The variety of landscapes and experiences Bilbao Biscay offers is endless. Here, the most modern and ground-breaking developments coexist with traditions whose origins are lost in the mists of time, the salt air of the Cantabrian Sea harmonises with the quietness found in the shady beech forests, the dynamism of coastal towns contrasts with the peacefulness of rural communities, and mighty mountains that seem to catch the clouds in the sky share landscapes with the imposing coastal cliffs against which waves break.

A week is probably time enough to travel around Bilbao Biscay, discover some of the many things it has to offer, and pay a visit to its main attractions. But seven days is also more than enough time to fall in love with the region. From the moment you arrive, Bilbao Biscay will be your home and when you leave, you will immediately start planning your next visit.

Day 1 - The Bilbao of the 21st century

A good departing point to get to know the capital of Biscay is the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. This avant-garde building, designed by Frank Gehry, is a symbol of the transformation of Bilbao in the last few decades. Moored by the Estuary, the museum displays a façade made of titanium panels whose hues change depending on the colour of the sky that is reflected on them.

The spectacle continues inside the museum, which is remarkable not only because of its singular architecture but also due to the quality of the works of art exhibited in it: a collection of masterpieces of worldwide renown produced in the last century. Art has also taken over the space that surrounds the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, resulting in the creation of a sculptural esplanade in the environs of the museum. By the main entrance, visitors are welcomed by Puppy–a lovely terrier covered in flowers who has become the city’s pet–, while Maman–a 9-metre-tall spider–surprises walkers and passers-by near the pond.

After spending the morning admiring innovative art, and after replenishing your energy at one of the many quality restaurants in the area, you must definitely take a walk around Abandoibarra, the area that neighbours the museum. Nowadays, parks and buildings occupy this former industrial and harbour space on the bank of the Estuary of Bilbao, a place that was transformed into a showcase of international architecture. In Abandoibarra, we can find buildings conceived by the most prominent architects in the world: the Iberdrola Tower, Deusto University Library, the Paraninfo UPV/EHU, the Artklass Building, or the Euskalduna Conference Centre. This fine display of modern architecture is topped off with beautiful walking areas, gardens, and open-air sculptures.

Day 2 - Art, shopping, and history in the centre of Bilbao

The following day, we suggest you visit the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, an art gallery that exhibits some of the finest pieces of all time. These works by Goya, Zurbarán, El Greco, Murillo, Gentileschi, Gauguin, Sorolla, Bacon, Chillida, Tàpies and Barceló, among others, are arranged in an unusual manner: instead of using the expected chronological order, the paintings and sculptures are sorted out into rooms in alphabetical order. Each of these rooms has a different theme, which allows visitors to better appreciate the evolution of art in them.

When you leave the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, but not before taking a well-deserved break in Doña Casilda Park where you can relax under its leafy trees, the best thing you can do is take Gran Vía Street at Plaza del Sagrado Corazón–easily recognisable by the statue of Jesus that stands on top of a 40-metre-tall pedestal–and enter the Ensanche, one of the most important shopping and business hubs in Bilbao. The buildings in the Ensanche, built at different times and in different styles, house all kinds of traditional and modern shops, restaurants where you can treat yourself to a good meal and enjoy the best of our cuisine, bars at which you can have a glass of txakoli wine or two, and small parks and green areas where you can make a stop to rest.

Within the Ensanche you will also find the elegant Plaza Moyúa, the Biblioteca Foral, the Azkuna Zentroa cultural centre, the Bizkaia Delegation Palace, the Jardines de Albia garden, the sculpture of Don Diego López de Haro–who founded of the city in 1300–, Abando Station with its magnificent stained-glass window, the modernist Casa Montero, the Campos Elíseos Theatre–a gem of a place–, samples of bourgeois architecture such as the Chávarri Palace, the Ramón de la Sota House, the Ibaigane Palace, or the Lezama Leguizamón House. Ledesma, Maestro García Rivero, Licenciado Poza, Diputación, and the surroundings of Plaza del Ensanche are some of the most popular and lively streets in the district, perfect for those want to soak up the real ‘poteo’ atmosphere in their pubs.

