I heard about Bilbao for the first time last year. I started by doing some googling to check out the place that I would be spending four months in as part of an academic course I was going to take part in. I figured that as long as I could find OK coffee to drink, the cost of living wasn’t going to be too high, and the public transport was semi-reliable I could deal with whatever else the town had to offer. I fell in love before I knew it – Bilbao is a very underrated part of Spain. Google offered very little clear information in English and few insiders tips for this part of Spain, or Basque country in general. I’ll post a few pieces on what to do and how to get there, what it costs and all of that, but forget the usual tourist route and head up to Bilbao.
Bilbao effortlessly charms and does not disappoint, even on a moody day. Bilbao quickly becomes “Bae” (if that’s a word you are inclined to use or if you have social media full of people that do, you will know what I mean). Bilbao is also within an hour or two’s travel by public transport from places like Donostia-San Sebastian, Zarautz, Bakio (San Juan Gaztelugatxe), Bermeo, Oma (Bosque Pintado de Oma), Pamplona, Vitoria, Santander, Portugalette and many more! I’ll start with transport in this post.
Public Transport in Bilbao
There is no reason to complain about Bilbao public transport. When you arrive though, grab a map from the airport information centre or the closest Bilbao tourism office. Most hotels also have maps at reception. The tram and metro stops are marked on the standard Bilbao maps and most people will be able to point out bus stops and points of interest.
From the airport:
Bizkai Bus A3247 runs 365 days a year every 20 minutes in Summer, and every 30 minutes in Winter (check this online and be wary of Sundays and Public holidays, especially the two weeks around Easter. That goes for all public transport). It will get you to the “termibus” the Bilbao bus and coach terminus. This is next to San Mames football stadium, where there is a metro entrance and a tram stop, so if you accidentally miss any of the other stops, one of those two will get you to more or less the same spots). Before reaching the end of the route, this airport bus makes three stops in at 14 Alameda Rekalde (this is on the same road that leads out of Bilbao underneath the red arch above the Guggenheim), Plaza Moyúa (Near the Carlton – a good meeting spot is the fountain in the middle of the circle. Or just a thinking spot) and at 74 Gran Vía (This is just down the road from Moyua plaza).
My colleague flew in and out of Bilbao a few times during our course and always took the early KLM flight outbound and late KLM returning flight. She didn’t have any problems with the bus being excessively late (It’s Spain, “on time” is slightly more variable than in a lot of other countries), neither did I on any other occasion.
If you are going to take the bus (or any other public transport such as the tram, metro or Bilbobus during your stay) you will need a “Barik” transport card. You can buy it at the airport, at the metro or you can buy it at any Tobacos store in the City. It works on a pay as you go basis. The card costs 3 Euros.
Taxis are parked at the exit of the Airport building next to the buses. I took one (I figured arriving in a strange City with arms full of luggage this would be more comfortable and I would not be getting lost between a bus stop and my accommodation). This “comfort (zone)” cost me about 25 Euros to San Francisco area in Bilbao. Which, to be fair to the Taxi service, is about what I would have paid for an Airport Uber in South Africa. Femade Radio Taxi provides 24-hour service every day of the year and allows the traveller to book in advance. Contact: 944 800 909. Bilbao taxi is also 24 hours and can be contacted on 944 448 888. There are also other companies. Bilbao taxi takes Visa cards, others cash only. The taxis are easily identifiable. They are white vehicles and say “taxi” in red on the roof. They vary in design from Mercedes to Prius and if you do not speak Spanish or Basque it is advisable to mark on a map where you want to go and point it out. The taxi drivers are very patient with illiterate tourists but can’t read minds. There is NO UBER in Bilbao.
Public transport in the City
Bilbao is a very “walking friendly” type City. You can walk from the City Centre (Casco Viejo) to the Maritime Museum within about 30 minutes and the bits in between are beautiful. There are however options if you wish to use transport around Town. The Metro, the bilbobus, the Tram and rented bicycles. You can use the Metro without a Barik card for a once off trip by buying a ticket at the machines in the metro station. This is a few cents more expensive than using the Barik. Bilbao has very good disabled and elderly access. Keep an eye open for a lift at staircases. The tram has easy wheelchair access.
The Metro has three lines and stops at a number of places within Bilbao. These are San Mames, Indautxu, Moyua, Deusto and Abando (not in that order- but these are examples of useful or tactical stops if you do not want to walk too far). You can use the Metro without a Barik card for a once off trip by buying a ticket at the machines in the metro station. This is a few cents more expensive than using the Barik.
The tram pretty much runs both ways along the river from la Casilla (San Mames side of town) to Atxuri (San Anton or the old side of town). Swipe with your Barik and get on.
Bicycles can be rented at a few places. Two are very popular. Tourné is located in between the Ayuntamiento bridge and the Arenal bridge on the Guggenheim side of the river. The second option is Bilbao Xperience where you can also rent roller blades, hover boards and go-carts.
Bilbo bus has an app that you can download for schedules and routes. The tourist office at the Guggenheim can also help out if you need information about a specific line.
Transport to other Towns and Cities in the area
A lot of the small Basque Country Towns are easily reached via Bizkai Bus. Check schedules online but be aware that fewer run on Public Holidays and they are often late on those days too! In general, they are very reliable and frequent. You can buy a ticket in cash or with your Barik card. These buses don’t all depart from the same places in town, make sure you are at the right stop. Common ones are near Abando and San Mames for out of Town trips to smaller towns.
Traveling to Donostia- San Sebastian or Irun? Try Pesa buses (I found this one to be more expensive but faster) or Alsa (there is an app). Both are found at the “Termibus” near San Mames. Buy tickets at the ticket offices or machines, not on the bus. You can’t use your Barik card for these two.
Try Euskotrein as well – I have no personal experience with this service though.
Wellcome to Bilbao! Aupa! – enjoy this wonderful place 🙂