Planning to spend one day in Bilbao? – Here’s my ultimate itinerary to help you make the most of 24 hours in the biggest city in the Basque Country.

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How to spend one day in Bilbao

Visiting Bilbao: All You Need To Know

As the largest city of the Basque Country, Bilbao is a must-stop on any Northern Spain Itinerary. The city is known for its unique blend of contemporary art and traditional Basque architecture.

My Trips to Bilbao

While I have previously visited Bilbao a few times, it’s been almost 5 years since my last Basque Country road trip. So, a city break in Bilbao felt like a long overdue plan. To be honest, this time Bilbao has surprised me quite a lot.

Years ago the city was mostly known for its iconic Guggenheim museum. Nevertheless, with time Bilbao has significantly grown in popularity among international travelers. A huge number of holiday rentals, cute cafes, and top-rated tours have popped up on the city map.

So, this time it has almost felt like a different city, compared to Bilbao I first visited 15 years ago.

What is Bilbao known for

While Bilbao globally ranks for its Guggenheim Museum, the city has also turned into the cultural center of the Basque Country. Bilbao has gone through a significant transformation from an industrial port and the largest city to the headquarters of the Basque identity.

Despite a huge wave of contemporary architecture (including Guggenheim, Zubizuri Bridge, and Isozaki Atea), the old town still preserves its original charm, full of winding cobblestone streets and traditional Basque houses.

Like the rest of the Basque Country, Bilbao is known for its unique dining experiences, including the pintxo culture and famous Michelin-star restaurants.

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The streets of Bilbao
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The building of the Basque government in Bilbao

How many days to spend in Bilbao

You need at least one day in Bilbao to get a quick glimpse of the city. However, Bilbao is a great starting point for numerous day trips across the Basque Country. So, you can easily stay around for a long weekend or even a week.

Where to stay in Bilbao

Bilbao offers a wide range of accommodations from luxury hotels to budget-friendly stays. The trendiest hotels in the city are Carlton, Ilunion San Mamés, and Meliá Bilbao. The popular mid-range picks are Hotel Gran Bilbao, Sercotel Ayala, Hotel Artetxe, and Pensión Plaza Nueva.

This time, I have chosen for my stay in Bilbao a nice flat in the city center, Inside Bilbao Apartments (liked both the location and the interiors).

Parking in Bilbao

The most budget-friendly parking in Bilbao is Interparking Plaza Euskadi, located right by the Guggenheim Museum. You will pay around 15,60 euros per 24 hours (if you register and download the App before entering the parking it will be 13,95 euros).

Compared to the parking rates in the nearest San Sebastian, and some other major Spanish cities, this is incredibly budget-friendly.

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One day in Bilbao

Unique Bilbao Tours Not to Miss:

If you want to make the most of your one day in Bilbao, consider booking one of the following top-rated tours with local guides to show you around:

For Bilbao Museums, I also recommend Tiqets (by following this link you can use the code ATC5 for an extra 5% discount / not applicable for bundles & day passes).

One Day in Bilbao Itinerary

Breakfast in Bilbao

While I started my one day in Bilbao with a delicious coffee and avocado toast at Arvo Coffee & Pants, I also stopped at Arrese Bilbao 1852 to try the traditional local bakery – Bollo de mantequilla (e.g. a brioche with buttercream) and Pastel Vasco (e.g. a traditional sweet pastry filled with a vanilla pastry cream).

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Breakfast at Arvo Coffee & Pants
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Trying the typical Bollo de Mantequilla in Bilbao

Museum of Fine Arts

My first sightseeing stop for this day in Bilbao was the Museum of Fine Arts, known for housing a unique collection of artworks from the Middle Ages to modern times. While this place would not make it to my list of favorite museums in Spain, I appreciate its free entrance, which makes art accessible to everyone.

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One Day in Bilbao Itinerary – Museum of Fine Arts

The Guggenheim Museum

My next stop for the day was the famous Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao – an architectural gem created by Frank Gehry. Nearby its main building, you should also check out the giant floral “Puppy” sculpture by Jeff Koons and the “Spider” sculpture by Louise Bourgeois.