Day 3 - Casco Viejo, the heart of Bilbao

The Arenal Bridge at the end of the Ensanche gives you access to Casco Viejo, the heart and historical centre of Bilbao, an intricate maze of bustling medieval streets that grew around seven original streets called Las Siete Calles. The entrance to Casco Viejo is El Arenal, a park on the bank of the Estuary where some of the most important events of the city are held: the Aste Nagusia, the weekly Sunday flower market, and Santo Tomás Market, a yearly celebration that takes place just before the Christmas season commences in Bilbao. Other landmarks that can be found at El Arenal include the Arriaga Theatre; the beautiful bandstand, which resembles a delicate shell; or the Church of San Nicolás de Bari with its eye-catching Baroque facade. Bilbao City Hall, at the end of the El Arenal, stands out because of its elegant front steps, the sculptures on its façade, and the Arab Hall–an evocative reception room decorated in a mixture of Arab styles.

Once in the narrow streets of Casco Viejo, you must pause to admire the beauty of the Bidebarrieta Library before you have a pintxo and a txakoli at the traditional bars in Plaza Nueva. It is also interesting to see how wealthy families used to live in Bilbao by stopping by the Allende Salazar Palace, the Gortazar Palace, the Mazarredo House, or the Arana Palace which, dating back to 1590, is currently the oldest palace in Bilbao. Admiring the gothic cloister of the Santiago Cathedral; visiting the vast collections on display at the Basque Museum and the Archaeological Museo to delve into the history of both Bilbao and Biscay; walking to the Bridge and Church of San Antón to set foot in the place where Bilbao was born; and getting lost among food stands in La Ribera Market, a heaven on earth for food lovers, are but a few examples of all the things you can do here.

If you still have a little time, apart from enjoying the ambience of the poteo and going from bar to bar in search of your favourite pintxo in streets like Unamuno, María Muñoz, Santa María, Jardines, Barrenkale, Somera, or Plazuela Santiago, you can visit the neighbourhood of Atxuri–one of the oldest in Bilbao–or cross the Estuary to immerse yourself in the bohemian and multicultural atmosphere of former miners’ neighbourhoods like Bilbao La Vieja or San Francisco.

Other points of interest in Bilbao you cannot miss include the multicoloured English-style homes in the neighbourhood of Irala; the views over the city from Mount Artxanda recreation area; Bilbao’s Greenbelt and the trails that run across the mountains around the city; the modern San Mamés Stadium, home to Athletic Club, and its museum; the kayaking experiences and the boat trips on the Estuary; the alternative cultural programme at Zorrotzaurre; the maritime essence of the neighbour of Olabeaga, Bilbao’s ‘Little Norway’; or the always interesting Itsasmuseum, where you have the opportunity to learn about the Estuary of Bilbao, its history, and the importance seafaring activity in the city has had throughout the years.

Day 4 - Maritime atmosphere and a World Heritage Site by the Estuary

It is easy to go for a day trip to almost any nearby town thanks to Metro Bilbao, the amazing work of engineering designed by Norman Foster that connects the towns on both banks of the Estuary. A short journey, for example, takes you to Santurtzi on the Bilbao Abra Bay. Once you have visited its fishing port, the fishermen’s association headquarters, and the monument that pays tribute to the sardineras who used to sell from door to door the fish caught daily, you cannot leave Santurtzi without eating a dish of sardines, which are beautifully cooked in the town.

A pleasurable walk by the Estuary takes you from Santurtzi to Portugalete, a historical town on the Left Bank. Spending some time in its medieval historical centre, which features outstanding places like the Basilica of Santa María, the Rialia Industry Museum, or the Paseo de La Canilla, is highly recommended.

Linking Portugalete with Getxo, on the other side of the Estuary, you can find the majestic Vizcaya Bridge. This iron colossus, popularly known as the ‘Puente Colgante’, has been a World Heritage Site since 2006 for being one of the greatest examples of iron architecture, which characterised the Industrial Revolution in Europe. Apart from how impressive it looks, what is really surprising is the fact that the Vizcaya Bridge has never ceased to operate since its inauguration in 1893, carrying passengers and vehicles from one bank to the other day in day out.

