Daytrippers delight: 6 unmissable destinations just outside Bilbao

Fancy a day trip from Bilbao? Travel just outside the city and discover lots of gems in the surrounding Basque country and Cantabria.

From world-class art to non-stop nightlife, there is so much to discover in Bilbao. And the surrounding area is just as rich, with lots of different places for you to explore.


1. Foodie pilgrimage to San Sebastián

Less than 20km from the French border, San Sebastián is known as one of the finest places to dine in Europe. It’s a veritable star-spangled city. Michelin-starred, that is; San Sebastián eateries hold a grand total of 13 stars between them.

Pintxos in San Sebastian
Pintxos in San Sebastian

From laidback lunches in Bergara to spellbinding meals in Mugaritz, this city has everything a foodie could desire. If you have the time, it’s worth staying overnight to pack in as many meals as possible.

Getting there: Grab a bus from Bilbao to San Sebastián.

2. Step back 36,000 years

One of the world’s most precious sites is on Spain’s northern coast. The Cave of Altamira has paintings of plants and animals that date back 36,000 years.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this paleolithic cave art is among Spain’s most prized cultural artefacts.

Image of the bull like cave painting – primitive art

To prevent the priceless cave art being damaged, a replica cave and museum was built where visitors can view accurate recreations of these ancient works of art.

Getting there: Rent a car to reach the Cave of Altamira in just over an hour.

3. The place behind the masterpiece

The bombing of Gernika in 1937 is forever immortalised in Pablo Picasso’s moving masterpiece.

Anyone who has an interest in art or history shouldn’t miss a trip to see the real Gernika. Your first stop should be Museo de la Paz de Gernika. The Peace Museum gives a fascinating insight into the Spanish Civil War and World War Two, and how they affected the region.

Centre of Gernika
Centre of Gernika

And of course, no trip to Gernika is complete without gazing upon the artwork that immortalised the town. The original is in Madrid, but there is a full-size tiled reproduction of the piece just a few minutes walk from the Peace Museum.

Getting there: Take the bus from Bilbao to Gernika.

4. Breathtaking hike on an ancient island

The rocky San Juan de Gaztelugatxe island is one of the most scenic places in Spain. Dramatic views, an ancient church and crashing waves all come together to create an unforgettable location for a hike.

A man-made stone bridge connects the island to the mainland, and it leads on to a path that winds around the island to take you up to the church on its highest point. The church dates back to the 9th century and although the structure has been rebuilt since then, it’s been an important religious and strategic outpost ever since.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Basque Country
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Basque Country

Game of Thrones fans might recognise this striking island building too – it was used as the location of Dragonstone in the seventh series of the TV programme.

Getting there: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is less than an hour away from Bilbao by car.

5. Get lost in the Painted Forest

Deep in the Urdaibai natural reserve lies the Oma Forest. Also known as the Painted Forest, this is a spectacular living installation by Basque artist Agustin Ibarrola.

Painted trees on the forest of Oma, Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, Biscay, Spain.
Painted trees on the forest of Oma, Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, Biscay, Spain.

When you go into the forest, you’ll see dozens of trees with bright paint on their barks. The forest is a feast for the eyes, with the leafy environs contrasting with the painted figures. Walking through this 7.5km open air gallery trail takes approximately two hours and entry is free.

Getting there: Oma Forest is just north of Bilbao – rent a car and you’ll be there in less than an hour.

6. Surf’s up in these twin beachside towns

Loredo and Somo are two true blue surf towns right beside each other. Both towns are small, but lively thanks to the influx of surfers all year around.

They share a long stretch of beach, which means you’re never far from the waves. Whether you’re a beginner or just want to get a refresher, you can take a lesson and rent equipment from a local surf school.


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And after a long day in the water, kick back with a beer in a bar overlooking the sea or have a delicious pizza in Crudo.

Getting there: Rent a car and you’ll be hitting the waves in no time.

In the mood for your very own Northern Spanish adventure? Fly direct to Bilbao from Dublin.