Sitting pretty on the Bay of Biscay, Bilbao is one of the top destinations in Northern Spain. Discover fascinating Basque culture, delicious food, and art and culture in droves. it has so much to offer, whatever you want from a city break.
Wander through the narrow cobbled streets in the Old Town, stopping for coffees in wide open and sun-drenched squares. Swap historic Bilbao for the ultramodern architecture of the port – where you’ll find the iconic Guggenheim Museum!
As the largest city in the Basque country, it can be tricky to decide what to do in Bilbao. Let us take you through some of the best things to do in town so that planning your holiday to Bilbao is as stress-free as possible!
Our favourite places to stay in Bilbao!
Choosing somewhere to stay in Bilbao will make your trip much easier. Having everything booked in advance will mean you’ve got more time to explore this wonderful city! There are several neighbourhoods which offer different flavours of the city, each waiting to be discovered!
The Best Hostel in Bilbao
- Great location
- Fun and vibrant atmosphere
Ganbara Hostel is right in the centre of Bilbao’s Old Town. It’s close to the bars, restaurants and nightlife, and the ideal place to explore from!
The Best Budget Hotel in Bilbao
- Innovative and chic design
- Great location
Close to the centre of the Old Town and only 5 minutes away from the train station, this budget hotel is a great place to explore Bilbao from. It’s on a quiet residential street!
The Best Luxury Hotel in Bilbao
- Stunning rooftop terrace
- Opposite the Guggenheim Museum
This luxury hotel is opposite the top attraction in Bilbao and was designed by Javier Mariscal. There are a number of different dining and drinking options in the five star hotel!
• The 31 Best Things to Do in Bilbao •
#1 – Guggenheim Museum
- One of the most iconic buildings in Spain
- Showcases contemporary Basque and international art
- Take a private guided tour
The first place on most Bilbao itineraries is the Guggenheim Museum. Completed in 1997 with the intention of regenerating the city, it’s certainly done so. The Guggenheim put Bilbao on the world map – it’s one of the best art galleries in Spain!
Have some time? Get out of the city with these epic day trips from Bilbao!
#2 – Casco Viejo
- A lovely place for a leisurely stroll
- Pop into a bar for a pintxo
- Check out the cathedral and churches
Casco Viejo means Old Town, and this is the part of Bilbao that used to be enclosed in city walls. They were torn down in the 1800s, but you can still see the stunning cathedral and churches here.
Still haven’t booked for Bilbao? Find out where to stay in Bilbao for any type of trip!
- Tick a UNESCO World Heritage site off the bucket list
- Discover Bilbao by bike
- Visit a charming Basque coastal town
Just 20km from Bilbao, Getxo is easily accessible by bike. The biggest attraction is the UNESCO World Heritage listed transporter bridge which links the town with Portugalete. The Old Port is a lovely place to take a leisurely stroll!
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#4 – Plaza Nueva
- The centre of Bilbao
- A great place to relax with friends
- Antique market on a Sunday morning
The centre of Bilbao’s Old Quarter is Plaza Nueva. Come here in the evenings to people watch groups of friends and have a couple of cañas or glasses of wine. Make sure you try a couple of tasty pintxos too!
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- A more traditional gallery than the Guggenheim
- Enjoy a private guided tour
- Work dating back to the 12th century
The Guggenheim may be the most famous art gallery in Bilbao, but art lovers should check out the Museum of Fine Arts too. It’s considered to be one of the best art galleries in Spain, but for different reasons. The masterpieces here span from the 1100s to the present day!
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#6 – La Ribera Market
- Most famous market in Bilbao
- On the edge of the Casco Viejo
- Pick up some local products for back home
Although this market was built in 1929, a market has stood on this site since the 14th century. It’s a great place to visit any time of day. Pick up fresh produce in the morning, or head to a bar or restaurant for lunch. It’s even a great night out!
- See the home of Athletic Bilbao
- A football club that only fields Basque players
- Feel like a pro in the club changing room
One of the proudest and most historical clubs in Spain, football fanatics will love a trip to San Mamés. Athletic Bilbao is a unique football club, and a guided tour will teach you about their history!
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#8 – Forestal Park Bilbao
- Spend time up in the treetops
- Feel like you’re flying on a zipline
- Don’t worry about safety – you’ve got a harness!
