Bilbao in 2 Days: everything you need to know

Bilbao, considered the gateway to the Basque universe, is a city that you can tour in 2 days and take the essence of this city crossed by the Nervion River.

Lorena Morales

Lorena Morales

10 min read

Bilbao in 2 Days: everything you need to know

Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao | Jorge Fernández Salas

Bilbao is a port city located in the north of Spain, in the community of the Basque Country. It is surrounded by mountain ranges and crossed by the Nervion River, whose waters flow into the Cantabrian Sea. It is an ideal place to get to know the Basque culture, visit some of the most important museums in the world and taste its unique gastronomy.

If you visit Bilbao for two days, you will surely want to make the most of your stay in the city, so here is an itinerary with the best things to do in Bilbao. The first day I suggest you visit emblematic sites such as the Casco Viejo, the Guggenheim Museum, the Ribera Market and the Artxanda viewpoint, and the next day visit one of the oldest bridges, tour the port area and stroll along its wild beaches and cliffs, to complete an unforgettable stay.

Day 1: Guggenheim Museum, Old Town and La Ribera Market

Guggenheim Museum| ©Pom'
Guggenheim Museum| ©Pom'

On the first day of your tour you should not miss a stroll through Casco Viejo, to immerse yourself in the culture and history of the city, and the Mercado de la Ribera. You can't miss the Guggenheim Museum and its innovative construction on the banks of the Nervion River.

I also recommend that you go up to the Artxanda viewpoint, where you will have an incredible view of the city and you can take the best pictures with the Bilbao sign. In the old town, there are also many stores, bars and restaurants where you can have lunch. And near dusk you can go to the Mercado de la Ribera to taste some delicious pinchos and other typical dishes of the area, while enjoying a concert by the river.

Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum is a very interesting museum to visit, even if you are not particularly interested in contemporary art, as its building is an architectural wonder of the city that has driven many visits since its founding.

The striking feature of the building are its curved shapes made of titanium that seem to bend by chance, although they follow a logic perfectly designed by architect Frank Gehry. On the outside there are unmissable sculptures such as Puppy by Jeff Koons, at the entrance, and Mama by Louise Bourgeois, a huge long-legged spider.

Inside there are permanent and temporary exhibitions dedicated to contemporary art that have given the museum great relevance in the art world. Many famous exhibitions that have toured the world have been presented in this museum, such as those of artists like Kandinsky, Antonio Saura, Andy Warhol, Doris Salcedo and Henri Michaux.

If you are interested in knowing in detail the works exhibited in the museum, you can hire a two-hour privately guided tour of the Guggenheim to learn about the history of the museum, its works and much more.

  • Location: Erribera Kalea, s/n, 48005 Bilbao.
  • Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 7 pm. Some Mondays it is also open. It is best to check the opening hours before you go.
  • Admission fee: Around $15. Children under 18 years old do not pay admission.

Artxanda Funicular and Viewpoint

3 kilometers from the Guggenheim Museum, crossing the La Salve bridge, is the Artxanda viewpoint, from where you will have one of the best views of the city. There you can take a picture with the 150 meters long railing where you can read the phrase "Bilbao-Bilbo" in big red letters, which has become customary when visiting the city.

The good thing is that to get to the Artxanda viewpoint you have to take the Artxanda funicular, which will be a walk in itself, because you will have a panoramic view of the city while the funicular rises to the viewpoint. Once at the top of the Artxanda hill, 250 meters high, you can see the city, the Casco Viejo, the Nervion river, its bridges and even the sea.

In the Funicular Park you can also see the sculpture of the Footprint, which is made of carbon steel and is about 8 meters high. It was made by the sculptor Juanjo Novella to pay tribute to those who fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War of 1936.

How to get to the Artxanda Viewpoint

To get to the Artxanda viewpoint you must walk one kilometer from the Guggenheim Museum to Plaza Moraza, crossing the La Salve bridge, or take a cab. There you can take the Artxanda funicular, which leaves every 15 minutes and takes 3 minutes to reach the viewpoint.

If you have rented a car, it is best to take the funicular, otherwise you will have to make a long detour to take an elevator to get to the viewpoint. On the Artxanda funicular website you can check the timetables and fares of the funicular.

