18 Best Things To Do In Bilbao

18 Best Things To Do In Bilbao

Enclosed in natural wonders, surrounded by mountains and forests, Bilbao is the city of eternal spring, delicious food and eclectic architecture. Merging the styles of Baroque, Neoclassicism, Gothic and modern architecture, this Northern Spanish town will astonish you with its incredible views. Bilbao was founded in the 14th century and acted as a major commercial hub for centuries. Nowadays, it’s a modern metropolitan known for its architecture, art scene, natural beauty and irresistible cuisine. Spain does not comprise only Barcelona and Madrid, and one of such unknown places to visit in Spain is Bilbao. In this article, we will talk about this incredible city and offer you some things to do in Bilbao to help you plan your trip. 


Take a Free Tour of Bilbao

When in Bilbao, sightseeing is the first item on your to-do list. The city of Bilbao is the most popular tourist destination in Northern Spain and for a good reason. The town will astonish you with a rare architectural fusion that combines Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassicist, Modernist and Deconstructivist styles. When you arrive in Bilbao, devote a couple of days to walking around the city center and surroundings to immerse yourself in this unique atmosphere. In this part, we will go over the main points of tourist attractions for every visitor. 

Free Tour in Bilbao

Explore Casco Viejo (Old Town)

The central neighborhood of Bilbao, Casco Viejo translates to Old Town and comprises seven streets. The area is fairly small and highly walkable so you can simply take a stroll around the narrow paths of this medieval district and explore the architecture. Here, you can admire the Plaza Nueva with its elegant Neoclassical style alongside the Euskaltzaindia palace, the Academy that researches and preserves the Basque language. Only 6 minutes away from the square you can go on a shopping spree at the Guinness Book of Records award-winning market called Mercado de la Ribera. 

Casco Viejo. Things to Do in Bilbao

The area of Old Town is overflown with gorgeous cathedrals from centuries ago. Take a short break to marvel at the Santiago Cathedral which was built around the 14-15th centuries or even as early as 1300, according to some historians. Not far from it, you will notice a classic baroque-style church from the 17th century, Iglesia de los Santos Juanes. The Iglesia de San Antón is one the few remaining buildings that portray pure Gothic style elements. 

Euskaltzaindia palace. Things to Do in Bilbao

Marvel at the Basilica of Begoña

This eclectic Gothic Baroque basilica is located in Begoña, the upper district of Bilbao and looms over the entire city. Locals share a legend about the creation of the basilica: the decision to erect a church on this hill came about when in the 13th century a local shepherd stumbled upon a wooden statue of Mary. However, when the workers tried to move the statue to begin construction, the mysterious voice exclaimed “Bego oina!” or “Be still!”. On this exact spot, the church of Begoña remains to this day. 

Basilica of Begoña. Things to Do in Bilbao

Walk Down La Salve Bridge

An example of deconstructivist architecture, the La Salve Bridge is an iconic landmark of Bilbao. The title La Salve comes from another local legend that says the first thing that sailors could be when returning home was the Basilica of Begoña. Their act of taking a prayer (salve in Spanish) at the sights of the majestic church gave the name to this famous bridge. The construction was done on 9 January 1972 opening the first bridge after the Civil War that demolished most of the town. Nowadays, it connects the important parts of town as well as offers easy access to one of the most visited galleries of Bilbao, the Guggenheim Museum. Walk down the bridge on one of your free tours in Bilbao to witness with majesty for yourself. 

La Salve Bridge. Things to Do in Bilbao

Cross the Puente de Vizcaya

Protected by UNESCO, the Vizcaya bridge is a true example of incredible innovation. The construction was designed by the Basque architect, Alberto de Palacio, who created the first bridge with a hanging transporter that can carry passengers and vehicles from one bank to another. The bridge is not only praised for its ingenuity and functionality but also for its unique urbanistic beauty and elegance. Made of iron extracted in the area of Vizcaya, the bridge also represents emerging industrial are for the city. The 160 meters long (525 feet) Puente de Vizcaya was built in 1893 and has been effectively doing its job ever since. 

Puente de Vizcaya. Things to Do in Bilbao

Visit the El Ensanche Neighborhood

The word Ensanche means widening which occurred in the late 19th century when the local government felt the need for expansion due to demographic growth. The city was limited by the Old Town and grow larger to accommodate the increasing population. Seasoned architects were hired to solve this problem by demolishing city walls and expanding to the rural land. Nowadays, El Ensanche is a modern and popular neighborhood with businesses, restaurants, museums and more. This booming district is known for its eclectic architecture that combines modernism with traditional styles like Baroque. 

El Ensanche Neighborhood. Things to Do in Bilbao

Cultural Recreation in Bilbao

Home to the Guggenheim Museum and the Fine Arts Gallery, Bilbao will amaze any art lover with its incredible art collections. The modern art scene is also present in the town and people continue to create and share their mesmerizing performances. In this section, we will explore the local art space, from fine arts to music and theater. 