Explore the fun and thrills of a treetop adventure. Take on rope bridges and ziplines and enjoy the panoramic views from the treetops on this aerial assault course. There are two options which fit different ages and skill levels!
#9 – Arriaga Theatre
- Neo-Baroque 19th century palace
- One of the best cultural spots in Bilbao
- Right on the edge of the Old Town
Right on the river, you’ll find the Arriaga Theatre. It’s named after an important Basque composer who sadly died from tuberculosis at the age of 20. Head here to take in opera, ballet, or a concert while you’re in town!
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#10 – Basque Cooking Class
- Learn how to make Basque pintxos
- A class with one of the best chefs in Bilbao
- Discover another side of Basque culture
In this class, you’ll be learning to make 4 different pintxos and a dessert. Pintxos are one of the cornerstones of Basque culinary culture, and you’ll want to impress your friends by making them when you get back home. This class will help you do just that!
#11 – Bilbao Cathedral
- The oldest monument in Bilbao
- Dates back to the 14th and 15th century
- The most important religious building in Bilbao
Don’t be confused by what seems like a swastika above the main doorway. It’s actually a lauburu, a traditional Basque symbol. Not only is this an important religious site, but you can see the graves of important 16th century noblemen in the cloisters.
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#12 – Artxanda Lookout
- Take the funicular up to the lookout
- A picturesque viewpoint above the city
- Have lunch at one of the restaurants up here
If you’re really in love with Bilbao’s architecture, consider seeing it from above. The Artxanda Lookout is atop a 224-metre hill and you can reach it on a 100-year-old funicular. Views of the Guggenheim are second to none!
#13 – Askuna Zentroa
- Visit the city’s former wine exchange
- Modernist building on 43 unique pillars
- Take a guided tour
An incredible arts and culture venue, you shouldn’t miss seeing a show at Askuna Zentroa if you have the chance. However, it can be just as much fun to explore the building. Each of the 43 pillars that hold it up is an individual work of art!
- Visit Dragonstones Fortress
- Walk along King’s Landing Beach
- Get to know the stunning coastline
The otherworldly Basque coastline is truly stunning, and the Game of Thrones directors noticed that! There are a number of locations in Northern Spain used in the TV show. The most impressive is Dragonstones Fortress – aka San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
Editor’s Note: If you’ll be in Barcelona, check out the top things to do in Barcelona during your visit!
- Get a new perspective on the city’s key attractions
- A relaxing day on the water
- Head out to Bahía del Abra
The Ria de Bilbao or Nervión River is a picturesque way to see the city. Several of the city’s key locations are set on its main banks, all the way up to Bahía del Abra and the towns of Portugalete and Getxo!
- Discover the stunning landscapes of the Basque Country
- Visit an iconic religious building
- Be seduced by rural Basque villages
The Sanctuary of Arantzazu is one of the most avant-garde religious buildings in the world. It’s so close and makes a great day trip from Bilbao. Nearby, there’s also the oldest university in the Basque Country: Sancti Spiritu!
#17 – Playa de Azkorri
Very Romantic for Couples
- Take a stroll on the beach
- Just 25 minutes from the city centre
- Stunning sandy blue flag bay
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, Playa de Azkorri is a great bet. This beach was designed for long, romantic strolls, so it’s a must if you’re travelling with your other half!
#18 – Basque Museum
- More than 20,000 artefacts
- Learn about the history of the Basque region
- Displays dating back to the Iron age
If you want to learn about this mysterious Spanish region, there’s nowhere better than the Basque Museum. Interactive exhibits in a 17th century building document the region from the beginning of time until now!
#19 – Dona Casilda Park
- One of the city’s most charming green spaces
- Have a lazy day
- Take a picnic and enjoy it in the sun
As the city’s largest green space, there’s nowhere better to escape the noise without leaving Bilbao. It’s a favourite spot for tourists and locals alike, and you can enjoy walks, sports, and picnics here!
#20 – Day Trip to Vitoria
- Visit the capital of the Basque region
- Sample rioja wines
- Take a guided tour
If there’s one trip you don’t want to do in a rental car, it’s this. You’ll miss out on so much fine wine! Vitoria is the capital of the Basque Region and has one of the best quality of life ratings in all Spain!
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#21 – Jeff Koon’s Puppy
- A huge topiary dog
- Located outside the Guggenheim Museum
- Once part of a terrorist plot!
