Where to Stay in Bilbao: Best Areas and Hotels
If you’re wondering where to stay in Bilbao, or where is the best area to stay in Bilbao, you’re in the right place. In this article, I will give an insight into the best places to stay in Bilbao for first-time visitors, couples, families, backpackers, all budget travelers; read on as I show you the best of Bilbao.
Bilbao, in northern Spain, is the largest and most prominent city in the Basque Country region. Founded in the 14th century, Bilbao is a fascinating and beautiful historical city, blending historic architecture with modern hospitality.
Once a major industrial port city, Bilbao has been regenerated over recent decades with particular focus on developing the city’s service industry, the result being one of the greatest selections of restaurants, cafes, and bars in all of Spain.
Whether you would like to walk around locations used in the filming of fantasy media, such as Game of Thrones, explore world class museums, or revel in the hospitality industry that earnt the city The Urbanism Award for Best European City 2018, there is something to please everyone in Bilbao.
Where to Stay in Bilbao: Tips & Info
Bilbao is a diverse and multifaceted city, crammed full of exciting things to see and do. With so much to choose from, it can feel overwhelming trying to decide which neighbourhood is the best fit for you. However, as long as you know what you most want from your trip, finding the perfect area can be easier than you think.
If you want to appreciate the city’s history and culture, you should definitely stay in the old town of Casco Viejo. This is a stunning neighbourhood, filled with beautiful architecture, lush parks, and an array of restaurants, bars, and shops.
The distinctly charming atmosphere of Casco Viejo also makes it a perfect neighbourhood for couples looking for a romantic retreat.
For museums, particularly the iconic Guggenheim, stay in Abandoibarra. Alternatively, Plaza Moyua is almost as close by, but just a little more central. The Plaza is also a great centre point for anyone who wants to spend their trip hitting the shops.
If you are on a budget, consider the university district of Deusto, a little outside of the city centre. Deusto is also ideal if you’re hiking around the Basque Country or want to use the city as a home base for exploring the surrounding landscape. This district to the north of the city is well connected to hiking routes out of the city.
Where to Stay in Bilbao Spain- The 7 Best Areas to Stay in Bilbao
To help you with deciding which of the city’s neighborhoods is best for you to spend your vacation, I have personally selected the seven districts with the most to offer visitors and provided a summary of each area’s attractions and benefits, to help you match them to your perfect location.
Where to Stay in Bilbao Map
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1. Casco Viejo (Old Town), Where to Stay in Bilbao for History Buffs
Casco Viejo is the oldest part of the city and the best place to visit if you really want to experience the history and culture of the town.
On the banks of the estuary sits the oldest theatre in Bilbao, the Teatro Arriaga. The historic building is a wonderful place to take in a show and spend an evening experiencing the artistic heritage of Bilbao. Even if you don’t have the time, or inclination, to attend a performance, the architecture of the building itself is worth the visit, plus you can take a guided tour of the equally beautiful interior.
To the north of the theatre is the Areatzako Parkea, a riverside park, lush with trees and fountains. The Café Koiska el Arenal at the centre of the park is decorated in a charmingly unique style, whilst the terrace seating area is a lovely spot to take a break overlooking the river.
For more exquisite architecture, take a look straight down Areatza Kalea, to the San Nicolas Eliza baroque church to the northeast. Alternatively, walk south down Calle Bidebarrieta Kalea, past the historic Fountain of Dogs, which is worth taking a look at in its own right, to the 14th century Bilboko Donejakue Katedrala.
To the north of the district is the sprawling Etxebarria Parkea. Once an industrial complex, the area has been completely rejuvenated into a beautiful hillside park, with views looking right across the city. The only hint of its industrial past is the preserved brick chimney, left standing as a monument in the northeast sector of the park.
In the evening, the southwest area of Casco Viejo, is full of a variety of bars and restaurants. Perfectly placed on the banks of the Bilbao Estuary, it’s an ideal location for sunset walks along the riverside, on your way to an evening of fine dining and cocktails.