  • Cost of the funicular ride: Around 2,50 EUR.
  • Opening hours: from 7:15 am to 10 pm from October to May, except on Sundays when it starts at 8:15 am. From June to September it runs until 11 pm on weekends and holiday eves.

Old town

Santiago Cathedral| ©Dan D
Santiago Cathedral| ©Dan D

After visiting the Artxanda viewpoint, you can head to the Casco Viejo, a historic pedestrian area full of bars, restaurants, stores, towers, squares, gardens, churches and narrow streets. Also known as Las Siete Calles, it is the place where the city of Bilbao was born 700 years ago and an important commercial and cultural center of the city.

The seven old streets proper are located parallel to the Cathedral of Santiago in the direction of the Nervion River. These streets are: Somera, Artekale, Tenderia, Belostikale, Carniceria Vieja, Barrenkale and Barrenkale Barrena.

On the other hand, you will see that there are many historical or interesting sites that are outside of these pedestrian streets such as Plaza Nueva, Plaza Unamuno and the Basque Museum. The best way to get around Casco Viejo is walking, as it is not very big, and the sites are very close to each other.

Places of interest in the Casco Viejo

  • Plaza Nueva: it was built in the 19th century. It is of neoclassical style, with 5 entrances and rectangular shape surrounded by semicircular arches.
  • Arriaga Theater: it is a theater of neo-baroque style that was built at the end of the XIX century, and it is dedicated to the composer Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga. It is located in the square of the same name.
  • Basque Museum: it is the historical and artistic museum of the Basque Country and a very beautiful building from the architectural point of view. Its style is neoclassical.
  • Cathedral of Santiago: it is the oldest building of the Casco Viejo, whose construction began in the XIV century. It is of neo-Gothic style.
  • San Antón Church: it is a gothic style church built in the 15th century. It is the church that is on the coat of arms of the city and, due to its location next to the estuary and the Antón Bridge, it is one of the most popular sites in Bilbao.

Another option, besides walking through the streets of the Casco Viejo, is to go along the estuary by boat to get to know this city from another point of view, from the Nervion riverbed.

How to get to the Casco Viejo

From the Artxanda viewpoint you must go down in the same funicular until the station Funicular Artxando do-Funikularra in the square Moraza, which is to a kilometer of the Old Helmet. A good option is to walk along the shore of the Nervion River to the Arenal Bridge, which is near Plaza Nueva, as it is a nice walk.

You can also take the metro to the Zazpikaleak/Casco Viejo station, or take a cab.

Take a historical tour of Bilbao

La Ribera Market

Two blocks from the Bilbao Cathedral is the Mercado de la Ribera, which has been considered one of the most complete markets in the world. Rationalist and art deco style, it was built in 1990 by Pedro Ispizua.

The Mercado de la Ribera is the place where the people of the neighborhood buy all kinds of food and fresh produce, so it is the ideal place for you to meet the locals. It also has gastrobars where you can try some local delicacies, such as gildas and seafood, and the characteristic pinchos.

The Market also has a café overlooking the river, the Café-bar La Ribera, a jazz bar where, if you wish, you can cook the food you bought at the market.

  • Location: Erribera Kalea, s/n, 48005 Bilbo.
  • Hours: From 8 am to midnight every day except Sunday when it opens at 11 am.

Day 2: Vizcaya Bridge, Gorrondatxe Hondartza Beach and Galea Promenade

Vizcaya Suspension Bridge| ©Marga Noguera
Vizcaya Suspension Bridge| ©Marga Noguera

On your second day in the city of Bilbao you can visit the oldest bridge of the city, its port area, stroll along the coast and visit the wild beaches and cliffs, which will be the ideal complement to your tour of the Old Town of Bilbao.

Starting at the Vizcaya Bridge, you can have lunch at the Old Port and then take a walk along the coast to marvel at the incredible scenery on the shores of the Cantabrian Sea. You should be prepared with comfortable shoes and clothes, water and food, as these are natural sites where there are no bars or restaurants.

At night, to give a nice end to the day, you can sign up for a gastronomic tour in Bilbao and enjoy one of the best cuisines in the world.

Vizcaya Bridge

The Vizcaya Bridge is the only ferry bridge in the city. It is also the oldest ferry bridge in the world, which is why it was declared a World Heritage Site in 2006. The bridge crosses the Nervion River connecting the neighborhoods of El Arenal and Portugalete.

