Bilbao is the capital of Vizcaya in the Basque Country, Spain. The city is situated on the banks of the Nervión, a tidal river. The climate in Bilbao is milder than in most other parts of the peninsula, rarely falling below freezing in winter, or rising above 35ºC in summer. There is also more rain, which is a mixed blessing. The green hills of Bilbao are a welcome relief after an extended stay in the dry plains in the south, but planning a day at the beach is more risky. The population of Bilbao proper is just over 372,000, but within the metropolitan area there are over 1,000,000 inhabitants.
All buses to other provinces leave from the TermiBus terminal. There are regular connections to Santander (75 minutes) San Sebastian (60 minutes) and Madrid (arriving at Avenida de Las Americas bus station, 4-5 hours) among others.
The bus companies connect Bilbao with many cities in Spain more cheaply and frequently than the rail companies.
The company linking Bilbao to Santander is ALSA (tel: +34 902422242), and in theory you can get info about buses from Santander to Bilbao at . Be prepared for long waiting lines of half an hour as there are only two ticket offices. It's usually better to buy the ticket the day before or print your ticket on the company's website. Instead of printing, you can also use the text message they send to your mobile as proof of purchase.
Bilbao Airport (IATA: BIO) is served by Lufthansa, Air France, Air Berlin, TuiFly, AerLingus, Iberia, Air Europa, Vueling and several other airlines. Easy Jet flies from London Stansted to Bilbao airport. You can also fly with Ryanair to Santander.
To get to downtown from the airport, take Bizkaibus from the arrivals sidewalk: there is no arrivals hall. The bus leaves every half hour at :15 and :45 past the hour from the airport to Bilbao bus terminal. The reverse journey is at :25 and :55 past the hour from the bus terminal to the airport, stopping at Plaza Moyua on the way. A single ticket costs €1.35.
Taxis to downtown Bilbao from the airport cost about €25-30.
FEVE -- runs regional trains to Santander (3 daily), and Leon (1 Daily). They are very slow, and make a stop in almost every single town they pass through. From Santander you can continue to Oviedo (Asturias), and La Coruña (Galicia). This journey has three legs, but it is only possible to do 2 legs in any one day. FEVE trains leave from Santander Station (next to Abando Station)
EuskoTren -- runs a local service to San Sebastian, with connection there for Irun (on the Spanish-French border). It takes two hours to reach San Sebastian. Trains leave from Atxuri Station.
A direct car ferry is available between Bilbao and Portsmouth, England. It is best to book early, since the ferry is often booked out in summer.
Brittany Ferries are now the only company running this route after P&O stopped operating on this route in 2010/
Bilbao is difficult to drive in. Hilly one-way streets, and frequent construction projects, make it a nightmare for drivers in parts of the city. Having an automobile map helps a lot; without it allow at least 30min extra to find the right exit from the city.
MetroBilbao network map
If you are going to take more than one or two journeys on public transit, a CreditTrans card would be a good investment. It can save you up to 50% over buying single tickets. It is valid on all the municipal transit systems in Bilbao, and most (soon to be all) of the provincial transit systems in Vizcaya. It is a pay per ride card available at all Metro and Tram stations in denominations of €5, €10, and €15. It is also available at many newspaper stands. Individual tickets cost from €1.20 upward.
MetroBilbao Convenient, Norman Foster designed Metro. Single line within Bilbao, splitting into two lines after San Inazio station. Line one runs from Etxebarri to Plentzia; line two from Etxebarri to Santurtzi. Trains run every couple of minutes at peak hours. Tickets cost from €1.40-1.60, depending on how many zones your journey covers, or a daily card is available for €4.
Bilbobus City bus service.
EuskoTran A green tram from Atxuri Station to Basurto. The single line runs along the river passing the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum. Single tickets cost €1.15, and are sold from machines at tram stops. Don't forget to validate the ticket before boarding.
EuskoTren Local train service leaving from Atxuri Station for Bermeo, Guernica/Gernika and San Sebastian (Donostia). Some good views but the train is slower than buses.