YOU SHOULD STAY IN CASCO VIEJO IF:
- You want to savour the cultural heritage of the city
- You appreciate historical architecture
- You enjoy relaxed walks around beautiful city streets
2. Abandoibarra, Best Area in Central Location
Abandoibarra is the northern sector of central Bilbao. This neighbourhood is where the most iconic building in all of Bilbao is located, the Guggenheim Museum.
The Guggenheim was built as part of the city’s rejuvenation efforts in the 1990’s and was designed specifically to draw the attention of the global tourist market. It definitely succeeded, almost instantly becoming one of the most significant examples of contemporary architecture.
If you don’t enjoy museums or don’t have time to venture inside to the exhibits, you can still enjoy the unique façade and the 40-foot-tall west-highland terrier sculpture covered in flowers standing guard at the southern entrance.
Exhibitions in the museum change frequently. Only one exhibit, ‘The Matter of Time’, is permanent, so even returning visitors to the city can benefit from another look around. The museum’s exhibitions all display modern and contemporary art in a variety of forms.
East of the museum, following the river, is the Eingelesen Landako Park. The network of manicured lawns is home to the university library and the towering glass Torre Iberdrola, Bilbao’s tallest skyscraper, and another beautiful specimen of modern architecture.
Follow the river past the modern shopping centre and you will arrive at the Casilda Iturrizar park, a landscaped, tree-lined park, full of fountains, ponds, and stone pergolas.
If the contemporary art housed at the Guggenheim doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps the more classical works found in the ‘Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao’, at the east end of the park, are more to your preference. Alternatively, head west out of the park, towards the river and the old shipyard, to the Museo Marítimo Ría, a museum dedicated to Bilbao’s history as a port city.
The backstreets of Abandoibarra are arranged on a grid pattern, making it incredibly easy to find your way around. They’re chock full of bars, cafes, and restaurants, catering to a wide variety of tastes and cultures.
YOU SHOULD STAY IN ABANDOIBARRA IF:
- Visiting the Guggenheim is a top priority
- You are a fan of modern art
- You enjoy museums in general
- You love contemporary architecture
- You want a central location
3. Plaza Moyua, Where to Stay in Bilbao for Shopping & Family
One of the most central locations in all of Bilbao, staying in Plaza Moyua gives you easy and convenient access to most of the city’s iconic attractions. If you follow the Alameda de Recalde road north, you will arrive at the world-famous Guggenheim art museum in just minutes.
The plaza itself consists of several manicured lawns and flowerbeds, surrounding a grand fountain in the centre of a paved oval. It’s set in the middle of a busy roundabout but is accessible to pedestrians via the six zebra crossings at each end of the plaza.
To the northwest of the plaza is the Txabarri Jauregia, a 19th century palace, built in the style of Flemish Renaissance architecture and currently serving as offices for the local government.
The streets leading out from the plaza are full of contemporary shops and department stores, so if shopping is a priority for your trip, this is a great area to consider. A wide variety of high-end clothing and jewellery brands have stores in the area.
To the east of the district is the Abando Indalecio Prieto train station. Aside from being a major train terminal, with trains running both locally and long distance, the design of the station is artistically distinct.
The section of the station housing the platforms is home to a 15-metre by 10-metre stained glass window, formed of over 300 pieces, depicting traditional Basque culture and landmarks. Anyone entering Bilbao via train at this station will have a beautiful first impression of the city.
YOU SHOULD STAY IN PLAZA MOYUA IF:
- You want somewhere very central and convenient
- You are visiting with young children
- Shopping is a priority
- Visiting the Guggenheim is a must
- You are travelling to or from other major Spanish cities by train
4. Indautxu, Where to Stay in Bilbao for Nightlife & Shopping
Indautxu is the west end of the central district of Bilbao. One of the more affluent neighbourhoods, Indautxu is home to a variety of upmarket shopping districts and fashionable bistros and cafes.
The district is known for its active, contemporary nightlife scene. Peppered with trendy bars, restaurants, and clubs, the region is ideal for some evening fun. The conveniently designed grid system of roads also makes it easy to find your way home after a night out.
A number of old buildings have been converted into unique entertainment venues. In the old shipyard stands the Palacio Euskalduna, which is now a popular venue for live music concerts. In the east of the neighbourhood, the beautiful Azkuna Zentroa, an old corn exchange building, has been converted into a multifunctional entertainment venue. The centre houses a theatre, cinema screen, lecture halls, and exhibition spaces, along with public fitness facilities.
