Bilbao in the Basque region of Northern Spain, is known for its lush green scenery and its culinary treats. I had high expectations of the city but really didn’t expect to be so wowed by Bilbao. I wanted to share what we found and my recommendations for a 2-day break or weekend in Bilbao.
Bilbao is often referred to as an industrial port city which I think makes it sound much less appealing than it actually is. The city is located on a river that runs from the Estuary of Bilbao and the Bay of Biscay and while in the past the river was heavily industrialised nowadays it’s an interesting and modern city.
Here are our tips for how to spend your time during a weekend in Bilbao in an easy to follow 2 day itinerary.
Bilbao two day city itinerary
Everything in Bilbao is within walking distance, so this itinerary is based on you walking from place to place. If you get a little tired you can jump on the metro or tram.
This self guided tour is perfect for seeing the main city sights of Bilbao but remember that you don’t have to stick to it. Deviate from the route if you wish or stay longer at a place you love, whatever suits you best. Take a leisurely pace and stop for pintxos whenever you fancy!
Here’s a rough map to give you an idea of which direction to go on each of the two-day routes (stops are marked with a red star). As always, I recommend that you grab a city map or use google maps to make sure you don’t get too lost 🙂 and enjoy your weekend exploring wonderful Bilbao!
*RELATED article: What you need to know before visiting Bilbao
Bilbao day 1 itinerary:
Ria de Bilbao
Take a walk along the Ria de Bilbao river that runs through Bilbao. Both sides are paved for pedestrians and allow wonderful views of the city. Dotted with benches, manicured gardens and children’s play areas it’s a lovely way to walk from the old town to the modern part of town.
Tip: Make sure you walk over the Zubizuri & Punte La Salve bridges, you get great photo opportunities from both.
Funicular de Artxanda
Hidden a few streets back from the river on the East side, nestled in a residential area you will find the Funicular de Artxanda. A train that takes you up the mountain Artxanda. It runs regularly and tickets only cost a few euro. While the train ride itself is short and views are restricted, when you get to the top the view from the mirador is amazing. You can even see the ocean on a clear day!
Tip: There are a few restaurants at the top or you can grab a picnic lunch from the supermarket at the bottom.
Ride the Funicular back down and continue along the river to the Guggenheim Museum. You really can’t miss the huge, curved, metallic building that shimmers with shades of gold in the sunshine. Explore the infamous museum and its ever-changing exhibitions of modern art.
Tip: Make sure you walk all around the museum exterior to spot and photograph each of the sculptures.
Make your way back to the old town and find Plaza Nueva. It’s a pretty square, like many in Spain, with bars and restaurants around the edge. However, this is the first Spanish square that I have visited where the price of food and drink is not extortionately high and service terribly low. Enjoy food from the pinxtos bar, sit outside in the square and relax.
Tip: My favourite pintxos bars here are Zuga, Victor and Zahara.
Bilbao day 2 itinerary:
Mercado de la Ribera
Start the day with a walk around the Bilbao food market, Mercado de la Ribera. It’s a great place to see locals buy their fresh fruit, veg, meat and fish. Plus, it has an awesome food court area with stalls and comfortable seating. Hang out and enjoy views of the river plus the quirky buildings and street art on the other side.
Tip: Grab some pastries, fresh bread or fruit from the market stalls for snacks later.
Gran Via & Plaza Moyua
Walk along the river until you get to the beautiful train station Bilbao-Abando then head towards the centre of the city. Wander down Gran Via, the main shopping street in Bilbao that’s dotted with bars and cafes. Plaza Moyua is a garden area in the middle of the roundabout, surrounded by lovely old buildings.
Tip: Mostly pedestrianized and tree lined even those who don’t enjoy retail therapy will enjoy a walk here.
Make your way to the impressive Azkuna Zentroa. This may not be on most Bilbao tourist attraction lists but it’s well worth seeing. It’s a modern cultural and leisure centre that contains art exhibitions, shops, restaurants, cinema, gym and swimming pool.
Tip: Go up to the roof terrace for a cheeky cocktail.
Head back to the old town known locally at Casco Viejo for an evening of bar hopping. Wander the cobbled street and stop wherever takes your fancy. It’s customary in Bilbao to order a drink, select a few pintxos from the bar, enjoy them then move on to the next bar.
Tip: If you want to order a la carte most restaurants and bars will have a full menu available.
I hope that this article has given you some ideas of how to spend your time visiting Bilbao. I highly recommend it for a short weekend break, it’s a really lovely city. We had a great time eating our way through the streets and admiring the views. Luckily, we enjoyed sunny, clear skies but it does rain often in Bilbao so pack an umbrella!
If you are planning to explore more of Northern Spain check out this great article by My Path in the World blog full of inspiration for a North Spain road trip holiday.
Have you been to Bilbao? Or anywhere else in the Basque Country you would recommend? Tell us all about it in the comments box below.
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