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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Diaz

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Bilbao, Spain

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Welcome to Bilbao, a captivating city nestled amidst the verdant hills of the Basque region in Spain. This enchanting place seamlessly blends the charms of urban life with the tranquility of the countryside. Situated alongside the shimmering Nervion River, Bilbao is steeped in history and adorned with contemporary structures, Michelin-starred culinary delights, and world-renowned museums. Often underestimated, Bilbao is a hidden gem in Basque Spain, having gracefully transcended its industrial past to blossom into a thriving hub of art and excitement.

In this comprehensive guide, I'll be sharing my top recommendations and insider tips gathered from my extensive travels in Spain. With a treasure trove of knowledge at my disposal, I'm eager to impart it to you. Bilbao mesmerizes visitors with its vibrant architecture, bustling streets, and idyllic natural surroundings, making it an absolute must-visit destination in northern Spain. The city's crowning jewel is the iconic Guggenheim Museum, but its allure extends far beyond that. Prepare to be captivated by modern museums, a delightful old town, expansive parks, and enchanting alleyways just waiting to be explored. To help you plan an unforgettable trip, here are the top things to do in Bilbao.


Getting to Bilbao, Spain


To get to Bilbao, there are several options:


By plane

Bilbao Airport (BIO) is located about 8 km from the city center and is well connected to major cities in Europe and Spain. You can book a direct or connecting flight to Bilbao from several US and worldwide cities.


By train

Bilbao is connected to other major cities in Spain via the high-speed train system, RENFE. Trains arrive at and depart from Abando railway station, located in the city center.


By bus

Long-distance bus services connect Bilbao with other cities in Spain and Europe and arrive at and depart from the city's central bus station, Termibus.


By car

Bilbao is accessible by car via the A8 motorway that connects it to other cities in the Basque Country and Spain.


Regardless of how you choose to get to Bilbao, planning your trip in advance is recommended to ensure a smooth and convenient journey.


Things to Do in Bilbao, Spain


Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo is the historic heart of Bilbao and is comprised of seven original streets, earning it the nickname "Siete Calles" (Seven Streets). It is undoubtedly one of the best places to wander in Bilbao, with its captivating colorful architecture and charming, twisting alleyways. The area is also teeming with shops, boutiques, local restaurants, and bars, making it the ideal spot to spend an afternoon immersed in the city's medieval charm. During your exploration of Casco Viejo, you'll encounter some of Bilbao's most famous landmarks, including the Bilbao Cathedral, Plaza Nueva, and the Archaeological Museum. If you want to experience the cultural richness of Bilbao, make sure to visit Casco Viejo, you won't regret it!


Cathedral de Bilbao

The Cathedral de Bilbao, also known as Santiago Cathedral, St. James Cathedral, is located in the heart of Casco Viejo, Bilbao's Old Town. This medieval cathedral, built in the 14th and 15th centuries, is Bilbao's oldest monument and holds great historical significance for the entire Biscay region, making it a must-visit site for any trip to the city. Additionally, it is a stop for pilgrims along the Camino de Santiago, attracting both spiritual seekers and active travelers. A visit to this cathedral is an essential part of experiencing the rich history of Bilbao's Old Town.


Plaza Nueva

Located in the heart of Bilbao's historic Old Town, you'll discover the stunning Plaza Nueva, a Neoclassical architectural square built in 1851. The square is surrounded by arches that lead to arcades filled with dining establishments serving delicious Basque cuisine. Though bustling with activity at all times, Plaza Nueva truly comes alive on Sunday mornings during its bustling market, where antiques, records, and books are traded. People-watching in this vibrant square is a favorite activity of mine while exploring the charming Old Town.


Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is an iconic attraction known for its artistic and architectural excellence. The museum building, designed by Frank Gehry, is recognized instantly by its distinctive curving metal facade and is the most recognizable structure in all of Basque Country. The museum holds an impressive collection of some of the best modern art in Europe, showcasing works by both established and emerging artists.


An insider tip: Head to the riverfront promenade for the best views of the museum exterior. As the museum is a popular attraction in Bilbao, consider purchasing a guided tour with a skip-the-line ticket to avoid long queues. This way, you can immediately enter the museum upon arrival and enjoy its world-famous modern art collection.



Puente de Vizcaya

The Vizcaya Bridge, also known as the Hanging Bridge, is a true work of art and functionality in Bilbao. This iconic bridge is transported using a unique conveyor system that utilizes 36 wheels and a hanging gondola, capable of transporting passengers, vehicles, bikes, and more across the inlet. Constructed in 1893, this bridge is still in operation and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. For a thrilling experience, consider taking a ticket to the upper platform which sits at a height of 45 meters, where you can cross the 160-meter-long wooden platform and feel like you're walking on the clouds (if you're not afraid of heights).


Mercado de la Ribera

Bilbao's Mercado de la Ribera is the epitome of a bustling Spanish market filled with local delicacies. This iconic marketplace is housed in a building from 1929, but it stands on the original site, which dates back to the 14th century. With its 10,000 square meters, it is the largest indoor market in Europe, offering not only fresh ingredients but also dining options, bars, and live music. A visit to La Ribera is a must-do for anyone traveling to Bilbao, providing an unforgettable culinary and cultural experience.