This topiary structure of a West Highland terrier is one of the symbols of Bilbao. The cartoon-like structure is a representation of something from an 18th century pleasure garden with a modern twist.
#22 – Torre Iberdrola
Things to do in Bilbao this weekend
- The tallest building in the Basque country
- Open on weekends
- Excellent views of the city
The tallest building in the Basque country and highest office building in Spain is located in Bilbao. Ascend to the observation deck for incredible views. The best time to visit is either early in the morning (no crowds) or at sunset (great views)!
#23 – Iglesia de San Nicolas
- Church with a beautiful baroque façade
- In the Casco Viejo
- Dedicated to the patron saint of sailors
In a town with such a rich maritime history, it’s no surprise that there’s a church dedicated to the patron saint of sailors. St Nicholas’ Church is one of the prettiest in the Casco Viejo, thanks to its gorgeous baroque façade!
#24 – Campos Eliseos Theatre
One of the best free things to do in Bilbao
- A blend of architectural styles
- Take a free guided tour
- Admire the gold leaf in the main hall
Just over the river from the Arriaga Theatre that we mentioned earlier, Campos Eliseos is another cool place to put on your Bilbao itinerary. It looks like one of the stunning Moorish Andalusian palaces and you can tour it for free!
#25 – Playa de Plentzia
One of the best cheap things to do in Bilbao
- Try your hand at water sports
- Enjoy swimming in the cool waters
- One of the most popular beaches in Bilbao
The north of Spain may not be as well known for its beach as the Costa del Sol and the Costa Blanca. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any great beaches in the north. Playa de Plentzia is one of the most popular in the Basque country and a great place for a day trip!
#26 – Basilica of Begoña
Architecture fan? You’ll love this
- Gothic church towering over the Casco Viejo
- Beautiful gold altarpiece
- Dedicated to the Patron Saint of the Bay of Biscay
Amatxu is known as ‘Mother’ to those around the Bay of Biscay. And that’s exactly who this church is dedicated to! It took a century to build, and you’ll definitely want to explore it if you love architecture. It combines Gothic and Renaissance!
#27 – Salinas de Añana
- One of the world’s oldest salt factories
- 6,500 years of history
- An hour south of Bilbao
If you want a change of scenery, consider heading out to the Salinas de Añana. These salt flats are an incredible cultural and natural site, with plenty of animals and plants calling them home!
#28 – Maritime Museum
- Located in the Eukalduna Shipyards
- Learn about the men and women who made the town what it is now
- Scale models of boats built in Bilbao
You can’t visit Bilbao without a nod to its maritime past. It’s the backbone of the city, even today! The Maritime Museum takes an in-depth look at the city’s history and the people behind it.
#29 – Zubizuri (The White Bridge)
- Arched footbridge over the Nervión River
- Designed by esteemed architect Santiago Calatrava
- Connects Campo Volantín and Uribitarte
There are several architectural wonders in Bilbao, and we couldn’t miss out Zubizuri, aka the Calatrava Bridge or the White Bridge. It was controversial back in 1997 when it was constructed, but nowadays it’s one of the symbols of the city.
#30 – Explore San Sebastian
- Enjoy a walking tour of another Basque city
- One of the best foodie cities in Europe
- Home to one of the 12 treasures of Spain
If you can spare a whole day away from Bilbao, head to San Sebastian. Sample pintxos and tapas before spending time on La Concha Urban Beach. It’s the only beach listed in the 12 treasures of Spain!
#31 – Fountain of Dogs
All ages will love this site!
- Not dogs, but Egyptian style lions!
- Legend says it was used to wash animals
- Fill your water bottle here!
An unusual little attraction in the Casco Viejo is the Egyptian inspired architecture of the fountain of dogs. Legend has it that it was used to wash animals to be sold in the local market. Now, it’s a good place to fill up your water bottle!
So, that concludes our list of the best things to do in Bilbao. And it’s a city that really does have it all. Whatever your travel style is – be it foodie, culture vulture, or history buff, you’ll find loads of cool activities in Bilbao.
Discover the biggest barque city for yourself. Wander through the streets to hidden tapas restaurants, check out the art in one of the world’s most impressive galleries, and learn about the city’s maritime history.
Whether you’re travelling solo, with your other half, or as a family, you’re sure to make plenty of happy memories when you travel to Bilbao!
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