10 Best Towns in Bilbao

Bilbao is the ideal place to use as a base to get to know other nearby towns, which hide medieval beauties, idyllic beaches, millenary bridges and magical recipes, such as Rioja wine.

Keyvis Montilva

Keyvis Montilva

10 min read

10 Best Towns in Bilbao

Bilbao, Spain | ©Yves Alarie

Among the best things to see and do in Bilbao is undoubtedly touring the nearby towns, which will give you the chance to understand the Basque idiosyncrasy and culture and also allow you to lose yourself in a journey through wonderful landscapes where you will feel like a local.

Bilbao is one of the main cities of the Basque Country and has some of the best attractions in northern Spain, but it is also an ideal place to use as a base to get to know some of the best nearby towns, especially those bordering the Basque coast and which have some of the best beaches in Europe.

1. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the filming set of Game of Thrones

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe| ©jordi Doria Vidal
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe| ©jordi Doria Vidal

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe became world famous for being one of the film sets of the popular series Game of Thrones.

Since then many tourists discovered in a remote corner of the coast of Biscay, just 35 kilometers from Bilbao, was hidden a rock castle with the hermitage of John the Baptist at the top and a stone bridge that you can walk on its 241 steps.

The islet containing the hermitage became very popular and nowadays it is possible to discover it on half-day excursions or you can do it on your own, on a car trip along the BI-631 route, which offers one of the best options to get to Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao.

Note that as it is an open space the entrance to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is free, although if you plan to travel to Bilbao in summer or during the high season months you have to book an entrance to the hermitage in advance. This is to protect the site from the large influx of tourists that was triggered by the success of Game of Thrones.

  • How to get there from Bilbao... By car you can drive along the BI-631 road for 45 kilometers in a journey of about half an hour.

Book an excursion to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao

2. Biarritz and San Juan de Luz, the pearls of the French-Basque coast

Biarritz| ©Pablo Sanxiao
Biarritz| ©Pablo Sanxiao

The Basque Country historically claims a part of the territory of the Basque-French coast, which includes among its most representative villages Biarritz and St. Jean de Luz, which is considered the best kept secret of the Basques. These two villages can be visited on guided tours from Bilbao or on your own by car or on Alsa buses .

Biarritz is the most famous of the villages on the Basque-French coast. It was the historic summer resort of European royalty and is an elegant town with long beaches and surfing schools. In addition, from Biarritz it is possible to contemplate one of the best panoramic views of the Bay of Biscay.

The other town of reference on the French Basque coast is Saint Jean de Luz, which has a more humble cut than Biarritz, as it is mainly a fishing village. However, the colorful houses that populate the bay and the views of the Bay of Biscay make it an unmissable place among the towns near Bilbao.

  • How to get there from Bilbao... By car you can drive along the AP-8 road for 130 kilometers to San Juan de Luz, a trip of approximately 1 hour and a half. Biarritz is located 17 kilometers north on the same road. You can also travel by bus with Alsa or Flixbus.

Book an excursion to San Sebastian and Biarritz

3. Laguardia, the medieval village on the Rioja wine route

Laguardia| ©asociacionjuvenilelcueto
Laguardia| ©asociacionjuvenilelcueto

It could be said that the wall surrounding Laguardia gives it the status of a medieval village, because it is a site built on top of a terrain guarded by the rocky perimeter ordered to be built by King Sancho el Fuerte of Navarre.

This village is also the entrance to the wine route of the Rioja Alavesa and the wineries are some of its main attractions.

Apart from the picturesque Torre Abacial and the monumental Church of Santa Maria de los Reyes, built within the walls, in Laguardia you can learn about an economy based on the wine industry, hence the town is the threshold of numerous wineries, including El Fabulista, which is one of the leading wineries in the Basque Country and Spain.

Laguardia also stands out for the Poblado de la Hoya and the Chabola de la Hechicera, two archaeological and prehistoric sites that make the town famous as the cradle of the Basque memory.

