Visiting the Basque Country with kids.
Spain will often come out top of the list when planning a European holiday with kids but deciding where to base yourself can be more of a challenge. The Basque Country in Northern Spain is still relatively undiscovered, and practicality deserted when compared to more popular Spanish family holiday destinations such as the Costa Del Sol or Andalucia.
This makes it an absolutely perfect choice for taking the kids to Spain and has everything you might want from a family holiday.
Here are 10 epic reasons to visit the Basque Country with kids, I’m sure you’ll love it too.
Pretty Donostia San Sebastian
Often said to be the most beautiful city in the Basque Country, Donostia San Sebastian is a great place to set up base with kids.
Whilst San Sebastian is definitely one of the top foodie destinations in Europe as its home to more Michelin starred restaurants per resident than anywhere else in the world, it also offers heaps of things to do with kids.
The traditional theme park Mount Igueldo is sure to delight the whole family with family friendly rides such as a house of terror and a carousel. Kids can go on all the rides when accompanied by an adult. The view back down to Donostia-San Sebastián is without a doubt the best I have seen.
You reach the top of Mount Igueldo by an old, wooden furnicular which is a great way to start the fun!
San Sebastian also has a few lovely sandy beaches. La Concha is probably our favourite, it’s curved in shape making it pretty sheltered from the wind, the views are lovely and the sea is pretty calm making it perfect for a dip over the summer months.
If it’s a rainy day, as is often the case in the Basque Country then the Eureka Science Museum is a wonderful place to engage little minds. Most of the exhibits are hands on and interactive and we could easily have spent a full afternoon exploring them all.
The Artistic city of Bilbao
Bilbao was a quiet, industrial city until the fabulous Guggenheim Art Museum arrived. The building, designed by Frank Gehry is absolutely stunning and is clearly the most popular thing to do in Bilbao. Read more about our visit to the Guggenheim Bilbao with kids here.
The artistic heritage doesn’t stop there, the Fine Arts Museum was even more popular with Piper with it’s fantastic selection of contemporary and traditional art and clever way of navigating the museum.
It’s not just art museums, Bilbao is a city full of historic buildings and cultural monuments. Make sure you explore the old town and soak up the lively atmosphere from some of the pavement cafes.
You can read more about our time the city in my guide to visiting Bilbao with kids.
San Juan de Gatztelguxte
A visit to Game of Thrones Dragonstone is a must when in the Basque Country. This was probably the highlight of our trip and we’re not even particularly fans of the show.
San Juan de Gatztelgutxe is a tiny, rugged Islet off the coast around 20km from Bilbao. You need to hike for about half an hour down the cliff to reach it, then take on the 240 steps to reach the chapel at the top.
Read all about our hike to Gaztelugatxe here and see some more stunning pictures of the area.
The Hanging Bridge
Another must visit if your on a family holiday in the Basque country is the Bizkaia or Vizcaya Bridge which links the towns of Portugalete and Getxo across the Nervion Estuary.
The bridge was announced as an UNESCO world heritage site in 2006 due to its unique design and operation and is the oldest shuttle bridge in the world.
You can cross the river in 3 ways. As a pedestrian foot passanger on the gondola, buying your ticket at the machines next to the bridge entrance. As a car passenger – just drive on and pay the operator on board. (this requires precise parking and a bit of confidence in your handbrake!) Or walk over the top – buying your tickets for the small gift shop on the Portugalete side.
The trip across the top was by far my favourite although the lift on the Getxo side is currently out of order so you can really only walk across and back.
I’ll admit the journey up 50 m in the rickety old elevator had me pretty weak at the knees and it took me a while to be able to stop and take in the views. It really was stunning and amazing to think how long it has been taking people across the river.
The walkway is open between 10:00 and 14:00 and again between 16:00 and 19:00. It costs €8 each to cross.
If you choose to cross by the hanging gondola, the whole journey is under 2 minutes and costs €0.40 per foot passenger and €1.60 per car.
Delightful Basque villages
If you’re visiting the Basque Country with kids, don’t just stick to the main cities, make sure you head out and visit the surrounding villages. They’re stunningly beautiful, relatively unheard of and often have the best restaurants in the region.
I recommend the Old Town of Pasai Donibane which overlooks a stunning cove which locals swim in on pleasant days or Laguardia, a walled hill town surrounded by rolling vineyards dating from the 10th century.
The many, many playgrounds
You’re never far from a kids playground in the Basque country, there seems to be play equipment every few blocks as you wander the cities.
Even better, most of these are outside pinxtos bars and cafes so you can enjoy a peaceful coffee whilst watching your little ones try out the slides, monkey bars and swings.
Piper loved meeting new friends, even though her Spanish is pretty non existent she still managed to communicate, taking turns to push others on the swings.
It seemed pretty popular to pick the kids up from school and head to a playground, groups of mums and dads sat chatting over a glass of wine whilst their kids played. I wish the UK could catch on to this!
