Best Things To Do in Bilbao

Bilbao is the most representative city of the Basque Country and an inexhaustible source of attractions to discover. Here I tell you what you can see and do during your visit.

Matías Rodríguez

Matías Rodríguez

10 min read

Best Things To Do in Bilbao

Bilbao | Rodrigo Curi

Bilbao is the most important city in the Basque Country, a cosmopolitan reference and also a tourist destination that in recent years has left behind its purely industrial profile to become a cultural symbol for the whole of Spain. It has achieved this partly with the Guggenheim Museum but also with a wide range of attractions that attracts millions of visitors every year.

Among the best things to see and do in Bilbao are the museums, the food markets, the excursions along the estuary and the gastronomic tours, which feature some of the tastiest dishes in Europe.

1. Visit the Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum| ©stanjourdan
Guggenheim Museum| ©stanjourdan

If you go to Bilbao it is essential that you get tickets to visit the Guggenheim Museum. Its inauguration in 1997 marked a before and after in the profile of the city. Its strategic location on one of the banks of the estuary, prompted a profound revitalization of public and private spaces and boosted tourism in the region to become the most visited attraction in the city.

The 'Guggenheim effect', as the media dubbed it, also brought international fame to the contemporary art museum that houses works by Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, James Rosenquis and Antoni Tapies, among other renowned artists of the 20th century.

At the Guggenheim, which receives more than a million visitors each year and is one of the best tours of Bilbao, you can not miss its permanent exhibitions and temporary exhibitions, but also the architecture of the building, designed by Frank Gehry and recreates a ship of stone and glass covered with titanium.

Details of interest

  • Museum price... Admission for adults is a starting cost of 13 euros. Children under 18 get in free.
  • Museum location... Avenida Abandoibarra 2, Bilbao.
  • Museum opening hours... Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 to 19.00 hours.
  • How to get to the museum... From the center of Bilbao you can take bus line A3247 to Alameda Recalde station.

Book a guided tour of the Guggenheim Museum

2. Walk through the Seven Streets of the Casco Viejo (Old Town)

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

The Old Town of Bilbao is the foundational site of the city and is composed of the Seven Streets that gave it its origin in the Middle Ages.

Artecalle, Tendería, Belosticalle, Carnicería Vieja, Barrencalle, Barrenkale Barrena and Somera, which is the oldest and is where the most famous bars and restaurants of the city are located, are the winding cobblestone paths that give life to this picturesque neighborhood of Bilbao and that you should not miss if you spend a day or two in the city.

In the Casco Viejo you can lose yourself in a walk through its streets to discover some of the most representative sites of the city, such as the Cathedral of Santiago, the Basque Museum, the Motrikes Bar and the churches of San Antón, San Nicolás and Santos Juanes.

There is also the Ribera Market and Plaza Nueva, the epicenter of the best pintxo bars in Bilbao.

The Arriaga Theater, which is still open and promoting opera and dance performances, is also located in the Casco Viejo and is one of the main meeting points for guided tours of the neighborhood.

  • How to get to Casco Viejo... By Metro Bilbao to Zazpi Kaleak station.

Book a historical tour of the Casco Viejo

3. Walk through the Ribera Market

La Ribera Market| ©Juan A Lopez
La Ribera Market| ©Juan A Lopez

The Mercado de la Ribera is one of the places you must visit in Bilbao if you really want to feel like a local. There you can buy fresh produce and walk through each of the floors, which are reserved for a particular type of food.

On the first floor are the fishmongers, on the second floor the butchers and on the second floor the fruit and vegetable stalls. You can also dine or have lunch at some of the pintxo stalls and have one of the best wine tastings in Bilbao.

Located in the Casco Viejo, the Mercado de la Ribera is also the perfect place to stop for lunch between excursions or to buy local products at the same stalls where the locals shop. After the renovation, this food market also includes a jazz bar on the first floor of the building.

