Bilbao is a captivating city nestled in the heart of Spain’s beautiful Basque Country. This exciting destination is a harmonious blend of old-world charm and modern innovation. It offers travelers a unique and enriching experience. Bilbao is known for its rich history, delicious cuisine, and impressive architecture. The city has earned its place as a top destination for wanderers seeking an authentic Spanish adventure.
In this comprehensive guide, we will take you on a journey through the best things to do in the city. Come along and unveil the Bilbao top attractions that are sure to leave you awe-inspired.
Whether you’re drawn to the arts, history, nature, or culinary delights, Bilbao promises an unforgettable experience. Get ready to immerse yourself in all the Bilbao must-see attractions and explore the very best this enchanting city has to offer.
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1 – View beautiful art
Bilbao boasts a vibrant and thriving art scene, making it a haven for art enthusiasts. The city’s art offerings include world-class museums, galleries, and public art installations. One of the best things to do in Bilbao is to simply admire all the art on display!
One of the most iconic and significant landmarks in the art world is the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Designed by the renowned architect Frank Gehry, the museum’s striking titanium-clad exterior is also a work of art. Inside, you’ll find an impressive collection of contemporary art from the mid-20th century to the present day. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao also hosts temporary exhibitions by prominent artists from around the world. It is truly a must-visit destination for any art lover.
Apart from the Guggenheim, the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum is another gem for art enthusiasts. Housed in a neoclassical building, this museum showcases an extensive collection of Spanish, Basque, and European art from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Admire works by famous artists such as El Greco, Goya, and Van Dyck, as well as remarkable Basque artists.
⭐ Insider tip: If you’re visiting the Guggenheim Museum make sure you wear comfortable shoes. It is a BIG museum requiring lots of walking! It also tends to get chilly inside, so bring a cardigan even if you’re visiting in the middle of the Spanish summer.
2 – Wander through the Casco Viejo (Old Town)
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Casco Viejo, also known as the Old Town, is one of the most enchanting neighborhoods in Bilbao. The streets of Casco Viejo are a maze of narrow, cobbled alleys. There are many charming buildings adorned with colorful facades and intricate wrought-iron balconies. As you wander through the district, you’ll encounter a mix of architectural styles including Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical.
The heart of Casco Viejo is the Plaza Nueva, a beautiful square surrounded by elegant arcades. It serves as a central meeting point and a hub for social gatherings, making it a lively spot throughout the day. It’s also an excellent night-time destination too!
Besides the lively atmosphere, Casco Viejo is home to several landmarks and cultural sites. The Santiago Cathedral, for example, dates back to the 14th century. It stands as a prominent example of Gothic architecture and is a must-visit for history enthusiasts. Another one of the standout features of Casco Viejo is the seven medieval streets known as “Las Siete Calles” in Spanish. These streets are the oldest and most traditional part of the neighborhood, but well worth a visit.
⭐ Insider tip: Explore Bilbao at your own pace with an audiovisual self-guided tour with integrated GPS! This fun digital tour guide will ensure you don’t miss any of the Bilbao attractions you want to see.
3 – Visit San Mamés Stadium
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When it comes to Bilbao’s top attractions, you can’t miss San Mamés Stadium, officially known as Estadio San Mamés. This famous football stadium is the home ground of Athletic Club Bilbao, one of Spain’s most historic and iconic football clubs. The stadium is renowned for its rich history, passionate fanbase, and unique architectural design.
The stadium’s design is a remarkable blend of modernity and tradition. It features a distinctive exterior made up of undulating walls and a glass roof that covers the seating areas. The design allows natural light to filter through, creating a vibrant atmosphere during day games.
For football enthusiasts and sports lovers visiting Bilbao, a visit to San Mamés Stadium is a must. Witnessing a match or taking a guided tour of this historic and modern sporting venue offers a memorable experience. The onsite museum showcases the deep connection between the people of Bilbao and their beloved football club.
⭐ Insider tip: There is a very cool riverside cocktail bar and restaurant next to San Mamés Stadium called Dike1. This is the perfect spot for a meal and/or some drinks after visiting the stadium!
4 – Sample delicious pintxos
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Pintxos are a delicious part of Basque cuisine, and Bilbao is one of the best places to indulge in these mouthwatering small bites. Like Spanish tapas, pintxos are bite-sized snacks or appetizers usually served on a slice of bread and secured with a toothpick. The word pintxos means “spike” in Basque.
Sampling pintxos is a delightful culinary experience that allows you to savor a variety of flavors and textures in one sitting. Each bar in Bilbao will have its own unique selection of pintxos, ranging from traditional classics to innovative creations. It is customary to visit multiple bars to try different pintxos, making it a social activity among locals and visitors alike.
