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With over 500 wineries and a wealth of UNESCO heritage, visiting La Rioja reveals an authentic Spanish way of life. It’s pure escapism with the safety blanket of quick access to other popular spots in Spain and the UK. But how to narrow down your choices? Start here, with our three day La Rioja itinerary. From our fabulous team member, Char Taylor.
Visit La Rioja, drink wine and call it a cultural experience
Visiting La Rioja
Imagine an elderly gentleman sat at the side of the street playing chess. A mischievous glint in his eye as he catches your glance. His deep furrows filled with stories from years ago. His warm smile, inviting you to take a photo. That’s La Rioja.
So, are you ready to say hello?
Say hello to UNESCO World Heritage in La Rioja Spain – Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Disclosure: This visit to La Rioja was part of a #VisitLaRioja campaign in conjunction with La Rioja tourism board and Visit Spain as part of a Captivate Digital Media project. As ever, as always, we kept the right to write what we like. Otherwise, what’s the point?! If you book through these links we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!
The La Rioja Itinerary
I’d recommend spending three days in La Rioja and packing them full of different activities.
Day 1 in La Rioja – Haro
Take an early flight and enjoy an afternoon of fun. There are over 500 bodegas (that’s wineries to me and you) in La Rioja. Over 100 of them open their doors to the public, including CVNE.
Did you know there was such a thing as a wine cemetery?!
CVNE and the Wine Cemetery
Head straight from the airport to Bodegas CVNE for a wine tasting session and tour.
As well as beautiful cellars and freshly made bottles of the good stuff, CVNE is home to a wine cemetery. In Latin it means to rest forever, so this is where the best of the best are.
Although they are covered in mould, so you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
Allow a few hours for this experience. Tours and tastings start from €15.
Explore Haro and Dine at Hotel Los Agustinos
Head to Hotel Los Agustinos to check-in. This former convent, military garrison, jail and hospital, is thankfully now a 4-star hotel, proving a good base for the night.
Take a 5-minute stroll to the main square to soak up the charm of Haro, before heading back to get ready for dinner at the hotel in the gorgeous lobby.
Whilst the Castillian lamb gets rave reviews, it’s worth saving space for the gin and cava sorbet dessert.
Recommended reading: The 7 La Rioja Bodegas You Need to Know
See the wineries in La Rioja from a different viewpoint
Day 2 in La Rioja
Wake up early for a magical morning in La Rioja.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Drive 15-minutes to the launch site and then head up in a hot air balloon to see the vineyards from a new perspective.
Rise above the clouds to toast the day from the basket. Bob above the trees, past winding streams and admire the patchwork landscape.
Once you’re safely back on ground, enjoy a typical local breakfast at the headquarters.
Expect to pay €170 with Globos Arcoiris.
La Rioja Itinerary Tip
Book this tour for your first full day to allow for bad weather. If it gets cancelled you’ll have time in your itinerary to try again.
Recommended reading: A Hot Air Balloon Ride in Spain: What Is It Really Like?
Next, drive 15-minutes or so to visit the nearby museum and winery, Vivanco.
Ask any local what their favourite winery is and chances are they’ll proclaim their love for this family-owned institute.
Whether you choose to wander the extensive exhibitions and collections on your own or choose a wine tasting experience with a professional oenologist and sommelier, you’ll be impressed and fully immersed in wine from the moment you arrive. It’s no surprise that it’s one of the top five wine museums in the world.
Entry is from €15.
La Rioja Itinerary Tip
Don’t miss the works about wine from artists such as Picasso and Sorolla.
From here drive 30-minutes to Logroño. Check-in, freshen up at your hotel. Hotel Gran Vía Logroño offers a covenient, chic base.
The Wine Educator
In the evening, join the well-loved Wine Educator (otherwise known as José) for one of his well-loved tours. He’ll take you to the best pinchos bars in town and pair your dishes with some of the most amazing local wines.
“It’s incredible what they’ve done in this region to celebrate our wine.”
José is passionate about what he does and his enthusiasm is contagious. Once you taste the legendary mushrooms in the secret sauce it’s easy to see why he loves coming to work.
Calle Laurel is the place to be. It has been for quite some time, though the reasons have changed over the years. This former red light area is now a safe, charming place to experience incredible homegrown wines and small plates of gastronomic delights.
There are almost 80 different bars here and so, it’s often called the ‘Path of the Elephants’. Legend says those who tried to drink a wine in each bar ended with a good trunk.
Whilst it’s impossible to visit all of them in one evening, the idea is you visit one for their speciality dish and then head to the next one. It’s fun, sociable and a strong part of life for most of the locals.
The Pinchos and Wine Route in La Rioja
Bar Angel for their hugely popular mushrooms in a white wine secret sauce. Expect to pay around €2.50 for
one dish and a glass of wine.
