How to Backpack Northern Spain

How to Backpack Northern Spain

When you think about Spain, what comes to mind? Probably the cities of Barcelona and Madrid. Maybe flamenco dancing and paella. Which are from Southern Spain and the eastern Mediterranean coast respectively. The average traveller doesn't tend to think about northern Spain.

My name is Mark and I am an Avid Travel Backpacker who has lived in Spain and has backpacked all corners of the country. What I found the most interesting about Northern Spain is there are so many different cultural identities in such a small area.

Let's take a look at just the linguist map of Spain. You'll see in the north, there are small regional languages. Not just Spanish.



Travel Backpacking Northern Spain is a unique journey filled with breathtaking landscapes, incredible food, and vibrant cultures. From the majestic peaks of the Pyrenees Mountains to the coastline of the Bay of Biscay, this region offers a lot for all types of travelers and backpackers.

If you have been to Spain before, you'll also notice that Northern Spain is not as well connected (transportation speaking) as the Southern, Central, and Eastern parts of Spain. Check out this map below. You'll notice there are no high speed trains in Northern Spain (mapped in pink).

You'll also notice that there is no train line that connects the major cities of Northern Spain with each other. So you have to get more creative with getting around.



Most people who backpack Northern Spain do so by pilgrimage via walking the Camino De Santiago. Which is a fantastic experience! However since you are walking from place to place, you really need a lot of time for that experience. It takes the average person 37 days to do the Camino de Santiago from San Sebastian to Santiago de Compostela. 37 days!

If you don't have the time, the other way to backpack hop around Northern Spain is by bus (I recommend FlixBus) or by renting a car. The Spanish government is currently building trains to connect these northern cities better.

The Perfect Northern Spain Itinerary

Regions (Navarra > Basque Country > Asturias > Galicia)

We'll be starting in the east in the mountainous region of Navarra and making our way westward toward Galicia. For those who are familiar with the Camino De Santiago, we'll be following one of the famous routes that a lot of pilgrims do on the Camino but obvious we'll be taking a bus or car.

This itinerary will take you from the cities of Pamplona > San Sebastian > Bilbao > Oviedo > A Coruna > Santiago de Compostela and would take around 10-14 days depending on your travel style.

First Stop: Backpacking Pamplona, Navarra

Let's kickstart our adventure in the heart of Navarra by arriving in Pamplona, a city deep in history and famous for its annual Running of the Bulls (San Fermin Festival) which happens every summer in July.

Drop your bags full compression packing cubes at your accomodation and spend the half the day exploring the City Walls and the Citadel. Then wander around Casca Vieja (Old Town). If the Running of the Bulls (San Fermin Festival) interests you there is a museum in Casca Vieja where you can learn all about the history of this event.

Pamplona has a very medieval feel to the city. You'll feel as if you were transported back in town when wandering those City Walls. Once finished up wandering, try sampling txistorra - a specific type of Navarrese sausage. If time permits, spend another day hiking the nearby trails of Mount San Cristobal for panoramic views of the city. 

Backpacking San Sebastian, Basque Country

Continue your exploration westward toward the Basque Country by heading to the coastal gem of San Sebastian. My favorite city in the entire world! Known for its stunning beaches, world-class cuisine, and lively atmosphere, San Sebastian is a backpacker's paradise!

Spend your days lounging on La Concha beach, indulging in pintxos at local bars, and hiking up Monte Urgull for breathtaking views of the city and the Bay of Biscay.

Pintxos are bite-sized culinary creations that come in endless varieties. They can be made with seafood, meats, vegetables, and more, often served on slices of bread and held together with toothpicks. I like to think of pintxos as 'luxury tapas'. Definitely try the different pintxos made with anchovies and a glass of Txakolina Basque white wine.

One thing to note about San Sebastian and Northern Spain in general is that it rains a lot more than other parts of Spain. So you should plan your day around the weather. If it is sunny, bring a travel towel to the beach or a travel water bottle to hike up Monte Urgull. Then when it rains (because it most likely will) unpack that foldable rain coat to pintxo hop from bar to bar.

