What you will cover in 1 day in Bilbao
Bilbao is a great city for a single day trip, it is compact and very doable. On your 1 day trip to Bilbao you will stick close to the river that winds its way through Bilbao. You will stroll from the museum district in the center of Bilbao to the old town, just slightly downstream. Make sure to look up as you walk, architecture is all around you.
First priority to visit in 1 day:
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
The Guggenheim in Bilbao is an extraordinary building architecturally, both in and out. It is a museum housing both modern and contemporary art. The exhibits usually take only about 1.5-2 hours to get around. But I think the biggest attraction here is the building itself. It is covered in thin titanium sheets that change color with the weather conditions.
Frank Gehry the architect made the lines of the Guggenheim's design to appear like they flow into the river and the Zubizuri bridge just outside its walls. You must take your time to marvel at the design and walk around the outside.
It is also good to know that enough visitors call this a 5 star building with 4 star art inside! So decide if you want to roam the grounds for free (there is spectacular art outside) or spend 16 euros to enter.
The Guggenheim has a Michelin star restaurant, a nice cafe, and an excellent bookstore too.
Casco Viejo (Old Town)
Bilbao’s old town has seven original streets which date back to the 1400’s. Its streets are now full of pintxo bars, their goods displayed on the counters for you to point and choose, as well as small boutique shops and restaurants.
Bilbao has an alternative, edgy vibe about it, unsurprising with industry at the core of its being. Casco Viejo is a great area to really immerse yourself in that atmosphere.
Next priority to visit:
Bilbao Fine Arts Museum
The fine arts museum is not far from the Guggenheim in Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park. It houses more than 10,000 pieces ranging in both period and medium. Everything from sculptures to works on papers from the 12th century to present day. Including Van Gogh, Picasso and Warhol, just to name a few. You can enter the permanent exhibits for free any day (except Thursdays when the museum is closed) from 6:00-8:00 PM
In the Casco Vieja is this fully enclosed square accessible through one of many arches. It is completely surrounded by pintxos bars, each claiming to be better and more world renowned than the last.
The atmosphere in the plaza is irresistible. It’s noisy and energetic and very, very Spanish. And if you’re here on a Sunday morning the plaza transforms into a busy flea market.
How to spend your 1 evening in Bilbao
Stick to Casco Viejo. The same pintxos places and bars come even more alive once the sun sets. Just pick a spot and watch life pass by or pass with it making yourself a bar crawl through the pintxo spots.
What you cannot do in a day in Bilbao
A funicular takes you to the top of Mount Artxanda where you get a view of the city, the river and its mountainous backdrop. However, I don't see that you will have time to go up. So I encourage a close-up view of the architecture in the city being your priority during the day.
Already having two museums on a one day itinerary is a lot so I’ve left this one off. Museum Vasco focuses on Basque cultural exhibits.
Outside Bilbao there are some fantastic beaches including the Punta Galea cliffside walk. If you are in Bilbao longer you should keep a seaside visit in mind.
Bilbao is not picture perfect, it is rather industrial in appearance with the port supporting much of its economy both historically and into present day. But don’t let that discourage you, Bilbao makes up for its looks with its hipster charm and pintxo culture.
Tips to visit Bilbao in a day
Do I need advance booking of Attractions?
Only for the Guggenheim. Everyone who comes to Bilbao goes to the Guggenheim so make sure to book online in advance; it only takes a couple of minutes. The lines in August especially, are crazy! Elsewhere in Bilbao you can just turn up and buy a ticket.
How to travel within Bilbao?
Bilbao is very walkable. Getting around the suggested stops in the earlier post above will take you minimal time by foot and will also allow you to walk along the scenic riverside. However, there are buses, three metro lines and trams. A single ride costs just €0.90
Should I buy a Bilbao City card?
My vote is a 'no' for the city card of Bilbao. A 24-hour Bilbao card costs €30.00, gets you into both museums, as well as unlimited rides on public transport and a walking tour. The Guggenheim costs €16.00 and the Fine Arts Museum €9.00, check the list to see if there are other spots that interest you which might make the card worth getting.
Should I take the Bilbao city sightseeing bus?
Your call! The bus turistikoa costs €14.00 for a single adult pass and does bring you around the major spots worth seeing throughout the city. Generally, this company gets good reviews for having nice staff and a clear guide. Known though that the bus comes only once an hour, so decide if you’d like to wait that long before hopping off.
