Ferries and cruises to Bilbao, Spain

Bilbao, capital of the province of Biscay located in the Basque Country of northern Spain, has been populated since the 14th century, and has always been a popular place for visitors to come and enjoy the beautiful scenery and exciting atmosphere.

Whether it was the port, the export of iron, the early industrialisation, or the fantastic infrastructure that can take you to the rest of Spain quickly and painlessly, something drew the crowds, and many of them ended up staying.

But even if you don’t choose to make Bilbao your home, you can certainly have a wonderful holiday in this area, and take part in some very memorable activities here.

Getting to Bilbao

Ferry Routes

Operator Route Services Travel Time Price
Portsmouth Bilbao 3 weekly 23½ hours See prices °

This information is for reference purposes only. Journey times are approximate. Frequency is based on typical schedules. Schedules are subject to availability and weather conditions. Information correct at the time of writing.

Taster Cruise Ship Itineraries

Cruise line Typical itinerary Prices
Southampton Ports such as Bilbao See prices °
Southampton; Harwich Ports such as Bilbao See prices °

This information is for reference purposes only. Information correct at the time of writing.

Top 3 Cruise & Ferry Deals

  1. Cruise & Maritime Voyages 2 for 1 sale from £279
  2. 2 for 1 Guernsey mini cruise on Condor Ferries from £32
  3. Day trip to Rosslare with Stena Line from £5.50pp

Top tips when travelling to Bilbao by sea

  1. You can book a mini-cruise to Bilbao but you will only have a couple of hours to explore this wonderful Spanish destination. Consider booking a hotel room when you book your mini-cruise to extend your stay here.
  2. Consider taking your car or hiring a car to explore Bilbao at your own pace rather than relying on public transport or taxi drivers.

Sightseeing

With so much to do in Bilbao, you won’t need to leave the area to have a great time.

Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum is a modern building made for modern art. Just like its sister museums in New York, Venice, and Abu Dhabi, the Guggenheim Bilbao is crammed full of fascinating, infuriating, exciting art that demands to be looked at and examined.

There are a number of excellent permanent exhibitions (the puppy made of flowers is always a hit), as well as evening shows that highlight the beauty of art for the modern world. One of these is the impressive Art After Dark show that is held monthly. As a bonus, you can hire the museum’s audio guide to give you an insight into the building and architecture itself.

Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

Turning one hundred and eighty degrees when it comes to art, why not visit the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum? With free admission on Wednesdays (and low prices every other day of the week), there really is no reason at all not to come and explore the beautiful pieces of art on display here.

Located just by ‘Ducks Park’ for the last 40 years, there are paintings, sculptures, pottery, photographs, and even jewellery to gaze at. The temporary exhibitions always draw a huge crowd of locals and tourists alike, and there is always something new and beautiful to see. With an on site café and a ticket that covers both this and the Guggenheim, you can have a day of being immersed in art.

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo  is a small part of Bilbao that the word ‘quaint’ might have been invented for. Traditional, small, and full to bursting with fascinating shops, stalls, cafes, restaurants, and people, this is the place to visit when you feel in need of some true Basque culture.

This is the ‘old town’, and it lives up to its name, but also gives you a true sense of what Bilbao is like. Perfect for a stroll, an evening out, or to get some interesting souvenirs to take home with you.

Plaza Nueva

Plaza Nueva, the central square, is the perfect place to do some people watching, and to enjoy some on the food and drink on offer in Bilbao. Here you can sit back and relax as the general day to day life of the town goes on around you; see neighbours chat, and friends out for a walk.

See children play and parents enjoy some time to themselves. Everything is here, including a number of fabulous bars and restaurants. They do get busy though, so once you’ve found yourself a table, keep hold of it for as long as you can! On fiesta days this is where the party comes to after parading around the town, so get ready for some fun too!

Teatro Arriaga Antzokia

If you are looking for a great evening out, the Teatro Arriaga Antzokia is the place to go. This old theatre is in the ancient town of Bilbao, and is a beautiful building in its own right with a huge amount of history attached to it, offering guided tours for a reasonable price.

But of course, as a theatre, there are shows on most evenings and some afternoons, including operas, ballets, concerts, and plays.

