Guggenheim Museum

18 Tips for one day in Bilbao

Table of Contents

Bilbao is a great city to visit. This industrial city has undergone a total metamorphosis in recent years and is, therefore, one of the nicest cities in Spain to visit. In Bilbao, you can visit the world-famous Guggenheim Museum, discover an authentic historic center, enjoy pintxos, and much more!

In this article, we share our guide for what to do in Bilbao for a day so that you can get the most out of one day in Bilbao and know all the must-see spots for your Bilbao itinerary.

Bilbao Guggenheim Museum
Cynthia enjoys the view at the Guggenheim Museum.
Gran Via Bilbao
One of the most important Bilbao tips is to enjoy also the not touristy buildings.

What to do in Bilbao for a day?

If you’re looking for an unforgettable one-day experience in Bilbao, look no further! Our Bilbao itinerary offers a great way to explore the city and its surrounding culture. Experience the industrial heritage of the area with a visit to the world-famous Guggenheim Museum or take part in some unique local activities such as a tour of the Old Town or a foodie excursion to sample some of the city’s best tapas. With this Bilbao itinerary, you can make the most out of your one day in Bilbao. Enjoy your trip!

Tip: use the below map to see highlights of Bilbao are located. Click on the right top corner to view the map bigger. If you click on the star symbol next to the title you can save this map in your Google Maps account. In the map, you can show or hide different categories. You can then use this map to navigate when you are in Bilbao.

#1 Guggenheim Museum

Visiting the Guggenheim Museum is a must-do when spending a day in Bilbao. Bilbao used to be an industrial city that had fallen into disrepair, due to the construction of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997, the entire city has been transformed into a hip city.

The unique design of Frank Gehry’s building stands out among the riverbank and offers one of the best views of the city. Upon entering, you will be taken aback by its spectacular galleries that feature an array of local and international art. Take a stroll around the museum and admire its twelve-meter-high flower dog, the spider, and luminous crystal balls outside. Make your way up the stairs at the river for an even more impressive view of Bilbao. The Guggenheim Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm and tickets can be purchased for €13 / $14 per person via the official website of the Guggenheim Museum.

For us the reason to travel to Bilbao was to visit the Guggenheim Museum as it is so unique. So, if you are looking for what to do in Bilbao for a day? You should defiantly visit the Guggenheim Museum. It is truly one of the best Bilbao tips and definitely something not to be missed!

Guggenheim Museum
Include for sure in your Bilbao itinerary the visit to the Guggenheim Museum.

#2 Historic Center

Exploring one day in Bilbao’s historic center, also called Casco Viejo, is one of the highlights to visit in Bilbao. It is located on the banks of the Nervión River, it houses centuries-old city walls that helped defend this medieval neighborhood during its trading days. Today, you can wander around seven main streets, each of which still holds some of the same craftsmanship and culture that was present when it was first built.

The great thing about Casco Viejo is that, unlike many cities, it doesn’t just consist of tourist hot spots. You can still find plenty of local boutiques, bars, and restaurants to explore. Make sure to visit both during the day and night to get the full experience. During the day, you can be a tourist and admire the architecture, and when you visit it in the evening you are like a local and can enjoy the food with a great atmosphere. 

Plaza Nueva Bilbao
Questioning yourself: what to do in Bilbao for a day? Discover the historical center.
Buildings Bilboa
When you walk one day in Bilbao you see many of this kind of buildings in the historical center.

#3 Pintxos

Pintxos is a typical food from the north of Spain. Pintxos are similar to tapas, the difference is that tapas are small versions of a main course and pintxos are small dishes, often with a skewer on a bun. Pintxos are mainly eaten on social occasions. Pintxos are delicious because, like tapas, they are very diverse. It is great when you enjoyed a menu of the day (menu del dia) in the afternoon so that you don’t have to eat a lot in the evening. You can eat a few pintxos and that is enough.

The best thing is to walk into a bar and order a drink with pintxos. Our favorite place in Bilbao to eat pintxos is the cafe Iruna. Café Iruna has a great atmosphere because it is built in an Andalic style, therefore, you have the feeling that you are suddenly in the south of Spain. It is a traditional Basque cafe where it is very cozy. The food is delicious, for €2 / $2.15 per pintxos you don’t have to spend much money to eat. At the bar, you can see and order the pintxos. The pintxos you see in the photo below are highly recommended, and very tasty!

