A Basque City With Contrasts: Day Trip to Bilbao from San Sebastian

When visiting San Sebastian, taking a day trip to Bilbao is a must! This city bursting with culture and life has countless things to explore. 

The Basque Country is a great destination and it certainly isn’t all the same. Where San Sebastian is an architecturally beautiful beach town and surfer’s paradise, Bilbao is known as an urban, chic city with stark contrasts of modern and old.

Where you could easily explore both cities for weeks, if you’re short on time, you can get the best out of Bilbao on a day trip from San Sebastian with these recommendations. 

Guide to a day trip to Bilbao from San Sebastian

Know how to move around

Just an hour away from San Sebastian, Bilbao is a perfect day trip destination. The trip is easy: the fastest way to get there is to catch a bus from the station in San Sebastian. A one-way ticket will cost you around €7 and there are buses all day long. 

The city of Bilbao is very walkable but also amazingly well connected with public transportation. If it happens to be a rainy day, you can move around easily on the tram, metro or bus. A 24-hour ticket for the public transportation system costs €10 and you can buy it from any tourist office in the city. 

Visit the Guggenheim Museum

This is probably obvious, but it’s still worth mentioning: visit the Guggenheim Museum! This architecturally remarkable building is impressive both inside and out.  Besides the permanent modern art collection, you’ll also find exhibitions that change seasonally. 

Not a fan of contemporary art? There’s something for you, too: the Bilbao Museum of Fine Arts. It contains a collection of masterpieces from centuries ago and temporary expositions of interesting artists. 

A day trip to Bilbao from San Sebastian wouldn't be complete without a trip to the Guggenheim.
A trip to Bilbao is worth it for the Guggenheim alone! Photo credit: Diego Zingano

Take a walk by the river

Start at the Guggenheim and follow the river until you reach the old part of town. This is where you’ll find all the locals on their Sunday stroll. 

On the way, you get to admire the interesting contrasts of the city, provided by the mixture of old buildings that seem untouched from centuries ago, and ultra-modern architecture, such as the Zubizuri footbridge, designed by the famous architect Santiago Calatrava. 

Bilbao is number one on our list of the best day trips from San Sebastian!
Bilbao is a modern city in many ways, but has a charming old town and lovely laid-back feel. Photo credit: Matt Kieffer

Have lunch in the Casco Viejo

The attractive old part of Bilbao, the Casco Viejo, is the perfect place to get lost as you wander the cobblestone streets and admire the boutique shop windows––and the tempting pintxos bars all around! 

This is, without a doubt, a top place to have lunch. Head to Plaza Nueva, a lively square right in the heart of the old town, surrounded by a dozen of pintxos bars. Our favorite is La Olla de la Plaza Nueva with its delicious Iberian ham and Cantabrian tuna. We also recommend a txikiteo—jumping from bar to bar and trying something different in each place. 

Another great option for lunch in Bilbao is the Mercado de la Ribera. At this historical marketplace, you can shop for the freshest vegetables, seafood and meat in town, but also enjoy lunch with a glass of wine—a beautiful experience overall and definitely a must-see place. 

Mercado de la Ribera in Bilbao
The Mercado de la Ribera is another example of Bilbao’s incredible architecture. Photo credit: Fred Romero

Take a siesta in the park

When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do. After lunch it’s siesta time, so head to one of the many pretty parks in Bilbao for a well-deserved afternoon nap. In a place like Parque de Doña Casilda, you’ll forget for a moment that you’re actually in one of the biggest cities in the Basque Country. And this park is actually on your way back to the bus station—just in time to catch the bus back to San Sebastian before dinner!

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