In Basque Country (Spain) lies the city of Bilbao and this city is world famous for the Guggenheim museum. But Bilbao has much more to offer than just this impressive museum. With ease you have some nice days in Bilbao, without getting bored. There are beautiful and green parks, everywhere you look you see varied and modern architecture, on every corner of the street you eat delicious pintxos, the old town is beautiful and wandering is great! Did you know that you are on the beach in 20 minutes from the center by metro? What are great things to do in Bilbao?
7x the best things to do in Bilbao!
Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country in Spain and has about 350,000 inhabitants. Bilbao is the heart of the Basque country. Bilbao is traditionally a gray industrial city, but the city has undergone a tremendous metamorphosis in recent years and has flourished. Years ago, the inhabitants moved away from the city and the city fell into disrepair. Factories and homes were vacant. But due to the construction of the Guggenheim museum in 1997, a reversal in this downward spiral has taken place and the city is buzzing again.
This has been such a huge and impressive turnaround than one speaks of the Guggenheim effect or Bilbao effect worldwide. This refers to how a city has fallen into disrepair, by putting a well-considered plan (among other things, by building the Guggenheim museum) on the map again. Currently, approximately 1 million people visit this museum every year and this has resulted in enormous growth for domestic and foreign tourists.
But much more has happened than just building the museum, which has turned Bilbao into an artistic picture. The old ports, shipyards and empty factories have given way to interesting architecture, bridges, green parks, cycle paths, boulevards and countless sights. The extremely polluted River Nervion, which runs straight through the city, has been cleaned and has become a place where people like to come to relax.
The city has 3 centers: the old, modern and central center. Take that into account when you ask someone for directions to the center! Everywhere in the city there are fountains with potable water and therefore ideal to refill your bottle!
Bilbao is nowadays a cool city where gastronomy, culture and art go hand in hand.
Bilbao is an autonomous region of Spain and the inhabitants call themselves Basque and not Spanish. They have their own language, laws and traditions. Bilbao is the capital of the Spanish Basque Country and in the southwest of France is the French Basque Country. The desire of the inhabitants of the Basque Country is to separate from Spain and to form an independent country together with the French part of the Basque Country. For this purpose the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) was established and until a number of years ago they regularly committed attacks. But since 2011 there is a “ceasefire” and they try without violence to separate themselves from Spain.
Most Basques feel totally unconnected with Spain, Spaniards and Spanish culture.
At the moment I was in Bilbao, Spain played a game at the World Cup and I could not find any cafe where it was broadcast. This says something about how much they do not feel like a Spaniard. The football club of Bilbao is Athletic Bilbao and there are really only Basque players in this football team. Foreign players (with the exception of French players from the French Basque country) or Spanish players not of Basque origin, may not play for the club.
What are the nicest things to do in Bilbao?
1. Visit the Guggenheim museum
The most famous museum in the city is the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and ofcourse one of the best things to do in Bilbao. Bilbao is one of the five cities in the world with a Guggenheim museum. This museum is already a picture from the outside and looks so futuristic because of the many titanium plates. The Guggenheim was built in 1997 and the collection includes works by Jorge Oteiza, Andy Warhol, Anselm Kiefer, Antoni Tàpis and Yoko Ono. In front of the museum is a huge spider and a big dog.
Did you know that the construction of the museum cost 120 million euros, but that this was already earned in 3 years?
● Opening times: 10:00 – 20:00. The museum is closed on Mondays, but open on Mondays in July and August.
● Entrance fee: adults €16,- seniors €9,- students €9,- children free. This admission price includes an audio tour.
● Tip: in view of the hustle and bustle in the museum, it is advisable to be there around 10.30 am and stand in front of the line and visit the museum while it is not yet so busy. You can also buy tickets online through the website of the Guggenheim museum.