BizkaiBus For buses which operate outside Bilbao city limits. BizkaiBus runs a service between the bus terminal and the airport, with a stop in Plaza Moyua (ask in Hotel Carlton).
Artxanda Funicular Spectacular views of Bilbao.
It takes about 30 minutes to walk along the river between the Guggenheim Museum and the Casco Viejo.
Taxi Bilbao: Tel: +34 944 448 888. This single number is used by all taxi operators in Bilbao. Your cab should appear within five minutes.
The Guggenheim Museum
Guggenheim Museum, Abandoibarra etorbidea, 2, . Tue-Sun, 10:00 to 20:00; Jul and Aug: Mon-Sun, 10:00 to 20:00. Closed Jan 1 and Dec 25. Frank Gehry's spectacular twisting titanium-clad modern art museum is perhaps the most celebrated building of the 1990s. The graceful, sensuous curves, evocative of the ships that used to be ubiquitous along the docks of Bilbao, are covered in titanium squares, which resemble the scales of a fish and shimmer in the sunlight. In keeping with the maritime theme, appropriate for the setting, the skylights of the largest gallery (formerly known as the Fish gallery) are designed to look like the fins of fish. Many parts of the building are purely decorative, and don't serve any purpose. The permanent collection is not particularly impressive, but the museum always hosts at least one interesting temporary exhibit, frequently comprised of masterpieces from the other Guggenheim collections.Adults €13.00; students under 26: €7.50; children under 12: free.
Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Art), Plaza del Museo, 2, . Tue-Sat, 10AM-8PM; Sun and public holidays 10AM-2PM; Mon: closed. 1 Jan and 25 December: closed. The Museum of Fine Art's remarkable collection currently boasts more than six thousand works dating from the 12th century to the present day, and includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, engravings and decorative objects. General: €6.00; groups, students, senior citizens and unemployed: €4.50. Free of charge on Wed, and for children under 12. Artean Package, €13.50 (tickets for both the Guggenheim Museum and the Fine Arts Museum). Prices change for special exhibitions..
Basque Museum (Euskal Museoa), Plaza Unamuno, 4, . Tue-Sat: 11AM-5PM, Sun 11AM-2PM. Mondays and public holidays: closed. Established in 1921 to focus on the prehistory, archaeology, ethnography and history of Euskadi (Basque homeland). Not a particularly well laid out museum. It will be of passing interest to people who study Basque culture. Adults: €3; students and groups €1.50. Children under 10 and seniors: free. Thu: free.
La Ría Maritime Museum, Muelle Ramón de la Sota, 1. Located in what used to be the Euskalduna shipyard, next to the current Euskalduna Performing Arts Center. The Museum covers an area of 27,000 square metres, 7,000 for indoor exhibitions and 20,000 for outdoor exhibitions, the three docks, the walkway surrounding them and the estuary.
Adults: €5; Students, people over 65: €3.50. Children under 6: free of charge.
Museo Taurino (Bullfighting Museum), Martín Agüero, 1, Plaza de Toros de Vista Alegre, (Near Plaza Zabalburu), tel. 94-444-8698. Next to a bullring, the Museo Taurino highlights the role bullfighting has played in Euskadi. €3.
Museo Diocesano de Arte Sacro (Museum of Sacred Art), Plaza de la Encarnación, 9-B, Atxuri, tel. 94-432-0125. A former convent founded in 1515 by Dominican nuns. General: €2. Students, seniors, and under 18: €1. Free on Thursdays.
Museo de Reproducciones Artísticas (Museum of Artistic Reproductions), Conde Mirasol (no number), tel. 94-415-7673. Full-scale reproductions of the world's most famous works of art. Call ahead for a guided visit.
Cathedral of St. James (Santiago) Gothic Style 14th century Cathedral, named after Bilbao's official patron saint. Three naves and small Gothic cloisters. The building was designated a cathedral in 1949. Its Neogothic tower and main façade were designed by Severino de Achúcarro in the 1800s. The adjoining square (Plaza de Santiago) bosts a fountain designed by Luis Paret during the reign of Carlos III with the inscription Por el bien público (For the good of the people).
