How to plan the perfect pintxos crawl in Bilbao

Gure Toki offers innovative Basque cuisine in miniature size  (Gure Toki )
Gure Toki offers innovative Basque cuisine in miniature size (Gure Toki )

Long gone are the days when Bilbao was only known as an industrial port city. Since the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997, Bilbao’s cultural offerings haven’t stopped surfacing. Contemporary Bilbao is the city of the Zubizuri bridge, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, as well as the Azkuna Zentroa cultural centre, redesigned by his French counterpart Philippe Starck.

But while its architectural gems certainly put it on the map, Bilbao’s culinary scene is what now attracts legions of tourists to its riverside shores enclosed by picturesque mountains.

Pintxos are what set the Basque Country’s cuisine apart from the rest of Spain. Whereas tapas have become famous the world over, tourists are often unaware of what makes pintxos distinct from them. While tapas are normally served on a small plate and eaten with utensils, pintxos are usually eaten with your hands in one or two bites. Traditionally, pintxos were held together by a toothpick and served on bread, but modern creations may bypass both of these stipulations altogether.

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The beauty of Bilbao’s pintxos culture lies in being able to hop from place to place sampling everything the city has to offer. There’s no commitment to choose a single restaurant for dinner – in fact, getting too comfortable at a single place is discouraged, no matter how good their food is. Instead, opt for variety – we grouped our picks for the best pintxos in Bilbao in four sections, but they’re close enough to each other that you could visit a couple of areas in one go if you really wanted to. The choice is yours...

Indautxu neighbourhood

El Pintxito

Flame-grilled skewers at El Pintxito (El Pintxito)
Flame-grilled skewers at El Pintxito (El Pintxito)

El Pintxito has been a staple in Bilbao’s culinary scene since 1968. Located on Poza Lizentziatuaren Kalea 24, the venue boasts contemporary furnishings with both indoor and outdoor seating. While its counter is well-stocked with tempting bites to choose from, it’s the skewers that steal the show. The Moorish pintxo (lamb meat skewer) and octopus and prawn skewer are a must.

El Puertito

Oysters are the only thing on the menu at this oyster bar on García Rivero street but there’s enough variety to keep your palate intrigued. Hailing from different parts of Spain, France, Ireland and the Netherlands, El Puertito’s oysters are best enjoyed with a glass of Txacoli, a dry white wine produced in the region.

El Puertito serves nothing but oysters (El Puertito)
El Puertito serves nothing but oysters (El Puertito)


This cosy tavern located across the road from El Puertito specialises in cheese and has a selection from around the world. Gaztandegi gets packed but don’t let that deter you; instead, take it as a testament to its popularity and the quality of its products. Once you get the server’s attention, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best cheese-on-bread pairings you’ve ever had – the cabrales cheese with cider and pear pintxo, served warm, and the camembert with walnuts are standouts.

Casco Viejo


Baste specialises in stuffed mussels (Jennifer Fernández Solano)
Baste specialises in stuffed mussels (Jennifer Fernández Solano)

Located in the 700-year-old historic quarter, Baste’s claim to fame is the stuffed mussels topped with bechamel sauce. According to the bar’s owner, José Mari Martín, Sundays are their busiest day, when they serve approximately 400 to 500 of these fried seafood morsels. You’ll want to order only one or two as they’re quite filling, and eat them with a teaspoon to scoop up all the stuffing.


When you first walk into Irrintzi, you’ll notice that, unlike most other pintxo bars, their counter takes up a larger space. You’re encouraged to walk from one end of the bar to the other selecting what you want from their vast spread, buffet style. The swordfish and prawn yakitori-style skewers and croqueta de chipirones (cuttlefish croquette) are some of their more interesting options.

Plaza Nueva


Sorginzulo sells world-inspired pintxos (Sorginzulo)
Sorginzulo sells world-inspired pintxos (Sorginzulo)

Walking into Plaza Nueva, a large 19th-century square with neoclassical architecture in the historic quarter, you won’t know where to go first – there are bars selling pintxos everywhere you look. Do yourself a favour and head straight to Sorginzulo, where Iñaki Lazkano’s creativity has given birth to world-inspired pintxos, with gyozas and breaded camembert cheese with tomato jam.

Gure Toki

Gure Toki is another example of innovative Basque cuisine in miniature size. You can’t go wrong with any of the pintxos here, but the tempura crab is one of the more popular options. If you have yet to try the bacalao al pil pil, a traditional codfish dish from the region, this is your chance to order it in a bite-size version. Like Sorginzulo, pintxos here are next level.

Gure Toki offers next level pintxos (Gure Toki)
Gure Toki offers next level pintxos (Gure Toki)

Other areas for pintxos

Plaza Unamuno

Plaza Unamuno is a lively square filled with university students and other locals. Pop your head into any of the bars to see if their offerings look appetizing. If nothing tempts you, simply turn around and head to the next bar. No one will get offended or think anything of it.

Mercado de la Ribera

This historic riverside market sells fresh fish and produce, but it also has a lively modern area where you can browse the stalls and choose between lots of different pintxos. While it’s worth a visit, make sure you don’t fill up here and risk missing the many other – often better – options in town.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Vueling Airlines and easyJet both fly from the UK to Bilbao, leaving from Bristol, London and Manchester.

Trying to fly less?

There are myriad flight-free options for reaching Bilbao, including taking the Eurostar to Paris before catching onward trains, or the direct Portsmouth or Plymouth Bilbao Brittany Ferries service.

Staying there

Centrally located along Bilbao’s main avenue, the Gran Via, and a quick 15-minute walk to the Guggenheim Museum, NH Collection Villa de Bilbao offers stylish and spacious rooms, a restaurant serving contemporary Basque cuisine, and a rooftop gym.

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