Basilica of Begona

The Basilica of Begona is often called “the people’s cathedral” due to the fact that everyone is welcome to attend the services and masses that are held here. But even if there are no services on at the time you visit, you can still enter the church and enjoy the impressive architecture and religious décor inside.

There is an excellent choir here, and they often rehearse, so this is another great reason to stop by. Slip into a pew and listen to the heavenly voices as they echo around the large building. On religious feast days – particularly those to do with the Virgin Mary – the cathedral is packed, and the atmosphere is almost electric.

White Bridge

The White Bridge (or Zubi Zuri) is an important landmark in Bilbao. From here you can reach any corner of the town, and it is the gateway to all the information and activities you might want to discover.

But it is also a piece of modern art and architecture in its own right, and since it is a pedestrian only bridge, it can happily be part of a safe, convenient, and enjoyable stroll. An interesting fact about the bridge is that it was once covered in glass bricks but, although beautiful, they proved to be hazardous in the wet weather!

The design was changed and now the path is covered in black matting, making walking on this bridge a joy!

Euskal Museoa

If you want to know more about the Basque area and its history, then the best place to visit must be the Euskal Museoa. This well organised and fascinating museum contains information on the people, places, history, culture, architecture, art, and food and drink of the area, giving an insight into how the Basque region differs from the rest of Spain, and why.

Displays are well designed, and every piece of information is in English as well as Spanish and Euskara (the official Basque language), so you will be able to understand everything, and learn a little too.

And there's more...

If you are returning to Bilbao then don’t worry – you won’t have seen everything, and there are still some unique and adventurous activities to try!

  • The Mad Mansion is a strange and mysterious place to visit – and once you are there, you’ll have a terrible (terribly exciting) time getting out again! The Mad Mansion is an escape game in which you will be locked in the mansion, and have to solve puzzles in order to get out again. And the twist? You have one hour in which to do it! Speed, ingenuity, and a brave heart are all required in this attraction which is ideal for older children and adults.
  • The Artxanda Funicular is a superb piece of public transport that will take you to the top of the large Arxtanda hill, and allow you to experience the most spectacular views over the city of Bilbao. Not only can you feast your eyes on the scenery, but you can feast the rest of your body at the great restaurants found at the top too. This rather retro means of getting up and down the hill is fun, different, and a slice of a life past. It’s also very cheap, at less than a Euro per ticket.
  • Think you already know all there is to know about Bilbao? Well why not join in on a private tour and see what else you can learn? One such tour is run by Aitor Delgado and is considered the best Bilbao and Basque Country tour around. Delgado is an expert on the area, and his passion and love of the place comes across perfectly in his tours and the way he explains in minute detail exactly what happened where – the history of Bilbao is fascinating, and hearing it from an enthusiastic expert makes it even better. You will be shown a whole host of hidden gems, and since each tour is private, it can be tailored exactly to your requirements.
  • Walking Bizkaia is a new and exciting way to discover the country and area you are visiting. This is a walking tour of Biscay, and as you move from place to place you will be immersed in Basque culture. Authentic food, local guides, questions answered, and places visited, this is a wonderful day out exploring the area around Bilbao. Get off the beaten track and find something new.
  • Fronton Bizkaia is where the Basque sport of ‘pelota’ (handball) is played. Here you can watch matches or even join in with a game if you wish to book a court. Since this is the national game of the Basque Country, the local people will become extremely passionate, and it is fascinating to watch – all walks of life come here to enjoy the game, and the atmosphere is lively and animated; there is always a buzz in the air! The building itself is a great example of modern architecture, and is well worth crossing the strange and much loved hanging bridge to reach it.
  • For when you simply have to have local, authentic, totally fresh food and drink, you should visit the Mercado de la Ribera. This ‘Riverbank Market’ is the largest indoor market in Europe, and just wandering around the stalls with their tantalising aromas and colours is joy enough, but if you do wish to purchase anything then enjoy it! Fish, meant, fruit, vegetables, cheese, local wines, pastries, and sweet treats are all here – along with plenty of other delicious and different delicacies.

Bilbao Hotels

Get the hotel right and the rest of your holiday should happily fall into place. But where to stay? With a huge range of options in Bilbao, here are just a few ideas.