Cultural Recreation. Things to Do in Bilbao

Visit the Guggenheim Museum

In Bilbao, Spain the Museum of Guggenheim has become the major point of tourism. Another Deconstructivism structure in Bilbao, the building of the Guggenheim Museum is deemed as the masterpiece of the 20th century urbanistic. The museum displays modern and contemporary works of art and draws millions of tourists every year. With works of Rothko, Picasso, Warhol, Hockney and many others decorating the walls of the gallery, the Guggenheim Museum has become one of the largest tourist destinations in the entire city. 

Guggenheim Museum. Things to Do in Bilbao

The museum works every day except Monday from 10 am to 7 pm and opens its doors for the ticket price of $14. 


Go to Fine Arts Museum

The Museum of Fine Arts is an art museum in Bilbao that hosts a plethora of Spanish, Basque and European art pieces from the Middle Ages to the present day. Since the gallery’s establishment in 1908, the museum has been expanded and merged with other collections to create one of the largest and most valuable exhibitions in the country. Thousands of visitors come to Bilbao to marvel at the works authored by such artistic geniuses as Murillo, Cranach, El Greco, Goya, Gauguin and many more. 

Fine Arts Museum. Things to Do in Bilbao

Unlike the Guggenheim Museum, the Fine Arts gallery works on Mondays and takes a break on Tuesdays to help visitors plan their stay. The doors are open from 10 am to 8 pm every day except Sunday (10 am to 3 pm) and Tuesday. 

Fine Arts Museum. Things to Do in Bilbao

Check Out Interesting Art at Azkuna Zentroa

Azkuna Zentroa is a place that fosters the community of modern art, dance, theater, film and design. The building used to serve as a wine warehouse which makes it a sublime location for art exhibitions thanks to its large size (43,000 square meters or 460,000 square feet) and ample open space. The complex is a Bilbao must-see as it holds a library with over 70,000 books, a few eating establishments and even a gym with a swimming pool. Visitors can enjoy a multifaceted experience by exploring the local and international art scene, perusing a book on the terrace with a cup of coffee and having a delicious dinner at Yandiola or The Boar. 

Azkuna Zentroa. Things to Do in Bilbao

Azkuna Zentroa works every day from 9 am to 9 pm. The venue organizes tours for groups as well as offers individual tours of the gallery.

Azkuna Zentroa. Things to Do in Bilbao

Go to the Arriaga Theater

Located in the aforementioned Old Town, The Arriaga Theater was constructed in 1890 and named after Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga, the “Spanish Mozart”. The composer earned his admirable title by writing his first opera at the young age of 13. The Arriaga Theater serves as an Opera House and offers tours that dive into the history of the building. If you are someone who appreciates the art of theater and opera, check out the repertoire when you are in town. 

Arriaga Theater. Things to Do in Bilbao

The performance ticket prices range from $10 to $60 while the admission fee for a guided tour is only $5 per person. 


Visit the Catedral de Bilbao

This magnificent Gothic-style cathedral was built back in the 14-15th centuries, however, its predecessor was constructed in 1300 but subsequently destroyed in 1374 and replaced by the current place of worship. The church takes its name after Saint James (Santiago in Spanish), the main patron of the city at the time. This majestic cathedral has been part of the city throughout its entire history and continues to work as an active church to this day. Tours are also given to visitors at a price of $5 per person. 

Catedral de Bilbao. Things to Do in Bilbao

Shopping in Bilbao

No matter if you want to buy some souvenirs for your friends at home or looking for something to treat yourself to, Bilbao offers a couple of amazing markets. In this part, we will talk about the two main markets in the city that will not leave you unhappy. 

Shopping. Things to Do in Bilbao

Buy Something at Plaza Nueva

Every Sunday starting at 9 am and going till 2 pm, Plaza Nueva hosts a large flea market brimming with local vendors. If you are someone who enjoys the atmosphere of an open-air market and likes to hunt for vintage valuables, make a stop at this location. Here, you can find a secondhand book from the previous century, endless record stalls with tunes from the 50s, 60s and 70s, clothing items from local designers and collections of old stamps and coins. The square is located in the heart of the city and is easily accessible from anywhere in town. Later, you can have a delicious lunch at one of the many cafes and restaurants around. 

Plaza Nueva. Things to Do in Bilbao

Shop till You Drop the Market La Ribera

One of the largest covered markets in Europe, Mercado de la Ribera covers 10,000 square meters (100,000 square feet) and hosts almost 200 vendors. The stalls are distributed according to the type of goods offered across the three floors. On the ground floor, you will find fishmongers selling freshly caught fish and seafood, while the first floor is dedicated to meat goods and the third floor is where you can taste various fruits and vegetables. 

Mercado de la Ribera. Things to Do in Bilbao

On the premises, you can also afford a great dining experience at the gourmet restaurants as well as enjoy some jazz tunes. The central location of the market makes it an ideal stopping point for tourists and locals to purchase groceries after a morning stroll. 


Local Food in Bilbao

Spanish cuisine has rightfully earned its place on every foodie’s radar. Wine, olives, tapas, pintxos, paella and many other culinary creations await you in this colorful city. Let’s talk about the local Basque cuisine and where to try it. 