In the ‘where to eat in Bilbao‘ section, read some of our favorite places to eat in Bilbao.

cafe Iruna
Tip that we received from the locals is to enjoy the pintxos. This picture we took at Café Iruna.

Where to stay in Bilbao

Option 1 great location: Hesperia Bilbao
Close to the Guggenheim Museum is located Hesperia Bilbao. This modern hotel has beautiful rooms, a very good breakfast, and a roof terrace with a beautiful view of the Guggenheim Museum and the river Nervión.
Check actual prices and availability for Hesperia Bilbao here.

Option 2 excellent price-quality ratio: Bilbao Hostel
If you travel by car and you are looking for a good base, Bilbao Hostel is highly recommended. We stayed here and loved it because you have access to a free parking lot, the rooms are neat and breakfast is included. The hostel is located just outside the center, by bus you are in the center in 15 minutes. The big advantage is the price of this hostel if you consider that if you want to stay in the center you quickly pay €25 / $26.91 per day to only park the car.
Check actual prices and availability for Bilbao Hostel here.

#4 Catedral de Santiago

In the historic center is the Cathedral of Bilbao located which is built in the 14th century, the cathedral is an important place for pilgrims who are walking the northern route of Camino de Santiago. The cathedral is the oldest building in Bilbao and the most important Gothic building in the province of the Basque Country. The best part of the cathedral is its impressive columns and stunning courtyard, as well as the beautiful statues that adorn the entrance. The square with the old well in front of the cathedral is very romantic and atmospheric.

The cathedral is open daily from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm to 6:30 pm and entry fees are €6 / $6.46 per person. For an insight into authentic Bilbao, the cathedral is a great place to start and an experience not to be missed. So if you’re looking for Bilbao tips from locals, you should definitely add the Cathedral of Bilbao to your itinerary.

Catedral de Santiago
When visiting the historical center do not forget to visit the Cathedral of Bilbao.

#5 San Mamés

Whether or not you are a football fan, a visit to the football stadium of the Athletic Club is a fun activity. Among football enthusiasts, the San Mamés stadium is also called the cathedral of football. This is because San Mamés is one of the oldest stadiums in Spain and everyone at the stadium is greeted with laughter and applause regardless of whether you are a friend or an ‘enemy’.

The best thing is to follow an audio guide and learn everything about this beautiful stadium. You can buy tickets here. The entrance for the tour starts between entrances 19 and 20.

San Mamés
If you are a football fan visit San Mamés.

#6 Cross the Zubizuri bridge

As soon as you walk along the Nervión river, you will come across the iconic Zubizuri bridge. This bridge is about 7 minutes away from the Guggenheim Museum and is one of the most unique bridges you have ever seen. Its arched shape sets it apart from other bridges, and taking a stroll across it is a must-do for anyone who has 1 day in Bilbao. Once you reach the middle of the bridge, take a moment to enjoy the view of the river. Most travelers skip this sight as they walk directly from the Guggenheim Museum to the historical center.

Zubizuri bridge
What to see in Bilbao in one day that is often skipped: crossing the Zubizuri bridge.

#7 Teatro Arriaga

If you like theaters or if you just like to see a historical building, then a visit to Teatro Arriaga is recommended. The theater is located on Puente del Arenal and overlooks the Nervión River. When you enter the historic center, this is the large building on your right.

The Arriaga theater is built in the 19th century in a neo-baroque style. You can only visit the theater through a guided tour or by going to a performance.

A tour can only be followed on the weekends. For current timeslots check the official Teatro Arriaga website. Tickets are €5 / $5.38 per person.

#8 Viewpoint Artxanda

At the top of mountain Atxanda, you have a beautiful view of the entire city. To get to the top you need to take the funicular (cable car). Cross the bridge Zubizuri and walk to Plaza del Funicular. To make use of the cable car you need a Bilbao Bizkaia Card, which you can purchase at the Bilbao Tourist Office. The Bilbao Bizkaia Card costs €10 / $10.77, with this card you can use public transport in the city for 24 hours unlimited and visit some cultural buildings for free. The address of the tourist office is Plaza Circular number 1.

