Getxo, Portugalete & Vizcaya Bridge Travel Guide - Basque Country


Overview of Getxo, Portugalete & Vizcaya Bridge

Getxo and Portugalete are two neighboring towns separated by the Nervión River and located about 12 km north from the city center of Bilbao. Both towns are connected to each other by the famous Vizcaya Bridge.
This unique bridge is a symbol of the European Industrial Revolution and since 2006, it has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. In addition, Getxo is home to five beaches, impressive mansions and two great places to relax and dine – the Abra Marina and the Old Port of Algorta.

Getxo and Portugalete are two towns located to the north of Bilbao, on the Bay of Biscay. Although separated by the Nervion River, these sister towns have a very common history. Both of them have been profoundly shaped by maritime professions and more importantly by the heavy industrialization that the northern region of Spain went through starting in the late 1800’s.

Today, this can most easily be seen by the structure that physically connects the two towns – the Vizcaya Bridge.

The Vizcaya Bridge was the first bridge of its kind ever constructed and stands as a monumental reminder to the area’s industrial past. This transporter bridge was able to move people and goods back and forth without obstructing the path of ships, something completely new for the time and even a rarity for bridges built today.

The red steel structure is considered to be one of Europe’s most important constructions during the Industrial Revolution and today is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

Much of the wealth from this industrial time was brought to Getxo and Portugalete as well. This can be seen in the many fine mansions built in the area. The “Camino de las Grandes Villas” is a path that goes past several prime architectural examples from the time period, before ending at the newly built marina.

The Abra Marina and the Old Port of Algorta are great places to relax and have a meal. One is new and the other old but both offer a distinct option for unwinding.

Getxo is also home to five beaches. They are quite popular since they can be very easily accessed from Bilbao.


Hotels in Getxo & Portugalete

Hotels in Getxo & Portugalete

Vizcaya Bridge

Vizcaya Bridge
Vizcaya Bridge Tourism
Vizcaya Bridge from the look out point in Portugalete
Portugalete Tourism
Views of the Vizcaya Bridge from Portugalete
Getxo Tourism
Gondola as seen from the top of the Vizcaya Bridge
Vizcaya Bridge – Looking down over Getxo
Vizcaya Bridge – Looking down over Getxo

The number icon Vizcaya Bridge, or Puente Colgante (“Hanging Bridge”) as it is most commonly referred to, is one of the most unique bridges in the world. In the late 1800’s, when this transporter bridge was constructed, the city of Bilbao was going through a period of growth that was fueled mainly by ship building and the mining industry.

Ships packed with iron-ore would travel from Bilbao up the Nervion River on their way to England. With all of the ship traffic, building a traditional bridge at the mouth of the bay would have been far too restrictive to their movement and would have caused unwanted delays. A different solution was needed and the idea of the transporter bridge was born.

This first ever transporter bridge is referred to as the “Hanging Bridge” because that’s exactly what it does – it hangs. More specifically, a gondola hangs by cables from a steel structure that towers 61 meters over the Nervion River.

In 90 seconds the gondola is able to transport 6 cars and 200 people from one side of the river to the other, all without obstructing the passage of even the largest of ships.

The impressive Vizcaya Bridge is now considered to be one of the most outstanding constructions of the Industrial Revolution in Europe. For this reason, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006.

Since its completion in 1893, the Vizcaya Bridge has transported approximately 650 million people, which is equivalent to the population of the European Union and the USA together. On top of that, if you add up all of those trips, the total distance travelled by the gondola is equal to that of 31 trips around the Earth.

The Vizcaya Bridge connects the towns of Portugalete and Getxo. Both of these towns are about 30 minutes away from Bilbao’s city center and can be reached using the train or the metro.

The gondola to cross the bridge is in operation 24 h a day. The lifts to get to the walkway at the top of the bridge have the following opening times:
November to March: 10 am to 7 pm
April to October: 10 am to 8 pm (* until 9 pm on weekends)
July & August: 9 am to 8 pm (* until 9 pm on weekends)
A normal ticket to cross the bridge costs 0.8 €. Using the lifts to visit the walkway at the top of the bridge costs:
Adults: 10 €
Seniors, children (5 to 15): 8 €
Children (< 5): free
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Getxo's Top Things to Do & See

Getxo's Top Things to Do & See
We have put together a hand selected list of the most important things to do and see in Getxo. Everything from the Path of the Grand Villes to visiting the Old Port of Algorta – if it deals with Getxo tourism, we’ve got you covered.

Las Arenas Neighborhood

Arriluze Palace, Getxo
Arriluze Palace - Path of the Grand Villes

Getxo is located on the right bank of the Nervión River by number icon the Hanging Bridge, which has traditionally been considered the “posh” side of the river. The town is characterized by its large houses and mansions, built by the local bourgeoise in the Arenas neighborhood primarily during industrialization (end of the 19th & beginning of the 20th century).