Iglesia de San Antón Gothic style church from the first half of the 15th century (1422). Dedicated to San Anton in the 16th century, the building is a mixture of styles including a renaissance portico and baroque tower which was built in 1777. The church was constructed on the ruins of a former alcazar, and is shown on Bilbao's shield.
Basílica de Begoña, . Overlooking Bilbao, this is perhaps the most symbolic religious building in the city. Built in the 16th Century by Sancho Martinez de Arego, who was also responsible for the Iglesia San Anton. It is a basilica of three naves. During the first Carlista War, in 1835, the façade and the tower were destroyed. The present ones were designed Jose Maria Basterra and constructed between 1902 and 1907.
Iglesia de San Nicolás, Esperanza, 1 (Arenal, Casco Viejo), 94 416 1424. The Iglesia de San Nicolás, finished in the 19th century, is dedicated to the patron saint of sailors. One of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Vizcaya.
Iglesia de San Vicente Martir, Plaza de San Vicente, (Near: Abando), 94-423-1296. Gothic church built in the 16th century.
Other Places of Interest
Alhondiga an amazing building which has recently modernized. It is an amazing complex containing a library, several bars and restaurants, a cinema and even a roof swimming pool with a glass floor! A must visit!
A flower puppy. Just in the front of the Guggenheim Museum, created by Jeff Koons, it's one of the most famous symbols of modern Bilbao
Birthplace of Miguel Unamuno, c/La Ronda 16, next to Plaza Unamuno (Metro station: Casco Viejo). Spanish author born on the 29th of September 1864. His works include the novels Niebla and San Manuel Bueno, Martir, which are both read in AP Spanish Literature classes in the United States. Unamuno died on the 31st of December 1936 in Salamanca.
Teatro Arriaga, tel. 94-435-5100, . Originally inaugurated on the 31st of May 1890, on the site of several former theaters, the first Teatro Arriaga burnt down on the 22nd of December 1914. The second Teatro Arriaga opened on the 5th of June 1919. Evocative of the Opera House in Paris, the theater has an ornate façade and beautiful interior. The theater, and the square in front of it, were named after Juan Crosótomo de Arriaga, a composer from Bilbao. There is a tourist information office in the theater building: the entrance is on the left side as you face the theater.
Estación de Santander (Santander Station, FEVE Station) also known as La Concordia, was built between 1898-1902 on the banks of the Nervión. Designed by the engineer Valentín Gorbeña, with the art nouveau main façade added later with a design by the architect Severino Achúcarro.
Estación Abando (RENFE station) is right next to Santander Station. Even if you are not going to take a train, visit the platforms, there is an impressive stained glass atrium depicting some traditional Basque jobs.
Puente de San Antón Next to the Iglesia de San Antón sits Bilbao's most emblematic bridge.
Mercado de la Ribera
Mercado de la Ribera Another emblem next to the Iglesia de San Antón is the Mercado de la Rivera. One of the biggest covered markets in Europe. It was built in 1929 on the site of the original Rivera Street market. Produce fish and meat are sold in the market every morning, except Sundays.
Plaza Nueva Bilbao's Plaza Nueva was originally named Plaza de Fernando VII. Construction began on the plaza on December 31, 1829 and finished exactly 20 years later on December 31, 1849. This plaza was the seat of the Diputación de Vizcaya until July 1900 when the Diputación moved to its new home on the Gran Vía. The Academy of the Basque Language (Euskaltzaindia) currently occupies the old Diputación building in the Plaza Nueva. There is a market of used books, stamps, coins, and other small items in the plaza every Sunday morning. The Plaza Nueva is surrounded by buildings and only has entrances on some sides.
Palacio de la Diputación Ornately decorated palace situated on the Grand Vía. Baroque-style monument designed by Luis Aladrén in 1897 to serve as the seat of the Diputación Foral de Bizkaia (Vizcaya) and inaugurated on July 31, 1900. The interior is just as lavish as the exterior, with beautiful stained glass windows.
