The disabled cruiser visiting Bilbao will discover that most of the central area of town, and nearby areas, are wheelchair accessible. All sidewalks have been adapted to allow wheelchairs an easy passing. Downtown Bilbao is the Plaza Moyua.
It’s easy to explore Bilbao on your own. Once in the center of town, most everything is walkable, while a useful tram line links the museums along the riverfront to Casco Viejo. The Guggenheim Museum is Bilbao’s most celebrated landmark. The museum is wheelchair accessible except for its High Gallery.
The surface of the sidewalks/pavements in Balbao are easy to walk/roll on and cobble-free. On most popular streets a lift is also available where you encounter stairs. The gradient on the bridge to cross the river is easy, but it is paved with a slip-free surface that is somewhat akin to carpet, and not quite as easy to traverse as a smooth surface.
On the East/North side of the river, there is a wide promenade that allows pedestrians and people in wheelchairs to walk/roll along the river without worrying about traffic. Pedestrian crossings are generally signal-lit with an audible assist for people with vision impairment. In the Casco Viejo (Old Quarter), this part of the city is extremely easy to walk/roll, no hills and only one or two very mild grades, with very little traffic and good rolling surfaces for wheelchairs. Most of the businesses have step-free access.
Bilbao is located in the Basque region of northern Spain.
Places of interest include the Guggenheim Modern Art Gallery and the Cathedral de Santiago or take a bus tour of the city taking in all the sights.
The city’s museums and its Old Quarter are now linked by a linear park and pathway that parallels a revived riverfront. Several architecturally intriguing bridges give access to the river’s north side and to the funicular to the top of Mount Artxanda for a view of the city and its hilly surroundings.
The nearest beach to the port of Getxo is around 800m walk away.
Where You’re Docked
The Cruise Terminal is situated in Getxo. There are taxi ranks, buses, car rental and tourist bus parking here.
Bilbao is reachable via the metro system. The nearest station being at Neguri, a 20 minute walk away down a pleasant promenade.
Good to Know
Basque and Spanish Language street signs are often both in use, so you may think you are in the right place on your map, only to find that the sign is in Basque, rather than Spanish. Keep looking, and you’ll often find a translation nearby. Pickpockets are a problem, though no more so than in most European cities.
Most cruise lines will provide a shuttle into Bilbao, usually to the plaza in front of the opera house at the edge of the old city center. Some lines charge for this service. The independent-minded can walk to the Bilbao Metro at Neguri Station (Line 1) in Getxo. In addition, Bilbobus routes 3411 and 3413 operate into Bilbao center from Getxo. Both stops are 10 to 15 minutes’ walk from the ship. Nearly all the city center’s principal sights are within walking distance.
Local transit includes the metro, Bilbobus (city bus) and EuskoTran (city tram). The most useful transit line runs along the Nervion River, parallel to the river walk, with stops at Teatro Arriaga (opera house) and the Guggenheim Museum. Walking from the opera house to the Guggenheim will take about 25 minutes. For the Disabled Cruiser Bilbobos (city bus) ensures good accessibility and comfort, for people with reduced mobility with accessible Bilbobus stops and bus access ramps. EuskoTran (city tram) has attempted to avoid unnecessary elements and architectural barriers that may pose obstacles to people with some type of disability by the careful design of the stops and the tram carriages. There are two spaces on each tram reserved for people with limited mobility issues.
Taxis are available at the port and within the city. The green light atop the cab indicates it is available. Renting a car is not recommended, as the hilly topography makes driving very confusing. For the Disabled Cruiser there are taxis adapted for the transport of people with reduced mobility, with ample space to access safely and comfortably, equipped with a wide ramp to be able to access it with special wheelchairs. Since these taxis are limited it is advisable to schedule in advance.
The official currency is the euro. ATM’s abound throughout the city. Many have an English-language option; look for the British flag. Not all the push-button steps may be translated into English, though generally most automatic tellers use the same system. You’ll want some euros for small purchases, such as tapas, drinks and transit fare.
The official language in Bilbao is Spanish and Basque as the principal tongues. Most Basques also speak Spanish. English is widely understood, except at some restaurants. Ask for an English menu along with the Spanish version to build up your vocabulary.
Spain is noted for its leather products (clothing, handbags, etc.) in varied shades like brown, rust red, orange and blue. Particularly attractive are bags with wicker detailing.
International visitors generally agree that Bilbao and neighboring San Sebastian offer some of the best food in Spain, especially if you are a seafood-lover. Try mussels in a tomato and anchovy sauce, squid cooked in its own ink, and salted cod with mushrooms in a garlic sauce or lemon and parsley.
Points of Interest
- Guggenheim Museum Bilbao – Designed by architect Frank Gehry, this art museum is itself a work of art. The curvy building is clad in titanium, glass and limestone, and its shiny panels are meant to resemble fish scales. The Disabled Cruiser will be delighted that the complex is wheelchair accessible. There are lots of steps, but there are lifts available for disabled access. Walk up the bridge next to the museum to get a great view of the building. There is an elevator on one side of the bridge that is wheelchair accessible.
