Spain is so much more than its famous cities. Over two weeks, you'll see its hidden gems as you drive from Madrid north through wine country to historic sites in the lesser-visited Galicia region. The adventure culminates on the Atlantic coast and a stay in the beautiful seaside city of San Sebastián.


  • See the most famous sites of Madrid on a guided walk
  • Visit the Ribera del Duero wine region
  • Travel the pilgrimage route and stop at beautiful locales in Galicia
  • Drive along the stunning Cantabrian Coast
  • Tour the gorgeous seaside city of San Sebastián

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 Drive to Ribera del Duero Peñafiel
Day 4 Drive to León & Explore the City León
Day 5 Drive to Ribeira Sacra via Astorga Monforte de Lemos
Day 6 Boat Ride in Ribeira Sacra, Drive to Vigo Vigo
Day 7 Explore the Cíes Islands, Drive to Santiago de Compostela Santiago de Compostela
Day 8 Santiago de Compostela Cooking Class & City Walk Santiago de Compostela
Day 9 Drive to Lugo, City Walk & Gourmet Lunch Lugo
Day 10 Drive to Oviedo Oviedo
Day 11 Drive to Bilbao, City Excursion Bilbao
Day 12 Coastal Drive From Bilbao to San Sebastián San Sebastián
Day 13 Half-Day Experience in San Sebastián San Sebastián
Day 14 Depart San Sebastián  

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 its 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, which is 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 explore both the grounds and interior of this 3,418-room monument, entering 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: Drive to Ribera del Duero

Onward to Ribera del Duero wine country
Onward to Ribera del Duero wine country

In the morning, you'll pick up your rental car and drive north from Madrid for two hours toward Valladolid, a medieval city known for its Gothic churches. This route heads deep into Spain's Old Castile region, famous for its high plateaus and mountain scenery. It was once the heart of the Kingdom of Castile, which thrived in the 11th century, and its old castles stand to this day. You'll see one fortress, Peñafiel Castle, when you arrive in the town of the same name. Nearby is where your hotel is located.

The town of Peñafiel sits in the Ribera del Duero wine region. This fertile grape-growing area enjoys Designation of Origin (DO) status, a certification reserved only for the top wine-producing spots in the country. It has earned this appellation, too, as the wines from Ribera del Duero rival those produced in Spain's most popular viticulture region, La Rioja

Upon arrival in Peñafiel, you'll check into a hotel located right on the vineyards. You'll have the rest of the day to enjoy the hotel's amenities or head out for some fresh air and a walk amid the grapevines. You could also venture into Peñafiel for a self-guided walk. From the expansive Plaza del Coso, you can see the famous castle overlooking the town.

Day 4: Drive to León & Explore the City

The Catedral de León
The Catedral de León

Today you'll drive north to the coast, stopping in the city of León. What began as a Roman military camp on the Bernesga River in the 1st century BCE thrived through the centuries, reaching its peak in the Middle Ages. The medieval and Roman heritage of León is well preserved, and you can see it in the many historical landmarks. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and settle in.

In the afternoon, you'll meet an expert guide and embark on a city walk, visiting the famed Roman Walls (remains of stone defensive walls from the 1st century), beautiful old manor houses, and churches housing Romanesque and Gothic artworks. You'll also visit Plaza Mayor in the city's Old Town, framed with medieval buildings and long arcades, and Casa Botines, an incredible work of modernist architecture designed by the legendary Antoni Gaudí.

The day's highlight is undoubtedly the 13th-century Catedral de León (Cathedral of Santa María de Regla), a marvel of Gothic architecture and one of the most beautiful churches in Spain. It's an enormous place that features impressive stained glass mosaics dating from the 13th through 16th centuries. Interestingly, the cathedral was built over the ruins of Roman baths. 

Day 5: Drive to Ribeira Sacra via Astorga

Astorga, Spain
Astorga, Spain

Today you'll drive west from León into the Galicia region of Spain. Not only is Galicia regarded as one of the most beautiful parts of the country, but the city of León actually sits at the crossroads of one of the most famous walks in the world: the Camino de Santiago. This ancient network of pilgrimage routes begins as far away as France and leads to the cathedral in Galicia's capital of Santiago de Compostela, where the apostle Saint James the Great is supposedly buried. 

You'll witness Galicia's beauty firsthand as you drive west from Léon into the Ribeira Sacra region. The rivers Sil and Miño wind through the green mountains of this unspoiled area, which is dotted with monasteries and hermitage sites that date back to when the first Christians arrived in the 12th century. The name Ribeira Sacra actually translates to "Sacred Riverbank."