Plaza Moyua and Gran Vía On the strech of the Gran Vía between Plaza Abando and Plaza Moyua is the main shopping and fashion district of Bilbao. On this short stretch you can find tons of clothes shops (For, Zara, Mango, H&M) as well as department store El Corte Ingles. This is a must-walk street.
Parque Etxebarria The site of a former steel factory, this park was created in the 1980s as the first step of reorienting Bilbao from the industrial sector to the service sector. Wonderful views of the Casco Viejo and the Teatro Arriaga. There is a prominent chimney in the park, left over from the site's time as a factory. The park hosts a fun fair in August.
Ayuntamiento (City Hall) (also known as la Casa Consistorial or Udaletxea) Plaza Ernesto Erkoreka, 94-420-4200. The city hall opened in 1892. Designed by architect Jaquin Rucoba in neo-baroque style. Don't miss the main reception area, called Arab Salon.
The new Calatrava bridge, Zubizuri
Zubizuri The graceful white pedestrian bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava. It spans the Nervión connecting the riverwalks Campo Volatin and Mazarredo. Be careful, the bridge is slippery when wet!
El Tigre Tiger statue on top of a building in Deusto. Seen from Euskalduna Performance Center.
Bilbao Airport Curvaceous white 'bird-like' building by Santiago Calatrava. Strangely missing an arrival hall.
Biblioteca Municipal de Bidebarrieta, Bidebarrieta, 4, (Casco Viejo, near Teatro Arriaga), tel. 94-415-6930. Commissioned by El Sitio society at the end of the 19th century, this building was built by architect Severino de Achucarro as a social hall. Now home to the city's historical archives and library.
Palacio de Ibaigane, Alameda Mazarredo, 23, tel. 94-424-0877. Home to the Athletic Club de Bilbao, Bilbao's football team. Built in the early 20th century. Note the arched entranceway. The nearest metro stop is Moyúa.
Palacio de Olábarri, Campo Volantín, 37, Palacete del Puerto Autónomo de Bilbao, tel. 94-487-1200. An interesting mix of several architectural styles. In the late 19th century it was the residence of Bilbaino entrepreneur José María de Olábarri. Now the seat of Bilbao's port authority.
Santa y Real Casa de la Misericordia, Sabino Arana, 2, tel. 94-441-1900. Next to Plaza del Sagrado Corazón. Constructed in the mid-19th century as a charitable house for the poor.
In the summer see an open air concert at the Kiosko del ArenalEl Arenal Parque (across from Plaza Arriaga). The stage was built in 1923, and renovated in 1985.
Beginning the first Saturday after August 15th and lasting for 9 days is Aste Nagusia / Semana Grande, the city's fiesta (holiday). An interesting time to come, but be prepared for lots of noise, music, street theater and events, with firework displays in the evening. Details from the tourist office in Teatro Arriaga.
Walk through the seven streets of the Casco Viejo.
Climb the Mallona stairs from Plaza Unamuno to Parque Etxebarria for the great views.
Walk along the river.
Walk through Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park, admiring the ponds and gardens, next to the Fine Arts Museum.
Take the Artxanda Funicular, again for the views.
Go kayaking or rent a boat from Bilbobentura  (a company that rents out kayaks on the bank of the river nervion).
First Saturdays Flea Market. Dos de Mayo Street transforms every first Saturday into a flea market selling antiques, books, and second hand clothes.
Falstaff, Colon de Larreategui 29 (Abando), ☎ +34 944 233 598, . 10AM-8PM. Stylish clothes for fashion conscious women of all ages.
The local custom is to call what are known in Spanish as tapas by the Basque name, Pintxos, probably much more elaborated than their Spanish cousins due to the Basque love of gastronomy.
Fri and Sat night are most popular time for eating pintxos--as it is for going to bars.
