What to do in Bilbao
Bilbao is a city that begs to be explored. Those looking to sightsee will be delighted by museums, architecture, and history at every turn. But, if you are feeling jet-lagged, perhaps take a cue from the locals: head out for a stroll, soak up the ambiance of the Old Quarter and Nervion River, and stop for a coffee or glass of wine whenever you feel like it. Bilbao is quite walkable, and while a taxi from the airport will set you back 30-35 euros upon arrival, you can easily explore the heart of the city on foot. For destinations across town, taxis are readily available. Public transportation options include the metro and a bus system, and are excellent for day trips to the coast or San Sebastian. It is always best to check with your hotel concierge for the best way to get to any particular site of interest.
Museum of Fine Arts
Bilbao’s Fine Arts Museum houses an excellent permanent collection of classical and contemporary art, featuring international works as well as Basque sculptures and paintings. The museum also offers regularly rotating temporary exhibits.
Funicular de Artxanda
Surrounded by hills and mountains and with a river running through it, Bilbao makes a lovely panorama. Catch a bird’s-eye view of Basque country on the funicular railway that leads up to the summit of Artxanda.
Casco Viejo and Las Siete Calles
Casco Viejo, Bilbao’s charming Old Quarter, is full of atmospheric streets lined with shops and lively bars. The city’s original seven streets—las Siete Calles— date from the 15th century and sit in the heart of the Old Quarter; originally the site of the commercial center and port along the Nervion River.
This museum dedicated to Basque culture is a personal favorite of our local guide in Spain. The museum covers the history of the Basque people, from Paleolithic times to the present. Displays and exhibits highlight a long history of boat building, shepherding, and artistry, though most signs are written in Spanish and Basque only.
Mercado de la Ribera
This three-story market is an absolute must-see. From local produce, fish, and meat, to a gourmet market and gastrobars, this is a great place to people watch while enjoying an Aperol spritz. Another idea: purchase lunch supplies and head to one of Bilbao’s parks for a relaxing outdoor picnic.
WHERE TO EAT
Bilbao is a foodie paradise, from pintxos and pub crawls to Michelin-starred restaurants. Check the Michelin website for the most up-to-date information about the trendiest new spots and highly regarded institutions. Be sure to make reservations well in advance. For pintxos (the Basque version of tapas) and pub-hopping, check out the following areas:
Calle Ledesma is located in the middle of Bilbao, and is a good place to start a pintxo crawl. The street is lined with bars and outdoor tables, and locals seem to be eating and enjoying a beer or glass of local wine at all hours of the afternoon and evening. Bonus tip: try a glass of Txakoli—pronounced chah-kuh-lee.
Located in the main square of Casco Viejo, Plaza Nueva is a popular gathering place surrounded by neoclassical architecture and—you guessed it—pintxos bars. In fact, some of the oldest and most popular spots for Basque cuisine line this square. Enjoy an apertif, then take a stroll through nearby Etxebarria Park.
The eclectic, multi-functional space was formerly a wine warehouse. Redesigned and renovated in 2010, it now houses a cinema, exhibitions and art galleries, shops, commercial space, cafes and restaurants, a gym, and an indoor swimming pool. Check the website for current hours, special events, or to schedule a guided tour.