- Old Quarter – East of the Nervión River is medieval Bilbao. It is connected to the rest of the city by four bridges. Stroll the old plazas and climb the 64 steps uptown or the Disabled Cruiser can take the elevator to the Basilica.
- Bermeo – This fishing village was the provincial capital until 1602. It’s a perfect place to spend an afternoon. Things to see include the 14th century arch of San Juan and other medieval structures in the old quarter.
- San Sebastian – This seaside town boasts beautiful beaches, historic landmarks, a lively nightlife, designer shops, and superb Basque restaurants, including more than its share of Michelin award winners. For the Disabled Cruiser San Sebastian streets are made of cobblestone and the promenade has low curbs and are quite accessible. Most of the old parts of town were built for walking and carts.
- Guernica – Guernica is best known as the scene of the April 26, 1937 aerial bombing by Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe in support of Franco. Pablo Picasso commemorated the day in a painting of the same name. The Disabled Cruiser visiting the Museo de la Paz de Guernica will be happy that the building is fully accessible to wheelchair users.
- Hondarribia – Situated west of the Bidasoa river mouth on a promontory that faces Hendaye, France, this tiny border town is home to an ancient old quarter. View the medieval walls and explore the castle.
- Biscayan Coast – Picture perfect views of this breathtaking coastline, characterized by its steep cliffs overlooking sparkling beaches fringed by lush vegetation, are best obtained from the beach town of Bakio.
- Gastronomic Traditions – From small plates called “pinchos” to Michelin star restaurants, the cuisine of the Basque country is widely considered to be the best in Spain. Explore its culinary traditions in cooking demonstrations and food trails through its marketplaces.
Bilbao Accessible Excursions
The city of Bilbao, with massive green hills on three sides and a river valley to the north, sprawls itself out across the remaining open spaces in an ungainly and awkward mess. Its 14th-century historic district and more modern commercial center hug the banks of the Nervion River.
Bilbao City Tour
This 5 hour accessible Bilbao City Tour begins when you are picked up by your private guide and transport from the cruise port. During this tour, you explore the history of Bilbao and its transformation into the cosmopolitan city it is today. Among these are the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, designed by the Canadian architect Frank Gehry (outside visit). Also included are visits to the ‘city’s Underground’, designed by Norman Foster, and the Isozaki Towers. Founded in 1918, the Isozaki towers first served as a warehouse. The architect wanted to create a gate as an entrance to the city to connect the Ensanche area and the river. Both towers are identical and have 23 floors. The big staircase represents the Spanish Steps in Rome. A must-see for the architectural lovers.
The day continues towards the Old Quarter, also known as the “Seven Streets,” as the locals refer to the small area of narrow streets and alleys. This part of Bilbao is characterized by medieval buildings, museums such as the Museo Vasco and Museo de Pasos de Semana Santa, Teatro Arriaga, historical churches such as Iglesia Santos Juanes, San Nicolás de Bari and of course the Santiago de Bilbao cathedral. This cathedral, built in the Gothic style, is also the center of Casco Viejo, where there are lovely terraces and shops. Another point of interest in Casco Viejo is the Mercado de la Ribera market hall. This modern market hall is located on the outskirts of Casco Viejo but is very recognizable by the beautiful Art Deco facade with beautiful stained glass windows. This old part of the city of Bilbao is particularly attractive. At the end of your tour, you will be taken back to the port.
This private accessible tour makes use of an accessible vehicle for transportation to various sites. The tour requires some walking/rolling using a no step route with mild to no cobblestones and curb cuts. The tour can be adjusted to your wishes.
Bilbao, Guggenheim, and the Basque Coast
This 8 hour accessible Bilbao, Guggenheim, and the Basque Coast Tour begins when you are picked up by your private guide and transport from the cruise port. Your first stop is a visit the magnificent and uniquely Guggenheim museum, designed by Frank Gehry, with your private guided tour. Following on, you walk/roll through the Old City. It lies on the right bank of the Nervión River, and the locals call it: Casco Viejo. The old and historic city center of Bilbao. The heart of the city was founded around 1300. This historic center is a maze of narrow streets, and the center of this old quarter forms the ‘Siete Calle’ or the seven streets that created the first city. The old and lively city center is connected to the new city through five bridges. Furthermore, this tour includes seeing the suspension bridge up close, and a unique opportunity to enjoy a ride up the Artxanda Hill for fantastic views over the city.
The next visit will be a drive to Gaztelugatxe, a little chapel dedicated to San Juan (not accessible) built on an island in the town of Bermeo, the province of Biscay. The island is linked to the mainland by an arched bridge. From here, you have spectacular views of the Cantabric Sea with the breathtaking cliffs, tunnels, and sea carved arches. You continue along the coast to the small town of Mundaka. After Mundaka, you will continue your way back to the port along the scenic road.
This private accessible tour makes use of an accessible vehicle for transportation to the various sites. The tour requires some walking/rolling using a no step route with mild to no cobblestones and curb cuts. The Guggenheim museum is fully wheelchair accessible; Bilbao center is cobble free and with curb cuts; Gaztelugatxe is partially wheelchair accessible. The tour can be adjusted to your wishes.