The Rugged Beaches
The dramatic beaches of Northern Spain are where I dream of spending summer days during dark winter months. The cliffs are rocky and unforgiving, the sand is soft and the surf can be fierce.
They’re so much quieter than other European beaches we’ve visited during the summer holidays which makes it easy to find a peaceful spot for your beachtowel and an empty rockpool for crabbing.
The sea can be chilly but refreshing, I prefer building castles in the sand while Piper and her Dad play in the waves.
Some beaches such as Playa de Laga are super well equipped with surf schools, beach bars and toilets. Others are pretty much undiscovered and only accessible with a hike down a cliff face.
Possibly the best food in Spain
As mentioned, Donostia San Sebastian is home to heaps of Michelin stars and these are well worth a visit if you’re after a fancy meal out.
We really enjoyed our dinner at Bernardo Etxea a fabulous seafood restaurant on Triunfo 3, near the Bay of La Concha. The menu is small and freshly cooked, the chef/owner comes out to greet you and the wine is super reasonable.
This is not a family restaurant but as with most in Spain, nobody minds and our waiter took Piper to see the fish. She even had her first taste of fish eggs!
Bernardo Etxea is closed on Wednesday afternoons
Lunch: 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Dinner: 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Reservations Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Another of our favourite restaurants in the Basque Country is Garbatella in Portugalete. This is a colourfully furnished, relaxed restaurant near the Vizcaya bridge. They have a varied menu including flat bread pizzas and suckling pig.
The puddings are absolutely heavenly, and they even have a kids menu which seems quite rare in the Basque Country. We also loved that it was open for lunch until a little later meaning we could enjoy a meal closer to Pipers usual dinner time.
Kitchen hours from Monday to Sunday:
Lunch 13:00 – 16:00
Dinner 20:00 – 23:00
Reservations: Phone +34 946 011 991
You won’t just find fancy restaurants though, bar snacks are the preferred way to get you through the long afternoon when most restaurants close between 3 and 9pm.
These are called pinxtos and are available in every bar you’ll pass.
They vary widely in presentation but are all delicious. You can try a slice of Spanish omelette, cheese toasties, or small plates of sardines on toast, all for a few euros each. Little and often is my favourite style of eating so this was my idea of heaven!
Great value hotels
As the Basque Country is still growing in popularity and has quite a way to go before it reaches the mass tourism of the Costa del Sol, hotels are still relatively good value.
We stayed at the URH Palacio de Oriel on the coast of Santurtzi near the Vizcaya Bridge. This is a lovely 4 star hotel close to the train station making it easy to get into Bilbao but being a little further out and a bit quieter.
The URH Palacio has a few child friendly features which made our stay more fun. There’s a small play area outside (yep those ever present playgrounds!) and spacious rooms, plenty big enough for our family of three. Free wifi worked well around the whole hotel meaning Piper could keep up with her Youtube habit and I could get some work done.
The hotel breakfast offered a nice selection each morning although there was no variety each day. We filled up on Spanish Tortilla and Chocolate donuts each morning before heading out.
Bilbao airport is just twenty minutes away by car. The hotel has a private underground car park which is €15 extra per night. Parking in the small car park was a bit of a challenge at times but we managed to find a spot each night.
Address of the URH Palacio de Oriel
Cristobal de Murrieta Hiribidea, 27
Santurce 48980 Spain
Tel: +34 94 493 41 00
We paid under £80 a night including breakfast during April which was great considering the standard of the hotel.
From the hotel we walked across the Vizcaya bridge to Getxo a few times during our stay where we found lots of lovely restaurants and Pinxtos bars, a sweet little beach and plenty more playgrounds.
The town of Santurtzi itself is a lovely place to walk along the Nervion river and take in some stunning views of the Serantes Mountain. Make sure you visit the Church of San Jorge, a beautiful building which dates back to 1075.
The Weather in The Basque Country
The Basque region is far cooler than southern Spain with plenty of rain most months of the year. For this reason the land is green and feels a lot more alive than the rest of Spain.
If you’re visiting over the UKs school summer holidays the heat is much more bearable for little ones meaning you can enjoy a day at the beach without worrying about sweating off your suncream.
If you visit out of season, the weather is pretty similar to the UK and it probably will rain. Just take a waterproof and a brolly and you’ll be fine.
I think the best time to visit the Basque country is Spring, when the flowers come alive, filling the villages with wonderful colours and scents, the weather is pretty good and everything is a lot cheaper.
How to get to the Basque Country
It’s pretty easy to get to the Spanish Basque country from the UK. Your options are to fly into Bilbao or take a ferry into Bilbao. Flights from London can be as little as £30 with Ryan Air. Bittany Ferries sails from Portsmouth to Bilbao on a luxury ship which will take 24 hours and cost quite a lot more!
If you’re in Europe with kids for an extended holiday then I highly recommend getting around by train. Read how in my family friendly guide to planning an interrail adventure.
Planning a trip to the Basque Country with kids? Make sure you pin for later.
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