Your Ultimate Bilbao Travel Guide 2023
Bilbao, Spain is a vibrant and beautiful city with a rich culture and history. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing holiday or an exciting adventure, Bilbao has something to offer for everyone. From the stunning Guggenheim Museum to the lively nightlife scene, there are plenty of secrets to uncover and experiences to be had. In this blog post, we’ll be exploring the best-kept secrets that Bilbao has to offer. You may also want to check out our La Coruna travel guide!
Top 5 Things To See And Do In Bilbao
- Guggenheim Museum Bilbao: The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Bilbao. The building itself is a work of art, designed by Frank Gehry. Inside, you’ll find a fantastic collection of contemporary art from around the world. From the iconic Puppy sculpture by Jeff Koons to works by local Basque artists, there’s something for everyone here.
- Casco Viejo: The historic Old Town of Bilbao, known as Casco Viejo, is another must-see attraction. The narrow, winding streets are lined with beautiful old buildings, and there are plenty of bars, cafes, and shops to explore. Be sure to visit the Mercado de la Ribera, one of Europe’s largest covered markets.
- Plaza Nueva: Plaza Nueva is a beautiful square in the heart of Bilbao’s Old Town. It’s surrounded by historic buildings and is a great place to sit and people-watch. The square is home to a lively market on Sundays, where you can buy everything from local produce to antiques.
- Museo De Bellas Artes: Bilbao’s Fine Arts Museum is one of the best in Spain. It’s housed in a beautiful 19th-century building and has an impressive collection of art from the Middle Ages to the present day. There are works by local artists as well as international masters such as El Greco and Goya.
- Mount Artxanda: For some of the best views of Bilbao, take a trip up to Mount Artxanda. You can get there by taking the funicular railway from Plaza del Funicular in Casco Viejo. At the top, you’ll find a park with panoramic views of the city. It’s the perfect place to relax and take in the scenery.
Where To Stay In Bilbao
- Old Town (Casco Viejo): This historic district is the heart of Bilbao and a great place to stay if you want to be in the middle of the action. With narrow streets lined with shops, cafes, and bars, Old Town has a lively atmosphere that’s perfect for travelers who enjoy being in the middle of things.
- Abando: Abando is one of Bilbao’s most upscale neighborhoods, known for its high-end shopping and restaurants. This area is a great choice for travelers who want to be close to the Guggenheim Museum and other attractions, but still want a more sophisticated atmosphere.
- Ensanche: Ensanche is a central, commercial district with a mix of modern and historic architecture. It’s a good option for travelers who want to be near shopping and dining options, but also want to experience Bilbao’s urban culture.
- Indautxu: This residential neighborhood is popular among locals, thanks to its peaceful atmosphere and proximity to Parque de Doña Casilda. Indautxu is a good option if you’re looking for a quiet place to stay that’s still within easy reach of Bilbao’s attractions.
- San Francisco: San Francisco is a bohemian neighborhood that’s home to many artists and creative types. With its narrow streets and colorful buildings, this area is full of character and is a great choice for travelers who want to experience Bilbao’s alternative culture.
Top Bilbao Hotels
- Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao: Located in the heart of Bilbao, the Gran Hotel Domine is a luxurious hotel with stunning views of the city’s iconic Guggenheim Museum. The hotel’s modern design is complemented by top-notch amenities, including a spa, fitness center, and two on-site restaurants.
- Hotel Carlton: The Hotel Carlton is one of the most historic hotels in Bilbao, and its elegant interior reflects the city’s rich culture and traditions. The hotel’s location in the Abando neighborhood is convenient for exploring the city’s top attractions, and its classic decor is sure to impress.
- NH Collection Ria de Bilbao: The NH Collection Ria de Bilbao is a contemporary hotel located in the city center, just a few minutes’ walk from the Guggenheim Museum. The hotel’s stylish design and excellent amenities make it a popular choice for both leisure and business travelers.