Bilbao Budget & Great Value Hotels

For the budget conscious there are plenty of places to rest your head without worrying your wallet.

Although basic, the rooms at Ibis Bilbao Centro are a fair size and are comfortable and clean. The location is excellent too, being near to all the major tourist attractions, and close to public transport too.

Artexte is ideal if you have a car, as it is located above the city giving you stunning views. It is a family run establishment, and the service reflects this by ensuring that any guests are treated as part of the family. Being away from the main town means that this is a peaceful place to rest your head after a day’s sightseeing.

Located just a few hundred meters from some excellent bars and restaurants, Hotel Bilbi is a lovely hotel if you want to enjoy the city’s nightlife. It is secure and comfortable with free car parking, and a great base for exploring the city.

Family Friendly Hotels in Bilbao

Finding the perfect family hotel can sometimes be hard – will they have everything you and your family need? These examples definitely do!

Hotel Miro is ideal for families on the go – room big enough to fit everyone in, close to all the best family attractions and sights in Bilbao, and staff who make it their priority to ensure you have a good time is just part of why so many families come back time and again to the Hotel Miro. There is also excellent food and drink to be had here, and the rooms are a good size and very comfortable. To top it all off, this is a unique hotel with many interesting and exciting features to explore.

Silken Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao is a lovely hotel which features adjoining rooms so that you can have your own space whilst still being close to the kids. It offers its own restaurant, but if you prefer you can go for a wander outside, and you will find you are not far at all from some lovely little cafes and restaurants, just right for a refreshing drink or snack.

Ideally located for the little ones since it is only a short walk to the main tourist sites, the Hotel Abando is basic but clean and comfortable, and caters well for family groups. There is plenty of room for everyone to have a bit of space to themselves, and it is tucked neatly away from the main hustle and bustle, yet close enough for you all to join in should you wish to.

Luxurious Hotels in Bilbao

Want to spend a little extra? These luxury hotels will give you the perfect break away you are looking for.

Right in the heart of the city, yet just moments away from a beautiful, tranquil park, the Melia Bilbao is luxurious and opulent, and designed to make you feel special.

There is an outside swimming pool to enjoy, and in the winter months it is heated so you can use it whenever you stay, and a gym so you don’t have to take a break from your workout routine. Breakfast is exquisite, and included in the price of your stay, which is a rare find in Bilbao.

The Carlton Hotel is a deluxe five stay hotel if ever there was one. This grand old hotel, with many original features making it a beautiful place to stay, is well regarded in the area, and rightly so. It is situated across from a metro station, but is also near enough to the main sights to allow for walking on nice days. An elegant hotel, this is a great place to spoil yourself – or be spoilt!

Restaurants in Bilbao

So you’ve worked out your itinerary, you’ve chosen an excellent hotel, but now you’re looking for somewhere to eat – easy! Bilbao is teeming with super restaurants, including those for the budget conscious.

El Puertito is great – it serves oysters and wine, and not much else, but it does it with style, and at a price that makes everyone smile. It’s different, friendly, and comfortable, and the food is delicious, and when it comes to restaurants, who can ask for more than that?

El Huevo Frito offers an amazing choice of tapas at a fabulous price, right in the heart of the city. Although more of a bar than a restaurant, it doesn’t matter – the food is fresh and prepared to order, the drinks are varied and reasonable, and the atmosphere is friendly and convivial – a great place for a fun, value for money evening out!

Family restaurants are everywhere in Bilbao, and it is more likely that you will be spoiled for choice rather than have nowhere to go.

With fantastic live entertainment as well as good food, Satelite T is a great place to take the family for some real Basque entertainment and cuisine. It is simple yet delicious, and ideal for taking some time to spend together as a family whilst enjoying a break.

You can’t go wrong with pizza when it comes to feeding the family, so Coppola Bilbao is perfect for taking everyone out for dinner. With a variety of pizzas and pastas to choose from, as well as good drinks and a fun and vibrant bar where locals like to hang out, everyone will be happy with this choice.

Want to treat yourself and your family to something that little bit special? Go for a luxury restaurant in Bilbao.

