Champions Cup final: How to get to Bilbao and all you need to know

Flights, accommodation, local language and more ahead of your trip to Basque country

A view of the San Mames Stadium in Bilbao where the Champions Cup final will take place. Photo: Getty Images

A view of the San Mames Stadium in Bilbao where the Champions Cup final will take place. Photo: Getty Images

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Where is Bilbao?

Bilbao is located in the Basque Country in northern Spain. It sits south of the Bay of Biscay, halfway between Santander and San Sebastian.

How can I get there?

There are plenty of options if you’re planning to go to Bilbao for the Champions Cup final.

By air: Aer Lingus are the only airline who fly direct from Dublin to Bilbao but it will set you back a pretty penny. At the time of writing return flights going out on the afternoon of Friday May 11th and back on Sunday May 13th would set you back €749 after Aer Lingus added an extra flight at 2.20pm in addition to their morning flight.

Aer Lingus have also added an early morning Saturday flight (departing Dublin at 5.55am) which is currently priced at €442. There is a second flight at 7.05am currently priced at €349.

Aer Lingus have also added two more flights coming home with one departing at 11.25pm Spanish time on Saturday evening (currently priced at €328) and another at 5.45pm on the Sunday (currently priced at €437). Indeed the cheapest Aer Lingus flight home from Bilbao on the Sunday is currently €426.

But fear not. In this age of more and more air travel there are always options.

Ryanair have put on extra flights to Santander (about an hour and a half from Bilbao on a bus) to cater for fans going from Dublin. While the morning flight on Friday May 11th is fully booked, there are still seats available on the evening flight.

The journey from Santander Airport to Bilbao is quickest via bus as the train route goes south before going back north. Photo: Google Maps screenshot
The journey from Santander Airport to Bilbao is quickest via bus as the train route goes south before going back north. Photo: Google Maps screenshot

On Saturday morning Ryanair have added an extra flight, leaving Dublin at 5.55am and arriving in Santander at 8.55am. At the moment it is priced at €189. On the Sunday there are four flights back to Dublin with one fully booked and the other three priced at €350.

From Santander the quickest way to get to Bilbao is via bus. It takes an hour and a half and can be booked at www.alsa.com, costing between €23 and €35.

But for the more adventurous there are more options to save you a few quid. If you want to get from Dublin to Bilbao for less than €150 on Friday May 11th you can do so by getting the first Ryanair flight from Dublin to Barcelona and then the 11.45am Vueling flight from Barcelona to Bilbao.

Getting home without shelling out an arm and a leg will always be harder as flights out of Bilbao on the Sunday to pretty much anywhere are already quite expensive. Your best bet, if you’re not prepared to shell out for a direct flight to Dublin, is to check flights from Bilbao to all of the big airports in Spain, France and even the UK and then look for a connecting flight to Dublin.

Alternatively you could stay on until the Monday when most flights will be quite a bit cheaper.

By sea: Brittany Ferries recently announced that they would be operating a new route from Cork to Santander with sailings out on Wednesdays and Fridays and back on Sundays and Thursdays.

Unfortunately the Wednesday sailing before the weekend of the match is fully booked while the Friday sailing doesn’t get in to Santander until 8am on Sunday morning meaning you would miss the match by about 14 and half hours.

If you’re desperately looking for a route home there are still cabins available on the Sunday sailing (leaving Santander at midday on Sunday, arriving in Cork at 3pm on Monday) for €194 per person.

Will there be extra flights offered?

Ryanair have added additional flights to and from Santander, as outlined above, while Aer Lingus have also added two extra flights going out and two coming home. Aer Lingus also say that, should Munster beat Racing 92, tickets for a specifically scheduled fan flight from Shannon will go on sale on Tuesday morning at 7am.

Where can I stay?

The first thing you should know is that hotel prices in Bilbao are already through the roof or else fully booked. The fact that the Challenge Cup final is also on in the same stadium on the Friday night doesn’t help matters.

