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For the curious and creative
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Basque Country’s cultural treasure trove
Though most people go to Bilbao for the Guggenheim Museum – complete with 40ft West Highland terrier made of flowers – there’s much more to discover. Take in its colourful Old Town where busy bars sit alongside ancient arches and cobbles and serve up original takes on authentic pintxos (tapas). Explore one of the world’s biggest covered markets for riverside bites and cool jazz and walk an urban art trail. Save enough energy for the city’s flower and flea markets.
Start at in the historic Siete Calles (seven streets) of the Old Town (Casco Viejo) to imbibe the colourful, cobbled streets before heading centrally to the futuristic looking Guggenheim – its architecture inspired by Bilbao’s industrial ship-building past. Take in the Basque Health Department’s amazing origami-style building before heading to any one of the city’s museums on art or maritime history. For the ultimate in living the high life, take the funicular up Mount Artxanda and dine while overlooking the city in its valley and the wild Basque mountains beyond.
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Carefully selected Bilbao hotels
Best hotels in Bilbao for all types of traveller
We have a great selection of quality hotels in and around Bilbao to recommend.
For something luxurious, try the award-winning five-star Melia Bilbao. Situated opposite the Euskalduna Palace concert venue, it’s been designed by architect Ricardo Legorreta and features a lavish wellness centre. The Grand Hotel Domine is the only five-star based hotel to be situated directly in front of the Guggenheim Museum.
For a more affordable option, the four-star Barcelo Bilbao Nervion is a ten-minute walk from the Guggenheim Museum and sits in the Old Town – perfect for bars and pintxos. Another option is the four-star Sercotel Coliseo. Just a short stroll from the Old Town and 15 minutes’ walk to the Guggenheim, Sercotel emits elegance thanks to once having housed the Bilbao Opera House. You can stay within easy reach of much of what Bilbao offers at the four-star NH Collection Villa de Bilbao – it’s perfect for its arts museums, the San Mames stadium and some fabulous restaurants.
Bilbao holiday FAQs
Make the most of your Bilbao holiday
Bilbao is a Cinderella city. Transformed from the decaying jaws of its ship building past, it’s now a thriving hub of art, food and culture that makes for a perfect weekend getaway or a base for exploring further afield.
What are the best things to do in Bilbao?
- The Guggenheim is a masterpiece in architecture – its shining glass and titanium lines are often compared to the curves of a ship. It’s a lure for modern art with works including Jeff Koons (giant puppy), Louise Bourgeois’ Maman (giant spider) and Anish Kapoor’s shiny Tall Tree & The Eye.
- For galleries aside from the Guggenheim, try the Fine Arts Museum with anything from Goya to El Greco. Explore the Philippe Starck-designed cultural arts space, Azkuna Zentroa. While you’re out, it's worth understanding the fascinating history of the city’s marine heritage at the Itsasmuseum.
- Take Funicular de Artxanda for a five-minute trip to the top of the city where, on Saturday mornings, you can take a free tour which takes you behind the scenes of the mechanical room of this 100-year-old railway.
- Head to the monthly Art after Dark event at the Guggenheim and bop among the masters (ticketed event). Seek out Bilbao’s urban art (don’t miss Giltza Bat near Puente de La Salve) and if you want to see a mass of street art in one go, head for Plaza Kirikino – it’s been likened to a ‘painted city’.
- As evening draws, head to the art deco Mercado de la Ribera for some recipe ingredients then some late-night jazz. You can find authentic food, gifts and restaurants here.
- Explore Bilbao by kayak or paddleboard. Don’t expect Venice but do expect to trace paths of the city’s naval history and check off landmarks. Take in one of the group canoe tours on offer for a new way to see the city.
Where are the best places to visit in Bilbao?
When the Guggenheim, Frank Gehry's architectural masterpiece rose from Bilbao's tired valleys, it transformed this once gritty, industrial port into a mesmerising Iberian playground.
The picturesque Old Town is where you may hear Europe’s oldest language, Basque, spoken. It’s also at the historical heart of the city known as Siete Calle where you’ll find boutiques, churches and buzzing bars serving the best pintxo (a firm favourite is Baster).
If you like the idea of waking up to see the titanium curves of the Guggenheim, a stay at the central Vincci Consulado de Bilbao could be for you. Architecture lovers will enjoy Bilbao – make sure you take in the quirks of the glass origami-like structure which is the Basque Health Department building. While you’re at it, why not head to the red and white 53,000-seater San Mames stadium, home to football team Athletic Bilbao? You can tour the club’s onsite museum.
Finally, take the city’s funicular uphill to feast on some of the best restaurants with views of the sparkling city lights beneath. Look out for Txakoli Simon steakhouse – a real favourite for authentic Basque dishes.
Of course, Bilbao is the perfect base for exploring the nearby beaches and architecture of San Sebastian and the vineyards of the legendary winemaking region of Rioja.
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