A NORTHERN SPAIN ROAD TRIP (FROM BARCELONA TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA)

A northern Spain road trip from Barcelona to Santiago de Compostela had always been a dream of mine. I had traveled across northern Spain from Asturias to Galicia and had fallen in love with the area. But I wanted more!

I organized a cultural tour through Travels with Talek to share the natural beauty, cuisine and traditions of the area with others. Now I want to share it with you.

The best things to do on a northern Spain road trip is to slow-travel your way through medieval towns, breathtaking nature and amazing architecture while you taste some of Spain’s regional cuisine and sample the fine wines.

Barcelona Favorites

One of my favorite cities, Barcelona never disappoints. Even after visiting this city so many times, I found some wonderful sites, neighborhoods and restaurants I had never seen before. Here are some of my new favorite Barcelona attractions.

Carrer del Comte Borrell, Barcelona

The word “carrer” means “street” in Catalan, the official language of the region. This interesting street connects the cool Nova Esquerra de l’Eixample neighborhood to the Sant Antoni area, dominated by the massive food market.

You can find all sorts of trendy stores here like quirky bookstores with English language selections and shops with unique products. The fact that the neighborhood is partially pedestrianized makes it eminently walkable.

The neighborhood also has some fabulous restaurant/tapas bars like Bar Ramon (closed on Sundays as I unfortunately discovered) for tasty classic tapas or the beautiful Bar Alegria that is as pretty as the food is good.

Cozy bar in Barcelona
Bar Alegria

The big draw however, is the Sant Antoni market with its wrought iron façade and eclectic interior. Definitely worth visiting. The actual market is closed on Sundays, but the outside area transforms into an open-air book store

Antonin Market in Barcelona is a must-see on your northern Spain road trip
Antonin Market

Cruix Restaurant. Foodie delights on a northern Spain road trip

This is foodie heaven. When a foodie passes away, if they were very, very good in their past life, this is where they go.

Cruix Restaurant specializes in tasting menus at reasonable prices, i.e.. about 50 euros per person. That’s unheard of!

I had the 11 course dinner with cava, the region’s fabulous sparkling wine. Eleven courses basically means 11 tiny, tasty tidbits of locally sourced tapas.

Some examples include: Peking duck croquettes with savory herbs, Cuban steak tartar with deep-fried plantains and ceviche tacos with green tequila. It’s worth it. Go!

Check their hours as they are closed Monday and Tuesday. Food is really a key component of a northern Spain road trip.

Iberostar hotel in Plaza Catalunya sky bar terrace

I read about this place in a post about the best rooftop bars in Europe and thought I should try it. Lovely view of Barcelona’s main square, Plaza Cataluña, with a rooftop pool.

Plaza Cataluña from the rooftop bar of the IberoStar Hotel. A must-visit on your northern Spain road trip
Plaza Cataluña from the rooftop bar of the IberoStar Hotel

Palau de la Musica

This magnificent concert hall is the only structure of its kind to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was designed in the Catalan Art Nouveau style by architect Lluis Domenech and completed in 1908.

Tickets are relatively inexpensive for such an architectural jewel averaging 20 euros. If time allows, take a guided tour also for 20 euros.

Even if you’re not interested in the performance go and be a witness to a spectacular artistic achievement.

The Palau de Musica in Barcelona is a must see on a northern Spain road trip.

Other delightful Barcelona experiences included a cava and vermouth tasting in El Born district, a visit to the Saint Mary of the Sea Basilica, a walking tour of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter and lunch at the Santa Catarina market.

Where to stay in Barcelona? I recommend the remarkable Casa Fuster Hotel in one of the city’s prettiest and most centrally located areas, Passeg de Gracia.

The hotel is designed with a nod to the city’s modernist architecture made famous by hometown-boy-done-good, Antonin Gaudi. In fact, most of Gaudi’s major works like La Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo and Casa Mila, are just a short walk away.

Belchite, ghost town of Spain’s civil war

Two and one half hours west of Barcelona is the sad, abandoned ghost town of Belchite. In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, Republican forces fought General Franco’s troops in the Battle of Belchite that left the town in ruins.

