Are you wondering where to stay in Bilbao? The best neighborhoods to stay in Bilbao are Ensanche, Casco Viejo, Uribarri, Bilbao La Vieja and San Francisco and Deusto.
For most of the 20th century, Bilbao was seldom thought of as a major tourism destination in Spain, at least not when compared with Barcelona, Costa del Sol, Madrid, and the Balearic Islands.
Once the architectural wonder known as the Guggenheim Museum inaugurated in October 1997, things changed for this cosmopolitan Basque city. Some of the best areas to stay in Bilbao are located close to the Guggenheim, but there are a few others to consider.
Located in the northern coast of Spain, Bilbao is the most populous and cosmopolitan city of the Basque Country, one of the most interesting and intriguing regions in Europe.
Life is good in Bilbao; this is an industrious city with a high index of social development, and the per capita income was the highest in Spain as of 2015. As previously mentioned, tourism is a relatively new driver of the Basque economy, but it has been growing exponentially.
Bilbao has a lot to offer; from beaches to wine and from gastronomy to culture, this is a place that is a true pleasure to discover.
Before we get into recommendations where you can stay in Bilbao, here are some quick facts:
* The Gran Bilbao metropolitan area is part of the Vizcaya province. There are about 860,000 residents, but population density is relatively low.
* The Basque Country is culturally distinct from Spain; its cultural roots are both Roman and Celtic, and the origins of its Euskara native language are uncertain, but visitors need not worry about this linguistic detail because everyone speaks Spanish and many tourism workers speak English.
* Bilbao is a proud recipient of the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize, which is the highest architectural honor in the world.
* You can arrive in Bilbao by air, train, bus, or cruise ship. This is an ultramodern metropolis that is not as expensive as other European destinations.
* Unlike the Mediterranean coastline of Spain, the sun does not shine on a year-round basis here; your best bet is to arrive during the summer months, which run from June to October. The temperatures are pleasant instead of sweltering.
If you stay in Bilbao during the winter, you will not have to endure freezing conditions, and you will be able to enjoy a holiday season with cultural traditions that are unique to the season.
With all the above in mind, here are our recommendations for you to stay in Bilbao during your visit to the Basque Country.
5 Best Areas Where to Stay in Bilbao
1. Ensanche (Indautxu-Abando), best area where to stay in Bilbao
We have already established that the Guggenheim Museum is the primary reason Bilbao has become a world-class tourism destination. There is no question that you should experience this architectonic marvel, but you can also get a room with a view of the Guggenheim when you stay in Ensanche, also known as the Indautxu-Abando district.
Connoisseurs of interesting and futuristic architecture will be more than happy to choose Ensanche when they plan to stay in Bilbao. In the two decades since the Guggenheim was completed, this district has been thoroughly transformed into one of the most visually pleasing spots of Europe.
Ensanche is like a world embassy of Bilbao; its elegance rivals Madrid and Milan, and it happens to be a pristine district with plenty of public art to admire.
Everything looks brand new here, and that is because it is either recent construction or has been renovated for the purpose of making Bilbao look better. Even the landscaping is carefully manicured in order to encourage visitors to walk through parks and leafy boulevards.
The cuisine offerings at Ensanche begin with traditional pintxos served at taverns and continue with upscale restaurants as well as ethnic eateries. As can be expected, dining and shopping are more expensive here, but the prices are still reasonable when considering the prestige of the district.
As for accommodations, there is fierce competition between boutique hotels that offer a view of the Guggenheim Museum, and this is good news for travelers because they are bound to find excellent deals from time to time.
There are some hostels in the district, but if you look around when booking online, you may spot a boutique hotel that only costs a few more dollars or euros.
Many visiting artists look for vacation rentals in Ensanche, which can be quite pricey because they are part of extremely luxurious properties. Finally, luxury hotels in Ensanche tend to be on the higher end of the opulent spectrum, but they are known to fully pamper their guests.
2. Casco Viejo, medieval ambiance, nightlife, and great bars and restaurantes
If you want a good introduction to Basque culture, Casco Viejo is where you want to stay in Bilbao. Also known as zazpi kaleak, which is Euskara for “seven streets,” the Old Quarter of Bilbao has a history dating back about seven centuries.
This riverbank village was once the bridge between the various kingdoms of Spain and the rest of Europe; here is where the original maritime port was built, and it was a major center of fishing and commerce.