Recommendation on walking tours
In a small, walkable city like Bilbao a walking tour can be a great option to really get the most bang for your buck and get a nice overview of the city and its history. A tour here can take just 90 minutes so could fit nicely into a one day trip.
Bilbao in a day
Most people come to Bilbao to visit Guggenheim or use Bilbao as a transit point before heading to other towns in Basque Country. One day is enough to soak in the attractions of Bilbao. You can spend the rest of your holiday either at San Sebastian or preferably in one of the smaller towns of Basque Country
Planning your day in Bilbao
If you are in Bilbao for a day, budget for at least 4 hours to visit the Guggenheim museum. For lunch, take the Euskotren Tranbia tram to the old town. Bilbao’s old town, especially areas around Plaza Nueva and Jardines Street have atmospheric restaurants serving famed Basque cuisine. A “menú del día” is a must-do.
Post lunch, you can explore Casco Viejo, the medieval old town of Bilbao. Exploring old town is to explore Las Siete Calles, Bilbao’s original Seven Streets. These pedestrian-only streets have a history of over 700 years and have managed to retain their charm. Do not miss the Arriaga Theatre, near the old bridge. The facade of Arriaga Theatre was inspired by the Paris Opera House.
Reserve your evening for Pintxos trail – hopping from one bar to another relishing the pintxos and drinking Txakoli. Pintxos are finger foods served at all the local bars throughout the Basque Country. Txakoli is fruity white wine made with hondarrabi zuri grapes, unique to Basque country.
Bilbao Must see and do
The opening of Guggenheim Museum was successful in rejuvenating Bilbao in what is now documented as the Guggenheim effect. Twenty years ago, Bilbao had become an industrial wasteland. Town authorities bet on a novel idea of commissioning an art museum, the Guggenheim Museum, to rejuvenate the city. By all accounts the bet has paid off and Bilbao has been able to reinvent itself as a high tech city. The museum has managed to attract more than 25 million visitors since opening in 1997.
Set on the edge of the Nervión River, the building housing Guggenheim Museum is as much an attraction as the showpieces housed in the Museum. The building was designed by Frank Gehry and is ranked as one of the great buildings of the 20th Century. The building with its colourful intertwined curves is made of limestone and glass, and gets accentuated by an extraordinary play of light. The exterior of the building houses several art installations including a statue of a giant spider and the Jeff Koon designed colourful and large floral statue of "Puppy".
If you are in Bilbao as a transit and just want to visit the museum, get on the Bizkaibus #A3247 which will drop you right next to the museum. Since, you are in Bilbao just for a day, book your tickets online especially if you want to visit in the morning. You can spend as much time as you want at the museum. In case the museum gets overwhelming, you can take a break and revisit the museum as long as you collect the wristband at the exit.
There are free conducted tours of the museum but the hours vary. Make sure to pick the free audio guide at the entrance. You will need it as you explore the large museum. Also bear in mind that Bilbao’s Guggenheim relies too much on temporary exhibitions. If you are lucky a great art exhibit may be scheduled, enhancing your experience.
If you are visiting with children, it is normal for them to get overwhelmed by the exhibits. Take a break either at the interesting kids craft section or at the kids park situated adjacent to the museum.
Museo de Bellas Artes
Most day visitors to Bilbao miss the Museo de Bellas Artes. That is rather unfortunate as the 30 rooms of the museum house some extraordinary exhibits from medieval to modern. Visit the museum to admire works of El Greco, Goya, Gauguin and Picasso and many more, the museum is an engaging way to spend a morning or afternoon.
You may even need longer as there are more than 9,000 pieces on show, some of which date back to the 12th century. The museum also runs unique temporary exhibitions, so check the museum website for details.
After the Guggenheim museum, another must-do at Bilbao is the pintxo trail. Spain’s Basque country has made a name for itself as a foodie paradise. Even if you do not visit any of the famed Michelin starred restaurants, you must visit pintxo bars.
Pintxo is a small bite held together with a small wooden stick known as a pintxo and served alongside txakoli in the bars of Basque country. The word Pintxos comes from the Spanish verb ‘pinchar’, which means ‘to pierce’ as traditionally toothpicks were used to keep the snack from falling off the bread.
If you have time go for a guided Pintxo tour. If not, at least visit some of the pintxo bars listed here. If you really short of time and have come to Bilbao just to visit the Guggenheim museum, visit pintxo bars in the Abandoibarra area, the neighbourhood surrounding the Guggenheim museum.