Located in the Basque Country, Bilbao is one of the most vibrant cities in Northern Spain.
There are many reasons why you should visit Bilbao – its exquisite gastronomy, beautiful green spaces, rich culture and relaxing atmosphere. Along with Santander, Bilbao is an underrated city with so many things to offer.
It’s a great city to spend a day or a short weekend because you’ll have plenty of things to do in the city centre and its surroundings, so you’ll never get bored.
Bilbao is also a great stop if you’re doing the popular Camino del Norte route that goes through some of the most scenic coastal towns in the north of Spain.
If you’re ready to visit this city, then read this one day in Bilbao travel guide to discover must-see attractions, where to eat, the best accommodation and short and easy day trips in case you decide to stay longer.
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How to spend one day in Bilbao – planning a trip to Bilbao
Top things to do before visiting Bilbao
- Check out and book your flights to Bilbao here.
- Book the best accommodation in Bilbao.
- Are you planning to visit other Northern Spain destinations? Check out my blog about Santander.
- Don’t forget to get travel insurance.
Visit the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and Puppy
The Guggenheim Museum is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Bilbao.
This museum and art gallery is home to unique sculptures and pieces of art. If you love the modernism period, you must add the Guggenheim Museum to your itinerary. You’ll find popular modern art movements like cubism and surrealism.
The truth is that you can spend between 3 to 4 hours in this museum. There are many floors and exhibition rooms to explore, and if you opt to listen to the audio guide, you’ll definitely spend a big part of your day there.
In addition to this, don’t forget to explore the surroundings of the Guggenheim Museum because you’ll find other impressive sculptures such as the Giant Spider.
Also, just outside the main entrance is my favourite sculpture, the Puppy, the world’s largest flower sculpture! It has over 38,000 flowers, so it’s definitely impressive to see.
Tip: If you’re hungry, I highly recommend getting a snack at the cafe just outside the Guggenheim Museum. The cafe has outdoor seating and you can enjoy a view of the museum while having a drink of your choice. For me, freshly squeezed orange juice is the perfect drink on a sunny and warm day.
The museum is very popular and it’s not a surprise to see school trips or guided tours at the weekends, so booking your tickets online is the best option.
Wander Bilbao’s Old Quarter
There is something about Bilbao Old Town (Casco Viejo) also known as zazpi kaleak, which is Euskara for “seven streets” – its beautiful and colourful buildings, narrow streets, relaxing atmosphere make it a fantastic place to visit.
Not only can you find some of the main attractions in the city, but also some hidden gems and less explored paths. My number one piece of advice is to forget about your itinerary for a moment and give yourself some freedom to wander.
Alternatively, if you prefer to have a plan or learn more about the city, there are many free walking tours in Bilbao city centre. The local guides will tell you all about the secrets behind this place.
Discover the beauty of Biblioteca Central de Bidebarrieta
The truth is I had no idea of this beautiful library before visiting the city, it wasn’t on my itinerary. However, while walking in the Old Quarter, the facade of a building got my eye, and I decided to go inside to check it, it was the main library.
The library was built at the end of the 19th century, and it has a stunning eclectic French design. It’s one of the most important cultural centres in Bilbao as it’s home to 100,000 books.
Whether you love reading books or admiring the architecture of a building, visit this hidden gem.
Visit the Cathedral
One of the most emblematic places to visit in Bilbao is the cathedral, known as Catedral de Santiago in Spanish.
This building is an excellent example of Gothic architecture at the end of the 14th century in Spain.
The cathedral has impressive architecture on the inside too, and one of the best parts is the cloister where you can walk around while popping your head through the beautiful pillars and windows to see a small courtyard.
When you buy your ticket for Bilbao’s Cathedral, you also get access to San Antón Church.
Have a coffee at Plaza Nueva
Plaza Nueva is a lively square in the historic centre of Bilbao. It is home to many cafes, bars, restaurants as well as alternating shops. It’s a great place to enjoy the atmosphere, and people-watch while having some food and looking at the beautiful neo-classical architecture of this square.
If you’re visiting Bilbao on a Sunday, there is a street market that takes place here. Local merchants sell anything from antiques such as second-hand CDs and books to coins, stamps and crafts.
