Bilbao does probably not come to mind when asked to list five Spanish cities quickly. The city is the 10th largest city of Spain and it is becoming an increasingly popular place to visit. A visit to the Guggenheim Museum is one of the most well known things to do in Bilbao. The city has more to offer than the Guggenheim only, though: The old city center is a great place with a nice vibe, the architecture is fabulous and don’t even get me started on the food! Bilbao is a great destination when you’re in Basque Country. In this article we listed what to do in Bilbao.
Information about Bilbao
For your trip to Bilbao it’s a good idea to know a little more information about the city. Bilbao is the largest city in the autonomous region Basque Country and the capital of the Biscay province. During your stay you’ll notice that a lot of people speak Basque to each other instead of Spanish. Don’t worry though, with a little bit of Spanish and English you’ll get your way around.
Back when I was a kid I remember Basque Country always being in the news. Always negatively because of the ETA, the Basque independence movement. Luckily a lot has changed: The ETA has disappeared together with the threat of something bad happening. Tourism is growing steadily but slowly. This is mainly because of the Guggenheim Museum that was built in 1997, replacing the city’s old shipyard.
Top places of interest in Bilbao
Bilbao is Spain’s 10th largest city with nearly 350,000 inhabitants. It’s situated about 20 kilometers from the Gulf of Biscay. Although the city seems large at first glace, all the most important sights can be visited on foot easily. Don’t feel like walking all day? Rent a bicycle to explore Bilbao. Read on to learn about the best things to do in Bilbao
#1. Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao
When the Guggenheim opened its doors in 1997, an important new chapter started for Bilbao. A steady stream of tourists earned the city enough money to renovate large portions of its city center and most important buildings. Nowadays the modern art museum is still the most important place of interest of Bilbao. Is modern art not really your thing (like us)? Don’t skip the museum entirely. There are some cool things to see around the museum as well, like a giant spider and a colorful twelve meter high puppy.
Entrance to the Guggenheim Museum is €10.
#2. The Flower Puppy
We’ve decided one of the pieces around the Guggenheim deserves its own place in the list of best things to do in Bilbao. This twelve meter high puppy is covered in flowers. Best thing: it’s completely free to see:) The puppy’s artist is Jeff Koons and it’s covered in 70,000 flowers in all kinds of colors. It is located right in front of the Guggenheim’s entrance.
#3. Go to the viewpoint with the Artxanda cable cart
Bilbao is surrounded by hills, which make some very nice viewpoints. Take the Artxanda Funicular which takes you to Artxanda Funicular Park in a few minutes. From here you have an amazing panoramic view of Bilbao. Especially the Guggenheim stands out from this viewpoint.
A return ticket costs €3.50. A single ticket costs €2 in case you want to walk your way back to Bilbao.
#4. Go gallivanting through Casco Viejo, Bilbao’s old town
Whereas most of Bilbao is built west of the river, the city originated on the eastern part. The river curls around the old town, like oldest part of Bilbao was even there before the river was. Each and every building inside this old part of town is truly stunning. Besides the nice architecture of the apartments, shops and restaurants, the Santiago Cathedral centers the area.
#5. Eat pintxos at Plaza Barria
Basque Country is home to pinchos (Basque: pintxos), which are basically tapas on a slice of baguette, hold together by a skewer. Almost all bars have pintxos on display and all you have to do is let the bartender know which ones you’d like to try. When you had enough, just return your plate with all the leftover skewers and the bartender will get your bill based on the amount of skewers.
Pintxos can be found basically everywhere, but the nicest place to order them is Plaza Barria (or Plaza Nueva). The square houses about a dozen pintxo bars, all with their own pintxo creations. We’ve visited five places on Plaza Barria. Especially La Olla de Plaza Nueva and Bertoko Barria.
#6. Visit Mercado de la Ribera
Another place to visit if you like pintxos is Mercado de la Ribera. This old market is converted into a trendy food court. Whereas in Plaza Barria the locals also visit to get a bite to eat, Mercado de la Ribera is mainly set up for tourists. Don’t be discouraged though, because they have some amazing food available. On the other side of the market building a ‘normal’ market takes place were people get their groceries.
#7. Gaze at Bilbao’s bridges across the Nervíon
The Nervíon is the most prominent landmark of Bilbao. Dividing the city in two parts, it plays a big role in daily life. A lot of bridges cross the river, each with its own style and purpose. Two bridges stand out as they are true pieces of art: the Puente de la Salve bridge and the Zubizuri bridge are outstanding from the rest of the bridges. Not surprisingly, they lie in close range of the Guggenheim. Spend an afternoon strolling alongside the river and you’ll see a lot of sights Bilbao has to offer.
#8. Take a lap around San Mamés, Athletico Bilbao’s stadium
Football (or soccer, depending on where you’re from) is big in Spain. Even if you’re not into the sport, it’s worth it to visit San Mamés even when there’s not much going on inside the stadium itself. Locals use the surrounding area to do other sports, like skating, skateboarding and we even saw a guy skate-sailing (skateboard with a sail). In the area you can find some nice bars to have a drink or eat some pintxos. The stadium is on the edge of the city center, so it’s not a long walk.
#9. Look for Bilbao’s street art
The Guggenheim Museum is not the only place where you can find amazing art in Bilbao. Street art is littered throughout the city. All kinds of artists with their own signature dominate the streets. An additional bonus: It’s free:)
#10. Combine a weekend trip to Bilbao with a visit to San Sebastián
About an hours drive from Bilbao is San Sebastián, which is our favorite place in Basque Country. The small city is located inside a bay which gave it it’s three beaches to relax on. San Sebastián is small, but that doesn’t make it any less worth visiting. We’ve spent three days in both cities and that’s a perfect amount of time. Read all about the best things to do in San Sebastián.
Where to stay in Bilbao
We hope we inspired you to visit Bilbao! If you do, we can recommend Casual Gurea, a basic, but nice hotel right in the center of old town. If you don’t need more than a bed and a bathroom, Casual Gurea is perfect for you. Looking for something else? Check out all accommodations in Bilbao
What’s your favorite thing to do in Bilbao?