Northern Spain 2 weeks in July

Old Jun 9th, 2024, 11:25 AM
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Northern Spain 2 weeks in July

Hi everyone
we are looking at options in northern Spain for 2 weeks starting early July. We are interested in good food, learning some Spanish, beach and not doing loads of touristy things. We have two small children. Because of the heat we were thinking San Sebastián, Bilbao Santander and maybe going into France up to Bordeaux. What do you all think? Is it best to get around by car? I have read that getting from San Sebastián to Bilbao by car can take almost a day in summer time. Ideally we would get on a train rather than having to battle the traffic and we would rather just pick one (maybe two places) and then just hang out there or do nearby day trips. If anyone has any ideas on this (or other places that might be better in summer) I would love to hear them!

Thank you very much.
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Old Jun 9th, 2024, 11:36 AM
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Also I should have said - we will most likely be flying into Madrid so we may start by spending a few days there and then head north. Our preference is train for transport.
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Old Jun 9th, 2024, 11:38 AM
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I have read that getting from San Sebastián to Bilbao by car can take almost a day in summer time. Ideally we would get on a train rather than having to battle the traffic
I wonder where you´ve read that funny statement. The 100km/60mile winding ride from Bilbao to Donostia-San Sebastian takes just a bit over one hour on the toll highway, be it winter, fall, summer or spring. Of course, if you decide to use the toll free road that crosses every town on the way, you may take up to 3h as there are quite a few traffic lights and many intersections to cross in towns. But A DAY??? I take this route practically every week and well...it´s a really strange statement. Forget about the train, take the efficient, frequent, cheap, modern, full equipped bus instead (1h20min ride). Traffic congestions are rare here and this is not an area coped by massive tourism.

Beach weather is not always an option in northern Spain, this is a rainy, lush green, mountainous and full of forests area. Of course we do get sunny days too...but this is the rough Atlantic, not the Mediterranean.

Last edited by mikelg; Jun 9th, 2024 at 11:44 AM.
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Old Jun 9th, 2024, 12:57 PM
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I got it from the Lonely Planet but glad to hear that isn’t the case!

Public transport is limited so this area is best explored by car. The roads are winding, the views are big and the beaches
are beautiful, so allow at least a full day to travel between Bilbao and San Sebastián, but, if you can, spread it over a couple of
days by overnighting in lovely Lekeitio.


Sounds like the bus is a good option.
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Old Jun 9th, 2024, 08:05 PM
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I think what Lonely Planet was saying is that there a number of pretty towns to stop in, between San Sebastian and Bilbao, and so you should stop at those and take your time. Not that the drive takes all day. I agree that Lekeitio is pretty; it has an island that you can walk to at low tide. Getaria is more beautiful, IMO, and there's a path you can take above the town, over the water. I don't know if those are accessible by bus (we had a rental car).

Mikelg will know much better than I, but especially with two small children, a rental car may be the easiest way to get yourselves around between all of the places you mentioned. I don't know that I would go to all of them, with two small kids, though they are all delighful. The French Basque country is also beautiful; you could take the small train up La Rhunne.

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Old Jun 10th, 2024, 07:18 AM
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hawks2012,
Lexma90 has the correct interpretation, I believe, of that Lonely Planet comments, as there are so many compelling places to stop between the two cities if one goes off the autoroute to explore:

in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, Gernika, the spiritual Basque "capital" and its Casa de Juntas , the surfing village of Mundaka, Llaida beach, the former whaling port of Bermeo, then back on that same road and at Gernika over the Ría (the inlet) to the other side, to Elantxobe, Laga beach, Lekeitio, Ondarraoa, Mutriku (the Flysch route), Deba, Zumaia, the charming port town of Getaria (birthplace of explorer Elkano and costume designer Balenciaga), the surfing town of Zarautz, then finally to San Sebastán.

All that, as mikelg knows better than I, would take a very, very very full day and then some! And those coastal roads are curvy and slow going, and there's just no where to park (except up on the sidewalk as we've done) in lovely Lekeitio.

So, if you want to see any of the above, and with two small children, a car would probably be the best option to stop and sightsee along the way, choosing judiciously among the many choices, especially with your 2 kids along.
Or...after your stay enjoying the many delights of Bilbao (and beaches accessible by metro), go from Bilbao to San Sebastián the quick / inexpensive way on the Alsa or Pesa bus and settle in somewhere in San Sebastián.

Just a caution:
if you haven't secured any lodging yet, for the first 2 weeks of July, you may find many places already fully booked (I've been working on our own Basque July now for months) and what's left may or may not fit your budget, so my advice, having done this every summer now, is to secure accommodations ASAP!! either for the Spanish Basque Country or the French Basque Country. From a spot there in the Pays Basque (French side) it is far easier to reach the cogwheel train of La Rhune and advanced purchasing of tickets online is absolutely necessary! It attracts huge summer crowds.

Last edited by Maribel; Jun 10th, 2024 at 07:28 AM.
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Old Jun 10th, 2024, 06:03 PM
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Thank you all very much.
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Old Jun 10th, 2024, 06:32 PM
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Been there myself, San Sebastián is food heaven, seriously, you'll love it. Bilbao's got that cool mix of culture and vibe, and Santander's beaches are perfect for the kiddos.

Considering the little ones, I'd say sticking to one or two spots and doing day trips is smart. And yeah, driving can be a bit of a headache in summer, so maybe opt for trains – way more relaxed.

And if you are into personalized tours, you might wanna hit up https://gowithguide.com/spain They hooked me up with some epic experiences last time I was there.

Have a blast on your trip! And don't forget to check out the https://www.spain.info/en/top/essential-sights/ for some must-see spots.
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Old Jun 10th, 2024, 08:25 PM
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If our experience is normal rates for lodgings in San Sebastian really increase July 1. I also suspect that Lexma90's interpretation of the lonely Planet is probably correct although I have not been in the area in July. I would definitely rent a car to explore the area.
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Old Jun 11th, 2024, 09:12 AM
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San Sebatian/Donostia has a protected beach, so does Bilbao but not in the city itself like San Sebastian.


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Old Jun 11th, 2024, 09:39 AM
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San Sebastián has three beaches:
the shell-shaped. highly photogenic La Concha beach, the longest,

the surfers' beach of Zurriola on the other side of the Urumea bridge, past the Kursaal performing arts center,

and west of La Concha (or actually an extension of La Concha). the more sheltered Ondarreta beach

This one, Ondarreta, is considered more "family friendly" as while not as large as La Concha, it's not affected by the tides, thus, it's popular with families.
It has a children’s above ground pool on the beach for swimming classes (for a fee or perhaps a seasonal pass), volleyball, umbrella, awnings and tents rentals (starting on June 15), kayaks, an ice cream stand, showers and toilets.
Waves aren’t as big.
In very low tide one can use the steps of the Pico del Loro passageway that separates Ondarreta from La Concha beach to go from one to another.
During high tide the Pico de Loro disappears.

The season official starts on June 1 with lifeguards on duty and ends on September 30. Lifeguards are on duty from 10 am-8 pm.

For your children, the Ondarreta beach, out of the 3, would be best.
We've rented an apartment within walking distance of Ondarreta several times. This is the neighborhood referred to as Antiguo. We just switched our stay in July from Getaria to Antiguo, as we found an unexpectedly "good" (well, "good" for SS in July-August) hotel rate.

That said, for every 3-4 days we're in San Sebastián, we might catch just one nice beach day. As mikelg often reminds us, the Basque Country is a rainy area.

The Ereaga beach in Getxo is easily accessible from Bilbao by metro line 1 to Neguri.
Plenzia, popular with surfers, is the last stop on the metro Line 1.
But mikelg can give you far more and better info on the different beaches around the city and their amenities because he lives near them.

Last edited by Maribel; Jun 11th, 2024 at 10:12 AM.
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Old Jun 11th, 2024, 09:49 AM
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I live a mile off Ereaga beach, which is accessible on the (very safe and efficient) metro system of Bilbao, stop at Neguri or Algorta station, around 25min drive. Restaurants and the quaint (do I hate this word?) old fishing port of Algorta, with off-the-beaten-path bars and restaurants in 17th century fishermen houses and great view. One of my favorite restaurants (going there next Friday) is Goiezti, no views but excellent everything! It´s the safest beach in the area, together with Plentzia and neighboring Gorliz, perfect for families and in a beautiful town, frequently ignored by foreign visitors. We do have nice sunny days, but yes, this is not the Mediterranean and weather tends to be quite unreliable (today the Basque coast has been like this: it´s poured, then drizzle, then sun, then drizzle, then wind, then drizzle and now it´s sunny again!)
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Old Jun 12th, 2024, 05:45 PM
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Thank you

Thank you all so much for your really helpful replies! A wealth of knowledge and certainly a lot of options. We are also looking at the Barcelona area so I will put a post up about that too and see if anyone has any comments! Thank you all, so much.
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