Due to its location right next to the ocean, this was a great place for the wealthy to escape the pollution and bustle of Bilbao.

The “Path of the Grand Villes” (“Camino de las Grandes Villas” in Spanish) is a great camino to walk along and discover Getxo. It starts at the Vizcaya Bridge, traveling along the river and around the bay until it reaches the number icon marina of Getxo. The name of the path comes from a section of it that passes in front of some beautiful mansions (the grand villes) that are perched on a hill, overlooking the water.

Each of these grand villes is magnificent and at the same time unique. Two of the best examples are the Arriluze Palace and the Aitzgoyen Mansion. The Arriluze Palace was designed in a medieval revivalist style with a British touch, made entirely of dressed (cut) stone and features two asymmetrical corner turrets.

Next to it is the Aitzgoyen Mansion which was built in popular neo-basque style. This was the first large building project designed by Manuel María Smith in 1909. María Smith later went on to design some of the most important buildings in the Basque Country such as the Hotel Carlton in Bilbao’s Moyua Square.

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Marina El Abra

Marina El Abra
Marina El Abra
Restaurants at the Marina El Abra
Restaurants at the Marina El Abra

Inaugurated in 1998, the Marina El Abra was the first marina (“Puerto Deportivo” in Spanish) to be opened in the entire Spanish Basque Country. It is a fully functioning marina with everything needed to repair and maintain ships, but in addition, it also boasts a nice recreational area and a path that stretches along the water. The path offers beautiful views overlooking the ships in the port and the mountains on the other side of the bay.

Once you are in the marina, the atmosphere is quiet and relaxed and it seems that you are far away from the city. They have done a good job orientating the marina complex to hide the industrial sites located in the other side of the river.

At the marina there is also a food court which is divided in two. The main building is dedicated to fast food while the following buildings houses various restaurants, cafés and bars. All of the establishments on the waterfront offer large terraces that allow visitors to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful views.


Old Port of Algorta

Overview of the Old Port of Algorta
Overview of the Old Port of Algorta
Bar at the Old Port of Algorta
Bar at the Old Port of Algorta
Narrow street in the Old Port of Algorta
Narrow street in the Old Port of Algorta

Due to its location on the bay, next to the Nervion River, the neighborhood of Algorta has experienced a long maritime tradition. Apart from fishing, the men from Algorta were famous for being professional sailors who knew how to navigate ships into the bay and further into the river.

This was always a difficult task because of the many sand banks that form under the water. Their service was crucial for large ships on their way to Bilbao.

The Old Port of Algorta is the area where these sailors lived. Although the sailors have all but disappeared, the maritime atmosphere is still alive today. The old port is formed by narrow and steep streets, full of small white houses which make it a charming neighborhood to stroll through.

Somehow, it feels far away from the industrial sites that stand on the other side of the river and makes visitors feel as though they are in a small village. It is also place where people know each other – groups of old men wearing the typical Basque beret (“boina”) sit in the shade chatting to one another, while women hang clothes outside of their windows, talking to the neighbors that pass by.

The Old Port of Algorta is frequented by both locals and visitors alike who come to relax at one of the numerous bars and restaurants. The stairway leading up to the village is also a favorite spot for locals when the sun is setting and a great place to unwind.

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Getxo's Beaches

Ereaga Beach
Ereaga Beach

Getxo is also popular because of it has several beaches: las Arenas, Ereaga, Arrigunaga, Gorrondatxe-Azkorri and Barinatxe-La Salvaje. All of them are fairly easy to reach by public transport which makes them very popular among the Bilbainos. All of the beaches in Getxo have lifeguards, restrooms and showers.

The first two beaches (las Arenas and Ereaga) are considered to be urban beaches and are within walking distance from the Vizcaya Bridge. While Las Arenas Beach is smaller (240 m), Ereaga Beach (880 m) offers space for practicing sports such as canoeing, volleyball, soccer, etc.

Located between two cliffs, the beach of Gorrondatxe-Azkorri is Getxo’s quietest beach since it is the most difficult to access. This beach has been awarded with a blue flag by the Foundation for Environmental Education due to the quality of its waters and the natural environment that surrounds it.

If you are interested in surfing, then check out the beaches of Gorrondatxe-Azkorri and Barinatxe-La Salvaje.

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Rescue Station “Casa de Náufragos”

Rescue Station for shipwrecked people “Casa de Náufragos”
Rescue Station for shipwrecked people “Casa de Náufragos”

Throughout the centuries, the stretches of sand that formed underneath the water have proven to be dangerous for incoming ships on their way to Bilbao. The sailors from Getxo and Portugalete were experts in navigating the incoming ships into the port, so much so that they even made a profession out of it.

