Bilbao, in Spain’s Basque Country, is an incredibly fun city to visit. What to do in Bilbao Spain? These are the best things to do in Bilbao.
The Spanish city of Bilbao has a nice mix of new and old architecture which makes it very interesting for a city break. Where is Bilbao located? Bilbao is located in northeastern Spain and it is the capital of the Basque Country region.
Bilbao is best known for the Guggenheim Museum, but it also has a beautiful historic city center. In addition, it’s a great place to taste the delicious dishes of Basque cuisine. You can get pinchos on every street corner. Bilbao is also perfect to use as a base to discover other beautiful places in northern Spain. As you can see, it is impossible to get bored during a Bilbao city trip!
What to do in Bilbao Spain?
What to see and what are the best things to do in Bilbao Spain?
There are three cities in the world with a Guggenheim Museum and Bilbao is one of them (the other two are New York and Venice). The Guggenheim Museum is a must-see when you’re visiting Bilbao. The building, designed by famous architect Frank Gehry, is an artwork in itself because of its unusual shapes and materials. Be sure to take a stroll around the museum as well, as you will also come across special works of art, such as the 12-meter-high Puppy by Jeff Koons and the giant metal spider by Louise Bourgeois.
In the museum itself, you can see artworks from the twentieth century, including Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso.
TIP: Skip the line and book a guided tour to learn more about the museum and its artworks.
Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park
The most famous city park in Bilbao is the Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park and it is located roughly between the San Mamés stadium and the Guggenheim Museum. A great place to walk around and unwind. It has several fountains, statues, a pergola, and a beautiful pond.
Take a walk along the river
The river Nervión runs right through Bilbao. Along the river, beautiful hiking paths have been created. It looks like a long boulevard. It is a great place to take a stroll and see the interesting buildings and bridges. There are also benches to sit on for necessary breaks and also many water taps.
Do you like to go for a run during a city trip? The paths along the river are very suitable for running.
Several beautiful bridges can be admired across the river, each in a different style. One of the most beautiful bridges is the Zubizuri Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that crosses the river like a wave. It’s very interesting to cross the river on this bridge.
TIP: Don’t feel like a (long) walk and do you want to see the river with the special bridges? You can also take a boat trip.
Arco del Triunfo de Mallona
Not far from the Archaeological Museum, you will find an extraordinary structure: the Arco del Triunfo de Mallona. This 1830s Tuscan gate looks gorgeous and is surrounded by steps. When you’re walking through the gate, you come to Mallona Park. From here you have a nice view of the city.
Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao
Besides the Guggenheim Museum, there are obviously has more museums in Bilbao. Another museum worth visiting is the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts). Located in Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park, this museum has a very extensive collection, from the twelfth century to contemporary art.
San Mamés stadium
Football is one of the most important sports in Spain, so you will find a large stadium in most Spanish cities. In Bilbao, that’s the impressive San Mamés stadium, home of Athletic Bilbao. Even when there’s no game, you can explore the stadium with a tour and visit the museum.
Funicular de Artxanda
Bilbao is surrounded by mountains, so there are many beautiful viewpoints in the city. You’ll get the best views of Bilbao when you’re taking the funicular de Artxanda cog railway. You can get there when you take the funicular de Artxanda cog railway, which is one of the best attractions in Bilbao.
Teatro Arriaga is one of the most beautiful structures in Bilbao. It’s built in 1890, this opera house is gorgeous to see. If you fancy a cultural night out, it’s definitely worth checking out if there’s a show on during your Bilbao city break.
Eating pinchos in La Ribera Bilbao
I know, when you’re visiting a city in Spain, you want to taste all that delicious food! In Basque Country, you can eat pinchos (pintxo in Basque) everywhere, which is a small snack. In most cases, it looks like a piece of baguette with something delicious skewered onto it. Often it is fish, potato tortilla, or ham.
Want to try different pinchos? Then Mercado de la Ribera is the place to be! This is the largest indoor market hall in Spain. You can buy tasty fresh produce here to take home, but there is also a large food hall with small bars. And every bar sells pinchos, some more delicious than others. Taste it!
Explore Bilbao old town
Casco Viejo is the historic city center of Bilbao and this is where you definitely want to go and take a look around. It is a maze of narrow streets full of historic buildings with beautiful balconies. The streets are bursting with boutique shops and cafes, in addition, there are also beautiful (hidden) squares and churches to be found in this lovely old neighborhood.
One of the must-sees in Casco Viejo is the fifteenth-century Santiago Cathedral. This cathedral was built for Saint James, also known as Santiago. Not surprisingly, the church is located along the famous pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.
Another beautiful place in Casco Vieja is Plaza Nueva, the main square in the district. It was constructed in the early nineteenth century and is surrounded by buildings with stone arches. It’s always fun in the square, especially in the late afternoon. Under the arches, there are lots of bars and cafes, which makes it a nice place for a drink (with a pintxo of course).
Guided bicycle tour
Would you like to learn more about the history of Bilbao and visit the most beautiful places right away? Then it is really recommended to take a tour by bicycle. This is one of the most fun Bilbao activities and it will take you past the most beautiful Bilbao sights. Some are quite far apart, so walking will take you quite a long time, cycling is way faster. In addition, you will learn some interesting facts about the city from an experienced guide. At Baja Bikes you can choose from different guided bike tours, but you can also rent a bike for a day.
