The bustling and lively Basque County city of Bilbao is a must visit for those interested in Northern Spain’s legendary relaxed pace of life. Bilbao has a million inhabitants and the city lies within one of Spain’s most densely populated regions. It’s a fun place to visit and there is much to see and do in the city. Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum has attracted a huge number of visitors to the region and has firmly put the city on the map. The temperate climate (rarely falling below freezing in winter, or above 35 degrees in summer) make it a popular tourist destination, and the variety of holiday accommodation reflects this - from friendly bed and breakfast places to self-catering apartments, however you like to holiday, Bilbao can provide it!
- Bilbao has the second highest cost of living in Spain, after Madrid
- The Basque Country, where Bilbao is located, has the lowest birthrate in Spain
- Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum is known as ‘The Beast’ by locals due to its odd design
- Bilbao and the Basque region are famous for its tapas – known as pintxos
Where to Stay in Bilbao
From inexpensive pensions in the city to glamorous luxury villas on the outskirts, you can get a lot for your budget in Bilbao. Driving is very difficult due to the winding hilly roads, so make sure that your accommodation is easy to get to using public transport. The centre of the city is a great place to stay if you want to really get to know Bilbao and take advantage of its bustling nightlife. Booking through Wimdu means that you can easily tailor your search as well, so if you need an en-suite bathroom, children’s facilities, or you would like to rent somewhere with a swimming pool, just tick those boxes!
Things to See and Do in Bilbao
Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum is perhaps the city’s most famous and talked about tourist attraction. The building’s design was inspired by Bilbao’s estuary position and reflects the city’s relationship with water. Its swooping curves represent the sea whilst the metal squares covering the structure resemble a fish’s scales. Designed by Frank Gehry, this spectacular, titanium-clad modern art museum is one of the most famous buildings of the 1990s. Inside you’ll find many amazing decorative rooms as well as an impressive permanent collection of modern art. Temporary exhibits showcase displays loaned from other Guggenheim museums. Entry for adults is €13.00 and children under 10 can enter for free. The museum sits on the banks of the river that runs through the city and is located north of the city centre.
If you’re still hungry for more culture after visiting the Guggenheim, we highly recommend you visit the Museum of Fine Arts. This small museum is gaining more and more recognition for its superb collection of Spanish and Basque paintings and sculptures. If you’ve had your fill of museums in Bilbao, head for the city’s Old Town (Casco Viejo) to the square called Plaza Nueva. Here you’ll get a real feel for local life and this lively plaza is full of restaurants and bars. It’s the perfect spot for evenings and on Sundays when an antique market takes place in the square. It’s also the best place to find some of Bilbao’s more revered tapas restaurants. Tapas are called ‘pintxos’ is this part of Spain and you’ll find some of the tastiest dishes on this square! Find a seat in a restaurant early in the evening – they fill up quickly! Alternatively you can go down the self-catering route and do some food shopping in one of the local markets earlier in the day, and then fire up the barbecue back at your apartment!
Bilbao has several churches that are interesting to visit. The Cathedral of St James (named after Bilbao’s patron saint) is a gothic style 14th century cathedral. It has three naves and several cloisters. It is located at the Plaza de Santiago, home to a beautiful fountain which has the famous quote ‘Por el bien publico’ (for the good of the people) inscribed in it. Iglesia de San Anton is a gothic style church built in the 15th century and is also worth a visit. The Basilica de Begona, which overlooks Bilbao is arguably the most famous and symbolic religious building in the city. It was constructed in the 16th century and the interior has been heavily restored. It’s quite a hike up to the Basilica but it’s worth it as the views over the city are excellent! It is known as Bilbao’s most beautiful church but be aware that it is a 20 minute walk from the nearest metro station.
There’s another opportunity for a fantastic view over the city – take the Artxanda Funicular up to the hills above Bilbao. A single trip costs as little as 90c and the journey takes only a few minutes. Alternatively, if you would like that view every day of your holidays, look to book a self-catering villa up in the hills. At the top you’ll find a beautiful park area containing an interesting civil war memorial and also a restaurant. It’s the ideal place for a quiet stroll – find the Funicular a short walk from the Guggenheim Museum.
Bilbao Airport is served by many major European airlines and is located 9km north of the city centre. To get to the city centre from the airport take Bizkaibus which leaves outside the arrivals area of the airport. The journey takes roughly 30 minutes.
Getting around central Bilbao as a tourist is fairly straightforward. Most attractions of interest are within walking distance of each other. If you choose to rent accommodation in central Bilbao, then you will can easily discover the city entirely on foot. Buses are however held in high regard in Bilbao and the bus system is smooth and straightforward – impressive considering it serves over a million people. If you decide to get a villa, make sure you check that it is on a well-connected route. If you’re going to make more than two journeys via bus it’s a good idea to buy a CreditTrans card which can save you up to 50% on single travel tickets. Bilbao also has ferry connections with Portsmouth as well as good train connections with Madrid, Santander and Leon.