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May 3, 2007updated Dec 20, 2023

What to Do in Bilbao During the Day

By Chris Boyle

As any citizen of Bilbao will tell you, there’s much more to the city than the Guggenheim Museum.

Bilbao boasts a plethora of worldclass art museums and galleries, and a rich and vibrant history, while the surrounding countryside provides the perfect playground for myriad outdoor activities.

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

You’ll struggle to read any article, guide or story about Bilbao that doesn’t include at least a passing reference to the Guggenheim Museum; that is, unless it pre-dates 1997.

Since then, Frank Gehry’s architectural masterpiece has attracted millions of tourists to the Basque capital to see this truly spectacular monument. Shaped like a gigantic ship, whale or Marilyn Monroe’s skirt in The Seven Year Itch (depending on the observer), the Guggenheim is widely acknowledged as one of the most important architectural buildings in modern times. Inside, the museum is equally impressive showcasing works from some of the 20th and 21st century’s finest artists, including Picasso and Andy Warhol.

Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

Many visitors to Bilbao consider the Museo de Bellas Artes to be superior to the Guggenheim; that’s not a slight on the famous museum, but a reflection on the high quality of the Museo de Bellas Artes.

Featuring work from El Greco, Goya, Gauguin, Picasso and many more, the museum is an engaging way to spend a morning or afternoon. You may even need longer as there are more than 9,000 pieces on show, some of which date back to the 12th century. The museum also runs unique temporary exhibitions, so check the museum website for details.

+34 94 439 6060

Museo Plaza 2, 48009

Trip to San Sebastian

La Concha

The city of San Sebastian is just a tantalizingly short journey from Bilbao.

Famed for its beautiful beaches and Michelin-starred restaurants, the city is where the beautiful people of Spain head for their summer vacation. La Concha, a glimmering carpet of sand stretched out before the radiant water of the Bay of Biscay, is the city’s most famous beach and immensely popular with locals and tourists.

The restaurants of San Sebastian are held in a similar regard to those of Paris; this really is one of the premier cities to enjoy an epicurean evening. Arzak and Martin Berasategui are two favorites, but there are many other highly rated restaurants and bars where you can enjoy pintxos, the distinctive Basque version of tapas.

If you’ve really enjoyed the food in San Sebastian, why not try a private one-day cooking class? The classes are hosted by a talented local chef and include a guided visit around the wonderful market of San Sebastian. Not only will you pick up invaluable tips on how to create the wonderful Basque cuisine but you’ll also learn about the local produce that makes the area famous. And the best part? Getting to eat your own creation in a beautiful private dining room with specially chosen local wines.

It may come as a surprise to learn that the Basque area of Northern Spain boasts some of the finest surfing beaches in Europe. The golden sand, great waves and stunning coastline around San Sebastian attract surfers from across the world. Whether you’re an experienced surfer or looking for your first wave ride, grab a board and head for the beach. Boards can be rented at various surf shops around town and private lessons are available for beginners and more experienced surfers.

Tenedor Tours will organize return trips from San Sebastian and cater their tours exclusively to your specific requirements.

Gabriella Ranelli de Aguirre

+34 94 439 6060

PO Box 5070, San Sebastian

Casco Viejo

Bilbao is a great city to stroll around and the old town area, Casco Viejo, is full of beautiful Basque architecture and interesting sights.

The maze of interconnecting alleys feels a little like a rabbit warren, but navigating yourself around is all part of the fun. The historical seven streets, the oldest part of the neighborhood, feature many bars and restaurants packed with laid-back locals. The Mercado de la Ribera, reputably the largest indoor market in Europe, is adjacent to the seven streets and well worth a visit. The elite traveler can expect to find many locally produced goods, fruits, vegetables and other delicious foods. Plazas Nueva and Unamuno with their traditional Spanish style are great places to eat and drink, while the Iglesia de San Nicolás is a beautiful 14th century Gothic church.

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