Cabalgata de Reyes Magos, January
Getxo Jazz, June
Bilbao BBK Live, July
Aste Nagusia, August
Festival Internacional de Folk de Getxo, September
The post-Christmas blues come later in Bilbao, thanks to the lively Cabalgata de Reyes Magos parade in early January. If you don't mind cooler temperatures, you'll find excellent accommodation deals through March.
Cabalgata de Reyes Magos
The fifth of January is something of a second Christmas for many of Bilbao's youngest residents. Massive, animated floats and costumed performers parade through the streets, with everyone turned out to welcome the arrival of the three kings, who usually disperse lollies to the crowds.
Although winters are mild in Bilbao, February can be chilly and wet with average temperatures between 5 and 12 degrees Celsius. It's a fine month to experience the city without the crowds.
Carnaval is celebrated with vigour in Bilbao, and features parades with floats and costumes, concerts, processions, dances and lots of hands-on children's activities. The revelry runs for about six days, kicking off on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and ending on Shrove Tuesday, with the ceremonial burning of the sardine. Casco Viejo is the place to be.
The temperatures are on the rise, though rain and cloudy skies keep away sunseekers. Lower prices and thinner crowds make this a fine month to visit, and there's much happening culturally around the city.
Spring makes its appearance with warmer weather and average temperatures between 8 and 15 degrees Celsius. Slightly more rainfall comes in April (though around 120mm for the month). Things get busy around Easter.
This is an ideal month to visit, with pleasant weather (though you'll still need a jacket) and longer days, though fewer crowds than in summer.
Fant – Festival de Cine Fantástico de Bilbao
This weeklong cinema festival (http://fantbilbao.eus) in early May showcases fantasy films made in Spain and beyond. Aside from short films and world premiers, the festival also screens classics by Polanski and others.
Summer brings warmer days, though rain is still a possibility (as it is all year). The crowds thicken and lodging prices rise, particularly in the second half of June.
For one night in June, the streets, bridges and plazas of Bilbao becoming a living art piece, with colourful light installations and audio-visual exhibitions. It usually happens on a Saturday night from about 8.30pm to 2am.
Held in the seaside suburb of Getxo (14km northwest of Bilbao), this five-day fest (www.jazzeuskadi.eus) kicks off the summer's major festivals. The line-up is usually impressive, featuring stars like Diana Reeves, Bill Evans and Chucho Valdés on the main stage at Plaza Biotz Alai (metro stop Algorta), along with free concerts by up-and-coming musicians on the Plaza Estación de Algorta.
The streets and plazas around town become the open-air stage for this surprising, five-day theatre fest (http://bilbokokalealdia.eus) held in late June. Expect drama, dance, music, comedy, circus arts and plenty of invention thanks to avant-garde troupes from near and far.
One of Bilbao's busiest months, July brings sunny days, perfect for beachside getaways. With music fests and a packed concert calendar, it's a festive time to visit.
Festival Internacional de Blues de Getxo
Running over three nights in mid-July, this vibrant fest is a must for blues fans. Each night a different band or artist – usually from blues country in the American south – takes the stage in Getxo. It happens at the Plaza Biotz Alai, located 16km north of central Bilbao. It's easily reached by metro (disembark at Algorta station).
Bilbao BBK Live
Bilbao’s biggest musical event is Bilbao BBK Live, which draws top artists from around the globe, including the likes of Depeche Mode, Brian Wilson, Two Door Cinema Club, Die Antwoord, Naranja – who all performed in 2017. It takes place over three days (typically early to mid-July) in Parque Kobetamendi, a hillside park located about 2km west of the centre.
High season is in full swing, with loads of visitors and sky-high hotel prices. Warm, sunny days draw out-of-towners and locals alike to the beach, and there's usually less rainfall to contend with.
Bilbao’s grandest fiesta begins on the first Saturday after 15 August. It has a full program of cultural events over nine days and features music and dancing, Basque rural sports (like chopping wood and lifting heavy stones), parades of giants and nightly fireworks.
The worst of the summer crowds are thinning, though it's still peak season with elevated lodging prices and long, warm days (with periodic rain showers of course).
Festival Internacional de Folk de Getxo
Held in the seaside suburb of Getxo, this cultural festival promotes wide-ranging musical styles. Past years have included Algerian singing sensation Souad Massi, along with bands playing, Irish folk, Portuguese fado, Balkan rhythms, Spanish flamenco and Tejano (Mexican-American fusion) sounds. It typically runs for four days in late September or early October.
The temperatures begin to dip a bit (with lows around 12 degrees), but it's still a pleasant, invigorating time to be in Bilbao, and there's plenty going on during this early autumn month.
In mid-October, the city hosts a week-long literary fest, with poetry and prose readings, recitals, concerts, short plays and book launches. Many events are free.
Cooler temps and drizzle keep many visitors away in November, but it's still a fine month to take advantage of concerts, art openings and other happenings around town.
Winter arrives with cooler temperatures and slightly more rain. No one in town seems to mind though with holiday markets and building excitement over Christmas revelry.