The Top Things to Do in Bilbao, Spain

things to do in bilbao

Located in the Basque Country, in the north of Spain, Bilbao is an excellent Spanish city break, especially if you love less popular destinations. 

There are many reasons why you should visit Bilbao – from its delicious pintxos and unique green landscapes to Basque culture and laid-back atmosphere.

It’s usually considered an underrated city, but there are so many things to offer that are just waiting for you to be discovered. 

If you are ready to dive into everything this city has to offer, these are the best things to do in Bilbao in one day or two. 

The Best Things to Do in Bilbao

Visit Guggenheim Bilbao Museum

Guggenheim Bilbao Museum
Guggenheim Bilbao Museum

This is considered one of modern architecture’s most iconic buildings, and it’s the number one place you can’t miss when you spend only one day in Bilbao! It played a major role in putting Bilbao on the map and pulling it out of its economic depression in the 21st century. It re-energized the city and further stimulated future artistic developments across the city, making it a must-see destination for art and history buffs. 

Once inside the museum, you’ll notice the interior is purposefully spacious and vast. The cathedral ceilings are more than 45 metres high, with light pouring in through the glass cliffs. Permanent exhibitions can be found on the ground floor, including Richard Serra’s massive maze-like sculptures in weathered steel. 

Be prepared to carve out around 3 or 4 hours to fully immerse yourself in the exhibits, as there are many floors and rooms to explore; especially if you opt to listen to the audio guide, you will spend a big part of your day there.

Eat pintxos at La Ribera Market


If you are looking for the best place to experience local cuisine, the La Ribera Market is your place! 

Bilbao’s market is considered one of the best food indoor markets in the world. The market is rich in history and was recognised by the Guinness World Book of Records. 

Once inside the market, notice how you have entered a place that smells like heaven on Earth. Foodies in your group will delight in the smells of the fresh food, marvel at the colourful stalls, and get fully immersed in the culture when the staff behind the stalls try to convince you why you should try their pintxos. 

What are pintxos, you ask? They are small bites which always come with a slice of bread underneath the meat, fish or vegetables. The combinations are endless when it comes to pintxos. Make sure you save room for dessert while you are there! There is a stall with traditional, irresistible Basque sweets. “Carolina” is one of the best sweets. This one consists of a smooth meringue on top of a pastry that has custard.

Go to Bilbao Cathedral

Bilbao Cathedral
Bilbao Cathedral

The Bilbao Cathedral was originally built in the 14th-15th centuries, and the temple was Bilbao’s main church. However, it was recognized as a cathedral in 1950.

Visiting the cathedral is an experience, but you need to pay attention to detail to appreciate its beauty – it has an impressive vaulted cloister and a Gothic architectural style. 

Above the main entrance, you will also spot scallop shells which are symbols of Santiago or St James.

When you buy your ticket for Bilbao’s Cathedral, you also get access to San Antón Church, a significant 15th century church that has different architectural styles (Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance). 

Wander Bilbao’s Old Town

Colourful buildings, narrow streets, and a relaxing atmosphere makes Old Town a fantastic place to visit. Not only can you find some of the main attractions in the city, but also some hidden gems and less explored paths. 

During your time in Bilbao, you will probably hear the city’s Old Town referred to by a variety of different names. For example, Casco Viejo and Las Siete Calles (in Spanish) or Zazpikaleak (Basque). These last two names mean “Seven Streets” which refer to the medieval streets that make up the core of the neighbourhood.

Whatever you call it, Bilbao Old Town is a wonderful place to spend time. Get lost in the labyrinth of picturesque streets, as you come across interesting historic buildings and monuments.

If you happen to be visiting on a Sunday, head over to Plaza Nueva in the morning to browse for one of a kind souvenirs at the flea market. 

This public square is one of the most popular spots in the Old Town, on any day of the week so be prepared to weave through some heavy foot traffic. It’s known for its cafés, bars and restaurants. Take a seat outside and sample some pintxos, or sip some coffee to get that afternoon pick me up you’ll need after a day of walking. 

Take Artxanda Funicular (Bilbao Cable Car)

Opened in 1915, this cable railway reveals an essential and unique perspective view of the city. The cable car takes approximately 3 to 4 minutes to reach Mount Artxanda where you can enjoy fantastic views of Bilbao. 

In addition to this, you can also go for a peaceful walk and taste traditional dishes in the few restaurants in the area.

Keep in mind that trains depart every 25 minutes. The access station to these cable cars (Plaza del Funicular) is about a 10-minute walk from the city hall.

Also, you might want to take a cardigan or coat, depending on the season, as it is often windy in this spot.

Visit San Mames Stadium (for football fans)

Bilbao Stadium
Bilbao Stadium

Take a tour of the famed San Mames stadium that houses over 53,000 fans. San Mames has all of the top amenities and has quickly become one of the leading stadiums in Europe. 

The stadium is more than a sporting area, it also has different areas so everyone in your group can find something to do. From meeting rooms and conference rooms to event rooms and a restaurant and tavern.

The atmosphere and enjoying the amenities at this state of the art facility on match days are one of the best things to do in Bilbao. Try to book your trip on a day when you can truly experience the stadium to its fullest! 

Go on a day trip to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

Located 40 minutes by car from Bilbao, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is one of the most stunning places in Spain. It’s also no surprise that many travellers consider this to be one of the most beautiful hidden gems in Spain

The north coast of Basque Country is characterised by its impressive cliffs and views of small islands, but Gaztelugatxe earns its place as the crown jewel thanks to its history and dramatic path to a remote church that can be found at the top of a rock. 

The islet is connected with the mainland by a man-made stone bridge that then transitions into a path that has 241 steps and zigzags all the way to the top (hopefully you brought comfortable walking shoes!). 

When you reach the top, you’ll see a church and there’s a legend that says that one of your wishes will come true if you ring the church’s bell three times.

The breathtaking views of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe made this place a filming location for Game of Thrones which is referred to as Dragonstone.

Even if you aren’t a Game of Thrones fan, a day trip to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao or San Sebastian is one of the most popular getaways. From the stunning views of the sea to the immensity of the rocks, you truly feel one with nature here. 

Go on a day trip to San Sebastian 

If you are a big foodie, you will want to head to San Sebastian. This city, also located in the Basque Country and only 1 hour and 15 minutes from Bilbao, is well-known for its excellent gastronomy.

Whether you want to try traditional Basque dishes like Bacalao Al Pil Pil (garlic salted cod with guindilla chilli) and Tigres Stuffed Mussels or international dishes with a twist, you will find plenty of good restaurants in San Sebastian, including Michelin-star restaurants.

However, San Sebastian has much more than food, you can visit impressive historic buildings like Good Shepherd of San Sebastián Cathedral and old town as well as enjoy the beautiful sandy beaches in the summer months.

Overall, Bilbao has many things to offer and it is a great destination for any type of traveller. 

One of the things to consider before visiting Bilbao is the weather. The weather in Northern Spain is colder and rainier than in the south or the Spanish islands. Pack a rain jacket or umbrella with you, especially if you visit it in winter and spring. 

For fewer chances of rain, head to Bilbao in late spring or summer. You will enjoy warmer, sunnier and drier weather from May to September. It is a good Spanish destination to visit in summer because it isn’t as warm as other regions. 

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