to the Ribeira Sacra

The thermal baths in Ourense. Visit Ourense and enjoy its famous thermal baths. The most popular is As Burgas, right in the historical centre.Roman walls in Lugo. Explore Lugo and its Roman walls, which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is about 60 kilometres from Monforte de Lemos.

Lugo city walls

Day 7. Santiago de Compostela in Galicia

Santiago de Compostela is the finish line of the Camino de Santiago, and the cathedral is its must-see monument. 

Distance:120km Journey: By car

Santiago Cathedral by night

Morning in the old town and the cathedral

Start your visit by strolling around the squares surrounding the cathedral and by exploring the old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to take in the atmosphere of the city. The areas to visit include Plaza del Obradoiro, Plaza de la Inmaculada, Plaza de Platerías, Rúa Nova and Rúa do Vilar. You can then go into the cathedral.After this, you can walk down Rúa do Franco and take a seat in any of the numerous restaurants to try Galician delicacies, such as octopus “á feira”, empanadas, pork shoulder and delicious local seafood.

Rúa do Franco in Santiago de Compostela

Relaxing afternoon with views

The city has several viewpoints with beautiful views. For example, the parks of San Domingos de Bonaval and Alameda. The former offers unique perspectives for your photos. It is also home to the Museum of the Galician People and the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art. The latter, Alameda, is where you can enjoy one of the best sunsets in Santiago de Compostela.

More ideas in Galicia close to Santiago de Compostela

Cíes Islands. Visit the Islas Atlánticas National Park, which the Romans regarded as “the islands of the Gods”. The regular boat tour service runs during summer. We recommend checking in advance during the rest of the year. You must also request permission before purchasing a boat ticket.Rías Baixas estuary. Walk along the coast of the Rías Baixas and stop in small villages, such as Muros (a typical small Galician fishing village), Cambados (known as the capital of Albariño white wine, which is popular in the area), O Grove (with A Lanzada beach and viewpoints such as Con da Hedra) and Combarro (a unique place to discover the traditional horreos or raised granaries).Tower of Hercules. Head out to a Roman lighthouse that is still in operation. This is the Tower of Hercules, located in A Coruña (75 kilometres from Santiago de Compostela) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.Lighthouses route. A route around Galicia’s lighthouses from the world’s end to the beach of the Cathedrals. Cape Fisterra was considered by the Romans to be the world’s end. It is about 85 kilometres from Santiago de Compostela. The landscape next to its lighthouse is spectacular and is a good starting point for heading north on the lighthouses route, crossing the Costa da Morte and reaching the famous A Catedrais beach (Ribadeo). Along the route you can see the lighthouses of Muxía, Laxe, Punta Candelaira and Punta Roncadoira. It takes around six and a half hours in total by car.

Cíes Islands National Park

Tips and recommendations

Trans-Cantabrian train.There is also an option to travel through this area on a tourist train. This is the Trans-Cantabrian, a luxury train from Donostia – San Sebastián (Basque Country) to Santiago de Compostela (Galicia). Transport in the Basque Country:-Bilbao Airport is a little over 10 kilometres from the city centre, with a regular bus service.-The port in Bilbao has direct ferry connections with the United Kingdom.-The cities of Bilbao and Donostia-San Sebastián are linked by road via the AP-8 motorway. There is also a regular intercity coach service. Plus the local train line, Euskotren E-1, links both cities in around 155 minutes. Transport in Cantabria:-Santander airport is located less than 10 kilometres from the city centre and the port has direct ferries to the United Kingdom.-The road link to Santander from Bilbao and San Sebastián is via the A-8 motorway. There is also a regular train service from Concordia station in Bilbao to Santander, with journeys taking about three hours. Meanwhile, the journey by coach from Bilbao takes about an hour and a half.-From Santander, you can get to Santillana del Mar by car on the A-67 motorway. There are also regular bus services. The nearest railway station is in Torrelavega, 10 kilometres away. Transport in Asturias:-To get to Cangas de Onís from Santillana del Mar, the best option is to go by car on the A-8 motorway until exit 319 and continuing along the regional roads towards Cangas de Onís. The coach journey requires several changes and can take almost six hours.-You can drive to Oviedo by taking roads N-634 and A-8 from Cangas de Onís. The journey by coach is just over one hour and 15 minutes.-Gijón is linked to Oviedo by road via the motorways A-66 and A-8 with the journey taking approximately 30 minutes. The coach and train journeys are both direct and also take around 30 minutes. Transport in Galicia:-The A-8 motorway and, later, the A-6, link Asturias with the Ribeira Sacra in Galicia.-Santiago de Compostela has an international airport located 14 kilometres from the city centre.-It takes around one hour and 45 minutes to drive to Santiago de Compostela on the AP-53 motorway. There is also a train from Monforte de Lemos.