Bilbao is a city in Spain, surrounded by amazing green mountains and in a chilled out environment. Unlike other major Spanish cities, Bilbao is much quieter, though it is still a very vibrant city in terms of culture and tourist attractions. The city is the capital of the Baroque area of Spain and has such amazing things to do and experiences. In Bilbao, there’s plenty of superb food, art and breathtaking scenery specially for Games of Thrones fans. The good news is that Rioja, Spain’s most prestigious wine region, is only one hour away from Bilbao!
Here are interesting 10 things to do in the beautiful Bilbao!
- Guggenheim Museum
- Explore Casco Viejo
- Plaza Nueva
- The Arriaga Theatre
- Catedral de Santiago
- Relax at the Doña Casilda de Iturrizar Park
- Visit the Marítimo Ría de Bilbao Museum
- De la Ribera Market
- Visit the Gaztelugatxe
- Eating in Bilbao
- Shop at El Ensanche
- Wine tours from Bilbao, Spain
The Guggenheim Museum is probably the first thing that you will notice when you get to the city. It is an amazing piece of art in itself and one of the most visited places in the city! Frank Gehry is the man behind the spectacular design of the museum which was constructed in 1993 and opened its doors in 1997. Get an amazing view of some of the most spectacular paintings lining the walls illuminated by light let in by massive windows. There are many other collections showcased in tens of galleries around the museum. Do not forget to take a photo with Puppy, the dog made of flowers by Jeff Koons.
Explore Casco Viejo
The Casco Viejo or Old Town comprises the quaint and totally original seven streets that were the medieval town itself. Nowadays, It’s one of the things to do in Bilbao if you wanna see a little slice of old Bilbao and experience the historic Basque buildings.
After a little stroll, if you are feeling a little hungry, then pop into one of the cute taverns for a mound of pintxos. They’re a little like tapas but more bready.
In the middle of Casco Viejo is the Plaza Nueva, a site with a great and amazing history. The square has a neocolonial feel and was built in 1821. It has arches that act as an entrance to arched buildings. The Biscay Government was housed here but when the palace was built at the end of the 19th century, the plaza became the home to the Basque Language Royal Academy among other offices. Now, you can have access to restaurants, bars, and shops where you can buy souvenirs, and of course, take good photos!
The Arriaga Theatre
The Arriaga Theatre is located next to a bridge that links the Casco Viejo to the Ensanche Neighbourhood. It is the oldest theatre in the city and named after the local composer Juan Crisostomo Arriaga who died at the age of 19 and has been named as the ‘Spanish Mozart.’
Even to this day, it still retains its original 19th century furniture and fittings, making you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. It is still in use today so you really should go and see some local culture.
Catedral de Santiago
If there is something very outstanding about Europe, it has to be the spectacular churches! In every city that you visit, there have to be one or a few churches whose designs ad beauty will blow your mind. The Catedral de Santiago is in the middle of the Old Town part of the city so one cannot miss it. It was built in the 19th century in the Neo-Gothic Style to replace the church that was destroyed by fire and was built in the 16th century. The interiors of the church are spectacular, with arches, vaulted ceilings and the design incorporates the original 16th Century shrine so it has an amazing history!
Relax at the Doña Casilda de Iturrizar Park
This is set in a very serene environment, complete with palm trees and a small lake and walkways is a perfect way to catch a break from the busyness of the city! Take a walk, enjoy nature, have a picnic, read a book, and take some good photographs in this amazing park! You can also feed ducks at the lake, enjoy some rowing, enjoy music, merry go round, and a whole lot more. If you have children, this will be the perfect place to take them to run around!
Visit the Marítimo Ría de Bilbao Museum
This is a very unique museum! Not like most other museums. First, it showcases maritime items collected over the years, secondly, its placement, and construction is conspicuously unique, as it is in a former shipyard. It has outdoor exhibitions of restored ships and an indoor exhibition mostly full of history of the maritime activity in the area, and the people whose jobs involved maritime activity! Very interesting!
