Northern Spain is Europe’s best-kept secret. You could spend your whole life here and never experience every adventure. Everywhere you look, there’s a new trail to hike, a new rock to climb, a new forest to mountain bike, and a new cove to surf.
Unlike what many imagine, Spain isn’t a dry, desert-like ecosystem but is much more like Switzerland or the PNW. In the four weeks we spent in Northern Spain we discovered a lot of amazing adventures. From East to West, here are the best adventure destinations in Northern Spain.
Val de Nuria, Catalonia
Hiking & Climbing
The Val de Nuria is quite possibly the most beautiful place in all of Spain. The sheer rocky mountain landscape holds dozens of adventure possibilities, the best being the Old Road via Cami dels Enginyers and Coma De Vaca. Click here to learn more about this adventure.
Don’t miss the picturesque and easy climbing area just north of Ribes de Freser as well as the huge, and bit more difficult, climbing area just south of Ribes. I’d recommend a climbing book for the climbs in the area because there are so many!
Hiking & Climbing
This huge mountain, just outside of Barcelona, holds an entire wonderland of rock. Though this ecosystem is not nearly as amazing as the Pyrenees (at least to us), Montserrat’s sheer size and ancient buildings make it a unique adventure experience that’s worth a trip.
There are dozens of hikes here, but if you come all the way to Montserrat, I highly recommend a multi-pitch on the Gorros. Click here to learn more about multi pitching the Gorros. There are routes of all levels here so even if you’re a beginner climber you can experience beautiful views from a rock wall.
While the actual city of Lleida is the kind of place dirtbags and climbers avoid, the huge region of rock walls that lie to the north of Lleida make up some of the best rock climbing in the world. Seriously, this climbing is world class. So much so that Chris Sharma and Sasha DiGiulian live here part of the year to climb the hundreds of routes.
If you’re like us and you’re not a world-class climber, don’t worry, there a few cool areas that are perfect for beginner and intermediate climbers. Check out Camarasa and Cubells.
If you go climb Camarasa, drive to the end of the road and I highly recommend taking half a day to go hiking through the gorge and connect to the large network of trails beyond, or at least just hike first 10 minutes along the metal walkway to the bridge.
If you are camping, there are tons of places you can free camp as well as designated campgrounds near the crags.
Punta Del Pacino, Aragon
Along with the Vall de Nuria, this is one of the most beautiful hikes in all of Spain and even the Pyrenees. The hike has amazing views of three awe-striking ranges of mountains, the dramatic crown like peak of Peña Foratat, rich, blue water of the reservoirs, and perfect, green European hillsides dotted with old, colorful buildings.
Basque Coast, Basque Country
Surfing, Hiking, & Climbing
There are so many cool beaches along the Basque Coast, it’s impossible to see them all.
Laga is probably the most beautiful beach, containing a Half Dome like rock face in its eastern corner. Laga is also a decent surf break too, just check the surf report ahead of time here.
To the west of Laga, on the other side of the long river mouth, is the world class surf break of Mundaka. Mundaka is the stuff of legends. At times this wave can become a one-minute, perfect barrel, though this wave in itself only breaks about 60 days of the year.
Crowds can be bad here, but if you’ve surfed in other places in the world you know that it’s pretty much crowded everywhere. The wave only breaks from low-to-mid tide on at least a four foot swell. Check the surf report here.
Beginners, please don’t go out here. If you don’t want to surf here, it’s still totally worth a visit to see the picturesque town blazing it’s Basque flag from the ocean viewpoint. Climbers, make sure you try the rad buildering under the bridge next the main parking lot.
As you head west, there is must-do hike along San Juan de Gazteligatxe, an ancient man made walkway built on a narrow strip of land that juts out into the ocean. I’ve never seen anything like this before, it’s unique and one of a kind.
Hike down via the stairs that start from the restaurant. According to legend, after walking the 230 stairs and get to the hermitage, you should ring the bell three times and make a wish.
If you’re on a road trip, the next surf spot has good free camping. Sopelana, whose parking lot is filled with van lifers, is the best wave in northern Spain for intermediates. There are two breaks, one more shallow than the other. The shallow one breaks best around mid tide and the deep one around high tide.
Related Blog: Best Surf Spots in Europe
For climbing, there is a nice little crag only fifteen minutes from Sopelana called Urdiliz with routes from 4a to 8a. Unless you have a climbing book for the area, you’ll have to onsight it here, there’s no online beta. Get the coordinates for the parking lot here. This parking lot is also decent free camping though I don’t know what’s enforced here.
Baltzola Cave, Basque Country
Hiking & Climbing
This is perhaps the coolest crag in the whole world. It’s world class which means it’s really frickin hard climbing. Baltzola is cave hidden in the middle of nowhere in Basque Country.
The uniqueness lies in the bolting. First of all, it was our Spanish friend Aritz (who we met while rock climbing Interlaken, Switzerland last year) that bolted the cave (note: he is a really really good climber)! So last year when we met up with him in his hometown of Dima he showed us this local gem—an insane climbing area.
