Northern Spain has so many great cities and places to explore we have planned our Picos trek to finish on Friday, so you then have a whole weekend to choose your perfect way to relax.
We finish our Picos trek in Potes at the eastern end of the Picos mountains and will then arrange a group transfer to the centre of Santander for about midday on Friday, when the trip will officially end. So we thought we would add this blog post to explain some of the great places to visit and explore on your free weekend in Northern Spain at the end of the trip.
Touropia summary of top 10 destinations. This link gives some destinations which are a bit far away for a weekend and we would obviously disagree with their ranking of the Picos at no 10, but other than that its a decent guide to Northern Spain.
Santander, is the capital of Cantabria, in Northern Spain and is a spectacularly elegant city stretched across a wide bay with many stunning beaches.
Surrounded by mountains and countryside, the streets wind up through the hilly landscape to afford fantastic views of the Cantabrian Sea, which supplies the city’s restaurants with the fantastic seafood for which Cantabria is renowned. A shopping hub, the best shopping can be found on the Alameda de Oviedo Boulevard, bustling with street vendors, and the stylish and completely pedestrianised Calle Burgos.
Alfonso XIII’s summer residence, the splendid Palacio de Magdalena, is built on the beautiful La Magdalena peninsula looking out to sea and is a great place to spend a family day out. Enjoy the greenery of the Jardines de Piquío, which separate the two golden beaches of El Sardinero with glorious views over the beautiful blue sea. These beaches of El Sardinero are Santander’s most popular beaches but there are others such as El Rostro, for a more quiet, relaxing experience.
Other places not to miss are the stunning Gothic cathedral which was restored after a fire in 1941 that destroyed most of the old town, the Romanesque Church of the Holy Christ where the remains of an ancient Roman settlement have been found and the Church of the Annunciation, which is possibly the most beautiful example of Renaissance architecture in the region. The popular entertainment area of El Sardinero, has some great attractions such as the glamorous Gran Casino Sardinero and the modern Palace of Sports stadium, made of striking stainless steel.
Take a stroll around the Fishing Quarter, Barrio Pesquero, and Puerto Chico to find the best restaurants and bars in town, selling succulent fresh fish, with squid a local speciality, and Cantabria’s famous mountain stew, cocido montanés, along with traditional tapas. During the day, enjoy an ice cream from one of the many street parlours, selling an array of flavours to help you stay cool in the sun.
From Lonely Planet:
“It’s impossible to lay eyes on stunning San Sebastián (Basque: Donostia) and not fall madly in love. This city is cool and happening by night, charming and well mannered by day. It’s a city filled with people that love to indulge – and with Michelin stars apparently falling from the heavens onto its restaurants, not to mention pintxo (tapas) culture almost unmatched anywhere else in Spain, San Sebastián frequently tops lists of the world’s best places to eat.
Just as good as the food is the summertime fun in the sun. For its setting, form and attitude, Playa de la Concha is the equal of any city beach in Europe. Then there’s Playa de Gros (also known as Playa de la Zurriola), with its surfers and sultry beach-goers. As the sun falls on another sweltering summer’s day, you’ll sit back with a drink and an artistic pintxo and realise that, yes, you too are in love with San Sebastián.
San Sebastián has four main centres of action. The lively Parte Vieja (old town) lies across the neck of Monte Urgull, the bay’s eastern headland, and is where the most popular pintxo bars and many of the cheap lodgings are to be found. South of the Parte Vieja is the commercial and shopping district, the Área Romántica, its handsome grid of late-19th-century buildings extending from behind Playa de la Concha to the banks of Río Urumea. On the east side of the river is the district of Gros, a pleasant enclave that, with its relaxed ambience and the surfing beach of Playa de Gros, makes a cheerful alternative to the honeypots on the west side of the river. Right at the opposite, western end, of the city is Playa de Ondarreta (essentially a continuation of Playa de la Concha), a very upmarket district known as a millionaires’ belt on account of its lavish holiday homes.”
The city of Bilbao is situated on the northern side of Spain, close to the coastline and nearby beaches, being the largest and most lively city in the Basque Country. It is most famous as a city of culture and museums and is a particularly historic city, with a legacy of old buildings and a rich culture, based around Old Town Bilbao, in the Casco Viejo area.
However, Bilbao is constantly reinventing itself, with many spectacular projects and impressive contemporary architecture, such as the breathtaking Guggenheim Museum, making this one of Spain’s most exciting cities. Often known locally simply as ‘Botxo’, Bilbao also boasts an impressive selection of restaurants and shops, together with a vibrant nightlife to rival any city. With a scenic backdrop of green hills from the Vizcaya area, Bilbao has long been a major tourist destination and is dissected by the Nervión River, much of which is lined by a host of sightseeing opportunities.