Bilbao Holidays

A brilliant Basque city

Bilbao city breaks are a visual treat before you even get started on the many attractions available. Set among lush green hills just south of the Bay of Biscay, the city has pretty parks, plazas and promenades and a railway station with a stunning Art Nouveau façade. It also features an impressive urban centre that has been blessed over the past couple of decades with shiny new structures from architectural rock stars, like Frank Gehry, Norman Foster and Philippe Starck.

The food scene is every bit as appealing. The largest city in the Basque Country, Bilbao is a mere stone’s throw from the coast, so the region’s take on Spanish tapas, known as ‘pintxos’, includes plenty of fresh seafood. A pintxos bar crawl, hopping between venues snacking on a variety of these bite-sized morsels, is known as ‘txikiteo’ and is a brilliant way to start an evening. If you’re down for getting lively with the locals, there’s no shortage of banging bars, as well as a few very respectable music venues.

There’s also a great selection of beaches – Las Arenas, Getxo, Plentzia – that are all handily within the metropolitan area. For a city break with a difference, Bilbao’s beautiful buildings, bars and beaches are just a few reasons to give this buzzing Basque favourite a try.

All resorts in Bilbao

Three tips for a top trip

The metro is a must

Norman Foster, no less, designed the curvaceous entrances to Bilbao Metro. The lines run all the way to the beaches outside the city, and they also run all night on Saturdays.

Time your bites right

While similar to tapas, pintxos are more of a lunchtime or pre-dinner snack – tapas is an evening main meal. Don't get confused and over-order.

Grab a market bargain

Even the locals’ second-hand clothes are stylish. Snap up their cast-off gems at the monthly El Rastro Dos de Mayo flea market, complete with live music and craft stalls.

Best attractions to see in Bilbao

Mercado de la Ribera

This extremely pretty, giant riverside market is an Art Deco landmark. It’s also where the local Michelin-starred chefs go to grab their daily veg, meat and inspiration.

Artxanda viewpoint

Climb – or ride the more relaxing funicular – up to this lofty vantage point for spectacular views across the city, where you can see terracotta roofscapes ringed by distant mountains.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

This crazy hunk of glass and stone, dressed up in titanium scales, dominates the skyline of Bilbao and houses important works by artists Jeff Koons and Richard Serra.

Your Bilbao questions, answered

Quite possibly. Unusually for Spain, Bilbao gets 128 soggy days on average each year. Locals are well prepared and there’s loads to do indoors. ‘Pintxos’, anyone?
Football. Uniquely, local side Athletic Bilbao only hires and fields players from the Basque region, so they only play for love and not just big money. Result.
Bilbao is a great destination at any time of year, it really depends on what you’d most like to do. Summer is obviously a great choice if you enjoy sunshine and long evenings outdoors. Any wine buffs should check out the La Rioja Wine Harvest Festival in September, which marks the first grape juice of the season being collected. In springtime, the people celebrate Easter and Semana Santa with stunning processions and parades. And winter is a perfect time for foodies, and art lovers can truly make the most of the city’s museums.
There are several beaches just outside the city that are easy to reach by public transport. Sopelana has a stunning cliff backdrop and it’s great for surfboarding. Azkorria is a little harder to reach but it’s very quiet, and Plentzia is the last stop on the Metro, but well worth the trip. The beach here is ideal for sunbathing, and you’ll find lots of Bibaoans doing exactly that in the summer. Castro Undiales, meanwhile, has two beaches, a jetty, lots of cafes on the boardwalk – and it’s only a 25-minute bus journey.
Try Bilborock. It’s a 500-capacity music venue in a handsome converted 17th-century church. It also hosts film screenings, art installations and dance workshops.
The Basque language, also known as Euskara or Euskera, dates back to the time before Southwest Europe was occupied by the Romans. In fact, it’s the only language left that existed at that time. It’s not related to any other language spoken these days. Basque is probably closest in sound to Spanish and has some resemblance to ancient Greek. Some words have also migrated over the centuries, but the structure of the language is still unique. Don’t worry if you can’t speak Basque yourself. A few words of Spanish or French will get you by from day to day, and many people speak enough English to be able to help you out!
The Guggenheim Museum is usually top of anyone’s list on a culture trip in Bilbao. There are some large-scale outdoor sculptures all around the building too that are fascinating to look at, and free. The statues of Hercules around Arriaga Theatre are also really interesting, and the Museo de Bellas Artes holds masterpieces by great artists like El Greco. Bilbao’s seafaring and industrial histories are celebrated at the Museo Maritimo, housed in a former shipyard. It’s also well worth checking out the Euskal Museoa if you’d like to find out more about Basque culture and traditions.
Bilbao is known for its industrial heritage as well as stunning contemporary architecture. On the banks of the Nervion River, flowing into the Bay of Biscay, it’s one of the largest cities in North Spain. The way of life here feels Spanish, but with a strong regional twist. In fact, the Basque people are very proud of their traditions. Another thing Bilbao is known for is, of course, its famous football team. The Estadio San Mames is even more loved locally than other famous buildings.
Bilbao is a great choice for a weekend, a few weeks, or even longer. There’s so much to see and do here, it’s really all about your preference and how much time you can spare. If you’re in Bilbao for a short break, you could take in the main sights of the city, including the Old Town, or a Rio Nervion riverwalk. But, if you have longer, a short drive out to Mount Artxanda gives you a super perspective on the city. Or you could explore the Basque region by taking different day trips.