If you are travelling around the Basque Country or Spain in general, make sure you don’t miss out the interesting city of Bilbao. It feels like a very up and coming city, not yet spoiled by too much tourism. World famous cuisine, incredible museums and a wildly colourful old town; this city has a lot to offer. Add this city to your spanish itinerary! Below is a list of all the things you should do and see in Bilbao. We recommend staying in the area for a couple of days to really experience everything.
Check out the where we stayed in the van in Bilbao below:
1 – Guggenheim Museum
First and foremost, the Guggenheim Museum. When thinking of Bilbao, this building does all the talking – it’s a real showstopper! The museum is home to nineteen galleries in total. It contains a perfect mixture of temporary exhibitions, art by local Basque artists and themed exhibitions by artists from all over the world.
To be perfectly honest, we are not people who love going to museums. The outside of the building is more than enough art for us to marvel at. The best place to admire the building itself is by walking along the riverfront promenade. It is also an incredibly photogenic building, perfect for a cheeky little instagram snap.
2 – “Puppy” Flower Sculpture
Okay, this is cheating a little putting this sculpture as its own point as it is technically part of the Guggenheim museum. We just think its cute enough to deserve its own recognition. Jeff Koons’ “Puppy” sculpture features a West Highland terrier completely covered with bedding plants. Puppies and flowers; what’s not to love. Two times a year the sculpture’s colourful blooms are changed, so each time you return you will see something new.
3 – Funicular To Viewpoint
For breathtaking views of Bilbao, take the funicular up Mount Artxanda to the perfect lookout point over the city. We recommend watching the sunset from here – it is beautiful. As you can see from this viewpoint, the spectacular metropolitan city is entirely surrounded by mountains. At the viewpoint you will also find lots of play areas for children and a number of interesting sculptures.
4 – Old Town (Historical Centre)
The old town area in Bilbao is also known as Casco Viejo. Wander around all of its pedestrianised streets lined by bars, restaurants and little boutiques. There is something for everyone here. There are some incredible buildings here with interesting architecture in lots of fun colours. It is difficult to take a bad picture of the quaint streets. The old town can get quite busy in the evening with locals enjoying pintxos, but it really captures the essence of Casco Viejo.
5 – Walk The River
A fantastic way to take in the sights of Bilbao is by walking along Nervión River which eventually becomes the Estuary of Bilbao. Many of Bilbao’s bridges are spectacular, not to mention photogenic. Puente Zubizuri, the curved bridge is particularly fancy. The walk starts at the Guggenheim museum and stretches 1 mile to the old town. It’s a fantastic way to work you way around all the best sights in Bilbao at a leisurely pace.
6 – Pintxos
Bilbao, as well as the Basque Country is general, is well renowned for its Pintxos (pronounced pinch-o). This is the Basque take on tapas. These are small plates of food served at bars usually costing between €1 -€3.50. Although reasonably priced, the snacks can be pretty fancy and elaborate. The etiquette is to have one or two pintxos with a drink at a pub then move onto the next, sort of like a classy pub crawl.
It can get pretty busy outside the bars especially in the evening when everyone is enjoying their pintxos. Don’t be afraid to work your way inside where you will normally see all of the dishes laid out on the bar behind a perspex case. From here you can order your drinks and pintxos, we found it really handy being able to point to the dishes we thought looked tasty. The locals were incredibly welcoming and patient!
7 – Shopping
Like most European cities, Bilbao is a great place to go shopping. The two places we would recommend are Gran Vía and Zubiarte Shopping Centre. As the shopping hub of Bilbao, Gran Vía has a wide range of brand names, both high street and high end. Right in the centre of this shopping district you will find the beautiful fountain pictured above. It is essentially a gorgeous garden in the middle of a roundabout. Zubiarte Shopping Centre is simply a great multi storey shopping centre with every shop you can imaging inside.
8 – Explore The Beautiful Old Buildings
There is a plethora of beautiful buildings for you to explore in Bilbao. Highlights include : Catedral de Santiago, Teatro Arriaga the opera house and the Church of San José de la Montaña. Not only are these buildings stunning from the outside, the insides are just as magnificent!
9 – Hanging Vizcaya Bridge
A 20 minute drive north of Bilbao’s centre you will find a bridge like no other, the Vizcaya Bridge; Also known as the “Hanging Bridge”. It is definitely worth the detour. Below the large red bridge structure a hanging gondola transports people and vehicles across the estuary below using a conveyor system. You really need to see it in action to appreciate how insane it is. As well as crossing the bridge in the gondola (€0.40) you can climb to the top of the 50 metre high structure and cross the wooden walkway at the top (€8) – worth it for the adrenalin rush!
10 – Stairway At San Juan De Gaztelugatxe
A 40 minute drive north east of the city you will find Gaztelugatxe on the coast of Biscay, in the Spanish Basque Country. The small island is connected to the mainland by a winding staircase. It is known as the “stairway to heaven”, legend says if you ring the bell at the top three times and make a wish, it will be granted.
If you are a fan of Game Of Thrones, you may recognise Gaztelugatxe. It was used as a filming location in season 7 of the series.
For more information on the attractions in Bilbao, or to find out more about the city’s rich history, check out the Bilbao tourism website here.
Bilbao is a wonderful city, you will absolutely find something for everyone here. The impressive buildings and delicious pintxos will absolutely leave a lasting impression on you.
We hope this list helped inspire you to visit this city and the Basque Country in general. There are many other great things to do in the nearby cities such as San Sebastian too.
More Spain content coming soon!
If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to comment down below and we will get back to you! Also if you have any suggestions of other things ‘ you must do or see in Bilbao’, let us know!