How to see Bilbao in one day

how to see Bilbao in one day

So you want to know how to see Bilbao in one day? Well, it is a challenge, but possible. I recently spend three days in Bilbao and trust me, there is a lot to see. But still, if someone asked me if it’s worth going to Bilbao for just one day, I would still say yes! A day is enough time to do an old town tour, visit the spectacular Guggenheim museum and enjoy an evening tour of the pintxos bars.

Disclosure: is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and other affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to, Get your Guide and other affiliated sites. Affiliate links may be used in this article on ‘Is Faro worth visiting?’, but they do not impact on the price that you pay and they do help me to get this information to you for free.

The city of Bilbao is manageable on foot and easy to explore solo. There are also some great walking tours which will help you to navigate the city. If you only have one day to spend there, a walking tour will help you to cover the most ground in a small amount of time, and also give you a good insight into the history and culture of Bilbao.

Is Bilbao worth visiting

Photography copyright: All the images in this blog are original photography by Amy Green and are property of @templeseeker (unless otherwise stated). Please do not use these without permission or without giving credit. If you would like to use any of these images please email: for permission. 

Book your Bilbao tickets in advance

My best tip for those of you who just have one day in Bilbao is to book your tickets in advance, at least a day or two before. For the walking tour, I recommend booking a place on the 10am Basque free tour which you can book here. It is a tip based walking tour so you don’t need to pay when you book online, just reserve your place. At the end you tip your guide what you can afford or what you feel the tour was worth.

The walking tour is around 3 hours and so you will probably finish around 1pm, and then you will need at least an hour and a half for lunch and travel time before heading to the Guggenheim, so I would recommend getting Guggenheim tickets for around 3pm or 4pm. The Guggenheim is open until 8pm most days and you will need at least 3 hours to explore the museum with exhibitions inside and out. You can buy your Guggenheim tickets here.

Finally, consider whether you will out out DIY style or if you want to book a guided pintxos tour for the evening in Bilbao. if you do go for a tour, choose one that starts at 6pm or 7pm so that you have enough time to get back to the old town from the Guggenheim. Uber works well in Bilbao so I would suggest booking an Uber to take you back. If your food tour starts at 6pm then you may need to consider condensing your time at the Guggenheim to 2 hours, or even going straight to the Guggenheim from your historical tour, with snacks on hand! Then you can eat your fill on the evening.

Click here to book your evening pintxos tour in Bilbao

What to take for a day in Bilbao

  • Carry a water bottle with you because there are plenty of points in Bilbao where you can refill your drinking water (including a medieval drinking water fountain in the historical centre!)
  • Wear decent walking boots and walking socks as you will be covering a lot of ground on foot in Bilbao.
  • Comfortable clothes for walking are recommended – leggings or walking trousers with a T-shirt or long sleeved linen blouse would be perfect. Avoid skimpy clothing, short skirts and vest tops as it may prevent you from entering into the Cathedral.
  • A good Spanish phrase book wouldn’t go amiss! Bilbao is in the Basque country but they seem to speak more Spanish than Basque here in Bilbao. Learning a few phrases would be helpful.
  • Sun hat and sun cream – the sun can be strong in the North of Spain so it’s a good idea to wear sun cream

Breakfast in Cafeteria Restaurant Pentxo

Start your day in Bilbao with a fantastic Spanish breakfast at Cafateria Restaurant Pentxo on Calle Belostikale on route into the old town. I recommend the Spanish omlette – tortilla de patatas. Go early for around 8-9am so that you are ready to start to walking tour at 10am.

Breakfast in Bilbao tortilla

AM – Bilbao Historical Centre Walking Tour

My walking tour of Bilbao was with Stephane at Basque Free tours, and as I’ve mentioned, this is the one that I recommend. It starts at 10am at the teatro and you need to get there about 15 minutes before it starts to register with your guide. They will have a white umbrella with ‘Basque free tours’ written in blue.