Relax at Doña Casilda de Iturrizar Park
One of the main reasons to visit Northern Spain is to contemplate the landscapes and the beautiful green spaces. This beautiful park isn’t far from the Guggenheim Museum, and it’s worth stopping by it.
The park has many benches to sit down and unwind, a pond with ducks, and beautiful fountains and sculptures. While visiting this charming park, you can’t miss the Pergola which is a great spot to take pictures too.
Inside the park, there’s also a small cafe with outdoor tables that is often frequented by locals.
Immerse yourself in the football culture at San Mamés Stadium
I’m not a football fan, but when you travel with others, you may compromise and visit places that you aren’t very interested in. This was my case!
Having said so, if you like football, San Mamés Stadium is a must-see attraction to add to your Bilbao itinerary. The museum is quite big and very modern, even if Athletic de Bilbao isn’t your favourite football team, it’s quite interesting learning how this football club is different from others in Spain.
In addition to this, it’s surprising how locals are so passionate about the football team, and if there’s a match going on, there’s always someone that will ask about the team’s results.
Cross the Zubizuri Bridge
When you walk around Bilbao riverside, you’ll be surprised by how many bridges you’ll find.
The Zubizuri Bridge, also known as Calatrava Bridge, is one of the most popular bridges in the city. Its arched structure is very unique and resembles a sailboat above the river.
Crossing the Zubizuri is an experience – contemplating the beautiful views of the Nervion River while walking on a non-slip mat that doesn’t make you feel very stable.
Enjoy the best city view from Artxanda viewpoint
There is nothing better than enjoying a panoramic view of a city.
You can find several viewpoints across Bilbao, but the Artxanda viewpoint is the highest one. If you want to access it, you can take the cable car (Funicular de Artxanda) which is situated in Funikularreko Plaza, a few minutes’ walk from Zubizuri Bridge.
The return ticket costs €4,30, so to make the most of your time at the viewpoint, you can have a small picnic while enjoying the view, although it can sometimes be windy.
In the area, you can also go on a short walk to enjoy the different views of the city.
Here there is a church (Ermita de San Roque) which I was very excited to visit as I thought it would be a nice hidden gem. However, once I reached the church, I was disappointed – you couldn’t go inside, there was graffiti all over the church and the surroundings weren’t neat either.
Shop at Gran Vía
Gran Vía is Bilbao’s shopping district which has a combination of high-street and traditional shops. This is the perfect place to buy anything you need or want (clothes and accessories, gourmet products, etc.) or simply stroll through.
If you love shopping, you must add Gran Vía to your itinerary!
Where to eat in Bilbao
The best place to enjoy Bilbao’s local cuisine is La Ribera Market. Inside the market, there is a food court that is like heaven for any foodie – the smell of different food, the colourful stalls, the staff behind the stalls trying to convince you why you should try their pintxos…
Bilbao is known for its pintxos which are similar to a tapa but they always come with a slice of bread underneath the meat, fish, egg or vegetables. The truth is that the combinations are endless!
When you walk into the food court, you’ll be amazed by all the pintxos you can find – from chicken skewers and fried squid to omelette with ham and cheese, which is very popular in Northern Spain.
You have plenty of options to choose from, and the great thing about eating at the market is that not only is it affordable (each pintxo is often 2 euros) but delicious too.
In addition to all the savoury bites, make space for dessert. There’s a stall with traditional, irresistible Basque sweets. I ordered Carolina, a meringue on top of a rounded pastry filled with custard. It was delicious!
Where to stay in Bilbao
If this is your first time in Bilbao or you’re visiting the city for a day, the Old Quarter is the best place to look for accommodation. Staying central will help you make the most of your short time in Bilbao.
There is a good variety of hotels, apartments and hostels in the area which can make the decision on where to stay a bit difficult. To help you decide on the best accommodation for you, here are some recommendations:
Hotel Tayko Bilbao. This 4-star hotel is located in Casco Viejo, next to Arriaga Theatre and a few minutes’ walk from Catedral de Santiago. The hotel is a great choice if you’re looking for modern, chic and comfortable rooms. It’s the perfect option for couples.
NYX Hotel Bilbao by Leonardo Hotels is another incredible 4-star hotel that you want to check. The hotel offers stylish and comfortable rooms, a delicious continental breakfast and a 360 rooftop terrace where you can enjoy the stunning city views while sipping wine.
