Now, if San Sebastian is one of the prettiest cities in the Basque Country, Hodarribia (Fuenterrabía in Spanish) has to be up there as one of the prettiest towns!
Set on the French-Spanish border, it’s a town with plenty of history which is evident as you walk through its charming streets.
With the River Bidasoa, the beach, the mountains and a gastronomy scene to rival San Sebastian, this small Medieval town packs a punch! It makes it a perfect day trip from Donostia or an unmissable stop on a tour of the Basque Country.
In this article, we’ll run through the top reasons as to why you should make the effort to visit.
Things to do in Hondarribia
Whether you’re staying in Hondarribia for a while, or visiting for a few hours, you can’t miss out on the recommendations below.
The good news is, Hondarribia is a small town and it’s easy to walk around all the main sites in an afternoon.
1. Explore the Old Town within the fortified walls
However you get to Hondarribia, I’d recommend that you start from the south side of the town (close to the Santa María Gate). The good news is, if you get the bus from San Sebastian, there’s a stop right outside.
From here, you get a first glimpse of the well-preserved fortified walls which have protected the Old Town of Hondarribia for centuries.
Initially, it’s worth heading west on Calle Harresilanda, where you get a greater view of the magnitude of the walls and their impressive structure.
Once you’ve got a grasp of the size of the walls, head back to the main Santa María Gate where you’re presented with the original Medieval entrance that first greeted visitors to Hondarribia.
From the main entrance, you can then head up Calle Nagusia. This “main” street is one of the oldest in the town and home to some of the most beautiful and original buildings in Hondarribia.
It’s worth getting lost in the charming cobbled streets to admire some of the old wooden balconies and delightful Baroque structures. Or you can discover the points of interest in the Old Town here.
2. Take in the views from Plaza de Armas & The Castle of Charles V
Calle Nagusia (Main Street) comes to an end at the top of the hill at the Plaza de Armas (Weapons Square), which is convenient as it’s our next recommendation on the list!
The Plaza de Armas has a privileged location in Hondarribia. One of the highest points in the centre of town, it has impressive views over the River Bidasoa, the French town of Hendaye and the Txingudi Bay.
But whilst there’s plenty to look at beyond the square, there’s also plenty to admire in it. In fact it’s one of my favourite spots in Hondarribia for a number of reasons!
The old castle known as “Castle of Charles V” dates back to the 10th century and is one of the most impressive buildings in the town. It has a long history, having served as a barracks, but also a palace for the Spanish Royal Family.
Today, it’s one of the best hotels in Hondarribia (Parador Hotel), but you can still enter and get a close up view of this historic building.
On the outskirts of the square are also some of the more beautifully decorated houses in the town. The bright coloured balconies are typical in Hondarribia and there are probably no better examples than those bordering the Plaza de Armas.
3. Wander through the Marina Neighbourhood
Once you’ve had enough of the Old Town, head down to the Marina Neighbourhood. It’s located between the Old Town and the water and where the town’s fishermen used to live.
Here you’ll find more examples of the beautiful Basque style homes that characterise Hondarribia, with colourful balconies and windows. It really is the typical postcard setting!
But the main attraction of this neighbourhood has to be Calle San Pedro.
This pedestrianised street is packed full of bars and restaurants. On a nice day, the street is buzzing as tourists and locals enjoy the large terraces for an aperitivo (aperitif) or a meal from one of the excellent restaurants.
It’s the perfect place for a pit-stop or a bit of lunch before continuing on with the rest of the town’s attractions.
4. Take in the views from the Paseo de Butrón
If you did stop for a bite to eat in the Marina Neighbourhood, then you’re going to want to walk that food down. And there’s no better place to do so than the Paseo de Butrón.
The path hugs the River Bidasoa from Parking Benta in the Marina Neighbourhood, pretty much down to the beach.
It’s a pleasant pedestrianised path, with views over the River Bidasoa, Hendaye town and Txingudi Bay. A hit with dog walkers, young families and cuadrillas (groups of friends) that sit on the wall chatting, it’s a place for everyone.
It’s worth continuing the path to the port of Hondarribia where you can watch some of the small fishing boats coming and going out of the port.
5. Relax on the beach
After all the exploring and walking, you deserve a little bit of relaxation time! This is where the beach of Hondarria comes in.
With 800m of golden sand, the beach is big enough for the 15,000 or so people who live in Hondarribia plus all the tourists.
The Bay of Hondarribia and the port wall further down the headland protect this beach. Meaning that even on days when there’s big waves on other beaches nearby, the water at Hondarribia beach is usually calm and tranquil.
The beach also has all the amenities you’d need such as showers, changing rooms, bathrooms and lifeguards, making it a popular spot for families.
If you’re not much of a sun bather, close to the beach you can walk down the promenade that stretches way into the Bay of Hondarribia. Here you’re treated to some of the finest views of the French territory on the other side of the estuary.
How to get to Hondarribia
Despite being on the border with France, Hondarribia is tucked away in the far northern corner of Spain.
This means the local trains don’t reach the town, but there are plenty of other ways to get here.
The easiest public transport route to Hondarribia is by bus.
Whilst there isn’t a main bus station in the town, there are plenty of stops along the route where you can get off and explore the areas you want.
If you’re travelling from San Sebastian, you’ll want to take the E20 or E21 that leave from Plaza Gipuzkoa. The E-21 is a little quicker (taking 30 minutes) with a quick stop off at San Sebastian Airport. The E-20 takes 45 minutes stopping off at more towns on the way, but it also runs more frequently.
If you have access to a car whilst in the Basque Country, then travelling to Hondarribia by car is a good option.
The town is located just off the AP-8 (which becomes the A-63 on the French side of the border). From San Sebastian, the journey will take just under 30 minutes via. this route (it is a toll road). If you want to avoid any tolls, you can take the GI-636 which takes a few minutes extra but is toll-free.
By boat taxi
If you’re coming to Hondarribia from France, or you want to cover off both Hondarribia and Hendaye in one day, then there’s a great little ferry line that will take you across the border between the two towns.
It leaves Hondarribia every 15 minutes and takes around 7 minutes to reach Hendaye. There’s even space for bicycles and dogs.
It’s a great way to avoid any road traffic on the border, with the added bonus of some fantastic views of Hondarribia, Hendaye and Irún. You can find out more information here.
It may be called San Sebastian Airport, but it’s actually closer to Hondarribia.
If you’re travelling from further afield and have the option to travel to San Sebastian Airport (there are limited national flights leaving from here), then it’s a great, easy way to get to Hondarribia without having to travel from Bilbao Airport to San Sebastian.
The E21 bus connects the airport with both Hondarribia and San Sebastian, making it easy to get to either when you’ve landed.