Bilbao is a buzzing city. Once you start strolling through the streets, you can’t wait to turn another corner and discover more. Situated in the Basque country, the city’s surroundings are much greener than most other Spanish cities – but the climate is accordingly chillier. Bilbao is only twenty minutes away from the coast, and it’s also close to numerous ski areas. The city, famous for pintxos and the Guggenheim Museum, is tremendously diverse and super charming with vibrantly colorful facades and rich architectural beauty. Thinking about paying a visit to the city? I’ve put together a handy guide to spending a weekend in Bilbao.
How to move around in Bilbao
From Zaventem, Brussels, it takes about 1h40 to fly to Bilbao. From the airport it then takes around 15 minutes to get to the city center by taxi, and the ride will cost you around 25 euros. If you feel like taking public transport, the bus from the airport to Bilbao is a much cheaper alternative. It will take you to the city between 6 am and midnight for only 3 euros.
Bilbao is a relatively flat city, historically built around the Nervion river. It’s pleasant and easy to wander around and explore the city on foot. Want to discover some sights outside the city? Rent a bike! Chances are that your hotel will rent out some – but if not, you can hire some easily from Urban Bikes, which costs around 15 euros per bike per day.
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Where to stay in Bilbao
If you’re spending a weekend in Bilbao, you’ll need somewhere lovely to stay. Bilbao is a relatively small city, so two nights is plenty of time to explore. The city thrives on tourism, so there are a wide range of options when it comes to accommodation – and the city has a solution for every budget.
Sercotel Coliseo is within walking distance of the train station Indalecio Prieto, all the major chain stores and the Guggenheim Museum. Room rates start at around 90 euros per night.
Another wonderful option is the Hotel Miró Bilbao – a boutique hotel just across from the Guggenheim Museum. It has a lovely atmosphere and offers a delicious traditional Basque breakfast. Spending the night here costs around 110 euros per night.
Top things to do in Bilbao
I’ve put together a rough outline of a weekend in Bilbao, which includes all the main attractions and interesting things to do.
Start your day with a wonderful walk through the beautiful Casilda Iturrizar park. There’s no better way to begin your weekend in Bilbao than in this delightful oasis of peace right in the middle of the city. The beautiful green park has landscaped paved paths, which lead to a large bubbling fountain in the center of the park.
After visiting the park, make your way over to the Campo de Volantin Pasealekua and stroll along the beautiful boulevard next to the water. Definitely check out the Zubizuri, an astonishing pedestrian bridge that crosses the Nervion.
Be sure to stop by Alhóndiga, the cultural center of the city. Enjoy one of their delicious cocktails and swim on the rooftop, and take in the distinct architecture and design characteristics.
Azkuna Zentroa has so many cultural activities, including a shopping center and plenty of delicious food establishments – so spoil yourself!
A must-visit during your Bilbao weekend trip is obviously the world-famous Guggenheim museum, created by one of the world’s greatest architects, Frank Gehry. This architectural delight attracts a million visitors to the Basque region every year, and put the city on the map as one of Europe’s hottest weekend breaks.
The entrance fee is 10 euros for an adult – and it’s absolutely worth every penny. Ensure you give yourself plenty of time to explore – expect to spend approximately 2 to 3 hours in the museum. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 8pm, and you can buy your tickets online in advance to avoid long queues.
Once you’ve finished at the museum, head over to the Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao. You can enjoy a wonderful view over the museum and its surroundings from their beautiful rooftop (where they also serve delicious cocktails!).
Did you know you can also explore Bilbao by kayak? Exploring the city from the water is a completely unique experience, and takes around 90 minutes. Read more here.
Best view over town
While staying in Bilbao, ensure you get some beautiful photographs of the cityscape. Artxanda’s Cable Car brings you to Mount Artxanda, the most stunning viewpoint over the city. The cable car is within walking distance of the Guggenheim museum. It’s open every day from 7am to 10 pm, and runs up every 15 minutes. The ride will cost you just under 4 euros – definitely worth it for the gorgeous views.
Where to shop in Bilbao
If you’re a fan of some retail therapy, there are plenty of options in Bilbao. The main shopping areas are located at the Plaza Moyúa, the Gran Vía and Casa Viejo. The Plaza Moyúa is a good place to find high-end brands – or you can find whatever you’re looking for in one of the many large boutique shops along the Gran Vía.
