If you are hiring a car in Bilbao, pre-booking with Carhirespain.net can save you a considerable amount of money. Using our car rental comparison engine, you can pick and choose the car hire policy options you want ahead of time. By pre-booking, early savings of up to 50 per cent are possible.
Choose a full-to-full fuel policy, add an additional driver, or secure your airport pick at the best possible price. You can be in your hire car on the way to Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum in less time than it takes you to collect your bags.
Carhirespain.net — We give you the information you need to make cost-effective car hire decisions.
Bilbao is one of the main cities in Spain’s northern Basque region, along with San Sebastián and Vitoria-Gasteiz. With its international airport, known as La Paloma for its resemblance to a dove in flight, Bilbao offers easy connections to the rest of Spain. Regular flights to Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and the Balearic and Canary islands make Basque country an easy stop to add to your Spanish adventure.
Bilbao is a vibrant and artistic town, with no shortage of things to see or do. While famous for its Guggenheim Contemporary Art Museum, Bilbao has an energetic Old Town and more modern architecture than you can shake a stick at. There is also a Fine Arts Museum, Maritime Museum, Archeological Museum, and even a Bullfighting Museum. You will not be lacking for culture in Bilbao.
Bilbao isn’t what you might expect in a Spanish holiday — it doesn’t make claims to perfect year-round weather. Surrounded by mountains, Bilbao is also very close to the coast, which can make for some unpredictable weather patterns.
That said you have the option to hike Artxanda hill in the early am, then surf Sopelana Beach in the afternoon. And if it does rain a little bit more often than the rest of the county, everything is much greener because of it.
One of the best reasons to visit Bilbao is because of the Basque culture. Spanish isn’t the only language spoken here. Beyond language, Basque culture is something you can taste as well as hear. Tapas here are pintxos, and the seafood is like nowhere else in the country, often prepared in a unique and delicious local style.
Bilbao has something for everyone. It is a great place to visit with friends. You can enjoy the vast variety of bars and nightlife by night and head just outside town by day to hike or explore the countryside.
What to see in Bilbao with a hire car
There are many sights and things to experience in Bilbao. Whether you have a week or just a few days, its time to put your hire car to work and explore the city.
It would be almost rude to come to Bilbao and not visit the Guggenheim. The museum is an icon containing one of the most notable collections of contemporary work in Europe. With its permanent and visiting exhibitions, there is always something new and awe-inspiring to experience.
The Guggenheim was inaugurated in 1997 and definitely put Bilbao on the cultural map. The building was designed by architect Frank Gehry, whose name is enough to encourage people to visit. The building is ship-like and exhibits works from contemporary artists that include Anish Kapoor, Eduardo Chillida, Jeff Koons, Anslem Kiefer, Mark Rothko and Yves Klein.
The museum exhibits some of its larger, more durable objects outside in the aptly named “Art District”. Jeff Koons Puppy is perhaps the most well-known outdoor example. It is a delightful 12.4-metre tall stainless steel and live-flower puppy.
If you enjoy stepping back into the past, The Arriaga Theatre is something you need to see. Located near the bridge that links the Casco Viejo to the Ensanche Neighbourhood you will find the city’s oldest theatre. It is named after the “Spanish Mozart,” local composer Juan Crisostomo Arriaga. Arriaga died at 19, never reaching his prime.
Even if you are not a music lover, the Arriaga Theatre is an exceptional experience. The building and its contents have been lovingly maintained and everything within is original. The 19th Centureaty furniture and all of the theatres fitting appear just as they did the day it opened.
But this is not just a stuffy memory of the past — it is a living theatre in use today as it was back then.
The Market La Ribera
If art and history make you hungry, its time to turn your hire car toward the Market La Ribera. It is not that far away from Arriaga Theatre.
Located in the southern part of the Old Town, Market La Ribera is Europe’s largest remaining indoor market. There has been a market trading on this site since the 14th century, although the current version has only been there since 1929.
It is an excellent place to get an understanding of Basque food culture and a bit of lunch. The market is full of local specialities. You can find everything here from the freshest seafood in Bilbao to speciality meats cheeses, cooked dishes, and local organic produce.
At over 10,000 square meters in area, there is plenty to see here. Be on the lookout for some art where you don’t expect it.
It is even in the Gunness Book of Records.
The Lookout of Artxanda
The Lookout of Artxanda is a 300-meter-above-sea-level hilltop that overlooks the city and provides awe-inspiring views across Bilbao.
You can walk to the top (why?) or hop on the funicular from Funicular Square. The cog railway system was built in 1915, and it takes 3 minutes to reach the summit. If you want to skip the funicular, you can drive to the top in your hire car in 10 minutes.
Once at the top, relax and enjoy the vista. The busy city seems very far away, especially as the sun falls.
There are several restaurants near the top, so plan to make an evening of it.
Day trips from Bilbao with a hire car.
Once you have explored Bilbao it is time to pack a lunch, hop in the hire car and visit the real Basque country. Here are few rather out of the box experiences you should definitely check out:
Bosque de Oma
Bosque de Oma, or Painted Forest of Oma, is near the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, Kortezubi (Bizkaia, Basque Country). You can reach it in a hire car by driving 45 minutes to the east of Bilbao.
