Wondering how to spend 2 days in Bilbao?
The port city of Bilbao in northern Spain has only recently become a popular destination for tourists. Its location is scenic, surrounded by rolling hills and featuring an incredible coastline within walking distance.
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Yet historically, it has been known as an industrial region with little to appeal to travelers.
Yet all that changed with the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997. Its appeal led to a tourism surge and a city transformation.
Its arts scene has since developed significantly, and Bilbao also boasts some of the finest architecture in the world. A mecca for foodies, the city has a unique 19 Michelin-starred eateries, rivaling major cities across the globe.
Are you planning a break in the Basque country and wondering what to do in Bilbao in 2 days? Then this guide is designed to help.
We’ve put together a detailed itinerary covering every moment of your visit so that you can see all of the city’s main attractions.
With tips for the best places to eat and stay – no matter what your budget – you’ll discover everything you need to know about this exciting and unusual destination.
On the first of your 2 days in Bilbao, you’ll be visiting the many historical attractions in the old town, people-watching at the city’s market, then strolling along the scenic river estuary.
Start your day at The Beetle Bar. This cool little cafe/bar just a short walk from the Casco Viejo metro station has a reputation for serving the best breakfasts in town – the perfect fuel for a day of sightseeing!
Now it’s time to explore the famous Seven Streets that form the heart of Casco Viejo. Dating back to the 15th century, these dark lanes originally made up Bilbao’s commercial center.
Today, they are lined with many boutiques, little squares, and bars serving pintxos (the Basque version of tapas). Look out for the many churches dotted throughout the old town.
These include the seventeenth-century Parish Church of St John and the baroque church of San Nicolás. Here you can see the 3-meter-high (10ft) water levels from a significant flood that hit the city in 1983 and destroyed much of its industry.
Also worth a visit is the Iglesia de San Anton located on the river bank. This 15th-century church is so important to the city that it appears on Bilbao’s coat of arms.
The main religious building to visit here is the UNESCO-designated Santiago Cathedral, Bilbao’s oldest building. Built in Gothic style, it has three naves, impressive vaulted ceilings, and beautiful cloisters and choir stalls.
Overlooking the old town is the Basilica de Begona. It is located on the site of an old shrine where it is said that the Virgin Mary appeared in the early 1500s.
Its Renaissance-style façade and triumphal arch are pretty beautiful, and inside, you can see a Neo-Classical main altarpiece and a statue of the Virgin Begoña, Biscay’s patron saint. It takes just 20 minutes to reach the basilica using the footpath, or you can use the elevator behind the church of San Nicolás.
For lunch, head to the hip district of Bilbao La Vieja, locally known as Bilbi. There are plenty of great eateries to choose from and lots of trendy bars at which to enjoy a drink or two.
It’s always fun to visit the main market of any city you visit, so after lunch, take the 5-minute walk to La Ribera Market.
Food plays an essential part in Basque culture, so it’s pretty fascinating to see for yourself all the fantastic fresh produce and local specialties on sale here. Equally enchanting is the opportunity to watch the locals going about their daily lives!
Take a moment to appreciate the scale of the building itself. La Ribera Market is one of the world’s largest covered market halls and covers several floors.
It has a great location overlooking the river- indeed, there are many bars with tables set up outside where you can sit for a drink and admire the views.
To end the afternoon, take a peaceful walk along the beautifully manicured promenade of the Estuary of Bilbao. Paths on both sides give you great views of the city’s skyline and most famous architectural sites.
Look out for the Zubizuri Bridge – a footbridge that crosses the estuary. Once you reach it, you should see signs for the Arxanda Funicular, which will take you to the top of Arxanda Park!
The views on the ride and from the top are exceptional, so this is a great time to take some memorable photos.
It would be unthinkable to spend time in a gastronomic haven like Bilbao without visiting one of its Michelin-starred restaurants. So for your first night, try Mina Restaurant, an intimate venue with just 25 guests per service (making booking essential!).
You can choose to dine at one of the regular tables or sit instead at the ‘barra’, an oak counter in front of the open kitchen where you can watch the chefs at work.
The second of your two days in Bilbao will be devoted to the exceptional artwork displayed in the city, followed by a visit to its Ensanche District.
Head to the Albia Gardens to enjoy breakfast at the popular Café Iruña nearby. Open since 1903, it is exceptionally beautiful inside and a big favorite with locals and visitors alike.