De la Ribera Market
One of the best ways to enjoy a place is to visit its markets. It gives you a chance to mingle with the locals and savor local cuisines as well as pick a souvenir or two out of the usual ‘touristy’ places! This market is very beautiful, and is the biggest indoor marketplace in the whole of Europe, covering 10, 000 square meters! Wow! Merchants and stalls sell many kinds of things for one to choose from and are also decorated very well.
Visit the Gaztelugatxe
Some sun and sand are very important. If you fancy a road trip, the Gaztelugatxe is a short distance from the city of Bilbao. The island dates back to the 9th century and is accessible by a brick bridge; which in itself is accessible by stairs- not very many of them, just about a hundred. A few things stand out about the island; people ring a bell and make a wish three times once on the island, and some scenes from the famous Game of Thrones were shot here! The Bay of Biscay is simply spectacular.
Eating in Bilbao
You have to try local food in every place you visit. It is part of the adventure, and in Bilbao, some restaurants and foods stand out! The city’s pintxo bars are amazing. You will find bread topped with chorizos, ham, cheese, and anchovies; explore restaurants which serve Basque-style food, a true reflection of Bilbao, you must try seafood like cod, and also try some cake and tart famously known as pastel Vasco at Pasteleria Don Manuel and many other joints across the city! Soma wine is also a great plan; and all restaurants have great wine! Enjoy!
Shop at El Ensanche
There is a lot to do in Bilbao, food, great cathedrals, parks, museums and many more. Now, you get to finish your trip with a shopping spree. The El Ensanche area Bilbao has all the restaurants and shopping areas you will want. You will be able to take a stroll on the streets, catch a drink, and just enjoy Bilbao without very much pressure. You do not even need a car to move around. A very beautiful place indeed.
Wine tours from Bilbao, Spain
Bilbao in Spain is located just 1 hour from Rioja, one of Spain’s main wine regions. While you visit Bilbao you will notice that in all its bars and taverns Rioja wine is served. The connection between Bilbao and Rioja dates back to the time in which wine from the Rioja wine region was being shipped to Europe from the harbor in Bilbao. Many wineries in Rioja were financed by people from Bilbao and some of the names of wineries in Rioja illustrate this deep relationship.
Is Bilbao worth visiting?
Bilbao is a good place to visit as a couple, but it can also be a fantastic city to visit with friends, given its variety of bars and lively nightlife, or as a family, with plenty of kid-friendly attractions. There’s something for everyone here, including beaches and hiking just a 30-minute train ride away.
How many days do you need in Bilbao?
Bilbao is a relatively small city, so two nights is plenty of time to explore. The city thrives on tourism, so there are a wide range of options when it comes to accommodation – and the city has a solution for every budget. The narrow streets of the Casco Viejo (Old Town) are the most popular and touristy area.
Why is Bilbao famous for?
Bilbao is the one of the most important ports in Spain. Beginning in the 1870s, Bilbao experienced rapid industrialization based on the export of iron ore and the development of the iron and steel and shipbuilding industries.
Planning a trip to Bilbao: itinary tips
There is an airport in Bilbao, but it is very small with only one terminal. If traveling from the United States, you will connect via Barcelona or another major airport in Europe before landing in Bilbao.
I traveled to Bilbao from Zaventem, in Brussels, Belgium. It took about 1 hour and 40 minutes to fly to Bilbao. From the airport it then takes around 15 minutes to get to the city center by taxi, and the ride will cost you around 25 euros.
If you feel like taking public transport, the bus from the airport to Bilbao is a much cheaper alternative. It will take you to the city between 6 am and midnight for only 3 euros. (Bus A3247 bus).
Bilbao is a relatively flat city, historically built around the Nervion river. It’s pleasant and easy to wander around and explore the city on foot. You will love to know that the city is fairly compact, and getting from one attraction to another is quick and easy!
Bilbao does have a metro system (buses and trains), and they are handy when you have to venture outside the city centre to explore beaches in and around Bilbao. Or go hiking. You can also connect to other Spanish cities from here as well.
Renting a bike is a great way to explore outside the city! And chances are that your hotel will rent out some – but if not, you can hire some easily from Urban Bikes, which costs around 15 euros per bike per day.
