A cycling holiday in northern Spain is a very different experience to a cycling holiday in the rest of Spain. Here, the scenery is lush, green and wild, the culture of Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria has a heavy Celtic influence and in Basque Country even the language is unique.

If you’re considering cycling northern Spain, you’ve probably got lots of questions. Which part should you go to? Which route should you ride? What’s the best time to visit?

In this article, we speak with Maria Knaapen, director of S-Cape Travel Spain, to get some answers! Maria opened S-Cape Travel Spain in 2002 and the team has more than 25 years experience of offering cycling tours in Spain. Based in the Picos Mountains of Asturias, they are experts on cycling in northern Spain.

Read on to get the lowdown on planning your next cycling adventure in northern Spain.

Why choose northern Spain for a cycling holiday?

The north of Spain is also known as Green Spain. Unlike much of Spain that is home to arid plains and peaks, northern Spain is full of dense forests, lush meadows and rugged mountains. It offers a completely different picture to the typical image you might conjure up when thinking of cycling in Spain.

Many of those that venture to this lesser-known part of Spain come back calling it cycling paradise.

Map of Northern Spain

Map of Spain, with Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Basque Country in the north

Varied landscapes

Northern Spain encompasses a vast area that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean, with its dramatic limestone cliffs, coastal views and hidden coves, to the highest Peaks of the Cantabrian mountain range: the National Park Picos de Europa. They’re home to famous routes and climbs such as the Angliru and are often crucial to the outcome of the Vuelta Espana.

The northern coast of Spain takes in the regions of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Basque Country. It has great diversity, vibrant ancient cities like Bilbao, Oviedo or Santiago and arguably the best food in the entire country.


Culture-wise, much of northern Spain is more similar to Cornwall, Scotland or Wales than southern Spain. It has an ancient Celtic heritage and you’ll find bagpipe players and emerald green hillsides. Sometimes called “the Wales of Spain”, Green Spain does get more wet weather than the rest of Spain, but it’s also incredibly beautiful, rural and quiet.

Different cycling experiences

This region promises unforgettable experiences for cyclists of all levels, from gently rolling hills along the Atlantic Coast to challenging mountain passes. Cycle along quiet interior roads through small rural villages surrounded by green landscapes immersing yourself in the local culture.

Test your legs on muddy mountain bike trails or challenging stages of the Spanish Vuelta. Or hire an E-bike and meander from one historic town to another to participate in cultural activities, and a wide range of gastronomic events. You can find our cycling holidays in northern Spain here.

Northern Spain’s Camino de Santiago

Northern Spain is particularly famous for being home to the Camino de Santiago. These are the ancient pilgrimage routes of Spain and, while traditionally completed on foot, they are now becoming some of the most famous cycling routes in Spain. You share many of the same paths as the pilgrims hiking the Caminos, wishing them a ‘buen Camino’ as you pass by. The Camino routes take you through some of the most beautiful landscapes in Spain.

Travelling by bike you are able to cover more ground, to see more of the delightful regions the Caminos pass through, and to stop in little village squares to eat lunch and chat with your fellow pilgrims. If the Camino is too narrow or stony, we give suggestions of how to make shortcuts along surfaced roads.

Besides the classic and most popular Camino Francés, you can choose among a variety of Caminos that all come together in Santiago de Compostela. But the oldest and most varied Caminos are the ones known as The Northern Way (Camino del Norte) and The Original Way (Camino Primitivo). You can find all of our Camino de Santiago cycling holidays here.

Camino del Norte

El Camino del Norte follows the coastal line from the Basque country to Ribadeo via Oviedo before heading south to Santiago de Compostela (Galicia) and takes about 18 days by bike. You can find our Camino del Norte cycling holidays here.

Camino Primitivo

The Camino Primitivo starts in Oviedo (Asturias). It is referred to as the ‘original’ route because it was the route chosen by the Christian King Alfons II from Asturias in the 9th century to visit the place in Galicia where the bones of Saint James had arrived by boat (in a miraculous way).

This king built the first chapel dedicated to the Saint and also spread news in the Christian world, inviting fellow kings and noblemen to follow in his footsteps. This original route became very popular in the early Middle Ages, when pilgrims aimed to avoid areas south of the Cantabrian Range which were in constant dispute between Christians and Moors pricing the first.

Nowadays, the Camino Primitivo reveals an area of rural beauty where villages steeped in history have stood the test of time. It takes between 8 and 10 days to cycle it entirely as there are a few demanding stages. You can find our Camino Primitivo cycling holidays here.

What are the best areas of northern Spain for cyclists?

Each area of northern Spain has a different topography, different interests for cyclists and different cultures. What they have in common is that together they are home to some of the best cycling in Spain.

Cycling Galicia

Overview of cycling in Galicia

Galicia has varied terrain including flat routes and climbs. Much of the province is covered with forests. It has a spectacular, rugged coastline known as the ‘Death Coast’ due to the numerous ship wreckages that have occurred throughout history. The coast is often compared with the Norwegian fjords and is dotted with small fishing villages. Galicia is popular with Spanish people who like to go on holiday here and it’s also very famous for being home to the end point of the Camino de Santiago routes.

Where is it?

Galicia is a province on the northwest coast of Spain. Two sides of Galicia border the sea, one borders Portugal. It’s about 50% bigger than Wales, with half a million fewer people.


  • Santiago de Compostela.
  • The towns of A Coruña, with its port and famous lighthouse, Torre de Hercules; Lugo with its Roman walls; and Ourense with its natural hot springs.
  • Finisterre, the westernmost point of Spain.
  • Cañon del River Sil, which is well-known for its nature and wine production.

Most famous cycling route in Galicia

Galicia is famous amongst cyclists for being home to the end point of the Camino de Santiago routes. If you have limited time, but are eager to get the official pilgrimage certificate known as La Compostela, it’s good to know that you are obliged to ride at least 200 km by bike. To do this most people will start in the neighbouring provinces of Castille or Asturias, but other routes, such as the one starting in Portugal, are also popular.

Cycling holiday in Galicia

Camino Primitivo: the history and beauty of the hinterland of Green Spain will act as a backdrop for your pilgrimage, as you cycle through the surprisingly varied countryside of Asturias and Galicia following the Original Way to Santiago.

Camino Primitivo cycling tour – An 11-day self-guided cycling holiday that starts in the historic city of Oviedo, in Asturias, and crosses the countryside of Asturias and Galicia to reach Santiago. This is an uncrowded Camino that allows cyclists to have real contact with the local lifestyle, staying in welcoming family-run accommodations. During the 11-day tour we’ve chosen mainly surfaced trails along or close to the original trail.

If you choose the ‘challenge’ version of 8 days, covering 300km in 6 cycling days, you can choose to do either the trekking or mountain bike version, renting bikes accordingly.


Cycling Asturias

Overview of cycling in Asturias

Asturias has the most dramatic landscapes in northern Spain since the 2,000m+ high peaks of the Picos de Europa are only 25 km from the coast (as the crow flies). On the well-preserved coast, the routes are generally easygoing, with fishing villages and more than 200 beaches to entertain. Turn inland and it’s time to challenge yourself on spectacular, quiet roads, steep-sided river valleys and switchback-laden roads that take you to medieval villages. More than a third of the region’s landscapes are within protected areas.

Where is it?

Asturias is a province on the north coast of Spain. Galicia lies to its west and Cantabria to the east. Its 400km coast is home to some of Spain’s most beautiful beaches, along the Atlantic in the Cantabrian Sea.


  • Oviedo is the capital of Asturias and is a bike-friendly place which forms a hub for cycling routes in the region. It’s also very beautiful, with its Romanesque and Baroque old town and food scene.
  • Gijón is great, with its beaches, Camp Valdo Roman baths and docks.
  • Llanes is a medieval town that is wonderful to visit, and is home to an early gothic church.
  • The fishing town of Ribadesella has been inhabited since prehistoric times and has fantastic UNESCO cave paintings as well as the stunning Santa Marina beach.
  • Villaviciosa is the capital of Asturia’s Cider production.
  • The region is home to five Nature Reserves and Spain’s oldest National Park: Picos de Europa.

Famous cycling route in Asturias

Thanks to the Cantabrian mountains, of which the Picos de Europa are the most famous, Asturias is home to some of the most demanding cycle routes in northern Spain and some of the best road cycling in Spain.

Here you can do a few of the most challenging stages from the Vuelta competition, like the fearsome ascent to El Angliru, Gamoniteiro, Puerto de la Cubilla, El Cabritero or the Covadonga Lakes. The Camino Primitivo and Camino del Norte also pass through Asturias. It’s also a perfect territory for gravel, mountain biking or leisure road cycling depending on how close you stay to the coastline.


Cycling holiday on the coast of Asturias

Asturia’s lush coast combines gentle hills and flat country roads set beneath the coastal ranges of El Cuera and El Sueve, with the impressive snowy summits of the Picos de Europa in the background.

8-day cycling holiday in Asturias – average of 35km and 500m of ascent per day – this cycling route of northern Spain starts in Cantabria, then takes you along the spectacular coastline of Asturias past tiny coves and fishing villages, with beautiful local architecture, from quirky wooden grain barns to colourful colonial-style mansions.

8-day family friendly cycling holiday in Asturias – average of 20km and 200m of ascent per day – with easy routes and child-friendly accommodation. Every day there is time to stop at a sandy beach – often hidden in a cove, pet a pretty cow or enjoy finger food at a local bar. One day includes a canoeing activity on the Deva River.

2-day family friendly bike-hike trip – if you want to ride the Senda del Oso trail, this short break is popular.

Cycling holiday in Asturias: Cabrales and Picos de Europa

Designated as the first National Park of Spain (in 1918), the Picos de Europa are a hidden gem amongst the mountain landscapes of Europe. A mountain wonderland that seems to burst from the southern plains, stretching its jagged limestone peaks to the sky. In the valleys, open meadows brim with wildflowers in spring and spectacular gorges cut through the mountains thanks to the icy turquoise rivers. Not surprisingly, it gets visits from professional cyclists reccing Vuelta a Espana climbs and amateur cyclists looking to replicate famous Vuelta stages.

Cabrales short break by bike – a 4-day centre based self-guided trip perfect for a first contact with the area of Cabrales and Peñamellera Alta, in Asturias those keen to ride some of the famous Vuelta stages. There are different route options available during the day, while by night you have enjoy some of the best food in the area. E-bike and MTB options available.

9-day Picos cycling holiday – a challenging MTB self-guided trip crossing the brutal climbs of the Picos de Europa Natural Park, with routes up to 1,500m ascent. You start quietly in the valleys of Onís and Cabrales, but then make a loop across and around the Eastern massif, via the towns of Sotres and Potes. Option of renting e-MTB and doing a shorter version of 4 days with three cycling days.

Cantabria and Basque Country

Overview of cycling in Cantabria and Basque Country

Cantabria and Basque Country have similar landscapes: softly undulating hills and valleys with rural areas along the coast that become hillier further inland, as they rise into the Cantabrian Mountains. Almost one-half of Cantabria lies above 2,000 feet. The most well-known cities here are the coastal cities of Santander, Bilbao and San Sebastian with their famous Michelin star restaurants and pintxos scene.

Cycling in Basque Country is particularly popular amongst locals; there is a huge cycling tradition here and many manufacturers are based in the region (for example Orbea and BH). The Tour of the Basque Country is a big annual cycling race in Basque Country and gets a huge turn out each year.

Where are they?

Cantabria is a province in northern Spain. It’s bounded by the Bay of Biscay to the north, by Basque Country to the east, Castile-León to the south, and Asturias to the west. The rolling coastal hills rise gradually into the Cantabrian Mountains.

Basque Country is bounded by the Bay of Biscay to the north, Navarra to the east, La Rioja to the south, and Cantabria to the west. Part of the region borders France to the east, and here you find the Basque Country of France.


  • Bilbao is historically an industrial city, but the impressive Guggenheim Museum is now its star.
  • San Sebastian has been a tourist hub for a long time and the world famous La Concha beach, the film festival and food scene are other reasons to visit – on top of the cycling!
  • Santillana del Mar, a medieval village with cobbled streets full of hanging bougainvillea flowers and attractive houses.
  • Comillas, with its lovely golden beach, old fishing port, cobbled centre, and historic university.
  • San Vicente de la Barquera, sitting against the imposing backdrop of the Picos de Europa mountain range, famed for its fabulous seafood.
  • Some of the best surf beaches of northern Spain are in this area.

Famous cycling route in Cantabria and Basque Country

This is the perfect setting for mountain bike, gravel or road cycling tours. If you cross the territory from east to west, for example following the Camino del Norte, you’ll find yourself on a challenging route with lots of climbing and descending as the river gorges tend to be deep.

Cycling holiday in Cantabria and Basque Country

El Camino del Norte is one of the oldest routes to Santiago de Compostela, and also the best option if you want to do a pilgrimage in summer. This is a quieter route than the traditional Camino Francés and with its combination of stinging coastal cycling, welcoming towns and outstanding cities, el Camino del Norte is a fantastic take on the Camino pilgrimage.

Choose between cycling the Camino del Norte from Bilbao to Santiago in 18 days or start with half of the Camino, from Bilbao to Oviedo in 10 days, or from Oviedo to Santiago in 10 days. Tip: in Oviedo you can also opt to tackle the Camino Primitivo (below).

What are the best times of year to visit northern Spain?

The best months to visit northern Spain are April to October, as the temperatures are mild.

July and August are, unlike other areas of Spain, a great time to visit, as the average temperatures are 23ºC, with just a few hot days now and then. Due to Atlantic influences, it rains often, but during the day there are a lot of changes in the weather. A day that starts with rain and fog can end with a clear blue sky, spent at the beach (or the other way around..).

For road cycling the shoulder seasons of April to June and mid-September until the end of October are pleasant as the roads are less crowded and average temperatures are around 18ºC; also, a great time to go up in the mountains.

In winter, typically November to the end of March, the weather tends to be wet and cold.


Do you need an organised cycling tour of northern Spain?

Whether you need an organised cycling tour of northern Spain depends on your preferences, experience, and how comfortable you are planning your own trip.

Reasons to join a northern Spain cycling tour

If you’re new to cycling or unfamiliar with the region, joining an organised tour can offer several benefits, with experienced staff who are knowledgeable about the area, pre-planned routes, luggage transfer, bike rental options, accommodation, and sometimes meals. This can take the stress out of logistics and ensure a smooth and enjoyable authentic Spanish experience. If you’re more of an independent traveller, but not fluent in the local language or unfamiliar with navigating the terrain, a self-guided trip will cover all the logistics while travelling at your own pace.

Things to be aware of

On the other hand, if you’re an experienced cyclist and enjoy planning your own routes and adventures, you may prefer the freedom of totally independent travel.

Cycling routes in Spain, including northern Spain, tend not to be on a purpose-built network of cycling routes of the kind you find in Germany or the Netherlands. However, with the help of maps, GPS, and online resources, you can create your own itinerary tailored to your interests and fitness level. Specialist bike rental and bike transport services are available in most of the regions.

Is northern Spain suitable for family cycling holidays?

As the best time of year to ride in northern Spain is during the summer, it’s often popular with those looking for family friendly cycling holidays.

Two of the best options are:

Is northern Spain good for e-bike holidays?

We are finding that e-bikes are more and more popular with our guests.

In northern Spain, it’s usually possible to charge your e-bike battery in restaurants and cafés if you pay for lunch.

Our most popular tours for e-bikes are:

How long do you recommend for a northern Spain cycling tour?

Weekend cycling holidays in northern Spain

If you have limited time or prefer a shorter getaway, you can still experience the highlights of northern Spain on a brief cycling tour somewhere close to a major city, with airport or train station to avoid extensive travel time locally. Focus on a specific region, some challenging Vuelta stages or follow a shorter route along the coast or through picturesque countryside. Just allow yourself to get a feeling for the stunning scenery, local culture, and cuisine without too much pressure.

Or a longer trip?

For a more comprehensive exploration of northern Spain, consider a week of cycling or more. This timeframe allows you to delve deeper into the diverse landscapes, visit multiple cities or regions, and experience a variety of terrain and cultural attractions. You can tackle more challenging routes, such as mountain passes, or do (a part of) a Camino to Santiago.

What are your tips for cyclists visiting northern Spain?


Northern Spain is very rural and the accommodation options reflect this. They tend to be clean but basic, family run establishments and it’s therefore important to pack accordingly.

In particular, not all hotels provide toiletries, so bring your own to ensure you have what you need.


Clothes washing and drying facilities are not available everywhere. You may need to plan to hand wash some days as laundry facilities can be limited in rural areas.

Layers of warm clothes are a good idea for the mornings and evenings especially in spring or autumn. In the summer months a lightweight jacket is also a good idea for mornings and evenings. Even in the height of summer, the weather can change very quickly and unexpectedly, and you should be prepared for fog, mist or rain. Always take an extra layer with you.

Northern Spain has a much more seasonal climate than the rest of the country. The four seasons are well defined, and although temperatures often get up to 35ºC in the summer, the Atlantic Ocean helps ensure temperatures remain comfortable. The weather can change unexpectedly, but if you take the right clothes for your trip, you can also enjoy a wet day. If you are caught in heavy rain, with good waterproof clothing you should remain dry.


Please note that helmets are mandatory in Spain outside city centres.

Consider how you’ll carry the things you’ll need for the day; bar bags or a day pack can work depending on your preference. If hiring, it’s best to assume your bike doesn’t have panniers.

A front and rear light for your bike is the best way for cars to know you are also on the road.

If you travel with your own bike, it is highly recommended to always bring a repair kit and a pump with you. If you rent a bike in the area, these normally include the repair kit, C02 canister or pump, and sometimes a front bag and/or pannier.

Day bags

Remember to bring a fully charged smartphone and power bank in case you need help while cycling and to visualise the routes.

Light, high-energy foods like nuts, dried fruit and chocolate make good energy supplies. If you have specific dietary requirements, you may want to bring along your own supplements. Some specific dietary requirements may not be catered for at your destination.


If you are cycling in rural areas, be aware of shepherd dogs. These can be aggressive if you travel with a dog, but sometimes also if you are just cycling and stop, for example, close to their flock.

If you do come across an aggressive dog, in the past I’ve found that finding a stick or a stone and making a throwing gesture towards them can help – or, if that doesn’t work, take aim…

Never ride through a flock of sheep if they are guarded by dogs, as sheep tend to panic quickly (and so will the dog).

Bike shops in northern Spain

For your bike, you can easily find bike shops in the bigger villages or cities, but there are not many options in rural areas.

Highway code and travel information

As ever, it’s a good idea to check current travel information before you book and travel. For UK visitors, the UK government travel information pages for Spain are here.

You should also read and follow Spain’s highway code.


What are your best tips for someone’s first cycling tour in northern Spain?

Don’t expect bike paths

Don’t expect a wide range of cycling paths. In places, there are rural tracks with hard pack gravel (or just mud) to ride on but most towns and provinces haven’t yet developed a cycling network with bike lanes. This means you need to be prepared to ride on the road with cars.

If you are not joining an organised trip, we recommend planning the cycling route in advance, identifying the less busy roads and check the accommodation options in each area.

Avoid all the roads mentioned as N-roads and, if you use a Michelin map, the roads with added green lines are the most scenic.


Don’t expect many people to speak fluent English. Knowing some basic words in Spanish can be very helpful to start a conversation, which then can be continued with the help of a translation app on your smartphone.

When cycling in Basque Country, be aware that the Basque language, Euskera, is commonly used and is the cornerstone of the culture. It sounds (and is) very different to Spanish. Having been banned for much of the 1900s, due to the fascist Franco government, it’s now having a resurgence.

Try the local food and drink

Food and drink is a key part of the culture in northern Spain. Here are some of the dishes we suggest you try:

  • Fabada asturiana is similar to French cassoulet, a flavoursome stew made with pork and beans. It’s a rich, dense dish so isn’t eaten frequently by the locals.
  • Sidra asturiana is cider made with sour crab apples which give it its distinctive twang – the drink is light, musty and bitter but sweet enough to be refreshing. It’s poured in an unusual way – a bartender raises the bottle high above his head and pours a thin stream into the glass that’s held low with the other hand. You can’t visit northern Spain without visiting a cider house.
  • Pintxos are another must-try. They are best eaten as an evening snack with a drink. They’re found throughout the region but are most elaborately and most commonly found in Bilbao and San Sebastian.
  • All kinds of seafood as it’s abundant, fresh and served in all kinds of ways and recipes.
  • All kinds of artisanal cheeses; the Cabrales blue cheese is the most special.

Tell us more about your cycling tours. What do you offer?

At S-Cape Travel we are specialised in self-guided cycling trips for all levels, including families. We are based in northern Spain and have designed many routes in the area, including several Camino de Santiago routes.

Carefully planned routes

Our tours are between 3 to 18 days length, although we mostly design tours of 7 to 10 days which can be combined. We have selected what we believe to be the nicest routes in each area; we design our tours by using our local knowledge to adapt and improve on popular routes.

We have cycled all routes and uploaded the tracks and detailed turn-by-turn navigation info in the apps we use (GUBO & ActiveNav).

Authentic accommodation

We select accommodation that we value for being small-scale, family run and as sustainable as possible, depending on the destination and our guests requirements.

Expert logistics

We also take care of all the logistics, including luggage transport and documentation.

Easy communication

We are reachable outside office hours via our emergency phone. All our team speaks Spanish and English; some also German, French and/or Dutch.


Because we have detailed knowledge of the destination and are based in northern Spain, we can easily customise our trips to guests’ requirements. It also means we can also help out quickly in case of problems.

All our tours have totally flexible starting dates but in addition we organise groups tours for groups of friends, with logistic support and professional guidance.

Bike hire

We offer bike rental according to the characteristics of the tour, either MTB or trekking / hybrid bikes, both ‘normal’ human powered bikes as well as electric ones. We use mainly Cube and GIANT trekking bikes in all sizes, including junior and tag-along bikes for children.

Our e-bikes are Kalkhoffs (trekking) OR MMR (E-MTB) with sufficient battery to last during the day with average assistance.

For MTB we use different brands such as Cube, MMR and Specialized.

We have a very few road bikes and no gravel bikes, but know where to find them if needed!

We deliver the bikes to our guests at the first accommodation, giving customers a chance to test them and make adjustments. We expect customers to know how to fix minor problems such as flat tyres, but we work closely together with local bike shops if major problems occur during the tour or go their ourselves if necessary.


S-cape Travel organises active holidays for more than 6,000 guests per year, who stay normally between 7 and 10 days in different areas of Spain and Portugal. Roughly 25% of these customers travel with us in Northern Spain.

Happy guests

We have only recently started to publish reviews via Feefo, but we have lots of guests who come back to us every year, which is as good as a positive review to us.

Please let us know how we can help you plan an awesome cycling trip to Northern Spain. We’d love to help!


Huge thanks to Maria for sharing such useful insights into cycling in northern Spain. We hope you have an amazing time – and do let us know how you get on in the comments below!


Finally, if you’re looking for more information on cycling in Spain, these articles may be useful further reading:

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Maria Knaapen

Maria Knaapen runs S-Cape Spain. She says “Ever since I first set foot in Spain, way back in 1988, I have been fascinated by the different landscapes this country has to offer. My first love was the mountain range Picos de Europe, in northern Spain, where I started doing field work as an anthropologist and ended up designing walking and cycling tours for a Dutch tour operator.

Today, at S-Cape Travel we design our own self-guided tripsfrom our headquarters in the heart of Picos de Europa mountain range. We are experts on cycling holidays in northern Spain and simply love going out there to design new tours. We are local and have in-depth knowledge of all our tours as we have cycled all the routes ourselves. 

Besides designing the most beautiful routes, we also hand-pick the accommodation, preferring small scale family run rural hotels above anything else; we organise the transport of your luggage; we rent out bikes and we prepare a detailed (digital or printed) roadbook with turn-by-turn descriptions supported by our navigation App. In sum, we take care of all the logistics so that you can fully enjoy your cycling holidays in Northern Spain.

Last Reviewed: 19 April 2024

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