Advance Planning

Three months before Book a room in the city. Reserve even earlier if visiting during a festival or in July and August.

One month before Book a table at top dining rooms like Mina Restaurante.

One week before Book online tickets for the Guggenheim to avoid queues. Make other bookings like tours and concert tickets.

Resources

Basque Country (www.basquecountry-tourism.com) Regional tourist office site.

Bilbao Turismo (www.bilbaoturismo.net) Bilbao tourist office site with extensive info, including upcoming events.

Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/spain) Destination information, hotel bookings, traveller forum and more.

Top Tips

  • To blend in with the locals (and avoid going hungry), adjust your body clock on arrival. In no time at all you'll be eating lunch at 2.30pm and dinner at 9pm.
  • A few words of Spanish can go a long way. English is widely (but not universally) spoken. Even better is to learn a few words in Basque.
  • Bilbao takes its food seriously, and you'll miss half the fun if you don't join in – linger over your meals and always ask for the local speciality.
  • Get used to having less personal space and being surrounded by high-volume conversations.
  • Take advantage of the metro. It's fast, cheap and can take you from the city centre out to some lovely spots near the coast (like Getxo) without the hassle of driving.

What to Take

  • Passport and/or national ID card (EU citizens).
  • Spanish (or Basque!) phrasebook – not everyone speaks English.
  • Money belt, and padlock for your suitcase/backpack.
  • Headphones for bus or train journeys and Skype calls.
  • Two-pin continental Europe travel plug.
  • Earplugs for noisy weekend nights.

What to Wear

Just about anything goes now, and you'll rarely feel uncomfortable because of what you're wearing. That said, Bilbao can be quite cold in winter – come prepared with plenty of warm clothing. You should also carry some form of wet-weather gear, as rain is possible year-round. The Basques are generally quite fashion-conscious and well-dressed. When dining out in Bilbao, you'll fit in if you dress up (think smart casual).

Pre-Departure Checklist

  • With huge airfare differences, check all airlines before booking your flight.
  • Check if you can use your phone in Spain and ask about roaming charges.
  • Book your Bilbao accommodation to ensure an easy start to your trip.
  • Check the calendar to work out which festivals to attend or avoid.
  • Organise travel insurance.