This is both an eerie and fantastical open-air installation style piece by local artist Agustín Ibarrola. Ibarrola works in a modern style called “Land Art”. His forest is primarily made up of painted Monterey pines.
The object of the Bosque de Oma is to display the horrible and ghastly harmony between nature and human presence. Human figures, eyes animals and geometric shapes adorn the trees and are only visible from certain perspectives. The effect is surreal, especially at dusk.
Created in the early 1980s, this large group of trees, painted in totem-like figures seems alive. It has also been called an animated forest. There is no denying it has a spiritual quality about it.
Due to the artist’s affiliation with Basta Ya, an organisation that aids victims of terrorism, Bosque de Oma was vandalised in 2000. Around 100 trees were damaged as a protest over Ibarrola’s beliefs.
Its an uphill walk through the forest to Bosque de Oma, so be prepared. Rain gear, water and good shoes are a must.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
Located on a rock off the Bay of Biscay is a place you absolutely must visit if you are touring the Basque County.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is connected to the shore by a stone bridge that is amazing in itself. The bridge joins a narrow 241 step path that cuts its way back and forth to the church at the top.
Once you are there, be sure to ring the old bell on the church’s facade three times for luck.
The church is dedicated to John the Baptist, and its predecessor was built in the 9th century. Unconfirmed local accounts claim that Jon the Baptist himself actually visited the shrine.
The church has had its share of misfortune and has been rebuilt and repurposed several times. In the 12th century, it became a convent only to be abandoned 200 years later.
Its sheer beauty and historical significance should be enough to convince you to give San Juan de Gaztelugatxe a visit. If it isn’t, this might persuade you — It was used as the Castle Dragonstone in season 7 of Game of Thrones.
Its quite a trek up the stairs and there is no concession on the island, so dress appropriately, bring water or a snack and wear proper shoes. Book well in advance for better or worse Game of Thrones fans have made the island very popular.
San-Sebastian is one hour and eight minutes (101.5 km) northwest of Bilbao via the AP-8 in your hire car. It is known as a foodie city and is probably one of the best places to try the real Basque Pintxos, or what the rest of the country calls tapas.
There are plenty of great reasons to spend a day or longer in San Sebastian, and in the summer one of the big draws has to be Playa La Concha. This is the only beach on the list of Spains 12 Treasures. It is in good company beside the Sagrada Familia and Alhambra Palace.
As the name indicates, the shell-shaped, Playa de la Concha has vast golden sands and is surrounded on three sides. It is 1350 meters long, and the sands extend 40 metres to the water. On one side are the Urgull Mountains, the centre is the city and city hall, and the Igueldo mountains enclose it on the other end. From the City Hall, you are steps away from the sands. Playa de a Concha is considered the second-best city beach in all of Europe.
San Sebastian has everything form traditional Basque fare to 5-star Michelin dining. It is considered one of the best eating cities in the world, let alone Spain. There is everything here from hole-in-the-wall pintxo bars to seafront oyster eateries. Only your budget will limit your options.
A day won’t be enough, find somewhere to park the hire car and spend the night.
When people think of cities in the Basque Country, they generally think of San Sebastian or Bilbao. But for those who want a more calm rustic Basque experience, Hondarribia may be the place to visit. Easily reached from either San-Sebastian or Bilbao, this town is becoming increasingly more popular with those in the know.
If you are starting from Bilbao, head east in your hire car for an hour and a half on the AP-8. It is a 121 km drive to the coastal village of Hondarribia.
Hondarribia has retained its old-world charm and Basque soul. Here you can meander the ancient cobblestone streets and take in the characteristic local architecture with its remaining fortified town wall. The wall is the last of its kind standing in Guipuzkoa province.
This is a place for people who love to eat and drink. There are plenty of little bars and restaurant treasures you can find crowding the charming the old Marina.
This is the perfect day trip in your hire car. Take a step back to the old Basque tradition while enjoying the modern conveniences of Hondarribia.
Frequently asked questions
Do I need an international drivers permit to drive in Bilbao?
To rent a vehicle in Bilbao or anywhere in Spain, you need to show an International Driver’s Permit if you are from the USA or Canada. UK citizens are not required to have an IDP.
Can I take the car I rented in Bilbao into other countries?
Before you try to drive your hire car into another country please confirm that the policy you chose does not require a cross border fee. Check with Carhirespain.net online to verify your policy allows you to take the car out of the country.
Which car hire types are available in Bilbao Spain?
In Bilbao, you can rent Convertibles, Compacts, Pickups, Economy Cars, Luxury Cars, Minivans, Vans, Full-Size Sedans, Premium Sedans, and SUVs.
Can I pick up my hire car in Bilbao and drop it off in Madrid or Barcelona?
Yes, you can pick up your hire car in Bilbao and drop it off in Madrid or Barcelona. When you pre-book your car with Carhirespain.net, be sure to use our search feature tofind a policy with a one-way drop off policy. By pre-arranging your drop off, it will cost you less than arranging it in person.