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6 reasons to visit Bilbao & what to see and eat in 48 hours

6 reasons to visit Bilbao & what to see and eat in 48 hours


In this article, I will tell you about Bilbao, which is the second leg of our Northern Spain tour by car! Before I start, I want to say this: I don't know about you, but I never dreamed of going to Bilbao :) In fact, the first time we visited it, it was with a sudden decision with my husband, we just stayed for the night and left in the morning. However, when I gave the city a second chance and started exploring, I was really impressed. Maybe you are like me and Bilbao is not a priority on your list of cities you want to see. That's why I'm going to tell you what makes Bilbao worth the trip, and I'll give you our recommendations regarding what to eat and drink in Bilbao, where to stay, where to go for a day trip and more. (If you want to watch our Bilbao experience, you can find our Bilbao vlog on YouTube by clicking here) So, this will be like a Bilbao travel guide, hope you enjoy!

6 reasons to go to Bilbao and what to do and eat while you're there:

1. Gastronomy

6 reasons to visit Bilbao & what to see and eat in 48 hours
The unforgettable pintxos in Sorginzulo

I start my list with perhaps the most crucial point: Gastronomy! If you have read my San Sebastian blog post, which was the previous stop of our drive (click here to read), you must have seen that I have been talking about gastronomy and pintxos (pincho) which are a smaller and more interesting version of tapas. Yes, you can find delicious pintxos in San Sebastian. The Basque region of Spain is already famous for its cooks and gourmet delicacies. There may be more Michelin-starred restaurants in San Sebastian, but if you want me to compare San Sebastian and Bilbao in terms of gastronomy based on my own experience, my answer is definitely Bilbao.

As far as I have experienced, the pintxos in Bilbao are prepared with much more interesting combinations and aesthetics than in San Sebastian. For example, I had never had a warm soup made from the local Idiazabal cheese, with quail eggs hidden in it, flavored with olive oil and various vegetables before. This was one of the combinations that I found so interesting and had never caught my eye in all the bars we'd been in and out of in San Sebastian. Nor have I ever eaten a crispy pastry with shrimp and vegetables, flavored with a special sauce, and covered with something similar to "kadayıf", a Turkish dessert.

I will say that although the pintxo bars of San Sebastian are very famous, the ones in Bilbao both appealed to me more and surprised me with their interesting flavors. And we did not taste these pintxos in Michelin-starred, expensive gourmet restaurants, but in small bars that can be considered ordinary. Imagine the rest of the restaurants and possibilities...

pintxos in bilbao food guide
Amazing pintxos in Gure Toki bar


There are two pintxo bars in Bilbao that you must visit and that we are very pleased with: Gure Toki and Sorginzulo. Both of these are located in the old city center (Casco viejo), in Plaza Nueva. First you look at the bar and choose the pintxo you want, then you sit in the courtyard at the back, eating and watching the people around (my favorite thing). They may be serving different pintxos than ours when you go, so I'm just sharing ours as an example (if you want to see the food in more detail, you can watch our vlog.)

The pintxos we chose in Gure Toki:

- Sopa de Idiazabal – Soup with İdiazabal cheese (This is a lukewarm soup with quail eggs in it, and we both loved the taste.)

bilbao food guide- soup with idiazabal cheese
We could have argued over this soup if we had not ordered one each.

- Crispy phyllo dough with shrimp, veggies and sauce– A great combination that would have never crossed my mind. The taste was legendary.

6 reasons to visit Bilbao & what to see and eat in 48 hours

- Kokotxa – This is a pintxo made from the cheek part of a fish called "bacalao" in Spanish or "cod fish" in English. Bacalao is eaten in abundance in Spain and Portugal. This pintxo was nice, but not my favorite since I don't like eating very soft meat. I normally like eating the other parts of bacalao and I recommend you to try other parts, even if you happen to not enjoy kokotxa so much, like me.

bilbao food guide
The first Kokotxa I've ever had in my life

The pintxos we chose in Sorginzulo:

- Croquettes with Txistorra – Txistorra is a type of sausage made in this region. There was this sausage in the croquette and a tiny squid on top.

- Pintxo with Ventresca – Ventresca means tuna fillet, and it is really tasty. Wherever you see it, don't miss it.

bilbao food guide
Lunch in Bilbao

- Black bread veggie burger with alioli sauce – Alioli is a delicious sauce that tastes like garlic mayonnaise. If you like burgers, give this alternative a try.

- Bao Bread BBQ Sandwich – When you are eating this bao bread, it feels like biting a cloud, it's that soft.

- Foie cocina – My husband was very happy to find another duck liver pintxo in this trip :) I guess this might be his favorite pintxo. In this bar, they served it with their own popping sugar caramel sauce, which was a nice touch. If you like the mix of sweet and savory flavors, you should try it.

- Pintxo with fried mozzarella and tomatoes - We had a very similar one in San Sebastian. We did not see much difference, but we still enjoyed it.