First, you'll stop in the village of Astorga, with its Roman walls, medieval churches, convents, and hospitals. You'll walk the cobbled streets and visit sites like Plaza Mayor de Astruga and the Episcopal Palace. This late-19th-century modernist masterpiece by Antoní Gaudí is one of only three buildings designed by the legendary architect that exists outside his home region of Catalonia

After walking around Astorga, stop at a restaurant for a traditional lunch with Galician specialties like a roast suckling pig or polbo á feira (boiled octopus with paprika and olive oil), caldo gallega (a hearty broth of potatoes, beans, greens, and pork), fried padrón peppers, and queso de tetilla, a soft, cone-shaped white cheese known for its buttery taste. Afterward, continue to the Ribeira Sacra region and your hotel, located near the town of Monforte de Lemos.

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Day 6: Boat Ride in Ribeira Sacra, Drive to Vigo

Ribeira Sacra
Ribeira Sacra

You'll have the day to enjoy the Ribeira Sacra, a mountainous river canyon of unparalleled beauty. Remote and lesser-developed than many parts of Spain, since the 12th century, this area was primarily home to monks and hermits who came to live ascetic lives near the confluence of the rivers Sil and Miño.

The River Sil winds between green mountains and through canyons, affording some incredible views of sloping hills, high plateaus, cypress and chestnut trees, and grapevines. Ribeira Sacra is a fertile grape-growing region that enjoys Designation of Origin (DO) status for its wine production. It's uniquely referred to as "heroic viticulture" because most vineyards here are terraced due to the steepness of the mountains and hills. The simple act of grape harvesting in Ribeira Sacra requires much agility. 

After the boat ride, you'll head to a local guesthouse, where the friendly hosts will prepare a homemade meal for you to enjoy. Then you'll hop back in the car and drive a couple of hours west to the coastal city of Vigo, where you'll spend the night.

Day 7: Explore the Cíes Islands, Drive to Santiago de Compostela

Cíes Islands
Cíes Islands

About 10 miles (16 km) west of Vigo, off the coast of Spain, lie the Cíes Islands. This archipelago is a national marine park comprised of three islands so beautiful that the ancient Romans called them the "islands of the gods." Two of them, Monte Agudo and O Faro, are linked by a crescent strip of fine white sand called Rodas Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. You'll get to discover this paradise on a private, day-long boat excursion accompanied by an expert guide. 

In the morning, you'll depart from the port at Vigo and head to a group of nearby Spanish fjords known as Rias Bajas. These beautiful inlets serve a functional purpose, where Galicians harvest much of their famously delicious shellfish. The microclimate in the waters of these fjords makes an ideal breeding ground for scallops as well as perfect spots to cultivate mussels and oysters.  

After some beach time and light hiking, you'll enjoy lunch onboard the ship. This will be a delicious gourmet meal featuring locally sourced products, including some of that world-class shellfish. Back on land, return to your car, and drive a little over an hour north to Santiago de Compostela. This historic city is Galicia's capital and the culmination point of the Camino de Santiago. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel.

Day 8: Santiago de Compostela Cooking Class & City Walk

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral viewed from Obradoiro Square
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral viewed from Obradoiro Square

In the morning, you'll discover the secrets of Galician cuisine in a cooking class with a private chef. You'll prepare (and eat) some of the region's most popular dishes, like fried padrón peppers and savory empanadas stuffed with fish, shellfish, or meat. Be sure to try queimada, the famous "Galicia fire drink." Made with a liqueur called orujo (similar to grappa), it's mixed in a  clay bowl with sugar and lit on fire until the flame turns blue, then served hot. 

In the afternoon, you'll embark on a guided excursion of the main sites in Santiago. This includes Obradoiro Square and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Construction on this Romanesque/Gothic/Baroque church began in the 11th century over the site of what is believed to be the burial place of the apostle Saint James the Great. It's been a religious pilgrimage site since the Middle Ages and marks the end of the famous Camino de Santiago walking route. 

Other stops include Colexio de San Xerome (San Jerónimo College), a learning institution dating to 1501; the 16th-century Hospital de los Reyes Católicos, built to treat weary pilgrims after their arduous journey; the Pazo de Raxoi (Raxoi Palace), an 18th-century neoclassical palace that's now Santiago's City Hall; and the 18th-century San Fructuoso Church. Here you can witness pilgrim rituals and see the Botafumeiro.