- Hesperia Bilbao: The Hesperia Bilbao is a sleek and modern hotel that offers panoramic views of the city from its rooftop terrace. The hotel’s convenient location in the city center makes it a great choice for travelers who want to be close to the action.
- Hotel Ercilla: The Hotel Ercilla is a charming boutique hotel that combines modern comforts with traditional Basque style. The hotel’s central location makes it easy to explore Bilbao’s many attractions, and its warm and welcoming atmosphere makes it a favorite among travelers.
Where To Eat In Bilbao
Bilbao has a thriving food scene, with everything from traditional Basque cuisine to modern fusion dishes. Here are the top 5 places to eat in Bilbao:
- Restaurante Azurmendi: This three-Michelin-starred restaurant offers an unforgettable dining experience, with innovative dishes made using locally-sourced ingredients. Chef Eneko Atxa is a master of molecular gastronomy and his creations are not to be missed.
- La Vina Del Ensanche: This popular restaurant is known for its pintxos, small bites that are a staple of Basque cuisine. La Vina del Ensanche offers an extensive selection of pintxos, as well as larger plates and delicious desserts.
- Mercado De La Ribera: Bilbao’s largest covered market is also home to some great food stalls and small restaurants. Whether you’re in the mood for fresh seafood, meat, or vegetables, you’ll find it here. Don’t miss the traditional pintxos at Bar Gure Toki.
- Elkano: This seafood restaurant in nearby Getaria is well worth the trip. Chef Pedro Arregui specializes in grilled fish, served simply with olive oil and salt. The turbot, a local specialty, is particularly delicious.
- Mina Restaurant: Located in Bilbao’s trendy Indautxu neighborhood, Mina offers an innovative take on traditional Basque cuisine. Chef Álvaro Garrido’s tasting menu changes regularly, but always features fresh, seasonal ingredients and unexpected flavor combinations.
No matter where you choose to eat in Bilbao, you’re sure to enjoy the city’s rich culinary culture. Bon appetit!
How To Get Around Bilbao
One of the best things about Bilbao is that it is a compact city that is easy to navigate, making it perfect for walking and cycling. However, if you want to explore further afield or are traveling with children or elderly relatives, you might need to use other modes of transportation. Here are the best ways to get around Bilbao:
- Metro: The metro system is one of the most convenient ways to get around Bilbao, with two lines that cover most of the city. The metro operates from early morning until late at night and is clean, safe, and reliable.
- Bus: Buses in Bilbao are another great option for getting around the city, with a comprehensive network of routes and affordable prices. There are also several night buses that run on weekends and holidays.
- Tram: Bilbao has a modern tram system that runs from the city center to the coastal district of Gexto. The tram is an enjoyable way to travel and is particularly useful if you want to visit the Guggenheim Museum.
- Taxis: Taxis are readily available in Bilbao, and you can hail them on the street or book them in advance. Taxis are affordable compared to other European cities such as Paris or Rome, but be aware that the cost can rise if you travel at night or on public holidays.
- Bike: Bilbao has an excellent bike-sharing system called Bilbaobizi, which has over 450 bicycles available for hire. The city also has dedicated bike lanes and bike-friendly streets, making cycling a safe and enjoyable way to explore Bilbao.
- Walking: Bilbao is a great city for walking, with many attractions within easy walking distance of each other. Walking is free, healthy, and allows you to discover hidden gems and local landmarks that you might not otherwise notice.
No matter how you choose to get around Bilbao, be sure to plan your journey in advance and take into account the weather, traffic, and peak travel times. With a little planning and a sense of adventure, you can explore Bilbao at your own pace and uncover the city’s best-kept secrets.
Bilbao’s climate is mild with cool winters and warm summers, but rain is common year-round. It is important to note that the city’s proximity to the Bay of Biscay means that it is susceptible to sudden changes in weather.
- Spring (March – May): Spring in Bilbao is typically mild with temperatures ranging from 9-17°C (48-63°F). It can still be quite rainy, with occasional showers and overcast skies. However, the city comes alive during this time with beautiful blossoms and vibrant greenery.