In addition to crossing the river with the ferry, you can take the elevator up to the pedestrian walkway that is 45 meters high, and enjoy a panoramic view of the river, the city and the sea. From there you will also be able to see the sophisticated operating mechanisms of the ferry that you will see passing below your feet.

You can walk up to the pedestrian walkway from either the Portugalete neighborhood or from Las Arenas, where there are metro stations very close to the elevators. Walking on the footbridge is totally safe for children. And, if you wish, you can also get on the boat to complete the trip, which is included with the purchase of the ticket.

  • Location: C/Barria N° 3 -Bajo 48.930, Las Arenas (Getxo), Bilbao.
  • Walkway hours: from 10 am to 2 pm and from 4 pm to 8 pm.
  • Ticket price: around 9 EUR for the basic ticket and 12 EUR for the ticket with audio guide. Children under 5 years of age do not pay admission.
  • Recommendations: it is likely that on rainy days it will not be possible to enter.

How to get to the Vizcaya Bridge

The best option if you do not have a car is to go by bus, as they leave you closer to the base of the bridge. If you prefer the subway, you should get off at Portugalete or Areeta station and walk about 9 blocks to the bridge.

By car, you should go along BI 637 road and take Zugatzarte Av. to the mouth of the river, and then turn into Eduardo Coste street.

Old Port - Portu Zaharra

A 15-minute bus ride from the Vizcaya Bridge takes you to Puerto Viejo or Portu Zaharra, a charming fishing village where you can stroll around for a while and choose a restaurant for lunch. Originally, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a fishing port was established here to assist the ships that were shipwrecked in the area.

Puerto Viejo is formed by beautiful white houses and has a varied and interesting gastronomic offer.

Very close to Puerto Viejo is the Arrigunaga beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Bilbao, which is a good option if you prefer not to move too much.

La Galea Promenade

Port and Cliff| ©Indautxu71
Port and Cliff| ©Indautxu71

La Galea is an area of cliffs, wild beaches, giant waves and lighthouses. This route is also known as the Paseo de los Acantilados (Cliff Walk). It is about 3.5 kilometers of walk along the coast to the beach Gorrondatxe Hondartza that you can make complete or in part.

From Puerto Viejo you can arrive making a combination of buses or taking a cab to the parking lot of the Fort of La Galea, the place from where the walk begins towards the beach Gorrondatxe. From the parking you have to go back a bit to see the Fort, which is an abandoned military construction dating back to the 18th century.

On the coastal path you will find viewpoints, the La Galea Lighthouse, stone seats to rest and incredible views of the cliffs. The path is really worth it and you will not realize how far you have walked because the natural environment is wonderful and very quiet. However, it is also possible to reach Gorrondatxe beach by car.

Another option, if you are one of those people who enjoy walking, is to start the coastal walk from Puerto Viejo, and walk about 6 km to Gorrondatxe beach. In general, the walk is not difficult, as it only goes uphill on the stretch from Puerto Viejo to La Galea Lighthouse.

Gorrondatxe Beach Hondartza

The beach Gorrondatxe Hondartza or Azkorri is a beach of about 800 meters long and 115 meters wide of black sands and rocks surrounded by cliffs. It is possible to take a dip in its waters if the weather is pleasant, but keep in mind that it is an area of strong waves, where surfing is usually practiced.

The beach has shower, bathing and drinking fountain services, and is guarded by lifeguards. It is isolated from the urbanization so you will not find bars or restaurants nearby. If you enjoy wild natural surroundings, you will love this beach.

To return to the center of Bilbao you can either return the same way towards La Galea lighthouse or continue walking to Sopelana beach, where you can take the metro from Larrabasterra station.

From Sopelana beach it is one and a half kilometers to Larrasbasterra station, while from Gorrondatxe Hondartza beach it is 2.5 kilometers to Berango station, where you can take the metro back to the center of Bilbao.

This is the itinerary I suggest you do if you go to Bilbao for two days, but if you stay in Bilbao for 3 days or more, you will have many options to add to your list of activities. One last recommendation for your stay in the city is not to leave without trying the best pintxos in Bilbao.