Fans of art will appreciate the easy access to the Guggenheim museum of modern art, or the more classical Museum of Fine Arts. Those who appreciate more niche exhibitions may also enjoy the Benedikto Museoa, an art museum dedicated to the works of famous Spanish painter, Benedicto Martinez.
To the east, by the river, stands the modern San Mames Football Stadium. With a capacity of over 50,000 seats, this is the largest stadium in the Basque country and frequently hosts important sporting events.
YOU SHOULD STAY IN INDAUTXU IF:
- You value quality nightlife
- You enjoy high-end shopping
- You are attending an event at the San Mames Stadium
5. Deusto, Where to Stay in Bilbao for Hiking
Deusto is the district north of the river, best known for being Bilbao’s student neighbourhood, due to the local University of Deusto. The university itself is directly across the river from the Guggenheim museum. Be sure to take a moment to appreciate the fantastic views of the iconic building across the water.
Deusto is connected to the city centre by several bridges, which bring you directly into the parks surrounding the Guggenheim. Just minutes away from the main shopping and nightlife districts, the area is conveniently close to all Bilbao has to offer, whilst typically remaining quieter than the more crowded tourist hubs.
The neighbourhood is home to several popular arts and exhibition venues. The Deusto Expo Centre hosts a variety of exhibitions and shows throughout the year. The La FuNdicIOn theatre, on the banks of the estuary at the end of Botica Vieja park, puts on excellent contemporary, independent theatre performances.
Being slightly further from the city centre than other neighbourhoods, hotel prices in Deusto are also generally lower than more central locations, which is ideal for anyone on a budget.
Deusto also offers a convenient route in and out of the city for hikers and backpackers. Being closer to the city’s perimeter, there are a number of designated hiking trails leading to the surrounding areas.
If you are travelling to Bilbao by car, Deusto is connected to a major highway into the city, allowing you to drive into the heart of the city without the rammed traffic of the city centre.
YOU SHOULD STAY IN DEUSTO IF:
- You are on a budget
- You are interested in visiting neighbouring Barakaldo
- You are visiting the university or a student
- You are travelling to Bilbao by car
- You are hiking around the Basque Country
- You are interested in hiking out from the city to explore the surrounding area
6. Las Cortes , Where to Stay in Bilbao Near Train Station
Las Cortes, also commonly known as San Francisco, is one of the more up and coming areas of the city. One of the less affluent neighbourhoods, Las Cortes is known for housing Bilbao’s red-light district. But whilst the area may have a darker reputation, it nonetheless boasts a vibrant character and distinct sense of community.
One of the most obvious perks of the neighbourhood is the relatively lower prices of both accommodation and entertainment. If you are on a budget, you can find food and lodging fairly affordably here, and the more typically tourist spots are just a short walk away.
The central region of Abando is just the other side of the Bilbao-Abando Indalecio Prieto train station. Meanwhile, the old town of Casco Viejo is right across the river.
Home to most of Bilbao’s immigrant population, primarily hailing from across Africa, Las Cortes is one of the most diverse areas of the city. The area’s multicultural heritage is reflected in its array of cafes, restaurants, and shops. If you grow tired of the customary Basque cuisine found across the rest of the city, head here for a little more variety.
Most of the main shopping and nightlife venues are situated along the main San Francisco Street. Art lovers may be interested in visiting the Reproductions Museum, which displays replicas of iconic art pieces and sculptures from around the world.
Las Cortes may be an ideal location for anyone travelling to or from the city via train. The Bilbao-Abando Indalecio Prieto train station is directly to the north of the neighbourhood. Convenient for anyone passing through for a quick visit, or who gets anxious about missing their train.
YOU SHOULD STAY IN LAS CORTES IF:
- You are on a budget
- You want to experience the multicultural hub of Bilbao
- You want to stay near the train station
- You don’t mind staying somewhere with a complicated reputation
7. La Vieja, Where to Stay in Bilbao for Nightlife
La Vieja is the city’s most prominent and trendy party district. Located immediately south of Las Cortes, the diverse culture of the surrounding districts bleeds over into the varied and multicultural dining and nightlife scene of La Vieja.