The cable car is open daily from 7:15 am to 10 pm and the tourist office daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Bilbao viewpoint
Amazing view at Artxanda that you do not want to miss if you only 1 day in Bilbao.

#9 Plaza Nueva

Visiting Plaza Nueva is an absolute must-do when exploring Bilbao in a day. Located in the heart of the city, this monumental square dates back to 1851 and offers visitors a unique atmosphere with plenty of terraces, bars, and restaurants for people to enjoy. Not only that but every Sunday morning local vendors flock to the square for a flea market making it the perfect destination for antique lovers.

Tip: during our trip to Bilbao we received tips from locals to visit this flea market, so when you are possible try to travel also on a Sunday to Bilbao to visit it!

Plaza Nueva
At Plaza Nueva, you can see the locals enjoying their free time.

#10 Bicycle tour

When you are short on time and want to see as much as possible, taking a 3-hour bicycle tour is the perfect way to experience all that Bilbao has to offer in one day! With an experienced local guide, you’ll be able to cover most of the activities on this list as well as explore lesser-known places and attractions in the city.

It’s a great way to get an insider’s view of this unique and vibrant city. You’ll get to visit the Guggenheim Museum, stroll through cobblestone streets, take in stunning views of the river, enjoy delicious tapas and so much more! Check availability and prices for the bike tour here.

Historic center
One of the many streets in the historical center of Bilbao.

#11 Shopping on Gran Vía

You can see that Bilbao has developed in recent years when you walk along the Gran Vía. In this large shopping street, you can see brands from all over the world. It’s nice to walk through the beautiful shopping street and enjoy all the large buildings.

We personally did not go shopping because we wanted to visit the cultural highlights of the city. But if you like to go shopping you have the possibility to do so. The most beautiful part is Plaza Mayor. It is surrounded by old buildings and in the center, you see a fountain that is illuminated in the evening. 

Bilbao Gran Vía
Gran Vía with all the popular shops.

#12 Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park

If you want to relax in the city for a while, visiting Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park is a must. This park is Bilbao’s largest park and is very popular among the locals. This is because the park is built in English, making everything very playful. You can see various fountains, ponds, trees, flowers, and animal species.

For travelers with children, this park is recommended because of the animal meadow and play equipment. The park is located near the Guggenheim, about a five-minute walk away. In the summer evenings, it is also nice to walk through this park because everything is nicely lit.

#13 Other activities

If you only have one day in Bilbao, you can do the 12 activities we listed. Of course, you can not visit all the highlights if you one have 1 day in Bilbao. Below we recommend five activities to do when you have more time in Bilbao, or that you can switch with one of the activities listed in the previous 12. You can add some of these activities to your Bilbao itinerary, but be careful not to add too many things.

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#13.1 Puente de Vizcaya

Puente de Vizcaya is a bridge that is a World Heritage Site. The transport bridge was built in 1983 and carries vehicles and pedestrians from one side to the other. You can enter the gondola for €0.45 / $0.48 per person. Another option is to walk on top of the bridge and cross the river. From the bridge, you have a great view of the industry of Bilbao. Tickets are €9 / $9.69 per person.

Puente de Vizcaya is located in Getxo. The best way to arrive at the bridge is to take the metro to Areeta station. Travel time is +/- 20 minutes from the center. You can visit the bridge daily.

#13.2 Walk along the Nervión River

One of the best things to do in Bilbao is to walk along the Nervión river. It is recommended to start at the San Mamés stadium and to walk till Puente del Arenal, this is the bridge you cross to visit the historic center. During this walk, you will come across many sights that are on this list, such as the Guggenheim Museum and Zubizuri.

If you walk along the river, visit the historic center, and visit the new part of Gran Via you see the best parts of Bilbao. The walk from San Mamés to Puente del Arenal takes +/- 40 minutes. This is just the walk itself, if you take the time to discover the sights you encounter during your walk you need all morning. Take into account +/- 4 hours.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
The flower dog at the Guggenheim Museum.

