On my recent trip to Bilbao, Spain, I wanted to explore more than just the city itself. As the biggest city in Basque Country, Bilbao is a great hub to explore the region of Biscay and the whole Basque Country. After careful consideration, I picked the Basque Country day trip from Bilbao. And I spent the whole day, exploring the Basque Country, hiking to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, seeing a lot of the region’s rugged coastline and cute villages, and exploring San Sebastian.
It was a full day of sightseeing and quite a bit of travel, but in the end, I really loved our day in the region. I might have fallen in love a bit with the Basque Country and I’d love to show you what a great day trip from Bilbao this is. Join me as I show you my story and pictures.
I paid for everything in full myself. I was not paid or sponsored. All my opinions and experiences are my own.
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The practical side of this Basque Country Day Trip from Bilbao
As I had very little time in Bilbao and I wanted an easy day trip, I decided to book a tour. There are many different tours that explore the Basque Country that leave from Bilbao. In the end, it was a matter of my personal preferences, availability, and prices that made me pick this specific tour.
In the end, I was very happy with the tour and the value for money it offered. Here are some quick practical details of the tour
- Tour price: €59 per person. I was able to book this tour as a solo traveler.
- Times: It is a full-day tour, leaving at 8.30 am and returning after more than 10 hours (after 6.00 pm)
- Languages: The tour is bi-lingual, meaning there were Spanish-speaking tourists and English-speaking travelers.
- Tour company: It was a local tour company that I booked via GetYourGuide. You can book the exact same tour here.
- Lunch: The tour doesn’t include lunch, but there is room in the itinerary to find your own lunch spot in San Sebastian.
Quick Highlights of this day trip to the Basque Country
This day trip to the Basque Country is really an introduction to the Basque Country with 2 major focal points where the tour stops and you’ll have quite some time to explore on your own:
- Explanation of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
- Free time to hike to the hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (and back)
- Drive around the roughed coast and pass through villages like Bermeo and Guernica.
- Guided walking tour of San Sebastian
- Free time to have lunch and explore San Sebastian on your own
What my day trip from Bilbao to the Basque Country was like
I was very happy with this day trip as it offered plenty of free time to explore on your own, and at your own pace. But it also had enough ‘guided’ parts to really learn a lot, and get fun anecdotes and quirky little stories from the tour guide.
In the end, I was amazed by the roughed Basque country coastline, and the cute little villages and inlets we passed on our way to San Sebastian. I also loved to have seen San Sebastian too, as it is soo different from Bilbao. And everyone I spoke to in Bilbao likes to compare the two cities, so now I’ve seen them both.
Read below for a more detailed itinerary of this Basque Country day trip from Bilbao.
Early morning departure from Bilbao
The tour gathers in front of the puppy at the Guggenheim Museum. This turned out to be a convenient place to meet as people came from all directions.
We didn’t navigate the streets of Bilbao picking everyone up, but everyone was there more or less at the same time. When the group was complete, we went down the steps on the side of the Guggenheim Museum, as the bus was waiting there.
Within minutes we were on our way through Bilbao, towards the borders of the city. On our way to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
It seems that any day trip from Bilbao includes a stop at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Not only are the coast and the park beautiful, but the small islet, only accessible on foot, really forms a breathtaking view. And getting there is quite the morning workout.
Made world-famous by Games of Thrones, the staircase, rising from the stones and the crashing waves, doesn’t need dragons to be of interest. On this sunny Saturday, it was quite a spectacular view all on its own, Dragonstone or not.
The bus parked near the entrance of the park, and we continued on foot. First to the panoramic viewpoint where we had some explanations about San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the hermitage, and what role it played in the defense of the coastline.
I’m going to be completely honest with you: it is not that long ago but I forgot all details, dates, names, and places. Yes, I’m sorry but I didn’t take any notes. But truth be told, all you want to do is see the hermitage of close and walk the steps and the bridge.
We were finally released into the park and started hiking down the hill. Obviously, the hike is optional, and you don’t have to do it.
But if you’re not fit or have another reason you do not want to hike down (and up, and back down and up again), then you’d be better off booking another tour. With other tours, you get 30-40 minutes of free time, enough to reach the panoramic viewpoint and turn back.
Hiking to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe hermitage
But I wanted to hike down the hill, all the way to the coast, cross the stone bridge and climb back up to the sanctuary of Gaztelugatxe, and return. All in all, it took me the full 2 hours and I was quite exhausted when I got back.
The path itself down the mountain is quite easy and straightforward. There are several signs pointing you in the right direction and if that doesn’t help, just look where the islet is and head in that direction.
The path was easy to follow with big stones, gravel, and pavement occasionally. Once you hit the shore, you are greeted by the salty seawater, blown in your direction by the wind. I never get tired of the crashing of the waves on the rugged rocks.
You cross a stone bridge and can start the ascend up the stone steps towards the sanctuary devoted to St. John the Baptist. This was my least favorite part as the 230 (give or take a few) kept coming and coming and coming.
Hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
I took my sweet little time to admire the views of the waves crashing on the shore, the play of light and shadow on the rocks and taste the salty seawater that the wind blew onto my face. Awh the sea.
Once I got up to the top and the little church, I was seriously out of breath and needed a moment to take it all in. You can ring the bell 3 times and make a wish. Other than the church and the views, there is not much to do at the top of the little hermitage.