Aritz. Calle Zugastinobia 4 48012 Bilbao. Was once one of the best Pintxos bars in Bilbao, quite out of the way (almost hidden really in a very small, one way street away from the main thoroughfares). Ask for it and you will be given directions. It is worth the walk since they have won the local Pintxo contests for ages. Closed as of Feb. 2008 and as the summer of 2008 reopened with what appears to be new management with less emphasis on its prize-winning pintxos. It's worth going to this street though because there are dozens other pintxos bars.
Restaurante Kasko, c/Andra Maria, 16, ☎ 94 416 0311, . This restaurant claims that their Pintxos are a miniaturization of Basque cooking culture. The Pintxos are presented very nicely and in an appetizing way on the bar counter. Staff proficient in English, occasionally live Piano music. Can be crowded at times.
Bilbao Cafe bar, Plaza Nueva, 6, ☎ 94 415 16 71.
Charley Bar, Plaza Nueva, 8, ☎ 94 415 01 27.
Fernando, Plaza Nueva, 12, ☎ 94 415 05 64.
Víctor, Plaza Nueva, 2, ☎ 94 415 1678.
near the Diputación
El Globo, c/Diputación, 8, ☎ 94 415 42 21.
La Viña del Ensanche, c/Diputacion, 10, ☎ 94 416 53 58.
à table, Dos de Mayo 18, ☎ 944154766, . Cozy place in the old quarter of Bilbao.Is an authentic Basque-French restaurant offering a true flavour of that traditional cuisine.Good cellar.Reservation required.Service in English.
Agape, c/Hernani, 13, ☎ 94 416 05 06.
Antzokia, San Vincente 2, . Creative non-touristic cuisine in an untraditional setting of a large theater hall and its stage. Full of local knowledge workers. Great value-for-money menu del dia. Very prompt service.Menu del dia: €11.5 (two dishes+desert); VAT included..
Casa Vasca, c/ Lehendakari Aguirre, 13/15 (Deusto), ☎ 94 448 39 80. traditional Basque cuisine
Guggenheim Museum. has a fine restaurant with a decent value set lunch menu for less than €20 each. The restaurant is run by famous Basque chef Martin Berasategui. Make sure to book in advance, easily done before you visit the museum in the morning.
Matxinbenta, c/Ledesma 26, ☎ 94 424-8495. Mon-Sat 8:00AM-11:30PM. Basque food, specialities include fresh tuna in piquant tomato sauce and piperada. Reservations required.
Zortziko, c/Alameda de Mazarredo 17, ☎ (944)23-97-43; (944)23-63-96. Tue-Sat 9AM-11:30PM. Traditional Basque dishes such as pigeon breast or marinated sea bass. Formal environment with late Victorian style furnishing, frequently booked days in advance. Ask about reservations to dine in the wine cellar.
Batzoki Bilbao, c/Tendería, 17, ☎ 94 679-2230, . Located in the first floor above a popular Pintxos-bar. Great evening menú de degustación on weekends offering lots of tasty starters, a main plate (can be chosen from several options), an assortment of desserts and a bottle of D.O. Rioja for about 30 euros. Very friendly and helpful service, nice quiet dining atmosphere.
Tap water is safe to drink, also from the outdoor taps. On weekend nights a lot of people gather in the bar area in eastern Casco Viejo, get their drinks from any of the bars and hang around on the streets before heading to nightclubs.
Cafe Nervión wonderful views of the river: c/La Naja 7.
Lamiak, comfortable coffee house, with chocolate cake to die for: c/De la Pelota (Casco Viejo)
Three spectacularly decorated bars (which are owned by the same people) are:
Cafe Iruña, c/ Colon de Larreategui 13. With its Arabesque motifs and antique mouldings it is a sight to behold. If you go at night, you can also get some nice shikabobs - some of the only ones you'll find in Bilbao.
Cafe La Granja in Plaza Circular, across from the BBVA tower.
Cafe Boulevard on the Arenal, across from Teatro Arriaga.
Galeon Alda. Mazarredo, 25, 94-423-1462 Maritime motif a mermaid statue at the entrance and decoratoion resembleing the inside of a ship.
Gran Casino Nervión c/ Navarra, 1 tel. 94-424-0007 Two bars, on-site restaurant. Formal/semi-formal dress required.