Etxanobe is all about classic cuisine that tastes incredible – and thanks to that ethos it has won a number of awards. Dishes such as traditional daily cooked Basque croquettes, snails in traditional sauce, hake with saffron, and fennel with strawberries and tomatoes grace the menu, and all are paired with superb wines.

Small and intimate, Restaurante Mina is often booked up weeks, if not months, in advance, and it’s no surprise to understand why once you see what is on the menu: Euskal goose egg with saffron and white Martini, Cantabrian hake baked with lobster juice, mussels with spicy tomato, coconut and lemongrass soup, and white miso cake with vanilla, hibiscus and lime. A romantic setting, excellent food, and attentive staff all await you here.

Bilbao for Families

Bilbao is a brilliant place for families to holiday together, whether it be for a long weekend or a full two weeks. With markets, museums, adventure, beaches, family friendly hotels and restaurants, and plenty of outside space to run around in, what’s not to enjoy about taking the entire family to Bilbao? The public transport in Bilbao is handy and punctual, so when little legs are tired you can stop walking and hop onto the metro. You can relax knowing that there is something for everyone to enjoy, and knowing that your budget is safe here.

When to Visit Bilbao

It rains in the Basque Country – and it rains a fair amount. So travelling in June to August gives you the best chance of escaping the wet and being able to walk around the city without worrying about the weather.

If weather is of no concern, and you don’t like the crowds, then visiting in the autumn is a good idea – the summer season is over, but the town is still alive with interest and colour. Plus this is wine season, and you can take part in the grape harvest.

For film buffs, the San Sebastian International Film Festival takes place in September – although not in Bilbao itself, public transport or a hire car will make it easy to get to Bilbao’s twin city, about 60 miles away.

Handy information

Where you will dock

The Port of Bilbao is located around 14 miles (about 23 kilometres) from the city centre. Good road connections means it's easy to drive into the city.

Foot passengers fear not as there is a Metro network. The nearest station is Santurtzi, 3 miles (about 5 kilometres) away. A taxi to the station would be a sensible choice! You could of course take the taxi into the centre of Bilbao though this will cost considerably more.

A train network connects Bilbao to major Spanish cities and the Iberian Peninsula. Madrid can be reached in under seven hours for instance. The nearest station to the port is Plaza Circular 2 in the heart of Bilbao.

Note: Cruise ships commonly dock in Getxo, opposite Bilbao Port. This is arguably a better location for foot passengers with the nearest Metro station - Neguri - only 1.3 miles (about 2 kilometres) away.

Nearest airport

Bilbao's airport sits to the north of the city, 20 miles (about 32 kilometres) from the ferry terminal or 8 miles (about 13 kilometres) from the city centre. Bilbao Airport is a transport hub and has excellent links to Spanish airports, those in the Canary Islands, and a selection across the UK and Europe.

Getting around

Bilbao has a great public transport network, with a Metro system, tram lines and a bus network. Much of Bilbao's attractions can be easily reached on foot.

You can take your car and easily drive around or opt to take taxis for the longer journeys.

Currency

The currency used in Bilbao is the Euro (€). 100 cents make up 1 Euro. Euro coins are available in 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents coins. Euro bank notes are available in €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500 values.

The exchange rate is currently around £1 equals €0.00. The rate you get when exchanging currency online or on the high street may differ to this rate as this figure comes courtesy of the European Central Bank. The foreign exchange rate may differ from this so it pays to shop around to get the most currency for your money

Ferry Routes

Operator Route Services Travel Time Price
Portsmouth Bilbao 3 weekly 23½ hours See prices °

This information is for reference purposes only. Journey times are approximate. Frequency is based on typical schedules. Schedules are subject to availability and weather conditions. Information correct at the time of writing.

Taster Cruise Ship Itineraries

Cruise line Typical itinerary Prices
Southampton Ports such as Bilbao See prices °
Southampton; Harwich Ports such as Bilbao See prices °

This information is for reference purposes only. Information correct at the time of writing.

Top 3 Cruise & Ferry Deals

  1. Cruise & Maritime Voyages 2 for 1 sale from £279
  2. 2 for 1 Guernsey mini cruise on Condor Ferries from £32
  3. Day trip to Rosslare with Stena Line from £5.50pp

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