Best time to visit Bilbao: Bilbao remains warm and crowded during the peak season. If you are planning a trip, we recommend visiting at the tail end of summer like August and September. August is a good time to visit for festivals too. During these months, the temperatures are mild, and pleasant so you can wander and go hiking or sightseeing without any issues.
Where to stay in Bilbao for a weekend?
If you’re spending a weekend in Bilbao, you’ll need somewhere lovely to stay. Bilbao is a relatively small city, so two nights is plenty of time to explore.
The city thrives on tourism, so there are a wide range of options when it comes to accommodation – and the city has a solution for every budget.
The narrow streets of the Casco Viejo (Old Town) are the most popular and touristy area. It is home to old romantic buildings, beautiful churches, the Catedral de Santiago de Bilbao or Santiago Cathedral, and many restaurants and bars.
Right across the river is the Bilbao la Vieja. The most central part of the city is the Abando. The top sight in Abando is the Guggenheim Museum.
The barrio of San Francisco lies just south of Abando, and is the city’s red light district. For your first trip, I recommend skipping this neighborhood.
Where to find delicious food in Bilbao?
Pintxos are the Basque Country’s answer to tapas. The word pintxos originated from the word pincho, which is Spanish for a wooden picker. A variety of small plates and delicacies are offered, which can be picked up on the pincho, accompanied by fresh bread.
Highly recommend hopping to various pintxos bars to enjoy their culinary delights during a weekend in Bilbao.
Some of our favourite places to eat in Bilbao include:
– Brass – they serve a delicious breakfast
– Bistro (near the Guggenheim) – their menu is great and reasonably priced
– Restaurante Marisqueria Mazarredo – a delicious seafood restaurant
– La Batea Mejilloneras – a typical traditional Spanish restaurant
– La Despensa del Etxanobe – if you’re seeking a more refined menu
– El Puerto – the best oysters in the city!
– La Viña del Ensanche – one of Bilbao’s best eating spots with typical dishes
– Mapa Verde – the best option for vegan and vegetarian food in San Sebastian, with a surprising and fairly priced menu
– KM.O Bar Restaurante Vegano Vegetariano – authentic pintxos, and a daily vegan menu served for only 14 euros
Still got room for dessert? Drop by Adelia Iváñes, a family business that has been serving delicious ice cream since 1850. Sample one of the many different nougat flavours – during summer months, you can choose between over 50 different options!
Where to shop in Bilbao?
If you’re a fan of some retail therapy, there are plenty of options in Bilbao. The main shopping areas are located at the Plaza Moyúa, the Gran Vía and Casa Viejo.
The Plaza Moyúa is a good place to find high-end brands – or you can find whatever you’re looking for in one of the many large boutique shops along the Gran Vía.
Casa Viejo is a shopping district in the heart of Old Bilbao. It is also known as the ‘seven streets’, and it’s definitely the best part of the center to find a unique outfit or collect some original souvenirs.
While wandering around the area, you’re sure to stumble across the most beautiful old buildings in vibrant colours.
What to buy in Bilbao?
With stunning architecture, and a vintage, yet classy vibes you must buy a souvenir or two to relive those memories.
– Txikito glass: Txikito glasses are a great little souvenir item to take back home. They are small glasses, and are handcrafted in the Basque Country area. You can buy one to display as a souvenir or buy a pack to share drinks with friends at home!
– Sports Jersey: If you love football, buy yourself a nice red and white jersey of the best, unique and most authentic club in the world (or related memorabilia).
-Txapela: Txapela are berets that are made of merino wool. They are mostly used in the rural areas.
You can also buy cheese (Idiazabal Cheese) and Patxaran (strong liquor) to take back home
Where to find the best city views in Bilbao?
f you love city views like me, you must get ready with cameras here in Bilbao.
When in Bilbao, ensure you get some beautiful photographs of the cityscape. Artxanda’s Cable Car brings you to Mount Artxanda, which is the most stunning viewpoint over the city.
The cable car is within walking distance of the Guggenheim museum. It’s open every day from 7am to 10 pm, and runs up every 15 minutes. The ride will cost you just under 4 euros – definitely worth it for the gorgeous views.