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Amazing 3 Days in Bilbao Itinerary

Amazing 3 Days in Bilbao Itinerary

If you are planning a trip around the Basque Country, 3 days in Bilbao is a good amount of time to get to know the city. 

Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country and is a wonderful place to use as a base for exploring more of the region.

Whether you want to visit nearby beaches like Zarautz or you want to head to the glamorous city of San Sebastian, Bilbao is the jumping off point.

How Many Days in Bilbao?

The absolute minimum amount of time to get to experience Bilbao is two full days. Two full days will allow you to see the main sites, eat at tons of great pintxos bars, and explore a few of the different neighborhoods.

Three days is an ideal amount of time. This will allow you to explore the best that the city has to offer and even hop on the train to explore the suburban neighborhoods and the beach.

With five days in Bilbao, you can see everything there is to see as a tourist. You can explore the hiking trails, visit the beaches, and even explore one or two Bilbao day trips.

How to Get to Bilbao

Getting to Bilbao is easy since it is one of the country’s larger cities. There is a well-connected train station which you can get to from Zaragoza.

There is an airport which connects you to the rest of Spain with the budget airline Vueling. You can also fly to Bilbao with carriers like Wizz and Ryanair from destinations all over Europe.

If you are coming from further afield, the best option is to fly into major hubs in Spain like Madrid Airport or Barcelona El Prat. From here you can get a bullet train to Zaragoza and then a second train to Bilbao. Or you can catch a quick flight straight to Bilbao.

Check out our guide to trains in Spain so that you know which lines to book to get there the quickest. Alternatively, if you plan to explore the coast as well as Bilbao, hiring a car in Spain is the best option.

nervion river in Bilbao with mountains in the distance and colorful buildings on the right side lining the waterfront.

The Nervion River cuts through the new and old town of Bilbao and is a nice place to explore while visiting.

3 Days in Bilbao Itinerary

You can pack a lot into a 3 day Bilbao itinerary. The city is bustling, but compact. You can explore a lot on foot, especially if you base yourself in the Casco Viejo or the old town neighborhood.

My personal favorite places to stay in Bilbao are the NYX Hotel, Petit Palace Arana, and Sercotel Arenal. These are the best located, the cleanest, and best hotels for the price. You are right in the middle of the old town and the liveliness along the Nervión River.

Day One in Bilbao

On your first day in Bilbao, get your bearings and explore the Casco Viejo.

Casco Viejo

Walk down Posta Kalea from the riverfront and get lost amongst the narrow cobbled streets. The most famous area here is known as the “seven streets” which are the main streets that all run parallel to each other and take you to the market.

These are the oldest streets in the city and are home to some of the best bars and restaurants. Walk through in the morning to find a place for a good cup of coffee. Head back through at lunch time for snacks and cold beers and return in the evenings for a great buzz and delicious pintxos.

At the end of all of the seven streets, you’ll find yourself at the Arcos de la Ribera. This covered walkway is home to some absolutely stunning murals that explore the history of Bilbao.

If you want to tour the area with a knowledgeable guide, consider taking a tour which includes stops at most of the places on this first day Bilbao itinerary.

Portico with murals on the ceilings and sunlight peaking through to create arch-shaped shadows on the ground.

Los Arcos de La Ribera are filled with stunning murals to explore.

La Ribera Market

While you’re exploring this part of the city, be sure to stop at Erribera merkatua, the Basque name for La Ribera Market.

This market has two sides. On one side, you can buy fresh produce, raw an cured meats, cheeses, and other dairy products. There is a fish section, a dry foods section, and several stalls devoted entirely to olives.

On the other side of the market, you’ll find prepared foods. This is one of the most popular places in the city to come for pintxos, so when you head here, come hungry.

You can grab a beer or a glass of wine from the bar and then stop at a few of the different stalls to fill up on everything from cured meats to croquettes and cooked fish.

St. James Cathedral

St. James Cathedral or Basílica Catedral de Santiago, is the main cathedral in the Casco Viejo of Bilbao. It is the location where I finished my most recent journey along the Camino de Santiago which started at the French border and took me over 100 miles to Bilbao.

It was built between the 14th and 15th centuries, making it one of the oldest buildings in Bilbao. In 2015, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

If you like history, it’s well worth exploring the St. James Cathedral with a guide. Otherwise, you can grab an audioguide with your entrance ticket to the church and self-tour.

La Ribera Market in Bilbao which sits right on the riverfront with water to the right, a must visit during 3 days in bilbao.

La Ribera Market in Bilbao is a fun place to eat and also get to know more about the cuisine in Basque Country.

Archeological Museum of Bilbao

The Archeological Museum of Bilbao is a fantastic museum to explore. Located inside the beautiful Villa de Bilbao, this is one of the best museums in the city for both the architecture and what the museum houses, of course.

It is packed with history and art some of which dates back as far as the 6th century BC. It’s one of the best places to come to learn more about Basque history.

The museum building was originally the first Jesuit church and school in the city. It was built between 1610 and 1630 and is a stunning and peaceful place to spend some time while exploring Bilbao in 3 days.

Plaza Nueva

This is a fun place to come in the evenings when all of the bars are open and bustling with customers. This little plaza is home to more than 20 different pintxos bars and restaurants.

If you want to sample this very Basque experience, this is a good place to have it. Especially during the summer when dining al fresco in Spain is basically a requirement.

