We are Sophie and Andes from @silvervanproject. Three months ago, we gave up our old life in Hamburg, quit our jobs, sublet our apartment and left. Now we are already a while on the road with our bus Rudolph and during our journey, we have spent a lot of time in Northern Spain. In our Van Life Guide To Northern Spain, you will ﬁnd helpful tips and tricks for living in a van, beautiful and worthwhile destinations as well as tips and laws that you should know if you travel and live for a long time in the north of Spain.
In general, we recommend you to drive through Northern Spain without a strict plan so you can ﬁnd beautiful and lonely places in nature on your own. If your time is limited or you want to make sure that you don’t ﬁnd a place to stay overnight in the middle of the night, you can use apps such as Park4night, a travel guide, or a street atlas. If you are looking for a place to sleep during the day, you have the advantage because during the night you may not see signs saying that you can’t park or other important information. We parked one night on a dirt road and slept there. The next morning, we were sent away by two rangers, because you were not allowed to drive on that road. Uuups there we probably haven’t seen a sign.
Now we come to our favorite destinations in Spain. We have travelled through the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. The four territories offer an unbelievable variety of landscapes and provide a lot of different impressions. Below, we tell you about our top destinations in the respective territory. However, these few places cannot represent the beauty of all the places we have seen.
Basque Country: Donostia San Sebastian
This city was recommended to us by friends and family far before we left Germany. For us, it is the most beautiful city in Northern Spain. We parked and slept in a public car park by the sea near the aquarium. It’s not far to go to town and to visit the beach. The atmosphere of the city took us immediately as we strolled through the small streets in the evening. San Sebastian offers numerous restaurants and bars as well as a great beach. If you like cities, you can really stay here for longer.
The coastal roads behind San Sebastian are not for the faint-hearted. Many curves, steep cliffs – but it was so nice that we had to take a break every 20 minutes because this was the only possible way to soak up the beauty of the track. The small ﬁshing village Lekeitio kept its characteristic charm even in rainy weather and tuned us in to the other small towns and villages. Near the lighthouse there is a lonely car park on beautiful cliffs and sheep will wake you up in the morning.
If you plan to surf, then you will want to visit Cantabria. The small surf resort is perfect for surﬁng and with its many surf schools it’s also great for beginners. There are many small bars where locals and tourists meet after their surﬁng. We really liked the vibe of the town here and we would like to go there again. If the weather is bad or you want to see something else, a ferry goes directly to Santander. The journey takes only 20 minutes and the city is deﬁnitely worth a visit.
Asturias: Picos de Europe
Picos de Europa is probably the most beautiful national park we have seen so far here in Northern Spain. The roads are steep and curvy and not always easy to drive with a van, but it is worth it enormously. We had a wonderful parking lot here with a view of the river Cares. The parking lot can be found at Park4night but has only 2 parking spaces. There are many different hiking trails, so there should be something for everyone. Shortly before we were in the Picos, we met a German, who now lives in Madrid. He recommended us a hiking route along the river Cares, “probably the most beautiful hiking route he has ever taken” he said. However, the route takes 2 days, which is why we decided on another beautiful hiking trail along the river. Altogether we spent 3 days in the national park. In retrospect, we would have liked to have stayed longer. It’s beautiful and we recommend that you plan enough time for your visit.
Nature around Gijon
Before and after Gijon there are many beautiful beaches and landscapes. Near Avilés we had a bombastic pitch in the middle of nature directly at Playa de Veridicio. We can highly recommend this place to you. You stand on a cliff with an amazing view. It was very quiet and you have several beaches almost to yourself. A real outdoor experience, if you ask us.
The whole of Galicia is deﬁnitely our all-time favourite. There is so much to discover. Even if you only drive 2 kilometres, you can get off directly and spend several days at the respective place. The nature and the clear blue water are overwhelming. Every square meter of Galicia is breathtaking and because of its beauty we have made very slow progress here.
Where to Park?
As far as parking is concerned, there are different colored markings at the side of the road. Yellow markings indicate an absolute parking ban. Partially chargeable and temporary parking zones are blue. Vending machines are usually within sight here. Green markings mean resident parking and white markings are free parking spaces. In Spain, it is compulsory for all passengers to carry a safety vest in their car.
There is always a parking place near or on the beaches. These are not always empty, but a view of the sea is mostly guaranteed. To avoid mass beaches, you can check the parking lot via satellite on Google Maps beforehand. If the parking lot is large, there is probably a lot going on at the beach and it is likely that many people are sleeping there. A further orientation offers you the star rating for the respective destination. With over 1,000 good to very good ratings, it can be assumed that the beach and the parking lot will be completely overcrowded. In Spain, they are called Miradoris as a place to sleep. As you can imagine, you have a gigantic view from such places and usually a quiet night. During the day there is still a lot to discover. We ﬁnd it very important to listen to one’s own gut feeling and intuition when looking for a place to sleep. If you don’t feel safe or uncomfortable, you just drive on and ﬁnd another place to sleep. It’s that simple.
You can’t predict the weather in Northern Spain. The strongest sunshine can prevail and in the next moment a cloud cover forms and it begins to rain in streams. That’s the way it is on the Atlantic coast. You are forced to be ﬂexible, which can be very exciting and adventurous. The most important motto, which we can give you on the way, makes the best of every situation and does not chase after the sun, because as said: one cannot predict the weather in Northern Spain.
We have seen the most beautiful places in northern Spain, but unfortunately, there is an unbelievable amount of toilet paper around. This may be a general Vanlife problem, but we ﬁrst have noticed it here. This has to change, after all, we all want these places to remain as beautiful as they are. Please bury your businesses and use decomposable toilet paper, which you can also bury or even better throw in the trash bin. If that’s not enough, you should get a portable toilet or simply use public toilets, which are available on almost every beach. Here you will also ﬁnd beach showers where you can wash yourself with environmentally friendly shampoo or shower gel.
Since we have been living in the bus, we have been realizing more and more how much waste we have produced in our homes and how much waste already exists in our environment through us humans. Our awareness of waste and consumption has increased and we are very careful to produce very little waste on the one hand and to dispose of the waste accordingly on the other. Unfortunately, we have already seen many parking lots and beaches that were littered with garbage. We ﬁnd that everyone must take responsibility for their waste, either dispose of it in an existing dustbin or take it with them and throw it away at the next opportunity. If everyone did that, a lot of problems could be solved.
Important to Know
The currency in Spain is the Euro and you can pay and withdraw money almost everywhere with common EC cards or credit cards.
Road tolls or tolls are levied on the privately operated Autopistas. Autovías, on the other hand, are free of charge because they are operated by the public authorities. In addition, it makes sense to ﬁnd out about important or special road signs in order to participate in road trafﬁc as a safe road user. The Spaniards are very spirited drivers, honk a lot and like to spontaneously change lanes.
In Spain, it is already considered camping as soon as you put out chairs, cook outside, raise your satellite dish (if you have something like that), use ramps and much more. A particularly bad-tempered policeman even forbid us to dry our wetsuits and our wet towels on the car mirror… We can only recommend that you don’t get noticed as more than a normal parking car, especially in crowded areas. Sleeping in the car is allowed, but not camping.
We hope this guide helped you a little to have an overview of Northern Spain. We highly recommend you to go slow because of the variety of nature. The beauty of the different landscapes and the chance to ﬁnd cool parking spots are nearly endless. At this point, we wish you all the very best for your trip around Northern Spain and encourage you to enjoy the magic of this place! Safe travels!
We would love to see you on the road, Sophie and Andes from @silvervanproject.