Bilbao—the largest city in Basque Country—is 247 miles (397 km) north of Spain’s capital, Madrid. The two cities are well-connected by bus and train routes, as well as major highways. This makes the journey fairly straightforward. With 1-hour flights, the fastest way to reach Bilbao from Madrid is by plane.
If you prefer to make the journey on the ground, you can go by car in just under four hours. Major roadways take you north to the city of Burgos before heading northeast. The regional bus takes a similar route, offering direct buses that also arrive in Bilbao in about four hours. Non-direct buses require at least one connection and can take up to five hours.
Although a bit more comfortable than the bus, the slowest option is the train. Depending on departure time, trains take 5-6.5 hours to make the journey.
If you have a few extra days to extend your trip, this 5-day itinerary further explores scenic Basque Country.
Duration: 1 hour
Spanish airlines Iberia and Air Europa offer direct flights from Madrid to Bilbao. Because the route is serviced by two airlines, you can choose from several daily departures that arrive in Bilbao in just over one hour.
By Rental Car or Private Transfer
Duration: 4 hours
You can also make the trip by car, either rental or private transfer. Madrid and Bilbao are well-connected by major highways, so the drive is straightforward. You’ll leave Madrid from the north following highway E-5 to Burgos. The drive is scenic as you pass by mountains, valleys, and reservoirs. The small town of Buitrago is a great place to grab a coffee and enjoy the old town walls near the river.
Burgos is another excellent stopping point. The city is often overlooked but has a riverside old town and an impressive cathedral. Once past Burgos, you’ll head northeast on highway E80. At the city of Miranda de Ebro, you’ll connect north on highway AP-68 to Bilbao. This stretch of the trip is very scenic, passing Spain’s famous Gorbea Peak in Gorbeiako Parke Naturala. If you need to stop and stretch your legs, there are many leisurely trails and viewpoints in the park.
If you’re interested in seeing the capital of Basque Country, the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz is worth the detour (about 20 minutes from the highway) and has a historic old town with traditional cafes and bars. It’s a great stop for a quick snack of traditional pintxos, northern Spain’s version of tapas.
Duration: 4 - 5 hours
The regional bus takes the same route as driving, sticking to the major highways heading north. Direct buses leave from Madrid’s Avenida America bus terminal and arrive in Bilbao about four hours later. There are only a handful of direct buses each day, so if you choose a bus with connections (usually in Burgos), the journey will take closer to five hours.
Duration: 5 - 6.5 hours
Although it’s the longest option, trains are a great alternative as they tend to be spacious and comfortable. Direct routes first travel northwest, passing through the cities of Segovia and Valladolid before turning east towards Burgos. You’ll arrive in Bilbao in about five hours. Note that some routes require connections in Zaragoza and take 6-6.5 hours to reach Bilbao.
Both routes are quite scenic, starting with views of the mountains and/or valleys as you leave Madrid. As you enter Basque Country, you’ll catch glimpses of more mountains. Grab a seat on the right side of the train for the best views as you near Bilbao.