A BILBAO FAMILY HOLIDAY
After an epic 4 week family road trip through France, Spain and Portugal we were finally ready to catch the ferry home from Bilbao. But not before we spent a final 2 days in Bilbao with kids in tow! It was definitely the place to send out our Summer travels with a great big BANG – Bilbao is fab!
Bilbao With Kids – The Perfect City For Families
There are so many fun things to do in Bilbao with kids there’ll never be an issue of running out of activities. Highlights like the Guggenheim, Mercado de la Ribera and the Artxander Funicular are just some of the Bilbao attractions they’re going to be wowed by. But what we loved the most about our Bilbao family holiday was the food! Our 3 food-loving kids absolutely embraced the Basque concept of pintxos. So, interspersed with Bilbao attractions, our 2 days in Bilbao turned into a food tour of legendary proportions that our kids are still talking about.
And even if your kids aren’t that into food, I’m sure as parents you’re going to appreciate the Bilbao way of eating if only from a convenience perspective.
Pintxos are the Basque equivalent to tapas, or Cicchetti, basically small plates that you order with a drink, usually in super-relaxed bars and cafes – with absolutely no aversion to children. It’s a big thing here in the Basque region and there’s an element of competition for who can procure the best taste sensations held together with a cocktail stick! And we had great fun trying as many combo’s as possible. They’re so cheap (often €1 each), designed to be just a mouthful or two to snack on, and you really don’t want to miss out on this lovely local custom. So with our self-made rule of only one pintxos per bar, we set off on a tour of Bilbao with the kids and didn’t have to worry about selling a lung to afford to be able to feed them!
Therefore, along with our following recommendations of THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN BILBAO, we’ve also included some great places to grab pintxos in those specific areas. Effectively a bar crawl with the kids in tow!
NOTE: Bars start serving pintxos at noon and carry on until about 9pm when most Spaniards start thinking about their official evening meal.
The Perfect Family Hotel, Bilbao
First off we’d like to give you our personal recommendation for a family hotel in Bilbao.
We stayed at the Inside Bilbao Apartments next to the Abando (or central) district/barrio. Compact and bijou, we had everything we needed, plus it was an excellent location in terms of Bilbao attractions. The kids loved people-watching from the balcony and some of our favourite pintxos bars were only a stone’s throw. We think the Abando area is perfect for families, it felt safer and there were lots of Bilbaoan families about too.
Abando is a really great area and not too far from all of the fun things to do with kids in Bilbao. If you’d prefer a hotel, check out the Bilbao map below…
Fun Things To Do In Bilbao For Kids
1. Visit Casco Viejo – Bilbao Old Town
Casco Viejo, or Old Town, is the liveliest barrio of Bilbao – the streets are narrow and tall but they’re not cramped on style – it’s romantic and fizzing with energy. It’s a little run down when compared to other Spanish old towns like Salamanca and Palma, but even so – it’s not a reflection of a lack of investment. Bilbaoans are artists and a bit of Gothic rustic charm is no more appreciated than with the bohemian set. You could easily spend the morning wandering with a plaguing sense of deja vu as you get lost in the maze of a medieval labyrinth. Casco Viejo’s old name meant ‘seven streets’ and this grid used to be inside the old city walls.
WHAT’S WORTH SEEING WITH THE KIDS IN CASCO VIEJO?
Plaza Nueva (or Plaza Barria) is a great place to dodge seagull poo. It’s like a Spanish version of the hunger games – a small enclosed square, framed with arches, that has you trapped save only for a few small (unobvious) exits, with kamikaze seagulls taking aim if you don’t share your ice cream. It’s a hive of activity and if you can find a seat at a cafe in front of the arcades, a great spot for people-watching as the gulls cause pandemonium.
On a Sunday mornings there’s even a flea market, with little birds in old wooden cages and terrapins and other tiny pets to keep the kids amused. Nearby in Plaza del Arenal there’s also a pretty flower market – also Sunday mornings, so if you just want to take in the city don’t miss this square off your travel plans.