Stephane Basque Free tours Bilbao
‘Basque free tours’ with Stephane, Bilbao

During your old town Bilbao walking tour you will get chance to see many interesting historical sites including…

  • Teatro Arriaga y el Arenal – Baroque style thearte and Art deco style band stand.
  • The Church of San Nicolás – Baroque style Catholic Church (built in 1756) with an octagonal interior that is situated at the start of the old town.
  • Plaza Nueva – A monumental neo-classical style square built in 1821 and lined with fabulous pintxo bars.
  • Bilbao Cathedral and Camino de Santiago UNESCO world heritage site
  • Las Siete Calles and Medieval Bilbao – The historical centre with medieval streets and water fountain.
  • Puente e Iglesia de San Antón – A beautiful view of colourful buildings along the river with the San Anton bridge and the 15th Century gosthic Church of San Anton overlooking the water.
  • Mercado de La Ribera – Art Deco style market that was rebuilt in 1983 following the great flood of Bilbao, and contains great local produce stalls and a variety of pintxos.

Teatro Arriaga y el Arenal

The tour started at Teatro Arriaga, a beautiful neo-Baroque style opera house. It was built in 1890 by Joaquín Rucoba, the same architect that built Bilbao city hall. The theatre is named after ‘Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga’ who is known as the Spanish Mozart. He wrote his first orchestral piece at the age of 10 and his first opera at the age of 20!

The Arriaga Theatre Bilbao
The Arriaga Theatre, Bilbao

El Arenal was actually one of my favourite things to see in Bilbao, I think because it was so unexpected and unique. It’s an art deco band stand or music kiosk built in 1923, with a floating ‘shell’ inspired roof. The band stand comes to life when Bilbao holds it’s ‘big week’ music festival which happens every August (Aste Nagusia).

El Arenal Kiosk Bilbao
El Arenal Kiosk, Bilbao

Mercado de la Ribera

If you’re into art-deco architecture like me, you will also like the Mercado de la Ribera. It’s history dates back to the 14th century, but the current structure was built in 1929 following renovations after the great flood of Bilbao (1983). The new Mercado re-opened in 2010, and although it’s arguably a ‘tourist trap’, it’s actually really nice inside!

The Mercado de la Ribera
The Mercado de la Ribera, Bilbao

The Churches of Bilbao

Bilbao is a great place to see Gothic churches with Baroque interiors. The first Church that you come to on the way into the old town is the Church of San Nicolas de Bari. It was built in honour of the patron saint of sailors and dedicated to the fishermen of the city.

San Nicolas de Bari Church Bilbao
San Nicolas de Bari Church, Bilbao, Spain

The most famous of all the Bilbao Churches is of course the Cathedral – Cathedral Basilica of Saint James or Santiago Cathedral – which is a point on the route of the Camino pilgrimage trail. The best thing to do if you want to go inside is to get a combined ticket for €8 for entrance to the Cathedral and San Antón Church.

Bilbao Santiago Cathedral Spain
Bilbao Santiago Cathedral, Spain

Opposite the Cathedral, look for the mark on the building that indicates the height of the level of water in the great flood of Bilbao on Friday, August 26, 1983. The great flood was followed by the collapse of Bilbao due to the decline of the steel industry. Thankfully, since the year 2000, the city has undergone drastic renovation with strong leadership and entrepreneurial spirit of the city.

Bilbao city flood marker
Bilbao city flood marker to show levels of the great flood of 1983

San Anton Church in Bilbao is a 15th Century Church with a Baroque tower with a belfry, topped with a dome and a phoenix. Inside there are three naves and three chapels. San Anton Church is found alongside the San Anton Bridge on the Bilbao coat of arms. There is an audio guide available for visitors who want to go inside and explore the artwork.

San Antón Church Bilbao
San Antón Church, Bilbao, Spain

Plaza Nueva

Plaza Nueva or or Plaza Barria (New Square) is a neo-classical square built that dates back to 1821. The square is lined with gorgeous eatieries and pintxos bars that you will probably return to in the evening on your pintxos tour!