Day 9: Drive to Lugo, City Walk & Gourmet Lunch

Take a stroll along the walls of Lugo
Take a stroll along the walls of Lugo

Today you'll drive about 51 miles (82 km) east to Lugo. This city is most famous for its ancient Roman walls, constructed in the 3rd century. The walls have earned UNESCO World Heritage status for being one of the world's most well-preserved examples of ancient Roman architecture. They measure an impressive 7,434 feet (2,266 meters) in length and feature 85 towers. 

After checking into your hotel, you'll meet a local guide for a private walk in the city's historic center. Visit the Lugo Cathedral, a grand basilica that dates to the 12th century but was given a neoclassical facelift in 1769. You can ascend the Roman walls via a staircase near the cathedral's front plaza. Walking atop them affords great views of the city. Other points of interest include the expansive Praza Maior (central plaza) and the Town Hall, an impressive 18th-century Baroque building.

The excursion ends with a traditional lunch at one of the best restaurants in the city. Be sure to try a regional specialty like the mariscada, an enormous plate piled high with lobster, scallops, mussels, shrimp, and more, and pair it with a good Galician wine like Ribeiro or Rias Baixas. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel and will have the rest of the day free to relax and enjoy Lugo.

Day 10: Drive to Oviedo

The colorful streets of Oviedo
The colorful streets of Oviedo

In the morning, you'll leave Lugo and head to the Asturias region of Spain. Specifically, you'll drive east for about 2.5 hours along the rugged and beautiful Cantabrian Coast to the village of Oviedo, nestled amid the green slopes of the Cantabrian Mountains. Famous for its medieval Old Town and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this is the perfect spot to stroll historic streets and breathe some fresh country air.

A good place to start your self-guided walk is anywhere in or around San Francisco Park, a sprawling public space filled with pathways, gardens, fountains, and even peacocks. Also worth visiting is the Catedral San Salvador, a 13th-century Gothic church, and the Baroque Hotel de La Reconquista. If you want to visit a museum, recommendations include the Fine Arts Museum of Asturias and the Archeological Museum of Asturias located in the 16th-century Monastery of San Vicente.

Just a mile outside of town is another site worth visiting: the Palacio de Santa María del Naranco. This pre-Romanesque former palace-turned-church dates back to the year 848. This piece of archaeological history also features great mountain views overlooking the town. If you work up an appetite, consider ducking into a bakery for a local snack like rosquilla (Spanish donut) or princesitas de asturias, bite-sized donuts made with almonds and lemon. 

Day 11: Drive to Bilbao, City Excursion

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

In the morning, you'll drive from Oviedo to Bilbao. This is a pleasant and scenic three-hour journey that mostly follows the lovely Cantabrian Coast. Upon arrival in Bilbao, you'll check into your hotel and stretch your legs on a guided walk through this modern yet historic city.

Start in Old Town and visit major sites like the 18th-century Church of San Nicolás and the 16th-century Church of San Antón, dedicated to Anthony the Great, an Egyptian saint and the father of monasticism. Other notable sites include the 14th-century Cathedral of Santiago and the Mercado de la Ribera, the largest covered marketplace in Europe. 

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 lines curving in virtual 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 12: Coastal Drive From Bilbao to San Sebastián

The rugged cliffs of the Basque coast
The rugged cliffs of the Basque coast

The drive from Bilbao to the seaside retreat of San Sebastián is a stunner. You'll pass through the Cantabrian Mountains and emerge along the wild Atlantic coast until you reach San Sebastián. Along the way, you'll 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 Basque 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 perfectly encapsulates 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. Then, upon arrival in San Sebastián, check into your hotel and spend the remainder of the day relaxing.

Day 13: Half-Day Experience in San Sebastián

San Sebastian, Spain
San Sebastián, Spain

In the morning, you'll meet a private guide and enjoy a half-day excursion through San Sebastián. Walking around will give you a sense of the famous Parte Vieja (Old Quarter), situated in the east of the city between the ocean and the River Urumea. At the edge of Old Town is 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. 

For great views looking back at San Sebastián, take a ferry to the famous offshore island of Santa Clara, or ride a funicular up to Mont Igualdo, which offers even more 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 enjoying the city, indulge in San Sebastián's celebrated food culture. The area specializes in 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.

Day 14: Depart Santiago de Compostela

Adios, Spain!
Adios, 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 will be picked up at your hotel and transferred to the airport or rail station for your departure.


Map of Ultimate Northern Spain Road Trip: Madrid, Galicia & Basque Country - 14 days
Map of Ultimate Northern Spain Road Trip: Madrid, Galicia & Basque Country - 14 days