Located in the north-central portion of Spain, about eight miles south of the Bay of Biscay, Bilbao has about 350,000 residents, making it the 10th most populous city in the country.
It’s one of the premier destinations in Spain’s Basque Country and is most well-known as home to the world-famous Guggenheim Museum, which features an impressive collection of priceless art and fantastic architecture.
In the 20th century, Bilbao was an economic powerhouse that provided a significant portion of the region’s industrial output, including shipbuilding and steel production.
Now, tourism is one of its largest sectors, and visitors have a wide variety of tour and activity options at their fingertips.
1. 1 ½-Hour Segway Tour of Abandoibarra and Old Town
Old Town Bilbao is brimming with worthwhile attractions that touch on the area’s history, culture, art, and architecture.
On this 90-minute tour, guests will meet their guide at a central location, where they’ll get an orientation describing the things they’re about to see, and learn how to use their two-wheeled machine safely and for maximum effect.
Tour highlights include Euskadi Square, Iberdrola Tower, Euskalduna Palace, the Abandoibarra neighborhood, and a number of works of art done by Salvador Dalí.
Though tours don’t include entry to most of the aforementioned sites, guests will discover attractions that they may choose to explore on their own after the tour is officially over.
2. Guggenheim Guided Tour with Skip-the-Line
Even for those who aren’t exactly fine art aficionados, the Guggenheim is an iconic Bilbao attraction that deserves a few hours of valuable vacation time.
This two-hour tour includes the services of an English-speaking guide, and for those who choose to explore the museum further after the tour is over, free audio guides are available in six languages.
Tours meet near the museum’s entrance and include both outside and inside portions, where guests will become familiarized with the building’s impressive architecture and the permanent and rotating collections within.
Entry tickets are good for an entire day, so stay as long as you like.
3. Basque Cooking Lesson
Northern Spanish cuisine is characterized by a myriad of international influences that make it particularly vibrant and unique.
On this interactive two-hour Basque cooking lesson, guests will get to know their popular chef before delving into the region’s food and culture in an immersive way.
Following their guide’s lead, participants will learn about typical Basque ingredients and spices and turn them into a variety of tasty traditional and contemporary pintxos – or tapas.
Tours are limited in size to ensure that everyone has an intimate and memorable experience; they include dessert, beer, soft drinks, and a sampling of the fruits of their labor when it’s all said and done.
4. Off-the-Beaten-Path Seaside Cycling Tour
Exploring Bilbao’s stunning seaside has never been easier or more exhilarating than on this 2 ½-hour guided bike tour.
It’s a perfect fit for those who’ve just spent hours on a long international flight, and it’s appropriate for travelers of most ages.
Tours get underway in the shadow of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Vizcaya Bridge and include stops at Puerto Viejo and a number of secluded coastal spots featuring quiet beaches and towering cliffs that don’t generally get much tourist traffic.
En route, guests will learn about the area’s history and culture and work up an appetite, which will come in handy when it’s time to relax with pintxos and a refreshing drink like local wine or beer.
5. 3-Day Guggenheim, 4-Star Hotel, and Bike Tour Package
Throwing caution to the wind and booking a multi-day tour package is a great option for those who prefer to let trained tourism professionals handle all the pesky little details.
On this value-packed three-day excursion, guests will enjoy access to a number of the area’s premier attractions and spend two nights in a 4-star hotel in town close to all the action.
Packages include tickets to the Guggenheim Museum, a guided bicycle tour of the city, and ample time for self-guided exploration around Old Town and the Abandoibarra District.
Both are well-known for their trendy shopping, hip restaurants, and abundant historical and cultural attractions.
6. 3-Hour Small-Group Art and Culture Discovery Tour
Though the neighborhood of Bilbao La Vieja was once primarily industrial, it’s now blossomed into one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods that features chic art, food, and live entertainment venues that draw visitors of all stripes.
On this three-hour small-group discovery tour, guests and their guide will set out to explore the architecturally unique buildings and ethnic neighborhoods that make the area so unique and bohemian.
Tours get underway in the early evening when the area is just coming to life. There will be ample time to ask questions, rub elbows with locals, and sample a tasty craft brew or two.
7. Vitoria and Salt Valley Small-Group Tour with Lunch
For generations, the Añana Salt Valley was a center of wealth and commerce in the Basque region because it produced a vital resource in abundance and made many merchants quite wealthy by the standards of the day.
After being picked up from their hotel in Bilbao, guests and their guide will be whisked to the valley, where they’ll spend about 90-minutes exploring its mines, learning about the extraction process in years past, and appreciating the area’s amazing natural beauty.
Tours also include a stop in Vitoria-Gasteiz, where everyone will enjoy a traditional lunch before touring the city and eventually heading back to Bilbao at around 4:00 PM.
