Cheap and Deep: Tap Into the Arts and Get Outdoors in Bilbao, Spain

For the better part of a century, Bilbao was a Spanish industrial city of gray factories and faceless shipping ports. That all changed when the Guggenheim Museum opened in 1997, bringing with it a wave of art, architecture, and music that has transformed the Basque city from an industrial blemish to a growing destination on the European map.

Bilbao might not be on everyone’s European travel list – that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. Photo: Flickr

In addition to winning the Urbanism Awards’ 2018 European City of the Year, Bilbao boasts the rich Basque food culture of small plate pintxos and homemade wines, as well as unrivaled access to the outdoors. With the coast just 15 minutes away, and ringed by lush, green mountains, Bilbao offers as much fun outside the city as it does in downtown.

But how to do it without spending your entire Eurotrip savings in one tinto-soaked weekend, you ask? Here are a few of the best ways to enjoy Bilbao, cheap and deep.

Bed Down at All Iron Hostel

A new establishment perched on the legendary Camino de Santiago near the Basilica de Begoña, All Iron Hostel is a mix of pilgrims and world travelers, providing a uniquely international crowd. For 17 euros a night, you can snag a dorm bed with breakfast included and panoramic views of downtown. Budget? It sure doesn’t feel like it.

Cheap Pintxos Don’t Mean Bad Pintxos

We dare you to stop at just one. Photo: Courtesy of Kade Krichko

Cheap pintxos don’t necessarily mean bad pintxos, just ask Pikata and Bar El Figón close to Done Bikendi Plaza. These dueling bars, conveniently located across the street from each other, offer a wide and creative variety of delectable finger foods for only 1 euro a pop. And not just the cheap ones, we’re talking across the board. For those doing math at home, that’s about $5 for a trio of pintxos and a beer. Excited yet?

Cruise Bilbao’s Green Ring

A marathon of public trails rings Bilbao, even linking up with the Camino de Santiago. Photo: Wikiloc

When it comes to outdoor access, Bilbao is literally surrounded. Running the entire mountainous perimeter of the city, Bilbao’s GR-228 trail connects 26.2 miles of city parks, trails, and roads to form one heck of an urban trail. The trail has several access points throughout the city, including in Begoña and Etxebarria, and serves up forests, hills and plenty of free views of the entire city for bikers, runners and hikers alike.

Discover (Free) Museum Alternatives

The Guggenheim will always be Bilbao’s big draw, but the Museo de Bellas Artes and its free Wednesday admission aren’t a shabby alternative. Photo: Courtesy of Felipe Valdueza/Flickr

The Guggenheim is almost never free, but plenty of other museums around the city offer free tickets once a week. Whether it be the Museo de Bellas Artes and its collection of Goya and El Greco on Wednesdays, the Museo Maritimo on Thursdays or the Basque-centered Euskal Museoa Bilbao any day of the week, free entry to the arts is a Bilbao staple.

For those fortunate few that have a membership to the Guggenheim in New York: you, good sirs and madams, have a free pass into the Bilbao edition as well. Lucky ducks.

Thirsty Thursday, Bilbao Style

It might not translate directly, but Thirsty Thursday is definitely a thing in Bilbao. Deep in the folds of the Casco Viejo neighborhood, Calle Somera is at the center of it all. This whole street is dedicated to the “Pintxo Pote,” or appetizer and a drink. On Thursdays, handfuls of bars along Somera offer 1-euro cañas (roughly equivalent to a pint) all night long, satisfying even the tightest of budgets.

All Aboard the Metro Surf Shuttle

From Bilbao to Shack Town in 45 minutes. Photo: Kade Krichko

Looking for a cheap surf shuttle? Hop the metro. The Plentzia line (one of three lines in the city) drops you right in Sopela, and from there a 20-minute walk will connect you with Sopelana and several cliff-lined surf breaks. No need to lug gear – wave hounds can rent long and short boards from Styling Surf for 12 and 18 euros respectively (close to $14 and $21). Round trip on the metro costs about $3. But beware: while surfboards are allowed on the metro, they are forbidden on buses.

Get A View of the Whole City From Parque Etxebarri

Bilbao’s hills offer several city viewpoints, but none more centrally located than Parque Etxebarria. Photo: Flickr

Rise above the bustling streets of Casco Viejo and score views of the entire cityscape from Parque Extebarri. Featuring a soccer complex, skate park, playgrounds and ample green space, this urban park is a local favorite for catching a free sunset and a beer with friends.

Late Night Blues Aren’t a Bad Thing

Meet Bar La Ribera, where late night blues are not a bad thing. In fact, on Friday and Saturday evenings around midnight, this cocktail bar hosts a live blues and rock show, free of charge. It’s a great place to grab a drink and wind down, or, if you’re living your best Spanish life, a nice way to kick off the night.

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