Bilbao is an inviting blend of striking architecture, surrounded by green hills and beautiful countryside. Known for its wonderful Basque cuisine and ample culture, this city in Northern Spain is far more than just the home of the Guggenheim. Whether you’re a fan of modern architecture of the more traditional styles, Bilbao features both. The city’s cooler climate makes this a great place to visit in the summer months, when many other Spanish cities are sweltering, but be prepared for rainfall at any time of the year. If you’re planning a visit, here are our recommended top 10 things to do in Bilbao.
10. Basilica of Begona
Head up hill from the old town and you’ll arrive at one of the city’s beautiful churches, the Basilica of Begona. This lovely church is a worthy addition to your list of things to do in Bilbao. Dating from the 16th century, it is mainly Gothic in style but, having taken around one-hundred years to complete, some Renaissance styling also found its way in as tastes in architecture changed. Dedicated to the patron saint of Biscay, the Virgin Begona, the church features three naves and beautiful works of art and statuary.
9. Plentzia Beach
Bilbao isn’t as well known as some other Spanish cities for its beaches, yet being near the coast the city does still have some great beaches to head to on a warm day. Plentzia Beach is one of the most popular in Bilbao because it’s easy to get to by taking the metro from the city center. A long beach, filled with golden sand, it’s a lovely place to take a walk if you weather isn’t warm enough for a swim, or try some water sports. When you’re done on the beach, you can wander around Plentzia where there are nice bars and restaurants.
8. Teatro Arriaga
Teatro Arriaga is one of Bilbao’s grand and beautiful buildings, built in 1890 in the Neo-Baroque style. It was named for the Spanish Basque composer, Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga, who was known as the Spanish Mozart. Following severe flooding in 1983 the theatre had to be majorly renovated but it was beautifully done, maintaining its grand appearance and its wonderful acoustics. This Bilbao attraction is best experienced by taking in a performance, but beware, they sell out fast!
7. La Ribera Market
Right next to Bilbao’s Casco Viejo is the historic Ribera Market. If you enjoy getting into the thick of life, visit this market and experience its lively atmosphere and great food, whether it’s the fresh local produce that’s being sold, or wonderful tasting tapas from the many vendors selling cooked food for your lunch or just a snack. One of the largest covered markets in Europe, Ribera is interesting for its architecture as well with its stained-glass windows.
6. Maritime Museum
Situated on the waterfront, the Maritime Museum (Museo Maritimo Ria de Bilbao) is a highly recommended thing to do in Bilbao because it provides visitors with extra insight into the history of the city and its people, and their relationship with the sea. Wander through the museum on a journey through local history, and be sure to make use of the audio guide to really take advantage of the best that the museum offers.
5. Azkuna Zentroa
Azkuna Zentroa is several different attractions in one, developed out of a run-down wine warehouse which was given new life by renowned architect Philippe Starck. The original building dates from 1910 but this new revitalization opened one hundred years later, in 2010. Come to admire the architecture, then stay for the theater or cinema, to dine in the restaurant, do a little shopping, or hang out at the rooftop swimming pool with glass bottom!
4. Euskal Museoa
The best place to learn about the Basque culture is here at the Euskal Museum. Highly recommended for your list of what to do in Bilbao, this museum is located in the old town (Casco Viejo) and is set within the walls of a former Jesuit college from the 17th century. The museum provides a look at the Basque culture from the Paleolithic days, right up to the 21st century, with a large focus on the people’s everyday lives.
3. Bilbao Fine Arts Museum
A very different experience to the better-known Guggenheim Museum, the Fine Arts Museum of Bilbao focuses on three areas: classical art, contemporary art, and Basque art, so if you’re interested in seeing the art of the more local area, this museum should be on your list of what to do in Bilbao. The collection is one of the best outside of Madrid, and there are works by many old masters including El Greco, and artists such as Peter Blake, Paul Gauguin, and Francis Bacon from the 19th century and modern eras.
2. Casco Viejo
In a city where there’s such a mixture of old and new architecture, Casco Viejo is the place to come for your historic architecture fix! This old quarter of Bilbao is a charming place to visit, filled with color on the buildings and in its atmosphere. It’s a great part of the city for shopping and dining, with plenty of shops and taverns, and there are buildings of interest too, such as the cathedral. The old town dates back to medieval times and was a walled part of the city up until the 19th century.
1. Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Museum is the top Bilbao attraction, and there are lots of different reasons for this. First, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is the city’s most famous attraction. This alone brings visitors from all over the world, whether interested in the architecture of the renowned designer, Frank Gehry, or whether it is to view the impressive collection of modern and contemporary art. Either way, one of the modern world’s most iconic buildings should definitely be on your list of top attractions in Bilbao. View it from the nearby bridge for some of the best photo opportunities.
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