6 Wonderfully Cultural Cities of Northern Spain

 – Post by Mark, travel blogger at Travelphant – 

In one respect, the fact that Northern Spain goes overlooked by most is something of a shape. In another however, it’s actually a blessing. The reason being that it gives discerning travellers the opportunity to explore a region that still has the rare ‘undiscovered’ feel to it. There’s less crowding, less overdevelopment and that wonderful feeling that you’ve stumbled across a hidden secret.

Suffice to say that if you’re yet to discover the most wonderful cities of Northern Spain, you’re long overdue a treat.

But where to set your sights on? Well, the truth is there’s really no town, village or city spanning Spain’s north that doesn’t have its own unique charms. Nevertheless, if you’re looking to dive into the very best of the region’s culture, you simply cannot and will not go wrong with the following:

  • San Sebastian

San Sebastian Northern SpainPhoto: San Sebastian/Pixabay.com

Located in Spain’s Basque Country, San Sebastian lies on the beautiful Bay of La Concha – a shell-shaped coastal landmark considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world. Home to the three incredible beaches of La Concha, Zurriola and Ondarreta, San Sebastian is an absolute mecca for summer sunseekers. And with a gorgeous climate that keeps things warm from the late spring to the mid-autumn, it’s not only a summer destination, either.

As for the city itself away from the coastline, San Sebastian is extremely cosmopolitan and rich in culture. A number of important festivals are held within its confines every year, including the San Sebastian Film Festival, the Festival of Santo Tomas and many more besides.

Architectural centrepieces include the magnificent Basilica de Santa Maria, the Miramar Palace and the Victoria Eugenia Theatre. And of course, for those who take food and wine very seriously, San Sebastian serves up the very best that Spain’s Basque Country has to offer.

  • Santander 

The capital city of Spain’s Cantabria region, Santander is oozing with elegance and charm. Boasting an absolutely gorgeous coastal location with many beautiful bays to explore, Santander is flanked on all other sides by stunning mountains and countryside. The further your wander up the city’s imposing hills, the more incredible the views out into the Cantabrian Sea become. Unsurprisingly, the sea is also the key resource relied upon by Cantabrians, when it comes to the truly decadent local cuisine.

Alameda de Oviedo Boulevard is alive and kicking at all times of day and night, with endless shopping opportunities and street vendors adding to the buzz in the air. Palacio de Magdalena represents an ideal family day out, located on the gorgeous Magdalena peninsula and with unbroken views out to sea. If looking to roam a little further afield, Santander lies right on the doorstep of the Picos de Europa, the Parque Natural de las Dunas de Liencres and the Caberceno Natural Park – some of the largest and most beautiful in Europe.

  • Bilbao

Bilbao Northern Spain

Photo: Bilbao’s Old Town/Pixabay.com

A city that skilfully brings together the best of yesterday and tomorrow, Bilbao’s stunning gothic architecture shares its landscape with spectacular modern developments. The very best way of taking in the true heart and soul of Bilbao is on foot, strolling alongside the River Nervión to gain an insight into the city’s past and future. The Guggenheim Museum and the Isozaki Atea skyscrapers represent two of the city’s most impressive architectural feats, while the Alhóndiga arts and leisure centre represents a cultural experience not to be missed.

If it’s high-class shopping you’re on the lookout for, you’ll be in your element on the Gran Via, which is also home to plenty of superb art galleries. The Old Town as a whole is an area in which you simply must allow yourself to get lost for a few hours, stopping by a couple of tapas bars along the way to sample the local pintxos. The cuisine of Bilbao is a work of art in its own right – the same being true for the local txakoli wine you’ll be needing to wash it all down.

  • Vitoria

Flanked on all sides by the greenest of Green Spain, Vitoria-Gasteiz is a true artistic and historic hub for the country’s north. Much of the city’s enchanting Old Quarter has remained untouched since the Middle Ages and today is home to an incredible assortment of Renaissance and Romanesque mansions.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria or Catedral Viejo is by far one of the most impressive and captivating in the whole of Spain, which despite undergoing long-term renovation is still open to the public… hard hats provided!

Music is extremely close to the hearts of those who call Vitoria-Gasteiz home, playing host to countless festivals each year. Particular highlights include a long-running International Jazz Festival, the Azkena Rock Festival and the International Theatre Festival – all of which are more than worth checking out.

  • Burgos

Burgos Northern SpainPhoto: Burgos/Pixabay.com

For a true taste of the north’s medieval past, few places deliver quite like Burgos. Famed all over the world for its breathtaking cathedral, this stunning medieval city has been preserved over the centuries considerably better than most. Its cathedral has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, though countless other churches across the city are equally captivating.

Visitors to Burgos find themselves exploring a living museum, where the wonders of today and yesterday are brought together in harmony. Don’t pass up the opportunity to sample the cuisine of Burgos in centuries gone by at any of the city’s fabulous medieval-themed restaurants.

  • Santiago de la Compostela

Burgos Northern SpainPhoto: View from the roof of Santiago de la Compostela/Pixabay.com

As for Santiago de la Compostela, the city has been famed as the destination of an important pilgrimage route for over a century. One of the most culturally rich cities in Spain, Santiago de la Compostela has an impressive claim to fame having been recognised as the very first tourist destination in the world. Mercifully, mass tourism hasn’t in any way harmed the charms and unspoilt beauty of the city and its surroundings – as is the case with so many splendid northern regions.

Today, visiting Santiago de la Compostela is all about wandering aimlessly around the UNESCO World Heritage old town, nibbling tapas in as many taverns as you can squeeze in and soaking up the vibe that’s unlike any you’ve encountered before.

There’s a festival atmosphere about the place throughout the year, though those in the know avoid the depths of the summer to visit Santiago de la Compostela in the spring and autumn.

Getting There

Travelling to northern Spain from the UK is a matter of choice and of time. The quickest way is to fly/drive and the low cost “no frills” airlines Easyjet, Ryanair and Vueling have routes to many suitable destinations, as do scheduled airlines. For a more leisurely start to your holiday, you can take the ferry direct to Northern Spain with Brittany Ferries who have the widest choice of ferry crossings from UK to Spain with routes from Portsmouth and Plymouth to Santander and Bilbao. It all depends on how much time you have. If time allows, you can cross the Channel by ferry or the Eurotunnel shuttle to France and then drive down to northern Spain – but you’ll need at least one night en-route. 

Are you planning to visit Northern Spain soon?


Author: This article was written by UK travel blogger Mark Shaw who runs travel blog travelphant.com

Written by

Travel blogger, freelancer and tourism graduate from Bulgaria. When I'm not writing about my experiences, I'm most likely chasing adventures all over Europe. From skydiving up in the sky to kayaking in deep waters, I love challenging myself during every trip. I also love travelling and writing about my home country - Bulgaria.

Latest comments
  • on my EU travel memories, Spain Finland had many interesting cities with surprise things.
    The first time on Burgos and peruse mountain, feeling like on top of Everest 🙂

  • So great! After reading your post, i actually want to take the back pack and go! Go! Go!

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