Perfect One Day in Bilbao Itinerary: What to See, Do, and Eat
With tall, colorful buildings lining the River Nervión and electic architecture, Bilbao is unlike any other place I visited in Spain. Its blend of old and new, classic and modern, makes it one of my favorite Spanish cities.
Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country and is most famous for the Guggenheim Museum. While I recommend staying at least two or three full days, you can see the best attractions in one day with this Bilbao itinerary. Here’s everything you should do, see, and eat when you’ve got 24 hours in Bilbao.
- Start off with a traditional Spanish breakfast
- Go early to the Guggenheim Museum
- Get drinks and pintxos at Ribera Market
- Explore Casco Viejo
- Dine on more pintxos or try Bilbao's global cuisine
- Take a nighttime walk over the Zubizuri Bridge
- Bonus: Find local art and culture at Azkuna Zentroa
- More resources for traveling Spain
Start off with a traditional Spanish breakfast
If you’re from a country where breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day, you won’t find that in Spain. Spanish breakfasts are light. They’ll either have coffee and a pastry, toast with either jam and butter or tomato and olive oil, or a tortilla (also known as a Spanish omelette).
Bilbao has plenty of cute cafés where you can get coffee, a pastry, or toast. Cokooncafé is a small specialty coffee shop with immaculate vibes and high-quality food and drinks. There’s limited seating so it’s best to get there early. They have a short menu mainly focused on coffee and toasts with a variety of toppings. You can also choose from a small case of pastries by the cash register.
Charamel Gozotegia is another favorite of mine. It’s difficult to choose what to get since every pastry they have on display looks amazing. I recommend going for a sweet breakfast, although they also have savory options.
Go early to the Guggenheim Museum
You can’t visit Bilbao without going to the Guggenheim Museum. Even if you’re not an art lover, keep an open mind and give it a chance. The Guggenheim displays contemporary and modern art, with a lot of large-scale pieces and some interactive art.
The museum itself is also a piece of art. Its bending and warping architecture makes it a dynamic structure that feels integrated yet out of place in the city. While the curves of the building seem random, they’re actually designed to catch the light.
The Guggenheim is the most popular attraction in Bilbao, which means it gets really busy. The best way to beat the crowds is to go as early as possible. Although you can buy your ticket there, I recommend buying your ticket online and selecting a time slot between 10 and 11 AM.
Plan to spend at least two to three hours at the Guggenheim.
Either before or after the museum, make sure to pay the Puppy a visit. Created by Jeff Koons (who is best known for his colorful stainless steel balloon dog sculptures), Puppy is a 40-feet tall “West Highland terrier carpeted in bedding plants.” The sweet, delightful dog has been guarding the Guggenheim since 1992. For the best blooms and pictures, visit between the spring and fall.
Get drinks and pintxos at Ribera Market
For lunch, head across the river to Ribera Market, which was “recognized in 1990 as the most complete municipal food market by the Guinness Book of Records.” The beautiful Art Deco building covers 10,000 square meters and contains both the market and a food court. Walk the aisles of produce, fish, and meat stalls. Then, head to the food court for drinks and pintxos.
Explore Casco Viejo
Ribera Market is at the bottom of Casco Viejo, Bilbao’s Old Quarter or Old Town. It’s a great starting point for exploring the rest of the area. Casco Viejo is also known as Las Siete Calles, or Seven Streets, in Spanish. The neighborhood is made up of seven streets (Somera, Artekale, Tendería, Belostikale, Carnicería Vieja, Barrenkale, and Barrenkale Barrena), with some small alleys connecting them, and it used to be the center of commerce and port activities. It’s just as lively today, with charming historic streets, pintxo bars, and shops.
There’s lots to discover here. One of the first things people notice when crossing the river into the Old Quarter is the Teatro Arriaga. The only way to see the inside is to either attend a show or take a guided tour. For only €5, the 50-minute guided tour is well worth it and is offered in English, Spanish, and Basque. You’ll see rooms that aren’t available to the public and the opera’s costume collection.
Like other Spanish cities, there’s a central plaza in Bilbao – Plaza Nueva. It gets crowded with tourists and locals on the weekends, but it’s a fantastic place to grab a drink and people watch.
If you haven’t gotten tired of cathedrals yet, pop into the Santiago Cathedral for €6. Your ticket also includes admission to the Church of San Antón, which is two blocks away from the cathedral. The Santiago Cathedral is a landmark on the Northern Way of the Camino de Santiago (also known as the Camino del Norte).
