The Essential Bilbao Travel Guide
Travelling to Bilbao was something that I had wanted to do for a while since I’ve been living in Spain. I’ve had a fascination with the Basque Country for a while. However, for one thing or another, I had put off visiting.
After reading a Bilbao travel guide on the web, I decided to visit the Basque Country for a four day weekend. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Bilbao. I didn’t know a lot about the place and what I did revolved around football and the weather!
Well, it’s safe to say I was surprised by Bilbao! Even though, it’s only a small city, there’s a lot of points of interest in Bilbao. Culturally, the city is one of the best in Spain, with the Guggenheim museum and the old parts of the town incredible!
My Bilbao travel guide will bring together all the best parts of my visit to Bilbao, as well as provide with ideas on how to spend your visit in this vibrant city in the North of Spain!
Bilbao travel guide
Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country, and the tenth biggest in Spain. It was predominately an industrial city until the 20th century, when it has seen a renaissance as a cultural and commercial centre of the Basque region.
Bilbao is located in Northern Spain on the Basque threshold, which is a mountain range between the larger Cantabrian and Pyrenean ranges.
Bilbao’s proximity to the Bay of Biscay gives it an oceanic climate. Rain is common throughout the year, with the period from October to April seeing the most rain. Summer is drier, but Bilbao’s proximity to the ocean means the temperature doesn’t creep above 30 degrees very often.
Getting to Bilbao
Travelling to Bilbao is not too difficult whether you’re coming via car, rail or plane. The city is well connected with Spain and the rest of Europe, so getting there is straightforward!
If you want to visit Bilbao by car or bus, then it’s relatively easy. You just follow the motorway until you reach Bilbao. I travelled to Bilbao from Barcelona by bus, which took 8 hours. So, it can be a long journey depending on where you’re travelling from in Spain.
Travelling to Bilbao by train is a bit quicker, but also more expensive. If you want to get there quicker then this is probably the better option. The high speed RENFE service in Spain is great, and you get to Bilbao from almost anywhere in Spain.
The quickest way of travelling to Bilbao is by plane and this will probably be the way you get there if you’re travelling from outside of Spain.
Travelling around Bilbao
This is perhaps the easiest part of my Bilbao travel guide to write, as travelling around Bilbao is easy. There is a metro system in the city, but I don’t think it’s necessary to use it all!
Bilbao isn’t a big city like Barcelona, so getting around by foot is the best option in my opinion. Unless you want to travel somewhere that is outside of the city limits, then travelling around by foot is the best way!
Public transport is good in Bilbao, with metro and a bus service as well. Should you need to use it, transport is quick and reliable in the city!
If you want to visit San Sebastian as well, while you’re in the Basque Country, then it’s quite easy. Just head to the bus station, pay approximately €10 and after an hour long journey you’ll be there! San Sebastian is one of the most beautiful places in Spain, so it’s definitely worth visiting for a day at least!
Why you should visit Bilbao
One of the most important things to know before going to Spain, is that the country is quite fractured. A lot of people, myself included before I moved here, have this image of Spain as one homogeneous country. The truth is that Spain is very regional, and it differs quite dramatically from place to place.
The Basque Country is perhaps the biggest example of this. Euskara the language of the Basque Country is completely unrelated to any other Indo-European language. The culture here is different to that of the rest of Spain, which probably owes to the geography of the region, with its mountains and green rolling hills!
If you head to Mount Artxanda, you’ll get a fantastic perspective of Bilbao and be able to see how it is surrounded by mountains on all sides. The architecture in the city is very Spanish, especially in the old quarter. However, recent development is what makes travelling to Bilbao an attractive proposition.
The recently built Guggenheim museum and Zubizuri bridge have provided Bilbao with a more modernist flavour. A Bilbao travel guide would not be complete without mentioning this. If you’re looking to visit Bilbao, then expect an interesting mix between old and new.
The city felt different to other places I’ve visited in Spain. Maybe it’s the Basque culture or the geography of the city, which makes it feel more English in a way, but it definitely feels like it’s apart from the rest of Spain!
Travelling to Bilbao is something you should do while you’re in Spain. You can go travelling to Barcelona, but in Bilbao you’ll experience a different side to the country and there’s less tourists as well!
Accommodation in Bilbao
Bilbao isn’t the biggest city in Spain, but there’s still a decent amount of accommodation in the city! If you’re planning on staying at hotels or hostels, you have more than your fair share of your choice!
I stayed at Pil Pil Hostel when I was in Bilbao. I found it to be a great little hostel, which was conveniently located near to the bus station and San Memes. For €14 a night, you get a bed, free breakfast, coffee and tea, which I thought was quite reasonable. There’s also free wifi as well!
