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Help With 10 Days Trip in December - Barcelona, Zaragoza, Bilbao, San Sebastian

Help With 10 Days Trip in December - Barcelona, Zaragoza, Bilbao, San Sebastian

Old Oct 17th, 2021, 08:34 AM
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Help With 10 Days Trip in December - Barcelona, Zaragoza, Bilbao, San Sebastian

Hi, there are 2 of us in our early 30s, and we will be flying in and out of Barcelona in the 2nd-3rd week of December this year. We are interested in culture, nature/scenery, small towns, food. Have been to Andalusia, so we are keen to explore Northern Spain and hope to experience a variety of sights. We have 10 full days, and I set out an outline of my itinerary below. Would be grateful for any comments, especially regarding logistics/transport and the feasibility of my trip. We will not be renting a car and that is non-negotiable.

Currently, it is envisaged to be 3 nights Barcelona --> 1 night Zaragoza --> 2 nights Bilbao --> 1 night San Sebastian --> 3 nights Barcelona.

Days 1 to 3: Barcelona with day trips: City sightseeing on Day 1, pyrenees mountains day tour from Barcelona (a Viator tour), put it right at the start since weather is likely to get colder further down on Day 2, and day trip to Montserrat on Day 3.

Day 4: Zaragoza: by train from Barcelona; this stop is to break up the very long journey to Bilbao (Alvia/AVE?).
At Zaragoza, we intend to visit the Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar, Torre Del Pilar, El Tubo, and also Monasterio de Piedra if there's time.

Days 5 and 6: Bilbao: bus from Zaragoza to Bilbao (this will take 3 to 4 hours, is that the fastest? which are the bus operators available?).
At Bilbao, we intend to visit Guggenheim Museum, Casco Viejo, La Ribera Market, and take the funicular up Mount Artxanda on Day 5. On Day 6, to visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (will probably join a half day or full day tour).

Day 7: San Sebastian: bus from Bilbao (around 1-1.5 hours). La Concha Beach, Monte Urgull, Parte Vieja, and maybe take the funicular up Monte Igueldo if there's time. We are aware it's winter and purely intend to sightsee, depending on the weather that day.

Days 8 to 10: Barcelona: train from San Sebastian to Barcelona (5h30mins direct train) - I am unable to get the schedule from Rail Europe - is that the correct platform, and are direct trains still running (Alvia/AVE)?
We also need to buffer at least 2 days at the end of the trip to do a PCR test in Barcelona before our flight.
City sightseeing on Days 8 and 9. Day trip to Girona (40mins from Barcelona by train) on Day 10.

Day 11: early morning flight out of Barcelona

Grateful for any views on the above. Many thanks.
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Old Oct 17th, 2021, 09:36 AM
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Consider flying from Barcelona to Bilbao snd from San Sebastián to Barcelona and renting a car between Bilbao and San Sebastián
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Old Oct 17th, 2021, 10:55 AM
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Day 4: Zaragoza: by train from Barcelona; this stop is to break up the very long journey to Bilbao (Alvia/AVE?).
At Zaragoza, we intend to visit the Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar, Torre Del Pilar, El Tubo, and also Monasterio de Piedra if there's time.

For the Monasterio de Piedra you´ll need a car, it´s not on the city as you may already know. The city is fine, I´d take a bus from Barcelona to Bilbao instead, or maybe I´d fly, it´s fast and it´s cheap.


Days 5 and 6: Bilbao: bus from Zaragoza to Bilbao (this will take 3 to 4 hours, is that the fastest? which are the bus operators available?).
At Bilbao, we intend to visit Guggenheim Museum, Casco Viejo, La Ribera Market, and take the funicular up Mount Artxanda on Day 5. On Day 6, to visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (will probably join a half day or full day tour).

December is very low season and not sure if there´ll be any organized full or half day tours there. Do not miss Azkuna Zentroa on the city center and the Hanging Bridge (Puente Bizkaia) from Getxo side, if you have the time, easy access on a short metro ride. Ribera market is best seen early morning, not in the afternoon or evening (closed on Saturday afternoon and Sundays).


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Old Oct 17th, 2021, 11:34 AM
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There are trains between Barcelona, Zaragoza and Bilbao, cheap by most western standards. Much nicer than motorway buses. Book trains at www.Renfe.com (no fee, operator's own site, a little fiddly) or (much easier but small fee) www.thetrainline.com
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Old Oct 18th, 2021, 09:04 PM
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If your flight to Barcelona does not arrive in the evening, I'd consider travelling directly to Zaragoza on arrival and grouping your time in Barcelona to a single stay at the end.

Rail Europe is a reseller.

You may possibly be being generous with how long you have in each time when you consider that the first day in each of your destinations will be significantly taken up with travel. I prefer to map my itineraries using nights rather than days. Sightseeing on a travel day is a bonus. This tells me how many full days I have and where I will be resting my head each night (and therefore need to book accommodation) - but there's no right way. For example, your Day 5 has a full day's sightseeing plus getting to Bilbao.
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Old Oct 18th, 2021, 10:26 PM
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In Zaragoza, the Palacio de la Aljaferia is well worth a visit. With only one day there, you won't have time to go to the Monestario de Piedra, but it is really well worth a visit! Stay another day and rent a car to see it. The waterfalls are stunning! It will take most of a day to drive there, visit, and drive back.

