Bilbao, Spain with Kids
Bilbao, Spain is the largest city in Northern Spain. It is built on the banks of the Bilbao river and is in the middle of an economic resurgence. We ended up in Bilbao in early July, accompanying my husband to a conference, held at the new conference center on the river. We had way too much time in Bilbao, but we took things slowly and enjoyed the city.
Bilbao had plenty to offer despite our long stay and is easy to get around. What proved challenging with the little boys (and me) was eating schedules. It sometimes felt like restaurants were only open at times we were not interested in eating (1-4 & 9-12). Little plates are available at the bars most of the day, but these options are not very kid friendly, particularly when traveling on your own. We found some great options though through a little trial and error and lots of internet research.
We booked an AirBnB in Old Town (Casco Viejo) thinking this would put us close to stuff. It certainly put us near lots of food and shopping options, but we still ended up walking or taking public transport quite a bit as attractions are spread across the city.
Emelia, our AirBnB host, was lovely. We arrived at our booking and she informed us there was no hot water, a repairman was scheduled to come the next day so she was going to move us to her other listing, a few doors down for a few days. Unloading the car on the busy street was a bit of an issue, but the home was lovely. We spent two days there and then she moved us back to our original rental. Our original place did not have an elevator so she brought along two young men to carry our things. (I was 6 months pregnant and had a two and four year old on my own since Jeff was at the conference, so this was greatly appreciated.) Both locations were lovely and provided a great home away from home.
The day we arrived in Bilbao was a bit of a disaster. Our coastal drive was marred by a local holiday, a sick toddler and our inability to predict restaurant hours. (All of which you can read about in the coastal drive post.) Once the AirBnB situation was sorted, Jeff had returned the rental car to the airport and I got the children settled for the night. My mom and I headed out for dinner.
There are so many great options in old town, but we popped into Zeruan, just around the corner from our AirBnB. Honestly, we chose it because it looked decidedly not kid friendly. My mom and I enjoyed a leisurely meal of simply prepared dishes that were delicious. They are open for “lunch” and dinner, but double check the hours online before heading out.
Our first day in Bilbao I picked up my coffee in old town. There are a plethora of options for coffee and a pastry, but I happened upon Bertiz, a chain. Armed with a coffee and some pastry treats for later we walked down the river bank to the Bilboats dock. The dock is also accessible by Euskotren (green light rail). The path down the river’s edge is dotted with playgrounds making the walk pleasant and fun for the kids. Once a day Bilboats offers a 2-hour tour that sails down the river all the way to the hanging bridge. Tickets can be purchased online or at the dock.
We bought our tickets at the dock and hopped onto the 10:30 cruise. We paid extra for audio tours for the adults, which provided lots of good information as we sailed down the river. The kids ran amok on the boat enjoying the view and snacks from the front and back of the boat as they saw fit.
The best part of the cruise though was getting to see the hanging bridge move across the river from water level. You can watch our video of it here.
Exiting the boat the boys wanted to cross the Zubizuri (white bridge) and check out another playground just on the other side.
We complied and worked our way back toward Old Town. Unfortunately, lunch was nearly impossible to find as everything was starting to shut down for siesta. I popped into a Bertiz and a grocery, grabbing some bread and fruit and we made a little lunch picnic work back at our apartment. I also vowed to not head out without a lunch plan again.
Around 4pm we headed back out, taking the light rail from our apartment to the Guggenheim Bilbao. There is an incredible rope spiderweb playground just outside that H enjoyed and some smaller play equipment that was perfect for O. We played outside until it started to pour!
Dashing inside we picked up our tickets and audioguides to explore the museum. The kids enjoyed looking at most of the art. H chilled in the stroller using his audioguide. He loved finding the numbers on the wall and typing them into the guide. O rode happily in the carrier with Jeff. We split up and let the kids pick what they wanted to look at. I honestly enjoyed the architecture of the building more than most of the art inside of it. The highlight for the boys though was the external statuary including the tulips, spider and dog that have become ubiquitous with the Guggenheim. We spent about an hour exploring the museum with the kids.
The Guggenheim does offer a “childrens workshop” where you pay €4 and drop your kids off for an hour of arts and crafts time. The boys were in no mood to be separated from us and the area is outside of the ticketed area, which I thought to be a bit strange. Anyway, we decided to bypass this option taking everyone into the museum.
We left the museum with three food options all located on our walk home. All three had children’s menus and appeared to be open. Two of the three were open but not serving food. The third, Foodoo , was a big win. We walked in at 7pm to find a few other families eating. They had a children’s menu with several options that included a drink and desert. The adult portions were large and their salads were fresh and full of ingredients.
