Bilbao is a great northern Spanish city to visit, especially if you’re into culture, art and design – but when you’ve seen all there is to see in the city and have some time left over, there are some great day trips all within a two-hour reach. Whether you like beaches, villages, forests or nature, there’s something for everyone.
The charming seaside town of Lekeitio lies approximately a one-hour drive from Bilbao to the north east. Originally a fishing town, it started to become popular tourist destination in the 19th century, and even Queen Elizabeth II came on holiday here. With its colourful port, wide sandy beaches and magnificent Gothic church, it’s well worth the exploration. In the centre of the bay, where the river meets the sea, lies the island of St. Nicholas, which is accessible on foot at low tide.
Meaning ‘Rock Castle’, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a tiny island, which sits around 35km (21.7 miles) northeast of Bilbao, and is connected to the mainland via a manmade rock and stone bridge. There’s a winding 241-step pathway to reach the top of the island, where you’ll find the 9th-century hermitage dedicated to St. John the Baptist, along with spectacular views of the surrounding coastline.
Located within the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, lies the quaint town of Mundaka around 40km (25 miles) northeast of Bilbao. The town is small and has a pretty little fishing port, however most visitors are drawn to Mundaka because of its world-famous surfing scene. Home to one of the longest waves in the world, it’s filled with people hoping to catch a ride. If you’d like to try your hand at surfing, the town also has a couple of surf schools where you can book a lesson.
Head 35km (21.7 miles) northwest this time, to reach the pretty town of Castro Urdiales, which actually lies within the Cantabria region of Spain. Roman in its origin, the town has a fascinating old town, as well as a number of attractions to look out for including the church of Santa María – one of the best pieces of Gothic architecture in Cantabria. Other attractions worth seeing here include the castle-lighthouse, the medieval bridge and the hermitage of Santa Ana. When you’re done sightseeing, you’ll also find two beautiful beaches nearby to relax on – Ostende and Brazomar.
Around an hour’s drive just south of Bilbao sits one of the Basque Country’s best, and its biggest, Natural Parks – Gorbeia. The ideal place for walking, hiking and even mountaineering, the park is very mountainous and rises up to 1,482 meters (4,862 feet) at its highest point. As well as sports, tourists can visit caves of Mairuelegorreta, the waterfall of Goiuri and look out for wildlife in the dense forests, which surround the mountains.
Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve is a natural wetland area, which extends for 12km (7.5 miles) along the coast between Matxitxaco and Ogoño. Important because of its natural flora and fauna, it was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. The area is particularly known for its birdlife, and twitchers will be delighted with the variety of species to be found here, which include fish eagles, spoonbills and eurasian bittern, among others. Visit the Urdaibai Bird Center to discover more.