Nine days is enough time to immerse yourself in a couple of areas of Spain, ensuring you get the most out of the experience. This itinerary begins with a road trip from Madrid to wine country for a tasting of Spain's world-renowned varietals. You'll finish the trip on the Basque coast and its most beautiful cities, San Sebastián and Bilbao.


  • Discover Madrid's rich history on a private walk in the city
  • Visit the La Rioja region and sample delicious wines
  • Drive along the stunning Cantabrian coast
  • Enjoy city excursions in the Spanish Basque Country

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Madrid, Evening Tapas Experience Madrid
Day 2 Private City Walk, Discover Madrid's Royal Legacy Madrid
Day 3 Pick up Rental Car & Drive to La Rioja La Rioja
Day 4 Full-Day Wine Excursion in La Rioja Laguardia
Day 5 Drive From to San Sebastián, Food Experience San Sebastián
Day 6 City Walk in San Sebastián San Sebastián
Day 7 Drive to Bilbao, Optional Stop in Guernica Bilbao
Day 8 City Walk in Bilbao, Visit the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Day 9 Depart Bilbao  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Madrid, Evening Tapas Experience

The Fountain of Cibeles, in Madrid
The Fountain of Cibeles, Madrid

Welcome to Spain! Upon arrival at the nation's capital, you'll enjoy a private transfer to your hotel in the city center. Take some time to settle in before heading out to explore highlights like the Puerta del Sol, one of the city's most historic and expansive plazas. There's also Madrid's famous Fountain of Cibeles, with an 18th-century sculpture depicting Cybele, the Greek goddess of fertility, riding in a chariot pulled by lions.

In the evening, you'll dig into Madrid's culture on a two-hour walking excursion that stops at some great tapas bars. On this walk, you'll visit Barrio Las Letras, known as the "literary quarter." This historic neighborhood in the city center was once home to Spanish literary legends like Cervantes and Quevedo. Besides visiting some historical sites around here, you'll also stop at Calle Huertas for a bite at one of the many tapas bars that line the street.

Day 2: Private City Walk, Discover Madrid's Royal Legacy

The Royal Palace, Madrid
The Royal Palace, Madrid

Enjoy a half-day walk in Madrid led by an expert local guide today. Madrid has a long history, and today the city adorns itself with that history in its architecture, public spaces, and culture. One area you'll visit is the Madrid de los Austrias. It was built in the 16th century during the reign of the Hapsburg Dynasty's first ruler, Charles I, and is home to one of the grandest plazas in Spain, the Plaza Mayor, which was once the heart of Old Madrid.

You'll also visit the Royal Palace, the official home of the Spanish monarchs until 1931. You'll tour both the grounds and interior of this 3,418-room monument, exploring the parade ground, the chambers of Charles III, several salons, the Royal Chapel, and the Hall of the Crown, which displays Charles I's crown, scepter, and throne.

Later you could visit El Retiro Park, the green lung of Madrid, abounding with sculptures, fountains, and an artificial lake perfect for a boat trip. There are also must-visit gardens here, including the Jardín de Vivaces ("Garden of Vivacious Plants"), Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez (inspired by the Andalusia region), and a garden home to over 4,000 roses. The best time to see these blooms is from May through June. 

Day 3: Pick up Rental Car & Drive to La Rioja

La Rioja wine country
La Rioja wine country

In the morning, you'll pick up your rental car and begin your road trip. The first stop is the La Rioja wine region, located in the Basque Country, about 3.5 hours north of Madrid. La Rioja is a postcard of a province with rolling green hills, alpine mountains, limestone peaks, medieval villages, and endless vineyards.  

Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and can spend the rest of the day at leisure. Options include staying in and enjoying the hotel amenities or heading out and exploring the lovely village of Laguardia, where the hotel is located. This romantic town was founded in the 10th century as a defensive outpost of the Kingdom of Navarre, and as you walk its stone streets, you'll see evidence of this in the medieval walls that encircle it.

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Day 4: Full-Day Wine Excursion in La Rioja

Time for wine tasting
Time for wine tasting

In the morning, you'll hand over the car keys to a private chauffeur and enjoy a full-day tour of Spain's most famous wine-producing region. This is more than a tasting; it's an immersive viticulture experience that showcases the entire winemaking process, from planting the vine to labeling the bottle. The tour begins at a local family-run winery and a walk through the vineyards.

First, learn about the growing cycle of the vines, participate in the cultivation, and, depending on the time of year, you can take part in the pruning, canopy-thinning, and even harvesting, provided the berries are ripe to do so. Afterward, you'll relax and enjoy a light snack right in the vineyards. Next, visit the traditional 16th-century cellar to taste wine directly from the barrel and then make your own bottle, complete with a personalized label, that you can take home.