8. Boat and Walking Guided Tour with Pintxos
Short combo tours are great ideas for visitors with limited travel budgets and short attention spans.
This two-hour guided tour includes both walking and river cruise portions and is available in English, German, French, and Spanish.
Things get underway with a relaxing and scenic boat ride on the Bilbao River, where sights include the city’s unique skyline, the Guggenheim Museum, and the University of Duesto.
The walking portion of the tour winds its way through several distinct neighborhoods, where guests will learn about the things they’re seeing.
Afterward, they’ll retreat to a traditional restaurant to enjoy a pintxo tasting and a refreshing drink.
9. Bilbao like a Local Customized Guided Tour
There’s really no substitute for a local’s guidance and perspective when visiting a new city.
On this customizable tour, guests can choose whether they’d like to dedicate anywhere from between two to six hours to their excursion and focus only on the things that interest them.
Personalized tours beat the pants off ones with rigid itineraries, and this one focuses on the city’s most prominent attractions as well as a few that are slightly off the well-worn path.
Tours touch on aspects of history, culture, cuisines, and the arts depending on the interests of guests and are great ways for new visitors to familiarize themselves with the city’s layout.
10. Museum of Fine Arts Private Guided Tour
The Museum of Fine Arts is another of Bilbao’s premier attractions. Though some visitors choose to visit it on their own, others opt for the added value that only a local tour guide can provide.
The museum can get downright crowded during peak times, but this tour offers skip-the-line tickets, which ensure less time waiting and more time experiencing the wonders inside.
The permanent and temporary exhibits cover a wide range of periods and feature contemporary and historical works by local, regional, and internationally acclaimed artists.
Tours last two hours and are available in mid-morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon start times.
11. Hop-on-Hop-off Boat Trip
Hop-on-hop-off tours are great options for do-it-yourselfers who want to use their vacation time wisely by seeing only the things that interest them and ignoring those that don’t.
To accommodate international travelers, tours include audio guides in multiple languages. It’s possible to see most of the included attractions in a little under three hours.
The bulk of the tour takes place in the canals and estuary around the city and includes attractions like the Hanging Bridge of Portugalete and the fishing village of Santurtzi.
Tour boats include both in and outdoor seating and provide some of the best photo ops you’re likely to find in the area.
12. Bilbao Highlights: Guggenheim and San Mams with Lunch
The only thing better than including many of Bilbao’s highlights into one convenient and relatively inexpensive tour is doing it with a complimentary lunch.
Covering both the city’s art and sports scenes, this 90-minute tour is a good fit for those working with limited time, and it includes guided time inside each attraction.
San Mames Stadium has hosted football matches for more than a century, and sports fans will get a behind the scenes glimpse of areas usually reserved only for coaches, players, and staff.
After touring the Guggenheim, everyone will enjoy lunch before calling it a day and heading off to other adventures.
13. Mountains and Sea Full-Day Tour from Bilbao
Thanks to Bilbao’s coastal location, it’s possible to experience the mountains and the sea on a full-day tour that begins and ends in town.
After a brief meet and greet with their guide, guests will depart for Vitoria-Gasteiz, which is the quintessential Basque country city known for its numerous historic monuments, impressive architecture, and towering cathedral.
Other inland attractions include a sprawling valley, ancient salt mines, and lunch with drinks at a traditional restaurant in the quaint village of Balmaseda.
Once on the coast, guests will explore towns like Santurtzi and Portugalete before heading back to their starting point in Bilbao.
14. Estuary Private Sailing Tour and Rioja Wine
Being able to sleep in without regret is one of vacations’ truest pleasures. This four-hour mid-morning sailing and wine tour is perfect for those who prefer not to rise with the sun.
Guests will enjoy hotel pick-up, after which they’ll be taken to a marina in the nearby coastal town of Getxo.
Tours are conducted on a majestic sailboat from which guests will see amazing cliffs, secluded beaches, and some old-world fishing villages that haven’t changed much in centuries.
After the water portion of the tour, guests will enjoy a relaxed wine tasting, where they’ll choose from two distinct regional varieties before heading back to Bilbao in the early afternoon.
15. Old Quarter Walking Guided Tour
It’s difficult to fathom that a 90-minute walking tour could cover centuries of history, but that’s precisely what this one does.
Focusing on the Old Town quarter, walkers and their guide will explore a number of the city’s most iconic attractions, like the Cathedral of Santiago, the Church of St. Anton, and the Mercado de la Ribera.
Featuring European, Basque, and Middle Eastern influences, the Old Town area is chock-full of must-see attractions that are close enough together that it’s possible to see many of them in a short time without working up too much of a sweat.
Tours also include a stop at a traditional wine bar and are available in multiple languages.