Only in relatively recent years has Bilbao become a popular cruise destination. Now, new major attractions and the city's fascinating history make this Spanish destination a favourite for many. Narrow streets are lined with independent shops, tapas bars and beautiful buildings in the Old Quarter, whilst the more modern parts of the city include contemporary museums and leisure facilities.
Your cruise ship will dock in Santurtzi or Getxo, both of which are six miles from the centre of Bilbao. You can choose to walk to the major attractions, or take a shuttle bus from the port to some of the more popular parts of the city.
Bilbao's Old Quarter is the first place most choose to see on their shore excursions. It's known as Casco Viejo, and has rows of tall and narrow colourful houses with balconies. Tree-lined streets are free from cars, and the ground floors of most residences have been converted to cafes and restaurants. There are lovely parks, museums and churches throughout the Old Quarter, and in late August the city comes alive with a nine-day fiesta with music, street performance, firework displays and a range of events. Whenever you visit, you'll have all of Bilbao's best attractions to enjoy:
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
The city's Guggenheim Museum is the attraction that it's best known for, with contemporary art on display. The building's easy to identify; an unusual shape covered in shimmering metal. Inside the museum you can enjoy views of the river and see collections of photographs, paintings and sculptures from well-known names including Picasso, Pollock and Miro. The museum also displays art from relatively unknown contemporary artists.
The Alhondiga building is a modern complex where you'll find bars and restaurants, a library and a cinema. Perhaps the most interesting feature is the roof-top swimming pool, which has a glass floor. It's worth paying a visit if you'd like to enjoy good food and the latest movie, as a break from museums and art galleries.
Artxanda Funicular Railway
A short ride on this funicular railway takes you from Bilbao's downtown area up to the top of the Mount Artxanda. From there, you'll enjoy panoramic city views and can visit attractions including restaurants, a park and sporting facilities.
Shopping in Bilbao
As you walk through Bilbao, you'll find plenty of independent shops and will end up laden with stylish souvenirs. Leather accessories, shoes, clothes and bags are sold in various colours from market stalls and independent shops, whilst pieces of art are another popular purchase in this city full of galleries. The city's markets are some of the largest in the country, with the Mercado de la Ribera being one of the biggest covered markets in Europe. Here, you'll find fresh foods as well as souvenirs, gifts and holiday essentials. Alternatively, take a walk to Plaza Nueva where a flea market is the perfect place to buy collectables and antiques including Spanish coins, stamps, books and decorative items.
Eating out in Bilbao
You'll be hard-pressed to find better seafood than the fish, squid and mussel dishes served in Bilbao. Various restaurants prepare their dishes in a selection of sauces, with anchovy sauce being particularly popular and with squid often cooked in its own ink. Meat dishes include cured ham, and cow's tail, whilst Spanish staples like paella feature heavily on most menus.
If you're keen to enjoy as much time as possible at the city's biggest attractions, then you can stay on site and enjoy the restaurant at the Guggenheim Museum. It's a lovely bistro with views of the river, where favourite dishes include a seafood soup that's prepared using fresh, locally sourced ingredients.