#13.3 Boat tour

If you want to discover the Nervión River uniquely, a boat tour is something for you. During the 2.5-hour boat tour, you will cruise the river and see all the important buildings of Bilbao. The nice thing about the boat tour is that you learn about the history of Bilbao through the guide who is present. Read more information here.

If you have access to a car, visiting San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (Bermeo), Zumaia & Ermita de San Telmo, and San Sebastian is highly recommended. It is also possible to do this with a tour.

#13.4 Zumaia & Ermita de San Telmo

Zumaia & Located between Bilbao and San Sebastian, Ermita de San Telmo is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Basque Country. Zumaia is known for its special rock formations which are very impressive to see. On top of this rock is located Ermita de San Telmo a chapel from which you have a magnificent view over the beach. Park your car at the village of Zumaia and walk to Ermita de San Telmo, then go to the beach for a good view of the rocky coast of Zumaia.

If you do not have access to a car, you can book this tour to visit Zumaia & Ermita de San Telmo.

Ermita de San Telmo
The view of Ermita de San Telmo.

#13.5 San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in Bermeo is a must to visit. Here you can visit a church built on a peninsula. The hike, environment, and nature are impressive, for nature lovers this is one of the best things to do in Spain. The reason it has become so popular in recent years is that it was a filming location on Game of Thrones. It is important that reserve your ticket upfront, it is not possible to do this at the entrance. Be on time with your booking because tickets run out quickly!

If you don’t have a car and you want to visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe you can book this tour!

#13.6 San Sebastian

The other major city in the Basque Country is San Sebastian, a beautiful coastal city that amazes many travelers for its beauty. We have visited San Sebastian and captured all our tips in this San Sebastian itinerary.

It is recommended to travel independently to San Sebastian and stay here for 1 or 2 nights. Use the article above to learn all about San Sebastian. However, if you want to visit San Sebastian as a day trip from Bilbao due to time constraints, the two tours below are excellent alternatives:

City hall San Sebastian
The beach of San Sebastian with the historic center in the background.

How many days in Bilbao?

Bilbao is a big city, in 1 day / 2 nights you have enough time to do most of the activities from this list. If you have the opportunity it is strongly recommended to stay 2 days / 3 nights in Bilbao. This allows you to take all the time you need to discover the Guggenheim Museum, visit the historic center during the day and evening, walk along the Nervión River, and more from this list! We were 1.5 days in Bilbao and found it perfect to discover Bilbao.

If you are planning to do day trips that are mentioned in this list, we recommend that you extend your stay in Bilbao by the number of day trips you will do.

Where to stay in Bilbao?

There are many accommodations to choose from. It’s hard to find one with good value for money. In addition, your options are often limited because many accommodations are fully booked quickly. This is because Bilbao is very popular because of the Guggenheim Museum. If you know when you’ll be staying in Bilbao, it’s strongly recommended to book your accommodation in advance to secure your preferred choice. When using the links below, you can change your reservation up to 24 hours in advance, thus allowing you to retain flexibility in your travel plans.

Great location
Hesperia Bilbao

Hesperia Bilbao

Close to the Guggenheim Museum is located Hesperia Bilbao. This modern hotel has beautiful rooms, a very good breakfast, and a roof terrace with a beautiful view of the Guggenheim Museum and the river Nervión.

More information

Excellent price-quality ratio
Bilbao Hostel

Bilbao Hostel

If you travel by car and you are looking for a good base, Bilbao Hostel is highly recommended. We stayed here and loved it because you have access to a free parking lot, the rooms are neat and breakfast is included. The hostel is located just outside the center, by bus you are in the center in 15 minutes. The big advantage is the price of this hostel if you consider that if you want to stay in the center you quickly pay €25 / $26.91 per day to only park the car.

More information

Where to eat in Bilbao?

At #3 we mentioned that eating at Cafe Iruna is the best place to try pintxos. Café Iruna has a great atmosphere because it is built in an Andalic style, therefore, you have the feeling that you are suddenly in the south of Spain. It is a traditional Basque cafe where it is very cozy. The food is delicious, for €2 / $2.16 per pintxos you don’t have to spend much money to eat. At the bar, you can see and order the pintxos.

