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 )
Car: Do you need a car in 2? No car: Is it worth hiring a car in 2? Slider: Should you rent a car in 2? Should you rent a car in 2?

Bilbao car hire quick facts

Cheapest rate for one week Based on cheapest economy car hire deal with no added extras. [full notes - basic costs]



  • 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.
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 "whynot" section for more suggestions.
Free parking score Based on the number of hotels which offer free parking.Total 117 - of which 26 have free parking. [full notes - parking]




  • During the peak holiday season, public transport is often better value, as many train and bus fares are fixed throughout the year. See our "whynot" section for more suggestions.

Bilbao public transport quick facts

"Top trumps" train score

Higher scores go to the systems which take you to the most amazing places.



  • [full notes - top trumps trains]
  • A good rail system doesn't mean you shouldn't hire a car, but it often means you have a decent range of options.

Overall public transport score {coming shortly}

This is a more practical rating based on bus and rail travel.



  • [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?

Walking and Cycling Overview

Active travel score {coming shortly}

This overall rating considers walking and cycling in and around Bilbao



Need, 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:

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.

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?

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 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.

Why not? Visiting Bilbao without a car

What is public transport like in Bilbao? What about local conditions for walking or cycling? Can you rely on public transport and maybe a few taxis for most or all of your trip? Are there some times of year when it's easier to get by without a car than others? When should you rent a car in Bilbao?

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.


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.


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.

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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