The day’s first stop is Bilbao’s most well-known building, the spectacular Guggenheim Museum.
Outside in the courtyard, you can see several world-famous sculptures, including an enormous flowering Puppy; a 9-meter (30 feet) Maman spider; the Tall Tree, and the Eye, made up of 73 reflective spheres; and Fujiko Nakaya’s fascinating Fog Sculpture.
The building’s interior is equally incredible, with an excellent collection of modern art and a beautiful glass atrium topped with a metal flower-shaped skylight.
If modern art isn’t quite to your taste, head to the Fine Arts Museum at the entrance of Casilda Park. Here you can see works by Spanish masters like Goya and El Greco, with exhibits from the Middle Ages to the 19th Century.
At the end of the morning, visit one of the city’s most exciting buildings – Azkuna Zentroa. This leisure and culture center was opened in 2010 and looks like a medieval castle from the outside.
Inside, it is designed in contemporary style, with a large foyer filled with beautifully carved pillars. It contains a gym, a glass-bottomed swimming pool, modern art exhibitions, and a lovely rooftop terrace.
The Ensanche (or expansion area) is the perfect place to spend the last afternoon of your weekend in Bilbao. This is the modern side of the city – the region to which it had to expand when its old town’s narrow streets could no longer accommodate the ever-growing population.
Gran Vía is its main street, lined with shops, banks, and impressive stately homes. Undoubtedly Bilbao’s most stylish district, this is a great spot to indulge in some retail therapy while enjoying the diversity of architectural styles on display.
You will also notice the distinctive ‘Fosteritos’ throughout this district. These are the glass entrances to the city’s metro system and get their name from the architect who designed them – Norman Foster.
Also not to be missed is the very cool Department of Health Building, made from glass and steel with a diamond-like, multi-faceted facade.
You simply cannot spend 2 days in Bilbao without experiencing pintxos (Basque tapas). And the best way to do this is to set off on a pintxos crawl!
This involves ordering a drink and a couple of pintxos in one bar, then moving on to another before ordering again!
There are heaps of great pintxos bars in Bilbao. Still, some of the most popular include Taberna Basaras (try the anchovies!), El Huevo Frito (famed for its diced pigs’ trotters), and Cafe Bar Bilbao (serving delicious cod fried in olive oil and garlic).
Just remember that you might not get a table at any of these venues, but it is perfectly acceptable to stand and eat pintxos at the bar.
Are 2 Days In Bilbao Enough?
So is it really possible to see the best of Bilbao in 2 days?
Well, as you can see from this itinerary, it certainly is. Using this guide is a great way to visit all its main attractions and soak up the city’s unique and vibrant atmosphere.
Remember that you will need two full days for this itinerary. If you arrive in Bilbao relatively late in the day – or will be leaving early on the day of departure – then we recommend staying an extra night to ensure you don’t miss a thing.
Where To Stay In Bilbao
There are plenty of accommodation options throughout Bilbao to suit all budgets. Here are some of our favorite places to stay.
Best Budget Accommodation
It’s great when ‘budget’ accommodation doesn’t imply poor quality, and the excellent Latroupe La Granja hostel is a perfect example!
Centrally located and close to all the city’s highlights, it offers a good selection of air-conditioned private and dorm rooms. There is a shared lounge to meet other guests, free wifi, and an excellent continental breakfast served daily.
Best Mid-Range Accommodation
The Hotel Bed4U Bilbao is bright, spotlessly clean, and beautifully decorated in contemporary style. It is within easy walking distance of most of Bilbao’s main attractions, and its rooms feature flat-screen TVs, desks, and private bathrooms.
A continental breakfast is served daily – with gluten-free and vegetarian options – and the hotel has a well-equipped fitness center and bar.
Best Luxury Accommodation
If you want to treat yourself, we recommend splashing out on a stay at the elegant Hotel Carlton. A landmark of the city, it just oozes charm, with rooms furnished in both contemporary and classical styles.
Less than a 10-minute walk from the Guggenheim Museum, it is in an excellent location for sightseeing, with the Moyua Metro Station right next door.
There are all the amenities you might expect from a hotel of this caliber, along with an excellent restaurant serving Basque specialties and international classics.
Final Thoughts On This Itinerary For Two Days In Bilbao
There really is something for everyone in this distinctive Basque city, whether your passion is for art or architecture, history, or fine cuisine.
We hope this guide has helped you decide just how to spend two days in Bilbao and that your visit is both enjoyable and memorable.
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