Pensión Basque Boutique. If you’re looking for budget-friendly accommodation without comprising comfort and style, this 2-star guest house is the perfect option for you. It’s right in the Old Quarter and it offers beautifully decorated rooms with hand-made furnishings and artistic finishes inspired by Bilbao’s culture.
Day trips from Bilbao
Bilbao is surrounded by many beautiful destinations that you’ll want to uncover. Whether you’re looking for popular nearby cities in Northern Spain or off the beaten path villages, these are some of the best, quickest and easiest day trips from Bilbao.
30 minutes from Bilbao, Bermeo is a colourful coastal town in the Basque Country.
This is a place to visit for anyone who loves tranquil and off the beaten path destinations. Apart from colourful buildings, the town is well-known for having one of the most important fishing ports in the region.
Wander the town centre, have a walk in the port, visit Lamera Park or simply relax at Laida Beach on a summer afternoon.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a small island that seems out of this world. It’s located about 40 minutes by car from Bilbao, and if you have time, it’s definitely worth visiting.
If you’ve watched season 7 of Games of Thrones, you probably recognise this place which is referred to as “Dragonstone.” Regardless of this, there is no doubt that the raw beauty of Gaztelugatxe will impress you.
The island is connected with the mainland by a man-made stone bridge, then it transitions into a path that has 241 steps and zigzags all the way to the top.
When you reach the top, you’ll find a church and it’s said that you should ring the church’s bell three times to make a wish.
You can access San Juan de Gaztelugatxe by car and public transport (coach). Alternatively, check out this guided tour to Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao.
Santander is an incredible but underrated city located 1 hour and 30 minutes from Bilbao, which makes it an easy day trip by bus or car.
There are many things to do in Santander in a day, and this is why exploring the city centre is the best thing to do.
The best things to do in Santander in a day
Here are some suggested activities you can’t miss:
- Go to Centro Botín, an art gallery next to the Pereda Garden.
- Visit the cathedral.
- Discover Santander’s street art.
- Walk along the beach promenade.
- Have a meal in the Puerto Chico area.
If you have time or you’re staying a short weekend in Santander, then visiting the Magdalena Peninsula is a must-see.
In the peninsula, you can enjoy some of the best sea views of Santander, and of course, visit the Royal Palacio de la Magdalena, a fairytale palace that used to serve as a royal residence.
If you’re planning to visit the palace, you must book your visit online through their website to avoid any disappointments. This place can get fully booked at weekends or on holiday dates.
For me, Santander is one of the best day trips from Bilbao without a doubt! This city will surprise you and will make you want to go back again and again.
Whether you’re spending 24 hours in Bilbao or you’re staying longer, you’ll find incredible things to do in the city and its surroundings.
If you have any questions about visiting Bilbao, you can always reach me via email or Instagram. I’m happy to help!
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Frequently asked questions about visiting Bilbao
What is the best time to visit Bilbao?
The weather in Northern Spain is very different from Southern Spain. Winters are colder, windier and wetter, so choosing spring or summer are the best option.
Sightseeing is perfect in spring and early summer as it doesn’t get as hotter as in the south. For example, May is a really good month to visit Bilbao as the maximum temperature is 20 degrees and the minimum is 10 degrees, also the chances of rain are lower than in earlier months.
Is Bilbao worth visiting?
Bilbao is worth visiting! There are plenty of things to do in the city – from visiting the Guggenheim Bilbao museum and the city’s cathedral to having some delicious pintxos at Ribera Market.
Despite having many attractions, the city atmosphere is very relaxing, and it’ll make you forget that you’re in the city.
If you’re looking for less explored destinations in Spain, you’ll love Bilbao!
What is Bilbao known for?
Bilbao is famous for being a rich in culture city with attractions such as the Guggenheim Museum, a food paradise with its delicious pintxos and a very green destination.
How many days do you need in Bilbao?
You can visit Bilbao in 24 hours, however, staying 3 days in Bilbao allows you to visit the main attractions at a slower pace and go on a day trip to unique nearby destinations.
What language is spoken in Bilbao?
Bilbao has two official languages: Spanish and Basque. Locals are bilingual and communicate interchangeably in both languages.