During the day, the neighbourhood is a vibrant hub of arts and culture, full of independent boutiques and galleries, which display the work of local artists. The art from these galleries spills out of their doors in the form of colourful street murals, which are well worth taking a street art tour to appreciate the best examples of.
The neighbourhood is structured around the central Miribilla Park, home to the Bilbao Arena. The Arena is beautifully designed with a cladding of scale-like green tiles in various hues, to blend into the surrounding landscape.
Primarily known for hosting basketball games, the arena welcomes frequent concerts and performances in the main venue, whilst also providing sports facilities, such as swimming pools and gymnasiums, for public use.
Miribilla park itself hosts markets and open-air events. If you are looking to appreciate the industrial history of the area, the San Luis brick furnace still stands in nearby Saralegi Plaza, preserved as a monument.
Meanwhile, if you look closely at many of the buildings now used as entertainment venues around the neighbourhood, you will notice that many of them are converted from old industrial factories.
YOU SHOULD STAY IN LA VIEJA IF:
- A busy nightlife is important
- You value independent art and design
- You are attending an event at Bilbao Arena
How Long To Stay In Bilbao?
For all that Bilbao is packed full of things to see and do, the city is still relatively small and compact. Almost everything of note is contained within the city centre, or just a few minutes away by metro.
With most of the iconic attractions within walking distance of one another, the city is ideal for shorter breaks. If you plan your itinerary well, you could comfortably take in the most iconic sights over a long weekend.
For a more comprehensive visit, there are enough museums, theatres, and restaurants to keep you entertained for a week, but beyond that you may find yourself running out of things to see.
Where To Stay Near Bilbao Airport?
The closest hotel to Bilbao airport is the Holiday Inn Express, just 1-mile away. The hotel has very good reviews and is reasonably priced, offering comfortable, spacious rooms, along with a free breakfast and airport shuttle.
Alternatively, if you are looking for something a bit more luxurious, the Hotel Seminario Aeropuerto Bilbao is just 5-minutes away from the airport and boasts stylish rooms, with beautiful views over the surrounding landscape. This hotel also offers a complimentary airport shuttle and breakfast.
Where To Stay With Family In Bilbao?
Families, particularly those with young children, would most benefit from staying in a central location, like Abandoibarra or around Plaza Moyua. These areas are both within comfortable walking distance, or a quick taxi ride, of the main sights and attractions.
There’s plenty to keep visitors of all ages entertained, and the selection of museums offer the opportunity for little ones to learn about the world around them. When you start to get hungry, the wide variety of dining options nearby will have something to suit even the fussiest eaters.
And when the kids need a break from all the culture and sight-seeing, there are plenty of urban parks for them to run off some of their energy.
Best Things to Do and See in Bilbao?
The most iconic site to visit in Bilbao is the world-famous Guggenheim Museum. Even if wandering around museums is not your preferred way to spend an afternoon, the building itself is an architectural marvel. Designed to capture the world’s attention, the Guggenheim Museum succeeded in putting Bilbao on the tourism map. Additionally, the world class exhibitions displayed here can inspire even those who usually find museums tedious.
Regardless of where you choose to stay, you should definitely visit Casco Viejo. The old sector of town is full of beautiful, historical architecture, and it is well worth spending an afternoon wandering the colourful backstreets.
Whilst in the neighbourhood, you may as well stop by the Teatro Arriaga, Bilbao’s oldest theatre. Even if you don’t have time to take in a show, the architecture of this historic building is magnificent and well worth the visit.
If you have time to explore a little outside of the city itself, the Vizcaya ‘hanging’ Bridge is just a 20-minute metro ride away. This gondola crossing the river was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2006 and provides stunning views across the surrounding landscape.
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Bilbao is a city with a chequered past that, with consistent investment over the last few decades, has blossomed into a destination full of world-famous attractions.
Whether you want to sample the distinct Basque cuisine in the region’s capital city, appreciate the mix of historical and world-class contemporary architecture, or shop at the city’s modern commercial districts, Bilbao is the perfect place to spend a long weekend.