Once known primarily as an industrial port city, Bilbao has reinvented herself as a center for modern art and architecture. Set amidst the rolling green hills of Basque country, Bilbao is home to the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, a gleaming, modernistic structure clad in titanium designed by famed architect Frank Gehry. Bilbao’s historic architecture is a stunner as well, featuring many beautiful buildings like the 14th century Gothic Cathedral of Santiago and the Basilica de Begona.
Gaztelugatxe is a small peninsular island in the Bay of Biscay that resembles a castle; in fact, its name translates as “castle rock.” It is accessible from land via a footbridge over the rocks. A small chapel dedicated to San Juan (St. John) sits atop the island. The top of Gaztelugatxe is reachable by climbing 231 steps up a rocky slope. Past visitors recommend taking the steps slowly as rushing can be a pain; but, they say, the breathtaking views are well worth the exertion.
Pamplona is an historic city that once served as the capital of the Kingdom of Navarre. It is better known today for its annual San Fermin festival in which fearless souls try to outrun a herd of bulls through city streets; the festival takes place over six days in July. Bullfighting is another popular activity here, with the city having the fourth largest bullring in the world. Pamplona also is the first city on the Camino de Santiago or Pilgrims Road to Santiago. Its many parks and historic buildings are just made for strollers.
Santiago de Compostela
The capital city of Galicia, Santiago de Compostela is famous as the final destination of the traditional pilgrimage known as Camino de Santiago. Also called the Way of St. James, this pilgrimage dates back to Medieval times and is important to many because it is believed that Santiago de Compostela is where St. James, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, is buried. The arriving point for most pilgrims is the main square. Situated in the heart of the city, this bustling plaza is the scene of many important landmarks, particularly the Santiago Cathedral where the tomb of St. James is located.
Santillana del Mar
Comfortable shoes are a must for visitors to Santillana del Mar, a perfectly preserved medieval village that is limited to foot traffic. Located on Spain’s west coast, this Cantabrian treasure is less than 30 km from Santander and near the Caves of Altamira that are famous for its prehistoric paintings. There is an old saying that Santillana del Mar is The Town of Three Lies, since it is neither a Saint, nor flat, nor is it by the sea. However, the town actually takes its name from Santa Juliana who is buried here in the Colegata, the most famous church in Cantabria. Another top attraction is the Museum of the Inquisition with its instruments of torture.
Found in Basque country, just 19 km from France, this popular beach resort is surrounded by hills that add to its beauty. San Sebastián’s most famous attraction is La Concha, one of the world’s best urban beaches. Parte Vieja or Old Town has many bars, making it popular with partiers. Most buildings date from the 19th century, since San Sebastián was destroyed by the English and Portuguese in 1813. The city is well known for its July jazz festival, the oldest in Europe, as well as other festivals and cultural events throughout the year.