Home to Europe’s largest indoor market hall and the famous Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao has been an inspiration for authors such as Ernest Hemingway and Dan Brown for decades. The city’s charm is simply contagious!
Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country of Northern Spain, and is an important port city known for its incredible food, architecture and appreciation for art. The locals are proud of their distinctive Basque culture and it shows in the abundance of festivals held throughout the year.
Bilbao looking lovely!
Bilbao Airport is a 15-minute taxi or ride-share from the city centre, while the bus ride is around 25-minutes (the bus departs every 15 minutes). Bilbao is a city that can easily be explored on foot or bike, however the public transportation is amongst the best in Spain. The bus, tram and metro can take you throughout the city as well as to some of the beaches and mountains on the outskirts of the city.
Here’s a Pro-Tip: It rains an average of 128 days a year in Bilbao, so remember to pack your umbrella!
Rain or shine, here are my favourite things to do in Bilbao:
Guggenheim Museum – Easily the most well-known attraction in Bilbao, this museum is a three-story masterpiece and named one of the most important constructions completed since 1980. It was instrumental in the city’s transformation from gritty industrial metropolis to the inviting cultural hub it is today.
Designed by the Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, it houses a plethora of contemporary artwork by renowned artists such as Andy Warhol, Van Gogh, and René Magritte.
Guggenheim is a good time!
Here are some other amazing museums in Bilbao to check out:
- Bilbao Museum of Fine Arts – To explore Spanish history and Culture through art
- Museo Maritimo – For Bilbao’s journey as a port city
- Euskal Museo – For history of Bilbao
Casco Viejo (Old Town) – Comprised of the seven original streets that once made up medieval Bilbao, it is one of the most visited areas of the city. Here, you can explore some delightful places like:
- Mercado de la Ribera – The biggest covered market in Europe (10,000 square meters). Over 60 stalls of local produce each day. Great to explore day or night.
- Santiago Cathedral – Originally built in the 14th -15th centuries, it is a beautiful piece of history and a fine example of Gothic architecture.
- Arriaga Theatre – Designed by Joaquin Rucoba. This theatre hosts some of the city’s most dazzling preforming arts events from ballets to comic operas.
- Plaza Nueva – a lovely square surrounded by pintxos bars and cafés. Grab a table and soak up the charming atmosphere (and free wifi)!
Here’s a Pro-Tip: Every Sunday Plaza Nueva hosts a flea market, so be sure to stop by to explore stalls of unique antiques and collectables.
That building is a church from the 10th century!
Visiting the Basque Country calls for indulging in the world-famous Bilbao cuisine. Pintxos, the Basque Country version of tapas, is the most famous of the Basque traditions, and the pintxos bars are abundant! Bilbao is also known for its fine dining experiences with Bacalao pil-pil and Bacalao a la Vizcaína as some of the city’s traditional Codfish dishes. Here are my dining recommendations:
- Restaurante Markina – Casual atmosphere, simply wonderful dishes served with outstanding quality ingredients.
- Zortziko – A regular on the ‘best of Basque country restaurants’ list. Serves traditional Basque cuisine in three different dining rooms, each with its own vibe, plus an underground wine cellar.
- Kate Zaharra – Breathtaking views, excellent wine and delicious Basque food.
I ‘cod’ definitely go for some Basque food!
In general, Spain has a lively late-night culture and Bilbao is no exception! Spain is also known for its major wine regions. One of these regions, Rioja, is located only an hour and a half south of Bilbao.
Txikitear in Bilbao is a wine-wine situation!
- Café Bar Bilbao – Located in Plaza Nueva, a Bilbao favourite and popular local meeting spot.
- Irrintzi – Traditional Spanish bar with excellent pinxtos and wine selections. More local than tourist, relaxed atmosphere.
- The Fever Club – The best dance club in Bilbao with live acts and well-known DJ’s, a short metro ride from the city centre.
Here’s a Final Pro-Tip: Bilbao hosts many festivals throughout the year, so be sure to check out the schedule to see which will be occuring during your stay!
Here are my recommendations for hotels in Bilbao:
- Miro Hotel – Just across from the Guggenheim, right on the river. Luxury stay with modern décor.
- Hotel Carlton – In the heart of Bilbao, old-world classy appeal and lovely Basque restaurant.
- Hotel Embarcadero – A beachside property offering great views of the port. Surrounded by wonderful restaurants and cafes.
Keeping its roots firmly planted in Basque culture, Bilbao is a city full of new growth and opportunity. I’m inspired by the coexistence of tradition and change and hope you are too!