The Mercado de la Ribera, which is the largest in Europe, has been operating from the same location since the 14th century and is one of the places that has brought fame to the exquisite Basque cuisine, as most visitors touring Bilbao pass through the market's restaurants and bars during their stay.

Details of interest

  • Market location... Erribera Kalea s/n, Bilbao.
  • Market hours... Every day from 8.00 am to 0.00 am.
  • How to get to the market... By Metro Bilbao to Zazpi Kaleak station.

Book a pintxos, food and history tour in Bilbao

4. Get to know the Bilbao Estuary

Bilbao Estuary| ©jose ramon albizua
Bilbao Estuary| ©jose ramon albizua

The Bilbao estuary is closely related to the history of the city, which was built around it to promote maritime transport, so a walk along the paths of its banks is one of the best plans to get to know Bilbao and its industrial vestiges.

Since the Middle Ages, the most emblematic buildings of the city are built on its banks and that tradition is maintained to this day, so during your walk you can go from the Old Town and the ubiquitous bell tower of the Cathedral to the Guggenheim Museum and the New San Mames in a few streets away.

If you want to tour the estuary from the water, you can take a boat trip to the Basque coast, which is an ideal plan if you plan to visit Bilbao with children, as it is a very fun activity.

5. Visit the Artxanda viewpoint

Artxanda Viewpoint| ©Jose A
Artxanda Viewpoint| ©Jose A

The Artxanda viewpoint is one of the highest points of Bilbao and from where you can contemplate one of the best views of the city. You can take the funicular that connects the Zubizuri Bridge with the highest peak of the mountain.

Once at the panoramic point, you can see the most emblematic buildings, the entire estuary and the mountain range that surrounds and encases the metropolitan area.

From Mount Artxanda you can also contemplate the unmistakable silhouette of the Guggenheim, the New San Mamés and the Iberdrola Tower, which with 40 floors is the tallest building in the city. The Casco Viejo can be distinguished by the bell tower of the Cathedral of Santiago.

In addition to taking some of the best pictures of the city, during clear days you can see the Cantabrian Sea, especially if you plan to visit Bilbao in summer, when the days are clear and the panoramic observations are cleaner.

Interesting details

  • Funicular price... The ticket for the round trip transfer from the Zubizuri Bridge to the top has a starting price of 4.30 euros.
  • Location of the Zubizuri Bridge... Zubizuri, Bilbao.
  • Funicular opening hours... Every day from 7.15 am to 10.00 pm.
  • How to get to Zubizuri Bridge... From the center of Bilbao you can take the streetcar line 5 to Uribitarte station.

Book your visit with the Artxanda Funicular

6. Visit the Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao

Bilbao Fine Arts Museum| ©Pablo A
Bilbao Fine Arts Museum| ©Pablo A

Since the construction of the Guggenheim, Bilbao became overnight a global reference of contemporary art, but long before that the city already had the Museum of Fine Arts, which houses in its halls more than ten thousand works of art from the thirteenth century onwards.

If you are an art lover, this museum will become one of your favorite visits in the city and because of its location you can also combine your tour with a walk through the Doña Casilda Park, an English-style garden that is one of the largest green lungs along the estuary.

If you are touring Bilbao at night, you can also dine in the nearby Abando area, which has some of the best restaurants in the city.

Details of interest

  • Price of the museum... Admission is free.
  • Museum Location... Museo Plaza 2, Bilbao
  • Museum opening hours... Wednesday to Monday from 10.00 am to 8.00 pm. Tuesday closed.

7. Meet the Suspension Bridge of Biscay

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

The Vizcaya Bridge is one of the first stops towards the Basque coast on the route from Bilbao and also a reference of the Basque Country, as it contains what was the first mechanical ferry and metal structure in the world, with a design that was inspired by the Eiffel Tower.

This bridge separates Portugalete from Getxo, in an area that informally belongs to Greater Bilbao. The ferry is the only land-based way to move from one town to another and its operability continues to highlight the power of the Basque coast as a Spanish industrial power since the 19th century.

