Bilbao is the largest city and cultural capital of Spain's Basque Country, known for its superb gastronomy, breathtaking scenery, and world-renowned art scene. Many visitors travel to this northern city just to visit the Guggenheim Museum, an architectural wonder that houses some of Spain's most celebrated art pieces. Once an industrial city, Bilbao blends its 20th-century vigor with a modern-day focus on the arts for a truly unique experience.
Trains and buses will both get you directly from Barcelona to Bilbao, although the train is faster, more comfortable, and usually cheaper. A flight is the fastest way between these two cities, and there are several direct flights per day. The car will cost quite a bit more, but it gives you the freedom to control your schedule, make interesting stops along the way, and get around quickly once you arrive in Bilbao.
How to Get from Barcelona to Bilbao
- Train: 6 hours, 35 minutes, from $22
- Flight: 1 hour, 15 minutes, from $28
- Bus: 8 hours, from $56
- Car: 5 hours, 30 minutes, 380 miles (611 kilometers)
At six and a half hours, the high-speed train is one of the longer options for travel to Bilbao. However, most travelers consider the train to be the most comfortable method of transportation, and the route from Barcelona is one of the most beautiful in all of Europe, passing through Spain's premier wine region before curving through the luscious mountains that populate the north. It's a pleasant ride, and you can purchase snacks and drinks onboard the train or bring your own to enjoy.
Train tickets start as low as $22 for a one-way journey when they are first released, but get more and more expensive as the travel date gets closer. However, if you are flexible with your departure date, it's often possible to find tickets for under $40, even if you're reserving your tickets at the last minute or a few days before.
The train stations in both Barcelona and Bilbao are centrally located and are easily accessible by public transportation. Since Bilbao is a much smaller city, many popular areas can be easily reached by foot from the train station.
Low-cost airline Vueling flies several times a day from Barcelona to Bilbao, with one-way tickets starting as low as $28. The flight is a little over an hour, so it's by far the quickest way to travel between the two cities. Even once you factor in the time it takes to check in, go through security, and wait at your gate, flying is still significantly faster than the train. Although the train stations are both centrally located, the airports aren't far and are easily reached via public transit. Barcelona's El Prat Airport is only about 30 minutes from the city center by train, while the local bus in Bilbao gets you there from the airport in under 25 minutes.
While buses are usually the most budget-friendly option, the bus from Barcelona to Bilbao is surprisingly expensive and also the longest journey. It takes about eight hours and the price starts at $60, significantly more than the starting price for both the train and flights. If you are making very last-minute plans and it's summer or during a holiday weekend, the bus may be your only option if trains and flights are sold out or soar in price. Otherwise, the bus should be your last resort choice.
Buses depart from Barcelona at either Barcelona-Sants or Barcelona-Nord stations, so be aware of which one you're choosing when reserving your ticket. Both are located in central and well-connected locations, so choose whichever one is most convenient for you. All buses arrive at the main bus depot in Bilbao, which is on the west side of town. To get to the city center or Historic Quarter, you can take the tram or a taxi.
If you're up for a leisurely drive across Northern Spain, rent a car, fire up the GPS, and hit the road. The 380-mile drive from Barcelona to Bilbao takes about five and a half hours, traveling mainly on the AP-2 and AP-68 highways, which are toll roads. When you arrive at the toll booths, you'll have the option to pay with a credit card or cash, but American credit cards aren't always accepted. Carry some euros with you just in case so you aren't stuck at a toll unable to pay.
The best part of driving your own vehicle is being able to stop and explore in the many cities you'll pass along the way. You'll drive right through Zaragoza, one of Spain's largest cities also known for its medieval landmarks and massive cathedral, and a perfect place to stop for lunch to break up the drive. Before entering the Basque Country, you'll also pass through La Rioja, one of Spain's top wine-producing regions. Wine lovers should make a stop in the capital city, Logroño, and spend a night tasting some of the local blends.
If you have a car, you can also explore more of the Basque Country after arriving to Bilbao. San Sebastian is one of the area's most beautiful cities, and is only an hour's drive away from Bilbao. Another option that requires a car to visit is San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a stunning viewpoint that fans of "Games of Thrones" will recognize.
What to See in Bilbao
Architect Frank Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, built of titanium, glass, and limestone, is at the top of the list of must-sees in all of Spain, for its architecture as well as its magnificent art collection. If that's not enough to lure you, there are 40 Michelin-starred restaurants in Bilbao and the surrounding Basque Country. Bars in Bilbao are famous for their mouthwatering pintxos, the Basque version of Spanish tapas. So if you're into food and art, Bilbao is not to be missed.