Prevention of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) foodborne outbreaks is hampered by its complex epidemiology. We assessed the distribution of virulence genes (VGs), main serogroups/serotypes for public health [haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS)-related], antimicrobial resistance (AMR) profiles and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) patterns in a collection of STEC isolates obtained from cattle hide (n = 149) and faecal (n = 406) samples collected during a national survey conducted in Spain in 2011 and 2013. Isolates were cultured using McConkey and CT-SMAC agar after enrichment, and confirmed as STEC by PCR. STEC prevalence in hides (15·4%) was higher than in faeces (10·7%) and O157:H7 was more frequent in the former (2·7% vs. 0·99%). Non-O157 HUS-related serogroups were present albeit at low frequencies. The non-O157 isolates were more heterogeneous than O157:H7 in their VG patterns, with 25/64 presenting VGs from both STEC and enterotoxigenic pathotypes (hybrid isolates). Of the STEC isolates, 62·5% were resistant at least to one antimicrobial, and no differences in AMR between O157:H7 and non-O157 were detected. All isolates had different profiles by PFGE and did not form a cluster. Overall, our results demonstrated that STEC in the cattle reservoir is still a matter of concern for human health due to the presence of HUS-related serogroups, the occurrence of certain VGs, AMR and the additional risks that hybrid isolates may pose, and thus warrants further investigation.