A popular spot for pintxos is the Mercado de la Ribera. This market is not only a great place to shop for fresh produce but also home to several pintxo bars. Here, you can sample fresh pintxos with ingredients straight from the market. Some other well-known pintxo bars in Bilbao that you may want to check out include Gure Toki, La Viña del Ensanche, and Café Bar Bilbao. These establishments are revered for their delectable pintxos and cozy ambiance.
⭐ Insider tip: Remember that pintxos are not a sit-down meal. Instead, you stand at the bar, select the ones you want from the display, and keep track of how many you’ve had. At the end of your pintxo-hopping adventure, you settle the bill based on the number of toothpicks or skewers left on your plate.
6 – Experience the Azkuna Zentroa
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Azkuna Zentroa, formerly known as Alhóndiga Bilbao, is a contemporary cultural center that has to be included on any list of Bilbao top attractions. Inside you can find a cinema, exhibition rooms, cafes and shops. This unique space is dedicated to promoting arts, culture, leisure, and social interaction. The center is a vibrant hub for both locals and visitors to enjoy.
The building that houses Azkuna Zentroa has a rich history. It was originally constructed in 1909 as a neoclassical wine warehouse. In 2010, the building underwent a remarkable transformation led by renowned French designer Philippe Starck. He converted it into the multifunctional center that it is today.
One of the main highlights of Azkuna Zentroa is its diverse cultural program, which includes a wide range of events and activities. The center hosts art exhibitions, film screenings, theater performances, music concerts, dance shows, and workshops. The rooftop terrace, known as “La Terraza,” is a popular spot where visitors can enjoy stunning views of Bilbao while sipping a drink or sampling delicious dishes from the center’s restaurant.
⭐ Insider tip: The center also offers facilities for sports and leisure activities. Most enticing is the rooftop pool, where you can swim surrounded by city views.
7 – Sail down the Ría del Nervión
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The Ría del Nervión is an estuary and tidal river that runs through the city and offers up some of the best Bilbao sightseeing. With its beautiful bridges, Ría del Nervión also provides excellent photographic opportunities, meaning a walk along the banks is one of the best things to do in Bilbao.
The riverfront has been revitalized and transformed into a popular area for leisure activities. It offers a pleasant environment for walking, cycling, and enjoying the picturesque cityscape along the riverbanks.
One of the most prominent landmarks along the Ría del Nervión is the Vizcaya Bridge (Bizkaia Bridge in Basque). Designed by Alberto Palacio and completed in 1893, it is a remarkable feat of engineering and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Vizcaya Bridge is a unique transporter bridge and is the oldest of its kind in the world that is still in use. The bridge’s gondola, suspended from a high steel structure, transports people and vehicles from one side to the other. It also provides breathtaking views of the river and the surrounding landscape.
Another iconic bridge spanning the Ría del Nervión is the Zubizuri Bridge, also known as the Campo Volantin Bridge. Designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, the bridge’s sleek and futuristic design features a curved glass walkway and steel arches.
⭐ Insider tip: Join a cruise along the river to see the best of the city (including the iconic bridges) or, if you’re feeling adventurous, take a paddleboard on the river!
8 – Head to Dragonstone (aka San Juan de Gaztelugatxe)
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A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Vizcaya Bridge is more commonly known as Puente Colgante (the hanging bridge). It has a hanging gondola that can transport cars and people across the Nervion to the towns of Portugalete and Las Arenas. Even cooler? It’s the oldest transporter bridge in the
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a stunning and picturesque island located on the Basque coast about 35 kilometers (around 22 miles) from Bilbao. It is a popular day trip destination from Bilbao, renowned for its natural beauty, historical significance, and the breathtaking views it offers.
As you ascend the trail to the island, you’ll be treated to stunning panoramic views of the rugged coastline and the deep blue waters of the Bay of Biscay. Once you reach the top, you’ll encounter the iconic hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe perched on the island’s highest point.
This small chapel dates back to the 10th century and is steeped in history and legends. The island itself is connected to the mainland by a stone bridge, adding to its unique charm. One of the highlights of visiting San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is the tradition of ringing the chapel’s bell three times and making a wish. This is said to bring good luck, and visitors from all over the world partake in it.
⭐ Insider tip: The island served as a filming location for the popular TV series “Game of Thrones”, where it represented the fictional Dragonstone. As a result, the site has gained even more international attention and has become a bucket-list destination for fans of the show. Come as early as you can (or during the off-season) if you want to avoid the crowds!