Madrid to Bilbao
Travel from Madrid to Bilbao in the Basque Country is a long slog by train. The northern city is about 450kms from the capital and there isn’t (as yet) a high-speed service connecting the two. So whilst there are a couple of daily direct services from Madrid to Bilbao-Abando Station in Bilbao, the journey time is around 5 hours. The direct train service is served by Alvia trains. In addition to these services, you can also travel by train to Bilbao by changing trains at Zaragoza first. The high-speed AVE service has a frequent service between Madrid and Zaragoza. But from Zaragoza Station, there are only two connections to Bilbao. After arriving by train, the city centre is just a short walk away.
For more information on taking the high-speed AVE service from Madrid, see our guide to departing on the AVE from Madrid Atocha Station. And if you’d rather drive from Madrid to Bilbao with the convenience of your own car, see our Madrid Atocha car rental guides. Many car hire suppliers also offer one-way rentals within Spain. Although there is usually a surcharge, it’s worth considering if you’d rather start and finish your trip in a different location.
Best in Bilbao Travel
Bilbao is the capital of the Biscay province and the biggest city in Spain’s Basque Country. However you’re getting to Bilbao, once there you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic city to explore. The standout attraction in the city is the spectacular Guggenheim Museum. Inaugurated in 1997, the museum put this little known port city on the tourist map. Designed by Norman Foster, the museum is shaped like some mega metallic ship from the future. It houses pieces from the Guggenheim collection as well as changing exhibitions. For art lovers, Bilbao also has a Museum of Fine Arts, which is located a short walk south of the Guggenheim.
The compact Old Town (Casco Viejo) is where you’ll find other city highlights including the Gothic Cathedral, Plaza Nueva and the Art Deco covered market (Mercado de la Ribera). The Old Town is also where you should head to for some of the best bars to try the Basque Country specialty: Pintxos. Pintxos are bite sized pieces of food usually served on a bit of crusty bread. Bars in the city serve different types served on on platters on their countertops. It’s a fantastic way to enjoy the local cuisine as their small size mean you can try so many!
Best beyond Bilbao
Whilst Bilbao doesn’t have any beaches, there are a number of lovely beaches nearby at Algorta, Sopelana and Plentzia. Both make good day trips from Bilbao. 100kms east of Bilbao, San Sebastian is probably the most visited city in the Bay of Biscay. And justifiably too! It’s a beautiful and vibrant city to spend time in. It also boasts a couple of the best beaches in the region.
10kms north of the city, Bilbao Airport is the nearest airport. If you have got here with a car and ending your trip in the city, both the airport and Bilbao Station are good options for dropping it off.