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Madrid to Bilbao road trip via wine country

Map with recommended roadtrip itinerary

If you are planning a road trip from Madrid towards the North of Spain you may  want to consider stops in Ribera del Duero and Rioja wine country.   Save this url in your favorites list. Our team of local experts have put great care on the preparation of this itinerary. This is a free travel guide.

We have included some links to websites where you will be able to book services we recommend. Our team appreciates if you decide to book using those links. This will help us in our effort to continue providing excellent trip recommendations.

This road trip in Spain takes you from Madrid to Northern Spain. You will picture yourself next to a Roman aqueduct, sleep in a castle and walk down medieval squares. You will enjoy wine at Avant-Garde bodegas with astonishing architecture and also taste in underground ancient caves.  Everyday you will be able to enjoy local gastronomy. Each of the stops suggested in this itinerary provide with the opportunity to enjoy traditional local dishes accompanied by the best high quality wines of each region.  You will drive at your leisure and be able to enjoy some of Spain´s hidden gems.

This itinerary is built to be enjoyed in 7 days. It can easily be extended to include San Sebastian in it.

Madrid to Bilbao roadtrip - Top recommendations

OUR SELECTION OF AMAZING HOTELS

More recommendations are provided in the detailed itinerary

MADRID – PALACIO DEL RETIRO, AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION. This is our favorite hotel in Madrid. It is located in front of the Retiro Park. This implies being near the city center but in a calmed area. The building is an amazing palace that has been totally refurbished. See more HERE

SEGOVIA –  SAN ANTONIO EL REAL. This hotel is located at a monastery. This is a classified building and the hotel has been carefully refurbished. Parking is free of charge and the restaurant offers fantastic food. It is not at the heart of the city center but you could still decide to walk, take a taxi or drive and park next to the aqueduct while you visit. Excellent value for money. See more details HERE

RIBERA DEL DUERO – CASTILLO DE CURIEL  This small hotel is located at one of the most impressive castles in Spain at the top of a hill. A unique experience. See more details HERE

LAGUARDIA – HOSPEDERIA DE LOS PARAJES.  This small boutique hotel used to be a palace that was spectacularly renovated to become a luxury hotel. The glass roof that covers the central courtyard and the combination of ancient stones with modern structures bring charm to this hotel in which all details are taken care of. 2 restaurants (one with a tapas menu and one dedicated to fine dining) . See more HERE

BILBAO – HOTEL ARTEXE.  Great value for money . Parking is free and the hotel is just 1 mile from Guggenheim museum.  Great atmosphere and the feeling to sleep in a rural environment yet being in Bilbao. Find more HERE

SAN SEBASTIAN – VILLA SORO. One of Spain´s most romantic hotels. Only 25 rooms.  We love the building and parking is free. See more HERE

RECOMMENDED TRIP DURATION

7  nights to get the most out of it. Since this itinerary involves visiting wineries and tasting wine it will not be very simple to reduce the number of nights unless one of the persons in your group will drive and not drink each day.

Best months to visit? September and the first part of October are fantastic months to enjoy wine country in both Ribera del Duero and Rioja. End of March, April, May, June and first 2 weeks of July. 

TOP HIGHLIGHTS

Madrid to Bilbao via wine country roadtrip
  • The views from the Templo de Debod (egyptian temple) in Madrid
  • The Spanish Versailles: A stop in La Granja de San Ildefonso on your way to Segovia
  • Enjoy Europe´s best preserved roman aqueduct in Segovia
  • Get back in history in Peñafiel at its amazing Plaza del Coso or its mighty castle
  • Beautiful landscapes in Rioja Alavesa and RiojaPremium wines and superb vineyard landscapes
  • Tapas in Calle Laurel in Logroño
  • The Guggenheim museum in Bilbao
  • Experience the beautiful beach of La Concha in San Sebastian and the local ´pintxo´ tapas culture

HIDDEN GEMS

  • Enjoy Madrid and taste the best the city has to offer!Discover the hidden gems of Madrid, away from the tourist routes
  • Segovia and the most impressive Roman aqueduct in the worldExperience the fascinating Roman aqueduct in Segovia, a UNESCO World Heritage site and also the best place to try traditional roast pork
  • Sleep at a castle or a monastery near the Duero riverEnjoy this lands amazing wineries and landscapes. Monasteries and castles next to the Duero river
  • Discover the amazing Cathedral of Burgos and its castilian streets and suares
  • Visit century old wineries in Rioja and experience the region´s beautiful countryside
  • Labastida and Briñas2 villages next to Haro that will seduce you with its views and churches (Labastida) and its walk next to the river (Briñas)
  • Enjoy the famous tapas and wines of Rioja in Calle Laurel in Logroño
  • Enjoy Bilbao´s architecture, art and gastronomy
  • San Sebastian extensionEnjoy one of Europe´s prettiest urben beaches and some of the top restaurants in the world