A final beautiful sight on this list of what to do in Bilbao is the Begoña Basilica. I myself discovered this church, which is located slightly out of the city center, during my hike on the Camino del Norte and I was very impressed!
The basilica stands a bit on a hill, making it seem even bigger than it already is. It was built in the sixteenth century and has a Gothic style.
Day trips from Bilbao
You can extend your Bilbao vacation by taking a few fun day trips in the city’s beautiful surroundings. These are a few fun places to visit.
San Sebastián is an important city in the Spanish Basque Country and is incredibly beautiful! It is located in a bay and is surrounded by high mountains (with nice viewpoints). There are several fine sandy beaches and the city has a beautiful old center with narrow streets and beautiful churches.
San Sebastián is easily accessible from Bilbao by bus and train. You can also book an organized tour to San Sebastian and other beautiful places in Basque Country.
Read more: 19 fun things to do in San Sebastian
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a small island about 35 north of Bilbao. The island is connected to the land by a bridge and in the middle stands a small hermitage. It is incredibly photogenic, the coast here is quite rugged and the waves crash violently against the rocks. The island has something mysterious about it, so it’s not surprising that it was used as a filming location for the series Game of Thrones.
Gaztelugatxe is about a 40-minute drive from Bilbao and you can also take a bus. You can also book an organized tour to Gaztelugatxe. In addition to the island, you’ll visit the town of Guernica.
A third beautiful place that is great to visit on a day trip from Bilbao is the city of Santander. Santander is located about 100 kilometers from Bilbao and it is also a beautiful Spanish city. It is an incredibly old city (it was already inhabited during the time of the Roman Empire) and has many beautiful sights. Highlights include the impressive Palacio de la Magdalena, the golden sandy beaches, and the many beautiful squares.
Practical Bilbao Tips
What is the best time to travel to Bilbao and how many days do you need to visit the city? A few practical Bilbao tips.
Bilbao is located on the coast and therefore has a humid maritime climate. Yes, it can get very warm, but it can also rain heavily. The north of Spain is so green for a reason. Temperatures are quite mild throughout the year. In the winter months, the average maximum temperature is about 13 degrees, and in the summer 25 degrees Celcius.
The best travel time for Bilbao is spring. In Spring, it’s not too warm and there is less rain than in the fall.
How many days do you need in Bilbao?
One day is too little to really see all the sights, so it is wise to take at least two days to visit the city. A full weekend in Bilbao is a good idea! Be aware that many things are closed on Sundays, such as churches (there are masses, but you can’t visit them as a tourist) and stores. Restaurants and cafes are fortunately always open, as is the Guggenheim Museum.
Where to stay in Bilbao?
Where to stay in Bilbao? There are quite a lot of possibilities. You can choose beautiful apartments, cozy hostels, fine B&Bs, or just a nice hotel. These are some great places to stay in Bilbao:
- Residencia Universitaria San Mamés – A good place for solo travelers. This is a university complex and each room has a small kitchenette. There are several nice common areas. Clean, affordable, and located above Bilbao bus station, right next to the San Mamés Stadium.
- Pension Ama Bilbao – Are you looking for a place in the old town? Then this guest house is the place to be! It has a nice modern decor and you can’t find a place more central.
- Vincci Consulado de Bilbao – This 4* hotel is in a great location: right next to the Guggenheim Museum.
Do you want to discover for yourself what all the options are for your time in Bilbao? Check Booking.com for an overview of all the options.
How to get to Bilbao.
How do you get to Bilbao? Bilbao can be reached by several modes of transportation.
Traveling by plane to Bilbao
Bilbao has an international airport. So the fastest way to travel to Bilbao is probably by airplane. Check out Skyscanner for options and prices.
From the airport, you can take a bus to the city center. However, you can get faster to the city by booking an airport transfer in advance.
Traveling to Bilbao by public transportation
Do you prefer to travel sustainably? You can also travel to Bilbao by train. Depending on where you’re coming from, it might even be faster than by car. For example, you can take a high-speed train from Paris to Hendaye, which is located on the border of France and Spain.
From Hendaye, you can continue your journey to Bilbao by train. You have to change trains in San Sebastián. From the neighboring Spanish city of Irun (just a few minutes walk from Hendaye), you can also take a bus to Bilbao, which is faster than taking the train.
- Check Rail Europe for international train tickets.
- Check Busbud for bus tickets in Spain.
Do you want all the freedom and will you be visiting more places in Spain after Bilbao? If you live in Western Europe, it might be convenient to travel to Bilbao by car. And of course, it’s also possible to rent a car while you’re in Bilbao. Check Rental Cars and Discover Cars for options and prices. Keep in mind that some of the highways around Bilbao are toll roads.
There’s (paid) parking in many places in Bilbao. There are parking spaces on the streets, as well as several parking garages. For example, there are garages at metro stations where you can continue your journey on public transport for a reduced rate. Check out this website for more information on parking in Bilbao.
More tips for Bilbao & Spain
These were my tips for what to do in Bilbao Spain! Do you want to visit Bilbao and would you also like to discover more beautiful places in Spain? These are a few great travel guides:
Lonely Planet Pocket Bilbao & San Sebastian
In addition, you can also find more tips for a vacation in Spain on this website. For example, also read these articles:
- 18 beautiful places to visit in Basque Country Spain
- Hiking the Camino del Norte | The Ultimate Guide – The famous Camino runs straight through Bilbao.
- 18 Best things to do in Pamplona Spain
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