Spain is a top choice for a family holiday, it’s close enough to the UK to make the flight with kids bearable, it’s further South meaning the weather is generally warmer and popularity with holiday makers mean that there are plenty of things to do with the kids. The larger cities can however get very busy during the school holidays which is why I highly recommend a trip to Bilbao with kids.
This post contains affiliate links which means we may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through these links at no extra cost to you!
Where is Bilbao
Bilbao is located in Northern Spain, in the Basque Country. It is the capital of the province of Biscay and the largest city in the area. Being so far North (just over an hours drive France) is cooler than other popular parts of Southern Spain it’s beautifully green and surrounded by lush vegetation.
Getting around Bilbao with kids.
All the attractions are fairly spread out so you can expect to do a fair amount of walking, if you’re visiting with little ones, a stroller will come in handy. We had a hire car so easily worked our way from one place to the next although parking was extremely frustrating.
If you do hire a car in Spain the child car seat rules are pretty similar to the UK. Children need to be over 135cm AND over 12 years old. It’s always safer to bring your own, you never know if the ones you hire are damaged and dangerous. Pack More Into Life has some great recommendations for the best lightweight car seats for travel which is well worth a read.
Things to do in Bilbao with kids
This fantastic contemporary art museum opened in 1997 as part of the Basque Country’s push to modernise the city of Bilbao and attract more tourists. It seems to have done the job as more than 1 million people visit the museum each year.
I really think the ship inspired, titanium clad building, designed by Frank Gehry is worth the visit itself but it also has some interesting exhibits inside, and a kid friendly audio tour included in your entry fee.
My eight year old daughter loved the flower puppy sculpture by Jeff Koons and there are some wonderful other outdoor installations such at the huge “Maman” spider and “The tulips”
You can read more about our family friendly visit and see my other favourite pictures in my review of the Guggenheim, Bilbao
Take a guided bike tour
A fantastic way to explore Bilbao is by bike and will enable you to explore some of those off the beaten path destinations you may otherwise miss. All of the guides at Baja Bikes are English speaking locals, ready to take you on a safe, fun and affordable tour of Bilbao. Their highlights tour takes just 3 hours, costs €32 and covers:
- Guggenheim Museum
- the skyscraper Iberdrola
- the Euskalduna Palace
- the Historic Center
- the parks
Maritime Museum in Bilbao
Bilbao is still an Industrial shipping port and the Maritime Museum is a fascinating place to learn about its boating past.
The building is an unused shipping yard so there’s plenty of space for kids to run around and some interactive exhibits which they’ll love.
Take some time to play in one of Bilbao’s city parks.
Bilbao has a few family friendly parks which I find is the very best way to keep the kids happy when traveling anywhere. At the same time as they built the Guggenheim, Bilbao also invested in their green spaces. These are our favourite three:
- Doña Casilda Park
This is the city’s largest park and where you can let the kids run wild on a nice day. You can feed ducks on the lake and in summer you’ll likely find a small merry go round which is very popular with families.
- Ribera Park
Located next to the Guggenheim, this park has an interesting sculpture garden and some grass to run around in.
- Campa de los Ingleses
Another park next to the Guggenheim is the Campa de los Ingleses, this has some fantastic play equipment and is a lovely place to take a break after a visit to the museum. There are rope walks, slides, frames and swings to suit all ages.
You don’t need to head to a park for a few minutes of peace, the city and surrounding Basque country is so well set up for families, outdoor seating areas in pinxtos bars are often right next to fabulous play equipment. We loved sitting outside with a cold beer and selection of tapas watching Piper make friends on the monkey bars.
Fine Arts Museum Bilbao
Another fantastic art museum in Bilbao is the Museum of Fine Art. This one has a combination of both contemporary art and some of the classics and I think Piper enjoyed it even more than the Guggenheim.
The “hanging figures” by Juan Munoz are particularly popular.
The museum follows an ABC system where rooms are titled from A to Z and each piece of art inside the room following the theme. For example, Light in the L room, nature in the N room. Piper loved rushing to find out the theme and then working how the pieces fit in.
The museum also has a lovely cafe where we sat out the rain with a coffee and cake.
Stroll through Bilbao Old Town (Casco Viejo)
Bilbaos historic old town is full of beautiful cathedrals, narrow alleyways and sunny town squares, perfect for sitting and people watching.
This one won’t take you long to explore but try to visit and maybe pop into one of the boisterous pinxtos bars which will likely be full of locals catching up with friends from the afternoon onwards.
This is also where you’ll find the original seven streets of Bilbao, the oldest and quaintest parts of Bilbao dating back to the 1400’s.
Don’t leave without a look at the Catedral de Santiago, an impressive gothic structure overlooking a pretty little square.
Visit the Vizcaya Bridge
Also known as the hanging bridge, this one requires a two hour boat trip to get to. The boat trip itself is great fun and I highly recommend getting an audio tour to point out everything you’re passing. The Vizcaya bridge is a UNESCO site and the only one in the area you can travel over by foot or car or even walk over the top.
If you are on the boat, you’ll likely get to watch it floating across the river but if you visit by car its well worth a trip up to the top and is only a few euros to cross.
Park up on either side and walk across the top. It’s knee knockingly high but offers some great views across the area.
