The Best Things to do in Bilbao, Spain

The 15 Best Things to do in Bilbao, Spain

A one-of-a-kind place that somehow blends all the best parts of France and Spain together, Bilbao is like nowhere else in the world. This urban port city is the birthplace of the oldest language in Europe, and it boasts an incredible multi-award-winning gastronomy scene. 

Whatever type of vacation you’re planning, you’ll never be stuck for what to do in Bilbao. From world-renowned galleries home to some of the world’s most valuable treasures and magical old towns that haven’t changed since medieval times to eye-catching bridges that look like works of art and excellent seafood restaurants that will convert even the fussiest eater, Bilbao will leave you spellbound. 

With so many incredible things to see and do, it can be tricky to know where to begin. To give you a helping hand, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Bilbao for you. Add these fun activities and attractions to your Bilbao bucket list, and you’re sure to have a fantastic time exploring one of Spain’s most avant-garde cities! 

15 Fun and Unique Things to do In Bilbao

1. Find Gourmet Eats at the Mercado de la Ribera

Unique Things to do in Bilbao, Spain: Mercado de la Ribera

Start your vacation with one of the top things to do in Bilbao and go shopping at the Mercado de la Ribera. Built almost 100 years ago in the beating heart of Casco Viejo, this stunning marketplace is the best place in the city to buy all kinds of fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients.

The largest indoor marketplace in Europe, the Mercado de la Ribera is absolutely huge and looks more like an art gallery than a place to stock up on veggies. It was primarily designed for functionality and features lots of skylights that bathe shoppers in warm, natural light. But the dazzling Art Deco façade with lattice windows and floral effects make it look more like an art gallery. 

Take a look around, and you’ll find everything from fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices to seafood, fish, meat, and baked goods. The high-quality Basque oils, honeys, and gourmet cooking extras you can find here make perfect gifts. 


2. Get Artsy at the Guggenheim Museum

Fun Things to do in Bilbao, Spain: Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum is one of the most impressive Bilbao attractions, making it a must-visit during your stay. If you don’t have time to go inside, the building is absolutely spectacular from the outside. Built between 1993 and 1997 and designed by famous architect Frank Gehry, the structure features sleek curves, swirling edges, and a dramatic glossy finish. 

Even if you don’t really consider yourself to be an art fan, you can’t help but be wowed at the selection of artwork inside. Your journey begins at the atrium, where you can check out all kinds of paintings displayed on the walls that follow a curved walkway covering three floors. The natural light means you get to admire the paintings the way they were intended.

There are 20 individual galleries leading off the atrium, where you can explore the rest of the impressive collection. Some of the most remarkable pieces include the Raft of the Medusa painting by José Manuel Ballester, the “Humans” photography collection by Christian Boltanski, and the colorful Villa Borghese painting by Willem de Kooning. 


3. Ride into the Sky on the Funicular de Artxanda

What to do in Bilbao, Spain: Artxanda Funicular

For some of the best sights in Bilbao, ride the Artxanda Funicular to the top of Mount Artxanda. The funicular (often fondly nicknamed the “Funi” in Bilbao) opened in 1915 and provides a speedy and convenient way to travel through the Arangoiti neighborhood.

The journey only takes three minutes from top to bottom, so make the most of it and admire as much of the scenery as you can along the way. When you reach the top of the mountain, you’ll be treated to even more spectacular views. 

Bilbao, Spain Things to do: Artxanda Funicular

From the summit of Mount Artxanda, you can see for miles all across the city’s dramatic urban landscape. The way the terracotta buildings contrast with the verdant fields and blue sky makes the vista look more like an artist’s painting than a real panorama. If you want to stay a little longer, there are plenty of walking trails in this area that offer more gorgeous views.


4. Get Lost in Casco Viejo

Unique Things to do in Bilbao, Spain: Casco Viejo

Wandering around Casco Viejo is one of the must-do things in Bilbao. Also known as Old Town, Casco Viejo is brimming with old-world charm and hidden wonders that invite you to seek them out. This captivating part of the city is located on the riverbank and incorporates seven streets – Barrencalle Barena, Barrencalle, Carnicería Vieja, Belosticalle, Tendería, Artecalle, and Somera. 

There are countless winding historic streets to explore, lined with everything from independent boutiques, family-run cafes, and rustic restaurants to tapas bars, sweet-smelling bakeries, and centuries-old homes. 

Casco Viejo is home to some of the most important landmarks in Bilbao. The Teatro Arriaga (a beautiful Neo-Baroque theater), the 14th-century Iglesia de San Nicolás de Bari Baroque church, and the bustling Plaza Nueva square can all be found in this part of Bilbao. 

It can be a bit overwhelming to explore places like Casco Viejo at first. If you’d rather follow in the footsteps of someone who knows what they’re doing, book a guided Old Town walking tour. 

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5. Spice Up Your Life with Bacalao Pil-Pil

Fun Things to do in Bilbao, Spain: Bacalao Pil-Pil

Fish and seafood are hugely popular throughout Bilbao. If you like a little spice in your life, find a local restaurant and order a plate of bacalao pil-pil. This iconic Basque dish is made of tender cod fish fried in a hot pan with olive oil and garlic.