Next, you'll head to a nearby restaurant for a three-course gourmet lunch, then to a boutique winery for another visit. This includes tastings of three different wines while learning about the philosophy of their operation and the secrets to producing a great bottle. You'll then put that theory into practice and design a unique wine, mixing different varietals to create your ideal coupage (wine blend). At the end of the day, your driver will return you to your hotel. 

Day 5: Drive to San Sebastián, Food Experience

San Sebastian, Spain
San Sebastián, Spain

In the morning, you'll get in your car and drive about two hours north from La Rioja to the seaside city of San Sebastián. Sitting on the Bay of Biscay and nestled amid rolling green hills, this is one of the stars of Basque Country. After checking into your hotel, you'll meet a local guide who will take you on a foodie walk through the city.

You'll start in the famous Parte Vieja (Old Quarter) to visit the iconic San Sebastián City Hall. Constructed in 1887, it used to be the Gran Casino during the Belle Époque period until it was closed in 1924. The building still overlooks the bay, from where an elegant promenade with railings and street lamps runs along the crescent-shaped La Concha Beach.

The Basque region is known for a type of tapas called pintxos (pronounced "peenchos"). Most bars, cafés, and restaurants in the Parte Vieja serve some version of these bite-sized delicacies, and naturally, they're best paired with some delicious local wines. Here it's possible (and indeed encouraged) to hop from pintxos bar to pintxos bar, grazing until your heart's content. Be sure to pair this incredible food with an equally delicious glass of txakoli, the local white wine.

Day 6: City Walk in San Sebastián

Tour the waterfront in San Seabstian
Tour the waterfront in San Sebastián

In the morning, you'll meet a private guide and enjoy another stroll in San Sebastián, but this time, stopping at pintxos bars and cafés as you go. 

For great views, you and your guide can take a ferry to the iconic offshore island of Santa Clara or ride a funicular up to Mont Igualdo, which offers sweeping panoramas. You might also stroll the banks of the Urumea River, where you'll find the 19th-century Victoria Eugenia Theatre, the palatial Maria Cristina Hotel, and many aristocratic houses dating to the turn of the 20th century. You can get some good pictures walking across the Puente María Cristina, the bridge that crosses the river.

After the walk, you'll return to your hotel and can spend the remainder of the day however you see fit. Once the sun goes down, you'll likely want to head back out and indulge in San Sebastián's famous dining scene.

Day 7: Drive From to Bilbao, Optional Stop in Guernica

It doesn't get more beautiful than the Basque Coast
It doesn't get more beautiful than the Basque Coast

The drive from San Sebastián to the city of Bilbao is a stunner. In a little over an hour, you'll drive along the wild Atlantic coast and pass through the Cantabrian Mountains before emerging back on the coast in Bilbao. Along the way, you'll wind around coastal cliffs and pass charming little fishing villages that perfectly encapsulate the soul of Spanish Basque Country. Feel free to stop for lunch in any one of them for an unforgettable plate of seafood. 

History and art buffs might also want to stop along the way in the pastoral mountain town of Guernica. Once a Republican stronghold during the Spanish Civil War, it was nearly destroyed by a Nazi air raid in 1937. This event spurred Pablo Picasso to drop everything he was doing and paint his anti-war masterpiece, Guernica, which is a potent representation of the suffering caused by war.

Two important landmarks remain in the town despite the bombing: the Biscayan Assembly House and the Guernica Tree. The latter is an oak tree that has been one of the strongest symbols of Basque culture since the Middle Ages. Upon arrival in Bilbao, you will check into your hotel and can spend the remainder of the day relaxing.

Day 8: City Walk in Bilbao, Visit the Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum is the star of Bilbao
The Guggenheim Museum is the star of Bilbao

You'll have the entire day to discover Bilbao. Better yet, you'll do so on a guided walk with an expert local who will take you to the more colorful neighborhoods in the city, particularly along the waterfront. The guide can also tailor the day according to your interests. 

Of course, no visit to Bilbao is complete without stopping in at the Guggenheim Museum, a masterpiece of contemporary architecture by the legendary Frank Gehry. This glimmering titanium structure looks more like a sculpture than a building, with its sleek lines curving in seeming defiance of physics. Inside, the museum is a treasure trove of works from great artists such as Andy Warhol, Anish Kapoor, Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois, and Eduardo Chillida.

Day 9: Depart Bilbao

Adios, Spain!
Adiós, Spain!

It's time to say farewell to Spain! Depending on your flight or train reservation, squeeze in one more morning of sightseeing, perhaps picking up some last-minute souvenirs. At the designated time, you'll be picked up at your hotel and transferred to the airport or rail station for your departure.


Map of Northern Spain Road Trip: Madrid to Basque Country - 9 Days
Map of Northern Spain Road Trip: Madrid to Basque Country - 9 Days