Food. Things to Do in Bilbao

Taste Pintxos

Pintxos or pinchos are small snacks that originate from the Basque culinary art. They are served as a pre-appetizer to the main dish or as a snack at a bar. Often confused with tapas, pintxos are very similar to them but are “spiked” to a piece of bread with a toothpick. The reason for such tradition can be explained in two ways: first, a toothpick is there to keep the ingredients from falling off and second, to help waiters keep count of how many pintxos have been eaten by the guest. 

Pintxos. Things to Do in Bilbao

Pintxos can be made with virtually anything; including meat, fish, vegetables, cheese and more. If you want to try these local specialties, stop by the Gure Toki restaurant to indulge in sophisticated and original pintxo creations or Café Iruña, a small order-to-go establishment with a cozy atmosphere. 


Take a Basque Cooking Lesson

Can’t think of things to do in Bilbao this weekend? A cooking class in Bilbao is not only a lesson that will teach you how to make traditional Basque food. A multifaceted experience, it allows you to learn about the culture and history as well as meet like-minded travelers. On top of that, most lessons provided by the businesses include walking tours across the Old Town and other significant districts. Other classes offer wine tasting to help you learn about Spanish wines and traditions.

Basque Cooking Lesson. Things to Do in Bilbao

Active and Relaxing Things to Do in Bilbao

Bilbao is a modern city enclosed in endless nature, mountains, forests and oceans. Take a relaxing day in nature and visit the breathtaking Gaztelugatxe island, climb the majestic Artxanda mount and enjoy a long walk down the river. In this final part, we will discuss other activities that this town has to offer. 

Active and Relaxing Things. Things to Do in Bilbao

Explore Gaztelugatxe

Among the best things to do in Bilbao is visiting Gaztelugatxe, a tiny island located 35 kilometers (22 miles) away from Bilbao. The only building on the island is the 10th-century hermitage dedicated to John the Baptist. Although the island is connected to the mainland by a bridge, reaching the spot can be quite difficult. You can either rent a car or take a bus that only runs in the warm weather. From the bus stop, there is a 20-minute walk on the bridge that leads up to the hermitage. 

Gaztelugatxe. Things to Do in Bilbao

Gaztelugatxe is a serene and truly enchanting experience with its endless natural beauty. The island can be considered part of the free tours in Spain and can be visited at any time. The hermitage is absolutely stunning and has even made its appearance in the TV show Game of Thrones. According to the local legend, the hermitage will bring you luck if you ring the bell three times upon arrival. You are welcome to visit from Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11 am to 6 pm and on Sundays from 11 am to 3 pm. 

Gaztelugatxe Hermitage. Things to Do in Bilbao

Relax by the Nervion River

The Nervion River has been a vital part of the region since the first settlements. Having served as a source of water, the natural border between counties and a trading route, the river takes an important place in the city’s history. Most major Bilbao attractions are located alongside the river, including the Euskalduna Palace, Guggenheim Museum, several parks, etc. Take a stroll along the river to witness impressive building facades facing the majestic river. If you are up to treat yourself, book a table at Mina Restaurant, a Michelin-rated venue with amazing views of the Nervion river. 

 Nervion River. Things to Do in Bilbao

Ride to the Top of Mount Artxanda

To witness the city in its entirety, take a trip to the top of Mount Artxanda. Situated 300 meters above the town, the top opens breathtaking views of the surroundings. When at the top, you can enjoy a picnic, a bicycle ride or a sunbathe. After a hike, you can relax and get a tasty meal at one of the restaurants located on the mountain. 

Mount Artxanda. Things to Do in Bilbao

As per transportation, you have a few options. You can reach the mount on foot if you don’t mind taking an hour-long walk. You can also rent a car or a bicycle and make your way to the top a lot quicker. However, the most recommended means of transportation to reach the Artxanda top is a funicular, also known as a cable car. Launched in 1915, this historic vehicle will take you to the top in just three minutes while offering extraordinary views of the city and the mountain. 

Mount Artxanda. Things to Do in Bilbao

Do Not Miss the Aste Nagusia (Big Week Festival)

Aste Nagusia is definitely among the most fascinating things to do in Bilbao, Spain. This annual festival was created in honor of the Virgin de Begoña and to celebrate the Basque culture. Spanning over 9 days, the festival comprises myriads of performances, including parades, concerts, fireworks, dances and even sports competitions. On the first day, a txupinazo rocket is launched from the Arriaga Theater’s balcony officially kicking off the festival. The mascot of the celebrations is Marijaia, a puppet-like figure of a woman. 

Aste Nagusia. Things to Do in Bilbao

The festival is so massive that it attracts people from all over the country. The whole week is filled with festivities, concerts, culinary contests, theater plays, workshops and even food fights, both official and unofficial. The celebrations are accompanied by Basque folk music and dancing which makes the atmosphere cheerful and happy. On the last day of the festival, the Marijaia puppet is burnt on the central square to then be recreated again for the next year. 

Aste Nagusia. Things to Do in Bilbao

The festival takes place each year in August and this year it starts on 19 August and ends on 27 August 2023. 



A vacation in Bilbao will not leave you unimpressed and will create amazing memories for years to come. Pack a light suitcase and jump on this fun adventure to discover the unique and welcoming city of Bilbao. 
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