Crossing the Estuary on the Vizcaya Bridge you get to the neighbourhood of Las Arenas, in Getxo, where the Paseo de las Grandes Villas begins. This walk by the coast runs next to the most representative homes of the Biscayan bourgeoisie, built at the turn of the 20th century. By looking at them, you can marvel at an architectonic style that was all the rage among the most well-off families in the region back then. The walk will also reward you with the picturesque seascape of the Puerto Viejo in Algorta. This typical fishing neighbourhood preserves all its charm thanks to its narrow streets and the houses painted in cheerful colours and it is an ideal place to have pintxos and potes while you watch the sun set over the sea.

Day 5 - Exploring the coast

Sailing on a boat, going whale watching, doing water sports, discovering magical coastal places steeped in history, or simply relaxing near the waters of the Cantabrian Sea, are some of the infinite options available for those who want to make the most of the sea in Biscay. From Muskiz to Ondarroa, the Biscayan coast is made up of a series of vertiginous cliffs, sandy and rocky beaches, fishing ports, and estuaries.

One of the best ways to see what the Biscayan coast has to offer is dropping by the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve. The lower course of the Oka River creates a true natural haven between the sea and the mountain where thousands of birds can be found each year resting during their long migrations, where nutrient-rich waters attract large cetaceans, and where native plants flourish on each and every corner.

Urdaibai holds the key to better understand Biscay, and it is a paradise for history enthusiasts. Hidden in it, you can find the Santimamiñe Cave, a witness to human presence in the area for over 14,000 years; the megalithic complex of Katilotxu; the Iron Age remains at the Oppidum of Arrola; the vestiges of Roman occupation in the Forua Historic Complex and in the Tribisburu necropolis; and the medieval burial site of Ereñozar on the top of a hill.

Equally historic are the Assembly House and the Tree of Gernika, symbols of the Basque Freedoms, which were effective for centuries. The town sadly became famous because of the bombings that destroyed great part of its territory, an episode that is remembered in the Gernika Peace Museum.

Having played a crucial role in the history of Biscay, Bermeo was also one of the most important strongholds in the region in the Middle Ages. The town features a fishing port and a series of medieval palaces that belonged to the nobility of the time.

Any of the wineries that dot Urdaibai are well worth visiting too. The grapes used to produce txakoli grow on the slopes of its hills, in south-facing vineyards. This young fruity wine pairs perfectly with the fish that is unloaded every day at nearby fishing ports, which is masterfully prepared in the restaurants of the area. Without the slightest doubt, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is among the major attractions in the region, being one of the most magical spots of our coast. Connected to mainland by 241 steps and crowned with a chapel, this mythical rocky islet is truly unique.

Urdaibai is world-renowned for a famous left-breaking wave that emerges from the waters of Mundaka. In front of the town’s small fishing port, surfers from all over the planet gather to ride this 400-metre-long wave that can reach a height of 4 metres. A quieter plan is also possible if you go to any of the different beaches or coves that lie scattered along the coastline: Aritzatxu, Hondartxape, Laidatxu, Toña, San Antonio, Kanalape, Laida, Antzoras, or Laga are examples of some of them.

The same as in Urdaibai, the Biscayan shores are full of spectacular dreamlike places waiting to be discovered: the cliffs at Punta Galea in Getxo, Sopela and its beaches, the Flysch of Bizkaia in Barrika, the bay of Plentzia, the black rocks at the port of Armintza in Lemoiz, the long sandy beach in Bakio, the town of Elantxobe with its steep streets, the charming fishermen’s village of Ea, Garraitz Island and Santa Catalina Lighthouse in Lekeitio, or Ondarroa with its distinctive bridges.

Day 6 - At the core of Biscay

Featuring tall mountains, narrow valleys, and dense forests, inland Biscay constitutes a fundamental part of the essence of the region. Here, our old-age customs and the myths and legends of our ancestors are kept alive. A lifestyle connected with nature is the basis of every baserri–our typical farmsteads–, where tradition is highly respected, and the region is replete with natural parks where autochthonous species thrive.

