Not only does Bilbao have ample urban diversions, including the Frank Gehry–designed Guggenheim Museum. It’s also just a short hop away from the scenic beauty and culinary riches of the Basque Country. Here are a few of the best day trips to take from Bilbao.
San Sebastian — 63 miles (101 km) away
Set along a spectacular stretch of the cliff-, cove-, and beach-bordered Basque coast, this elegant seaside resort is just over an hour’s drive from Bilbao. A gastronomic hotspot, the city is famed for its world-class culinary scene. Try pintxos (Basque Country tapas) and sip txakoli (a subtly effervescent dry white wine) in atmospheric bars in the historic old town.
Other Basque Country Towns — distances vary
Other cities within day-tripping reach of Bilbao include Biarritz (92 miles or 148 kilometers away), a sophisticated surf town located just across the border in France, and Vitoria-Gasteiz (39 miles or 62 kilometers away), the inland Basque Country capital, which has a killer pintxos scene, pretty cobbled streets, and a 13th-century church-fortress. Meanwhile, 30 minutes east of Bilbao sits the small market town of Gernika (Guernica; 22 miles or 35 kilometers away). In 1937 the Luftwaffe famously bombed the town—a tragic event that inspired Pablo Picasso to create one of his best-known works, Guernica. While Picasso’s original painting now resides in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, you can see a copy in the Gernika Peace Museum.
Rural Highlights of the Basque Country and Beyond — distances vary
If you want to swap the buzz of Bilbao for the tranquility of the countryside, Urdaibai Biosphere (about 25 miles or 40 kilometers away) is a convenient place to experience the Basque Country’s natural landscapes. The windswept San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (22 miles or 35 kilometers away), a tiny chapel-topped island connected to the mainland by a 240-step rock causeway, is a must-see for Game of Thrones fans, who may recognize it as Dragonstone from the successful series. Day tours also depart from Bilbao and head north to Spain’s acclaimed La Rioja wine-making region (90 miles or 145 kilometers away).