- Btw, if you want to drink something specific to the Basque region, you can try the white wine called “Txakoli”.

txakoli bilbao wine food and drink guide gastronomy
Txakoli (pronounced like "chakolee")

- There is also a donut-like pastry called “Bollos”, which is very popular in Bilbao, with a layer of butter inside and sprinkled with granulated sugar. You can have it as a snack or for breakfast while you are in Bilbao. We bought it from a nice patisserie called Martina Zuricalday. Bollos surprised me with the amount of butter in it, and I couldn't compare it to any pastry I've ever eaten, but I definitely don't regret trying it :)

bilbao bollos food guide for foodies

bilbao food guide for foodies - bollos
I rarely eat this much butter in one sitting but it was worth it :)

2. Bilbao: Dark and rainy but very aesthetic

As far as I can see, there are two Bilbaos. The first is Bilbao, which consists of dark and narrow streets that they call the old/historical city center (Casco viejo), with old apartments with a unique aesthetic, where tourists swarm, most locals wear black and roam around like rockers. The second Bilbao is enchanting with its glamorous and relatively newer apartments, large, well-kept gardens and parks with ponds, art galleries, tastefully decorated restaurants, cafés and shops, and elegantly dressed people walking its streets.

6 reasons to visit Bilbao & what to see and eat in 48 hours
Labyrinthine streets + people who look like rockers: Casco Viejo, Bilbao's historic and touristic city center

Maybe you will say that most big European cities are like this, with old and new city centers. True, but in Bilbao I think both sides are drastically different from each other, but also very aesthetic in their own unique ways. When we first went in 2018, we had not visited the city much, and from what I saw in that limited time, I had the impression that it was a gloomy and boring place (cloudy and rainy weather must have played a big role in this). However, when we went in 2021, we explored Bilbao by walking for hours until we were absolutely exhausted. We discovered so much more and in the end, our prejudices were completely changed. That's why it's best to get lost in different neighborhoods of Bilbao by walking without being stuck in one place.

3. Guggenheim Museum

6 reasons to visit Bilbao & what to see and eat in 48 hours

This museum may be the reason why many art-loving tourists come to this city. The third branch of the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Venice was opened in Bilbao in 1997. In addition to the modern artworks on display inside, the museum itself has an interesting modern architecture. This metallic building, which is unlike any building around it, can take on different colors by reflecting light at different times of the day and according to the weather conditions. Before you even step inside, you are greeted by interesting sculptures outside. For example, there is a 12-meter-tall statue of a dog decorated with flowers, and a 9-meter-tall spider sculpture named “Maman”, that is, “mother”. Even if you don't want to visit this museum, where adults have pay €18, students €9, and children can enter for free, at least you can see it from the outside and take pictures with the sculptures around it, as we did. (Although we are interested in art, history and culture, in recent years we have become more fond of wandering the streets instead of museums. The economy also plays a part in this, of course…)

6 reasons to visit Bilbao & what to see and eat in 48 hours
"Maman" or "Mother" statue

6 reasons to visit Bilbao & what to see and eat in 48 hours
"Puppy" and me


If you want to visit the interior of the museum, it is more profitable to buy your tickets online in advance. This way, adults can enter by paying €16 and students €8.

4. Money, money, money

If we compare Bilbao with our previous stop, San Sebastian, Bilbao proves to be much more affordable. If you have read my previous San Sebastian blog post, you will remember the place where we stayed for cheap when we first went and my memories there :) (for those who do not remember, they can click here to read). After that experience, we spent the day in San Sebastian and made the sudden decision to come to Bilbao to spend the night. Since San Sebastian is so popular, everything is overpriced. Bilbao, on the other hand, is less touristy and therefore more budget-friendly, especially in terms of accommodation.


6 reasons to visit Bilbao & what to see and eat in 48 hours

We have been to Bilbao twice, and both times we have stayed at the same hotel: Hotel Gran Bilbao. It is very new, modern and clean, as well as budget friendly. Breakfast and indoor parking are available at an additional cost. I think the best part of this hotel is that you can easily walk to the historical city center of Bilbao. We parked our car in or around the hotel and just walked around the city to explore.

6 reasons to visit Bilbao & what to see and eat in 48 hours
A summer's day in Bilbao... The view from our hotel room window

5. Perfect for day trips

Bilbao is also in a very convenient location for day trips. If you have rented a car and want to get away from the big cities and see different and unknown places, I can recommend you two places where you can easily go from Bilbao: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and Castro Urdiales.

san juan de gaztelugatxe bilbao travel guide
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe a.k.a. Dragonstone.

Let me talk about them briefly; San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a small but stunning church on top of a mountain in the middle of the sea and nature, where Dragonstone scenes were shot in the Game of Thrones series. Castro Urdiales, on the other hand, is a beautiful, quiet city in the Cantabria region, by the sea, which has a Roman bridge, an impressive historic cathedral and a lot of colorful fishermen's boats floating peacefully on the waves. You can find more detailed information and photos about these two places in my next blog post! Click here to read!

castro urdiales travel guide northern spain
Small & sweet Castro Urdiales

6. Direct flights

You can reach Bilbao with direct flights. For instance, Bilbao is one of the few Spanish cities where you can take a direct flight from Istanbul (with Turkish Airlines). So, if you have a trip to Northern Spain in your mind or if you want to rent a car and make a road trip in Spain, you can fly directly to Bilbao and start your tour here.


So, could I persuade you to go to Bilbao in the end? :) If you have any questions, you can write them in the comments section or ask us on Instagram. Don't forget to share this blog post with your friends who are considering a tour of Spain, and if you haven't watched our Bilbao vlog on YouTube yet, now is the time!

My next post will be on San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and Castro Urdiales, which are close to Bilbao. Click here to read.

Click here to learn a little bit about Basque language, which is widely spoken in cities in the Basque region such as Bilbao and San Sebastian!



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We are a Spanish & Turkish couple who is currently based in Turkey, but we call Spain our second home. We met in 2013, and since then, I have had the chance to travel to numerous destinations in Spain, enjoy the wonderful cuisine and experience the culture with my dear husband. In 2020, ...

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