Bilbao is an industrial port city set in the hills of northern Spain’s Basque Country. The city’s reputation in the past was that it was grey, poor, and under a constant threat of violence from ETA, a disbanded separatist terrorist organization. In the 1990s, the city was awarded a Guggenheim Museum, which sparked an economic and cultural resurgence. Although Bilbao is not your typical beautiful Spanish city outside the old town, there are plenty of interesting things to do. Bilbao has fascinating art museums, delicious pintxos bars, and beautiful views from the surrounding hills.
How to Get Around
Bilbao is a very walkable city, so you won’t need to rely heavily on taxis and public transportation. To get to the bus terminal or airport, you can take a bus or use the ride-hailing app Cabify.
Things to Do in Bilbao
Guggenheim Museum – The Guggenheim is the main attraction in Bilbao. The modern architecture on display isn’t for everyone, but I still found the museum to be quite interesting because of how atypical it is. The entrance is €16 and I recommend buying a ticket in advance.
Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao – With works from El Greco, Goya, Zurbarán, Velázquez, and local Basque artists, this museum is well worth a visit. The admission is €7, but it’s free if you are 25 and under. There is also free admission from 6-8 PM from Tuesday to Saturday. The collection isn’t huge and you can expect to spend around 1 hour here.
Artxanda Viewpoint – Artxanda offers sweeping views of the city, and it’s a popular place to have a picnic. You can either walk up to the viewpoint or take the funicular for €4.30 round trip.
Portugalete – Portugalete is a quiet town to the northwest of Bilbao that makes for a pleasant half-day trip. The main attraction is the Vizcaya Bridge, where you pay only €0.45 to cross on a high suspended gondola. Or, you can pay €9 to walk across the high-level footbridge. Portugalete has beautiful buildings along the river and near Plaza de Solar. If you come in the afternoon, you will find many people on the streets enjoying a drink and pintxos.
The metro ride takes 30 minutes and the one-way price is €1.80. If you only intend to use the metro a couple of times, it will be cheaper to buy a paper ticket rather than a card.
Attend a football match – Bilbao is home to one of the most unique teams in the world that only fields players from the Basque Country. The fans are incredibly passionate and it’s an awesome experience.
Begoñako Basilika – A 16th-century gothic church with beautiful art lining the inner walls. Be ready to climb lots of steps if you come from the old town. Another option is to stop by on your way down from the Artxanda.
Free Walking Tour – Always a great way to learn about a city’s history and get tips from a local on where to eat and what to do.
Bidebarrieta Liburutegi Zentrala – A small library in the old town with a beautiful interior that is worth a quick visit.
Azkuna Zentroa – A cultural center with a cinema, art exhibitions, and a bar. The art exhibition wasn’t my cup of tea, but the architecture of the building is impressive.
Federico Moyua Enparantza – A beautiful circular intersection with floral gardens and an elaborate fountain.
What to Eat
Pintxos are the staple of Basque cuisine and they have so much flavor in every bite. They remind me more of Venetian cicchetti than traditional Spanish tapas because they consist of sliced bread with 3-4 toppings.
The most common pintxos you will find in Bilbao are bacalao (cod with garlic mayo) and Iberian ham with cheese. Pintxos typically cost €1.75-2.50 each. A traditional Basque dessert is a Carolina, which is a custard-filled crust and a cone-shaped topping with dark chocolate and meringue.
Where to Eat
A tip for ordering: When you walk into a bar, you will see an array of pintxos on the counter and a list with more pintxos written on a board. The ones written on the board are the bar’s specialties.
Ribera Market – The central market of Bilbao was at one time the largest indoor market in Europe. The main level is divided into 2 sections, one with a pintxos hall and the other selling fish, meat, and produce. Be aware that a couple of the pintxos bars here are very much catered towards tourists. Both Arambari and Gloria Bendita are excellent options for authentic pintxos.
Gure Toki – A contemporary pintxos bar in the old town with very creative combinations. These were the best I had in Bilbao and it gets very busy here.
Café Bar Bilbao – Café Bar is the complete opposite of Gure Toki, but just as delicious. It’s a simple, retro bar serving the most traditional pintxos.
Where to Stay
Latroupe La Granja – I was nervous as my trip to Bilbao was approaching because all of the hostels had less than ideal locations. Luckily Latroupe La Granja had its grand opening a few days before I arrived, and it’s a fantastic hostel. The amenities are the nicest of any hostel I’ve stayed in, and the staff is very friendly. It also has a perfect location between the old town and the museums.
How Long to Stay
I think 2 days is enough time in Bilbao before heading elsewhere in Spain. You could stay another day to make a day trip to the island of Gaztelugatxeko, which I missed out on due to landslides.
Where to Next
Bookaway is a great resource that allows you to compare the prices of both buses and flights, and secure your seat in advance!
Madrid – Spain’s affordable capital has fantastic art museums, great nightlife, and delicious food.
Seville – The beautiful Andalusian city has a unique blend of Spanish and Arabic influence.
That wraps up the best things to do in Bilbao! It’s not the most beautiful place, nor does it offer beaches like many of Spain’s top destinations. However, it’s a very authentic city with fantastic restaurants and a mix of enjoyable attractions.
This post may include affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a comission at no extra cost to you.