The Puerta Cinegia Gasronomica is a very large food court with many different vendors. Great place for lunch.

Last edited by joannyc; Oct 18th, 2021 at 10:39 PM.
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Old Oct 19th, 2021, 09:20 AM
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Thanks so much to everyone for your comments, I appreciate it. Special shout-out to Man in Seat 61; I have relied on your blog for many, many years.

Given the comments, I looked up the flight option from Barcelona to Bilbao, and it indeed seems more cost/time efficient; our priority is to save time. The only issue with flight options is that I am not sure what the testing requirements for domestic flights (for international travellers) are - will check that out.

The issue for me now is arranging sequence of the cities. I initially split Barcelona up because I thought that we should head to the Pyrenees mountains/Montserrat as early as possible as it will get colder - but I suppose a few days won't make a big difference. I am ok with dropping Zaragoza if we are doing the plane option.

Intend to allocate 4 nights to Bilbao and San Sebastian, and 6 nights to Barcelona.

Option 1: Day 1 - fly from BCN to Bilbao, spend 4 nights, fly back to BCN from Bilbao
We land in Barcelona at 8.30am - we could take the 11.30am flight (Vueling) to Bilbao, and will reach around 1pm (there is only 1 flight from BCN to SS at 4.40pm). QUESTION: given that there is only 1 flight schedule (departing at 6.30pm) from SS to BCN, is it recommended to spend all 4 nights in Bilbao but take a day trip to San Sebastian? There are more than 3 flight connections from Bilbao to BCN, and I understand that the SS airport is actually at Hondarribia.

Option 2: Spend first 3 nights in BCN --> fly to SS (there is only 1 flight from BCN to SS a day), spend 2 nights in SS --> bus/train to Bilbao, 2 nights in Bilbao --> flight from Bilbao to BCN.

Grateful for views on the two options (or any other combination of flight/train/bus) above. We are not comfortable driving abroad and will therefore not be renting a car.
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Old Oct 19th, 2021, 10:00 AM
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Option 1: Day 1 - fly from BCN to Bilbao, spend 4 nights, fly back to BCN from Bilbao
We land in Barcelona at 8.30am - we could take the 11.30am flight (Vueling) to Bilbao, and will reach around 1pm (there is only 1 flight from BCN to SS at 4.40pm). QUESTION: given that there is only 1 flight schedule (departing at 6.30pm) from SS to BCN, is it recommended to spend all 4 nights in Bilbao but take a day trip to San Sebastian? There are more than 3 flight connections from Bilbao to BCN, and I understand that the SS airport is actually at Hondarribia.


SS airport is really small and yes, it´s located in Hondarribia, 23km away. Bilbao airport is the main one in northern Spain, it offers many more flights than SS.
Donostia-San Sebastian can be seen in one day, it´s a small city (walkable, as also is Bilbao), with many direct buses (1.15h trip) linking both cities. From Bilbao you can have easy access on public transport to nearby interesting sites.

Option 2: Spend first 3 nights in BCN --> fly to SS (there is only 1 flight from BCN to SS a day), spend 2 nights in SS --> bus/train to Bilbao, 2 nights in Bilbao --> flight from Bilbao to BCN.

Not a bad option either, as you split your time between both cities and make the most of your visit.
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Old Oct 21st, 2021, 01:20 AM
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I do not want to beat a dead horse and I can understand your apprehension about driving in a foreign country but if you have no problems driving in the US you would find driving in Basque Country to be easy with an automatic car using GPS and a partner navigator. Would make exploring the countryside and small towns much easier. Easier than driving in any major American city. Car rental in Bilbao right across the street walking from airport.
Hotel recommendation for Bilbao would be the Catalonia Gran Via. Nice and not expensive. We had a nice jr suite in June. The Maria Christina in San Sebastian is excellent and well located. Has a nice gourmet food/wine shop on the first floor. Nagore works in the store and has excellent suggestions for local foods/eating places. . We ate at Arzak for one of our meals and it was excellent albeit pricy. Best Pintxos we had was in Hondarribia at Bar Ondarribi. Maybe the meal we enjoyed most however was Gastroteka Danontzat also in Hondarribia. Nice seafood options in Getaria. I would fly to Bilbao on your first day and leave Barcelona for last.
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Old Oct 21st, 2021, 02:09 AM
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Roads are excellent, very well signed and fun to drive, although in quite a few places they are curvy and you may not be used to driving on hilly-mountainous areas. I was in Getaria yesterday enjoying grilled monkfish, fish soup local style and some grilled squids (all absolutely freshest), with a bottle of txakoli + bread and dessert and water. Total price was 111EUR for the three of us, my companions (from the US) thought it was a real bargain.
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Old Oct 21st, 2021, 09:25 AM
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You are making me hungry Mikelg! The only caveats I have about driving in Europe is that I prefer not to drive at night and your hours of daylight in December are limited. It’s not too bad if you are coming back to your accommodations and the way is easy but I do not like to drive to new places in the dark although GPS makes it doable. Basque Country also tends to get a fair amount of rain which for me suggests better to sight see using a car. Could also take a day trip to The Rioja if you are interested in wine. The Rioja seems to be drier than the coast
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