(San Sebastian)

Backpacking Bilbao, Basque Country

Next, make your way to the cosmopolitan city of Bilbao. Bilbao feels very unique from the rest of Spain. Sort of if an industrial German city meets Spanish charm.

Explore the iconic Guggenheim Museum, stroll along the Nervion River, and immerse yourself in the city's culinary scene. The Guggenheim is going to have very modern exhibits but very interesting. The colorful buildings along the Nervion River are so unique to the Basque Country and make for amazing photography. Don't forget your RFID blocking wallet  and cross chest bag as you explore the metropolitan city.

Also, don't miss the chance to visit the historic Casco Viejo (Old Town) - the architecture here is amazing! You'll still get that high-class Basque cuisine that we find in San Sebastian but in a bigger more modern atmosphere.

One of my Spanish friends took me to a fantastic restaurant in Casco Viejo that I have to share. You'll find real quality meats at a really good price. It was so great that I had to return a second time. It is called Inakiren Taberna.

If time permits, definitely hop on the Funicular de Antxanda to get to an amazing view point in the city. You could spend an entire day up there. Enjoying the views and having a picnic.

Backpacking Oviedo, Asturias & The Picos de Europa

From the very modern city of Bilbao, you'll transition into the lush green landscapes of Asturias and the Picos de Europa National Park.

Asturias has two main cities: Oviedo and Gijon. Both are OK. I think I prefer Oviedo a little bit more than Gijon. In the cities, try their famous 'queso cabrales' which is similar to a blue cheese but tastier. The Asturian ciders are amazing. It is great to see how they pour their ciders and serve them by the shot.

For the landscapes of the Picos de Europa, arrive in the charming town of Cangas de Onis and hike the nearby trails through mountains, valleys, and crystal-clear lakes. Don't forget to bring a travel water bottle and a daypack. Also make sure not to miss the opportunity to visit the iconic Covadonga Lakes and breathtaking views from the Fuente De cable car.


Backpacking A Coruña, Galicia

Continue your backpacking journey in the enchanting region of Galicia. Try to stop by the As Catedrais Beach on your way to A Coruna. As Catedrais is absolutely stunning but you'll need to go at low tide to really enjoy it (photo below). In A Coruna, explore the historic streets, visit the iconic Tower of Hercules, and chill along the scenic waterfront promenade.

Looking back at my photos from this trip, I have so many "OMG - I need a photo here" moments from walking along the promenade toward the Tower of Hercules. Such stunning cliffs too!

A Coruna is known for their seafood! Try it all. Galician prepared octopus and scallops are on another level. Butterly, tender, and absolutely delicious. For the more adventurous backpacker, try their "parecebes". Parecebes are known as "Goose Barnicles" in English.

They're actually quite expensive so my advice would be to try to sample them in a market instead of ordering a full portion at a restaurant. The barnicles are like a thicker pisser clam (New England steamer).


Last Stop: Backpacking Santiago de Compostela, Galicia

Lastly, we'll conclude your Northern Spain backpacking journey by arriving in Santiago de Compostela, the final destination of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

Explore the city's historic old town and join pilgrims from around the world in the timeless tradition of the Pilgrim's Mass. Santiago de Compostela is not really known for food or scenic views like the other cities we visited on this itinerary. But the ambiance is amazing!

People do different routes of the Camino de Santiago but they all end in, you guessed it, Santiago (de Compostela). So it is such a cool vibe where people from all over the world with different backgrounds and ages come together.

To participate in a pilgrimage, you really need to prepare beforehand. Most who do so bring very little essentials besides for maybe one or two outfits. It's supposed to be a very humbling journey.

Once you finish this journey, you'll want to return to Northern Spain. Maybe you'll do a pilgrimage next time! Or you can even continue southward from Galicia into Portugal.


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