If you’re thinking of going to Spain, you will have plenty of options when it comes to choosing your destination, but there can be no doubt that the city of Bilbao stands out from all of them. The largest city in the Basque Country has a unique charm and plenty to offer, especially since its urbanistic renewal has been widely recognized across the world as a perfect example of modern urbanism. Yes, this city is quite beautiful, and your one day in Bilbao is the perfect opportunity to experience that. Here’s how best to do it!
What’s the best time to visit Bilbao, Spain?
The best time to visit Bilbao is undoubtedly summer because this part of the year is definitely not too hot compared to some other destinations in Spain and the weather remains consistent from June to September. However, it needs to be said that the climate is quite pleasant all year round, so you should be able to explore the city whenever you come. Winters, for example, are very mild, with the temperature hovering around 10 degrees Celsius (about 50 Fahrenheit).
When it comes to the events and festivals in the city, you really should experience Bilbao’s Big Week (also known as Aste Nagusia). It’s held in August, and you will get to enjoy local food, concerts, fireworks, even bullfights, and much, much more. BBK Live is a great music festival in July, Basque Fest is held in the week before Easter, and Santo Tomas Market (December 21) is essentially a Christmas market that starts the Christmas festivities around here. In short, no matter when you come, there will be plenty to do!
A few facts about Bilbao
The city was founded on June 15, 1300 by Diego Lopez V de Haro, the Lord of Biscay at the time. This was later confirmed by the Spanish king, but Bilbao’s birthday remains (and is still very much celebrated) in July.
The metropolitan area of Bilbao is home to just over one million people, which makes it one of the largest urban areas in Spain. The city itself has approximately 350,000 people.
Bilbao is home to Athletic Club, a football team with a unique policy – only players of Basque origin are allowed to play there. The club is one of the main symbols of the region and was founded way back in 1898. They were crowned champions of Spain eight times and have won the cup on 23 occasions, which is incredibly impressive.
While it is the largest city in the Basque Country, Bilbao is not the region’s capital. That honor belongs to Vitoria-Gasteiz. However, Bilbao is the capital of the province of Biscay. In fact, it’s been the capital of that province for more than 400 years!
Bilbao is actually quite famous for its desserts. Things like bollo de mantequilla, pastel de arroz or pastel ruzo are relatively simple but incredibly tasty. Make sure you try them while in the city!
One day in Bilbao Itinerary
Welcome to your one day in Bilbao! Yes, you’re going to have a great time in this incredible city, especially if you follow the itinerary we have laid out for you here. There is some stunning architecture to see, incredible places to explore, and great food and drinks to taste, so let’s get going!
Get to know Casco Viejo
The best way to start your one day in Bilbao is to head over to the city center and get to know Casco Viejo (i.e. the city’s Old Town). There, you will be able to enjoy a lovely stroll along the banks of the Nervon, marvel at the intriguing architecture, and uncover the secrets hidden by the so-called Seven Streets (Siete Calles) of Bilbao. The vibe you get here really is something very special, and you will enjoy your every step. However, once you’ve had enough, the next step in this itinerary is bound to be very close by…
Sit for a cup of coffee and grab some pintxos
Casco Viejo is full of great bars where you can sit down, do some people-watching, and simply take a moment to appreciate the fact that you’re lucky enough to visit this great city. Plaza Nueva is the perfect place for that.
You can do this early in the morning with a cup of coffee or stop for brunch in a pintxo bar (do not leave the city without trying this!). And if you can get a pintxo as a bite for breakfast, even better! In any case, stopping to take a moment to enjoy the surroundings is the right move to make.
Visit Catedral de Santiago
Once you’re done with your break, it’s time to do some sightseeing. So, head into the heart of Bilbao’s Old Town and find Catedral de Santiago. This absolutely stunning building from the 15th century will impress you with its Gothic style, and it’s worth mentioning that the whole thing was renovated in the 19th century, as well. The interior is beautiful, with plenty of fascinating details and the ceiling set at more than 20 meters above you! Well worth a visit!
Explore the La Ribera Market
After visiting the cathedral, head south until you get to the river. There is also a market there. In fact, La Ribera is the biggest indoor market in Europe, so you know there will be a lot to see and taste. It’s an ideal place to pick up a tasty souvenir or two, but this place also comes alive in the evening, so you might want to consider it on your night out.
Of course, this is also a great place if you want to sit down and have a delicious lunch since there are many great restaurants in the area. You can sit at La Ribera, for example, a jazz bar that combines live music with delicious authentic Basque dishes. Restaurante Pentxo is also close by, with a selection of great Spanish dishes, and right across the bridge is Al Margen, a place with great food and reasonable prices. Just sit down and enjoy!
Climb to Basilica de Begoña
Overlooking the Old Town is a hill upon which Basilica de Begoña was constructed. Now, this 16th-century church is a sight to behold in and of itself, but when you see the view from up here, you’ll see that the climb was well worth it. Of course, you can also hop on a lift that takes you to the top. The basilica took more than a century to complete, and the Virgin of Begoña, Bilbao’s patron saint, is celebrated on August 15th, so if you’re around at that time, be prepared for a feast.
Catch your breath in Parque Doña Casilda
If you need a break, Parque Doña Casilda is absolutely perfect for it, especially because it’s fairly close to the next (and arguably the most important) stop in this itinerary. This beautiful public park boasts some beautiful greenery and plenty of statues and fountains, so it’s a really great place to just get away from the streets and the crowds.