La Mutua c/Ercilla, 2 tel. 94-423-1154 Serving breakfast during the day, and reopening at 11:30PM for the night.
Otxoa c/Lersundi, 8 tel. 94-424-1848
Panko. Great stylish place that sells bread, pinxtos and meals. Good selection of regional wines. Good value for money.
Bar Jamon Jamon, c/Luis Power 3, Deusto, Bilbao (Deusto Metro Station), ☎ 944 47 65 94. Eat as a local in this typical simple neighbourhood Bar. Probably one of the best Ham baguettes (bocadillo) in the city. Freshly baked baguettes, counter-carved Spanish Ham and the friendly service of Luis and Nekane. Not fancy but familiar with authentic atmosphere.
Albergue Bilbao, Ctra Basurto-Kastrexana, 70, ☎ +34 94 427 00 57, . A youth hostel with 48 rooms (22 double rooms). A bit of a journey away from the center, but connected by bus.
Bilbao Akelarre Hostel, Morgan 4-6, ☎ +34 94 405 77 13, . “Bilbao Akelarre Hostel” is the first and private youth hostel in Bilbao designed for you.It is just a few minutes by walking from the Guggenheim Museum,located in the historic district of “Deusto University”.17-21€.
Ganbara Hostel, Prim 13, ☎ +34 94 405 39 30, . “Ganbara Hostel” is the only hostel in the “Seven Streets” area: the very heart of the Old Town district of Bilbao. This makes it the ideal spot for anyone who wants to keep their finger on the pulse of the city: it is close to most of the museums and monuments, to the venues of the city’s cultural activities and to its night-life hot-spots.
There are many inexpensive Pensions in the Casco Viejo
NH Palacio de Oriol, Avda. Cristobal Murrieta, 27, 48980 Santurtzi, ☎ +34 94 4934100 (fax: +34 94 4837890), . Overlooking the Abra Bay, the hotel occupies a palace built in 1902.
Holiday Inn Express Bilbao. Zarandoa Kalea 5, Tel. +34.944.868240. Brand new contemporary hotel located close to Bilbao Airport and only 10km from the city centre.
Barceló Nervión, Campo Volantin 11. Tel: +34 94 445 4700
Conde Duque, Campo Volatin 22. Three stars. Tel: +34 94 445 6000
You can have a pleasant stay at the Abba Hoteles. This is a chain of 4* hotels, and here you can find a quite rare 3* Abba hotel. It's quite near the Bus Terminal, very near to the metro and quite near to the Guggenheim museum, at calle Rodriguez Arias 66, 48013 Bilbao (Tel: +34 94 441 3100, Fax: +34 94 442 2197). Expensive breakfast.
With a rate of only 33.4 crimes per 1000 inhabitants, the Basque Country has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe.
Crime rates can, however, vary significantly between rural and urban areas, though urban areas are still not particularly dangerous. Avoid the San Francisco area, however. Violent crime is extremely rare, but the usual precautions will keep you out of trouble.
It is advisable not to wear any Spanish symbols. Spain national football (soccer) tops, Spanish flags or Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid club paraphernalia are best avoided. Alhough no assaults on people wearing them have been recorded, some people might be upset about them. It is also best to avoid referring to the Basque Country as Spain.
Take into account that inhabitants of the Basque Country are divided between those who support independence or autonomy from Spain and consider themselves primarily or entirely Basque (the majority, at 51%) and others who consider themselves primarily or entirely Spanish (a 49% minority). Within these currents, there are further subdivisions of opinion ranging from supporters of the Terrorist Group ETA at one end to those who supported the fascist regime of General Franco at the other (though most people fall somewhere in between these extremes).
These political issues have dominated life in the Basque Country for generations and you will still find coverage of them in news media across the Basque Country every day. Also certain bars will have a distinctly Basque nationalist clientele (such bars will generally have posters and slogans on the walls) where pro-Spanish opinions will be unwelcome. If speaking to strangers, bear these divisions in mind and try not to cause offence.