Perched on the northern shores of Spain, Bilbao is an epic city to visit if you’re travelling around the Basque Country (and further through Spain itself). It’s one of those cities that seems to be even more popular each time we’ve visited. Plus, there seem to be so many new and upcoming things to do in Bilbao each month, with each one of our visits being totally different.
That’s the thing I love most about Bilbao! Yeah, it has its gorgeous historic centre and beautiful charm, but it’s also got the energy and mix of a young city which makes it such a fun place to explore.
This is why I wanted to show you some of my very favourite things to do in Bilbao on your next trip there. Just make sure to take some elasticated trousers for all the Pintxos you’ll be gorging on.
Take a look at the very best things to do in Bilbao, Spain.
1.) Discover the Guggenheim Museum
Built around 20 years ago, the Guggenheim Museum is not only one of the best things to do in Bilbao, but easily one of the most iconic buildings in the Basque Country.
The Guggenheim doesn’t just house one of the best modern art collections in Europe, the building itself is an incredible piece of art. Honestly, it’s too beautiful to miss. It doesn’t matter how many times I visited Bilbao, I always have to see the Guggenheim before we leave.
Once you’re here, make sure to spot the Tulips by Jeff Koons (outside) and the huge Puppy by Jeff Koons that sits proudly at the entrance.
Afterwards, pop into Nerua Guggenheim Bilbao for the tastiest dishes.
Yes, it’s a little more expensive than most restaurants in the city but the food is incredible and well worth a treat. We loved it here.
2.) Explore Gaztelugatxe
If you’re wanting a little break from city life, then get yourself over to the beautiful coastline around San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. It’s about 50-minutes from the centre of Bilbao but well worth the trip if you’re wanting to see the stunning Bay of Biscay.
Within the little island (attached by bridge to the mainland) there’s actually a little house which acted as a hermitage way back in the 9th or 10th Century. Now, to get here, you will need to climb a few hundred steps, but it’s well worth it for the experience.
More recently, Gaztelugatxe was filmed as Dragonstone in Game of Thrones (in season seven, I think I was told). Oh, and remember to ring the bell three times once you’re on the island and make a wish. I’m still not sure why everyone does this here but here’s hoping they all come true!
3.) Txikiteo & Pintxos
Look, there’s no denying it, I’m a proper foodie when I travel. I love to give everything a go. And guess what, the Basque Country is one of those places where you can literally gorge day or night.
Once your here, make sure to head out on an evening of ‘Txikitear’, which literally is a huge past time here. Mainly, this involves heading through the local bars of Bilbao and having a small glass of wine (a txikitos) with a few pintxos. You’ll end the evening totally full and possibly a little merry!
4.) Explore Casco Viejo
The Casco Viejo or Old Town comprises the quaint and totally original seven streets that were the medieval town itself. Nowadays, It’s one of the things to do in Bilbao if you wanna see a little slice of old Bilbao and experience the historic Basque buildings.
After a little stroll, if you are feeling a little hungry, then pop into one of the cute taverns for a mound of pintxos. They’re a little like tapas but more bready (though, that’s a really simplistic way to describe them).
5.) The Arriaga Theatre
The Arriaga Theatre is located next to a bridge that links the Casco Viejo to the Ensanche Neighbourhood. It is the oldest theatre in the city and named after the local composer Juan Crisostomo Arriaga who died at the age of 19 and has been named as the ‘Spanish Mozart.’
Even to this day, it still retains its original 19th century furniture and fittings, making you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. It is still in use today so you really should go and see some local culture.
6.) The El Ensanche Neighbourhood
The El Ensanche Neighbourhood is the beating heart of Bilbao and a great place to go for a little bite to eat and some shopping. Walking through this district you will find lots of bars and restaurants in the small streets off the main boulevard of Gran Via Don Diego Lopez de Haro. Don’t worry you won’t have to remember the long name it is known locally as the Gran Via.
Once you’re here, make sure to book a table at La Vina del Ensanche for their tasting menu. They’re roasted cod fillet is so good!
7.) The Market La Ribera
The Market La Ribera is in the southern end of the old town and is Europe’s largest indoor market. There has been a market trading at this location since the 14th century although the building used today was only built in 1929.
If you want to try some local cuisine, (honestly, you should gorge here at lunch), then head over to one of the many stalls that call this market home. You will leave stuffed.. or at least I did!
8.) See the Alhondiga
The Alhondiga is another one of Bilbao’s most iconic buildings. Formerly a wine warehouse, today it’s a venue to see exhibitions, theatre or just chill out at lunch.
If you’re hankering for a bite to eat, then pop into Yandiola that only serves up really local produce in their dishes. It’s a proper tasty journey into Basque foods.
9.) The Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts or the Bellas Artes is one of Spain’s finest museums and easily one of the best things to do in Bilbao if you’re an art lover!
With a pretty vast collection of more than 10,000 pieces of art, it’s gonna take you quite a while to see everything. That being said, it’s all about prioritising here, so do your research and make sure you focus on the main galleries you want to see.
After strolling around the museum, head through Dona Casilda Park and work up an appetite to visit Batzoki de Abando. The restaurant is only a few minutes walk from the museum and they have a great selection of local wines and Txakoli. Better yet, the prices are pretty decent, too.
10.) The Basilica of Begona
The Basilica of Begona is nestled in the hills that overlook the city and one of the best things to do in Bilbao to see some of its beautiful buildings. Now, the basilica itself actually took over 100 years to complete (way back in the 16th Century) but it’s worth the wait… the basilica is stunning.
Over the year, there are a few key festivals to celebrate the Virgin of Begona, so plan your visit on either the 15th of August or the 11th of October to witness these. That being said, if you’re not really ‘into it’, I’d suggest just popping up to explore the church itself.
11.) The Lookout of Artxanda
The Lookout of Artxanda is the name given to a hillside overlooking the city and one of the best places for views across Bilbao.
On our last visit, I was told that apparently locals sometimes call Bilbao, ‘botxo’ or hole in English. It’s supposed to be because of the situation of the city in between the mountains (surrounded by hills), with the lookout of Artxanda being one of the best places to see this.
You can walk to the top or take a funicular railway (like me) from Funicular Square. It is a great place to get away from the busy and hectic life of the city, especially around sunset.
12.) The Aste Nagusia
The Aste Nagusia (Big Week Festival) is the biggest festival held in Bilbao and takes place over a whopping nine days at the end of August.
Celebrating everything Basque, it’s one of the best (and fun) times to visit Bilbao. Honestly, there is something for everyone from; concerts, events, children’s and a huge firework displays.
Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the rocket that’s set off (by the chosen txupinera) to say the festival has begun. It happens every year from the balcony of the Teatro Arriaga. Oh yeah, and make sure to play Badator Marijaia, it’s like the most popular song during the festival!