The charms of Casco Viejo are tenderly protected by the local chamber of commerce. This district of Bilbao is adored by both tourists and locals; it is one of the most visited spots in the city after the Guggenheim Museum.
Whereas most of the city is a dream come true for lovers of modern and sleek architecture, Casco Viejo offers a quaint medieval ambiance that makes it one of the most endearing places to stay in Bilbao.
One of the many advantages of choosing Casco Viejo as your lodging base in Bilbao is that the district is filled with bars, restaurants, shops, markets, plazas, parks, and nightlife spots that are all within reasonable walking distance. This is ideal if you are the kind of tourist who enjoys wandering around for the sake of cultural discovery.
If you are into gastronomy, this is the best place to become acquainted with the tradition of tasting txikitos and pintxos; the latter are the equivalent of tapas and the former are small glasses for drinking the regional wines, which can be quite potent and liqueur-like.
There are dozens of lodging options in Casco Viejo, and many of them feel as if they are hidden. You will find everything from hostels to boutique hotels and from opulent long-term rentals to charming inns; however, you will not find chain or business hotels because they would clash with the historic vibe of the district.
With this being said, here’s another advantage of staying here: accommodations are very affordable and less than 15 minutes away from the Guggenheim and the central district of Bilbao.
3. Bilbao La Vieja and San Francisco, bohemian charm next to Casco Viejo
Historically speaking, Bilbao La Vieja is older than Casco Viejo, but only a few sections of the district have been selected for architectural preservation.
Located across the river from Casco Viejo, Bilbao La Vieja is comprised of four neighborhoods: Old Bilbao, Sant Frantzisko, Zabala, and the new Miribilla. Other districts of Bilbao tend to get more tourists, but this one is certainly worth considering during your visit because of its bohemian charms.
Bilbao La Vieja presents an interesting mix of the old with the new; many buildings and plazas have antique facades that have been lovingly maintained and restored through the years, and they juxtapose nicely with the new and ultramodern architecture inspired by the nearby Guggenheim museum.
In addition to aesthetically pleasing architectural diversity, you can also find plenty of diversity in terms of culture as you get around the various neighborhoods and appreciate the artistic graffiti.
When walking around the Marzana riverbank boulevard, be sure to look down at the engraved tiles in order to learn more about the history of La Vieja, which used to be a thriving port.
The waterfront cafes offer international and fusion cuisine menus. There is no shortage of trendy bars, boutiques, dance clubs, and art galleries; plus, this district is home to the Bilboko Berreginen Reproductions Museum where you can find faithful copies of famous paintings and sculptures such as the Venus de Milo.
As can be expected from a chic part of town, La Vieja and Sant Frantzisko are filled with boutique hotels and vacation rentals, many of which are elegant loft conversions.
There are a few hostels in the area, and they are a few notches above what you would expect from hostels accommodations in other European cities; you may pay a bit more, but it will be worth it.
4. Uribarri, close to everything and affordable accommodation
Officially known as the second district of Bilbao, Uribarri is where City Hall and the administrative offices are located.
Located in the northeastern quadrant of Bilbao, this district is mostly middle-class and residential, but it has a very interesting attraction: the Artxandako Funikularra, which takes you through the scenic hills of Bilbao and across the hanging bridge so that you can have a nice aerial view as you approach the Guggenheim Museum.
There are only a few hotels in this district, and they tend to be more traditional in the sense of Basque hospitality; plus, they are more affordable and more likely to have rooms available during the busiest days of the high tourism season.
You can also expect to find vacation rentals at more reasonable prices in Uribarri.
5. Deusto, where to stay in Bilbao on a budget
This university town is perfect for travelers who prefer a low-key and quiet place to stay in Bilbao. The campus is located on the riverbank, and this is where you can find plenty of eateries serving pintxos, wine, and cold beer.
Deusto is a very pleasant district to visit and stay in; naturally, there is a nightlife part of town, but it is surrounded by parks and greenbelt spaces that buffer the noise.
Budget travelers will find a few very affordable hostels in Deusto, but there are also some boutique inns with a nice view of the river and downtown Bilbao. In the northern section of the district, just a few kilometers from hilly nature preserves, you will find a couple of rural hotels that provide an authentic Basque lodging experience.
Deusto is also ideal for visitors who want to visit the northern beaches during the summer months, and a couple of local tour operators can take you on hiking trips of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve.