Between the inexhaustible amount of dining options (the pintxo bars, Michelin star restaurants, cider houses, our cooking school) the beautiful beaches, and all of the cultural events and celebrations, it’s hard to actually leave San Sebastián. Yet the surroundings vie for attention, luring with their natural splendor the same way a pintxo bar tempts with its bounty. Pop into France for a or feel like an extra on a Game of Thrones set at these remarkable places in the Basque Country.
We polled our Mimo San Sebastián team about their favorite local destinations and made this handy list of unmissable places you should add to your next Basque itinerary.
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The hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe video just went live on my YouTube Channel. Watch me struggle to pronounce the name of this incredible church placed precariously on the summit of a tiny island. We had the place to ourselves for hours. How can a place this unbelievable, not be world famous? This was our first stop on a 3 week road trip through Spain. Not sponsored, but @indie_campers were super rad with us. ???======================================= YouTube videos are in my Bio! ?======================================= Tag a friend who you would love to visit this place! ?=======================================
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
Does it get more scenic than this slice of rugged Basque coast? Some might know this enchanting spot as the Dragonstone Castle in Game of Thrones. But even if you’ve never seen the show, you’ll be captivated by the sight of this small chapel sitting on a craggy islet in the bay of Biscay, reached by a winding staircase that twists its way to the top. It’s a bit of a hike –241 steps up – but reaching the top feels so much sweeter for it. Tradition says if you ring the bell of the chapel three times and make a wish, you’ll get it.
How far: About a two-hour drive from San Sebastián
This quaint little fishing village might be tiny, but it’s a powerhouse when it comes to two things: seafood and txakoli wine. The surrounding green hills are crosshatched by vineyards, while the town’s cobblestone streets offer some tasty pintxo options. But for a true fish lover’s feast, Michelin-starred Elkano is a must. This legendary restaurant is king of grilled fish, serving up an impeccable turbot cooked out on its streetside grill, among other seaside specialties. Fashion lovers should note that Getaria was home to famous designer Balenciaga, and there’s a museum in town that’s worthy of a stop. And as for the wine, you can’t go wrong with a visit to a txakoli vineyard. Check out our Getaria Uncovered tour for the full experience, from tuna and anchovies at the port to swirling and sipping this fizzy white wine in one of our favorite bodegas.
How far: About a half-hour drive from San Sebastián, or around 40 minutes by bus.
It’s all about the journey when it comes to Pasaia, a fishing village that’s a stone’s throw across Monte Ulia. Sure, you can easily drive there in 15 minutes, but our preferred route is on foot, along the coast. The popular trail is along the Camino de Santiago route and a favorite good-weather activity among locals. The hike takes about three hours more or less, depending on how many times you stop to admire the stunning views along the way.
Pasaia is a charming fishing village with many sides: quaint waterfront homes and delicious seafood, but also the largest industrial port in Gipuzkoa. If hiking, you’ll arrive in Pasai San Pedro and pass the Albaola center, which is worth a stop – watch the building of a replica of the historic Basque San Juan whaling ship from the 16thcentury. Then hop on a ferry and cross over to the other side, Pasai Donibane, for lunch. Some of the best seafood can be had in this charming bit of waterfront.
How far: About a three-hour hike or 15-minute drive from San Sebastián. A city bus runs often, perfect for hikers who’ve had enough walking.
Why not pop on over to France for the day and indulge in the holy trinity of French bread, pastries, and cheese? Biarritz, perhaps the most popular of French Basque Country day trips, is under an hour’s drive away, but the coast is dotted with small towns along the way, like Saint-Jean-de-Luz. A quaint seaside town peppered with timbered Basque houses, Saint-Jean-de-Luz has a famed stretch of beach and promenade lined with picturesque homes.
Start the day with a croissant, and then head to the market (Tuesdays and Fridays are busiest and best, but it’s open daily), which bustles with local flavor. It’s a great place for souvenirs, snacks, and people watching. Try the ttoro, the traditional local fish soup, and stop at Maison Adam for dessert – the macarons are a must (and the secret recipe has been in the family since the 12thcentury).
How far: About a 40-minute drive or bus ride from San Sebastián.
Even if you don’t know much about Bilbao, you’ve probably heard about its Guggenheim Museum. Art and architecture combine to make the city a must-stop on any Basque Country tour. The Frank Gehry-designed building is a mirage of angles and curves clad in titanium that play with the light like a kaleidoscope, changing with the day from silvery hues to burnished gold. Hailed as an architectural masterpiece, it’s reason enough to visit Bilbao – but there’s more to do in this city than just Gehry gazing. Bilbao has a charming old town, Casco Viejo, with lovely architecture that will keep you happily snapping away. And though San Sebastián wears the crown when it comes to Basque gastronomy, Bilbao has plenty to offer, including a thriving pintxo scene and Michelin cuisine.
How far: About an hour-and-a-half drive or bus ride from San Sebastián. Or check out our Private Best of Bilbao tour for a day trip with our expert guide – walking tour, transportation, and Guggenheim visit included.