Bilbao Travel Guide, Tours & Things to Do, Spain inner banner

Bilbao Travel Guide, Tours & Things to Do, Spain

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos.
19 Nov, 2021
Bilbao travel guide
Bilbao travel guide

Looking back at the four weeks I spent getting to know Bilbao in northern Spain, I find it hard to compartmentalise or classify the experiences on offer for this guide.

Everything is interlinked: culture and history; dining and relaxation; shopping and culture etc. One thing is certain though — this former industrial centre, now cultural hub has many hidden gems to uncover. You’ll soon see what I mean as you start to explore.

This Bilbao travel guide is packed with ideas for things to see and do. Enjoy your visit.

Europe tours

Save $100pp on Europe Multi-Day Tours and Cruises

Bilbao for history lovers

A wall once surrounded the seven parallel streets of the medieval old town — now called Casco Viejo.

Get wonderfully lost wandering up and down these Siete Calles, as they are known locally. In the arched passageway opposite the Mercado de la Ribera (Ribera Market), look up; the beautifully painted ceilings will surprise you.

Bilbao is in Pais Vasco — also known as Basque Country — and a visit to the Basque Museum is a must, if only to see the beautifully constructed model of the Basque province and gain some understanding of why the Basque people consider their territory to be a very different Spain.

The only way to see inside the historic Neo-baroque Teatro Arriaga is to book tickets to a show. Needs must. I enjoyed seeing Mamma Mia and taking in the theatre’s ornate interior.

Bilbao travel guide
Bilbao travel guide: Teatro Arriaga. Image: Bigstock

The Nervion River passing through Bilbao was the lifeblood of the city for many years. Explore that port history with a cruise on Bilboats. While the city has been through a strong period of renewal, there are still signs of its industrial past and it’s well worth getting an audio guide on board. The two-hour trip, which takes you under Puente Colgante (a heritage-listed hanging bridge), is well worth the time and cost.

Top cultural activities in Bilbao

This city encourages and supports artistic design and expression on many different levels.

The titanium-lined Guggenheim Museum Bilbao glitters in the sun, and before entering you are greeted by beautiful Puppy (by Jeff Koons) standing tall at the entrance. On the river side, a nine-metre-high spider (Maman by Louise Bourgeois) fascinates young and old. As with most museums these days, pre-purchase your tickets online to reduce your waiting time. Do get an audio guide, if only to listen to the first couple of sections describing the design of this amazing building.

Bilbao travel guide
Bilbao travel guide: Puppy greets visitors to the Guggenheim Museum.

Locals told me they prefer the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) to the Guggenheim. While the temporary exhibitions are very popular, I particularly liked the permanent collection portraying early Basque life and culture. Entry to the museum is free on Wednesdays but go during siesta time (from about 1:30) to avoid the crowds.

Take a stroll through the Azkuna Zentroa cultural centre. Behind the old façade is an incredible architectural feat, best seen rather than described. There is an exhibition space below and a rooftop bar. In one section, if you look up, you can see swimmers in the glass-bottomed pool above you.

Large street art murals have been commissioned by the civic authorities as a way of beautifying the city. Search ‘Ruta de los murales de Bilbao’ on Google to find their locations.

Spain tours

Spain Tours, Activities & Attractions

Ways to relax in Bilbao

Spend an afternoon relaxing at a table outside a bar with a café con leche (coffee with milk), a txakoli (local white wine), or a cerveza (beer), and perhaps a couple of pintxos (similar to tapas).

For two different experiences visit Cafe Bar Bilbao or Bar Charly in the buzzing Plaza Nueva, and then cross the river opposite the Mercado and sit outside Txinpum or Zubiburu for pleasant water views.

Bilbao travel guide
Bilbao travel guide: Cafe Bar Bilbao. Image: Alamy

Next, take the funicular up to the Mirador de Artxanda lookout for panoramic views of the city. The park is an ideal place for a picnic, but otherwise you’ll need to walk a way down the road to a couple of restaurants if you want to buy lunch or water.

While you may not be able to get tickets to see the local Athletic Bilbao football team in action, you can certainly have a drink and pintxos at La Campa de los Ingleses. It’s located next to San Mamés — the team’s home stadium — and offers a clear view of the field.

In the evening, nothing beats a cocktail at a rooftop bar. Gran Hotel Domine’s rooftop terrace offers great views of the Guggenheim. A selection of their raciones (bite-sized appetisers) can easily suffice for a meal.

Bilbao travel guide
Bilbao travel guide. Image: Gran Hotel Domine

Great places to eat in Bilbao

Basque Country is renowned for its distinctive cuisine, which focusses heavily on seafood.

I love oysters. So I was thrilled to discover El Puertito — an oyster bar which supplies oysters all over Spain. Spoil yourself with a mixed half dozen, washed down with a glass of cava (local sparkling wine).

The aforementioned Mercado de la Ribero is the largest covered fresh produce market in Europe. Buy ingredients for a picnic or home cooked meal, and admire the beautiful stained-glass windows.