Plaza nueva Bilbao
Plaza nueva Bilbao

When you’re visiting Plaza Nueva, look up at the apartments to see how the small the top floor is! It’s not made for tall people, and at that time, there were no lifts available. So, you guessed it, the top floor was for the poor, while the rich had larger and more luxurious ground floor apartments that they didn’t have to climb lots of steps to get to!

Lunch – Tapas near the Guggenheim

For lunch, I would recommend jumping in an Uber in the direction of the Guggenheim and grabbing lunch somewhere along Iparraguirre Kalea. These tapas bars are cheaper and less touristy than the ones in the historical centre. Don’t worry, you can do some of the bigger and more famous old town tapas bars tonight after the Guggenheim!

pintxos Abando y barra Bilbao
My pintxos at Abando y barra Bilbao

I went to Abando y barra which had a really cool local vibe and was mostly Spanish speaking, so I got to test my language skills! I had a gorgeous sausage and egg tapas and a fried fish tapas for really cheap. For these pintxos and a drink, I don’t think I spent more than €5!

PM – The Guggenheim Museum

Now, it’s off to the Guggenheim museum! If you are a little earlier or later than the time it says on your ticket, you don’t need to worry, they will probably still let you in. But try to get there about 10 or 15 minutes before your allocated slot if possible. The cost of a ticket for the Guggenheim is €19 (€9 for pensioners and students). Remember to book your tickets in advance here.

The Guggenheim is an amazing place to visit, especially if you like art and architecture. It’s also a great family day out if you have kids, as some exhibitions are interactive. When you approach the Guggenheim, you will immediately see one of my favourite sculptures ever – ‘Puppy’ which is a highland terrier dog covered with flowers!

Amy templeseeker with Puppy
Here I am with ‘Puppy’ in Bilbao

Inside the Guggenheim you will see some interesting exhibitions including metal sculptures (ground floor), abstract art and pop art. I’m a big pop art fan and I was thrilled to find some And Warhol and Litchtensteins.

Guggenheim Bilbao pop art exhibition
Guggenheim Bilbao pop art exhibition

Finally, when you come out, make sure that you walk around to the back of the museum to find further outdoor sculptures including the Tall Tree and the Eye (Kapoor, 2009) and Mamam (Louise Bourgeois, 1996) which is known as Aranha or the spider!

Maman Aranha Spider sculpture Guggenheim Bilbao
Maman – The Aranha or Spider sculpture outside the Guggenheim Bilbao

Old Town Pintxos Tour

At the end of the day, head back towards the old town to see the historical centre come to life at night, and enjoy some of the fantastic pintxo bars of the old district. You can book a guided pintxos tour, but it is completely possible to do it yourself. The advantage of having a guide though is that they will have local recommendations and tell you exactly what to order. There are some great pintxo food tours in Bilbao were the guides will order the best specialities for you.

If you are going for a guided pintxos tour of the old town, I recommend that you book this ‘Bilbao pintxos and wine tasting with a local guide‘ tour. It includes 4 bars with wine tasting and pintxos in each.

Some of the best pintxos bars in Bilbao that I would recommend are…

  • Gaztandegui – Try the melted cheese pintxos and their signature cheese and mushroom pancakes with pepper sauce.
  • El Globo – A famous Michelin style pintxo bar with a famous spider crab gratin (‘txangurro gratinado’)
  • La Viña del Ensanche – One of the oldest pintxo bars in Bilbao with hanging hams and cheese ice-cream!
  • Café Iruña – Pintxo bar with a beautiful interior (Spanish tiles) and gorgeous lamb skewers.
  • Cafe Bar Bilbao – On Plaza Nueva since 1911 – try the gure toki crab pintxos and the cod fish pintxos.
  • Antxoa Taberna – Also on Plaza Nueva and you have to try the anchovy pintxos here!
Bilbao pintxos
Bilbao pintxos

Further Reading on Bilbao and the Basque Country

If you enjoyed this blog on how one day in Bilbao, you might also like to read the following blogs about the Basque Country and Northern Spain…