Gran Via & Plaza Moyua

Bilbao's Gran Via is a shopper's paradise, with a diverse range of department stores, luxury brands, fast fashion, and Spanish designers all in one place. The mid-zone of Gran Via boasts Plaza Moyua, a beautifully renovated square from the 1940s that has become a popular gathering spot for locals. With its vibrant gardens, fountains, and trees, Plaza Moyua is the perfect place to take a break from shopping and relax in the heart of Bilbao. Whether you're looking for the latest fashion or just a spot to rest your feet, Plaza Moyua is a must-visit during your trip to Bilbao.


Mount Artxanda

A visit to Mount Artxanda is a must when in Bilbao, offering stunning views of the city surrounded by mountains, creating the illusion of a "hole" known as "the botxo." Since 1915, a funicular has been transporting visitors up and down the mountain for an unforgettable experience. In addition to the lookout, there are gardens to explore and restaurants to dine at, making it a perfect getaway from the city. A tip for those visiting: take the funicular in the late afternoon to witness a breathtaking sunset, providing the best way to take in the beauty of Basque Country during your stay in Bilbao.


Where to Eat in Bilbao, Spain

When it comes to dining, Bilbao is a food lover's paradise. With a plethora of top-notch restaurants and pintxos bars, it can be hard to know where to begin. But fear not, these are the must-visit eateries, bars, and markets in Bilbao that are sure to satisfy your taste buds. I would suggest dedicating some time to experience a "txikiteo," a bar crawl of sorts, focusing on pintxos. Put on comfortable walking shoes and embark on a culinary journey, sampling the best of Basque Country's cuisine through a series of small, delicious bites.


Here are some of the most highly recommended restaurants and pintxos bars in Bilbao:


Casa Rufo

Visit Casa Rufo for one reason: Steak. Out of Bilbao's many steakhouses, this one stands out for its amazing steak. Don't expect a trendy or fancy atmosphere, but rather a simple, family-run restaurant located behind a deli. With over 100 years of history, Casa Rufo serves steak like no other. Opt for the rib-eye for the ultimate steak experience, and finish with a selection of delicious local desserts. Book ahead as this place is highly sought after.


Cafe Iruña

Experience Bilbao's rich heritage at Café Iruña, a renowned Pintxos bar since 1903. The Belle Époque interior sets the tone for a delicious dining experience. Indulge in the mouth-watering Moorish kebabs, perfectly spiced and full of flavor. But don't stop there. The menu offers a variety of traditional tapas, expertly crafted using centuries-old recipes. Take a seat, order some food, and savor every bite.


La Viña del Ensanche

La Viña del Ensanche is a renowned and beloved restaurant in Bilbao, run by the founding family's third generation. This age-old institution remains a constant favorite despite the city's changing landscape. The restaurant's specialty, Jamon Iberico, lives up to its reputation as one of the best. Reserve a table in advance, but even if you don't, the friendly staff will make every effort to accommodate you at the bar.


Victor Montes Jatetxea

Located in the charming Plaza Nueva, Victor Montes serves up some of the best pintxos in Bilbao's old town. The small and lively restaurant has a charming atmosphere, and is often listed as one of the best restaurants in Bilbao's Casco Viejo. You'll find a counter overflowing with fresh pintxos and tables filled with locals and visitors satisfying their cravings.

It's worth noting that these are just a few of the many fantastic dining options in Bilbao. You're sure to find something to suit your taste and budget.


Cafes + Bakeries in Bilbao, Spain


Pastelería Arrese

Located in the city center, Pastelería Arrese is a renowned bakery offering a wide range of traditional pastries, cakes, and bread. They are known for their quality ingredients and delicious treats.


Mamá Framboise

Known for its exquisite pastries and cakes, Mamá Framboise is a boutique bakery that combines French flair with local flavors. They offer a beautiful selection of pastries, macarons, and tarts, perfect for indulging in a sweet treat.


Where to Stay in Bilbao, Spain

Finding a great place to stay is crucial for a memorable vacation, and Bilbao offers a variety of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. From budget-friendly hostels filled with fellow travelers to lavish luxury hotels with spa services and breathtaking views, you'll be able to choose the perfect place to rest your head in Bilbao.


Here's a list of popular hotels in Bilbao, Spain:

Best Time to Visit Bilbao, Spain

Visiting Bilbao between May and September increases the chances of better weather as the climate in the city is known for being cooler, even during Spain's hot seasons. If you went to Bilbao in December, like I did, be prepared for cooler temperatures and the possibility of rain. December is one of the wettest months in Bilbao, with temperatures typically ranging from the mid-40s to mid-50s degrees Fahrenheit (7-14°C). Despite the weather, Bilbao during December has its own charm with festive holiday lights and events, as well as picturesque streets with a seasonal atmosphere. Make sure to pack warm clothing and a waterproof jacket, and enjoy all Bilbao offers during the winter season.

Bilbao is a hidden gem in Spain with a mix of both ancient and contemporary appeal. Despite its breathtaking sea views, fascinating landscapes, and endless supply of pintxos, the city remains relatively tranquil compared to other popular tourist destinations like Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid. With a wealth of fascinating museums, a charming Old Town, and breathtaking scenery, Bilbao is a must-visit city in Spain that should top your travel list.


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I'm Samantha! A photographer and I believe that every picture has a story. As a blogger, I share my travel stories with everyone. I think it's important to document my travels and share my experiences with others. I've been to some amazing places and I've seen some incredible things. I want to share my stories and photos with the world.

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