The grey, dreary, industrial city of the 1980s is now a cosmopolitan metropolis that perfectly combines its deep-rooted traditions with a newfound hipster soul. It boasts avant-garde architecture and a gastronomy that simply captivates any palate. Whatever you’re looking for, Bilbao will give it to you.
Three days are not long, but they are enough to leave a little piece of your heart in this Basque city. Follow our instructions and you’ll enjoy the capital of Biscay to the full. Here’s what to visit in Bilbao (in just 3 days!).
We start in style with a visit to the jewel in Bilbao’s crown: the Guggenheim Museum. The avant-garde design of the building was the work of Frank Gehry and can be considered a true work of art in itself, made of curves, titanium panels and play of light. Inside you can admire works by Andy Warhol, Basquiat, Tapies, Rothko and Clyfford Still among others, as well as interesting temporary exhibitions.
Just in front of the museum you’ll find a few interesting sculptures, including Mama (a giant spider) and Puppy, a huge puppy made from pots of colourful flowers that has become one of the symbols of Bilbao. Plus, let’s face it, you don’t have to be an art expert to fall in love with Puppy!
Useful info: The Guggenheim is closed on Mondays, the rest of the days it’s open from 10.00 to 20.00. Admission costs €16 (€9 if you are a student < 26 years old) and includes a visit to the nearby Museum of Fine Arts.
The rest of the day will be spent exploring the old town and our favourite Basque activity… but no spoilers for now!
The old town is a delight of narrow streets where you’ll find surprises at every turn: a theatre (the Arriaga theatre) that imposes for its size and history, Christian churches and cathedrals transformed into beer shops, elegant flats, wooden taverns, little shops both traditional and modern and all wrapped up in the smell of pintxos that are sure to whet your appetite. Mmm, it’s time to hit the pots, to hit the txikiteo, come on… to go from bar to bar and have a nice little pintxo tour!
where to find the best pintxos in Bilbao’s old town?
The truth is that it’s hard to find bad pintxos in Bilbao, but we still recommend a visit to these taverns:
- Gure Toki, a legend. Here you’ll find a traditional atmosphere and delicious pintxos (try the egg with potatoes or the cod in pil pil sauce). Where? Plaza Nueva, 12.
- Sorginzulo, you must try the fried cheese with fruits of the forest or the prawn and monkfish brochettes, although they say that the house speciality is squid, so you’ll have to try it, won’t you? Where? Next to Gure Toki.
- Irrintzi, a more innovative pintxo bar with original dishes such as the crab lasagne or the falafel with shitake mushrooms. Where? Calle Santa Maria, 8.
how does it work?
As easy as entering the bar, ordering a drink (don’t forget to try the txacolí, a local white wine, and the zuritos, beers), and choosing a few pintxos that will be waiting for you at the bar. Remember to keep your pintxo stick: when it’s time to pay, you’ll have to give it to the waiter so he can count the pintxos. And no, don’t even think about making the sticks disappear… Basque waiters have 24,000 eyes, and if they fail, you’re sure to set off the toothpick detector on your way out.
how much do pintxos cost?
It’s usual to pay around 2-3€ per pintxo, but don’t worry if you’re travelling on a backpacker budget, below we’ll give you an option to try pintxos for 1€!
To end the day we can continue exploring the little bars in the old town or, if it’s Friday, we recommend you go to the Haceria Jazz Club and enjoy the best Jam Sessions in the Basque Country.
And now yes: rest up, you’ve earned your pillow today!
Don’t just wander around the hostel, we have some very interesting plans for your second day in Bilbao. To start with, you have a morning appointment with the Ribeira market. Here you can stroll among stalls selling fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, eggs and small stalls. Don’t forget your camera because it’s one of those super photogenic places, yes, yes, one of those places that are a hit on instagram without even using filters!
If you’ve resisted the temptation to have breakfast and it’s Saturday, we have a prize: enjoy one of the best brunches in Bilbao. All you have to do is walk to the Brass (Poza Lizentziatuaren Kalea, 27) and get your fill of coffee, tea, carrot and orange juice, toast and fried eggs with bacon (€6), or their free buffet of sweet and savoury cakes, eggs, pastries, fruit juices and much more (€15).
If it’s not Saturday, don’t be sad, you can make a sweet stop for a carolina, a puff pastry tart with meringue covered in egg yolk and chocolate. You can find them in any pastry shop, although Don Manuel’ s are said to be addictive (Urkixo Zumarkalea, 39).
With our energies well charged, we’ll spend a whole morning touring Bilbao’s Ensanche district, where we’ll visit places such as the beautiful Campos Eliseos theatre, the Gran Vía, the Plaza de Don Federico Moyua and the Alhondiga de Bilbao, an architectural feat that houses a cinema, a library, exhibition halls and even a suspended swimming pool with a glass bottom (where you can swim for a fee of 7€). Don’t miss a stroll among its 43 columns, each one different from the next.
Football lovers should make a pilgrimage to Bilbao’s most famous cathedral… the San Mamés stadium: ¡Aupa Athletic! Although if football is not your passion, a good alternative is to relax and chat with your fellow travellers in Casilda Iturrizar Park or do some shopping in the shops in the city centre.
After your siestuki, there’s nothing better than crossing the Zubizuri Bridge, with the unmistakable touch of Santiago Calatrava, and strolling down to the Artxanda funicular, which in just a few minutes will take you to the viewpoint of the same name. It costs €0.95 to get up there and the views from the top are simply spectacular.
what’s on the agenda for the evening – obviously eating!
If you want to repeat and go out in the old town, take note of these other addresses:
- Tabernilla de Poza, a tasca like those of yesteryear, where you can enjoy its legendary tuna sandwich. Where? Calle Licenciado Poza, 3.
- Bar Baste, for the best stuffed mussels in town. Where? Calle María Muñoz, 6.
Another option is to explore the Ensanche area, which is not short on atmosphere. These are good options:
- Try EME’ s triangulos (2,80€), famous for the delicious secret sauce. This bar is located at Concha Jeneralaren Kalea, 5.
- Or have some Moorish pintxos at Café Iruña, at Colon de Larreategui, 13.
- Although the best option is to gorge on pintxos for €1 at El Figón, with low-cost prices, good quality and lots of variety.
Today we will explore the surroundings of Bilbao. First stop: the famous Suspension Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an architectural marvel. It is easily reached by metro (Portugalete stop) from the centre of Bilbao.
After visiting the bridge, we recommend an adventurous plan: go to the beach to learn to surf (the waves on the Bilbao coast are some of the best in Spain). The most interesting options are on the beaches of Sopela, Gorliz or Mundaka. Lessons last about 2 or 3 hours and cost between 30 and 35€ per person. The price includes the rental of boards, wetsuits, insurance and instructor. In case you are interested, find out a few days before, these are good schools:
If you are looking for a quieter plan, you can take advantage of the day to visit a small village on the Biscayan coast such as Lekeitio or continue exploring Bilbao (if it is Sunday, don’t miss the Sunday Market, a London-style street market where you can find real gems among vintage clothes, records and shabby chic furniture).
As you can see there is no shortage of options, Bilbao is a city you’ll love and the best thing is that you still have a lot of the Basque Country to explore, so come back soon!
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