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5 places you can’t miss in the vicinity of Bilbao

By | 10 March, 2017 | 0 comments

Bilbao is an amazing city, an urban centre that, being surrounded by some of the most striking places in the Basque Country, captivates us with its history and evolution. The areas that surround it, Bizkaia’s interior and coast, are more of Bilbao’s strong points, and at only 20 minutes from the capital Bizkaina we can find places classified by UNESCO as World Heritage sites or Biosphere Reserves. The historical territory of Bizkaia is known for its spectacular cliffs and inland villages, a province that provides us with a great collection of spectacular photographs and experiences to take back home with us in the suitcase. It will be easy to answer the question of what to see in Bilbao and its surroundings since you’ll have the answer if you continue reading.


 5 places to enjoy Bilbao’s exceptional environment

The places we recommend below are a mixture of nature, industry and culture that exists around Greater Bilbao, a short route that is intended to be covered in 3 days though you can make it longer if you would like to.

Bizkaia Bridge

Opened on July 28, 1893, the Bizkaia Bridge was the first ferry bridge with a metal structure built in the world, a gem declared World Heritage by Unesco in 2006 and visited annually by thousands of travellers. Popularly known as the Suspension Bridge, this Bizkaian structure is one of our best known and international industrial legacies. The Bizkaia Bridge was built with the sole aim of joining the two banks of the Nervión, the towns of Getxo and Portugalete, without obstructing the navigation of the industrial vessels of the time. This ambitious project for its time was carried out by Alberto Palacio Elissague (Design), Ferdinand Joseph Arnodin (construction) and Santos Lopez de Letona (financing).

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At present the Bizkaia Bridge can be visited and has a walkway in the upper part of the structure, a space over 50 metres high that provides incredible views of the Bay of Abra, Getxo, Portugalete and Santurtzi.

A walkway that has also served, on special occasions like the bridge’s anniversary, to offer concerts with stunning views. Up there, 50 metres high, songs by Kepa Junkera or Doctor Deseo have been played.

Practical advice for adventurers:

When you consider visiting Bilbao if you like excitement, on some Saturdays during the year, you can practice bungee jumping from this legendary monument.

How to get there from the Hotel Gran Bilbao

The metro is the most comfortable way to get there. Near the hotel we have the Basarrate stop, which without having to change lines will take you to the Portugalete stop, just a few minutes walk from the Suspension Bridge.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

Between the coastal towns of Bakio and Bermeo, surrounded by cliffs and the Cantabrian Sea, we find another of Bizkaia’s gems, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. This work of art has been sculpted by nature and humanity to create one of the most charming places with lots of personality in the vicinity of Bilbao.

This small islet, its long staircase and the shrine that we find at its highest point, is one of the places in most demanded by those who visit us. The hermitage, which dates back to the 10th century is located at the high point of the islet and is connected to the mainland via a small bridge and around 230 steps. Over the centuries this magical enclave has endured the storms and power of the waves of the Cantabrian Sea.


San Juan de Gaztelugatxe has been chosen by the HBO film team, a chain responsible for producing the television series Game of Thrones, as the setting for its seventh season. Sounds good doesn’t it?

And it doesn’t just look splendid by day. There are only two nights a year in which its staircase is illuminated giving way to a snake of steps of light: the night of San Juan and December 30th. This is a perfect spectacle for keen photographers when it comes to taking a unique photograph.

Practical advice

There are two car parks nearby, which are usually filled quickly. It is better if you plan your visit during the week or early, because at the weekend and in the middle of the day there may be problems finding somewhere to park.

To visit this beautiful place in high season it is essential to book an appointment. Make here a reservation for the day and time of your visit to Gaztelugatxe.

How to get there from the Hotel Gran Bilbao

36 kilometres separate the hotel from San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Following the BI-631, which you will reach comfortably from the hotel, take the turnoff in Bakio to reach San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the Game of Thrones setting near Bilbao.

Fishing ports

Next to the Bizkaia Bridge and San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the two places that we have recommended so far, we find a series of picturesque fishing ports where the marine spirit of the Basque people remains intact. The ports of Bermeo, Mundaka and Lekeitio are some of the fishing villages that we’d love you to visit.

In all of them you can admire the colourful houses of fishermen or arrantzales, as well as the colourful fishing boats moored, waiting to sail the seas and keep alive the centuries old fishing tradition of the Basques. A highlight is the fishing village of Elantxobe, one of the jewels of the Basque coast; a town that defies all the laws of gravity since it lies between cliffs and on the slopes of a mountain that ends in the sea.

How to plan the route

From the Gran Bilbao Hotel we can reach it easily thanks to its location at the start of both the A-8 motorway and the BI-631 road. The latter takes us directly to Bermeo, where we can take a walk through its port and then continue to the nearby Mundaka, a picturesque fishing village famous among surfers around the world for its left wave.

Continuing along the BI-2235 towards Gernika-Lumo, we should stop to get see the Casa de Juntas (Assembly House) and its famous Basque symbol, the oak tree (Arbol), or to visit the Museum of La Paz (Peace Museum) and learn more about the bombing of the Condor Legion of Nazi Germany and the Italian Legionary Aviation during the Spanish Civil War.