The Mercado de la Ribera is Europe’s largest indoor covered market and very art-deco stylish. It’s super busy for good reason, the place is a feast for the eyes let alone the belly. So just keep a watchful eye on the kids because it can get quite packed but there are so many amazing sights that they will be stopping to stare at every market stall! The market should be on everybody’s must-see list of places to visit in Bilbao but especially if you have kids. In fact, if you’re limited on time in Bilbao I’d say make this your one choice of somewhere to eat, the choice is incredible!
Best Places For Food In Casco Viejo With Kids
- Irrintzi was on a few travel bloggers top 5 lists that I read before our trip and they were right – cheap and cheerful with plenty of choice in their €1 selection, excellent local wine and a laid back atmosphere perfect for kids.
- El Txoko – more of a dining experience; just a plain door on the outside but a beautiful restaurant indoors. €10.50 for the 3 course lunch menu which will definitely not disappoint.
- Mercado de la Ribera – just do it!
2. Ride The Funicular De Artxanda
Funicular De Artxanda is a 3 minute cable car ride that takes you to the best views of Bilbao, and an opportunity to rest your legs after the maze that was Casco Viejo.
On the weekend the park at the top is busy with locals and their picnics, escaping the hustle and bustle for a while, but don’t worry – there’s plenty of room for everyone.
Cable cars depart every 15 minutes from 7.15am till 10pm and you can purchase your return ticket from the station at the bottom for €4.30 each (kids under 6 free). It’s almost a kilometre long and at an incline of 45 degrees so that bit of mild peril sings every child’s tune – ‘what if the cable snaps!?’. This was definitely one of the favourite things to do in Bilbao for our kids.
NOTE: On the way to the cable car from the Casco Viejo area you could visit one of Bilbao’s green spaces, Etxebarria Park, if your kids have plenty of energy to burn.
3. The Zubizuri Bridge
The Zubizuri Bridge is one of the most famous Bilbao attractions, and quite an impressive structure. We do have a thing for bridges in our family but this one is particularly special and looks even more dramatic at night time when it’s all lit up. If you do end up staying in the Abando district as we did, the Zubizuri becomes the focal point of your evening.
Some people, the kind who like to complain about twerking and revolving doors, say that the bridge is a health hazard. Apparently, the glass blocks at the side can get slippery when wet. They should try wrapping elastic bands around their shoes and get back to watching the international darts championships because I think they are missing the point – this is Bilbao, an open-air modern art museum, a place where every corner turns up another splendid sight, where creativity thrives and aesthetics are so important.
Besides, the kids love a good You’ve Been Framed moment. Big love to the Zubizuri.
4. The Guggenheim Museum
This world-renowned museum is probably the most iconic image of Bilbao and no doubt you already have it on your list of places to visit in Bilbao. It’s quite special.
I would have liked nothing more than to spend a whole day in this place, but alas, my brood are not yet impressed by Gauguin, Goya and Greco. So unless you’re wondering about what to do in Bilbao when it rains, I think I would recommend restricting your Guggenheim experience with kids to just exploring the grounds for free.
However, if you really did want to subject your children to some of the world’s best art, tickets are only €13 per adult and children under 18 are free (with an accompanying paying adult) which personally I think is very reasonable.
NOTE: Beware of pick-pockets, they seem to be more prevalent here than in other places. I personally felt a greater need to keep a firm hold of my youngest child’s hand too.
5. Park Abandoibarra & Evaristo Txurruka Kaia
Running from the Guggenheim Museum all the way to the Euskalduna Palace is a patch of Bilbao that kinda epitomises the whole ethos of the city. A wonderful tree-lined riverside walk that was once occupied by the old shipyards is now an outdoor sculpture museum and a hive of activity.
You could easily spend an hour taking in the sculptures and fountains made of fire and fog – there’s certainly plenty to amuse the kids. No doubt you’ve seen images of the famous flowery dog and the creepy giant spider, but there’s also the colour-changing bridge, the tall tree, the tulips and many more fascinating sculptures.
Street performers and souvenir sellers make the most of the crowds at the Evaristo Txurruka Kaia, and you can make the most of this free entertainment!
As for Park Abandoibarra, visit the children’s play area with interactive fountains and giant adventure playground.
- Visit both in the daytime and in the evening for the different perspectives – it’s amazing all lit up. (That’s partly why we loved staying at the Bilbao family hotel Inside Bilbao Apartments as it was a great location for just nipping out on an evening)
- For the best photo’s make your way onto the Salbeko Zubia bridge.
