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  • Writer's pictureMonique Martinez

Destination Guide: Bilbao

Spain’s Basque region is known for its mountainous landscape, beautiful beaches, and deep-rooted traditions. Follow this guide to get the most out of your Bilbao vacation including stay recommendations, local dining tips, and activities.

What to do

Beaches and Nature

In warmer months, swimmers and surfers take advantage of the beautiful beaches along the Basque coast. Playa de Gorliz, Las Arenas Beach, and Arrietara-Atxabiribil Beach are characterized by soft sand, clear waters, and picturesque cliffs. Large rocks on the sand serve as the perfect sunbathing spots. If you’re up for a bit of a drive or a day trip tour, head to San Sebastian, known for Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta.

View of the Sopela beach from above with cliffs in the background
Arrietara-Atxabiribil Beach, Sopela

For hikers, Game of Thrones fans, and history buffs alike, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a must (plus, it’s free! Just pick a time to visit and present your barcode). A stone bridge connects the mainland and island where you’ll climb 241 steps to the top of what is the Targaryan fortress known as “Dragonstone.” You won’t be able to ride a dragon, but you can make a wish after ringing the church’s bell three times.

Stone bridge surrounded by water connecting island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe to the mainland
View from San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

The social scene and Old Town

On Thursdays, Abando really comes to life with Pintxopote (tapa and drink). Locals flood the streets nearing the end of the work week ready for a pintxo, pote, and good conversation. I recommend El Globo Taberna for the richest-tasting and most unique pintxos. Accompany your pintxos with a beer or kalimotxo, a mix of red wine and cola.

Finally, take a stroll through the Old Town, where you can cross the suspended bridge from Getxo over the Nervion River to Portugalete. Once on the other side, order a thick hot chocolate and churros at Miramar with a view.

Churro dipped in hot chocolate on a table from Miramar in Bilbao Old Town
Hot chocolate from Miramar

Where to stay

For solo travelers, couples, and young adults on a budget, Latroupe La Granja is an excellent option with both shared and private rooms. Its location across from the Abando metro station, provides plenty of opportunities to explore the city. The hostel hosts daily events including karaoke, trivia, game nights, movie nights, pub crawls, free tours, and more. The lobby and bar are open to guests and non-guests alike. After walking around Abando or Old Town, it’s a welcoming hideaway to recover with a drink.

For a luxurious experience in the Basque country, check in to the Gran Hotel Domine, a 5-star design hotel located across the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

Close up of the Guggenheim Bilbao architecture
The Guggenheim Bilbao

The hotel’s warm, sophisticated design and artistic accents fit perfectly within the design district. Housing two restaurants and a cocktail bar, guests don’t need to go far for a taste of Basque cuisine, however the 24-hour front desk is always happy to provide recommendations. If you book your stay at the Gran Hotel Domine with me, you’ll receive the following perks:

• Daily Breakfast for Two

• $100 Hotel Credit per Stay (to be used on services such as spa, dining, or selected amenities valued at $100 or more)

• Hotel Welcome Amenity and Welcome Note from the General Manager on behalf of Fora

• Complimentary In-Room Internet

• Room Upgrade (subject to availability)

• Priority Check-in and Check-out (subject to availability)

What to eat

Pintxos are a great option if you’re not sure what you’re craving. Usually served on bread, they may be piled with a type of meat, a spread, some cheese, and other toppings. For about 2-3 euros each, you can try as many combinations as you’d like.

"Pintxo" or "tapa" pictured on a plate
Pintxo from Ledesma No. 5

Pintxos are perfect for a quick bite, but sometimes you want to sit and enjoy a full meal. All over Spain, you can find daily menus for about 9-13 euros per person. The menus include a handful of options for a starter, entrée, dessert or coffee, and drink (usually wine). Yes, you get all that for the price of a salad in the US. If you’re not feeling the select menu options, you can always order a la carte.

How to get around

The metro, tram, and bus systems are well-connected, cheap (costing less than 1 euro one way), and very convenient for getting around Bilbao and the surrounding areas. The metro cars in Bilbao are probably some of the cleanest and don’t get as crowded as the New York Subway or London Tube. Every station is also accessible with either interior or exterior elevators.

Traveling by car can be fairly expensive in Spain (as compared to the US), with gas costing about 1.5-1.8 euros per liter. Multiply that by 4, and that’s at least 6 euros per gallon, depending on the type of gas. If you plan on staying in the city, it’s best to ditch the car and rely on public transportation to get around.

Public plaza in Bilbao lined with bars and small tapas restaurants
Plaza Nueva

Know before you go

The Spaniards are serious about their siesta. Most businesses close around 2 pm for a 2-hour lunch break and reopen later to finish the workday. Many restaurants also stop serving lunch to close around 4pm, reopening at 7pm for dinner. If you get caught looking for food during the siesta period, you can still find cafes, bars, or more casual dining options that stay open all day. Pintxos are always available pretty much anywhere so when in doubt eat some pintxos!

Bilbao has two official languages: Spanish and Basque. Though Spanish is usually the default, bits of Basque words and phrases are commonly used as greetings and thanks. Think of “agur” as “ciao;” you’ll often hear it from employees as you leave a coffee shop or convenience store, just say it back! “Thank you” is “eskerrik asko.” It’s a little trickier to pronounce than “agur,” but once you’ve heard it aloud, it’ll roll off the tongue.

Plan your visit

Now that you’re ready to discover Bilbao with this destination guide, let me take care of the planning so you can basque in your vacation stress-free.

For hotel bookings and a personalized itinerary, check out my offered plans here. If you have an existing hotel booking and would like to know if additional perks can be applied to your reservation, feel free to shoot me an email!

Fora partner hotels can be found here.



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