After the war, a new town was built next to the original. The ruined Belchite was preserved as a ghost town and reminder of the horrors of war.

Ruins of Belchite seen on a northern Spain road trip
The ruins of Belchite

Logroño, tapas paradise

Two and 1/2 hours northwest of Belchite is the quaint town of Logroño, the capital of La Rioja, Spain’s smallest autonomous community.

This city is home to Santa Maria de La Redonda with its magnificent Baroque towers among other interesting architectural and religious structures.

One of the city’s major attractions is tapas crawls in Laurel Street, a narrow, medieval thoroughfare lined with tapas bars on both sides.

Each tapas bar specializes in a particular tasty dish like mushrooms, chorizos, croquetas, seafood and more. Wash it down with a glass of the city’s signature wine or a cold “caña” a small beer.

What’s nearby. Halfway between Barcelona and Logrono is the town of Zaragoza, Named after Emperor Cesar Augustus, the name derived into Zaragoza over the centuries, This is an ideal stop on your way to Spain’s northern coast to continue your northern Spain road trip.

Laguardia, wine tasting in northern Spain’s wine capital

Just 20 minutes northwest of Logrono, Laguardia was voted one of Spain’s most beautiful small towns. Laguardia is all about wine and wine tasting in cool, dark underground wine cellars accompanied by tasty delights to cleanse the pallet. This is a can’t miss event on your northern Spain road trip.

Wine tasting in Laguardia, a unique experience on a northern Spain road trip.
Wine tasting in the cool dark cellars of Laguardia’s wineries

This was one of the most delightful travel and food experiences I’ve ever had. If you enjoy wine, a stop in Laguardia is mandatory on your northern Spain road trip.

Laguardia is home to some of the country’s finest wineries.

Ysios Winery in Laguardia, Spain, a great stop on your northern Spain road trip
Ysios Winery in Laguardia, Spain

What’s nearby. Northeast of Logrono is Pamplona of the Running-of-the-bulls fame. Further north, on the coast of the Cantabrian Sea is San Sebastian. Head there for one of the coolest tapas crawls in Spain. Calle 1 de Agosto is lined with tapas bars offering amazing “pinxtos” (tapas in the local language). And 75 km (46 miles) to the west is Santander, another gem.

Bilbao, Northern Spain’s art powerhouse

A northern Spain road trip would not be complete without a stop in Bilbao. Once upon a time Bilbao was a gritty, industrial ship building and fishing town on Spain’s northern coast, certainly not a tourist destination.

Oh, how things have changed! This is a great example of how a museum can transform a city’s image. And not just ANY museum… the Guggenheim Museum.

Once the architectural marvel that is the Guggenheim Museum was established in Bilbao, the city became an arts powerhouse and never looked back.

Bilbao’s remarkable Guggenheim Museum

Today Bilbao boasts bridges designed by world-renown architect, Santiago Calatrava, largely responsible for Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences, and Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum masterpiece.

Success breeds success so artists from around the world now flock to Bilbao to display their own artistic endeavors.

These modern attractions in Bilbao add to the city’s already rich cultural and artistic heritage of medieval architectural marvels, ancient traditions and culinary delights.

Don’t miss a trip on 120 year old cable car to the Artxanda lookout for a breathtaking view of Bilbao.

Talek on Bilbao's river bank
Along Bilbao’s ancient riverfront

Also worth mentioning is the Ribera Market, Europe’s largest market. It’s a fun place to explore and even more fun to have a meal there.

Our tour included stops for food sampling in the market; Iberian ham, artisanal cheeses and weird looking (but delicious) sea creatures I had never seen before.

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Oviedo, the birthplace of Spain (and a major party town)

The capital of the autonomous region of Asturias, Oviedo is a gracious, elegant city of about a quarter of a million people. There are so many wonderful aspects of Oviedo you almost don’t know where to begin.

Asturias is considered the cradle of the Spanish nation because it is the only region of the country that was never conquered by the Moors.

It was from Asturias that King Pelayo fought against the Moors in 718 CE and began forcing the Moorish retreat that eventually resulted in their defeat in Granada by Queen Isabela and King Ferdinand in 1492. This marked the birth of the Spanish nation.

