The beautiful beach town of Zarautz, Spain is well worth a visit when you are in the Basque Country. There are a lot of fun things to do in Zarautz, but most of all, it’s packed with great restaurants and stunning beaches.
Zarautz is located about 85km or 52 miles from Bilbao and about 20km or 12 miles from the popular beach town of San Sebastian.
While you may be thinking about visiting Zarautz simply for its beaches and good hotel prices, you should also know that this little Basque town has over 1200 years’ worth of history to learn about. So there are plenty of Zarautz attractions which we’ll explore in this article.
Getting to Zarautz
The closest major airport to Zarautz is the Bilbao airport. You can fly here from hubs all over Europe. If you are coming from the US or other further afield locations, you’ll have to fly into Madrid Airport or perhaps London Heathrow, and then take a smaller flight with someone like Vueling to get yourself to Bilbao.
From Bilbao, you can take a bus directly to Zarautz. The bus from the Bilbao bus station to Zarautz takes just over an hour.
Alternatively, Zarautz is quite a bit closer to the San Sebastian Airport, but you can only fly here from Madrid. If you are coming from Madrid Airport anyway, then this is a great option.
From here, you’ll need to either hire a car or get yourself to San Sebastian and then take a bus to Zarautz. The bus from San Sebastian to Zarautz takes about 30 minutes.
Where to Stay in Zarautz
If you are coming during the summer months, which is the best time of year to enjoy this summer paradise, then be sure to book your hotels well in advance. There are a lot of options, and you’ll likely always be able to find at least one place last minute, you may be left with a very expensive option or a very shabby option.
Here are our top choices of budget, mid-range, and luxury hotels in Zarautz.
- Hotel Zarauz: This is a fantastic budget-friendly option in Zarautz. I stayed in this hotel when I was walking part of the Camino del Norte. It has summer rates at under €60 per night for smaller rooms. The rooms are incredibly clean, the staff is friendly, and it’s only two blocks from the beach. Book a stay at Hotel Zarauz here.
- Pensión Txiki Polit: This is the best budget option available in Zarautz with rooms under €40 per night. It is a cute pension or B&B-style hotel right in the heart of the old town. You can walk to all of the best restaurants and cafes nearby and get to the beach easily as well. Book a stay at Pensión Txiki Polit here.
- Hotel Berazadi Berri: If you are staying in Zarautz with a rental car, then this is definitely one of the best places to stay in the area. It’s located just on the edges of town up in the hills with insane views over the coastline from each room. The hotel is thoughtfully decorated with luxurious touches in the bathrooms and bedroom areas in particular. Soak in the tub while looking out at the Bay of Biscay then enjoy traditional Basque food at the hotel’s restaurant. Rooms start at €120 in the low season, but nearly double as you get into the middle of the summer, so book well in advance. Book a stay at Hotel Berazadi Berri here.
Top Things to Do in Zarautz
While you’re in Zarautz and indeed this whole beautiful region of Basque Country, don’t miss out on these fun things to do.
1. Walk the Longest Beach in Basque Country
The main reason people vacation to Zarautz is for the beach. It is the number one thing to do in Zarautz and is likely where you will spend the majority of your time while you’re in town.
Zarautz Beach is perhaps best known as being the longest beach along the Basque Country coast. At a whopping 2.5 km (1.55 miles), you can really get a good workout in if you want to walk from one end to the other and back again!
The beach has been called the Queen of the Beaches by locals and has attracted famous visitors like Queen Isabella II of Spain. She loved Zarautz so much, it was her summer getaway destination during her reign.
The beauty of such a long beach means that no matter how busy it gets, and in August it certainly gets busy, you will always find a place where you can lay a blanket or some chairs and enjoy a slice of this golden sand beach.
2. Santa María la Real Parroquia
The Parish Church of Santa Maria La Real is a Gothic-style church that was originally built at the end of the 15th century. When you head inside, be sure to take a look at the large Baroque altarpiece.
It was built by brothers Andres and Juan de Araoz in 1560 and has been lovingly preserved for centuries here in Zarautz.
3. Zarauz Tower
Right next to the Parish Church of Santa Maria La Real is the Zarauz Tower. There are a lot of reasons to visit the inside of this tower. One of them is that it houses the Museum of Art and History of Zarautz.
Inside, you can enjoy some beautiful art pieces from local and other Basque artists which change somewhat regularly. You can also learn about the history of this city dating back to when this tower was first built in the 15th century.
It was originally built as part of the Palacio de Narros and for a short time served as the city council building.
4. Take a Historical Monuments Tour
A history-focused tour like this may not be for everyone, but if you want to get to know more about this city and its beautiful history, this tour is one of the best things in Zarautz.
You’ll wander past the perfectly preserved brick-fronted Casa Makatza and learn about why this building looks so different from the others built at this time. You will get to know more about the Santa Maria La Real, the Zarauz Tower, Villa Munda, and Palacio de Narros to name just a few.
The tour meets in July and August in front of the Parish Church of Santa Maria La Real at 11:30 am. It only meets on Tuesdays and Saturdays and it costs €2.50. Be sure to have some change to pay for the tour.
You can see more information about this tour, which is run by the city tourism office, on their website here.
5. Villa Munda
Because Queen Isabella II would spend her summers here, Zarautz became a bourgeoisie enclave in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wealthy families from around Spain began building mansions here where they could summer and Villa Munda was one of those summer homes.
Villa Munda was built by Pedro González de Velasco from Segovia. It was later acquired by the Marquis of Linares and passed through the family for several generations.
It is now home to the Conservatory and Municipal Academy of Music of Zarauz and while you can’t explore the inside like a museum, you can learn more about it on the Historical Monuments tour mentioned above.
6. Walk to Getaria
If you have time to explore more of this coastline, I recommend taking a day trip to Getaria.
Getaria is a tiny little peninsula with a gorgeous village feel and a beautiful beach. You can walk here from Zarautz in about 30 minutes along a coastal path.
The coastal path runs along the main highway, so it can be a little bit noisy if you are making the walk on the weekend, but if you head out early enough, you can enjoy the sound of the sea rather than the sound of revving engines going past.
It is a perfectly safe boardwalk that runs the entire distance between the two towns and is a nice scenic way to get between them. Alternatively, you can hop on a local bus or grab a taxi.
I don’t recommend driving to Getaria because there isn’t very much parking here and if you want to spend the day at the beach, walking or taking public transportation will save you a lot of money in parking fees.
Spend some time exploring this beautiful village. Afar magazine named it the World’s Most Perfect Village, so it certainly deserves at least a day of your itinerary.
7. Climb Mount Talaimendi
To the eastern side of Zarautz Beach there is a path that leads you into the dunes and up to the top of Mount Talaimendi.
I recommend wearing hiking sandals like Tevas or Merrells. Sneakers will get full of sand and flip-flops aren’t sturdy enough. The sand thins out and you’ll want something on your feet, I don’t recommend doing it barefoot.
The views from the top allow you to get incredible views back over the coastline as well as the protected dunes and estuary below you.
The top of the mount used to be the watchpoint for whale hunting. Now it’s the place to come to enjoy views back over the town as well as the little string of rocky islands known as Mollarri.
The climb to the top only takes about 15 minutes, but there are a few trails on the hill that you can follow. Just be sure to pay attention to any signs to stay on the path, some of the land up here is private.
8. Take a Surf Lesson
The waters of Zarautz are great for learning to surf. The waves are long and low and if you want to get started. It’s one of the most fun things to do in Zarautz.
Get started with lessons from one of these local companies. Some have websites only in Spanish or Basque, others have websites that you can switch to English. Most schools have at least one instructor who can speak English (or try taking your lesson in Spanish!).
9. Palacio de Narros
Palacio de Narros is one of the most important palaces in Zarautz because it was the summer home of Queen Isabella II when she visited Zarautz. It is a Renaissance palace that was built in the 16th century and today houses some very important works by Spanish artist Diego Velázquez.
Unfortunately, you cannot currently go inside the palace, but you can walk around the grounds. It has a stunning location right along the coastline and an English-style garden to explore. You can learn more about it on the Historical Monuments Tour mentioned in number four.
10. Plaza de la Música
Enjoy one of the most beautiful plazas in Zarautz, Plaza de la Música. At the center of the plaza is a large kiosk where, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to enjoy some live music, hence the name of the plaza.
If not, simply grab a chair at one of the cafes or bars that line the plaza and sit in the sunshine to people-watch. Otamendi has great pintxos and a nice wine selection with plenty of chairs facing the plaza.
11. Ermita de Santa Barbara
Up in the hills to the west of town is the Hermitage of Santa Barbara. You can hike up here along the road, which is part of the Camino del Norte, so well sign-posted. Or you can drive up here in a rental car (check out our guide to driving in Spain if it’s your first time!).
The hermitage dates back to the 18th century and is a peaceful place to spend some time. You can explore the grounds, but most of all, you can enjoy the views.
The hike will wind through vineyards and small farms, so those who want to see more of the Basque countryside should not forget to pack a pair of sneakers. The path is mostly paved, so hiking shoes are unnecessary.
12. Take a Cycling Tour
Cycling is one of the most common things to do in Zarautz and indeed in this whole mountainous region of the Basque Country. You will spot cyclists along the path between Zarautz and Getaria and if you get up in to the hills yourself, you’ll see a lot of cycling trail signs as well.
If you love cycling, this is a dream of a vacation spot for you in Spain. You can simply hire some bikes or pack your own and then go into the local visitors center and ask about the trails.
There are maps that you can purchase or you can get them on AllTrails, an app that allows you to download the maps onto your phone and track your trip using GPS (because you’ll definitely lose signal on those mountain trails).
If you are newer to cycling or mountain biking or you want to explore with a local guide, consider taking a biking tour of the coastal region. You can cover a lot more ground on a bike than you can on foot and local guides can take you to trails that may not make your tourist maps.
This road cycling tour will take you along some of the Tour de France trails in the Basque Country. You’ll ride through vineyards and small villages along the coast all with a knowledgeable guide.
They can meet you with bicycles and helmets in San Sebastian. The price varies depending on how many people are in your group, it is a private tour. Book that cycling tour here.
13. Visit Local Txakoli Wineries
Txakoli is a local wine made in the Basque Country that you will spot all over Zarautz, Bilbao, San Sebastian, and everywhere in between.
It is a very dry, slightly sparkling white wine. It is drunk within one year of bottling, so it is a very young wine. It is usually poured from a height (much like cider in Asturias) to give it plenty of bubbles as you drink it.
There are quite a few Txakoli wineries around Getaria and Zarautz that you can visit on your own or on a tour.
You can book individual tours of the wineries here. You’ll have to self-drive if you do it this way, so be sure to have a designated driver on hand.
Alternatively, you can take a tour which includes a driver and tour guide who will take you to a few different wineries in the area and usually includes lunch as well.
This private tour stops at two wineries and a stop at Getaria to explore the town as well. The tour usually starts in San Sebastian, but it includes a stop in Zarautz, so speak to the tour company about being picked up and dropped off in Zarautz. Book that tour here.
This is a group tour that starts in San Sebastian (but again, includes a stop in Zarautz, so contact the company about pickup), so it is a little bit cheaper than the private tour. You will spend your time at a single winery on this trip learning from the owners and operators exactly how Txakoli has been made for generations. Snacks are included as well as a tasting of the different Txakoli that they make. Book that tour here.
14. Zarautz Market
Located in the center of the old town, this is something of a hub in Zarautz. It’s not a large market, but you’ll find everything you need here to self-cater if you are staying in an apartment while in Zarautz.
It’s also just a nice place to explore. Basque Country markets are some of my favorites in all of Spain with plenty of prepared foods to purchase and take with you to the beach. There are also plenty of raw ingredients like fresh fish, meat, and bread to bring home and cook up yourself.
15. Explore the Cuisine of Zarautz
Speaking of food, one of the best things to do in Zarautz and indeed all of the Basque Country, is to eat.
Whether it’s little pintxos at a local bar, plates of seafood, or enormous combinados at local restaurants, there are so many delicious food traditions in this region of Spain.
These are some of my favorite places to eat in Zarautz.
- Bar Txaltxa: A great no-frills little local spot with a few pintxos in the early evening and huge plates of well-cooked meats for late dinners.
- Napar Berri: A nice selection of Spanish tortillas (thick omelets) as well as other pintxos. I particularly loved the croquetas here.
- Taberna Euskalduna: I ate here twice on my recent trip to Zarautz and absolutely love their made-to-order pintxos and raciones (full-sized plates of tapas). This is some of the best food in town and service is exceptional.
- Taberna Naparrak: A great pintxos spot for snacks and cold beers or glasses of Txakoli.