- Summer (June – August): Summer is the peak season for tourism in Bilbao, with temperatures ranging from 16-25°C (60-77°F). The weather is warm and sunny, perfect for enjoying the city’s outdoor attractions. However, summer is also the driest season, so it is important to stay hydrated and wear sunscreen.
- Fall (September – November): In the fall, the temperatures start to cool down with averages ranging from 12-19°C (54-66°F). The rainfall increases during this time, with October being the wettest month. However, the city is less crowded during the fall, making it a great time to visit for those looking for a quieter trip.
- Winter (December – February): Winter in Bilbao can be quite cold, with temperatures averaging from 5-11°C (41-52°F). Rain is still common, but the city can also experience occasional snowfall. However, the city’s Christmas markets and holiday festivities make it a charming time to visit.
Best Time To Visit Bilbao
Bilbao is a city that can be enjoyed year-round, but there are definitely certain times of the year that are more ideal for a visit. The best time to visit Bilbao is from April to June and from September to November when the weather is mild and pleasant, and there are fewer crowds. During these months, the city is not too hot, and there are plenty of events and festivals happening.
If you’re looking for some sun, then summer is also a good time to visit. The temperatures can get hot in July and August, but you can cool off at the beaches or with a refreshing drink at a terrace bar. It’s also when the Guggenheim Museum has extended opening hours.
On the other hand, if you’re on a tight budget and want to save some money, visiting during the winter months (December to February) could be a great option. The prices for flights and accommodations are generally lower, and there are some Christmas markets and activities around the city. However, the weather can be chilly, rainy, and unpredictable.
Overall, it’s important to keep in mind the type of experience you’re looking for and what activities you’d like to do when deciding on the best time to visit Bilbao. Whatever your choice may be, you can be sure to have an unforgettable time in this beautiful city.
How To Stay Safe In Bilbao
Bilbao is a safe city with a low crime rate, but like any city, there are some things to keep in mind to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. Here are some tips for staying safe in Bilbao:
- Keep Your Belongings Close: Like any popular tourist destination, Bilbao has its share of pickpockets. Keep your valuables close to you, especially in crowded areas such as public transportation and busy streets.
- Use Common Sense: Avoid walking alone in dark and deserted areas, especially at night. Stick to well-lit streets and well-populated areas. Trust your instincts and be aware of your surroundings.
- Stay Alert In Crowded Areas: Bilbao has several popular tourist attractions, such as the Guggenheim Museum, which can get crowded. Be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye on your belongings in busy areas.
- Watch Out For Scams: Like any tourist destination, Bilbao has its share of scams. Be wary of strangers who approach you, especially if they seem too friendly or offer you something for free. Be cautious of ATM skimming and fake taxi scams.
- Know Emergency Numbers: In case of an emergency, know the emergency numbers in Bilbao. The general emergency number is 112, and for the police, call 091.
By following these tips, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable trip to Bilbao. Remember to use common sense, stay alert, and trust your instincts.
Bilbao Customs And Etiquette
When visiting a new city, it’s important to be aware of the local customs and etiquette to ensure a respectful and enjoyable experience. Bilbao, Spain, is no exception. Here are some tips to keep in mind during your visit:
- Greetings And Interactions: Bilbao is a friendly city and people are generally warm and welcoming to visitors. It is customary to greet people with a handshake or a kiss on each cheek (known as “la besa”) in social situations. Addressing people with “senor” (for men) and “senora” (for women) is a sign of respect.
- Dress Code: Bilbao is a fashionable city and locals generally dress well. When visiting museums or cultural sites, it is best to dress modestly. Shorts, tank tops, and flip flops are not appropriate attire.
- Dining Etiquette: When dining out, it is important to wait until everyone at the table has been served before starting to eat. It is also considered polite to keep your hands visible on the table and to avoid placing your elbows on it. Tipping is not a common practice in Bilbao, but leaving a small amount is appreciated.
