Bilbao in 3 days
Bilbao has a special place in the soul of Biscay, but there are many other places in which it is deeply rooted. With that in mind—and as a lot can happen in 72 hours—this route will take you through Bilbao and its surroundings to give you a better feel for the spirit of the Basque people, which is heavily tied to the famous Siete Calles of the Casco Viejo quarter, but also the fishing port of Mundaka, the cliffs of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the symbolic Tree of Guernica and the cutting-edge Guggenheim Museum. Without forgetting, of course, the taste of pintxos, marmitako, Gernika-style beans, Idiazábal cheese and much more.
A three-day trip straight into the heart of the Basque people.
Itinerary day 1
10:00 AM-12:00 PM
Bilbao’s former industrial neighbourhood known for its cheery spirit is today a bohemian and multicultural area where gentrification has arrived hand in hand with cultural projects such as BilboArte and BilboRock, a concert hall located in the church of the Convent of La Merced.
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
By crossing the estuary we travel into the heart of Bilbao. A stroll through the Siete Calles—the city’s founding streets built in 1300—some good pintxos and a stop off at some emblematic places such as Santiago Cathedral or the La Ribera market are a must.
2:30 PM-3:30 PM
The expression ‘Keep calm and eat well’ (the Spanish version of the British wartime saying ‘Keep calm and carry on’) is tailor made for this restaurant owned by Prudencio García (better known as Pentxo) and family. Its daytime set menu, with a choice of 8 starters, 8 main courses and 8 desserts, never fails to satisfy.
4:00 PM-5:00 PM
There’s nothing better than digesting post-lunch in a café on this square, the city’s social and commercial centre for centuries and witness to the traditional Regocijos Bilbaínos town festivities.
The steps of the Calzadas de Mallona take us to this sixteenth-century temple dedicated to the patron saint of Biscay, or amatxu (meaning mother in Basque) to the people of Bilbao. We highly recommended learning about its eventful history.
8:00 PM-9:30 PM
From Etxebarría Park, with its brick chimney in memory of the foundry that used to stand here, we descend towards the nineteenth-century Bilbao City Hall building and Arenal Gardens next to the river.
10:00 PM-00:00 AM
For a riverside dining experience right in the city centre, head to the elegantly-designed contemporary Ibaizabal Restaurant located on the ground floor of Hotel Barceló Bilbao Nervión. Expect exquisitely prepared local cuisine, made with top-calibre ingredients, and best enjoyed with some wine from the sizeable and formidably-crafted wine list
Itinerary day 2
4:30 PM-7:00 PM
Situated on the slopes of Ereñozar mountain, this pretty village is home to the Oma Painted Forest and the famous Santimamiñe Cave, an important archaeological site due to its rock paintings.
7:00 PM-9:30 PM
Famous for Picasso’s painting of the horrific bombing that the town sustained in 1937, Gernika is, however, much more than that: it is also home to symbols of the Basque people such as the Casa de Juntas (the old Assembly House) and the Tree of Gernika, as well as the fascinating Euskal Herria Museum.
9:30 PM-10:30 PM
A tavern with heaps of character situated in the centre of the town, whose decoration transports you to another time. Affordable prices, friendly service and traditional Basque dishes passed down over the years. Leaving without trying the Gernika-style beans and the hake would be sacrilege.
10:00 AM-11:30 AM
Just 45 minutes away from Bilbao by car is this spectacular islet, connected to the mainland by an old bridge, on whose peak stands a hermitage from the tenth century. It was also one of the filming locations for the Game of Thrones series.
12:00 PM-2:30 PM
When travelling along the coast its worth stopping to stroll around the ports of these two fishing villages. What’s more, the views of the Urdaibai estuary from the Santa Catalina hermitage in Mundaka are superb.
2:30 PM-4:00 PM
With a spectacular location in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, this former farm holding with incredible views of the estuary offers shellfish from its own nursery and the finest chargrilled meat and fish.
Itinerary day 3
This centre of contemporary art opened in 1997—the perfect synthesis of Bilbao’s industrial past and its current cosmopolitanism—has become the city’s universal icon thanks to Frank Gehry.
The charming red funicular opened in 1915 takes us up above the city to the top of Mount Artxanda, a traditional place of leisure for the people of Bilbao since the nineteenth century. The views over Bilbao are priceless.
You can’t leave Bilbao without sampling a glass of txakoli wine and grilled lamb chops, the signature dish of this restaurant—a traditional open-air eatery, of which Mount Artxanda is known for, where this classic wine was once made.
A meal is best finished off with a long stroll along the river before crossing the Euskalduna Bridge into the student area of Deusto, presided over by its famous university.
We recommended heading to Plaza Moyúa and Gran Vía de Don Diego López de Haro to discover the Provincial Council Hall, the so-called Fosteritos (the curved glass entrances of the Metro affectionately named after the architect who designed them, Norman Foster) and the spectacular architecture of the Ensanche area built in the nineteenth century.
One of the best restaurants in the city with affordable prices. The specialities of this tapas and pintxos restaurant, founded in 1927, include the Iberian ham, the griddled codfish and the croquettes.