Getxo is also one of the fishing villages with some of the best beaches on the Basque coast, including Las Arenas, Arrigunaga, Azkorri-Gorrondatxe and Barinatxe.

Visiting the Vizcaya Suspension Bridge is one of the alternatives to go into the interior of the Basque Country, outside the bustle of the big cities like Bilbao and San Sebastian, to see a different profile of northern Spain.

  • 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

8. Enjoy Basque gastronomy

Iberian ham croquettes| ©LexnGer
Iberian ham croquettes| ©LexnGer

Basque cuisine enjoys a very good reputation for its varied flavors and also for the abundance of its dishes and is one of the great motivations of tourists when choosing the Basque Country as a tourist destination. That is why Bilbao offers some of the best gastronomic tours so you can enjoy its dishes.

The options that I recommend you not to miss are the cod in pil pil sauce, the sea bream in Bilbao style and the baby squid in its ink. As you will see, the main delicacies of Basque cuisine contain fish and that is due to its proximity to the port areas. You can also try tripe in Biscayan sauce, marmitako, hake in green sauce and grilled cutlet.

Among the pintxos are the classic gilda, anchovies in vinegar, the bilbainito, the bacon and plum skewer and the Iberian ham croquettes, one of the most famous in the Basque Country, which is also characterized by including pork in its recipes. I advise you not to forget to try the goxua, which is the traditional Basque dessert, made with sponge cake and whipped cream.

To enjoy Basque cuisine you don't need to visit the most exclusive restaurants, but just choose a stall in the Mercado de la Ribera or in any area of the Casco Viejo. And always try to accompany your meals with a good Rioja wine. If you are planning a short stay in the city and do not have time to visit a winery, you can try txakoli at the market stalls. If that is your case, here is a list of activities you can do to discover Bilbao in 3 days.

Book a gastronomic tour of Bilbao

9. Tour the Basque coast

Touring San Juan de Gaztelugatxe| ©Mario A. P.
Touring San Juan de Gaztelugatxe| ©Mario A. P.

Bilbao is an ideal city to use as a base to discover the towns of the coast of Biscay and also the nearby sites within the Basque Country, such as Vitoria and the towns of the Rioja wine route.

If you have enough time in Bilbao to be able to make an excursion outside the city, I recommend you to do so in order to get to know an alternative profile of northern Spain and the beauty of the Cantabrian Sea.

You can tour the Basque coast and the Rioja wine route on your own or on an organized tour. Some of the most attractive towns near Bilbao are Orio, Zumaya, Guetaria and Gernika, as well as larger cities such as San Sebastian, Biarritz and San Juan de la Luz, the latter two towns already in France, in the so-called French Basque Country.

Going from Bilbao to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the town that gained international fame since it was chosen as the setting for some chapters of the popular series Game of Thrones, is another of the most popular excursions. There you can visit the rock castle crowned by the hermitage of John the Baptist, which can be accessed by a stone bridge with 241 steps.

Book a trip to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao

10. Walk along Bilbao's Gran Vía

On Bilbao's Gran Via| ©Tenebris
On Bilbao's Gran Via| ©Tenebris

If during your visit to Bilbao you want to walk along one of the main streets of the city and also go shopping, you can visit the Gran Via Don Diego Lopez Haro, which runs through the neighborhood of El Ensanche and connects the Plaza Circular with the Plaza del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus.

Along its route you can find the most exclusive stores while walking under the centenary linden trees.

If you plan to visit Bilbao during Christmas you will find the Gran Vía decorated with lights and Christmas motifs and the locals with a wide range of gifts. If during the walk you want to take a break, you can relax in the Jardines de Albia, located in Abando, a few streets away.

On Bilbao's Gran Vía, you can also discover the Palacio Foral, the Palacio Chávarri and the Plaza Moyúa, which is home to some of the most stately buildings in the city and stands out for its wide range of bars and restaurants.