Which, let’s be honest, is sort of the point of a hermitage. But you don’t need to allocate a lot of time to the top. So, after I caught my breath, I went down the same route again.
Once back at the car park, the restaurant was open and you can enjoy some drinks with a view. I was one of the last to resurface so there wasn’t any time for me. I grabbed a quick drink and a snack as I hadn’t had breakfast yet.
If you’re faster than me, this is a great spot to enjoy a morning coffee and/or some breakfast.
Bus Tour of Bermeo & Guernica
I was happy to sit on the bus for a bit, as I used up quite a lot of energy with this strenuous hike. Luckily for me, that was all I had to do. Just sit back and relax.
I didn’t have to navigate traffic, find the right route or follow directions. I could just laze out of the bus window and let the gorgeous coastline of Gaztelugatxe pass by the window.
We passed through the village of Bermeo which looked absolutely lovely. Yes, it is a pity you cannot leave the bus for a quick stroll but I feel this Basque Country tour is really an introduction, and not so much a deep dive.
I definitely want to return to the Basque Country and explore some of the villages, like Bermeo, that we saw on our way.
We drove along the coast, along the river’s inlet, and through the countryside until we reached Guernica.
I was less impressed by Guernica. More of historic significance, but less appealing to the eye. That is my conclusion. I didn’t mind that we didn’t stop there but continued towards the main road to San Sebastian.
San Sebastian walking tour part 1
I might have dozed off a little as all of a sudden, we arrived in San Sebastian. We ditched the bus and continued on foot to the center of town.
On the way, the tour guide pointed out the luxurious houses, and hotels and explained the history of the royals with San Sebastian. And it really shows. San Sebastian is really nothing like Bilbao.
We passed broad avenues, lush parks, and historic palazzo hotels. The whole vibe was more decadent, regal, and laid back. The pastel-colored buildings, the waving palm trees, and the wide views really showed a different side of the Basque country.
Now I understand why every person from Bilbao makes comparisons with San Sebastian: the two are so completely different, they cannot be compared!
Free Time in San Sebastian
Once we reached the center of the old town of San Sebastian, we could explore on our own. It was already lunch time so everyone set out to find some pintxos bars for a nibble or a restaurant for a set menu.
When I visited, it was Carnavale and the whole city was flooded with people enjoying music and each other company with food and drinks. The guide can recommend you some good places for lunch, but it is really up to you.
After lunch, I still had some time to explore the harbor, have ice cream, and explore the old center of town.
San Sebastian walking tour part 2
We gathered back with the tour group and continued walking together. It was a bit chaotic as it was so busy. Mind you, it was a Saturday in February but there was glorious sunshine and the beach at San Sebastian was absolutely packed.
As was the boardwalk, which we walked all the way from one end of the bay to the other.
The views were splendid across La Concha Bay, with people taking a swim or basking in the sun on the beach. The buildings, hotels, and shops are on one side of the road.
On the other side is the boardwalk with romantic balustrades and streetlights, golden sandy beaches, and the lovely water with an island here or there. As the sun was slowly starting to set, the whole city was basking in the sweet soft light of that first gloriously sunny day of the year.
Once we reached the palace at the viewpoint at the far side of the bay, the bus picked us up and we started our journey back to Bilbao.
Comparing this Basque Country day trip to other day trips from Bilbao
Tired by the long day, but mainly by all the new impressions, I arrived safe and sound back in Bilbao after more than 10 hours with this tour. I think it is one of the longest and most elaborate tours of the Basque Country.
If you’re looking for a day trip from Bilbao to the Basque Country, you’ll find many similar tours. Some are exactly the same, others vary a bit.
Basque Country day trip to San Sebastian
The main thing that stood out about this tour, is the fact that
- You’ll visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and have enough time to visit the islet
- You’ll drive around a big part of the Basque Country, but you’ll not stop at Bermeo or Guernica
- And of course, you’ll visit San Sebastian
Is this exactly what you’re looking for? And do you want to book the exact same tour that I’ve made?
As you can see from the above, this tour doesn’t stop in Bermeo and/or Guernica. And it takes the whole day as you’ll also visit San Sebastian.
Other day trips from Bilbao to see San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and the Basque Country
If you’re looking for a shorter trip, don’t want to climb San Juan de Gaztelugatxe but do want to stop and explore Bermeo and Guernica, here are some other guided tours from Bilbao for you
- Half-Day Basque Tour (5h), stop at Viscay Bridge, photo stop at Gaztelugatxe, short stop in Bermeo and Guernica
- Half-Day Game of Thrones Tour, if you really want to walk in the footsteps of Jon Snow and explore Dragonstone
- Day Trip San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and wine tasting, time to climb to San Juan de Gatelugatxe and then go wine tasting
If you’re only interested in visiting San Sebastian, you can easily arrange it yourself. Direct buses (1.5 hours) or trains (over 2.5 hours) will bring you to the heart of the city so you can explore on your own.
Day trip from Bilbao
As Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country, it really serves as a great hub to explore more of the region. Besides the above-mentioned day trips, there are plenty more day trips to take from Bilbao. They involve more wine tasting, farm visits, or historic tours.
I was pretty happy with the mixture of guided tours, free time, cities, and nature reserves on my day trips from Bilbao to San Sebastian.
Did you know you could visit the sight of Dragonstone? Have you ever been to the Basque Country? What do you think of this day trip from Bilbao? Let me know in the comment section below, I love to hear from you!