From Gernika-Lumo we will take the BI-2238 to Lekeitio, one of the most beautiful fishing villages on the Basque coast that helps to keep the sea safe thanks to Santa Catalina lighthouse.


Practical advice

Halfway between Gernika-Lumo and Lekeitio you will come across Ea, the town with the shortest name, picturesque little streets, a pier and small bridges.



Nature in its purest form. This is perfect if you plan a three-day visit to Bilbao and would like to spend one of them enjoying breathtaking landscapes. The Urdaibai River estuary was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1984, a title that shows how important the interior is in terms of its nature. It is an ideal place for hiking, spending a day at the beach or discovering this natural wonder by kayak. As well as its valuable flora, fauna and ornithological value, its mouth is famous for having one of the most legendary waves in the world, a place of pilgrimage for surfers from every corner of the earth.

On the other hand, Gernika-Lumo is a ‘must see’ for those who visit the Urdaibai region. This town is closely linked to the history of the Basque people and their traditions, since it houses the Casa de Juntas (Assembly House) and the Gernika tree (symbolic oak tree), in addition to having the Museum of Peace and the famous market every Monday.

If you want to truly get to know the Urdaibai region, we also recommend exploring the Oma Painted Forest or the Urdaibai Bird Centre among others.

But without a doubt, it is wonderful to have Urdaibai very nearby. To go up to San Pedro de Atxarre it is worth an easy walk through the trees to arrive in just 40 minutes at the view that stands out among other views. At the end of the road after starting from the town of Ibarrangelu, we reach the small shrine, the faithful guardian of one of the best views in the area with Mundaka and Bermeo below us.

Practical tips

-Its beaches are a paradise, though you have to be aware of the tides, since much of the sand disappears at low tide.

-If you like surfing, don’t leave your board behind, you’ll regret it.

-In summer the best thing is to get up early, otherwise you will find it very difficult to park.

-Kayak rides along the estuary are a highly recommended activity, which you can do with ur2000.


How to get there

Urdaibai is probably one of the places you should certainly visit in the vicinity of Bilbao. Gernika-Lumo is at the entrance, which you can reach by car in just over half an hour from the Hotel Gran Bilbao via the A-8 motorway, with very easy access from the hotel.

Gorbeia Natural Park

The Gorbeia Natural Park strongly looks after some of the deepest traditions of our land, a long list headed by the producers of Idiazabal cheese, beekeepers and potters, things that we can do all year round. The Gorbeia mountain, one of the most symbolic of Bizkaia, represents the perfect peak for mountaineers, which we recommend accessing with mountain guides so you can see the wonderful views of the Basque orography that can be enjoyed from its summit. You can reach the top by climbing from either Pagomakurre in Areatza (Bizkaia), Saldropo in the port of Barazar (Bizkaia) or from Sarria (Araba).

Gorbeia is proud to be the mountain preferred by the Basques. So much so that every December 31st, its slopes are inundated with people making a pilgrimage. Each one makes their wish for next year as they spend the last day of the year, going up to its famous cross. Night hiking, an adventure park with zip lines or archery or even adapted hiking for people with reduced mobility are just some of the adventures we can experience just minutes from Bilbao.

Practical advice:

-The duration of the climb, depending on the starting point and the physical condition of each person, is 2–3 hours.

-You have to take note of the signs and prepare the route.

-Avoid the climb in fog since it can be easy to get disoriented.

-At the top at 1,481 metres the temperature is usually lowered, so it is advisable to wear warm clothes especially in winter.

-Do not forget water.

How to get there

The AP-68 in the direction of Vitoria-Gasteiz is the nearest road to take by car from Bilbao. You will reach its outskirts where, depending on your chosen starting point, you will leave the car to travel one of the mountains most loved by the Basques.


These places that we find in the surroundings of Bilbao, are within a 20-30 minute drive from the Hotel Gran Bilbao, but they are only the tip of the iceberg, and are a small representation of the great variety of treasures that Bizkaia hides. They are a perfect way to visit Bilbao and its surroundings and also do some exercise.

And if you have any strength left after your visit to Bilbao, you cannot miss another enclave that will delight everyone: La Arboleda. This mining town just half an hour from the hotel connects us with the industrial past of Biscay’s capital along different routes that run through old mines and artificial reservoirs from which iron was once extracted.

From the Gran Bilbao Hotel we’d like to suggest you to go up in its historic funicular railway, in operation since 1926 and which will also allow you to enjoy impressive views over the Abra de Bilbao, the banks of the estuary of Bilbao and where most of the port facilities are found and shared by several municipalities (Santurce, Zierbena, Portugalete, Getxo and Abanto and Zierbena). To get to the funicular, the best option is to take the A8 to the Trapaga Valley.

Once at the top, it is worth getting to the Mining Museum of the Basque Country (prior reservation).

Practical advice

We’d award a prize to the place’s delicious speciality: its famous alubiadas (beans). La Arboleda is full of small restaurants famous for having on their menus this tasty delight that has been dazzling Bilbao for so many years. It is usual to see groups and families tucking in to this treat.

How to get there

From the A-8, which is very easy to access from the Hotel Gran Bilbao, continue towards Santurce or Muskiz, until you reach exit 131 where you take the exit for Gallarta, and continue towards La Arboleda.

Categories: Descubrir Bilbao / Bizkaia