Seeing it in real life, it’s hard to imagine someone hanging upside down and setting these routes let alone even climbing them.
The route runs from one side of the cave to the other end almost like an upside down U. Speaking of upside down, yes people have to climb completely inverted to do these routes. The cave still has stalagtites hanging of the roof which is what makes it possible to climb but it requires immense experiense and a really good knee bar, two things Adam Ondra does best, which is why you can find photos of him climbing this cave all over the internet.
The routes run from 6b to 9a so intermediate climbers might be able to find a route to say they’ve climbed there. Even if you can’t climb here, it’s totally worth the short hike up to see it, then I recommend continuing on another one of the beautiful trails in the region. Afterward grab some pintxos and a drink in town.
Urkiola Natural Park, Basque Country
This is the next best thing to the Picos de Europa. This place has dozens of amazing peaks to hike it will be impossible to choose which one to hike.
If you love to scramble (I do) hike the ridge of Anboto. There is plenty of camping to be found here, however the nearest town to find accommodation would be Durango or Vittoria-Gaztiez.
You can check out the Urkiola website to see all the hiking trails.
Climbing, Hiking, & Mountain Biking
Though the climbing area Galdames is small, it’s the perfect place for intermediate climbers or families to go on a scenic climbing adventure. This adventure holds ultimate off-the-beaten-path-ness and the views of the Spanish countryside will leave you swooning for Spain’s climbing. In general, this area has easy climbing which makes it perfect for kids (and adults).
Afterward, there is a nice, rustic bar with outdoor seating, perfect for tapas/pintxos and a refreshing drink.
This area is also huge for mountain biking so if you can get your hands on a mountain bike I highly recommend partaking.
This is very picturesque climbing area located at the top of a windy road in Cantabria right next to a famous Spanish cave.
The climbing area is huge but you can click here and download the online guidebook and see other info about the crag. Since the guidebook is not very clear, I’d recommend a climbing book. Whether you you have a guidebook or not, it’s still worth a visit because the area has fantastic views of a large monolith in the distance.
Playa de San Martin, Asturias
This adventure is one of my personal favorites.
The journey starts by pulling up in the miniature town of Celorio. Ever heard of the famous Camino de Santiago? Of course you have.
You’ll navigate through winding cobblestone following blue and yellow seashell symbols marking the famous Way. Then the Camino opens up into rich green hillsides with large mountains to the south making an amazing backdrop.
The short 3 mile roundtrip hike goes to a cove that’s perfect for surfing, watching sunset, or just chillin. Click here to read more about this adventure and get beta on how to get to this hidden beach.
Picos de Europa, Asturias/Cantabria/Castille and Leon
Climbing & Hiking
The Picos de Europa are known as the most amazing mountains in Northern Spain yet we still haven’t made it there! We’ll get there one day and when we do we have plans:
- Do the epic Via Ferrate La Hermida (includes a long rickety Indiana-Jones-like rope bridge),
- Via Ferrata Camaleño (includes practically slackening at one point),
- And scramble the ridges around Fuente De.
Climbers will fall in love with Picos as there are over a thousand routes there. Beginner/intermediate climbers should check out the crags Carreña de Cabrales.
The Picos also have some of the longest multi-pitches in the world so do that so I can live vicariously through you.
Note: If you are staying in a hotel/AirBnb take into account how long it will take to drive to the trailheads of the things you want to do, everything takes a long time to drive to.
Playa Rodiles, Asturias
Rodiles is another one of the most beautiful beaches in Spain and also has one of the best waves in Spain.
The beach, which sits in a cove of granite rock, forests, and cottages on the hillside, is very much off-the-beaten-path. The beach is beside a river mouth, a tall forest, and a minuscule town with a few bars and restaurants, some of which are only opened during the high season.
Though beginners can surf here when it’s small, when significant swell comes in the river mouth wave becomes a perfect, barreling lefthander. There is a lot of easy beachside parking making it a great free camping spot outside of summer.
Playa de Traba, Galicia
In the deepest, darkest corner of Spain lies the region of Galicia, arguably the most beautiful and lush area in all of Spain. It’s a surfers paradise around here, at least if you’re brand enough to paddle out into empty lineups. Playa Traba is all those things and more. This place has epic free camping if you’re on a road trip and the surf break is a nice A-frame wave. It’s a perfect place to surf and relax but be warned, it rains a lot here. Check the surf report here.
- Throughout our climbing trip we used the Climbing Away website and app to help us find beautiful, off the beaten path climbing areas.
- If you are going on an adventure road trip to Europe GET THE WIKILOC app or look at their website. This is the most helpful app for finding the best hikes and via ferratas.
What’s your favorite adventure in Northern Spain? Let us know in the comments below!
- Best Europe Itineraries: Top Destinations For Off-the-Beaten-Path Adventures
- Best Surf Europe: For Intermediate + Beginner Surfers
- Best Rock Climbing Europe: With Beginner Friendly Routes
- Tips For Learning To Surf
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