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If you are spending some time in Spain and can hire a car, this road trip from Barcelona to San Sebastian is well-worth considering.
Barcelona is the second most visited city in the country, not far behind Madrid, the capital. It has the advantage of being located on the shores of the Mediterranean creating the perfect combination of beach and vibrant city.
San Sebastian is another beautiful city in Spain and taking a road trip from Barcelona to San Sebastian provides the perfect opportunity to see more of this part of the country. It’s a route with all the ingredients to make travelers fall in love with Spain.
Highlights include cultural richness, excellent and varied gastronomy, distinctive landscapes and some of the best urban beaches in the country.
Barcelona: A City With Endless Possibilities
Open to the Mediterranean Sea, modern and exciting, our starting point has become one of the most visited tourist destinations in Spain.
Perhaps it is because of the magic of Gaudi that floods the city. Or maybe it’s the blend of the charming historic center and the avant-garde and urban rhythm of modern neighborhoods.
Barcelona is a box of surprises, the city that never sleeps. It is the focus of new trends in the world of culture, fashion and gastronomy. In this city, the possibilities are almost endless.
A walk along the famous Ramblas, a trip to the Boqueria market or visits to lesser-known places such as the Carmel Bunkers. There is a bit of everything in this great city.
No one can leave Barcelona without visiting its monument par excellence, the Sagrada Familia. But Gaudi is not the only great name of modern art and architecture present in Barcelona. Dalí, Miro and Picasso were other artists who made Barcelona their muse and contributed to what it is today.
What is clear is that in this city full of light and life there will always be things to discover. That is why it is often said that everyone who visits Barcelona comes back at some point in their lives.
Top Stops on the Way from Barcelona to San Sebastian
Lleida: A Beautiful Old Town Protected by the River Segre
The first place you should stop on your journey from Barcelona to San Sebastian is about 2 hours away. That stop is Lleida, one of the four provincial capitals of Catalonia.
It is perhaps the most unknown of them all, often overshadowed by Barcelona or the Costa Brava. Perhaps that is because it’s located in the heart of the region, away from the sea.
However, it has a beautiful historic center protected by the river Segre and the hill of La Seu Vella, where the old cathedral is located. This hill is the center of the city and its highest point.
The Seu Vella Cathedral, known as the Old Cathedral, is the symbol of the Lleida. It is a Romanesque-Gothic temple from the 13th century. Climb its 300-step tower for unbeatable views of the city.
Lleida is a small city with great charm. It is characterized by its important historical and cultural heritage, the result of the different cultures that settled in the area. Also for its excellent gastronomy.
The star dish of the region is snails and many tourists come to the city specifically to try them. Since 1980, the city has been celebrating “La reunión del caracol de Lleida”, a gastronomic festival that has been declared a Festival of National Tourist Interest.
Zaragoza: The Perfect Blend of Traditional and Modern
Another 1.5-hour journey from Lleida is the impressive city of Zaragoza. It is the capital of Aragon, one of the great cities of Spain and definitely worth a stop on the way from Barcelona to San Sebastian.
Often overlooked by the traveler’s eyes, Zaragoza has evolved over the last decades to become a dynamic and modern city. It sits within the triangle formed by Madrid, Barcelona and the Basque Country, three important places in Spain. Perhaps it is this privileged position, which has given it such dynamism.
Zaragoza has perfectly blended the traditional with the modern. Numerous cultures have coexisted in the city. This is why it has an infinite list of monuments, created at different times in its history. Romans, Muslims, Jews and Christians have all passed through the capital of the river Ebro leaving their mark.
The imposing Basilica del Pilar is the most important monument in Zaragoza and the largest Baroque temple in Spain. Its interior contains works of incalculable artistic value including two of its vaults which were painted by Goya. The city also has a museum dedicated to this master of Spanish painting.
The Aljafería Palace and the Salvador Cathedral are the other architectural jewels of the city. It is also essential to stroll around the Tubo neighborhood which is known for the best tapas.
Tudela: Surrounded by the Famous Ribera Vegetable Fields
One hour further is Tudela, the second-largest city in Navarre after Zaragoza. Furthermore, it is one of the most important and interesting urban centers in the region. It is surrounded by the famous vegetable fields of La Ribera, where we find some of the best vegetables in the whole peninsula.
