North Spain holiday destinations
The northern Spain touring area covers the entire north-west of the country defined by the Cordillera Cantábrica mountain range, with the Picos de Europa at its centre.
North of the mountains lies the stunning coastline of the Cornisa Cantabrica with Galicia, Cantabria, Asturias and Euskadi (the Basque Country) all facing the Bay of Biscay to the north and the open Atlantic to the west. Known as ‘Green Spain’ this verdant region has Spain’s best beaches and arguably the country’s finest cuisine.
To the south the high and dry plains of the Meseta are irrigated by the Ebro and Douro rivers and run through by the main Camino de Santiago which crosses Navarra, La Rioja, Burgos and León. Here you’ll find a more ‘typical’ Spain – warmer, drier and altogether more Spanish, with an immense heritage and a hearty gastronomy to accompany the fine wines of La Rioja, Ribera del Duero and lesser known regions such as El Bierzo, Rueda and Cigales.
Places to visit in northern Spain
Main highlights & cities in northern Spain
- Santiago de Compostela
- Picos de Europa National Park
- Bilbao and its Guggenheim Museum
- San Sebastian
- Pre-Romanesque churches
- Prehistoric cave paintings
- Cathedrals of Burgos and León
- Atapuerca archaeological site
- La Rioja and Ribera del Duero – and many more DOC wines
- Camino de Santiago
- El Bierzo and Las Médulas
Things to do in Northern Spain
You’ll also find all manner of exciting activities wherever you go from World-class surfing and water-sports to climbing and caving, horse-riding and canoeing, bear-watching and simple hiking…
When to go
About the weather in north Spain
There are two main climate zones in the north of Spain clearly demarcated by the mountains which cut the area in two east to west but there are also a some important, benign micro-climates to take into account.
On the north side of the mountains, in what’s known as Green Spain, the climate is Atlantic-maritime characterised by mild temperatures, both in summer and winter, and higher rainfall than the rest of the Iberian Peninsula (hence the ‘green’). The north coast is best between April and October with very agreeable temperatures even in the height of summer.
As you go south over the Cordillera mountains the climate (and the flora and fauna) change to Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and cold winters. The ideal times to visit are from March through to early July and again September through to early November, though for sun-lovers the high summer also has its attraction.
There are several sub-regions throughout the north which enjoy a benign micro-climate most notably perhaps the the Rias Bajas, the Atlantic-facing estuaries of southern Galicia, which have a true ‘Goldilocks’ climate – pleasantly warm whilst avoiding the extremes of the Mediterranean ‘Costas’ – making it a good seaside holiday destination from April through to October.
Further west, at the foot of the Picos de Europa mountains, the valley of Liebana with Potes at its heart also enjoys a privileged climate. Protected on all sides by mountains yet not too high above sea level itself, the valley is a wonderful base for hiking at any time of year.
For other micro-climates look for the grapes. La Rioja, Ribero del Duero, El Bierzo and Ribera Sacra (and the Rias Bajas) all produce fine wines and are good to visit from March through to early November when the vines put on quite a show in their autumnal hues!
For more information about the climate in Spain click here
Getting to Northern Spain
Most northern Spain holiday destinations are well served by air and sea from the UK
Brittany Ferries offer seven sailings a week from Portsmouth or Plymouth to Santander or Bilbao. Crossings are over-night and take between 21 and 24 hours (with the exception of the Sunday night crossing which takes two nights). The Spanish ports are just one hour apart and so can be easily combined giving greater flexibility.
There are direct flights from the Uk to five cities in Northern Spain
- Bilbao from Stansted, Heathrow, Gatwick and Edinburgh
- Santander from Stansted, Edinburgh and Dublin
- Santiago from Stansted and Gatwick
- La Coruña from Heathrow
- Vigo from Edinburgh and Dublin
Porto or Madrid are also worth considering for certain North Spain holiday destinations
*More info – check the ‘Travel’ tab from within any particular tour for the best options for that trip and for more details about which airlines operate to Northern Spain. The main options are with Easyjet, Ryanair, BA, Iberia, or Vueling
A car is essential for getting around and to make the most out of the visit as many of the hotels and attractions are not easily accessed by public transport.
If travelling by air we usually include a hire car whilst those coming on the ferry will use their own vehicle. In either case we will provide full driving instructions, GPS co-ords for the accommodation and essential information on driving in Spain and Portugal as well as a touring map of the area.
Eating and drinking in northern Spain
From honest country tavernas, to the famous Michelin starred restaurants of the Basque Country to simple seafood tapas bars which, for many, define the taste of summer at the sea, northern Spain is a food lover’s dream.
Here the emphasis, or perhaps the obsession, is on the ingredients – from the workman’s Menu del Día to the gourmet’s Menu de Degustación you’ll find local, seasonal produce, direct from the mountains and the sea, prepared according to proud local traditions – all at very reasonable prices!
North of the mountains the emphasis is on fish and seafood whilst to the south they are more famed for their delicious meat dishes, in particular lamb and suckling pig, but wherever you go you’ll find the best of both.
La Rioja and Ribera del Duero are the obvious stars here but there is so much more to discover! From the bold reds and equally bold whites of El Bierzo and Ribera Sacra to the fine whites of Albariño and Rueda; the crisp fresh Txakoli from Euskadi and the delicate wines of Cangas del Narcea in Asturias, these lesser-known areas are blessed with a multitude of small, boutique producers making top-class wines at knock-down prices – you’re in for a real treat!