Views of Bilbao and La Ribera market, Basque Country

Two days in Bilbao


Avant-garde architecture

If you fancy a two-day getaway and you want to visit some of the most avant garde cities in Spain, then Bilbao is the place for you. Even if you only have 48 hours, you will have enough time to see the most innovative buildings by different international architects, such as the Guggenheim and even the monuments of the old quarters. In addition, you can sample one of the most delicious cuisines in the country. Have you heard of pintxos?

DAY 1:

On the first day you can explore Bilbao from two perspectives: the city from up high and modern Bilbao with its iconic buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum and Euskalduna Palace. You can expect a packed day.

A morning “from above”

One of the best places to start the day in Bilbao? Undoubtedly, having breakfast at the legendary Café Iruña, next to the Albia gardens. Open since 1903, it is a favourite among Bilbao locals and visitors alike. Less than 10 minutes away, crossing the Bilbao Estuary, you will come across the elegant City Hall, right on the river bank and offering the perfect first photo opportunity of your trip. Then a short walk will take you to the Artxanda cable car, which links the area of Campo Volantín with Mount Artxanda. We recommend travelling up on it to get some amazing views of Bilbao.Once you have come back down again, you can walk across one of the first examples of modern architecture you will encounter: the Zubizuri Bridge (by the architect Santiago Calatrava) to admire the background of the towers designed by Japanese architect Isozaki Atea.A peaceful stroll along the estuary will lead you to what will undoubtedly be the highlight of your trip to Bilbao, the Guggenheim Museum.

Left: City Hall / Centre: Zubizuri Bridge / Right: Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Basque Country

The Guggenheim Museum and lunchtime

At the doors of the museum, the first work of art to greet you is the nine-metre high statue of a spider called Maman, by Bourgeois. The museum itself is even more surprising –made from 33,000 titanium sheets, designed by Frank Gehry with the assistance of an advanced industry aerospace software– it has become the city’s symbol. Another surprise in store is the Puppy outside the museum. An enormous dog created by Jeff Koons, it has a steel base with living flowers.

Depending on how much spare time you have, it is well worth stepping inside to visit some of the temporary and permanent exhibitions of modern art, and even have lunch there.

Afternoon by Euskalduna Palace and Azkuna Zentroa

After lunch, if you cross one of the last bridges to be built in Bilbao, the one by Pedro Arrupe, you can catch a view of the University of Deusto. Returning this time over the Deusto bridge and walking along Avenida Abandoibarra, you will reach another jewel of contemporary architecture: the Euskalduna Palace, where all types of shows and exhibitions are organised.

Left: Deusto University / Centre: Euskalduna Palace / Right: Alhondiga in Bilbao, Basque Country

Continuing with a peaceful stroll, the best idea is to head into the area of Ensanche through streets such as Sabino Arana, Rodríguez Arias or Alameda Urquijo. This way you will come to the majestic building of Alhóndiga (Azkuna Zentroa). This former wine warehouse has been given a facelift by Philippe Starck and is today a multifaceted cultural centre boasting an exhibition room, cinemas, a design corner and a restaurant where you can have dinner, and in summer chill out on the terrace and soak up the cool atmosphere. Wasn’t it just the best day ever?

Places not to be missed

What to see

DAY 2:

Today is the day to combine the Ensanche area with the most traditional side of Bilbao found in the old town. Here you can find the famous “7 streets” and sample the tasty pintxos. Are you ready?

Morning in the Basilica of Begoña

If you wake up early enough, we recommend starting the day at a point that dominates the city from high up, a little off the beaten track but well worth the visit: the Basilica of Begoña, one of the symbols of Bilbao and a sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin of Begoña, and who has close associations with the sea. Did you know that, since the 16th century, many local boats have been named “Begoña”, or that it is customary for sailors to salute the Sanctuary when they first see it from afar when travelling up the river?To reach the city’s old quarters from there, you can walk and descend the Mallonasteps to plaza de Unamuno. If it’s a Sunday, first you can take a trip to the Arenal Park, where there is a pretty flower market full of colour and aromas. In fact, Plaza de Unamuno is also a great spot to stop for a coffee and soak up the atmosphere.

Basilica of Begoña in Bilbao, Basque Country

Bilbao's most traditional side

Now the best option is to “lose yourself” in the cobblestoned streets of the old town, and in particular, the area known as “the 7 streets”: the parallel streets that start in Somera. Along these streets and the surrounding areas you can visit La Ribera Market, one of the largest indoor markets in Europe. It is a very special place because, apart from traditional stalls selling fresh produce, there are a whole host of bar-restaurants offering an exquisite array of pintxos (if you still haven’t sampled these typical Basque version of tapas, now is the moment!) Some more interesting places you can find in this area. The Church of San Antón, Santiago Cathedral and the Stock Exchange building. Incidentally, next to this building you can see a star in the ground marking the only spot in the seven streets where you can view the Basilica of Begoña.

If you have arrived at this place and still haven’t stopped to eat at one of the area’s bars or restaurants, we recommend that you take a trip to the nearby square of Plaza Nueva. If it’s a Sunday, you will have the added bonus of being able to visit the weekly market, with parents and children exchanging all types of objects and antiques. There are also a multitude of places selling pintxos at their bars. They always taste better paired with a glass or two of the local wine, txacoli.

Farewell in the afternoon

Although there are very few hours remaining to explore the city, we are going to make the most of the time. You can take a leisurely five-minute stroll from Plaza Nueva to the Arriaga Theatre, a beautiful building inspired by the Paris Opera House. If you have booked tickets for one of the shows, it is a great way to end the day.

Left: Arriaga Theatre / Centre: Regional Government Building / Right: Entrance to the “fosteritos” metro in Bilbao, Basque Country

If not, an alternative way to spend the afternoon is to head into the Ensanche area again, crossing towards Plaza Circular. From here, continuing on down Gran Vía de Don Diego López de Haro, there are plenty of fine shops for a spot of retail therapy, the Biscay Foral Delegation Palace and the original metro station entrances, affectionately known as “fosteritos”, as they were designed by Norman Foster. Not much further on, following the Calle Elcano, you can also complete your afternoon by visiting the extensive collection in the Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao or by relaxing by the lake in the Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park.

Places not to be missed

What to see

Tips and recommendations

We have suggested 48 intensive hours in Bilbao. However, if you have longer to spend there, we would also love to recommend some other ideas to you.The first is to sail along the Nervión Estuary (there is even a culinary experience called Nautic Gourmet to be enjoyed).The second, make a trip to Portugalete (less than 10 kilometres away) to the Bizkaia Hanging Bridge, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and created by a disciple of the architect behind the Eiffel Tower.And lastly, the third excursion we would like to suggest to you, above all if it’s during summer, is to take a dip in one of the nearby beaches at Getxo, just 20 minutes from Bilbao.

Healthy tour

If you want to keep fit, you can take this 10,000-step tour visiting the most iconic locations in the city.

Healthy tour
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