These “lemanes” as they were called, made the way for ships possible, however, even with their expertise, wrecks did still occur.

Getxo was responsible for helping those involved in wrecks and, for that reason, the Casa de Náufragos rescue station was created. The lighthouse and rescue station were built in 1920 by Ignacio María Smith in neo-basque style. The building stands on top of the rocks of the dock, at the end of the number icon “Path of the Grand Villes,” right before the number icon Ereaga Beach. Today it is managed by the Red Cross.

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Portugalete's Top Things to Do & See

Portugalete's Top Things to Do & See
We have put together a hand selected list of the most important things to do and see in Portugalete. Everything from the Solar Square to visiting the Basilica of Santa Maria – if it deals with Portugalete tourism, we’ve got you covered.
Town Hall of Portugalete
Town Hall & Casa Bustamante

Portugalete is a town located on the left bank of the Nervión River by the Vizcaya Bridge. Similar to Getxo, Portugalete was shaped a lot during the 19th century due to several factors such as the arrival of industrialization and especially by the construction of the train route and the number icon Vizcaya Bridge.

During this time, the local bourgeoisie from Portugalete spent their new wealth building mansions next to the water. However in general, they are not as impressive as the ones found in Getxo.

Between the Nervión River and the Old Town of Portugalete, there is a popular square called number icon Plaza el Solar, featuring a neoclassical building from 1883 which houses the number icon Town Hall. In the middle of the square stands the music kiosk, where in the summer months, concerts and events are held.

From the Solar Square, you can follow the trees lined next to the water and get to the number icon tourism office. The tourism office of Portugalete can be found in a beautiful building from 1888 that was recently painted with bright colors. The building served as the train station for the first trains that connected Portugalete with the city center of Bilbao and was called “Estación de la Canilla.”

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Since Portugalete is located on a hill, its Old Town is full of narrow and steep streets. At the bottom, there is one building that stands out – the Casa Bustamante. Finished in 1910, it was built by Leonardo Rucabado and its exterior is characterized by the influence of catalan modernism and german gothic styles.

At the highest point of the Old Town of Portugalete stands the number icon Basilica of Santa María. It was built in the 15th century and features a renaissance altar piece on the inside. Right next to the church there is a look out point that offers beautiful views of the river, the Vizcaya Bridge and Getxo on the other side.

Next to the look out point, you will find the number icon Salazar Tower which was built at the end of the 14th century and today houses a museum about the history of Portugalete and the Salazar family.

The Industry Museum, called Rialia is located right next to the water, only a couple of minutes walk away from the tourism office. Its collection tries to show and honor the industrial past of the area as well as shed light on the social transformation that happened during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Get In & Around

Get In & Around

Once you are in Getxo or Portugalete, all places are reachable by foot. If you want to go to Bilbao or other towns in the surroundings, you can use the extensive public transport network.

The metro connects both Getxo and Portugalete with the city center of Bilbao in about 25 minutes. The bus company Bizkaibus also offers several bus lines connecting Getxo and Portugalete with Bilbao and other surrounding towns. The commuter train C1 from Renfe also connects Bilbao with Portugalete.

Arriving to Getxo & Portugalete

PLANE – The airport of Bilbao is only about 12 km away from the towns of Getxo and Portugalete. However, there isn't a direct bus. From the airport, you will have to first take the bus line A3247 from Bizkaibus to Bilbao’s city center and then continue to Getxo or Portugalete by bus, metro or train. Of course, it is always possible to just get a taxi.

The airport of San Sebastian / Hondarribia is 130 km away.

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CAR – Getxo and Portugalete are located right off the highway AP-8. The road AP-8 is called the “Highway of the Cantabrian” and, as its name indicates, runs along the north coast of Spain. It is a toll road within the Basque Country, becoming a free road all the way to Galicia.

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BUS – There isn’t a bus station in either Getxo or Portugalete. However, both are connected to Bilbao and other towns of the surroundings by various bus lines from the company Bizkaibus.

The bus company La Union offers a couple of buses per day from both Getxo and Portugalete to Vitoria.

TRAIN – There isn’t a train station in Getxo, but there is one in Portugalete. The train station of Portugalete is located next to the water, close to the Rialia Industry Museum.

The commuter train C1 from Renfe connects Bilbao’s city center with Santurtzi stopping at Portugalete’s train station. During the day, there is one train every 20 to 30 minutes, and the trip takes under 20 minutes.

Other Places of Interest in the Surroundings

In the Surroundings

Map of Getxo & Portugalete

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