  • How to get there from Bilbao... By car you can drive along the AP-68 road for 111 kilometers in approximately 1 hour and a half.

Book a trip to the wine region from Bilbao

4. Guernica and Luno, the inspiration of Pablo Picasso

Guernica| ©Tony Hisgett
Guernica| ©Tony Hisgett

Guernica was a town like any other in the Basque Country until one Monday in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the German Air Force bombed it completely and nothing was ever the same again. Since then, the town was reborn from the ashes and became the inspiration for Pablo Picasso's most famous work.

Today, Guernica is a town of just under twenty thousand inhabitants that is notable for the Peace Museum, the Centro de Juntas, the Museum of Euskal Herria and the Guernica tree, a specimen of oak that inexplicably survived the bombing. It is also a regular destination for field trips in elementary schools in the Basque Country.

Visiting Guernica is one of the best excursions from Bilbao, a must with history and also a chance to get to know one of the most picturesque villages in the Basque Country.

  • How to get there from Bilbao... By car you can drive along the AP-8 route and combine with the BI-635 road for 33 kilometers in a journey of about half an hour. You can also get there by combining the Bilbao Metro with the E4 bus to Gernika.

Book an excursion to Guernica and the Basque Coast

5. Castro-Urdiales, a Cantabrian village among Roman ruins

Castro-Urdiales| ©manuel m. v.
Castro-Urdiales| ©manuel m. v.

Castro-Urdiales is not geographically located in the Basque Country but in Cantabria, but it is only 31 kilometers from Bilbao and is worth a visit. This seaside town stands out for its gastronomy and also for the circuit of its historic center, which includes the Gothic-style Church of Santa Maria and a medieval Castle of Santa Ana that was converted into a lighthouse.

Castro-Urdiales fulfills two of the conditions that many of the towns of the Cantabrian coast have: it has a medieval profile without losing its essence as a place of fishermen, but it also has the added charm of being built on a cliff and on the ruins of the Roman period.

If Bilbao stands out for its gastronomic excursions, Castro-Urdiales combines the best of Basque and Cantabrian cuisine, so it also offers some of the best food stalls you will see on your trip.

  • How to get there from Bilbao... By car you can drive along the AP-8 road for 31 kilometers in about half an hour. You can also travel by bus with Alsa services.

Book a gastronomic tour of pintxos and history in Bilbao

6. Portugalete and Getxo, populated by beaches and bridges

Getxo| ©Josep Maria Viñolas Esteva
Getxo| ©Josep Maria Viñolas Esteva

Portugalete is one of the first towns along the A-8 route from Bilbao to the Basque coast and usually goes unnoticed by tourists, but its centenary Vizcaya Bridge is well worth a visit. This bridge also has what was the world's first mechanical and metal-framed ferry, with a design inspired by the Eiffel Tower.

The Vizcaya Bridge separates Portugalete from Getxo, another town that is part of the region of the area known as Gran Bilbao and stands out for the beauty of beaches such as Las Arenas, Arrigunaga, Azkorri-Gorrondatxe and Barinatxe, located next to the stately homes. Then, on one side of the bridge, the industrial strength of Portugalete and on the other, the residential Getxo.

To move from one city to another you must use the ferry that is in perfect working condition and continues to enhance the reputation of the Basque coast as a potential Spanish industrial since the nineteenth century.

  • How to get there from Bilbao... By car you can drive along the A-8 road for 12 kilometers in a journey of approximately 15 minutes. You can also take the C1 bus or the Bilbao Metro to Portugalete station.

Book a bike ride with tapas tasting in Getxo

7. Elantxobe, an artificial balcony over the coast of Vizcaya

Elantxobe| ©Dan Costin
Elantxobe| ©Dan Costin

Elantxobe is striking for its labyrinthine narrow streets and colorful houses that are built on the slope, creating the feeling that the whole village is irremediably heading towards the sea.

The port is the starting point of this almost rural town that is built on an artificial balcony that shelters the coast of Biscay and that will amaze you as soon as you see it.