At Markina restaurante you can enjoy a menu del dia in the afternoon. We have eaten a lot of Menú del día during our trip through Spain, but we can tell you that the quality here is great. As a starter, we recommend the gazpacho soup or Fabada. The fish is recommended as the main course because it is nice and crispy due to the preparation of the grill. You also get dessert and a drink for a price of €15.65 / $16.86 per person, which is really cheap when you consider what you get.

If you want to eat a sandwich in the morning or afternoon, Panadería Bertiz is recommended. Here you can get a whole baguette for €5 / $5.39 with toppings of your choice. The cappuccino and milkshakes are also good here.

If you want to have a drink on a terrace, Sorginzulo at Plaza Nueva is a must. A nice place to enjoy the imposing buildings and the cozy atmosphere of the old square. One of the nicest places to have a drink.

Markina restaurante
Soup at Markina restaurante.

Travel insurance

World Nomads travel insurance policies offer coverage for more than 150 activities. Get a quote, make a claim, or buy or extend your policy while on the road.

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How to get to Bilbao?

The best way to reach Bilbao is by plane, car, or train. Bilbao has an international airport so you can easily fly directly to this city. Bilbao is close to the French border, making it an acceptable distance by car from different places in Europe. If you are in a city in Spain you can easily travel by train to Bilbao, train tickets can be bought here (you can also buy other public transport tickets via the link). It isn’t recommended to travel by train from cities outside Spain to Bilbao due to the long travel time.

The table below displays the amount of time it takes to travel from various popular spots in Spain to Bilbao.

  • San Sebastian to Bilbao: 1 hour and 15 minutes | 101 km / 62.8 miles
  • Logroño (wine region La Rioja) to Bilbao: 1 hour and 25 minutes | 136 km / 84.4 miles
  • Santander to Bilbao: 1 hour and 5 minutes | 99 km / 61.5 miles
  • Las Arenas de Cabrales (Picos de Europa) to Bilbao: 2 hours and 10 minutes | 190 km / 118 miles

If you travel to Spain by plane and you are looking for a car to rent, you can rent it through Rentalcars. We use Rentalcars when we want to travel by car to discover new destinations. They’re easy to use and book with.

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What is the best period to visit Bilbao?

The best time to visit Bilbao is from April to September. This period, although considered the high season, offers the most pleasant temperatures and the widest range of activities. The city’s mild maritime climate makes this the ideal time for a city trip. However, if you’re looking for a more peaceful experience at a lower price, then autumn and winter are the perfect time to visit.

We traveled in September to Bilbao and loved it. Our impression is that no matter when you choose to go, Bilbao has something to offer for everyone at any time of the year.

Is Bilbao worth visiting?

So it is the end of this article and hopefully, you can give an answer to the question if Bilbao is worth visiting yourself. But to help you out, our opinion is: YES defiantly! You only need one day for Bilbao, during this day you can enjoy many great things with the highlight of the Guggenheim Museum. This museum alone is reason enough to visit Bilbao. Next, the fact that Bilbao is not as tourist as some other cities in Spain makes it a good place to learn about Spanish culture.

Want to see more of Spain?

Following our road trip through Northern Spain? If you follow our itinerary, Picos de Europa is your next destination. Read everything about the best hikes in Picos de Europa here.

If you don’t follow our Northern Spain itinerary, you can travel from Bilbao to Santander and explore the stunning beaches of the Cantabrian Coast. Visit San Sebastian for the location of the historic center along the sea, or go to La Rioja to visit the unique wine region. Enjoy your trip to Spain!

What do you think of Bilbao? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Disclaimer: the prices mentioned in this article may differ from the current situation. We regularly update our articles. Would you like to help us to provide to best possible insights to help other travelers leave a comment with the latest information. Thanks!

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Hello, we are Cynthia & Alexander, the team behind Travel Your Memories! Traveling is our passion. When it comes to exploration, we love sharing our tips and adventures to inspire you. Welcome to Travel Your Memories, where we share our love for travel with you! Read our story.

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