After extensive searching, the cheapest double room we could find for Friday night and Saturday night on the weekend of the final is €585 at the two-star Hotel Bilbi in the centre of Bilbao. That’s available on booking.com.

On alpharooms.com you can get a double room at the Hotel Melia Bilbao for two nights for a total price of €715 while the next best priced is URH Palacio de Oriol at €835.

Hostels are almost fully booked for the weekend with the only availability listed on hostelworld.com being a bed in a 10-bed dormitory at the Bilbao Metropolitan Hostel for €600 for the Friday and Saturday nights.

Local organising committee Bilbao Ekintza has enlisted the help of travel agency Azul Marino to help fans in finding accommodation. They can be contacted at rugby@viajesazulmarino.com.

Is it an expensive city?

Eating in Bilbao is a real treat as you can inexpensively feast on pintxos – the Basque version of tapas. Most pintxos bars will charge between €1 and €5 for dishes with El Figon being one of the most famous where every dish costs just €1.

The average price of a pint is €2.75 if you’re drinking the local beer although be sure to specify that you want a big glass as most bars will serve smaller glasses of beer (locally called zurito), particularly with pintxos.

The brewing of local cider is also an ancient Basque tradition and should be sampled at some stage if that’s your thing.

Taxi fares start at €4 and will cost, on average, just less than €1 per kilometre while local transport is very reasonably priced.

How do I get to the stadium?

Unlike most modern stadiums the Estadio San Mamés – home of Athletic Bilbao – is located quite close to the city centre. The stadium has stood since 1913 and was remodelled in 2013.

It is just 2km from the city centre and can be easily walked to. Alternatively you can get the metro out with both of the Bilbao lines stopping at the San Mames station.

How do I get tickets?

Tickets went on public sale last May and have since sold out with prices ranging from €40 to €95. Both finalists will receive allocations and fans can apply through their respective teams to get tickets. If either club fails to sell out their full allocation the remaining tickets will go on general sale again shortly before the final.

What can I do before the game?

The Guggenheim Museum is the main attraction in Bilbao, sitting on the banks of the River Nervion. The modern art museum is unmissable due to its shiny, impressive looking exterior and inside there are exhibitions that change every few weeks.

The Guggenheim Museum is one of the main tourist attractions in Bilbao. (Photo: Anthony Weller/View Pictures/UIG via Getty ImageS
The Guggenheim Museum is one of the main tourist attractions in Bilbao. (Photo: Anthony Weller/View Pictures/UIG via Getty ImageS

The Casco Viejo is the old part of the city and features the Siete Calles (Seven Streets) which are full of little old shops selling everything from live snails to clothes and tiny little bars where you will enjoy the finest pintxos, local beer and wine while experiencing the real heart of Bilbao.

The Plaza Nueva is the main square full of bars, restaurants and cafes where most fans will congregate on the day of the match.

Any handy Basque phrases?

1 Can you direct me to the San Mames Stadium?

San Mames estadiora nola joan gaitezke?

2 Can I have two beers, please?

Bi garagardo, mesedez

3 Could you recommend a traditional Basque dish?

Hemengo plater tipiko bat gomendatuko didazu?

4 Who do you think will win the match?

Zein taldek irabaziko du partidua?

5 Do you speak English?

Ingelezez hitz egiten duzu?

6 Thank you, that was wonderful

Mila esker, hori oso ona izan da.

If these phrases seem a little complicated then fear not, everybody speaks Spanish as well and most will speak English to quite a good level.

What will the weather be like?

Bilbao is not your typical Spanish sun haven even in the summer and you would be well advised to pack a jacket and a pair of trousers or two. Average May temperatures range between 18 and 21 degrees while rain can sweep in off the Bay of Biscay regularly enough. Long range forecast for the weekend of the final says it will be about 18 degrees and sunny but rain is forecast for Sunday.

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