2. Wander through Casco Viejo
The old part of Bilbao is called “Casco Viejo” and the literal translation is old village. The inhabitants often call it “Siete Calles”: the seven streets. This is a beautiful and very attractive part of the city full of narrow streets, medieval buildings, a few interesting museums (Museo Vasco and Museo de Pasos de Semana Santa), historic cathedrals, cozy terraces and small shops.
According to the inhabitants of the city you eat the best pintxos in the Calle del Perro in this neighborhood!
The Mercado de la Ribera (the market hall) is a must to visit. This market hall consists of three floors full of market stalls where you can taste and buy tasty local produce!
The center of Casco Viejo is the impressive Gothic cathedral Santiago de Bilbao. This cathedral is located on the famous pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. You can also find Plaza Nueva in Casco Viejo, also known as Plaza Barria. This square is beautiful and festivals and concerts take place regularly. It is a meeting place for young and old and they enjoy a snack and a drink. It’s one of the greatest things to do in Bilbao!
3. Relax in Parque de Doña Casilda Iturrizar
There are several parks in Bilbao, but the most beautiful and largest park is Parque de Doña Casilda Iturrizar. Here you can walk, be lazy or picnic on the grass or on a bench. The park is designed in a romantic English style and has several beautiful fountains, gifted pergolas. Next to the park is the Museo de Bellas Artes museum. After the Guggenheim this is the largest museum of the Basque Country with works from the 12th century to contemporary art.
4. View the city from the river
It is wonderful to walk on the beautiful boulevard on the river. But you can also undertake various activities on the river. You can rent canoes or go subbing. I myself got into a canoe and I sailed under the many bridges and I watched the Guggenheim from the water. If you walk along the water in the direction of the Maritime museum you will see a number of offices where you can rent canoes and surfboards. Renting a Canoe is one the funniest things to do in Bilbao!
5. Enjoy on a rooftop terrace
In Bilbao there’s the Ercilla hotel and this is my favorite roof terrace in Bilbao. I enjoyed a delicious high cocktail there. In other words, a high tea with various tasty snacks, but instead of tea I got cocktails! The cocktails were extremely tasty and it was pure enjoyment. The view is very nice from the roof terrace! Regularly in the evening a DJ plays relaxing lounge music to make the fantastic setting perfect. But also relaxing on the rooftop terrace at Azkuna Zentra and Gran Hotel Domine are one of the best things to do in Bilbao!
6. Eat pinxtos
Did you know that there is nowhere in the world such a high concentration of Michelin star restaurants as in the north of Spain? Now I myself am not someone who very often goes out for dinner. I prefer to eat in a local and attractive bar. But Bilbao is the place to be! There are bars on every corner of the street with a large selection of pintxos, all displayed beautifully on the bar. You indicate which pintxos you want and the bartender will give you him! Already standing or sitting at the bar you can enjoy your pintxos and a nice drink. You pay at the end of your visit.
The inhabitants of Bilbao love cosiness and good food.
7. Visit the beach
One of the best things to do in Bilbao is going to the beach! With the metro you can go to the beach in 20 minutes from the center of the city! I always find that a nice change with a city trip. The nearest beach at Bilbao is the beach of Getxo. I did not think this beach was super nice, but it’s nice to stop here. In this village you will find the longest suspension bridge in the world. For less than a euro you can go back and forth in this special bridge. You can also take a walk on the top of the bridge for € 10.
I have chosen to continue for another 20 minutes in the metro to the beach in Sopelana. I thought this was a wonderful beach! From the metro station it is about 20 minutes walk to the beach, but you can also take the bus for € 0.80 and then you are of course there. The bay is very nice and there are a few nice beach bars where you can have a snack and a drink.
These are my 7 favorite things to do in Bilbao! What do you think are the best things to do in Bilbao?
I myself slept in the hotel Silken Indautxu and I liked this. The hotel is centrally located in the city and the rooms are fine. Especially the breakfast buffet is delicious! Are you looking for a hotel with swimming pool then I recommend hotel Melia Bilbao, because they have a lovely swimming pool on the roof!
- Not what you are looking for? Find here more great places to stay in Bilbao!
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