BEST DAY TOURS OR EXCURSIONS

DETAILED ROADTRIP PLANNER DAY BY DAY

Madrid to Bilbao - Click on each tab to see the detailed information
MADRID
2 or 3 days

1Madrid in a nutshell

Capital of Spain and Europe´s city with more trees, Madrid is a city full of contrasts in which everybody feels welcomed. Exciting nightlife co-exist with top art galleries and romantic parks. If this is your first time in Madrid, you will want to see the Palacio Real, Plaza Mayor, Gran Vía, Puerta del Sol, and at least one of Madrid´s most famous art museums (Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, or the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum).

2Top attractions in Madrid

– Visit the rooftop of the Círculo de Bellas Artes for an afternoon drink and some of the best views of Madrid.
– If the world of sports is of interest to you, then Real Madrid´s stadium is a must. Do the stadium tour and afterwards, have a drink or a meal at the Real Café Bernabeu with views of the field.
– Visit El Retiro park for a relaxing stroll and break from the busy Madrid streets. Pick a spot underneath a shady tree, see the Palacio de Cristal, and if you´re up for it, take the row boats for a spin.
– The Templo de Debod is an Egyptian temple in the center of Madrid. Best visited around sunset in which you can also enjoy the views of the Royal Palace and Casa de Campo.

SEGOVIA
1 day for Segovia or 2 days to explore Avila, La Granja and Pedraza

1Things to enjoy on your way to Segovia from Madrid

1- The quickest route is taking the AP-6 and AP-61 though you will miss interesting landscapes and attractions
2- The other (recommended) route is a bit longer but you can make a stop to see the Royal Palace and gardens of La Granja (the Spanish version of Versailles) and drive through the National Park of Sierra de Guadarrama. Take the AP-6 to the M-601 at Collado Villalba (Exit 39). (More turns on this road. Not recommended for people who get car sick.)

2SEGOVIA

Before stopping in Segovia, we recommend you take the panoramic route around the city. Take the street called Paseo Conde de Sepúlveda and continue on this road for spectacular views of the Cathedral, the Alcázar and the Roman aqueduct. We recommend this post with more information.

You can park on Av. la Vía Roma (paid public parking) near the aqueduct or walk from your hotel. The typical walking route starts from the aqueduct to the Plaza Mayor and the Alcázar. The tourist information office is next to the aqueduct.

RIBERA DEL DUERO
1 day or 2 in case you are a wine lover

1Things to enjoy on your way to Ribera del Duero from Segovia

Take the A-601 to Cuéllar and exit onto the SG-223 direction Peñafiel. Cuellar has an interesting castle. You may want to consider visiting Valladolid (capital of the region of Castilla Leon)

2PEÑAFIEL

-Castillo de Peñafiel. The castle holds a museum dedicated to wine. It opens from 16:00 till 20:00.

-Plaza Viejo Coso. A good example of a Castilian square. Pay attention to the small doors. This square is used today still as a bull fighting ring.

– Near Peñafiel you have the Monastery of Valbuena. It is said that is the first place in Ribera del Duero area producing wine. Nowadays it is a hotel, but you have the possibility to visit the exhibition «Las Edades del Hombre»

– Ribera del Duero Golden Mile is part of the road from Peñafiel to Valladolid where we find the most famous wineries in Ribera del Duero such as Vega Sicilia, Dominio de Pingus, Abadía de Retuerta, Aalto and Finca Villacreces.

RIOJA
2 days. 3 days if you are a wine lover

1Things to enjoy on your way to Rioja from Ribera del Duero

We recommend taking N-122 direction Aranda de Duero. In Aranda, take AP-1 towards Burgos. From Burgos, AP-1 direction Vitoria and exit in Pancorbo. Continue to Haro.

