By | 16th January 2018

Do you need a car in Bilbao?

Do you need a car in Bilbao > Should you rent a car in Bilbao Spain > Bilbao ( BIO ) Do you need a car in Bilbao? Is it worth hiring a car in Bilbao? Should you rent a car in Bilbao?

Bilbao Car hire summary

Overall drive rating

Based on a weighted score across all cost and quality factors. [Full notes - drive rating]


  • Price alone isn't the only factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Bilbao but clearly it's an important one. See our "why" section for more figures.
  • Cost factors include - price of car hire (peak and off peak season), car hire extras, fuel, tolls and parking costs.
  • Quality factors include - scenic drives, road quality and upkeep, general safety and congestion levels.
  • A complete index of all 10 factors will be uploaded shortly.

Cheapest rate for one week

Based on cheapest economy car hire deal with no added extras. [full notes - basic costs]



  • This is the very lowest price we could find for a one week car rental period in Bilbao during the quiet season.
  • You will almost always end up paying more than this figure, but any extra costs or supplementary charges are usually determined by the renter, so we cannot easily compare like with like.
  • In many cases, rental companies will offer a cheap rental and then expect you to take out expensive insurance waivers. There are always ways to avoid this!

How much should I expect to pay in the peak season?

Based on cheapest deal during the summer holiday season. (Unless otherwise noted) [full notes - seasonal variations]



  • During the peak holiday season, public transport is often better value, as many train and bus fares are fixed throughout the year. See our "why not" section for more suggestions.
  • For most featured destinations, the peak season will be during the summer, typically July and August for northern hemisphere destinations. However, peak demand might occur at different times, for example in some ski resorts or winter sun destinations etc.

Free parking score

Based on the number of hotels which offer free parking. Total 117 - of which 26 have free parking. [full notes - parking]



  • Free hotel parking is very useful to have when you are hiring a car, and it's always worth checking ahead beforehand.
  • If free hotel parking is not available, you might want to consider renting a car for a single day, rather than for your whole trip.
  • The availability (or lack of) free hotel parking can be a really important factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Bilbao, as it can be a significant extra daily cost which you won't usually be paying at home!
  • Parking costs play a very major part in our consideration of whether or not it's worth hiring a car in each destination.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.

Bilbao public transport quick facts

Train score

Higher scores go to the systems which don't just take you to the most amazing places, but also to the ones which are easy to use, fast, reliable and frequent. A good train system on its own is usually enough to determine that you don't need to hire a car in many destinations.


  • [full notes trains]
  • Trains include all kinds of urban rail system from trams up to metro and suburban networks.
  • Trains also include mountain railways and cable cars.
  • Generally, places with a good rail network will automatically mean that you don't "need" to hire a car, but you can still might find that on balance you are better off by having one.

Water travel score

This is a general rating for all types of water travel, including scheduled ferries, sea / rivers cruises and excursions in Bilbao


  • [full notes - water score]
  • The water score looks at means of transport on water - it does not consider water based activities like surfing or kayaking.

Overall public transport score

This is a more practical rating based on bus and rail travel, and also including ferries and other boat services, where they are part of the public transport network.


  • [full notes - overall transit] buses | trams | metro | local & regional rail | national rail
  • Is public transport in Bilbao good value, or is it worth hiring a car just because it is cheaper overall?
  • Even if public transport is cheap and reliable, you might still feel that you should hire a car in Bilbao because it will still give you more flexibility to reach out-of-the-way places, especially in rural areas.

Walking and Cycling Overview

Active travel score

This overall rating considers walking and cycling in and around Bilbao. It includes factors such as the quality of the street environment, and whether you are likely to feel safe walking or cycling, together with the availability of bicycle hire and the ease of linking walking or cycling routes with public transport.


  • [full notes - active score] walking (city) | hiking | cycling (city /  country).
  • A high active travel score means that you might not need a car in Bilbao, because you can see everything you need to see using a combination of your own two feet and the public transport system.

Car rental in - Bilbao Need v worth & should!

Whether you have come here asking "do I need a car in Bilbao", "is it worth hiring a car in Bilbao", or whether or not you "should" hire a car here, these are all slight variations on a similar theme. Here we break each one down according to the criteria we use for each question. This is a weighted score based on the values above. These are explained further in the text which follows - [#why] [#whynot]. Do you need a car in Bilbao?

Do you need a car in Bilbao?

This is essentially based on whether or not public transport and other "non car" options are good enough to get around and beyond the city. For the lowest "need" score, the destination should have a combination of excellent all-round public transport, great opportunities for walking and cycling, together with poor value car hire or generally poor quality roads. 
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "do I need a car in  Bilbao " will swing towards a strong no, because you can do absolutely fine without one).
Is it worth hiring a car in Bilbao?

Is it worth hiring a car in Bilbao?

Is car hire good value, especially during the peak season? How does this compare with transit fares? This question mainly looks at issues of cost and practicality.
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "is it worth hiring a car in  Bilbao" will swing towards whichever option offers the lowest overall cost for a group of 2-4 people travelling together.
Should you rent a car in Bilbao?

Should you rent a car in Bilbao?

Weighing up the above questions, if you are here for the first time AND asking about hiring a car, is it a good idea?
  • The final "carometer" swing is much more opinion based, and it takes into account which options will give you the truly best travel experience (n our humble opinion of course). Where a destination offers an excellent score with or without a car, the swing will go towards whichever option we feel gives the most truly unforgettable experience.
  • Ultimately, it's your choice whether or not you rent a car here. We're trying to give you something that's sufficiently far enough away from a "maybe" to help you make that choice. Ultimately, people only come to us because they are uncertain, but we don't really know what each person's preferences are. Whether we say you should or you shouldn't rent a car in  Bilbao, you might also want to look up some of our other cities to see how  Bilbao compares with other destinations in  Spain or  Europe.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.

What does everyone else do?

Do most people hire a car in Bilbao?

This is based on our observations of (a) car rental facilities and (b) what we think most people will do here. It's not an exact figure, just an estimate of how likely people are to get hold of a rental car here.
  • his is based on the percentage of people "in the market" who we think are likely to hire a car. This includes anyone arriving on holiday here who would usually hire a car on their travels, so it doesn't include people who don't usually drive (or don't drive), people staying with friends etc.


Visitors per year (million)

  • Cities with more visitors are more likely to have more complex airport car rental arrangements, and generally they will also have better public transport, but this is not always the case, especially in North America.


  • [full notes - do as everyone else does?]
  • You may wish to go with the flow, or you might prefer to avoid doing the most popular or obvious option. This will vary according to the range of choice available. This tends to be much higher in destinations which are closer to the middle of the car or no car scale.

Who is travelling?

Your group size and travel budget has a major impact on whether or not getting a rental car is good value compared to using public transport as your main means of getting around. Ultimately, these are all "worth" questions:

Is it worth renting a car in Bilbao if I am a solo / budget traveller?

Generally, hiring a car is not good value for solo travellers for multiple reasons, especially as most of the costs of renting apply to the car, not the occupants. With public transport, the reverse is usually true! However, there are always some places where you will need a car, simply because they are almost impossible to reach using public transport.

Is it worth renting a car in Bilbao for 2 people travelling together?

A rental car can be good value for couples or for friends travelling together, but since most cars come with at least four seats, it's often still better value to use public transport. However, if you prefer to keep yourselves to yourselves, then you might still want to rent.

Is it worth renting a car in Bilbao for families?

Families of groups of 3-4 people travelling together will always get the best value from a rental car. However, you may also be burdened with extra costs for car seat hire, and you well also prefer to use local trains and buses, if they are quicker than getting stuck in heavy traffic.

Where are you staying?

The place you are staying, together with the sort of places you want to see, will have a large impact on whether or not you "need" to rent a car:

Do you need a car in Bilbao if we are staying in the city centre / main resort area?

Most large towns or purpose built holiday resorts will have some kind of public transport, whereas parking provision will vary greatly from one place to the next. 

Do you need a car in Bilbao if we are staying on the edge of the urban area?

Typically you may be staying in an apartment or hmall house on the edge of a resort or urban area. These places usually have some level of public transport, but not as much as city / resort centres.

Do you need a car in Bilbao if we are staying in a rural area?

Rural proprties might include larger villas or apartments, but they can still be within a short walk of a bus stop or local railway station, and the opportunities for hiking and cycling might also be substantial, depending on the destination.

What is your attitude towards driving?

We can give you suggestions based on whatever we consider to be a "typical" visitor to Bilbao, but ultimately your decision is also going to be influenced by whether or not you ususally prefer to hire a car in the first place.

Should I hire a car in Bilbao if I prefer not to drive?

This is especially the case when there is only one main driver in the group, and it's based on the attitude of the driver rather than their passengers! The main driver may also simply prefer to use public transport, or they may prefer to take scenic train journeys where available.

Should we rent a car in Bilbao if we are easy either way?

This is more aimed at the typical visitor who isn't that bothered about how they get around, as long as it is the most convenient / best value option.

Should I rent a car in Bilbao if I prefer to drive?

For people who usually prefer the freedom and flexibility of having a hire car. Is it still best to rent a car in Bilbao, or are there good reasons not to?

The Basque city of Bilbao is known above anything else for one big draw, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. This ship-like structure was designed by the architect Frank Gehry. It was rated by Time Magazine as the building of the 20th century. Whilst this building is truly dramatic, Bilbao is some distance from other major Spanish cities. If you are going to come this far out, you might as well spend a few days here and visit other locations nearby.

Can you do this using public transport, or should you rent a car?

