Are you still looking for a nice destination for a long weekend away? Then consider a city trip to Bilbao. We found Bilbao surprisingly nice and definitely worth a visit. The old center with its narrow cobbled streets, the countless bars with delicious pinchos and of course the Guggenheim museum made our Bilbao city trip a real party!
Where is Bilbao?
Bilbao is located in the Spanish Basque Country, about 10 kilometers inland from the Atlantic Ocean coast. It is the capital of the Basque Country and traditionally a city that mainly depended on the iron and steel industry. In the 1990s, the city fell into a major economic crisis. The mayor of the time decided it was time for a new, modern course to put Bilbao back on the map. With the construction of the famous Museo Guggenheim Bilbao he did a good move.
How many days do you need to visit Bilbao?
Bilbao is a fairly compact city and most of the sights are within walking distance of each other. We were there for three days and in two days we had seen almost everything we wanted to see in Bilbao, including the Guggenheim museum. The third day we spent on a nice trip to two fishing villages on the coast.
Is a city trip to Bilbao expensive?
Bilbao surprised us with the low prices for food and drinks. When we were there (2023) we drank a glass of wine for 2 euros and the food is not expensive either. You can make overnight stays as expensive as you want; we slept in Inside Bilbao Apartment (approximately 80 euros per night) and found that perfect.
What should you definitely see and do in Bilbao?
What you want to see on a city trip to Bilbao naturally depends a bit on your personal preference. But we are happy to give you some tips to make your weekend trip in Bilbao special:
1. Stroll through Casco Viejo
Casco Viejo is the old center of Bilbao and forms a lively neighborhood in Bilbao. Narrow alleys, cobbled streets, souvenir shops and intimate restaurants make it a romantic whole. Maybe a bit dilapidated here and there, but we thought it was a great place to wander around for an hour or two. When you are there, be sure to visit one of the many churches. You can't miss the Santiago Cathedral.
2. Shopping in the Abando district
The Abando district is the real heart of the city and is located on the other side of the river from Casco Viejo. Here you will find Bilbao's main shopping street; the Gran Via. It is also cozy here in the evening. The nightlife in Bilbao takes place on the street. Young and old can enjoy a glass of wine and a pincho (tapa) at one of the many bars.
3. Eating pinchos
As a food lover you are in the right place in Bilbao. In Bilbao they have elevated tapas to a true art form. The so-called pinchos are usually served on a piece of baguette. Not only are they very tasty, they are also very affordable (1.40 euros each). From bar to bar with a glass of wine, you can get through the day. On your city trip to Bilbao, be sure to visit Café Irunia. They are open for breakfast , lunch and dinner. We already long to return…
4. Visit Mercado de la Ribera
The Mercado de la Ribera is a large covered market with a beautiful Art Deco style. The place is a feast for the eyes and for your stomach; all the colorful pintchos on display will make you hungry.
5. Marvel at art at the Guggenheim Museum
You don't want to miss this world-famous museum. If you're not a fan of museums, at least go there to admire the exterior. Designed by Frank O. Gehry in 1997, the iconic museum complex consists of interconnected buildings encased in titanium. The whole museum looks like one big work of art. There are also a few special works of art outside, such as the 'Puppie' and the 'Spin'. Of course you will find much more art inside. The various exhibitions are organized around a large atrium, and are mainly devoted to modern and contemporary art. We found the massive sculptures on the ground floor particularly impressive.
6. Walk across the Zubizuri Bridge
The Zubizuri Bridge is a well-known attraction of Bilbao and quite an impressive structure. But beware if it has rained; the glass blocks become slippery when wet.
7. Take a ride on the Funicular de Artxanda
The Funicular de Artxanda is a funicular that takes you in 3 minutes to the best view of Bilbao. There is a park at the top that is especially busy on weekends with locals looking for some peace and greenery. The cable car runs every 15 minutes. You can buy a ticket on the spot.
8. Explore the city by bike
If we make a city trip, we usually book a bicycle tour on the first day. In about three hours you can easily see the highlights of the city and get interesting information. A bike tour is also a great idea in Bilbao. With a (Dutch) guide you cruise through Bilbao and make several stops. The bike tour does not go through Casco Viejo. We booked our Dutch bicycle tour at Bajabikes.
9. Day trip from Bilbao
On the third day of our city trip to Bilbao, we visited the fishing villages of Getxo and Portugalete. They are located about 10 kilometers from Bilbao and are easy to reach by metro. The two villages are connected by the Puente Bizkaya; a 45 meter high 'suspender bridge' with a span of 160 meters. The bridge was built in 1893. It was the first bridge in the world to transport people and cars via a high suspended gondola. The bridge served as a model for many similar bridges in Europe, Africa and America. The crossing from Getxo to Portugalete or vice versa costs only 50 cents. If you're not afraid of heights, you can also take the elevator up to walk over the construction at a height of 46 meters to the other side. Very interesting and you also have a great view. From both fishing villages you not only enjoy the bridge; relax on one of the terraces or work on your tan on the beach.
Do you also want to go on a city trip to Bilbao?
There are several airlines (including Vueling, KLM, Transavia) that offer direct flights from Amsterdam or Eindhoven to Bilbao. The flight takes about 2 hours.
A bus leaves from the airport in Bilbao and takes you directly to the center. Tickets for this cost 3 euros (2023) and can be bought at the airport.
The airport bus back to the airport departs from Federico Moyua Plaza (the big roundabout).
Most places of interest in Bilbao are within walking distance of each other.
Have fun and enjoy all the beauty that Bilbao has to offer!