There’s a knack to eating this tower of mushrooms. Remove the bread base from the stick, turn the mushrooms on
their side and place the bread underneath. Wiggle so the sauce falls onto the bread, then turn the mushrooms upright and eat one by one before enjoying the soaked bread. For something so simple, it tastes amazing (and that’s from someone who doesn’t even like mushrooms!).
Bar Sebas for their simple, but incredibly delicious potato tortilla.
Bar El Muro which is as you may suspect, a bar belonging to the local mayor. Here the dishes are pretty and
tasty. Try the generous cheese ball or the meatballs.
Taberna de Correos for their mountain of tempura vegetables and aioli sauce, as well as the chocolate
surprise. A glass of any red here is worth well try here too. Trust me, I tried a few!
Fancy a dip in the wine?!
If you have some space in your itinerary add a day here for relaxing at super stylish hotel, restaurant, spa and winery, Finca de los Arandinos
This small, chic bolthole offers just 14 rooms, each with incredible views.
What’s more, the restaurant serves artistic delights made for Instagram. And yes, the Baileys dessert is as good as it sounds.
Recommended reading: How to Plan a Galicia Road Trip; A Salty Itinerary Through Northern Spain
We’re serious! There really is more to La Rioja than wine…
Day 3 in La Rioja
San Millan de la Cogolla
Drive 40-minutes to the small town of San Millan de la Cogolla. It’s a beautiful place, especially in December when the valley is dressed in shades of amber, but there’s more to it than pretty pictures.
It’s here that phrases in the Spanish and Basque languages were written for the first time. It’s said a monk had put annotations in Spanish and Basque next to a Latin text.
More than one UNESCO World Heritage Site? That’s just greedy…
Yuso (below) is a much larger site, dating back to the 16th century. Make sure you check out the glittering gold altar and the mighty books of Gregorian chant that the monks used to heave up and down the corridors.
Entry costs from €4 for Suso and €7 for Yuso.
Gazing up in Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Next head to nearby Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a town founded as a shelter for pilgrims.
Stop for an indulgent lunch at the grand Parador de Santo Domingo de La Calzada, where you can enjoy wine made at the monastery and local delicacies.
If you opt for kidney, savour it knowing that many families often squabble over who gets to eat the coveted organ!
You’ll also find contemporary dishes such as the tofu and chickpea burger.
Fed and watered, stroll across to Santo Domingo de la Calzada Cathedral. Said to be the only cathedral in the world that keeps live animals, there are lots of other quirks to this impressive cathedral.
- The Playmobil installation that changes every few months.
- The mosaic art depicting the saint as a seed to emphasise the belief that a saint should die to feed the fate of the people.
- And of course, the mesmerizing cloisters.
The Story of The Hen and the Rooster Miracle
A tale of unrequited love. Legend tells of a girl who placed a piece of precious silver into a boy’s luggage and accused him of theft.
Sentenced to death, the boy was hung.
Days later he was found hanging, but still alive. His parents rushed to the Mayor’s house to let him know of the miracle.
He rubbished their claim, citing “That boy is as alive as these two roast chickens we are about to eat” and in an instant the chickens came to life!
And so, that’s why you’ll find live chickens in the cathedral and adorned on many of the walls.
From here it’s a 90-minute drive back to Bilbao airport.
More Time? Try Vinotherapy in a Spa
Got more time to play with? Consider heading to the Balneario Spa Arnedillo
Strip down, get lathered in wine-infused oil before heading into the tub for a soak…with a glass of wine in hand, of course!
Recommended reading: 7 Unusual Things To Do in Spain
How to Get to La Rioja
Fly direct from London Gatwick to Bilbao via British Airways or Vueling, or fly from London Stansted via easyJet. Use Skyscanner to find the best fit for your flights to Bilbao here.
Whilst there are other flights from the UK they’re indirect, so not really worth the hassle.
The flight is just under two hours. From Bilbao, it’s a one-hour drive to La Rioja.
I’d definitely recommend either hiring a car for your trip or booking a taxi, as it’s the fastest way to travel in the region. Check prices and availability to rent a car with Hertz at Bilbao Airport here.
Expect to pay around £90 for a taxi transfer. You can rent a car from as little as £14 per day (depending on when you travel, of course).
Alternatively, you can catch a train from Bilbao to Haro. It should take just under two hours and cost you around £12.
You can also go by bus, from Bilbao to Zambrana to Haro. Allow up to three hours and expect to pay around the same price.
The Best time to Visit La Rioja
If you want to wander the streets, taking photos on your own, then visit during the week when it’s a bit quieter. However, if you prefer a buzzier vibe opt for a long weekend so you can see the locals come out to play.
Similarly, visit in winter if you want to avoid other travellers. I went in early December, when the weather was mild (around 5-10°C) and there seemed to be no other tourists. Come summer, locals spend most evenings in the squares and spilling out from the pinchos bars.
Have you been to La Rioja? Is is somewhere you’d like to visit?
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