Oviedo is home to many UNESCO World Heritage sites including the 9th century pre-Romanesque churches of Santa Maria del Naranco, San Miguel de Lillo and others. These structures were once the homes and churches of Asturian nobility.

An architectural highlight of Oviedo is also its Cathedral of San Salvador, another UNESCO World Heritage site.

Make sure to take a tour there to see cathedral museum and underground Roman structures. Christians will be interested to see the shroud said to cover the face of Jesus when he was buried.

Oviedo's Cathedral of San Salvador. Stop here on your northern Spain road trip
Oviedo’s Cathedral of San Salvador

Oviedo is home to the Feast of San Mateo and the Dia de Las Americas parade which celebrates the return of the “Indianos,” Spaniards that left Asturias and emigrated to the Americas then returned as wealthy citizens. The festivities take place around the 19th of September.

The festivities last multiple days with roving musicians, specialty food vendors, music venues, parades and much more. It is certainly worth coordinating your visit with a stop during a northern Spain road trip. It really was a moving experience.

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The Archivo de los Indianos is in nearby Colombres. This is a museum that houses records of the Spanish emigrants to the new world, especially Cuba. Many Latin Americans trace their heritage to Asturias.

The museum itself is housed in the splendid 19th century home of a wealthy Indiano who returned to Spain and donated his home for the museum.

Oviedo strikes me as a wonderfully livable city. It seems to have it all. The Museum of Fine Arts is extraordinary as is the Archeology Museum. The lush, and quite large, San Francisco Park in the center of the city is flanked by outstanding Beaux Arts buildings.

Pedestrianized shopping streets offer comfortable benches to rest from shopping sprees and street art appears on graceful avenues.

My favorite part of Oviedo is Gascona Street. This street has traditional restaurants and “sidrerias,” (cider houses) lining both sides of the street. The food is hearty and delicious. Costumed musicians come in and out of the restaurants playing music and the patrons join in.

One unique aspect of a sidreria is how the cider is served. Waiters will serve the lightly alcoholic cider from about 3 feet in the air in order to aerate it. It’s fun to watch them.

Pouring cider in a traditional Asturian restaurant in Gascona Street in Oviedo

An excellent hotel in Oviedo is the NH Oviedo Principado. Well located with spacious rooms and a very good breakfast.

What’s nearby. Less than an hour northwest of Oviedo is the charming fishing village of Cudillero. North of Oviedo is the industrial city of Gijon, the most populous city of Asturias. Stop here to stroll the beautiful waterfront boulevard and indulge in fresh seafood and artisanal cheese.

Going west from Asturias in a straight line on the coast for about 1 1/2 hours into Galicia, you’ll come to Cathedral Beach.

The rock formations here have been eroded by the Atlantic Ocean for millennia and created soaring arches resembling cathedral naves, hence the name.

Soaring arches of Cathedral Beach, a lovely stop on your northern Spain road trip
Soaring arches of Cathedral Beach

One and a half hours southwest of Cathedral Beach is the Tower or Hercules, another UNESCO World Heritage site. The oldest working lighthouse in the world sits atop a promontory jutting out into the north Atlantic just outside the city of A Coruña.

The lighthouse was built by the Romans in the first century CE in what must have been at the time an almost magical engineering feat. The original was shorter, wider and had a ramp used to haul firewood to fuel the fire at the top of the tower.

It has been restored numerous times over the centuries and remains today a pretty cool site and another must-see on your northern Spain road trip.

The Asturian Mother, above, is a statue commemorating the mothers of Spaniards that left Spain for the New World in search of better economic opportunities.

She stands near the docks of a port city from which ships sailed to the Americas. She knows she will probably never see her children again.

A Coruña, ancient port city of the north

Walking distance from the Tower of Hercules is A Coruña, Galicia’s most populous city. A Coruña is chock full of excellent museums like the Museum of Fine Art and the Science and Technology Museum.

The city also boasts beautiful churches, amazing architecture and winding medieval streets leading to cozy plazas with outdoor cafes.

