Bilbao in 24 hours: How to spend a day in the art capital of Spain

Bilbao is a different take on Spain. While not a city known for it’s physical beauty, like many of it’s neighbours, Bilbao is real, and rough, and will eventually win you over. For years, Bilbao was an industrial city, with a landscape to match.  But that all changed with the inauguration of the Museo Guggenheim Bilbao. Now, thousands of visitors from around the world flock to the city each year to experience world class art and cultural performances. Just last week, Bilbao was awarded the title of Best European City for 2018. It’s transformation is a true Cinderella story.

If a trip to Spain is on your horizon, it’s worth spending a day in this cultural hot-spot. We’ve chatted with Bilbao native, Aitor Rodriguez Claro, to put together an ideal 24-hour itinerary.

 

Bilbao is a relaxed city where old world charm meets modern design (© Bilbao Turismo).

Bilbao is a relaxed Spanish city where old world charm meets modern design (© Bilbao Turismo).

Getting downtown from the airport

The best way to move around Bilbao is by subway. This subway was designed by Norman Foster and is considered one of the most beautiful subways in the world. It has also been awarded the prize of Europe’s cleanest subway line.

Ironically, getting downtown from the airport requires a ride on the bus, or by taxi. The buses run every 20 minutes and costs less than 2 euros, making a taxi the easier route, however, setting you back about 25 euros.

 

Bilbao's subway system has been named one of the cleanest and most beautiful in Europe (© Ingolf).

Bilbao’s subway system has been named one of the cleanest and most beautiful in Europe (© Ingolf).

Experience World Class art

We can’t talk about the best of Bilbao without bringing up the Guggenheim Museum. Having just celebrated it’s 20 year anniversary, the museum transformed Bilbao’s art scene as well as its tourism industry. The museum is described as an architectural masterpiece and is the first stop on our to-do list.

Like any tourist spot, the Guggenheim can get busy in a hurry, so book a ticket online for opening hour and enjoy the museum with a little more breathing room. But be warned, like many museums in Europe, it’s closed on Mondays.

If art is really your thing, there a plenty of amazing galleries in the city without the same busy crowds. The Museo de Bellas Artes was the city’s main museum prior to the Guggenheim, and is still a favourite among locals. Or if you prefer history and science, try the Museo Maritime de Bilbao and the Museo Arquelogico de Bilbao.

 

No trip to Bilbao would be complete without a stop at the Gugenheim museum (© Aitor Rodriguez Carlo).

No one should leave Bilbao without a stop at the Guggenheim museum (© Aitor Rodriguez Claro).

Get lost in the beauty of Basque country

One of Aitor’s favourites things to do in Bilbao is to visit Mount Artxanda by train. For a few bucks and a few minutes on the funicular train, you’ll reach the best views of the city, surrounded by mountains, a small park and quaint restaurants.

For those itching to get out of the city and enjoy some of Basque country’s gorgeous scenery, a drive to shoreline will not disappoint. Twenty-five minutes north of Bilbao is San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a beautiful island where you can impress your friends with a killer selfie. It was actually the filming spot for the final season of Game of Thrones.

 

A quick drive north of Bilbao is some of Spain's most beautiful shorelines (© Aitor Rodriguez Claro).

A quick drive north of the city you’ll find some of Spain’s most beautiful shorelines (© Aitor Rodriguez Claro).

Cheer for the home team

Live sport matches are the perfect setting to experience a city’s true personality. Not only will you get to see the San Mames Stadium – another example of the city’s extraordinary architecture – but you’ll experience all the rowdiness, laughter and feeling of family and togetherness that can’t be found anywhere else. For soccer (or football) lovers, Spain is the perfect place to enjoy high quality talent, and intense team spirit. Bilbao is home to the second oldest team in Spain; it is also the only soccer team in the world that competes internationally, but whose players must be native to the province.

 

Enjoy an afternoon of live football at Bilbao's gorgeous stadium (© Athletic Bilbao).

Enjoy an afternoon of live football at Bilbao’s gorgeous stadium (© Athletic Bilbao).

Dine at a Michelin Star restaurant

Bilbao is a culinary dream world. Basque country is home to more Michelin Star restaurants than Paris, so there is no shortage of quality food. Nerua, who’s chefs spend years creating each menu, is considered one of the world’s 50 best restaurants. There is also Mina and Zarate, each with a Michelin Star of their own. Venture 15-minutes east of the city centre, and you’ll find Azurmendi. It is the only restaurant in the area with three Michelin Stars, and offers traditional inspired dishes with a focus on seafood and fresh herbs and flowers that are hand-picked daily by staff.

But if you’re not looking to spend three-digits on each meal, explore Casco Viejo (old town) and go for pintxos. Pintxos is bar food local to Basque country. It’s basically tapas, but eaten with a small stick.

 

Nerua in central Bilbao is of the world's top restaurants (© Diner's Club).

Nerua in central Bilbao is one of the world’s top restaurants (© Diners Club).

Late night shopping and drinking

There’s plenty to see in do in Casco Viejo once you’ve finished your pintxos. It is an especially good neighbourhood for shopping, drinking, and getting lost. From the central square you can easily walk to the Arriaga Theatre, along the river to city hall, and then stop by the Calatrava bridge and Palacio Euskalduna.

Finish off your night with a few drinks, and maybe some more pintxos, at one of old town’s most iconic bars,  Café Bar Bilbao. Here you’ll find a solid mix of locals and visitors, friendly servers and an extensive beer menu. But if you’re looking for something a bit more niche, try Umore Ona for live rock music, or Lamiak Bar, which opened in the 80s as a meeting place for Balboa’s feminist and LGBTQ scene.

No matter which you pick, you’re sure to find happy people and tasty bevies. A slow and relaxing evening is the best way to experience this chilled-out city. By the end of the evening, you’ll be wondering why you hadn’t come to Bilbao sooner.

 

The patio at Cafe Bar Bilbao is among the cities most iconic hangouts (© Cafe Bar Bilbao).

The patio at Cafe Bar Bilbao is among the cities most iconic hangouts (© Cafe Bar Bilbao).

 

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