Bilbao, Spain is a hidden gem surrounded by lush green mountains, but also a short drive to a stunning coastline. The city is home to beautiful architecture, bridges, and a huge dining scene. It was once a booming industrial city but over time it has shifted to becoming a metropolitan area. Let’s see what are the best things to do and see in Bilbao.
Where is Bilbao?
Bilbao is in the Northern part of Spain in the Basque Country. The Nervión River runs right through the city dividing it into two parts. If you follow this river Northwest then it will take you out into the Bay of Biscay. Bilbao is a port city and originated as a settlement of seafaring people due to its proximity to the ocean. Nowadays, this just means there are a lot of beautiful beaches and small fishing towns to discover along the way.
What kind of weather is in this city?
Due to its geographical location, close to the mountains and the beach, Bilbao weather is typically classified as rainy. This is not necessarily a bad thing because the landscape is lush green and vibrant. The summertime is quite pleasant allowing for a much-needed escape from the heat of central Spain, however the winters can be long, cold, and wet.
Looking for some activities to do and see in Bilbao?
Bilbao is considered the biggest city in the Basque Country so it has a lot of things to offer. The city has a young energy to it but it also maintains the quant charms of a town with its historic center. Just take a walk to enjoy things to do and see in Bilbao!
Let the art seduce you!
Bilbao is an amazing place to explore which is why we want to share some places that are a must see on any trip to Bilbao.
- Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
You cannot miss this museum! First off, the titanium modern architecture is an iconic building next to the river. This museum helped shift Bilbao from an old industrial town to an international art and tourism spot. Inside you can find a variation of modern and contemporary art, some even encompassing an entire room. You can spend hours marveling at the artwork inside but don’t forget to walk around the museum to see the giant flower puppy at the front door or the tulips along the river.
- Bilbao Museum of Fine Arts
Another interesting museum to visit if modern and contemporary art is not your style. This museum has a general collection of classical and modern art from the 12th century to the present. So, you are bound to find something that catches your eye.
Enjoy the vibrant and authentic atmosphere of its streets!
- Doña Casilda de Iturrizar Park
This public park is located near the Guggenheim Museum. It is an enormous green space that features English-style gardens. It is a great area to walk with friends and enjoy the beautiful natural landscape while still being in a city. It’s very common to see people of all ages having a picnic during the sunny days.
- Bilbao Town Hall
The town hall is located at the bank of the river. It is a must-see due to its elegant and highly ornamental architectural style.
- Santiago Cathedral
Located in Bilbao’s old town, it is considered the oldest building in the city. Currently, it is a gothic cathedral. Previously it was once a shrine that dated back to the Jacobean pilgrimages (now known as the Camino de Santiago). You can admire the façade and tower from afar as well as tour the inside to gaze at the vaulted ceilings and three naves.
The Casco Viejo is an unmissable break, a real treat for the palate!
- Mercado de la Ribera
This is considered the largest indoor market in Europe. Inside you can find the freshest products from local gardens, catch of the day fish, meats from local farms, and cheeses. You can find just about every ingredient here at the stalls. If you are in Bilbao for a longer period of time you can sign up for the cooking courses and workshops offered here. It truly is the perfect experience for anyone passionate about gastronomy!
- Plaza Nueva Square
This square is the main hub of social life in the city as it contains many shops, bars, restaurants, and cafes. Stop here for a drink!
Around this area you can find some of the best restaurants in Bilbao. It is located in the heart of Bilbao’s old town making it a great location to stop in for a bite after walking around and enjoying things to do and see as the Bilbao architecture. Plus, every Sunday it hosts a street market where you can find lots of interesting treasures.
- San Mamés
Home to the Athletic Bilbao soccer club. It is the 7th largest stadium in Spain allowing for 53,331 fans to cheer on their favorite team. If you are a fan of soccer then you must check out this team as they are the fourth most successful club in La Liga, the Spanish professional league system. The red and white stripes shirts are iconic and a must for anyone attending a game.
Discover outdoor activities to see and do in Bilbao
Bilbao has so much to offer between the amazing art in the museums, sandy beaches, to delicious delicacies. Indeed, the Basque Country has an amazing coastline that attracts many tourists who want to soak up the sun or try several water sports.
Just relax on the best beaches in Bilbao!
The Bay of Biscay has spectacular beaches that are contrasted by steep cliffs, luscious meadows, and fishing villages. A few Bilbao beaches that we love to visit are:
- Bakio Beach: An urban beach along the Bizkaia coast is ideal for a quiet day at the beach. Also, if you love to explore you can check out the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe islet which is famous for its appearance in the tv series Game of Thrones as well as its winding journey of steps along the coast and mountain to an old church.
- Sopelana Beach: Known for its superb conditions for surfing. This beach offers surf schools for beginners or experts looking to catch the best waves. People also can enjoy the extensive sandy beach area while admiring the rocky ledges and natural environment.
- La Arena Beach: Located between mountains and a river. This beach is another popular destination for surfers and families ready to enjoy the sand and grassy areas.
Enjoy the famous gastronomy of Basque Country!
Now on to our favorite part about Bilbao- the food! Indeed, Basque cuisine is on another level as they experiment with traditional dishes as well as create new flavors.
The most notable about Bilbao food are the pinchos found everywhere. Pinchos, or pintxo in Basque, are small appetizers that mark the identity of the people in Bilbao. Pinchos are different than tapas because they are not free and must be bought separately. You can find pintxo bars everywhere!
These bars contain glass containers that showcase the fresh options of pintxos. Many bars contain a mixture of old classics as well as innovative creations that make your mouth water. You can even join, or create your own, gastronomy walks where you hop to different bars to try their options of pintxos. We recommend walking around the seven streets of Casco Viejo which is the oldest part of Bilbao.
Do you dare to try the best pintxos bites in Bilbao?
Here you can admire the Bilbao architecture as well as stop in for a bite to eat. Here is a sampling of the classic cuisine that you can find in Bilbao:
- Gildas: The most traditional pintxo that consists of a toothpick with olives, an anchovy, and chili.
- Stuffed mussels
- Marinated cod skewer
- Chorizo al infierno: or Hell-style Chorizo. It is a flambéed Spanish sausage cooked with alcohol, typically brandy.
- Cheeses: Idiazabal and Cabrales cheese to name a few can be enjoyed here as well as Urdiña cheese.
- Piperrada: A Basque sauce made with peppers, onion, and tomato. It pairs well with pan-seared fish, fried eggs, and even pizza.
- Txipirones: A popular seafood dish that consists of baby squid that is cooked in its own ink.
Also, be sure to try Calimocho. This is a popular concoction of equal parts red wine and Coca-Cola. It is a popular drink of choice during festival season in the summer as it is refreshing and not too intense to drink during hot days.
Where to stay in Bilbao
If you do plan a trip, make sure to check out some of the amazing Bilbao hotels located all throughout the city. You can easily find luxurious hotels or youth hostels that are equally accommodating to any type of traveler. Bilbao is also very easy to get to by train, bus, or plane. The Bilbao airport isn’t too far from the city center. Plus, you can score amazing travel deals at this location, allowing you to fly over to another cool destination.