Bilbao is the capital of the Basque Country, a highly underrated and modern city with tasty cuisine, renowned museums, and outstanding cultural offerings. The Basque country has a very distinct culture from the rest of Spain. In fact, decades were spent fighting to retain their own way of life and that proud independent spirit still remains.
Some travelers are surprised to see signs, menus, and shops written in a language that is very different from Spanish. Im Bilbao, Euskera (known as Basque in English) is still spoken and taught in all public schools. This is the oldest living language in all of Europe and has no ties or roots to any spoken language that we know of. Their unique culture has shaped Bilbao into the one-of-a-kind city it is today.
Since Bilbao has so many cultural offerings, it is a wonderful place to visit all year long. Summers are the most crowded months, but unlike many coastal areas in Spain, there is still so much going on in the city during colder months. Many visitors come from around the world just to eat in Bilbao and the surrounding area, which has more than 40 Michelin Star restaurants.
As one of the largest cities in Spain, it can be easy to get lost when planning your travels. Read this guide to discover the best neighborhoods in Bilbao, the city’s best hotels, and where you should stay in Bilbao.
Abando is a sophisticated neighborhood that contains Bilbao’s most famous landmark, the titanium and glass-clad Guggenheim Museum. Designed by the legendary architect Frank Gehry, it is one of the most admired examples of contemporary architecture in the world and glistens next to the flowing Nervion River. Outside of the museum, take a picture with the giant Puppy by Jeff Koons, a large dog shaped structure covered from head to toe in an explosion of bright flowers. This museum of modern art contains Richard Serra’s The Matter of Time exhibition, where you can find your way through a maze of ceiling-high spiraling steel sculptures.
The Zubizuri Pedestrian Bridge looks like something out of a science fiction movie with its curved walkway and white angled arch. The Museo de Bellas Artes Bilbao (Bilbao Fine Art Museum) is also located in Arando just a short walk away. Its walls hang with classical Spanish masters like Velazquez, Goya, and Picasso.
After a day spent browsing museums, grab a bite to eat at one of the area’s upscale restaurants, riverside parks, and shaded cafe terraces.
Where to stay in Abando?
With its museums and central location, Abando is a popular neighborhood for visitors. Most choose to stay in Abando or nearby since it contains or is close to all of the city’s best sights. There are many luxury and boutique hotels to choose from, as well as apartment stays.
One of the best hotels in Bilbao is the Hotel Miró. It is named after the illustrious Spanish surrealist Joan Miró, whose works are featured prominently in the Guggenheim. This hotel has funky, contemporary interior design with pops of bright colors. Work out of their gym or treat yourself to a massage at the wellness center.
The rooms are comfortable and some even have views of the Guggenheim and flowing river. Guests rave about the great service, tasty breakfast buffet, and lively bar and lounge.
Casco Viejo (Old Town)
Compared to most of Spain, Bilbao is a very modern city. This makes Bilbao’s beautiful old town, Casco Viejo, which literally translates to old helmet, stand out. This medieval neighborhood has winding cobblestone streets, buzzing nightlife, and a lot of boutique shops. Visitors flock to Casco Viejo, so it’s a great part of town to get a drink in a lively bar.
Plaza Nueva is a stunning 19th century neoclassical square where visitors can stop for a pintxo (a Basque tapa) or glass of wine. Enclosed by arcade buildings, reach the plaza by stepping through its rounded arches. Bilbao Cathedral is a beautiful 14th century cathedral designed in the Gothic Revival style.
Browse through Bilbao’s Mercado de la Ribera, the largest covered market in Europe, where you can shop for fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, cheese, and more.
Where to stay in Casco Viejo?
Characterized by its narrow streets, there aren’t any big hotels in Casco Viejo. Located just on the edge of Casco Viejo, the Hotel Tayko Bilbao is a wonderful 4-star hotel. The most beautiful parts of Bilbao will be right at your doorstep.
Tayko has fantastic service, comfortable rooms, and an unbeatable location. This historic hotel boasts a Michelin star restaurant, Ola. Reserve a table for an unforgettable meal.
Bilbao La Vieja
Just across the river, you can find Bilbao La Vieja, the trendiest neighborhood in Bilbao where the younger crowd like to go out. Called “Bilbi” by those in the know, this is the place to go if you want to browse trendy clothing boutiques, see vibrant street art, enjoy fusion restaurants with innovative and modern menu creations, and hang out at the coolest craft breweries.
The terraces and plazas here are the perfect places to grab a pintxo (a Basque tapa) and people watch. During the night, this is the perfect place to bar hop, dance, and let loose.
Where to stay in Bilbao La Vieja?
Since this is such a young area, there is a lot of student housing, apartment stays, and youth hostels. Hotel Bilbi is one of the only options for a traditional hotel experience while staying in La Vieja.
This no-frills hotel has everything a traveler needs. With cozy rooms and nice beds, you can stay right where all the action is happening in Bilbao. Get a room with a balcony so you can have a morning cup of coffee in the sun.
Bilbao is a wonderful city, but it is located inland from the beaches and can be a bit busy and loud. Many guests prefer to stay somewhere a little quieter so they head to the easy-to-reach town of Getxo. Simply take the metro thirty minutes from Bilbao to reach this cozy suburb.
Getxo is a sprawling town with several sandy beaches. Arrigunaga Beach is nestled between seaside cliffs. Spend your time lounging on its sheltered beach, shredding at its skate park, or head up to the top of the cliffs. Here you can walk past a windmill and enjoy a wonderful view of the surrounding coastlands.
Spain’s only industrial UNESCO heritage site is in Getxo, the Puente de Vizcaya. This hanging pedestrian bridge transports passengers and vehicles across the river through the use of a hanging gondola that moves along the bridge. Take the elevator up to the very top to a footpath that you can walk across to see the surrounding cities and winding river.
Getxo is where all of the citydwellers escape the summer heat. With traditional restaurants, lively local bars, art installations, and fantastic traditional restaurants, Getxo is a welcoming break from the bustling city.
Where to stay in Getxo?
There are a lot of options to stay a night or two in Getxo. Pensions are numerous and well-kept if you want to save some money. There are also many small, boutique hotels.
The Hotel Embarcadero is one of the best places to stay in Getxo. It is within easy walking distance of Playa de Ereaga, which is a long, sheltered beach that is great for families. Book a room with a harbor view to watch the ships come in. Their breakfast has a nice selection and their rooms are clean and comfortable. The hotel’s bar and restaurant are lively and popular with locals so you will feel like a part of the town. Grab dinner here and try something from their mouthwatering traditional menu.
Bilbao might be Spain’s best kept secret. It’s not overrun with tourists but it has everything a visitor could want, from world class museums, medieval centers, and sunny beaches. Use this guide to plan your trip and explore the best places in Bilbao!