Destinations | Europe

How to spend a weekend in Bilbao – 2 days in Bilbao itinerary

12 Apr 2021 | Destinations, Europe, Spain

Planning a visit to Bilbao in northern Spain? You must read our guide on how to spend a weekend in Bilbao itinerary – it has everything from transportation, sightseeing, food to shopping – to help you prepare for 2 days in Bilbao. 

 

A weekend in Bilbao: 2 days in Bilbao itinerary 

 

Bilbao is a buzzing city. Once you start strolling through the streets, you can’t wait to turn another corner and discover more, and more. 

Located in the Basque country, the city’s surroundings are much greener than most other Spanish cities – and 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.  

The city has something for everybody, I am sure you will love spending a weekend in Bilbao.

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How to spend a weekend in Bilbao

Planning a trip to Bilbao: Itinerary Tips

Bilbao is located in northern Spain, close to the coast. If you are traveling to Bilbao from Barcelona, it will take about 7 hours by road. There are direct trains available to take you there, in about 8 to 9+ hours. Trains schedules vary, so do check ahead of time prior to your trip.

There is an airport in Bilbao, but it is very small with only one terminal. If traveling from the United States, you will connect via Barcelona or another major airport in Europe before landing in Bilbao.

I traveled to Bilbao from Zaventem, in Brussels, Belgium. It took about 1 hour and 40 minutes 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. (Bus A3247 bus).

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. You will love to know that the city is fairly compact, and getting from one attraction to another is quick and easy!

Bilbao does have a metro system (buses and trains), and they are handy when you have to venture outside the city centre to explore beaches in and around Bilbao. Or go hiking. You can also connect to other Spanish cities from here as well. 

Renting a bike is a great way to explore outside the city! And 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.

Best time to visit Bilbao: Bilbao remains warm and crowded during the peak season. If you are planning a trip, we recommend visiting at the tail end of summer like August and September. August is a good time to visit for festivals too. During these months, the temperatures are mild, and pleasant so you can wander and go hiking or sightseeing without any issues.  

Where to stay in Bilbao for a weekend? Favorite Hotels 

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. 

The narrow streets of the Casco Viejo (Old Town) are the most popular and touristy area. It is home to old romantic buildings, beautiful churches, the Catedral de Santiago de Bilbao or Santiago Cathedral, and many restaurants and bars. 

Right across the river is the Bilbao la Vieja. The most central part of the city is the Abando. The top sight in Abando is the Guggenheim Museum.  

The barrio of San Francisco lies just south of Abando, and is the city’s red light district. For your first trip, I recommend skipping this neighborhood.

Here are my top picks for hotels in Bilbao:

My favorite is Sercotel Coliseo, which is located within walking distance of the train station Indalecio Prieto. Plus you can access all the major chain stores and the Guggenheim Museum from here. 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.

Once you are settled into the city, use our weekend in Bilbao itinerary to check off all the main attractions and interesting things to do. 

How to spend a weekend in Bilbao

Day 1 of 2 days in Bilbao Itinerary: Explore the seven streets of Casco Viejo and more 

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. 

Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park, as the park is known, is named after Casilda Iturrizar, who donated the land and was a prominent philanthropist in the city. The park has been open since 1907. Visitors spend anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes, enjoying a lovely stroll through the sweeping lawns.

It is an English-style park lined with trees, duck filled ponds, fountains and tons of greenery. This park is very popular with tourists and locals alike. Entry to the park is completely free. 

After visiting the park, make your way over to the Campo de Volantin Pasealekua and stroll along the beautiful boulevard next to the water. This is the promenade that runs from the city hall to the Plaza de La Salve. During the walk, definitely check out the Zubizuri, an astonishing pedestrian bridge that crosses the Nervion.

How to spend a weekend in Bilbao

Zubizuri means ‘white bridge’ in Basque, and is a tied arch footbridge. The lovely bridge opened in 1997 to foot traffic. Zubizuri has become iconic to Bilbao, as it helped renew the city’s lost maritime sheen. The color white denotes it’s renewal. 

After the stroll, be sure to stop by Alhóndiga, which is 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! At the very least, snap a photo of the building, it is one of the prettiest in the city.

In the second half of the day, head to the historic old town of Bilbao or the Casco Viejo. Enjoy the lively riverside district of narrow alleys, or visit the La Ribera market that has many food stalls. 

Santiago Cathedral is a 14th-century landmark also located here. You can spend the entire evening here at the old town, or head to the luxury shopping district. 

Gran Vía shopping area is home to many luxury brands and top stores, and with a plethora of restaurants, it is also a nice way to end the day on a city break to Bilbao. 

How to spend a weekend in Bilbao

Day 2 of 2 days in Bilbao itinerary: Visit Modern Art museum – Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, join cooking or wine tours with a great tasting menu

On Bilbao Day 2 itinerary check out more of the city attractions. 

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

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 puts 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.

Right outside the museum, you can also check out pretty street art

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!).

 

How to spend a weekend in Bilbao

Cooking Class in Bilbao

In the afternoon, opt for a cooking class in Bilbao. This culinary tour is 2 hours long, and you can enjoy cooking with a chef. You get to learn how to prepare traditional Basque Pintxos and newer innovative recipes. Plus you get to taste them as well!