The Bilbao City Hall is on the outskirts of Casco Viejo, where the San Agustín convent used to be. The city hall is beautiful inside and out. The Arab Hall, bathed in red and gold, is a particular standout. Unfortunately, the only way to visit the City Hall is with a guided tour that’s only given in Spanish or Basque. However, the Bilbao Council website offers a virtual tour that you can check out at any time.
Bilbao is surrounded by hills and mountains. Walk up one of those hills to the Basilica of Begoña, which is open to the public. Locals consider the Virgin Begoña to be the guardian of the city. Every August 15th and October 11th, residents of Bilbao and Biscay go on a pilgrimage, walking through the night to honor the saint and attend mass at the basilica.
There are two places where you can get magnificent views of Bilbao. The first is Etxebarria Park, which is a short uphill walk from Plaza Nueva. For the best views, you’ll need to take a longer walk or ride the funicular up to Mount Artxanda.
While you can go into Casco Viejo with a plan to hit up all these different sights, it’s just as enjoyable when you wander around aimlessly. See where your feet and interest take you. You’ll likely run across many of the attractions listed above anyway.
Dine on more pintxos or try Bilbao’s global cuisine
When you’re ready for dinner, I’ve got a few options for you. Continue indulging in pintxos by going bar hopping. Motrikes is known for its mushroom pintxos, which they grill to order. Bacaicoa also does delicious mushrooms, as well as chorizo and croquettes. La Viña del Ensanche is a modern pintxo bar that also offers a €45 tasting menu. Highlights include the melt-in-your-mouth ham with fresh ciabatta, Iberian pork cheeks, and Basque cheesecake.
For a sit-down dinner, Restaurante Assafir is an excellent, mid-priced Moroccan restaurant around the corner from the Guggenheim. Most entrees are priced between €10 and €17. They also have a two-person tasting menu for €39.90, which includes a starter, entree, bread, dessert, and coffee or tea.
Pizzeria Trozo has some of the best pizza in Bilbao and and a surprising number of vegan options. They serve up thin crust, wood-fired pizzas with fresh, local ingredients. Pizzas are 40 cm (or 15.7 inches) wide and can serve two to three people, depending on how hungry you are. Most are priced at €14.50. It’s a great option if you’re on a budget.
Another cheap option is India Town, with entrees ranging from €6 to €12. You’ll find all the Indian classics, like samosas, tikka masala, korma, vindaloo, and biryani. Give your tastebuds something different, especially if you’ve been missing spicy food while in Spain.
Atelier Etxanobe is one of the best fine dining experiences you can have in Bilbao. The restaurant has one Michelin star for creatively fusing modern and traditional Basque cooking. If you’re not looking to splurge on their tasting menu, you can order a la carte.
Take a nighttime walk over the Zubizuri Bridge
During the day, Bilbao is beautiful. At night, it’s magical. The river lights up, reflecting the glow of the buildings and streets that line it. One of my favorite things to do in Bilbao is walking the streets that run along the river and crossing over the bridges to go back and forth between the two banks.
Join the many other tourists and locals taking an evening walk by the river and be sure to walk over the Zubizuri bridge. Out of the many structurally interesting bridges that Bilbao has, the Zubizuri stands out for its white steel arch and cables and curved walkway.
Bonus: Find local art and culture at Azkuna Zentroa
Azkuna Zentroa is the perfect evening activity after dinner, since it closes at 9 PM every day. It’s a unique cultural and event center spanning 43,000 square meters. The space used to be a warehouse for wine, oil, and pickling. It closed in the 1970s due to the decline in commercial activity and reopened in 2010 as the space it is today.
The place hosts all kinds of exhibitions, from art to audiovisual. Most are free admission, so walk in and see what’s on display.
The center is also an incredibly designed urban space. Azkuna Zentroa feels industrial and airy, with a high ceiling and exposed beams and columns. One of the key design elements is the 43 columns that support the three buildings inside. They symbolize “the millions of columns and the infinity of cultures, architectures, wars and religions that have crossed mankind throughout history.”
More resources for traveling Spain
- How to Solo Travel Madrid
- Complete One Day in Málaga Itinerary: What to See and Eat
- 8 Best Hostels I Stayed at in Spain