If you prefer to eat out, La Ribera, the restaurant under the market, has window tables looking out across the river. As a bonus, they often have live jazz.

Bilbao travel guide
Bilbao travel guide. Image: Restaurante Mina

Foodies, you can’t go past Restaurante Mina. Ask to sit at the counter overlooking the kitchen and choose a set menu of 7, 10 or 14 delicious courses.

Where to shop in Bilbao

Many stores in Casco Viejo sell the usual souvenirs, but if you are looking for something different, visit the museum shops at the Guggenheim or Museo de Bellas Artes.

They are packed with beautiful books, paper goods, homewares and more.

For the latest designer fashions, go window shopping in Gran Via — or even venture inside if you have the budget to blow! Alameda de Gregorio de la Revilla is full of shops offering delightful outfits for young children.

If you love rummaging through stalls at a flea market, check out one of the following options. On the first Saturday of the month, Calle Dos de Mayo closes to traffic to allow emerging designers and second-hand sellers to display their treasures. It can be tricky to find, so ask for assistance.

Bilbao travel guide
Bilbao travel guide: Flower Market

Every Sunday morning, Plaza Nueva becomes a market place for vendors of coins, books, vinyl records, and more. Flowers are sold along the river at Arenal on the same day. And lastly, if you feel like a good walk, the Old Biscuit Factory of Bilbao in Zorrozaurre is home to the Open Your Ganbara flea market on selected Sundays — an initiative aimed at revitalising this former industrial precinct.

For more inspiration, visit www.bilbaoturismo.net.

Browse our range of Bilbao day tours and experiences here.

Do you have any tips to add to our Bilbao travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

Joanne Karcz

About the writer

Joanne Karcz is a Sydney-based travel writer, and has explored much of her home country, Europe, South America, and Southern Africa. She published a blog while walking the Camino de Santiago some years ago and has been writing about her adventures ever since. Joanne is also an aspiring photographer and takes her camera wherever she goes. She loves discovering new things to see and do in her own Sydney backyard, and blogs regularly about the city’s suburbs.

 

1


Travel essentials

You can book many aspects of your holiday on the Top Oz Tours & Travel Ideas website, including flights, hotels, car hire, travel insurance, and more. When you purchase a product or service using the following links from our partners, we receive a small commission. It does not affect the price you pay, and it enables us to continue to provide readers with amazing travel inspiration.




Flights

Compare airlines, flights, and fares in one place with Booking.com. They don't charge any credit card fees and you can always see exactly what you’re paying for in the price breakdown. You can book one-way, round-trip, and multi-city flights, and change your travel dates with ease when you opt for a flexible ticket option (an additional cost applies). It all adds up to a great flight! Search for flights with Booking.com


Hotels

If you're looking for a great deal on your next hotel or homestay, look no further than Booking.com. Their mission is to make travel affordable and accessible to more people, and to deliver seamless accommodation experiences that complement your holiday. Search for hotels and homestays with Booking.com



Car hire

Discover Cars is an award-winning (World Travel Awards) car rental comparison website, which helps customers find, compare, and hire cars at the most competitive prices globally. You’ll get access to meticulously maintained cars, 4WDs, and minibuses from the world’s leading brands, and at the best possible price. Search for car hire with Discover Cars



Campervans & motorhomes

Make Jucy your first choice for campervan and motorhome hire. Since 2001, this progressive company has had a vision to be world-famous for enabling experience seekers to discover happiness on the road. The Jucy crew live and breathe their core values of passion, pride, family, and fun, and these values influence every one of their interactions with customers. They’re ready to help you find 'your happy'. Search for campervans and motorhomes with Jucy



Day tours & experiences worldwide

Search and book day tours, guided experiences, and attraction tickets and passes worldwide with Top Oz Tours and Viator. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book through us, and you’ll have access to the widest choice of activities and most competitive prices. Search for tours and experiences



Multi-day tours & trips worldwide

Travelling on an extended tour with a local guide is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the destination of your choice. Top Oz Tours has joined forced with Tour Radar to bring you a fabulous range of multi-day tours and trips from the world's leading operators. Travel with like minded people and get the best possible price on the holiday of your dreams. Search for multi-day tours and trips



Travel insurance

World Nomads aims to be a part of every traveller’s journey by providing a reassuring range of travel insurance services. Travellers can buy insurance, extend their policy, and claim online, 24/7, on the road or from home. Travel insurance benefits include coverage for emergency medical and evacuation or repatriation, lost baggage, trip cancellation, and more than 150 adventure activities. Get an insurance costing from World Nomads


Subscribe to our newsletter for the chance to win a $100 voucher

keyboard_arrow_leftPrevious
Nextkeyboard_arrow_right

 

Share

Please leave a comment

    1. Hi there. Thank you for the feedback. We really appreciate it. Regards, Adam Ford (Editor)

Please Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

Your Cart
Your Cart Is Empty
error: This content is protected.