City Discovery: Bilbao in the Basque Country

Bilbao, sometimes referred to as Bilbo in the Basque Country, is the largest city in the region and the capital of the province of Biscay (Basque: Bizkaia).

Euskera or Basque is the ancestral language of the region. While students will have no problem using their Spanish, they can expect to see street names, menus and names reflecting this. When you arrive to Bilbao, you might hear someone say Ongi Etorri – Welcome!

Don’t miss these Discovery activities in Bilbao!



Intercultural experiences highlight exposure with the local culture, promoting a multilateral exchange of ideas, language and opinions.

The Universidad de Deusto provides great opportunities for students to learn about the Basque culture and to meet local students. ISA students are able to participate in the Tandem program at the Universidad de Deusto where they are paired up with a local Spanish student. This program allows both parties the opportunity to practice their foreign language skills! Students also have the option of enrolling in a Basque Culture and Language class at the Universidad de Deusto. The course will help students become familiar with Basque geography, history and economy, as well as with the Basque culture, traditions and language – Euskera!

ISA students are able to experience the mix of Spanish, Basque and French cultures on a two day excursion to Biarritz, France and San Sebastian. The excursion starts in France, with a visit to the Chocolate Museum in Biarritz. Students will experience the charm of this town, from the beaches, the shops, to the the history of kings and emperors. In San Sebastián students will visit the Monte Igueldo and be rewarded with breathtaking views of the bay and surrounding Belle Époque edifices.



ISA excursions and cultural activities highlight historical parts of the local culture to help students better understand their new environment.

On a day to day basis, ISA students will be able to stroll through the city streets while admiring the edgy juxtaposition of modern and classic Spanish architecture all throughout the city. Just across the river from the ISA office, students can discover the art of world renowned artists such as Andy Warhol, Willem Kooning, Anselm Kiefer, and Jeff Koons at the Guggenheim Museum. Staff will explore the Museum inside and out with students, and explain how the opening of the museum back in 1997 helped transform the city. Many of the buildings in Bilbao are designed by foreigners, adding to the internationalism of the city. Stroll through the Casco Viejo or Siete Calles, one of the oldest parts of the city, with winding streets and alleys. The names mean Seven Streets or Old Town respectively and it used to be the walled part of the town until the end of the 19th century. This neighborhood is home to many cafes, bars and shops and one of the biggest retail markets in Europe, Mercado de la Ribera.

Students will also explore outside the city limits and participate in an excursion to Burgos, located southwest of Bilbao, along the Camino de Santiago. This beautiful city was founded in the 9th century and boasts more religious monuments than any other city in Spain -its cathedral was completed in the 15th century!



Sociopolitical discovery highlights social and political activities or experiences.

Throughout the semester, the ISA Bilbao staff organizes events in which students can volunteer their time in service. One popular project involves helping elementary school kids from diverse backgrounds with their homework, teaching them English and playing sports with them. This volunteer opportunity gives ISA students insight into the local education system and some of the needs at the local schools.

Visit the city of Gernika on an ISA excursion and learn about the different periods in Basque history. The city made famous by Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece, is the headquarters of the Basque Parliament, and is the symbol of the Basque identity, traditions, and laws. Students will visit the Madariaga Tower, “Casa de Juntas” and the “Oak Tree” – historical symbols of the Basque traditions and private laws that survived during the bombing of the city in 1937.



Professional experiences provide exposure to professional development opportunities during an ISA program.

Students at an advanced Spanish level of proficiency have the opportunity to enhance their academic experience with an internship through a local business or public school. Universidad de Deusto offers a 4 credit course that complements these experiential learning opportunities. A past student interned at La Tuning Academy, which is an International Centre for Higher Education and Research to develop new concepts and methodologies to improve the quality of learning and teaching focusing on skills for employability and citizenship in a global context. Past business students have been placed in companies focused on Marketing, Hotel Management, Information Technology, and International Relations.

The Universidad de Deusto also offers semester students the opportunity to participate in a service-learning course. Students can volunteer with a non-profit organization devoted to helping students from low income families, while complementing their academic program. These service placements offer the opportunity for students to interact with locals and meet the needs of the community.



Environmental experiences expose students to different environmental aspects of the host country.

Experience all that Mother Nature has to offer in lush, mountainous northern Spain. Hike or mountain bike in the surrounding mountains, kayak down the Nervión River or kite surf in the Bay of Biscay; the outdoor options are endless in Bilbao. Students can also enjoy many of the beautiful parks in Bilbao including:

  • Doña Casilda Park “Parque de los patos”: Constructed about 100 years ago, it is Bilbao´s most popular park. In its vast green space in the center of the city, you’ll find ponds and pavilions, as well as the Fine Arts Museum and its cozy cafe.
  • Memorial Walkway: This park runs along the Nervión River and allows for a relaxing walk past the Palacio Euskalduna, the Guggenheim Museum and more of the beautiful architecture of Bilbao.

Students can get a panoramic view of Bilbao and its surrounding areas by visiting Monte Artxanda. A funicular runs up and down the side of the mountain, linking downtown Bilbao with a recreational area at the top of the mountain. Once at the top, students can see incredible views of the city, and on a clear day, admire the coast of Bizcaya.

Located right on the coast, Bilbao and its surrounding cities offer amazing opportunities for students interested in surfing. Students who are interested in incorporating surfing into their study abroad experience can even request to stay with a family close to the beach.

Discover everything else that Bilbao has to offer during a semester abroad. 

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

Leave a Reply