24 hours in Spanish Bilbao: What you need to see
In the shadow of Barcelona, other big cities in Spain are quickly forgotten. Why not take your next weekend break in Bilbao, in northern Spain? Explore the Guggenheim Museum, enjoy pintxos in the old town and let yourself be seduced by the city's culture and gastronomy over the course of 24 unforgettable hours.
Bilbao, a gem in northern Spain, has long been overlooked by travellers seeking sun-drenched beaches and bustling big cities. However, those who take the time to explore this fascinating city will find that there is much more to it than meets the eye.
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With its impressive architecture, vibrant culture and a culinary scene that will delight even the most discerning palates, there is no doubt that Bilbao has a lot to offer.
In this article, we'll take you on a 24-hour journey through this exciting city, showing you the most iconic sights and experiences Bilbao has to offer.
How to get to Bilbao
It's easy to get to the Basque Country and Bilbao. If planes are your preferred mode of transport, the largest airlines in Europe have direct flights to Bilbao. If you are visiting from the US or Asia, you should plan for a stopover in London, Amsterdam, or Madrid.
Bilbao Airport is a short 15-20 minute drive from the city centre. Alternatively, there is a bus that takes around 30-40 minutes.
A popular option for those travelling from North America or Asia is to fly to Madrid and then take a train or bus to Bilbao. The journey takes around four to five hours. In this way, you can experience both Spain's capital and one of the most important cities in the Basque Country.
Where to stay in Bilbao
A night in Bilbao is far from enough to experience everything the city has to offer, but if you only have 24 hours to spare, it's a good idea to stay centrally. For many, a visit to the world-renowned Guggenheim Museum is a must. So why not stay a stone's throw away?
Hotel Míro is located just across the street from the museum, idyllically located on the river Nervión that runs through the city. The hotel is close to shopping in the Ensanche district and plenty of bars and restaurants. Designed by fashion designer Antonio Miró, the hotel that bears his name offers large, bright rooms, fitness facilities in the basement, and breakfast options.
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It is a 20-25 minute walk to Bilbao's old town, Casco Viejo, where you can find plenty of pintxos bars and restaurants. Feel free to stroll along the Nervión for a pleasant and idyllic route.
Guggenheim Museum - an absolute must when in Bilbao
Few cities in the world are as synonymous with an edifice as Bilbao and the Guggenheim Museum. Designed by renowned architect Frank O. Gehry, it first opened in 1997. Since then, the museum has been a resounding success, becoming a symbol of Bilbao's revitalization from bustling port city to cultural hub.
Our day therefore starts there. The Guggenheim focuses on modern and contemporary art, and regularly exhibits some of the world's most famous artists. Once you are finished admiring the art, stroll along the Nervión in the direction of Casco Viejo. In the area, you can not only experience Bilbao's old town, but also stop for lunch at one of the many pintxos bars.
On the way back to the hotel, you can experience even more of Bilbao's iconic buildings, including Azkuna Zentroa and the Ministry of Public Health building in Recalde Zumarkalea 39. Hotel Míro is also perfectly located in the Art District, where you will find lots of street art and galleries, big and small.
Where to dine in Bilbao
Although the neighbouring city of San Sebastián has for many years been regarded as Europe's great gastronomic destination, its big brother Bilbao is not so shabby either. All over the city, you'll find everything from simple pintxos bars to world-class fine dining.
Each neighbourhood has its favourite pintxos spots, but you can't go wrong heading in the direction of the area around Plaza Nueva or Casco Viejo, where options abound. A rule of thumb is to keep an eye out for places with few tourists and mostly locals. You can discover about how to get the most out of your pintxos visit here.
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If you are tempted for some fine dining, Bilbao currently boasts over ten restaurants with stars in the Michelin Guide. A short drive from the city centre, you'll also find some of the world's best restaurants - including Asador Etxebarri and Azurmendi. Just keep in mind that several of these restaurants require reservations many months in advance.
If neither pintxos nor fine dining is what you want, the Markina restaurant is a simple and good alternative. A stone's throw from Hotel Míro, Markina serves classic Basque cuisine with a focus on meat and fish.
Nightlife in Bilbao – nightclubs, bars and football
Despite its size, Bilbao is a city with a good selection of bars and nightclubs. Pintxos culture is strong in the Basque Country, so a night out commonly most common starts with a round of pintxos.
Most nightclubs stay open until the early morning hours. The most popular areas are around Casco Viejo, Indautxu, and Mazarredo. The former is mostly popular with tourists, while the latter two are also popular with locals.
It is worth mentioning that Bilbao does not consist exclusively of bars and nightclubs. The concert culture in the city is strong , and it is well worth checking out places with live music.
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Bilbao, like the rest of Spain, is also football crazy. If you visit the city between August and May, you may be lucky enough to catch a match with the city's football team, Athletic Bilbao. The club is one of the most successful in Spanish history, with eight league titles under its belt.
The matches are played at the modern San Mamés stadium, located a short walk from the city centre and just 20 minutes from Hotel Míro. Athletic Bilbao is also unique in football. Unlike most clubs around the world, the club has a rule that all players in the squad must have Basque ancestry.
If you're extra lucky, you'll catch the local showdown against Real Sociedad from neighbouring San Sebastián.
Discover Bilbao and the Basque Country
Dazzling architecture, world-famous food culture and beautiful beaches. Discover Bilbao and the Basque Country with a rental car.