- Religious Sites: When visiting religious sites, such as churches or cathedrals, it is important to dress modestly and to not take photographs during mass or prayer.
- Smoking: Smoking is prohibited in most public places, including bars and restaurants. Be sure to follow the signs and designated smoking areas.
- Siesta Time: Bilbao, like many cities in Spain, observes a siesta time in the afternoon. This is a time when many shops and businesses close for a few hours to allow for a rest period. Plan your activities accordingly and be aware that some places may not be open during this time.
By following these customs and etiquette guidelines, you’ll be able to navigate Bilbao like a local and have a more enjoyable experience. Remember, showing respect and being polite will always be appreciated in any culture.
Other Things To Know About Bilbao
If you’re planning a trip to Bilbao, there are a few more things you should know to make your trip a success. First, Bilbao is located in the Basque Country, an autonomous region of northern Spain. While Spanish is widely spoken in Bilbao, Basque is also an official language. It’s always helpful to learn a few key phrases in the local language, such as “kaixo” (hello) and “eskerrik asko” (thank you).
The currency used in Bilbao is the Euro. ATMs are widely available, but it’s always a good idea to carry some cash with you, especially if you plan to shop in local markets or eat at smaller restaurants. Bilbao follows Central European Time (CET), which is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+1). If you’re traveling from North America, this means you’ll need to adjust to a time difference of between six and nine hours, depending on your location.
It’s also worth noting that the Basque Country has its own unique culture and customs. In general, the Basque people are proud of their heritage and traditions, so it’s important to respect their customs and etiquette. For example, it’s common to greet people with a kiss on both cheeks, and it’s considered impolite to leave food on your plate. By familiarizing yourself with the local customs and language, you’ll be able to enjoy all that Bilbao has to offer with ease. So go ahead and immerse yourself in this unique and fascinating corner of Spain!
Bilbao Travel Costs
Traveling to Bilbao, Spain can be an affordable option for budget-conscious travelers, but it’s important to keep in mind that the cost of living in Bilbao can be quite high. Here’s a breakdown of the average costs you can expect during your trip:
- Accommodation: Hotels in Bilbao can be pricey, with an average cost of €100-150 per night for a mid-range option. Budget-conscious travelers may opt for a hostel, with prices ranging from €20-30 per night.
- Food And Drink: The Basque Country is known for its culinary scene, and Bilbao is no exception. Expect to pay around €20-30 for a mid-range restaurant meal, and around €5-10 for a snack or coffee. Budget travelers can find affordable eats at pintxos bars, where small bites are usually priced between €1-3.
- Transportation: Public transportation in Bilbao is affordable, with a single trip on the metro costing around €1.50. Taxis can be a pricier option, with a minimum fare of €4.
- Activities: Many of the city’s top attractions, such as the Guggenheim Museum and the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, charge admission fees. Expect to pay around €15-20 per museum visit. Other activities, such as walking tours and outdoor adventures, can vary in price depending on the provider.
Overall, budget-conscious travelers can expect to spend around €50-70 per day in Bilbao, while those looking for a mid-range experience can expect to spend around €100-150 per day. High-end travelers can expect to spend €200 or more per day. Keep in mind that these are just general estimates, and your actual expenses will depend on your travel style and preferences.
Finding Affordable Flights To Bilbao
Bilbao is a popular tourist destination and the city’s airport offers flights from all over Europe. When searching for affordable flights to Bilbao, keep the following tips in mind:
- Book Your Tickets In Advance: It’s always better to book your tickets early as airlines tend to offer lower prices for advance bookings.
- Be Flexible With Your Travel Dates: If you can, avoid traveling during peak season or holidays as flight prices tend to increase during these periods. Alternatively, you can search for flights that leave midweek as they are usually cheaper.
- Check For Budget Airlines: Airlines such as Delta, Ryanair, EasyJet and Vueling offer budget flights to Bilbao from various destinations.
- Search For Flight Deals: Keep an eye out for flight deals and discounts as they can help you save money on your travels. Sign up for newsletters from budget airlines to receive regular updates on deals.
- Compare Prices: Use travel comparison sites such as Skyscanner, Expedia and Kayak to compare flight prices from different airlines. These sites can help you find the cheapest flight to Bilbao.
With these tips in mind, you can find affordable flights to Bilbao and enjoy your trip to the fullest.
Backpacking Bilbao Suggested Budgets
For budget travelers looking to explore the city of Bilbao, it’s important to have a realistic budget in mind. While the city may not be as cheap as some other destinations in Europe, there are still plenty of ways to save money and enjoy all that the city has to offer. Here are a few suggested budget ranges to consider:
For those traveling on a shoestring budget, it’s possible to survive on around €25-€35 per day. This budget would include staying in a hostel dormitory or camping, cooking your own meals, using public transportation or walking, and visiting mostly free or low-cost attractions.
For those looking for a bit more comfort without breaking the bank, a budget of €50-€70 per day is possible. This budget would allow for a private room in a budget hotel or Airbnb, eating at mid-range restaurants, and visiting a mix of free and paid attractions.
If you’re willing to splurge a bit, you can enjoy the city in style on a budget of €100-€150 per day. This budget would allow for a nice hotel or Airbnb, eating at high-end restaurants, and visiting a mix of free and paid attractions.
Regardless of your budget, it’s important to plan ahead and research affordable options for accommodations, food, and transportation. Look for deals on flights, use public transportation instead of taxis, and opt for street food or markets instead of restaurants for cheaper meals. With a bit of planning, backpacking Bilbao can be a budget-friendly adventure.
Bilbao Money Saving Tips
While Bilbao can be an expensive city, there are several ways to save money without compromising on your travel experience. Here are some money-saving tips for exploring Bilbao:
- Free Museum Visits: Many museums in Bilbao offer free entry at specific times or days of the week. For example, the Guggenheim Museum offers free admission on Wednesday afternoons.
- Public Transportation: Bilbao has an efficient metro and bus system that can help you save money on transportation costs. Consider purchasing a Bilbao card that provides unlimited public transportation and discounts on various attractions.
- Cheap Eats: Look for local bars that serve pintxos (small bites) and sandwiches. These bars offer a wide variety of options at affordable prices. Also, opt for set menus (menú del día) at restaurants that offer a fixed-price menu that includes several courses and a drink.
- Free Walking Tours: Join a free walking tour to discover Bilbao’s history, culture, and hidden gems. These tours are often led by locals and offer a unique perspective of the city.
- Shop At Local Markets: Visit local markets, such as Mercado de la Ribera, to buy fresh produce, meats, and cheeses at affordable prices. You can also find unique souvenirs, handicrafts, and textiles.
- Plan Ahead: Pre-book tickets for popular attractions, such as the Guggenheim Museum, to save money and avoid long queues. Also, consider visiting Bilbao during the low season (October to March) when hotel rates and airfares are lower.
By following these money-saving tips, you can make the most of your visit to Bilbao without breaking the bank.
What To Pack For Bilbao
Before embarking on your Bilbao adventure, it’s important to pack appropriately to ensure you have everything you need for a comfortable and enjoyable trip. Here are some essential items to consider packing:
- Comfortable Walking Shoes: Bilbao is a city that begs to be explored on foot, so be sure to pack comfortable walking shoes that will keep your feet happy throughout the day.
- Light Layers: The weather in Bilbao can be unpredictable, so it’s always a good idea to pack light layers that you can easily add or remove as needed.
- Umbrella Or Rain Jacket: Bilbao is known for its rainy weather, so be sure to pack an umbrella or rain jacket to stay dry while exploring the city.
- Camera: With its stunning architecture, vibrant street art, and picturesque river views, Bilbao is a photographer’s paradise. Don’t forget to pack your camera to capture all the city has to offer.
- Spanish Phrasebook: While many locals in Bilbao speak English, it’s always a good idea to pack a Spanish phrasebook to help you navigate the city and communicate with locals.
- Travel Adapter: If you’re traveling from outside of Spain, be sure to pack a travel adapter so you can easily charge your devices while abroad.
- Daypack: A daypack is essential for carrying around your belongings as you explore Bilbao’s many attractions.
- Sunscreen And Sunglasses: If you’re visiting Bilbao during the summer months, be sure to pack sunscreen and sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes from the sun’s rays.
By packing these essential items, you’ll be prepared for a comfortable and enjoyable trip to Bilbao. Happy travels!
Can You Drink Tap Water In Bilbao?
The tap water in Bilbao is considered safe to drink. It goes through a rigorous filtration process before it reaches your tap, and it meets the European Union’s standards for drinking water. So, if you’re looking to save some money on bottled water during your stay, you can definitely drink the tap water in Bilbao without worry. However, some people may still prefer to stick to bottled water. This could be due to personal preferences or concerns about the taste of the water. If you do decide to opt for bottled water, be sure to dispose of the plastic bottles properly. Bilbao, like many other cities, is making efforts to reduce plastic waste, so try to recycle wherever possible.
In addition to tap water, Bilbao also has numerous drinking fountains scattered throughout the city. These fountains dispense potable water, and they’re a great way to stay hydrated on the go. Keep an eye out for the word “potable” (meaning drinkable) on the fountains, and be sure to carry a refillable water bottle with you. Not only will this help you cut down on plastic waste, but it will also save you money in the long run. Overall, drinking tap water in Bilbao is generally safe, but it’s always good to take precautions and be mindful of your own personal preferences. Whether you choose to drink tap water or bottled water, be sure to stay hydrated during your trip!
Other Things To See And Do In Bilbao
Aside from the top 5 things to see and do in Bilbao, there are many other sights and activities worth exploring. Here are some additional recommendations to add to your Bilbao itinerary:
- Guggenheim Museum Bilbao: One of the most iconic and recognizable landmarks in the city, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a must-visit for art and architecture lovers. The museum features a collection of contemporary art and exhibitions, as well as stunning outdoor sculptures and installations.
- Casco Viejo: Also known as the Old Town, Casco Viejo is a charming and picturesque neighborhood with narrow, winding streets, colorful buildings, and historic landmarks like the Santiago Cathedral and Plaza Nueva. This is a great place to explore on foot and soak up the local culture.
- La Ribera Market: If you’re a foodie, don’t miss the chance to visit La Ribera Market, one of the largest covered markets in Europe. Here you’ll find a wide variety of fresh produce, meats, seafood, cheeses, and other specialty foods from the Basque Country and beyond.
- San Juan de Gaztelugatxe: A short drive or bus ride from Bilbao, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a beautiful and unique seaside destination. The main attraction is a small island connected to the mainland by a narrow bridge and staircase, which leads to a chapel perched atop the cliffs. The views from here are breathtaking.
- Athletic Bilbao Stadium: Sports fans will want to check out the San Mamés Stadium, home to Athletic Bilbao, the city’s beloved football club. You can take a guided tour of the stadium and museum to learn more about the team’s history and culture.
Whether you’re interested in art, history, food, or outdoor adventures, there are plenty of other things to see and do in Bilbao. Plan your trip carefully to make the most of your time in this vibrant and fascinating city.
The Bottom Line
Bilbao is a must-visit destination in Spain that offers a unique blend of culture, history, and modernity. Whether you are a foodie, art lover, or outdoor enthusiast, you will find something that will capture your heart in this vibrant city. From visiting the Guggenheim Museum and Casco Viejo to indulging in pintxos and wine, Bilbao offers an unforgettable experience that will leave you craving for more. With its welcoming locals, fascinating customs and traditions, and easy access to other destinations in the Basque Country, Bilbao is an ideal place to explore on your next adventure. Don’t hesitate to plan your trip to Bilbao and start your unforgettable journey today.