Casa Viejo is a shopping district in the heart of Old Bilbao. It is also known as the ‘seven streets’, and it’s definitely the best part of the center to find a unique outfit or collect some original souvenirs. While wandering around the area, you’re sure to stumble across the most beautiful old buildings in vibrant colours.
There are several beaches in the region around Bilbao, each with their own special characteristics. One beach is ideal for surfing and water sports, while others specialise in peace and relaxation.
Just outside Bilbao you’ll find Playa de Arrigunaga, which is a less touristy beach. It’s perfect for those who love to surf, as there are waves up to 7 meters high! In addition, you can also come here for a nice walk – and there’s a playground for children, too.
Always wanted to learn how to surf? At Playa De Plentzia there are two surf schools which offer lessons all year round. The beach is also equipped with toilets, showers, a playground and a large parking lot.
If you want to spend the whole day at the beach, Playa de Ereaga is the place to be! There are numerous sunbeds, umbrella services and dining options on the 800-meter-long beach. There are plenty of activity options, including volleyball, sailing, surfing and a playground for kids.
Do you like it a bit quieter and more chilled? Then Playa de Gorliz is the perfect beach for you. Relax, get some fresh air, go windsurfing, mountain biking and even horse riding!
Eat delicious food in Bilbao – the best restaurants and markets
Pintxos are the Basque Country’s answer to tapas. The word pintxos originated from the word pincho, which is Spanish for a wooden picker. A variety of small plates and delicacies are offered, which can be picked up on the pincho, accompanied by fresh bread.
Some of my favourite places to eat in Bilbao include:
- Brass – they serve a delicious breakfast
- Bistro (near the Guggenheim) – their menu is great and reasonably priced
- Restaurante Marisqueria Mazarredo – a delicious seafood restaurant
- La Batea Mejillonerías – a typical traditional Spanish restaurantLa Despensa del Etxanobe – if you’re seeking a more refined menu
- El Puerto – the best oysters in the city!
- La Viña del Ensanche – one of Bilbao’s best eating spots with typical dishes
- Mapa Verde – the best option for vegan and vegetarian food in San Sabastian, with a surprising and fairly priced menu
- KM.O Bar Restaurante Vegano Vegetariano – authentic pintxos, and a daily vegan menu served for only 14 euros
Still got room for dessert? Drop by Adelia Iváñes, a family business that has been serving delicious ice cream since 1850. Sample one of the many different nougat flavours – during summer months, you can choose between over 50 different options!
On Thursday nights, you can go to Mercado de San Martin for some live music and pintxos. It’s a typical Spanish food market, so you can also do your general food shopping. You can find anything here… fish, meat, vegetables, flowers and even some Spanish wine.
Another market definitely worth a visit is the Mercado De La Ribera. This is a local favourite, where local inhabitants do their grocery shopping and have a bite and a drink.
Mercado de la Ribera covers 10,000 square meters split over 3 stories – which makes it Spain’s (and even Europe’s) largest covered market, according to Guinness Book of Records. Simply a must-see when in Bilbao!
Every Sunday morning, there’s a flea market with handmade products on Plaza Nueva. The market is open until 2:00pm – but make sure to be there around 12:00pm and take a small pintxo tour along the bars on the square afterwards.
Still got time? Other things to do during your weekend in Bilbao
Bilbao has the largest port in the Basque Country. The Museo Maritimo has around 27,000 square meters of fascinating exhibition space, and you can also view the inside of an old shipyard. You can order tickets online for 6 euros per person.
San Juan De Gaztelugatxe
If you still have some time left and fancy a scenic wander, I would recommend you visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, an islet on the Biscayan locality of Bermeo 40 kilometers from Bilbao. The former Pilgrim destination became world-famous when it was used as a location setting for the TV series Game of Thrones (Dragonstone, if you’re a fan!). You can visit this beautiful piece of nature for free, and parking spots are available approximately a forty minute walk away.
Want to relive the scene where Jon Snow met Queen Daenerys for the first time? Be prepared – you will have to climb more than 230 stairs! (Top tip: around noon it can become quite crowded at Dragonstone thanks to the increasing number of tourists, especially in high season. Therefore I highly recommend going in the morning or evening. If you choose the latter, you can also enjoy a beautiful sunset – so don’t forget your camera!)
The address is Barrio San Pelayo 80, 48100 Bakio. The opening hours are Wednesday and Thursday 11.00 – 20.00, Friday and Saturday 11.00 – 23.00, and Sunday 11.00 – 20.00.
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