Day two, after moving to the new apartment, we took the light rail out to the Maritime Museum. Jeff’s conference was next door at the conference center and he had a small break allowing him to join us. The Maritime Museum has a pirate scavenger hunt with six activity stations spread throughout the museum that made this visit worth it. The kids loved doing each of the activities and checking them off on the map. Upon completion they received a certificate and a poster. The kids also loved the PlayMobile layouts of Bilbao throughout the museum. Don’t miss the movie of Bilbao’s port history with light-up city, O even wanted to watch it again. The museum has some stock in a dry dock outside that you can board, but they were closed for a renovation during our visit. We found July a strange time to conduct the renovations.
The museum is just a few blocks from Dona Casilda Iturrizar Park. We walked through the park and enjoyed the duck pond, fountain light show and playgrounds until 1pm when the Copper Deli opened. Copper Deli is small but they managed to fit the stroller at a table. We enjoyed some great sandwiches and while they were small, the kids pizza was large.
In the afternoon we grabbed some ice cream in old town to tide the kids over and walked to the funicular. The funicular is part of the public transport system so is just a Euro to go up. The kids loved the ride, which is seemingly long for a funicular.
At the top there is a large park with a sandbox, several small gardens and views of the city. The kids ran off their sugar high up there for about an hour.
Jeff and a colleague joined us on the mountain. O, our airplane obsessed child, loved that he could see the airport from the top of the mountain. We grabbed takeout pizza near our apartment for dinner from Pizza Via, which turned out to be pretty good! (Pizza Via opens at 6:30.)
Day three, we made a huge error attempting to find the metro. We breezed right past the Metro station and instead headed up a million steps to a park up on a hill. We found a steep winding road and took that back down into town, headed over the bridge and got onto the Metro and headed out to the Vizcaya Bridge.
This time instead of passing under the Vizcaya Bridge we purchased the tourist ticket, allowing you to walk across the top of the bridge and ride the gondola back across.
Walking across the bridge is fully enclosed, so it was perfectly safe to have the kids up there, although I was nervous about our phones falling through the cracks. The views are amazing!
The boys loved peeking through the cracks and looking down on the gondola moving across the bridge.
The ride back across, included in your ticket, was smooth and anticlimactic.
There is a small playground at the base of the bridge. The kids spent some time playing and we enjoyed a snack before walking down the path toward where the river empties. There is a small beach here, it was crowded but the boys weren’t interested in playing in the sand.
I was hoping to find some cute fish places like we had in San Sebastian, but the shore was not lined with restaurants. Instead we headed back into Bilbao by Metro and hopped into Panko for lunch. Panko has plenty of table space, just have a seat and you can order off a menu for breakfast, lunch or dinner! I had the most delicious grilled vegetables and my mom had a vegetable sandwich with a salad. They also make their own bread so all around it was a win.
After nap we decided to stick to the neighborhood. The local museums in Bilbao rotate free days so you can see most of the museums in town for free. (Pop into a TI and ask what is free on which days and they will be happy to let you know.) On this particular day the free museum was the Basque Heritage Museum.
It had a variety of exhibits, but worth seeing is the large map of Basque Country on the third floor. You can actually walk around the topographic map!
We also ventured over to the market, which is supposed to be the largest indoor market in Europe, but it was underwhelming. Despite reading online the opening times we somehow still arrived when everything was closed. Oh well. The building is interesting and maintains a few of the original features like stained glass and tile work. It looks like it would be really cool when bustling with activity, but we were unable to see it that way.
We grabbed dinner in old town at Bizuete. We were drawn in by a sign that said “kitchen open all day.” We were able to sit outside and service was fast. Not the best food I had on the trip but the atmosphere was perfect and the kids loved their food. The hallmark of the meal was the churros served with a tea cup full of hot, melted chocolate. We saw entire tables enjoying just this treat with a glass of wine!
The next morning was our last in Bilbao. We decided just to walk around town a bit and play at a few of the playgrounds we hadn’t been to yet along the river front. It was a nice way to burn off some steam before we took a cab to the airport. Our AirBnB host called a cab for us, but with the four of us and our luggage we actually needed a larger cab, so the little cab called for a big one. The trip to the airport is about 20 min by cab, there is also a bus, which my mom took back to the airport, but that was impractical for us with all our luggage.
The Bilbao airport is small but has a few restaurants. We were able to grab a nice lunch before our short flight back to the Netherlands.
This post is linked up with: