Best Big Cities in Northern Spain

by | Jun 25, 2017

Sometimes I want to spend my time in small intimate settings when I travel. Other times, I want the big city life. If you are preparing a trip to Spain, keep these big cities in mind. What are the best big cities in Northern Spain? Well, unless you’ve walked the Camino de Santiago, you might not have heard of them. Each one has its own unique identity and provides a traveler with its own unique reason to visit.

The best big cities in Northern Spain along the Camino

  1. León – León is a big city and one that pilgrims reach about 2/3 of the way through the Camino. Leon is a country wide destination for its massive celebration of the Easter holiday, the Semana Santa. The city’s cathedral is massive. Perhaps the best feature of the city is its maze like streets in the old town. Between exploring small squares and unexpected restaurants, sit back and enjoy the many street performances and creative street art. What’s my best advice for visiting León? Wear comfortable shoes, throw your map away, and get lost. Reason to visit: Best city strolls.
    The cathedral in Leon Spain.

    The Cathedral in Leon dominates the town’s skyline. The square surrounding the church is a main meeting point for locals.

  2. Burgos – If you want to visit the most impressive Cathedral in all of Spain, you need to get to Burgos. Yes, I like it better than the Segrada Familia in Barcelona. Burgos like many old cities has a “new” side and an “old” side. The old side is rife with history, restaurants, and large squares. You want to spend your time there. Take a walk along the river and enjoy the parks. While you meander through old town’s twisting streets, I challenge you to figure out just how many street levels the Cathedral sits on. Hop into a restaurant for lunch and enjoy the local specialities like the famous Burgos blood sausage. Trust me….it’s good.  Reason to visit: Coolest Cathedral in Spain.

    The old town in Burgos is filled with beautiful buildings. Walking around through the streets makes for a perfect afternoon.

  3. Logroño – As a border city for the La Rioja region, Logroño defended the province in the past and acts as the center of trade for Rioja wine today. A cafe crawl on Calle de los Portales is a must do experience.  It is common here for a cafe to specialize in a single pintxo which will naturally encourage you to dip into a few restaurants to get some variety. Try the different local wines and find your favorite. Can you taste the difference between the three La Rioja growing areas? You can find La Rioja wine across all of Spain, but there is something extra special about drinking it where it was made. Street music is commonly performed near the main square. Reason to visit: The wine.
    What are the best big cities in Northern Spain? Chances are you haven't heard of them. These cities are on the Camino de Santiago and should be on everyone's next Spanish Itinerary.

    The square in front of the cathedral is home to many cafes that make it perfect for people watching.

  4. Pamplona – Hemingway loved it. Pamplona inspired his book The Sun Also Rises. The world is fascinated by it. The controversial running of the bulls, the festival of San Fermín, is held in Pamplona in July every year. Whatever your views on bull runs may be, keep Pamplona on your bucket list. This proud Navarra city should get more acknowledgement than it does. In my opinion, you should visit Pamplona for the food. Stay in the old town and take daily walks through the streets. Pop into as many cafe/bars as you can and eat Michelin quality pintxos. Your taste buds will thank you for opportunity to experience these affordable treats, and your wallet will thank you for not over spending. The city has its own fair share of historical sites too, but to be honest, I still can’t get past the food. Reason to visit: The food.
    Pamplona is one of Spain's best big cities to visit. Don't miss out on this great culinary town.

    This is Cafe Iruna. One of Hemingway’s favorite cafes. Stop in for a coffee and then continue your bar hop to sample great pintxos.

  5. Santiago de Compostela – Santiago is a vibrant city full of parks and shops that has a strong affinity for celtic symbols. You can’t miss the fresh market or a trip to the cathedral. Not to mention that a trip to this city would be incomplete if you didn’t spend an afternoon sitting outside at a cafe people watching. As the end point of the Camino de Santiago, every day new faces arrive to the city overjoyed at reaching their long sought for destination. It is impossible not to catch their excitement and I challenge you not to join in with the merry-making.  Reason to visit: The architecture and celebratory atmosphere.
    Santiago de Compostela is one of the best big cities in Northern Spain.

    The squares that surround the cathedral are constantly booked with festivities for the town. From dance recitals to music performances, Santiago de Compostela always has something on offer to see.

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What are the best big cities in Northern Spain to visit? Most folks wouldn't normally see these great cities unless they were walking the Camino de Santiago. Take a road trip and see them all. These need to be on your next Spanish Itinerary.


Planning on spending more than 90 days in Europe? Check out what you need to know about the Schengen zone before you go.

In the planning phase to walk the Camino de Santiago?  Read about the Ten Things they don’t tell you about the Camino, and my 6 & 3 recap about the Camino. 

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