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Bilbao sits along the banks of the Nervión River in Spain’s Basque county, nearly eight miles south of the Bay of Biscay. The city, founded in the 14th century, is most famous for its controversial and ultra-modern Guggenheim Museum. It is the museum that has put Bilbao on the map, attracting more than 600,000 visitors each year. Bilbao is sandwiched between the Pyrenees Mountains and the Cantabrian Mountains, offering spectacular scenery, not only in the city but out of it as well. Rolling landscapes, stunning beaches and world-class wineries make for easy daytrips, with car rental the best way to get out and explore.
Who to Book With
Top suppliers, such as Budget, Europcar and Avis, offer car hire in Bilbao, with branches found at the airport, the train station and in the city centre itself. Local agents, such as Beste Alde and Alquibilbo, are also present in the city centre. Arranging a car online ahead of time is recommended to ensure a vehicle is available and that you get the best rates.
Best time to go
Bilbao has quite a mild climate, although it definitely sees the most visitors in the summer months, as this is when the city is the hottest and driest. The winter here rarely gets colder than zero, although it is not very favoured by travellers. For pleasant weather with fewer crowds, try visiting in May or September.
Need to Know Essentials
Upon vehicle collection of your rental car, the following documents will need to be produced:
- The credit card used to make the booking
- A valid EU driving licence
- Some other form of identification
- Verification of booking
Bilbao’s urban area is only 6.70 sq miles, yet it is not very driver-friendly. It is well connected to the rest of Spain, although driving in the city itself can be difficult for due to its one-way streets and heavy traffic. There are car parks in the city centre that use a pay and display system, but some are reserved for residents only, so drivers need to be wary of this. Still, a car is useful for getting out of Bilbao and exploring the rest of the region.
The most convenient way to get around Bilbao proper is by public transport, as the metro has two lines and there are 42 bus routes that zigzag through the city. There is also a tram that runs along the river, while those that like to walk can do this route on foot.
RENFE trains operate out of the Bilbao-Abando Railway station and connect the city to Madrid, Barcelona, Vigo and Malaga. Cercanias commuter trains also depart from here, linking Bilbao to Santurzi, Muskiz and Orduña. Lines 1 and 2 of the MetroBilbao have stops here, as does Line A of the EuskoTran.
All taxi operators can be contacted through one central number, and a taxi will be at your door within five minutes. There are also a few taxi ranks throughout the city, as well as one at the Bilbao-Abando Railway station and another at the airport.
There are 43 bus lines in the city that are served by the local Bilbobus, providing a great way to get around. Tickets can be purchased on board at €1.25 per journey, although a Creditrans card, which can be used on buses, trams and the metro, is recommended. Bilbao’s main bus station (Termibus) is where BizkaiBus lines depart, connecting the city to the airport as well as to other destinations in Northern Spain.
Bilbao itself has much to offer, although there is still plenty to see outside of the city as well. Beautiful seaside resort towns, picturesque mountain villages, Renaissance houses and historical towns await, and all and more can be enjoyed on stunning self-driving tours. The Cantabrian Mountains and Pyrenees Mountains are just a short distance away, while those looking to soak up the sun can spend the day in San Sebastian or Santander.
La Riojas - This is Spain’s wine-making region, just over an hour’s drive from the city. Haro is one of the best places to taste the supreme wine and visit many Bodegas. The beautiful drive north through the mountains along the AP-68 motorway will get you there. Alternately, take a detour and head south along the N-240 and then the A-1.
Guernica - Made famous by Pablo Picasso and his memorable painting of the tragic April 26, 1937 Nazi bombings. There is plenty to see in this historical town, including the Parish Church of Santa María, the Park of the Peoples of Europe, the Guernica Peace Museum Foundation and the Euskal Herria Museum. The town is less than an hour’s drive away.
Zarautz - A great place to enjoy the sun, sand and sea, having a beautiful long beach on the Bay of Biscay. It is also a major food centre, with some of the country’s best chefs, including Karlos Arguiñano and Hilario Arbelaitz, based here.