We recommend making a few interesting stops on your way to Rioja (if there is only time for one we would recommend Burgos)
1- Aranda de Duero: interesting Plaza Mayor and CIAVIN Wine Museum in caves. You can get a coffee at Asador de Isilla and descend to its mediaval cave (free of charge)
2- Lerma: enjoy a coffee break at the Parador de Lerma in the Plaza Mayor
3- Burgos: recommended lunch at Restaurante Maridaje´s (Calle de San Cosme, 22, Burgos), Catedral de Burgos (one of Spain´s most impressive cathedrals) , and Museum of Human Evolution

2Logroño

Logroño, the capital of the region of Rioja in Spain, has in gastronomy its most important touristic appeal. Restaurants, bars and bistros get together in this city that holds wine tradition and wine business deep in its soul. Logroño is mainly famous for Calle Laurel, the center of bar hopping and tapas eating in Rioja. You will be able to enjoy many different bars that specialize in local small dishes. Wine from Rioja is served everywhere, normally in its «young» version. If you ask for Crianza you will be understood and you will be served Riojan reds aged in an oak barrel.

3Laguardia

Laguardia is a walled town. The Wall was erected by the order of Sancho, an important monarch from Navarre. Laguardia retains its old enclosure, the walls and doors for access to the town. Its location on a high, facing the Sierra de Cantabria, offers extraordinary views of the colors of the Rioja area.

Visit the Plaza Mayor or main square of Laguardia. Once every hour (minutes before the hour), you can see three Basque figurines dancing to a traditional song in the Pendulum Clock of one of the buildings. We recommend walking around the beautiful town of Laguardia. You can enjoy a walk in Paseo del Collado.

If you have time to spare during your time in Rioja, you can enjoy the best views of vineyards with stops in Elciego, San Vicente de la Sonsierra (spectacular views of Rioja from the castle), and Labastida.

4Haro

Haro is well-known due to the Barrio de la Estación, a district in the town in which prestigious wineries concentrate. Barrio de la Estacion and its wineries is the main highlight in Haro and you should at least enjoy a guided visit and taste at one or more of the wine bars in the area. This is the area in Rioja with more wineries per square meter. You can enjoy wine tasting by the glass at Muga, Lopez Heredia, or Roda winery.

BILBAO
1 or 2 days recommended

1Bilbao in a nutshell

If you arrive driving from France it makes more sense to start the itinerary in Hondarribia or in San Sebastian. Otherwise,
Bilbao has excellent connections by plane (Madrid and Barcelona have daily flights) ,ferry with the United Kingdom and is a good point of departure for our road trip into Northern Spain.

Bilbao has undergone a radical transformation in recent years and has gone from being an industrial port city to become one of the cities with the most vibrant culture and varied gastronomy in Spain.

2Top attractions in Bilbao

The famous Guggenheim Museum is Bilbao´s main highlight. You will find the tourism office where you can ask about the local events/activities taking place on this day. We recommend making your way to the Casco Viejo (old quarters) by taking a lovely walk along the river.
In front of the Museum, you will find Puppy (Jeff Koons), or Mother (a huge spider sculpture); both are children´s favorites.

Teatro Arriaga. Oldest theatre in town, still operating. Interesting neo-baroque style.

Ensanche . An old town called Abando, it became part of Bilbao in 1870. The Ensanche is the Business center and dynamic area of Bilbao. Its main boulevard is Gran Via.

Market La Ribera . An exciting and massive local market. Art deco style

Museo de Bellas Artes ; essential collection from artists like Goya, El Greco, Francis Bacon, Gaugin, Chillida…

Funicular to Mount Artxanda. The funicular from 1912 is not only a fantastic architectural example but also allows you to enjoy incredible views of Bilbao.

You can find more information on this post wit the best things to do in Bilbao in 1 day

3Best things to do near Bilbao

Getxo. An upmarket destination famous for its architecture (with a clear British influence) and summer houses. Its famous bridge over the Nervion River connects with Portugalete, a working-class town that grew to provide services to the harbor. see map

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Just a 40-minute drive from Bilbao, you will find San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. A fantastic church on top of a small island with breathtaking views. Bear in mind that you will need approx. 3 hours to walk to the church and return to the parking lot. Another option is to enjoy one of the boat excursions that depart from Bermeo

4Casual dining: Our favorite tapas bars and tapas restaurants

Rio-Oja Restaurant (Located on Txacur Kalea. You can enjoy a sit-down meal while enjoying authentic local food. They specialize in “cazuelas”.)
Gure Toki (One of our favorite bars in Plaza Nueva.)
Taberna Basaras (Located on Calle Pelota. A classic in Bilbao.)
Bar Santa María (Located on Calle Santa María.)

If you enjoy ice-cream and would like to end your tapas night with one we strongly recommend a visit to Heladería Adelia Ivañez (Posta Kalea). You will be able to taste Spanish turron (the typical dessert at Christmas time). This is in our view Bilbao´s best ice cream maker.

5Fine dining

Asador Ibañez A family owned restaurant, Ibañez is a great option if you want to enjoy high quality gastronomy based on the excellent quality of its meats, fish…
Sidreria La Gabarra: Sidrerias are very popular in the Basque country. Simple menus, very friendly atmosphere. Our favorite one is this one located on the other side of the river and 15 minutes walk from the Guggenheim. This is a very popular restaurant among locals. We recommend to try «Menu sidreria» If you prefer to stay in the «Casco viejo» and try a Sidreria, Arriaga is could be an option for you.
Despensa de Etxanobe. This is the bistro style concept, yet with prices close to 100€, of Michelin starred Etxanobe. Excellent quality and for many a better option than more expensive Michelin star alternative.
MinaNext to the Guggenheim museum and a very convenient option if you plan to visit the museum, Mina takes pride in its commitment with sustainability and the use of local seasonal products. Only tasting menus are served.

SAN SEBASTIAN
1 day recommended, 2 or 3 in case you are a foodie

1San Sebastian in a nutshell

San Sebastian began its tourism in the 19th century when Queen Isabella II. She chose the city as a holiday resort making it fashionable for other aristocrats in the same way as other important cities in France like Biarritz.
San Sebastian is one of the most elegant and beautiful cities of Spain. La Playa de la Concha is the heart of this city and the gastronomic capital of Spain. The Old Town (Parte Vieja) is well known for having the highest concentration of bars in the world. These bars offer a great variety of local pintxos (Basque tapas)

2Top attractions in San Sebastian

La Concha La Concha is the central axis of San Sebastian and the reason why the city exists. Every tourist or resident walk it each day from one side of the city to the other. It has been considered by several publications as the most beautiful urban beach in Europe.
Basilica of Santa María del Coro: its location in the old part of San Sebastian and with mount Urgull behind it make of this baroque style church a top highlight in San sebastian.
Mercado de la Brecha San Sebastian is an important gastronomy tourism destination and a visit to its oldest market is a must to get a good glimpse at top local quality products: local cheeses, sausages and meats … time for pintxos after this!
Plaza de la Constitucion This square used to be a bullfighting ring and it is used still today for many local festivals.
You can find more interesting things to do in this post with ideas and best things to do in San Sebastian in 1 or 2 days

3Best things to do near San Sebastian

Getaria (25km east of San Sebastian) is a beautiful village in the spanish Basque Country. It is famous for the quality of its gastronomy, which uses the grill for both meat and fish. More information on Getaria on this post with the best things to do in Getaria in 1 day

Zumaia (7 kms east of Getaria) Zumaia offers one of the most interesting landscapes in the Basque country: ths Flisch . A 15 minutes walk with spectacular cliffs and shapes. IN Zumaia itself the Parroquia de San Pedro, a gothic, fortress type of church is very interesting.

4Our favorite pintxos bats

You will find hundreds of options to enjoy pintxos in San Sebastian. Many of them are crowded, and despite it may not be very convenient it indicates you will find something tasty inside…

La Mejillonera – a Very typical bar that serves, as its name indicates, mussels. They are prepared in many different ways.
A Fuego Negro –more avant-garde than traditional pintxos
Néstor – Its specialty pintxo is the tortilla. You should arrive before lunch or dinner to try it or otherwise, it will be gone
La Cuchara de San Telmo – One of our favorites, great pintxos
Gambara – If you enjoy mushrooms this is your place. Great selection of wines too.
La Viña – Their cheesecake is their main highlight. It is very tasty but too many people have found out…

5Fine dining

San Sebastian holds more Michelin starred restaurants than any other city in the world. Expensive tasting menus… but sometimes a life time experience.
Nineu. Located at the beautiful Kursal building, Nineu is not a Michelin starred restaurant and your wallet will not get empty here. You can, however, enjoy high-quality gastronomy in a chic atmosphere.
Restaurante Kokotxa – Fantastic tasting menus and top quality since it got its 1st star in 2007.
Mirador de Ulía –innovative cuisine with a nod to its Basque roots. Its terrace offers a great atmosphere, especially during summer.
Arzak – A legend and the name behind a real revolution in Basque gastronomy
Akelarre –3 stars like Arzak. Located just 10 minutes from the center and with amazing views

Madrid to Bilbao roadtrip photographs
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