You can check out the tour here, and reserve a spot. 

Wine tasting tour in Bilbao

If cooking is not your thing, join this wine tasting tour. The tour is for 2.50 hours long, and it starts at 10:00 am or 3:30 pm. To understand how txakolis are made traditionally, you will board a 30-minute train to see villages inland of Lezama, as part of the tour.

You will get to visit vineyards and taste different Basque Country wines. Also included in the tour are trying out traditional foods such as txorizo, bread and cheese from the area. You can read more about the tour, and availability here.

Hop on hop off boat

Did you know you can also explore Bilbao by boat? Exploring the city from the water is a completely unique experience. Read more here.

read next | VALENCIA TRAVEL GUIDE

More Things to do in Bilbao on a weekend + Day trips from Bilbao

 

If this is your third or the fourth time visiting Bilbao, we have more suggestions for you. 

Museo Maritimo 

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.

Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao (Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao)

If you are an art lover, head to the Fine Arts Museum in Bilbao. From the old town it will take you about 40 minutes to get there by walking. Or you can hop on the tram, and arrive at the Museo de Bellas Artes in 10 minutes from Old Town.

Churches in Bilbao Spain

There are many beautiful churches that you can visit in Bilbao. Notable among them are the Church of San Francisco de Asis, Church of Saint Anthony the Great, and Iglesia de Cristo Bilbao. 

How to spend a weekend in Bilbao

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. 

 

More Game of Thrones locations

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! 

This spot is very popular. At around noon or so, it can become quite crowded at Dragonstone – all thanks to the increasing number of tourists, especially in the 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.

You can also book a half day or a full day Game of Thrones tour here.

If you are extending your Bilbao trip, do check out of the following amazing day trip + guided tours 

  • San Sebastián: San Sebastian is a popular destination in the Basque Country. If you are road tripping or renting a car, you can surely cover it on a day trip. Distance is 100 km by road. I don’t recommend visiting San Sebastian without a car or tour, as trains take about 5.50 to 6 hours, one way. As part of your Bilbao San Sebastian trip, do stop by the La Concha beach
  • Biarritz & San Sebastian: If you are not renting a car, this 8 hour day tour is perfect to check off the French coast and explore the towns of Biarritz, St. Jean de Luz, Hondarribia, and San Sebastian.This tour also allows you to spend some time in San Sebastian, one of the popular Basque country cities.
  • French Basque Coast Day Tour: Prefer to visit the French Basque territory only, this tour is perfect for that. In this full day tour, you can visit small villages like Saint Jean de Luz, and the village of Biarritz. Instead of San Sebastian, the towns/cities included in this tour are Bayonne, and Hendaye (located on the border between France and Spain).
How to spend a weekend in Bilbao

Additional Travel Tips for spending a weekend in Bilbao 

 

If this is your first time to the city, you can also book a customized guided tour, where you can explore the old quarter and the new areas. Plus you can also get insider tips on extending your trip. You can check out the walking tour here.

Where to find delicious food in Bilbao – The Best Restaurants & 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.

Highly recommend hopping to various pintxos bars to enjoy their culinary delights during a weekend in Bilbao. 

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 Mejilloneras – a typical traditional Spanish restaurant
  • La 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 Sebastian, 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!

 

How to spend a weekend in Bilbao

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 the 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 in Old town or Casco Viejo. 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.

 

Where to shop in Bilbao Spain itinerary

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.

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How to spend a weekend in Bilbao

What to buy in Bilbao? Souvenirs and Gifts

With stunning architecture, and a vintage, yet classy vibes you must buy a souvenir or two to relive those memories.

  • Txikito glass: Txikito glasses are a great little souvenir item to take back home. They are small glasses, and are handcrafted in the Basque Country area. You can buy one to display as a souvenir or buy a pack to share drinks with friends at home! 
  • Sports Jersey: If you love football, buy yourself a nice red and white jersey of the best, unique and most authentic club in the world (or related memorabilia).
  • Txapela: Txapela are berets that are made of merino wool. They are mostly used in the rural areas. 
  • You can also buy cheese (Idiazabal Cheese) and Patxaran (strong liquor) to take back home

 

Where to find the best city views in Bilbao? 

If you love city views like me, you must get ready with cameras here in Bilbao.

When in Bilbao, ensure you get some beautiful photographs of the cityscape. Artxanda’s Cable Car brings you to Mount Artxanda, which is 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.

 

How to spend a weekend in Bilbao

Where are the best beaches in Bilbao?

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!

Located further north of the Basque country, is the small suburb of Sopelana. This little town is home to a nice beach, called Playa de Sopelana. Playa de Sopelana is situated about 15 minutes walk from the city centre, and is perfect for surfing.

So there you have it, these are some of the amazing things you can do on a weekend in Bilbao. Bilbao is a perfect city breaks destination with an vibrant art scene, and a lovely weekend getaway to rejuvenate, eat out, soak in the sun at the beach, and go shopping or museum hopping! 

Looking for other fun things to do in Spain? You may like my ultimate Spain bucket list or 9 beautiful cities in Spain you need to visit post.

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