If you plan to visit this town, keep in mind that you will have to make a great physical effort to go up and down its slopes while discovering the Church of San Nicolas de Bari, the beaches of Laida and Laga, which are filled with surfers every year, and the historic center of a village built in height.

The preponderance of fishermen turns into a joke a local legend that claims that Elantxobe is a port with a village, and perhaps it may be true, but either way it is a place worth a visit, especially because its access by car from Bilbao is very quick and easy and because it is located on the route to other sites along the Basque coast.

Interesting facts

  • How to get there from Bilbao... By car you can drive along the AP-8 route combined with the BI-635 road for 48 kilometers in a journey of approximately 1 hour. You can also travel by combining the Bilbao Metro with the E4 and A3513 buses to the Bide Kalea station.

Book an excursion to discover the villages of the Basque coast

8. Orduña, the cradle of the Nervion River

Orduña| ©Pascual
Orduña| ©Pascual

Orduña, located on the border between the provinces of Alava and Burgos, is a watershed in the broadest sense of the word, because it is the birthplace of the Nervion River, which is considered one of the natural wonders of Spain.

This town dedicated to religious tourism is home to the Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de la Antigua, the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción and the Church of the Sagrada Familia.

Orduña is also home to the Buen Suceso Chapel, a former Franciscan convent and the Plaza de los Fueros, which is almost the only secular attraction in a town with churches on every corner and which has been a geographical whim, constituting a Bilbao enclave since the Middle Ages, when it served as a customs house.

Nowadays Orduña has a testimonial weight in the Basque commerce, but it continues being a reference among the catholic pilgrimages and a picturesque town from whose main square it is possible to distinguish the valley that surrounds it, generating the sensation in the visitor of being enclosed in a miscalculation of nature.

  • How to get there from Bilbao... By car you can drive along the AP-8 road combining with the Laudio Highway in a 45 kilometers trip that will take you approximately 40 minutes.

9. Mundaka, the surfing capital of the Basque Country

Mundaka| ©Javi
Mundaka| ©Javi

Mundaka is a reference for surfers from all over Spain and one of the main sites of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, so it is also a place to observe migratory birds and other species of Bilbao's fauna.

However, Mundaka really stands out for what surrounds its fishing port, which is small but houses the sailboats of much of the Basque coastal area. The Church of Santa Maria is another attraction, as are the palaces of Ibaialde and Kurutziaga, which stand out among the low colorful houses that adorn the bay.

Mundaka's economy revolves around fishing, but also the surfing business, as there are many schools and it is one of the training sites for surfers preparing for competitions such as Open LPA Surf City, in Gran Canaria.

In Mundaka you can also access the viewpoints, take a swim in the paradisiacal beach of Laidatxu and enjoy the local cuisine that stands out, of course, for the fish and seafood.

  • How to get there from Bilbao... By car you can drive along the BI-631 road for a 40-kilometer trip that will take you approximately 45 minutes.

10. Plentzia, the stately secret of the Basque Coast

Plentzia| ©Ignacio Díaz-Emparanza
Plentzia| ©Ignacio Díaz-Emparanza

Plentzia is also a Cantabrian town on the route of the tours near Bilbao, but unlike the other destinations, this one stands out mainly for its beaches surrounded by a bay of cliffs, although it also has colorful houses and palaces that stand above the architectural level of the area.

Plentzia is one of the most economically prosperous places on the Basque coast and that translates into its port and the neat historic center that includes the Church of Santa Maria Magdalena and the main square of the town, which only 29 kilometers from Bilbao, breathes a tranquility unheard of in the big cities of the Basque Country.

During the tour, in Plentzia you will find a village of coastal nature and stately buildings with an extensive and quiet beach that will be ideal if you plan to visit Bilbao with children.

  • How to get there from Bilbao... By car you can drive along the BI-631 road in a 29 kilometers route that will take you approximately 30 minutes. You can also take the C1 bus line and the Bilbao Metro to Plentzia station.