6. Hang Out in Barrio Abando
Tree-lined boulevards sit just behind the Guggenheim and supply Bilbao with upscale apartments, hotels, bars and shops. The architecture is much newer here in Abando than in the old town, Casco Viejo, and kept very pristine and handsome.
This was actually the area where we discovered the coolest pintxos bars and to be honest, the area where I didn’t feel so aware of the children’s safety. On an evening we were mingling with other Spanish families and kids were not unwanted at the bars and restaurants, even up to 10 pm.
During the day the tall blue glass building, Torre Iberdrola, can be seen from most intersections to give you your bearings. And, if you’re heading in that direction to take a closer look then you must visit the lovely park, Doña Casilda de Iturriza, just behind the Museum Of Fine Art (which is free on Wednesdays). This was our favourite park in Bilbao with all the right distractions for kids – a duck pond, pergolas and fountains: the perfect place to enjoy the Basque sunshine as a family. It’s also very convenient to visit the train station to see the huge stained glass clock at the entrance.
Best Places For Food With Kids In Abando
- Bar El Figon. Situated right opposite our hotel and with one of the best selections in Abando, customers spill onto the street.
- El Globo, not far from Bar El Figon, is cosy and casual and has a great cocktail menu.
- Monty, on the corner of Heros Kalea and Calle Juan Ajuriaguerra Kalea, has outdoor seating for a balmy summer evening.
7. Visit The Indautxu Neighbourhood
The Barrio Indautxu is pretty much a continuation of Abando, there isn’t much of a difference in the style of buildings here if just a little less manicured. Shopping is the main focus of this area which admittedly isn’t many children’s idea of fun but if you’re on a Bilbao family holiday with teenagers they’re going to love this area.
One little secret gem of Bilbao that not many tourists seem to have heard of is the Azkuna Zentroa Centre (formerly known as La Alhondiga). A contemporary space that seems to house shops, cafes, a library, swimming pool, movie screenings and offices is definitely worth twenty minutes of your time. The centre regularly hosts events and exhibitions so be sure to check their calendar ahead of your visit.
Philippe Starck is the mastermind behind the amazing design of this centre and there are several aspects that will grab the kid’s attention. The swimming pool is on the top floor and has a glass bottom so if you’re standing in the main atrium you will see the swimmers above you – how cool!
Downstairs on the main deck are elaborate columns, 43 in total and all very different – great for photographs. And, light boxes which double up as seats and bottom-warmers. It’s a cosmopolitan phenomenon and again, a symbol of this wonderfully dynamic city. Entrance is free and it is open from early till midnight most days.
8. See Some Of Bilbao’s Street Art
If you are in Bilbao with teenagers then there are some pretty cool examples of street art and graffiti dotted around the city. Iralako Parkea was one of our favourite colourful spaces but there are so many great pieces of art thrown on walls and buildings.
The area around the university has many painted murals and the famous Brazilian street artist Erb Mon has stamped his unique paint techniques all over Bilbao. Like we said before, Bilbao is more a living breathing art gallery than a city!
TRAVEL ADVICE FOR FAMILY HOLIDAYS IN BILBAO
- Bilbao is relatively small and if you break up your trip into two sections – north and south of the river – there is no need to have to use public transport.
- Bilbao’s climate is such that the winters are mild and the summers can be humid. It is also the wettest area of Spain so pack accordingly – light cagoules are ideal waterproofs.
- There are several other museums in Bilbao that I haven’t mentioned here but that get very good reviews; The Basque Heritage Museum and The Maritime Museum are the 2 I would have liked to explore with the children.
So there you have it – our best suggestions for things to do in Bilbao with kids. It was certainly a fun two days in the easy-going city of Bilbao and there was something for everyone. Having snack-like food on tap at the Pintxos bars and plenty of open space to run around makes it the perfect location for a family holiday. We hope we’ve inspired you for your trip!
Bilbao made it into our recent post “The 10 Best Weekend Breaks in Europe You’ve Not Thought of Yet” – you might want to take a look if you’re wanting some inspiration for your next European short break!
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