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Bilbao City Guide for Tourists

What to do in the Basque Country's biggest city


Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

Guggenheim Museum & Restaurant, Bilbao

Image: Damian Corrigan

Overview of Bilbao:

Bilbao used to be a dull industrial city and little more, until they built the Guggenheim Museum. Though it doesn't have the beaches of San Sebastian, Bilbao is an essential stop when in the north-east of Spain.

See also: 

Best Time to Visit Bilbao:

A week of celebrations throughout the Basque country for Semana Grande or Aste Nagusia is in the middle of August, with spectacular fireworks in San Sebastian and a Herri Kirolak strong man competition in Bilbao.

Number of Days to Spend in Bilbao (excluding day trips):

Three days. To fully appreciate the Guggenheim, you'd need a day there alone (too much modern art can be a be taunting, but you can get a wrist band to take a few hours break), then two more days for the rest of the city. It takes an hour to get from Bilbao to San Sebastian, so pop over there for a long lunch.

See also: Three-Day Tour of Bilbao Includes accommodation, breakfast and eight pintxos (tapas).

Hotels in Bilbao:

For Hotels in Bilbao, check out the following links:

What to Do in Bilbao:

  • The Guggenheim Museum, of course.
  • The Museo de Bellas Artes Fine Arts Museum that's a stone's throw from the Guggenheim.
  • Explore the Old Town, taking in the cathedral and the Plaza Nueva and sampling some pinchos along the way.
  • Walk along the riverside or better still, take the tram. This area has seen most of the attention (and money) since they started improving Bilbao.
  • The Parque Doña Casilda de Iturrizar, complete with a charming fountain that dances to the music!

Day Trips from Bilbao:

The Basque country is quite small, so you could do a day in Vitoria-Gasteiz and San Sebastian-Donostia quite easily. Guernica (Gernika in Basque), the site of Hitler's 'practice run' in 1937, is an hour away by train. You could also visit Santander, in neighboring Cantabria. There are Beaches in Getxo, though they don't match up to the Beaches in San Sebastian. Also in Getxo is the Puente Vizkaya, Bilbao's only UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Read more about Bilbao Day Trips

Where to Next?:

All of the above Day Trips (apart from Guernica) would make good stops after Bilbao. Also, on the way south to Madrid, don't forget to stop off in Burgos.

Distance to Bilbao :

From Madrid 396km - 4h by car, 4h30 by bus, 6h by train, 1h flight (with Iberia). See how to get from Madrid to Bilbao

From Barcelona 610km - 6h by car, 7h by bus, 9h by train, 1h05 flight (with Iberia). See how to get from Barcelona to Bilbao

From Seville 863km - 9h by car, 1h20 by plane. No bus or train (go via Madrid).

Check Prices on Flights from Bilbao

Check Prices on Trains from Bilbao or look at getting a Rail Pass.

Check Prices on Buses from Bilbao

Car Hire in Bilbao:

Compare Prices on Car Hire from Bilbao.

First Impressions of Bilbao:

If you don't have long in Bilbao a Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour is ideal. If coming into Bilbao by bus, take the tram into town. It is cheap, quick and travels along the riverside, passing by the areas of Bilbao that it's redevelopers are most proud of (the highlight being the Guggenheim museum). To the south during your journey is the new town area, including the Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum) and the Parque Doña Casilda de Iturrizar.

Get off when you have crossed the bridge and arrived outside the theater. If arriving by train, the bridge will be right behind you, with the theater on the other side.

With the river behind you, to your left you have the Iglesia de San Nicolás, as well as the Casco Viejo metro stop (for trips to the beach) and the (long) flight of stairs leading up to the Basilica de Begoña.

In front of you is the old town, with the cathedral straight ahead, Plaza Nueva slightly to your left, and the oldest district, Siete Calles (Seven Streets) to the right.

Beyond Siete Calles is the Atxuri train station, which you'll require for trips to Guernica and Bermeo.

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