Oh, and Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) is right there next to the park!
Enter the Guggenheim Museum
Last but most certainly not the least in our one day in Bilbao itinerary is the Guggenheim Museum (get a skip-a-line ticket here). Now, many people come to the city just because of this place, and it would certainly be hard to argue that there is a more famous institution in town.
The building itself is a masterpiece and one of the city’s most recognizable symbols. You will see exquisite works of art by numerous contemporary artists, and many pieces can even be found in front of the place. It’s really hard to express how beautiful and important Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum is, but let’s just say that your one day in Bilbao certainly cannot be complete without it.
Finish your day in Bilbao with a lovely evening
Once the sun sets, the city offers plenty of choices. Like we said, you can explore the market and see what kind of performances are scheduled there, but you can also stay close to the Guggenheim Museum and have dinner at Etxanobe Atelier, a restaurant with a Michelin star!
The nightlife around here is pretty good, too. Sir Winston Churchill Pub is a great place for a drink in a relaxed atmosphere, and the same can be said for places such as Gin Fizz Cocktail Bar and Attico 14. As for clubbing, La Fuga Discoteca or Sala Santana 27 are some pretty good choices.
Where to stay in Bilbao?
Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao
Alameda de Mazarredo, 61, 48009 Bilbao
Not only does Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao boast five stars, but its wonderful design is a great reflection of the urbanistic success of the city. Javier Mariscal is the designer responsible for this building, and the spectacular roof terrace from which you can see the whole city is one of its hallmarks. This is where the hotel serves breakfast, so you will be starting your day in the best possible way. Located right next to the Guggenheim Museum, the hotel also has a sauna, a Turkish bath, loads of greenery, and many other details that will make staying here a very special experience.
Hotel Tayko Bilbao
Erribera Kalea, 13, 48005 Bilbao
Hotel Tayko Bilbao impresses from the very start because it’s located in a building that dates back to 1924. However, once you step into the hotel, you will find that it is a very modern establishment offering everything a traveler could need. Pets are allowed, there’s a great bar, and the restaurant here has a Michelin star! On top of that, you will be located in the heart of the city, right next to Catedral de Santiago. All the guests love it, and you will, too!
Sercotel Arenal Bilbao
If you’re looking for a place that will provide excellent value, Sercotel Arenal Bilbao is really hard to beat. With a room here, you will be on the edge of the old town, and with the nearby metro, you can get wherever you want in a blink of an eye. With a very pleasant and bright interior, this place will make you feel comfortable, and there are many great bars and restaurants nearby. Tasty breakfast and very friendly staff all add to the experience, so you can expect a comfortable, relaxing stay.
Latroupe La Granja
3 Plaza Biribila, 48001 Bilbao
Need a good hostel in Bilbao? Choose Latroupe La Granja and you won’t be sorry! Not only does it boast a great location, but the place also has a wonderful interior. There’s a bar, you can even opt for family rooms, and the people running the hostel are super-friendly and extremely helpful. The whole experience is much better than what many hotels can offer, which is why we have absolutely no problems recommending this amazing place to you.
Day trips from Bilbao
This part of Spain really has a lot to offer, so if you have more than one day in Bilbao, some day trips certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea. But where should you go? Here are a few places that guarantee a memorable day of exploring Spain.
If you want to enjoy the shores of the Bay of Biscay, Lekeitio is the perfect place. This charming coastal town offers wonderful sandy beaches and a very relaxing vibe, and it’s just an hour away by car. And don’t forget to check out the island of St. Nicholas – this islet in front of the town can actually be reached on foot when the tide is not high. Very cool!
Santillana del Mar
To the northwest of Bilbao, about an hour and a half from the city, is Santillana del Mar, an absolutely magical place that instantly transports you centuries back in time. Amazing cobbled streets, buildings and architecture that are perfectly preserved, squares that simply take your breath away… This is a completely different world from what you’re used to and a great choice for a day trip.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
Not only is San Juan de Gaztelugatxe an incredibly beautiful place, but you may also feel that you’ve seen it somewhere before. This is because it was chosen to play Dragonstone, the seat of House Targaryen in the famous Game of Thrones show. However, even if you’re not here because you’re a fan, the hermitage from the 9th century and the rock bridge leading to it will just blow you away.
Want to spend your day trip from Bilbao exploring another city? Head to Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of the Basque Country, and you will enjoy a wonderful city full of excellent restaurants that is not yet overrun by tourists. The beautiful medieval core is a must, but you will see loads of wonderful squares, parks, art, architecture, and so much more. You’ll love every second of the trip, and the place is just an hour away from Bilbao!
Extra tips for visiting Bilbao
- You won’t find tapas in restaurants around here. Instead, look for pintxos, a very similar thing, only it comes on a slice of bread. You will find pintxo bars all over Bilbao, so do stop by one of them for a quick bite.
- The Basque language is the oldest one in Europe and is not related in any way to any other language on Earth. Therefore, taking the time to learn a few basic phrases will impress the locals very much and help you break the ice.
- People around here love seafood, so if you’re a fan too, you’re in for a treat. There are some exceptionally tasty dishes to try out in Bilbao!
- You don’t have to feel obligated to leave tips, although any tip you leave will be very much appreciated. Restaurants will have a service charge included in the price. A couple of euros will be more than enough if you’re happy with the service.
Make sure you have everything you need
What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.