One of A Coruña’s most impressive sights is the Maria Pita Plaza, named after a local heroine that saved the city from a British invasion at the end of the 16th century. City Hall is located in this beautiful wide plaza accompanied by other graceful and elegant structures.

See A Coruña's city hall on your northern Spain road trip
A Coruña City Hall in Maria Pita Square

As the city is almost entirely surrounded by water, it stands to reason that seafood is a regional specialty. There are fine restaurants like Casa Alejandro on the waterfronts around the San Anton Fortress.

Make sure to sample the Albariño wine, a delightful white wine from the Rias Baixas wine growing region further south.

Looking for a place to stay in A Coruña?

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Santiago de Compostela, the end of the Camino

Tucked into the northwest corner of Spain, right above Portugal, Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomous region of Galicia.

Pilgrims have journeyed to this imposing city via the Camino de Santiago or Saint James Way since the times of King Alfonso II of Asturias in the 9th Century. Our little group was just the most recent to journey to this ancient city.

The most spectacular sight in the city is definitely Obradorio Plaza site of the massive, brooding Cathedral Basilica of Santiago de Compostela where the remains of the apostle, St. James are buried.

Definitely take a tour and don’t worry if the line is too long, it moves quickly.

The impressive Santiago cathedral last stop on your northern Spain road trip
Our small group tour arrives in Santiago de Compostela

Facing the cathedral on the left is the Parador Hospital de Los Reyes Catolicos. This is part of Spain’s Parador hotel system. These are hotels created in unused royal palaces, hospitals, abbeys, monasteries and hospitals.

Rather than have these historic structures decay and having to destroy them, the Spanish government has put them to new use as tourist hotels.

This accommodation is somewhat pricy but it is well worth a splurge.

All around the cathedral are interesting shops, arched, cobblestone streets with cozy restaurants and magical little plazas. The best thing to do in Santiago is to just wander aimlessly and enjoy the sights.

Nearby the Pilgrimage Museum tells the story of the pilgrims that have traveled to the city over the centuries.

Similar to other cities on a northern Spain road trip, food is almost a religion. One can’t miss dining experience is a meal at the local market, the Mercado de Abastos.

Different vendors will set up shop in the market and offer their own particular specialty.

One such restaurant is the Pulperia Abastos, specializing in octopus, Santiago’s signature dish.

Octopus dishes are plentiful on a northern Spain road trip
Pulpo a La Gallega, Galicia’s signature dish

For 10 euros per person you get a hearty sampling of Galician style octopus, artisanal cheese, albariño wine and crusty bread. A real treat in an authentic environment.

Northern Spain is now my favorite part of this beautiful and interesting country.

Want to know more about this fascinating region before you visit? Check out these handy reference books.

What are your thought on this northern Spain road trip? What would you add or delete? Let us know in the comments.

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BTW, if you are getting ready for your trip, make sure to take advantage of these useful, money-saving links to book your trip:

  • Research and book your flight with Skyscanner. I have found them to be the best because they list all airlines including the budget ones. You are always sure of having researched all options.
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  • Looking for a cool walking tour to explore a city? My favorite walking tours are offered by Take Walks.
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I personally use, and can recommend, all the companies listed here and elsewhere on my blog. By booking through these sites, the small commission we earn – at no cost to you – helps us maintain this site so we can continue to offer our readers valuable travel tips and advice.

2 thoughts on “A NORTHERN SPAIN ROAD TRIP (FROM BARCELONA TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA)”

    1. Hi, Angie: Thanks for your interest. I plan to repeat this tour next year at the same time to coincide with the Fiestas de San Mateo in Oviedo, Asturias. I need enough people, however. I’ll keep you name and email on file and let you know early next year if it look like we can make it. Meanwhile, please subscribe to Travelwithtalek.com where you’ll see tour updates regularly. Thanks, again!

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Talek Nantes

This blog was created to inspire your travels and to explore experiences in fascinating locations. What you will find are thoughts on how to immerse yourself in local culture, food, history and people. On your way to these adventures I hope to provide you with useful information to help you get there. Come see the world with me!

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I may earn from qualifying purchases. Posts may contain affiliate links. If you click on one of them, we may receive a commission at no cost to you.



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