The most illustrative examples of striking inland natural settings are the three Biscayan natural parks: Urkiola, Gorbeia, and Armañón. Each one boasts diverse landscapes and experiences, but all of them are traversed by innumerable trails that allow you to fully immerse yourself into unspoilt natural environments.

At the easternmost part of the region, Armañón Natural Park is a rarity due to its microclimate, thanks to which unusual plant species–native to warmer latitudes–grow in its valleys. This is the case of Sopeña Holm Oak Forest, a large forest area rich in wildlife. The caves and chasms that secretly make their way into the mountains are certainly the real gems of the park, especially Pozalagua–one of the very few caves in the world where you can see eccentric stalactites. The sight offered by the stalactites and stalagmites formed over many millennia is absolutely breathtaking.

Urkiola Natural Park is another fairy-tale location you can go to in Bilbao Biscay. Shaped by naked rocky peaks and beech trees, Urkiola is a true haven for the 137 animal species and 700 kinds of plants that inhabit it. Urkiola is also home to a few of our mythological creatures. Some say that, while hiking along the many trails that go through the park, they have seen Mari–our mother goddess–riding a cloud by the cave she dwells in, under the shadow of Mount Anboto. Besides, Urkiola is the ideal destination for those who are looking for love. A few walks round the magic stone–which locals say is a meteorite–next to the entrance to the Santuary dedicated to St Anthony Abad and St Anthony of Padua and you will find a partner in no time.

Gorbeia Natural Park is dominated by the highest summit in Biscay. With a height of 1,481 metres, Gorbeia is a mecca for climbers and mountaineers, who traditionally climb it on January 1st to watch the first sunset of the year from there. The ascent to the top, and its iconic Cross, is made across stunning landscapes shaped by pastures and forests. However, the summit is only one of the many corners in the park where you can feast your eyes on the scenery. You can additionally enjoy the views of the rocks towering over the Itxina Protected Biotope; the amazing window made of stone in the Ojo de Atxalur; the Baltzola Cave and its mysterious legends; the singular ecosystem in Saldropo, which evolved from an old peat bog; or the fascinating atmosphere created by the beech pollards in the Otzarreta Beech Forest.

Day 7 - Inland towns and villages

Trading, farming, and shepherding are the activities Biscayan inland towns and villages have based their lifestyles on, knowing how to maintain the harmony and the natural rhythms of the seasons in the same way as they have managed to preserve an impressive cultural and architectural heritage throughout the centuries.

Situated at the easternmost end of Biscay, Markina-Xemein is a crossroads that the pilgrims who follow the thousand-year-old Coastal Jacobean Route still pass through on their way to Santiago. The town centre is replete with palaces and medieval tower-houses, proud of accommodating the largest church in the Basque Country, Santa María de la Asunción of Xemein. The chapel of San Miguel de Arretxinaga, with its three huge rocks inside, is also a distinctive landmark to visit in Markina-Xemein.

Elorrio, another charming inland town, has a historic centre dotted with palaces, emblazoned houses, and gardens. It is also the birthplace of San Valentín de Berriotxoa, whose remains lie in the imposing Basílica of the Purísima Concepción. The Necropolis of Argiñeta, an ancient medieval funerary complex, is just a few minutes away from the town centre.

Durango stands at the foot of Urkiola Natural Park. This town, a cornerstone in the history of Biscay, preserves its medieval flavour in the layout of its narrow original streets and in monuments like the Arch of Santa Ana or the Church of Santa María’s gigantic portico. Another iconic landmark in Durango is the Kurutziaga Cross, a wayside cross that is believed to have played a part in the trials for heresy and witchcraft that once took place in the town.

The central importance Orduña had as a trading hub in the past is reflected in the fact that it is the only official ‘city’ in Biscay nowadays. Life in Orduña revolves around the Plaza de los Fueros, the biggest medieval square in the Basque Country, and the palaces that surround it, built by families that had made their fortunes thanks to the commercial transactions carried out between the towns on the plateau and those on the coast. Hidden in the Sierra that surrounds Orduña, you can discover one of the most stunning natural spectacles. The Salto del Nervión is a dramatic 270-metre fall at the source of the most important water artery in Biscay: the River Nervión.