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Bilbao has often been described as an 'urban phoenix', a colourful phrase reflecting the city's rise, in blazing colour, from a decaying industrial city in the nineties to the cultural powerhouse it is today. The arrival of the magnificent Museo Guggenheim helped, but this city's appreciation of food, and football, and festivals are what's kept its culture fresh while it's been beavering away industriously. The selection of the best places to stay in Bilbao also reflect its renaissance and some are as hip as the city's art installations.
Bilbao isn't the prettiest of cities, but since the opening of the Guggenheim in 1997 several other architectural treasures have sprung up, including Philippe Starck's converted wine warehouse exhibition centre, giving the whole city a much more dramatic look.
The largest Basque city, Bilbao is a busy port, but it's just inland from the coast, spreading out around the estuary, with the Old Town on the right bank and the newer areas on the left. Its centre is a good size to explore on foot, but if you want to spread your wings further there's an excellent, easy to use, public transport system.
If there's a must-see sight in Bilbao it's the Guggenheim, but that's partly because you can't avoid seeing it! Though depending on the angle you're viewing Ftank Gehry's creation from, it might resemble a boat, a fish or a chimney. Sunlight bounces off its glass and titanium, lighting it's graceful curves and cutting angles like a beacon.
At the other end of the architectural scale is the Basilica de Begona, which sits like Sacre Coeur on a hill, also the Catedral de Santiago, and the neatness of the Parque de Dona Casilda.
Bilbao is a great destination for foodies. In the Basque Country, tapas is called pintxos, and is a slightly more gastronomic affair. Friday and Saturday are the big pintxos nights. If you're here for the food you'll also want to visit the Mercado de La Ribera, which is open in the mornings, and evenings and closed in the afternoons. There's been a food market on this spot since the 14th Century, so the deliciousness has been well honed. This is also a great spot for soaking up local colour.
Our pick of the best places to stay in Bilbao are mainly located in the centre of the city (one right beside the Guggenheim), but we've also selected a charming hotel in Getxo, which enjoys a sea front location, whilst also allowing easy access to all that Bilbao has to offer.
For visiting the Guggenheim
- If you're here to see the Guggenheim, one of the best places to stay in Bilbao is the Miro Hotel, which is just opposite it, and right by the river. Sleek and modern with plenty of glass, this hotel is more than just a cookie-cutter modern hotel, it's got its own feel to it - as well as having all the mod. cons. you can imagine and fantastic views. It is also great value.
- The Gran Hotel Domine is also close to the Guggenheim, and it lends some of the museum's cache of cool by having its different areas designed according to different artistic eras. So you have the Bauhaus bit, the Sixties section and the 90s minimalist area. Quirky and cool, this is also one of the best places to stay in Bilbao if you're looking for a modern five star hotel.
For traditional grandeur
- If you're looking for a grand old dame of a hotel, the Hotel Carlton is one of the best places to stay in Bilbao. The decor is elegant and quite traditional, but they've also kept abreast of the times and offer everything a modern business traveller may need.
For the beach
- Hotel Embarcadero is located in Getxo, a short underground ride from the centre of Bilbao, and boasts lovely views over the port. It's also a good pick for foodies, as there's plenty of eaterires in the surrounding area, many specialising in local seafood. Plus it's just a short walk from Ereaga Beach.
For a holiday villa or apartment
- If you're travelling with family or in a group, then you might prefer a self catering apartment or villa. You'll find a wide range on offer if you visit our online partner, booking.com.
- Bilbao airport is located just 9km north of the city, and is served by a wide range of International carriers.
- Best time to visit? Bilbao is a great city to visit at any time of year, however if you want to enjoy the northern Spanish beaches as well as the culture, then come in the summer months (June to September) when the average highs are around the mid twenties celcius.
- For car hire we recommnend our online partner, Holiday Autos.
Still not sure which to book?
Best Hotels in Bilbao
Hotel Carlton 142 rooms from $103Bilbao
A grand hotel in central Bilbao. Contemporary classic rooms and suites have seamless furnishings and all the mod cons. Traditional elegant living areas and restaurant. Meeting rooms and a gym. A stylish spot for tourists and business visitors.Value chic - For a five star hotel it offers great value. Doubles can be had for as little as €99 per night.Local exploring - A luxurious base from which to explore both Bilbao and the surrounding area.City Style - A luxury five star stay in the centre of Bilbao.Sights nearby - Situated bang in the centre of town. 10 minutes from the Guggenheim MuseumRecommended by - CN Traveller
Miro Hotel 50 rooms from $125Bilbao
A fabulous contemporary designer hotel opposite the Guggenheim and close to the river. Sleek modern rooms and enormous suites have all the mod cons and fantastic views. Excellent tapas restaurant, spa, gym, and meeting rooms. A super stylish choice.Sights nearby - 5 minutes walk from the historic city centre and literally across the road from the GuggenheimCity Style - A supremely stylish stay in the heart of buzzing BilbaoViews - Great views over Frank Gehry's masterpieceLocal markets - Good for local colour.Recommended by - I Escape, CN Traveller, Tablet
Hotel Embarcadero 27 rooms from $148Getxo, Basque Country, Spain
In the heart of the port-town Getxo, this hotel has wondrous views over the bay from many room as its terrace, where you can while away days with traditional Basque food & drink. Only a short underground journey from Bilbao, and short walk from a World Heritage Site: Puente Colgante.Local exploring - A great base for exploring both Bilbao and the wider Basque Region.Riverside - Beautiful views over the river and towards the sea from the suitesSights nearby - Just a quick trip on the metro and you're in the centre of BilbaoSurfing - Suitable beaches nearby.
Gran Hotel Domine 145 rooms from $157Bilbao
A quirky Five Star hotel close to the Guggenheim and the river. Each area of the hotel is designed according to era, Bauhaus, the sixties, 90s minimalism. Rooms and suites are contemporary with balconies and all the mod cons. Fabulous Basque cuisine. A trendy choice.City Style - A smart contemporary luxurious hotel, ideal for those with an eye for design.Sights nearby - Situated opposite the Guggenheim Museum, right in the heart of Bilbao's Arts Quarter.Outstanding location - The only five star property located across the road from the GuggenheimQuirky - Each part of the hotel is designed by 20th century era.Recommended by - Tablet, CN Traveller