Do you need a car in Bilbao? Introduction

When someone asks "Do you need a car in Bilbao?", this often breaks down to two key questions:
  1. Can you actually get around using public transport, or is a car all but essential?
  2. Is it worth hiring a car in Bilbao? Is it good value for money, compared with non-car options?
Over the next few sections, we wil look at the pros and cons of driving in Bilbao as a tourist, and ultimately weigh these up, so we can answer the key question of Should you rent a car in Bilbao?
Why? Why not? Ratings Comments

Why should you rent a car in Bilbao?

What are the main reasons for hiring a car here? Do you just want to drive locally? Do you want to go further afield, or should you even look at taking a road trip? In terms of factors like the cost of the hire itself, fuel costs, road tolls and parking charges, is it worth hiring a car in Bilbao?
  • Wineries — Bilbao isn’t just a city of architecture. Tthere are also two spectacular wineries which are both worth a visit, whether you appreciate the plonk or not!
    Marques De Riscal, on the edge of Elciego, is also designed by Frank Gehry.
    Nearby Ysios (near Laguardia / Biasteri) is designed by Santiago Calatrava.
    There are plenty of other less architecturally spectacular wineries which can be visited.
  • Northern Pyrenees — drive towards the twin national park of the Northern Pyrenees. You can continue towards Lourdes in France. (Check with hire company re: driving across borders).
  • Picos De Europa — head west to explore the fantastic Picos De Europa. Take the cable car from Fuente De to enjoy a spectacular, but hair-raising cliff edge path.
  • Pamplona — Pamplona is perhaps most famous for its annual running of the bulls, but it’s still worth a visit at any time. Going by train from Bilbao to Pamplona involves a circuitous route. It is much quicker to drive.
[whynot2 num=”36″]

Within Bilbao

  • Architour — when it comes to architecture, Bilbao really isn’t just a one hit wonder. Any architectural tour of the city starts where it should, when you arrive at the airport. Calatrava’s ultramodern bird shaped terminal might not be practical for some of the airlines that use it, but it is a beautiful creation for the first-time visitor. Head into the city, and you can visit yet another one of Calatrava’s seemingly off-balanced creations, the Zubizuri bridge. This is near to the Guggenheim Museum, and it is certainly worth taking the short walk along the Nervion river to appreciate both.
  • Casco Viejo – like any Spanish city, Bilbao has an impressive historic district, which is a counterbalance to the modern developments.
  • Bilbao Metro — can declare a biased hand when it comes to transport structures, but the Bilbao Metro, designed by British architect Norman Foster, really is truly impressive. The underground stations are true monuments to simplicity, and whereas Moscow might be famous for its lavish works of art, Bilbao’s more modest system has much more in common with that of Washington DC. Locals seem to agree with this too, and the delightful steel and glass entrance canopies have been affectionately named Fosteritos (and no, you can’t eat them). Even the font and their system logo have been carefully designed by Foster, and no doubt, were this a system for a larger city like Madrid, it would be an international style icon like the London tube roundel.

Beyond Bilbao without a car

  • Northern coast — why not hire a bike and head out of the city on the Metro towards the impressive north coast, where you’ll see many fine merchants’ mansions.
  • Guernica — best known for Picasso’s Spanish Civil War painting, Guernica can be easily reached by train from Bilbao. Why not continue to the delightful fishing village of Bermeo?
  • Basque cities — take the narrow gauge coastal line towards delightful San Sebastian, and even on to Biarritz in neighbouring France. From here you can take the scenic route up the Nive valley to St Jean-Pied-de-Port.
  • Santander — another scenic train route is to take the narrow gauge FEVE towards Santander, where you will enjoy Green Spain at its best.
  • The Wineries of Rioja can be visited without a car, although it takes a bit of planning. The Racimo Train is a tourist road train that follows two routes out of Laguardia (Biasteri), including one route which takes in Ysios – but you will still need to get to Biasteri, which is around 10 miles northwest of Logrono. Marques De Riscal is on the edge of Elciego, also a similar distance from Logrono, about 5 miles southwest of Ysios.


Our slider ratings range from 0 (it isn't even possible to hire a car, e.g. Hong Kong) through to 10 (you really must rent a car here, e.g. Phoenix, Tampa). However, most places are somewhere inbetween these extremes, and this is where it gets more interesting! Further ratings breakdowns, including a much more detailed public transport rating, are currently being added. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.


What is our final score for Bilbao on the Carornocar scale?

Remember, this isn't so much a rating of the road network, or a score for what we think of the buses or trains, but it's simply a scale showing the swing between whether or not we think a rental car is a good idea here.


There is clearly much more to enjoy here than just the world-famous Guggenheim Museum, but this can generally be done perfectly well without a car. Considering that many of Bilbao’s transport facilities are impressive features of architecture in their own right, it is certainly best to appreciate a little bit more of this city on foot and by Metro before instantly reaching for the car keys. A hire car will of course give you more flexibility outside of the city, but there are also many enjoyable and scenic train routes which can be taken.

Would you hire a car in Bilbao?

Have you driven in Bilbao? Do you agree with our advice on whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Bilbao}? Do you need a car in Bilbao? For some or all of the time? Tell us what you think using the comments section below:

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