Basque Country is one of Northern Spain’s most popular regions, well-known for its architecture and foodie scene. Its capital city, Vitoria-Gasteiz, is 221 miles (356 km) north of Madrid. The two cities are well-connected by bus and train routes, as well as major highways. This makes the journey fairly easy and straightforward. And with 1-hour flights to Bilbao, the fastest way to reach Basque Country from Madrid is by plane.
If you prefer to make the journey on the ground, you can go by car (rental or private transfer) in about 3.5 hours. Major roadways take you directly north to the city of Burgos before heading northeast. The regional bus offers several direct routes each day, arriving in Vitoria-Gasteiz in 4-5 hours.
A bit more comfortable than the bus is the train. Depending on departure time, trains take 3.5-6 hours to reach Basque Country from Madrid. If you’re looking for the fastest train, they tend to run on weekday evenings.
Once in Vitoria-Gaseiz (or Bilbao if flying), you can easily visit other parts of the region. If you have a few extra days to extend your trip, this 5-day itinerary further explores some of the most scenic areas of Basque Country.
Duration: 1 hour
Spanish airlines Iberia and Air Europa both offer direct flights from Madrid to Bilbao, which is located in the northwest of Basque Country. Because the route is serviced by two airlines, you can choose from several daily departures that arrive in Bilbao in just over one hour. Many opt to use the hub as a base for exploring other areas of Basque Country, or to rent a car from the airport.
By Rental Car or Private Transfer
Duration: 3.5 hours
You can also make the trip by car, either rental or private transfer. Madrid and Basque Country are well-connected by the major A-1 highway, so the drive is fairly simple. You’ll leave Madrid from the north towards Burgos. The drive is scenic as you pass by mountains, valleys, and reservoirs north of Madrid. The historic village of Patones de Arriba is a great 20-minute detour from the highway, providing an excellent spot to grab a coffee and enjoy the old town made of stone.
Keep in mind that this stretch of the highway is a major thoroughfare for northern Madrid, and gets very busy in the evenings. It’s best to avoid it from 4:00 - 7:00 PM, especially on Friday and Sunday nights.
Burgos is another excellent stopping point. The city is often overlooked but has a historic riverside center and an impressive cathedral. Once past Burgos, you’ll continue northeast on highway A-1, passing through Miranda de Ebro on the border of Basque Country. Vitoria-Gasteiz is a great hub for Basque Country, but there are many other cities and areas to enjoy, including Bilbao, San Sebastián, and Hondarribia.
Duration: 4 - 5 hours
The regional bus takes the same route as driving, sticking to highway A-1 heading north and east. Direct buses leave from Madrid’s Avenida America station, or from the Madrid–Barajas Airport. You’ll arrive in Vitoria-Gasteiz in 4-5 hours depending on departure.
The fastest buses are completely direct, only stopping in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Longer routes are still direct, meaning no connections or transfers, but do make a handful of stops along the way.
Duration: 3.5 - 6 hours
Although it can be a longer option, trains are a great alternative as they tend to be more spacious and comfortable than the bus. The fastest routes leave from Madrid’s northern Chamartín station, first traveling northwest and passing through the cities of Segovia and Valladolid before turning east towards Burgos. You’ll arrive in Vitoria-Gasteiz in about 3.5-4 hours.
Longer routes start from Madrid’s western station, Príncipe Pío, and act as a regional service until Valladolid, making several stops along the way. It’ll take 4.5-6 hours to reach Basque Country. Both options provide some impeccable scenery, especially as you leave Madrid and work your way through the Guadarrama mountains. Eventually the scenes shift to wide, open plains. Grab a seat on the right side of the train to best enjoy the mountain views.