Try the Pinxtos
Pinxtos are the Basque Country’s equivalent of tapas, delightful little plates of tasty snacks. These can include a slice of tortilla, fish pates and fancy cheese and ham toastie. Most bars will happily heat them up for you and I think the idea is a bit of a bar hop, explore the city and popping into the closest bar for a beer and pinxtos when you’re peckish.
Ride the Artxanda Funicular
This is one we epically failed at doing but from reading other blogs about Bilbao, it sounds like fun. We put the address to the funicular in google maps but just couldn’t find it. It took our hire car up into the mountains to a fairly run down town and we unfortunately had to rush off to the airport so couldn’t spare the time to find it.
To avoid missing out on the Artxanda Funicular like we did, walk instead of drive and time it either before or after a visit to the Guggenheim. From the Guggenheim museum, head across the Zubizuri bridge and keep going straight until you reach Funikularreko Plaza. Yes, it really is that simple! Doh.
From the top you’ll be rewarded with some fantastic views of the city and surrounding mountains, there a few restaurants and bars to visit at the top.
The funicular is open year round and until 11pm over the summer months. It costs around a euro to ride.
Day trips from Bilbao
The surrounding Basque Country has so many family friendly activities you’ll be spoilt for choice day trips from Bilbao. My top recommendations are:
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
This is around a 45 minute drive from Bilbao to the Bizcaia coast. To reach the islet, you’ll first have to take an half hour hike down the Cliffside. The walk is pretty intensive but our 8 year old managed just fine.
Gaztelugatxe was featured in Game of Thrones as the location for Dragonstone so it’s become a pretty popular place but it’s so beautiful I highly recommend a visit, even if you’re not a fan of the series. Read more on our hike to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
Donostia San Sebastian
This city is widely thought to be the prettiest in Basque Country and it definitely is a beautiful place to visit offering typical Spanish streets and lovely beaches overlooking the Bay of Biscay.
It will take you about 2 hours and a few toll roads to reach San Sebastian from Bilbao so you will need to schedule a full day. Make sure you book somewhere special for lunch, Donostia San Sebastian is home to the most Michellin starred restaurants in the whole of Spain, the whole of the city is a foodies paradise!
Go to the beach
There are no beaches actually in the city of Bilbao but it won’t take you long to find one. If you don’t have your own vehicle then one of the easiest to access is Sopelana which can easily be reached by metro from the city centre.
Eating in Bilbao with kids
This is the one thing we struggled with in Bilbao with kids. The restaurants follow the same schedule as the rest of non-touristy Spain and are open for lunch between 1 and 4 and for dinner between 9 and 12. This did not suit Piper’s hours, she is normally in bed by 9 so eats around 5pm.
I imagine if your kids eat cheese and eggs, they’ll be fine with an evening meal of Pintxos, which is always available – the bars are always open. Unfortunately Piper doesn’t like cheese and is allergic to egg so couldn’t really try any (poor thing as they really were delicious!).
We ended up resorting to a Dominoes one evening and just buying some bread and fruit on another. We just made sure we ate well at lunch time.
Where to stay in Bilbao with kids
Barcelo Bilbao Nervion
Located near the Guggenheim Museum, next to the Town Hall, this hotel makes for a very central place to stay in Bilbao. It’s a popular choice for travelers without a car as its right next to the main train station. Perfect if you don’t want to drag the kids halfway across the city when you arrive.
They offer large family rooms and can provide extra beds. It has a small gym if you have any energy left after all that exploring.
Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao
A lovely 5 star hotel situated right outside the Guggenheim. It was totally renovated in 2018, ensuring the rooms will be clean and everything will be working! It has a fabulous rooftop terrace from where you can take some of the best shots of the gorgeous Guggenheim. They have a spa and gym making it a lovely place to relax.
If you’re looking for somewhere in the Old Town, this is a lovely boutique style hotel. It is cinema themed as the name would suggest and offers family sized rooms. Kids under 6 stay free, any older and they can stay in an extra bed for a fee. I’m sure kids will love the style and colours of this hotel.
How to get to Bilbao
Bilbao is super accessible from the UK with cheap flights from most airports. We went from Manchester with Easyjet. The flight took under two hours and cost less than £40 each.
You can also take the ferry from Portsmouth which means you’ll add a day to your travel time. But you can take your own car and Brittany Ferries offer many luxury features on board.
How long to spend in Bilbao with Kids
We only had a few days to see the city. Before heading off to visit the rest of the Basque Country. You could easily cover the important parts of Bilbao in two days. But throw in a few day trips and beach visits and you’ll be able to keep the kids entertained for a full week.
Best time to visit Bilbao
I think the Basque Country is one of your best choices in Spain if you’re restricted to traveling during the school holidays. Even in the height of summer, room rates stay reasonable and crowds are at a minimum.
We found the weather to be pretty similar to the UK with some rain, some clouds and some sunshine. We visited in early April and it was definite jeans and jumper weather with one day of gorgeous sunshine.
Summer months will see temperatures in the high 20s and the sea will be warm enough to swim in. It can however rain at any time of year which is why the area is so beautifully lush and green – just make sure you take a waterproof cover up and you’ll be fine.
So there you have it, everything you need to know about visiting Bilbao with kids. We loved that it is small enough that you can explore it all in a couple of days, all the parks and green spaces available for kids and that it is perfectly situated to visit the rest of the beautiful Basque Country
For another of our favourite Spanish cities to visit with kids, you might also like my Palma with kids destination guide
Make sure you pin for later for planning your next family visit to Bilbao.