Bilbao, once known as an unattractive port city, is now a revived metropolis bursting with modern infrastructure and a booming art scene. Located in the province of Biscay, the city is the capital of the Biscay province in Northern Spain’s Basque Country region. Home to the world-famous Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Bilbao breaks the Spanish stereotype and seduces with a subtle tinge of aloof elegance.
As the largest city in Basque Country, Bilbao is of a right size – perfect to see in two or three days. Most people who travel to Bilbao combine it with a trip to San Sebastian or Santander. For architecture-lovers, you can easily pack Bilbao, Barcelona and Madrid into one artistic tour. There are plenty of things to do in Bilbao and the rest of Basque Country that will make your visit to Northern Spain refreshing and insightful.
Bilbao is the capital of the region of Basque Country, an autonomous community tucked in the north-central part of the country. Although best known as an individualistic region that prefers to be its own country than part of Spain, Pais Vasco (Basque Country) is packed full of interesting sights, raw landscapes and rich culture.
Bilbao – an industrial hub of sorts – is located within close proximity to other cities in the likes of San Sebastian: Santander, Vitoria and Pamplona. Within a short drive away from Bilbao is the French border – you can take a side-trip to France and visit nearby cities such as Montpellier, Toulouse and Marseilles in a few hours. If you’re combining Spain and France in one trip, Bilbao is an excellent base or stopover.
How to get to Bilbao
International visitors can easily fly direct to Bilbao International Airport, It’s a relatively small airport and serves mostly other Spanish and European destinations. Vueling, Iberia, Easyjet and Aerlingus fly to Bilbao from Madrid, Barcelona and various cities in the UK and Ireland. Bilbao Airport is located 12 kilometers from the capital of the Vizcaya province, in the city limits of Loiu.
By train, Bilbao is well connected to Madrid, with daily trains taking over six hours to complete the journey. Bilbao can be reached in less than four hours by car or one hour by plane. Bilbao is also well-connected to other cities via Spanish trains, such Barcelona (6hours), Malaga (9hours) and Seville (9hours).
Buses represent one of the best ways to travel in Spain and Bilbao is well connected to all the major Spanish cities. Buses in Spain are efficient, punctual and comfortable, even for long-distance journeys.
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What to Do in Bilbao
Visit the Guggenheim Museum
Voted by many as the single most impressive work of contemporary architecture in Spain, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao features eclectic designs and boundaries-breaking styles. The avant-garde building designed by the American architect Frank O. Gehry is a massive contribution to Spain’s bourgeoning contemporary architecture scene. As one of the most talked-about museums in Spain, the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum stands out for the contemporary artwork it houses. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and is closed on Mondays. General admission is €10.50 (adult).
Visit the Museo de Bellas Artes
Besides the Guggenheim, another important museum worth checking out in Bilbao is the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum (Museo de Bellas Artes). As one of the most significant painting and sculpture museums in Spain, the museum showcases an extraordinary variety of art works. For the arts-lover, this museum is an essential stop. The musem’s opening hours are from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission fees are €6 (adults) and €4.50 (students).
Explore the Old Town
Like every other city in Spain, Bilbao has its own Old Town (Casco Viejo). The Old Town sprawls between the San Antón bridge and the church of San Nicolás and is a jumble of characteristic old buildings, museums and churches. Linked by five bridges to the new town, the area is easily accessible by foot. Nearby you can visit the Teatro Arriaga, built in 1890 and now renovated to become the cultural hub of the city.
People-Watch at the Doña Casilda de Iturrizar Park
Doña Casilda Iturrizar park is a sprawling, leafy park in Bilbao’s central neighborhood, Indautxu. Named after Casilda Iturrizar who donated the land, the park was the only lung of the city until a few years ago. Created over 100 years ago, the English-style garden features various vegetations and a duck pond with several species of waterfowl. The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum is found within the grounds of the park.
Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Begoña
The basilica is one of the most attractive Roman edifices in Bilbao. Located in the district of Begoña, the pilgrimage church is easily reached by taking the lift from behind the church of San Nicolás. There is also a footpath (20minutes’ walk) to the top of the hill, from which there is a good view of the city. The church, built in the 16th century, has an image of the Virgin of Begoña, patroness of the city, and an interesting painting of “The Pilgrimage of Begoña”. The church is opened from Monday to Saturday 10.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m..
Where to Stay in Bilbao
There are a variety of places to stay, varying in price range and style, that exist in convenient locations around Bilbao. From high-range luxury hotels to riverfront guesthouses to basic backpacker’s hostels, you can find a myriad of accommodation scattered throughout the city. If you’re looking for a good location, your best bet would be to stay in the old town. For travelers who like a bargain, there are many inexpensive Bilbao hostels that provide comfortable rooms, a great location, and a beautiful view of the Nervion River for both families and groups of friends. There are also cheap hotels in Bilbao and short-term-apartments that have prices ranging down to €50 a night. To start searching for accommodation in Bilbao, key in your travel dates in our search engine on the top of the page.