The high heat brings out the natural oils in the fish. When they combine with the olive oil, they create an emulsion-like sauce. A hot chili is usually added to the sauce to give the dish a serious kick. But if you’re not a fan of major heat, you can always ask for it without the spice.

The result is a plate of perfectly-cooked cod with crispy skin and flesh that gently flakes. The creamy, garlicky hot sauce tastes so good that you’ll be licking your plate when you’re done!

Because this dish is so popular, you’ll find it available in almost every local restaurant in Bilbao. Victor Montes Restaurante is an amazing place to try it. Here the dish is made with top-quality cod fish loin.


6. Learn About the Basque Region at the Euskal Museoa Bilbao

When the weather’s not the best, one of the best things to do in Bilbao is to seek shelter inside the Euskal Museoa Bilbao. Also known as the Bilbao Basque Museum in English and the Museo Vasco in Spanish, this popular tourist attraction invites you to learn everything there is to know about the history and culture of the Basque region. 

Set inside a gorgeous Baroque building in the center of Casco Viejo, the museum is made up of three individual departments (archaeology, ethnography, and history) that cover the Basque way of life.

The archaeology part of the museum features fascinating prehistoric finds that have been discovered throughout the Basque Country, including pieces of ancient sculptures and memorial stones. The ethnography section includes a display of Basque folk art and crafts that go back centuries.

The history department looks at everything that went on in the past to make Bilbao what it is today, including how important fishing, shipping, and navigation were to the region. 

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7. Celebrate Summer with Aste Nagusia

If you’re planning your trip for summer, you’ve got to check out Aste Nagusia. One of the most amazing Bilbao activities, this annual festival is celebrated each August and is stretched out over 10 fantastic days. Known in English as The Great Week, this festival is the main one in the region and is celebrated from the first Sunday after August 15.

During this time, locals and visitors of all ages hit the streets to enjoy all the activities and attractions on offer. The events program changes each year, but you can expect things like music concerts, theatrical shows, firework displays, pop-up fairgrounds, DJ sets, and food kiosks throughout the festival.

Aste Nagusia is a family-friendly event, and there are loads of things for the little ones to enjoy. From bouncy castles, kids’ theatrical shows, and obstacle courses to arts and crafts tables, magic shows, and face painting, there’s plenty to keep them amused. 


8. Stroll Down Gran Vía de Don Diego López de Haro

What to do in Bilbao, Spain: Plaza de Federico Moyúa

For some of the best Bilbao sightseeing, take a walk down Gran Vía de Don Diego López de Haro. More commonly known as just Gran Vía, this is the main street in the city and is always lively, whatever time of day or night it is. 

Gran Vía stretches on for almost a mile between the Plaza Circular (close to the Maritime Museum) and the Plaza del Sagrado Corazón, so it’s easily walkable for most people.

Part of the street runs alongside Don Casilda Park, which is a great place to pop into if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle for a little while. It also passes through the Plaza de Federico Moyúa, where you’ll find the Chávarri Palace. 

Bilbao, Spain Things to do: Plaza de Federico Moyúa

Gran Vía is one of the most popular parts of Bilbao to hang out in because it’s always got a dynamic atmosphere. As well as the thousands of people going up and down the street, here you can also check out the fabulous architecture, high-end boutiques, gourmet restaurants, top-end cafes, and fancy bakeries. 


9. Stand Before the Catedral de Santiago

Unique Things to do in Bilbao, Spain: Catedral de Santiago

Casco Viejo is home to many of the best things to see in Bilbao, and Catedral de Santiago is one of the most impressive. A remarkable example of Basque Gothic architecture, this religious building dates back to the 15th century. Although the tower and façade you can see today actually date back to the 19th century, they were later rebuilt in the Gothic Revival style after they had started to become worn and tattered.

While the outside of the cathedral is pretty astounding, the inside is even more dramatic. Step through the grand entrance, and you’ll discover three naves with incredible rib-vaulted ceilings. The primary nave stretches over 72 feet into the sky, making the church seem considerably grand and spacious.

Seek out the cloister and choir stalls during your visit. They’ve got delicate Gothic details that you could lose yourself in for hours. The Catedral de Santiago is open to the public only on Fridays and Saturdays, so plan your trip accordingly. 


10. Broaden Your Culinary Palette with Txangurro

Best Things to do in Bilbao, Spain: Txangurro

One of the most unique things to do in Bilbao is to try txangurro. This hugely popular Basque dish is a thick stew made from spider crabs (known in Bilbao as txangurro) that’s served directly in a spider crab shell. You’ll definitely want to snap some pictures!

One of the most traditional dishes in the region, the hearty stew is made from spider crabmeat, breadcrumbs, tomatoes, and onions. Everything is cooked together and flavored with garlic, parsley, olive oil, and brandy before it’s put into the oven and baked until it’s golden and crispy on top. 