For this reason, gastronomy is a fundamental element of the city that no traveler should miss. Vegetables are the true protagonist of its dishes from the asparagus of Navarre to the red piquillo peppers.
Its strategic location, watered by the river Ebro and next to the Navarrese orchard, was the reason why Muslims, Jews and Mozarabs lived together for more than 400 years.
This mix is reflected today in a beautiful and varied cultural richness. Most of its attractions are concentrated in the compact old town and it is possible to visit it easily on foot in the morning.
Las Bardenas Reales: A Unique Spot in Spain
A visit to Tudela can be combined with a visit to this fascinating place just 30 minutes away. This unique spot in Spain is reminiscent of parts of Arizona as it is a semi-desert, uninhabited area just 70 kilometers from the Pyrenees.
One of its main strengths is its geographical rarity. It is located in the center of the depression of the Ebro valley and here erosion has given rise to a characteristic landscape of abrupt relief and whimsical shapes.
Its fauna and flora seem more typical of the African continent than of the north of the Iberian Peninsula. Today you can find eagles, vultures, foxes, wildcats… a veritable oasis in the middle of the desert, only the other way round.
Pamplona: Much More Than the Famous Sanfermines
On the way from Barcelona to San Sebastián, it is worth making a stop in this city of medieval walls and rich gastronomy. Although it is world-famous for the Sanfermines, the capital of Navarre has much more to offer.
Pamplona has an important monumental and architectural ensemble with a mixture of Renaissance, Gothic and Neoclassical styles. However, it is also notable for its military architecture with the Citadel as the main feature, a Renaissance fortification for military use.
Its beautiful historic center is surrounded by medieval walls that have been declared a National Monument. The walls run for more than 5 kilometers offering unbeatable views of the city.
Its monumental heritage keeps up with its rich gastronomy, as Pamplona is synonymous with good food and quality market gardens. The old town is the perfect place to taste the different specialties of Navarrese gastronomy, such as piquillo peppers and asparagus.
San Sebastian: Elegant Architecture and Excellent Cuisine
We now enter the Basque Country to stop in the last city on our route: San Sebastian. This city boasts a circular bay framed by Mount Igueldo and the island of Santa Clara. It has historically attracted wealthy people in search of sun and sophistication.
This is precisely what made it famous during the Belle Epoque, a time when the Spanish royal family and the high European aristocracy summered in Donosti. The glamor can still be seen today in places such as the Victoria Eugenia Theater or La Perla Spa.
The elegant modernist promenade that runs along La Concha beach is probably the most famous sight in the city. La Concha is considered the most beautiful urban beach in Europe, adorned with luxurious mansions rising up the hill.
The Old Part of the city is full of charming, cobbled streets. Some of the places not to be missed are the Church of Santa Maria del Coro and the neoclassical Plaza de la Constitución, built around the old town hall.
This square preserves the numbering of the balconies as it was once a bullring. This is also the best area to enjoy the famous pintxos. In fact, it is known for having the highest concentration of bars in the world.
But it’s not all about pintxos. San Sebastián has achieved 11 Michelin stars in 6 restaurants, one of the most Michelin stars per capita in the world. However, this is not the only reason for its fame. It is also the venue for major international events such as the San Sebastian International Film Festival.
Book This Trip From Barcelona to San Sebastian
Start planning your trip to Barcelona, San Sebastian and everywhere in between today. Get prepared with knowledge on how to get around, hotel and VRBO accommodations, local restaurant recommendations in each place and more through TripAdvisor and Travelocity.
Book even more adventures during your trip with fun activities in Barcelona, skip-the-line tickets for attractions, expert-led tours in San Sebastian and more through GetYourGuide. Find more information and book your dates in advance here.
For the best flight deals, train tickets and car rental options, check out OMIO Travel Partner.
More helpful links:
- Donostia / San Sebastián MICHELIN Restaurants – the MICHELIN Guide Spain
- Royal Bardenas of Navarra – Official Website (bardenasreales.es)
Author Bio: Based in France, Lucia Otero Medraño is Spanish with a master’s degree in travel journalism. She has worked in the tourism sector but her true passion is to live enriching experiences and discover amazing places around the world and write about them. In her spare time, she likes to enjoy her second passion, music.