As to the collections of The Guggenheim Museum… well, first-timers in Bilbao should give it a try. For me, with most of the modern art museums, it’s either hit or miss. For instance, I loved MoMa in New York and Moco in Barcelona but did not like Pompidou in Paris. With the Guggenheim Museum, I felt like it was 50/50. Although from the architectural point of view, it´s one of the most iconic Spanish landmarks, for sure.

Plus, if traveling during the peak season, you might want to book your entrance in advance:

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Guggenheim Museum – a must-stop for a day in Bilbao
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The giant floral “Puppy” sculpture by Jeff Koons

Lunch in Bilbao

The top famous Bilbao Michelin-star restaurants are Azurmendi, Mina, Atelier Etxanobe, and Ola Martin Berasategui. Popular mid-range picks are La Viña del Ensanche, Arandia de Julen, Casa Leotta Ajuriaguerra, and Agape.

As I have previously mentioned, Bilbao is known as a unique pintxo destination. In case you are not familiar with this concept – pintxos are the small snacks laid in front of you in the bars of Northern Spain. The top famous pintxo city is still San Sebastian, but Bilbao is the second-best one with popular places like Gure Toki, El Globo, Sorginzulo, and Antxoa Taberna.

During my one day in Bilbao, I left pintxos for dinner while making a stop at Iturriza Taberna (in the Old City Center of Bilbao).

Another popular location to grab a bite in Bilbao is Mercado de La Ribera, known as one of the largest covered markets in Europe.

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One day in Bilbao

Itsasmuseum

Since I love exploring lesser-known museums in Spain, I could not miss a chance to visit Itsasmuseum in Bilbao.

While being a maritime museum, this place shows off the cultural heritage of the Basques and its connection to the ocean. I enjoyed the Itsasmuseum´s expositions, which focused on the history of Bilbao’s port, shipbuilding industry, maritime, and trade.

You can get the tickets for Itsasmuseum here.

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Itsasmuseum – one of the most unique museums in Bilbao

Azkuna Zentroa

Another must-stop on any 1-day Bilbao itinerary is Azkuna Zentroa.

This place was originally a wine warehouse, but after the transformation carried out by the French architect Philippe Starck, it has been turned into a modern Cultural Center. During my visit, I got to enjoy the temporary exposition “The Artwork as a Living System” – the project connecting art and nature via virtual, responsive, and interactive techniques. You can get a quick glimpse on my IG.

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Visiting Azkuna Zentroa during my one day in Bilbao
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A temporary exposition “The Artwork as a Living System”

Old City Center & Pintxos

A stroll through the Old City Center felt like a perfect way to wrap up my day in Bilbao.

Do not miss the cathedral Catedral de Santiago, Plaza Nueva Square, and Teatro Arriaga. I have also enjoyed pintxos at Iturriza Taberna´ with a glass of local wine ( this bar is conveniently set right in the heart of Bilbao´s Old City Center).

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Exploring the streets of Bilbao
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Pintxos at Iturriza Taberna

Jazz Cultural Theatre of Bilbao

If visiting Bilbao during the weekend, do not miss the unique performances at the Jazz Cultural Theatre of Bilbao.

Created by American jazz musician, pianist, and educator Joshua Edelman, this venue is one of the most unique places in the jazz scene of Bilbao (and the whole of Spain). Joshua organizes stunning performances combining jazz with Basque folk music and Latin motives. So, if your dates overlap, a cozy jazz concert might easily be your best evening plan in Bilbao.

You can follow the Jazz Cultural Theatre of Bilbao on Facebook or Instagram to find out about their current events.

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Meeting Joshua Edelman at the Jazz Cultural Theatre of Bilbao

Bilbao or San Sebastian?

Another popular question everyone asks while planning any trip to Northern Spain is “ Which city is better, Bilbao or San Sebastian? ” – I´d say it’s very much like Madrid or Barcelona. Both Bilbao and San Sebastian are unique in terms of architecture & landmarks, so consider combining your one day in Bilbao with a day in San Sebastian.

On a more personal note, San Sebastian used to be one of my all-time favorites in Spain. However, this one day in Bilbao felt epic – so, now my answer on picking only one of the two Basque cities is not as certain. By and large, San Sebastian overruns Bilbao in terms of beautiful landscapes and holiday vibes, while Bilbao wins travelers over with its rich cultural agenda, budget-friendly accommodations, and accessible parking.

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Read more about my one day in San Sebastian

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