Bilbao, the former industrial city of northern Spain has had a modern day renaissance by becoming a great destination for art and food among other things. Naturally a long 8 hour layover with it’s convenient 15 minute bus ride into the city made Bilbao an ideal and not nearly as bad place to be stuck in transit for a couple hours as exploring the city opposed to being stuck in an airport is very doable here.
See how I filled my time during my short time here and use these reminders below on how to make the most on a longer layover such as the one I did.
Long Layover Tips
- Figure out about how much time you will have in a city accounting for the time to return to the airport plus the 2 hour grace period asked by airlines to be at the airport.
- Pick the top 2-3 things you want to see/do. The key with layovers is not wanting to do the most but deciding what you really want to see and what is realistically doable with the amount of time you have available.
- Map out the most time efficient/economical way into the city and how you will go about getting to the top items on your list. With small cities like Bilbao most of the top attractions are near each other and easily walkable.
- Fingers crossed you don’t have to switch airlines so your luggage won’t be with you making your layover city tour doable. If that isn’t the case, see if the other airline will take your luggage before the 2 hour check-in window (If you ask nicely and explain why they should have no problem as I was able to do.) or in a pinch and should the airport not provide pay for storage facilities, bring luggage with you and find a hotel who can hold your luggage for you in their storage if they think you will be checking in later etc.
Airport to Bilbao city center – An economical option is to take the Bilbao airport bus into the city (Termibus) getting off on the first stop. Bus service starts at 6:15 a.m. and runs every 30 minutes until 12 a.m. The 15 minute ride costs €1.45 ($1.78 USD). The Estacion de Abando, located near the Plaza de Espana, is the major train station in Bilbao.
Where I Went
Plaza Nueva en el bario viejo is the old part of town where you will discover plenty of pinxtos bars for a snack lunch.
- Check out “Asador Sidreria Arrigara”, the highlight of any meal here is the local Basque cider which you pour yourself from a tap in the wall. (Tip: I ordered from the prefix menu which included a starter, entree, bread and dessert with unlimited cider for €13 euros ($16 USD). Admittedly, I may have gotten a bit excited pouring myself cider off a wall.
Stroll along the riverbanks. It’s a good way to work off all that food and enjoy the views including the awesome street art piece by Veronica Werckmeister titled “Giltza Bat” aka “A key” in 2012 which is situated across from the Guggenheim museum.
Museo Guggenheim – Modern art museum housed in Frank Gehry’s architect masterpiece – the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao opened in 1997 and admission is €13.00 ($16 USD) per adult / €7.50 ($9.24 USD) for students and includes an audio device to better inform yourself on the pieces and the architecture itself.
Outside Of The Museum
- Louise Bourgeois’ amazing Maman spider sculpture.
- Jeff Koons’ giant Flower Puppy Bear near the main entrance of the museum.
extra time in Bilbao?
(UPDATED with more from my trip in July of 2018 and 2019)
- Head to “El Globo” for delicious pinxtos and glasses of wine for $2 Euros ($2.47 USD).
- Visit “Ribera Market”, a restored art deco building with stained glass windows and stalls full of seafood and vegtables. Don’t forget to head to their market bar section for a drink of with wine (Rioja Alavesa is the standard here) or sangria which can be enjoyed outside along the river.
- Get lost in Casco Viejo or Old Town and see the breathtaking mural pieces.
- There is a big Latin American population in Bilbao and if Colombian cuisine is up your alley, visit “Melao de Cana” for authentic Colombian dishes at very pocket friendly prices.