Welcome to Bilbao!
What once used to be an industrial port town is now a picturesque city surrounded by rolling green hills, well-known for its world-class museums, beautiful parks, and plazas. Welcome to Bilbao, Spain, home to trendy districts, spectacular food markets, and the prestigious contemporary art museum also known as Guggenheim Bilbao.
A worldwide local knows how to get away from the traditional tourist routes and discover the hidden gems known only to the locals. This insider’s guide takes you on a journey through Bilbao’s finest sights and shows you a different way to explore the city.
Where to Begin
After landing in Bilbao Airport you might be at a loss of what to do first. Azkuna Zentroa would be a wonderful place to start. A former storage house and wine exchange, Azkuna Zentroa is the city’s premier leisure and culture center, housing a wide range of workshops, exhibitions, and other events throughout the year. On the third floor of the center, you will find an Olympic pool where you can go for a dip. Later, unwind with a drink on the roof terrace.
Often overlooked by tourists, Bilbao’s Museum of Reproductions is definitely not the most popular museum in the city, but local art lovers find it interesting and worth exploring. A visit to the museum offers the opportunity to admire an impressive collection of copies of classic sculpture.
Worldwide Local Tip: Although there is plenty of sunshine, blue skies can instantly turn into dark clouds here with the unpredictable Bilbao weather. Always pack an umbrella, as the locals do. Pack warm clothes for the evening, as the temperature in Bilbao is milder than in Southern Spain.
Bilbao La Vieja, or, as the locals like to call it, “Bilbi,” is a hip neighborhood in Bilbao well-known for its innovative street art. Besides cute galleries and fashion boutiques, expect to find dozens of funky cafes and hipster bars.
Located just a short walk from the city center, Irala is a lovely neighborhood with colorful houses from the 20th century, designed in the English style. Go where the locals go and visit the picturesque Baiona Street in this wonderful neighborhood.
Parque Doña Casilda de Iturrizar is an expansive green space, dotted with leafy palm trees and colorful flowers. Whether you wish to admire the fountains and Neoclassical statues or go for leisure walks, this lovely park is an ideal destination to unwind and find some peace and quiet. You’ll find a large lake, as well as an outdoor theater and an old-school merry-go-round.
Worldwide Local Tip: The locals are very serious about “siesta” here, which means that many places close their doors after 2 pm and reopen later in the afternoon. After a busy morning in the city, you may need to retire to one of the Bilbao hotels for a rest, too. It is also worth mentioning that many restaurants don’t start serving dinner until after 8 pm.
Eating in Bilbao
Bilbao is famous for its cuisine. Instead of tapas, you eat pintxos here. A small piece of bread topped with a bunch of different ingredients, pintxos is the most popular snack in Bilbao.
A local will tell you that you haven’t really experienced Bilbao if you haven’t paid a visit to the famous Mercado de la Ribera. In terms of the number of food stalls, Mercado de la Ribera is the largest indoor market in Europe. From the fish market on the first floor and the meat delicacies on the second floor to the fruit and veggies section on the top floor, this market is a true foodie’s paradise. Many cultural events take place here, including performances by local jazz bands.
Worldwide Local Tip: For a traditional experience in Bilbao, make sure to stop by Café Iruña. Opened more than 100 years ago, this café is famous for its Mudejar interior and was voted as the best café in Spain back in 2000. The atmosphere here is amazing, but the food is even better. From meat skewers to pinchos morunos appetizers, everything you order here is simply delicious.
Enjoy Your Visit!
Bilbao’s charm is hard to resist and a visit to the city can become an unforgettable experience. To explore Bilbao from a different point of view, travel as a worldwide local to discover the best spots and the most magnificent sites.