A few places to add to your list are Bertoko Berria, Víctor Montes jatetxea, and Sorgínzulo

a large open plaza with blue umbrellas over tables along the edges and bright blue skies above.

Plaza Nueva is a beautiful plaza to enjoy a few pintxos and drinks.

Day Two of a 3 Day Bilbao Itinerary

It’s your second day of your 3 days in Bilbao. Hopefully you didn’t overindulge in the house Rioja the night before (it really leaves a mark!).

You’ll want to start the day relatively early so you can fit all of the best museums into your day!

Guggenheim Museum

If there is one thing not to miss when visiting Bilbao, it’s the Guggenheim Museum.

It is an absolute must to pre-book your tickets, especially if you are visiting on a weekend or during the summer.

Designed by Canadian-American architect, Frank Gehry, this modern and contemporary art museum is a wonderful place to explore. If you want to photograph it, head across the river for the best views.

If you want to learn more about the architecture and the permanent exhibits here, consider taking a guided tour.

Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao

While the Guggenheim is glamorous, the Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao is a little bit more demure. It’s in a nondescript brick building on the western edge of the city center. 

The museum has a combination of beautiful fine art paintings from Spanish greats like El Greco, Goya, Sorolla, and Ribera. It also has a fantastic fine arts collection from Basque artists.

But it is the sculptures and contemporary art exhibits that make this worth the small €7 to explore it all.

Iturrizar Parkea

Just outside of the Bilbao Museum of Fine Arts is the park, Iturrizar Parkea. This city park has different trails, a small pond, and plenty of benches in the sunshine to relax in.

While in Bilbao for a week, I spent many sunny afternoons here with a book or with a salad for lunch from one of the nearby supermarkets.

slice of bread with meat and fish on top of it on a white plate with a fork on the left and a knife on the right.

There are so many delicious pintxos bars to explore in Bilbao, but Cafe Iruña is definitely a favorite.

Cafe Iruña

If you want to have some tapas while you’re in this part of Bilbao, you should not miss stopping at Cafe Iruña. It is one of the oldest and most famous bars in Bilbao, and for good reason.

The lamb skewers are the dish to had and don’t consider sharing with your travel partners. After you take your first bite you’ll be glad you got at least one each. They have a huge selection of pintxos including fresh tortilla and bacalao al pil pil (cod with a garlic sauce).

They have a full bar with wine from the region, beer on draft, fantastic vermút, and plenty of sodas.

Watch a Futbol Match

For a country as passionate about futbol as Spain is, the Basque take it to the next level.

Athletic Bilbao is the team of the city and indeed for much of the region. They pride themselves on having a team made entirely of homegrown players which makes the fans even more loyal to this bastion of Basque pride. 

Home games take place at the San Mames Stadium located right on the west side of the city center. It is easy to reach by bus or on foot from most parts of the city. You can buy tickets for home games on their website here.

If there isn’t a home game during your 3 days in Bilbao, you can still visit the stadium and Athletic Bilbao Museum. You entry ticket takes you through the club’s history as well as out onto the field and up into the president’s box.

You can arrive to the stadium during museum hours and purchase your ticket on arrival. You don’t need to prebook tickets to the museum.

inside of the athletic bilbao stadium on a stadium tour so there are no fans or players inside, it is empty with light entering from the top onto the perfectly manicured grass.

Taking a tour of the Athletic Bilbao stadium is a great way to spend some of your time in the city.

Day Three of 3 Days in Bilbao

In the suburbs of Bilbao lies one of the best experiences you can have in a short 3 days in Bilbao.

Vizcaya Bridge

Hop on the metro to Getxo for a glimpse of this architectural masterpiece. Vizcaya Bridge is the first suspension bridge in the world to carry both passengers and cars.

Of course, since it was first built back in 1893, there have been more bridges like this built around the world. But this one is still in operation and you can take an elevator to the top and watch the suspension car move below.

Your ticket to the top of the bridge also includes a roundtrip ride on the suspension car so you can explore the other side of the waterway as well in Portugalete.

Portugalete

Across the Vizcaya Bridge from Getxo is the neighborhood of Portugalete. It is a cute neighborhood with colorful buildings and lots of stairs. So many stairs, in fact, that if you get tired, you can hop on an escalator to go up to the hills instead.

Batzoki is a fantastic bar and place to grab some food while you’re on this side of the Nervión River. Try the tortilla, the house bacalao (salted cod), and the oxtail stew.

top of vizcaya bridge in bilbao

The top of Vizcaya Bridge is a fun place to explore on your 3 days in Bilbao.

Bilbao Beaches

When you head out here, be sure to pack your bathing suit and a towel. Cross back over the Vizcaya Bridge and follow the waterfront path to the left. There is a beautiful sidewalk path that will take you all the way to the beaches of Bilbao.

The walk is flat, but can take about 30 minutes from Vizcaya Bridge. If you don’t want to walk, you can get an Uber or other ride hailing apps in Spain to get a taxi directly to the beach.

Playa de Ereaga is the first beach you come to and has tons of space to relax. There are beach volleyball games here often, especially on weekends in summer. 

If you want a calmer and quieter view, carry on until you get to Arrigunaga Beach. This is a perfect little cove where you can happily end your 3 days in Bilbao itinerary.

Explore Bilbao in Three Days