Cool Things to do in Bilbao, Spain: Txangurro

You’ll find txangurro available from practically every Basque restaurant throughout Bilbao. El Globo serves a small portion of txangurro as a pintxo, so you can give it a try without committing to the whole thing. This restaurant adds local peppers into the mix, which adds another level of delicious flavor.

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11. Sail Down the Ría de Bilbao

Bilbao, Spain Bucket List: Ría de Bilbao

When you’re tired of exploring and you need a break, one of the most fun things to do in Bilbao is to take a boat trip along the Riá de Bilbao. This is the river that runs through the center of the city. 

Not only is it a great activity when you’ve spent the past week on your feet, walking all over the city, but it’s also a top thing to do on your first day. A lot of the biggest and best attractions are located on the banks of the Ría de Bilbao, and sailing along it gives you the chance to check them all out and get your bearings.

Along the way, you’ll spot all kinds of landmarks, such as the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), the historic Hotel Arenal Bilbao, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Mercado de la Ribera. If you book your tickets online in advance, you won’t have to wait in line.


12. Unwind at Parque Doña Casilda de Iturrizar

Best Things to do in Bilbao, Spain: Parque Doña Casilda de Iturrizar

For a relaxing, chilled-out day, one of the top things to do in Bilbao is to spend some time at Parque Doña Casilda de Iturrizar. This pristine park is brimming with tall leafy palm trees, sprawling lawns of thick grass, and flowerbeds filled with blooms of every color.

The park was designed in a stunning Romantic style and is full of hidden Neoclassical fountains and statues just waiting for you to find them. There are countless winding pathways that will take you to all areas of the park. When you need a break, you’ll find plenty of benches smartly located under the shade of trees. 

Make sure you find the lake in the middle of the pond. It’s home to loads of ducks that live there year-round. If you visit in spring or summer, you may be lucky enough to spot some fluffy yellow ducklings. You can rent a rowing boat to take you on the water to get closer to the cute creatures!

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13. Visit the Santo Tomás Market in DEcember

Cool Things to do in Bilbao, Spain: Santo Tomás Market

If you’re going to be in the city in December, one of the coolest things to do in Bilbao is to visit the Santo Tomás Market. This market opens each year on December 21 and marks the beginning of the festive season.

The market is set in El Arenal and Plaza Nueva and is the best place in the city to try all kinds of wonderful local and seasonal treats. Each season, thousands of hungry foodies descend on the market to dig into delights such as talo con chorizo (a spicy sausage wrapped in a corn tortilla) and say cheers with txcakoli (local white wine).

Best Things to do in Bilbao, Spain: Santo Tomás Market

Visit the market during the day, and you’ll be surrounded by local farmers selling their best products. Here you can pick up organic fruit and vegetables, pastries, cheeses, cured meats, honey, and homemade candies. To help keep the mood festive, local bands play classic Basque music on traditional instruments throughout the day.


14. Take a Ride Over the Vizcaya Bridge

Unique Things to do in Bilbao, Spain: Vizcaya Bridge

Crossing a bridge may not sound like it’s worthy of being on this list, but the Vizcaya Bridge isn’t any old bridge. Also known as the Hanging Bridge, this unique attraction has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2006. 

It was originally built in 1893 as a conveyor bridge to transport pedestrians and vehicles from one side of the narrow inlet to another. More than 100 years later, it still functions – although it’s much more of a tourist attraction today than it was when it was first built.

To ride over the Vizcaya Bridge, you step inside a hanging gondola that’s supported by 36 wheels. If you’re not scared of heights, the views are incredible! The journey is only short, so take advantage and enjoy them while you can.

If you’ve got a head for heights, head to the upper platform when you get off the gondola. It’s located 150 feet into the sky and rewards your bravery with even better views. 


15. Snack on Pintxos

Bilbao, Spain Things to do: Pintxos

When you’re in the mood for a snack, one of the best things to do in Bilbao is to find the nearest bar that sells pintxos. Iconic throughout the Basque Country, pintxos are small slices of baguette that are topped with all sorts of wonderful local goodies.

Some of the most common toppings you’ll find include cured ham, blackened peppers, local cheese, Spanish omelets, and croquettes. There are no rules when it comes to pintxos, so you’ll find some places playing it safe and sticking to one or two ordinary toppings, while others take it to a new level and pile on as many gourmet treats as they possibly can.

Gure Toki is one of the top spots in Bilbao for creative, exciting pintxos. They’ve got one topped with tempura-style crab, apple, and a sweet cherry sauce! For something more simple and authentic, try La Viña del Ensanche. You’ll find all the classics here, as well as low-carb kebab-style pintxos without the bread.

There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Bilbao. What’s your favorite thing to do in Bilbao? 


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About the Author:

  • Nicola Quinn

    Nicola is a freelance writer with an insatiable hunger for travel. She swapped her home in the UK for the sunny Canary Islands when she was just 11 and she has been based there ever since.

    From crawling on her hands and knees inside pyramids in Egypt to swimming with baby sharks in Bali and searching (fruitlessly!) for the Northern Lights in Iceland, Nicola takes every chance she gets to explore new places.

    The incredible experiences she has around the world fuels her writing and inspires her to plan even more adventures for the future.

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