Situated on the banks of the Nervión, Bilbao is the largest city in Spain's Basque Country. Milder and rainier than most other parts of Spain (temperatures here rarely fall below freezing in winter nor rise above 35°C even in the height of summer), the greenery of Bilbao is both a blessing and a curse: the climate here is as much a welcome relief from the heat of the dry plains in the south as a thorn in the side of those hoping for a day at the beach. But the shore of the Bay of Biscay isn't really the main attraction—instead, Bilbao is perhaps the premier venue in the world to experience the ancient culture and language of the Basque people, which has stubbornly held its own over thousands of years and is now completely unlike any modern-day culture in Europe.

Get in

By bus

All buses to other provinces leave from the TermiBus terminal. There are regular connections to Santander (75 minutes) San Sebastian (60 minutes) and Madrid (arriving at Avenida de América bus station, 4–5 hours) among others.

The bus companies connect Bilbao with many cities in Spain more cheaply and frequently than the rail companies.

The company linking Bilbao to Santander is ALSA (tel: +34 902422242), and in theory you can get info about buses from Santander to Bilbao at . Be prepared for long waiting lines of half an hour as there are only two ticket offices. It's usually better to buy the ticket the day before or print your ticket on the company's website. Instead of printing, you can also use the text message they send to your mobile as proof of purchase. Moreover, you can now use four automatic machines.

For Vitoria-Gasteiz, take La Unión Alavesa buses.

By plane

Bilbao Airport (IATA: BIO) is served by Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, Air Berlin, TuiFly, AerLingus, Iberia, Air Europa, Vueling and several other airlines. Easy Jet flies from London Stansted to Bilbao airport. You can also fly with Ryanair to Santander.

To get to downtown Bilbao from the airport, take Bizkaibus A3247 from the arrivals sidewalk: there is no arrivals hall. The bus will stop at Alameda Recalde, Plaza Moyua and Gran Via before terminating at Termibus busstation near the San Mamés stadium. The 2015 timetable for the reverse journey . A single ticket costs €1.45, or if using CreditTrans select zone 2 on the machine inside the bus.

Taxis to downtown Bilbao from the airport cost about €25-30.

By train

RENFE—runs intercity trains to Madrid, Barcelona, Vigo (Galicia). All Renfe trains leave from Abando Station.

FEVE—runs regional trains to Santander (3 daily), and León (1 Daily). They are very slow, and make a stop in almost every single town they pass through. From Santander you can continue to Oviedo (Asturias), and La Coruña (Galicia). This journey has three legs, but it is only possible to do 2 legs in any one day. FEVE trains leave from Santander Station (next to Abando Station)

EuskoTren—runs a local service to San Sebastian, with connection there for Irun (on the Spanish-French border). It takes two hours to reach San Sebastian. Trains leave from Atxuri Station.

By boat

Brittany Ferries run a direct car ferry between Bilbao and Portsmouth, England. It is best to book early, since the ferry is often booked out in summer.

By car

Distances to/from Bilbao: MAdrid 395 km, Barcelona 615 km, A Coruna 570 km, Lisbon 900 km

Get around

By car

Bilbao is difficult to drive in. Hilly one-way streets, and frequent construction projects, make it a nightmare for drivers in parts of the city. Having an automobile map helps a lot; without it allow at least 30min extra to find the right exit from the city.

Public transport

MetroBilbao network map

If you are going to take more than a few journeys on public transit, a Barik card would be a good investment. It is convenient, and can save you a considerable amount compared to single tickets. It is valid on the Metro, bus and tram services in Bilbao, though not on the Renfe trains. It can be bought from shops in the vicinity of Metro stations. The card itself costs €3.00, and at the time of purchase it can be charged up with whatever amount is desired. It is easy to add further credit in the machines in Metro stations. Barik cards can be used by more than one person - so you may see a family of four swiping their card four times.

On foot

It takes about 30 minutes to walk along the river between the Guggenheim Museum and the Casco Viejo.

By taxi

Taxi Bilbao: Tel: +34 944 448 888. This single number is used by all taxi operators in Bilbao. Your cab should appear within five minutes.



The Guggenheim Museum


Other places of interest

Vizcaya Bridge
Teatro Arriaga
Mercado de la Ribera
Plaza Nueva
The new Calatrava bridge, Zubizuri



Clothes and shoes



The local custom is to call what are known in Spanish as tapas by the Basque name, pintxos, probably much more elaborated than their Spanish cousins due to the Basque love of gastronomy.

Friday and Saturday nights are most popular time for eating pintxos - as it is for going to bars.

Plaza Nueva

among others:

near the Diputación



Tap water is safe to drink, also from the outdoor taps if not clearly marked with signs saying No Potable (not potable). On weekend nights a lot of people gather in the bar area in eastern Casco Viejo, get their drinks from any of the bars and hang around on the streets before heading to nightclubs.

  • Cafe Iruña, c/ Colon de Larreategui 13. With its Arabesque motifs and antique mouldings it is a sight to behold. If you go at night, you can also get some nice shikabobs - some of the only ones you'll find in Bilbao.
  • Cafe La Granja (in Plaza Circular, across from the BBVA tower).
  • Cafe Boulevard (on the Arenal, across from Teatro Arriaga).



There are many inexpensive Pensions in the Casco Viejo.



Stay Safe

With a rate of only 33.4 crimes per 1000 inhabitants, the Basque Country has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe.

Crime rates can, however, vary significantly between rural and urban areas, though urban areas are still not particularly dangerous. Avoid the San Francisco area, however. Violent crime is extremely rare, but the usual precautions will keep you out of trouble.

While some may advise you not to wear any Spanish symbols, the reality is that the vast majority of Bilbainos will not even notice, much as it is true that a small minority might be upset about them. As a statistical precaution it is also best to avoid referring to the Basque Country as Spain.

Take into account that inhabitants of the Basque Country are divided between those who support independence or autonomy from Spain and consider themselves primarily or entirely Basque and others who consider themselves primarily or entirely Spanish. Within these currents, there are further subdivisions of opinion ranging from supporters of the terrorist group ETA at one end to those who supported the fascist regime of General Franco at the other (though an overwhelming majority of people fall somewhere in between these extremes).

These political issues have dominated life in the Basque Country for generations and you will still find coverage of them in news media across the Basque Country every day. Also certain bars will have a distinctly Basque nationalist clientele (such bars will generally have posters and slogans on the walls) where pro-Spanish opinions will be unwelcome, but which are otherwise perfectly safe places to go and indeed interesting to anyone who would like to learn more about the Basque identity. If speaking to strangers, bear these divisions in mind and try not to cause offence.



Go next

Vizcayan Towns

Cities in other provinces

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, February 29, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.