This is only my personal recommendation, so my advice would be to research the accommodation in Bilbao before you visit! It’s also worth deciding whether you want to stay in a hostel or hotel. If you stay in the latter, you will pay considerably more per night, but you’ll have your own room. It all comes down to personal taste!
If you plan on staying in a hostel in Bilbao, then I would book through Hostelworld. They list all the hostels in the city and allow you to choose which one suits your needs best! If you don’t fancy staying in a hostel in Bilbao, then check out Booking.com for the latest deals in the city!
Things to do in Bilbao
It’s only a small city, but there’s plenty of things to do in Bilbao! As one of the main cities in the Basque Country, there’s a lot of places here where you can learn about Basque culture and what makes it distinct from the rest of Spain!
No Bilbao travel guide would be complete without a few places to see in the city! Below are a few points of interest in Bilbao that I enjoyed and feel you should include on your Bilbao itinerary!
Casco viejo (old town)
Bilbao’s Casco viejo or Old Town in English is a part of the city that you must visit! I felt like this was the liveliest part of Bilbao for me. People were hanging out of bars, there was a nice atmosphere about the place that I enjoyed!
This is one of Bilbao’s best points of interest, as the architecture here is incredible. It’s traditional in style, with narrow streets and quirky shops and restaurants. There’s also the great Plaza Nueva, which you should visit as well!
The Guggenheim museum has become a sort of symbol of Bilbao in recent times and it’s not hard to see why. The museum is unlike anything I’ve seen before! It’s hard to know what to make of it, as it looks so completely wacky. It’s definitely a marvel of modern architecture!
Inside it looks just like a normal building, but the museum is quite expensive at €13, so I’d only pay if you really want to enter. Otherwise my advice would be to walk around the Guggenheim museum and take it all in! There’s a cool spider and dog sculptures at opposite ends of the museum as well, which are great in their own right!
Visiting Mount Artxanda was one of things to do in Bilbao that I really enjoyed. Riding the funicular to the top is a great way to survey Bilbao as you see how it’s enclosed by nature and the surrounding hills. The view from here are incredible, even on a cold day!
San Memes Stadium
If you’re a football fan like me, then a visit to the San Memes stadium is a must when travelling to Bilbao. The stadium has recently been rebuilt and is an impressive sight! A walk around the San Memes is recommended to take in the cool architecture.
Unfortunately, when I visited there were no stadium tours available, which was a shame as I was looking forward to learning more about Athletic Bilbao! If you’re in Bilbao while a game is on, then you shouldn’t have an issue getting a ticket, but they can be expensive. Expect to pay around €60 to see a match!
Zubizuri is Euskara for White Bridge, and the bridge that spans the Nervion river in Bilbao is an impressive sight. I love bridges, but this one was a surprise as I didn’t know there was one here! Safe to say it’s beauty impressed me. Completed in 1997, it has a curved walkway which is rather unusual.
The white bridge is striking in nature and the translucent glass bricks that make up the walkway are an interesting feature. The bridge has come in for its fair share of criticism, especially the glass bricks, which in Bilbao’s wet climate is not the most practical idea! Regardless, it’s a beautiful bridge and one worth visiting!
How much does it cost to travel in Bilbao?
This Bilbao travel guide comes complete with a guide to saving money while you’re in this great city. Although, not as expensive as places such as Madrid or Barcelona, Bilbao can be expensive at times. The cost of travel in Bilbao really depends upon where you stay and what you do here!
Your biggest expenditure in Bilbao will more than likely be paying to get there. Depending on where you come from it can be slightly expensive. Internal flights in Spain can cost upwards of €100, while travelling by bus or train ranges from €45 to 60.
Apart from this, travelling in Bilbao is actually reasonably cheap. You can eat out at cafes and restaurants for less than €10, if you choose the Menu del dia. Perhaps, the biggest expenses will be on the points of interest in Bilbao such as the Guggenheim museum.
If you’re clever, you can easily keep your daily expenditure below €40 or even €30 if you’re really careful! Not all hostels in Bilbao, and Spain for that matter, have kitchens. However, if you can find a hostel with a kitchen, that is a great way to reduce your outgoings!
On an average day in Bilbao, you can expect to pay as little as €30 a day if you’re clever. You can get a bed in a hostel for €14, while you can eat out cheap if you look around. If you avoid paying for tourist attractions, then your outgoings will reduce even further!
I hope my Bilbao travel guide has convinced you to travel to this great city. If you’re planning on travelling to Spain in the near future, this is one place you should definitely check out. Travelling to the Basque Country is a must in Spain, as you’ll see a different side to the country!
It isn’t the biggest city, but there’s still lots of things to do in Bilbao. Taking in the old and modern architecture to sampling the local cuisine, Bilbao has a lot to offer. It offers a different side to Spain, which despite the advertising, is not all sun, sea and sand!
Have you been to Bilbao? Do you agree with my Bilbao travel guide and its assessment of the city? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!