When you're longing for a break in the sun but your bank account is looking lean, it's time to get creative! The first step is timing.
Visit out of season and you can take advantage of great savings on everything from flights and hotels to car hire. Many beach resorts more or less shut down out of season, however, and although you might get cheap accommodation, you may not have much fun if there's nowhere open to have a drink and the rain is sheeting down outside! Its mild, oceanic climate means that Bilbao is temperate all year round, with a moderate chance of cloud and rain, so it's less subject to seasonal shutdowns, but is still more affordable if you visit in the winter months.
Savvy travellers also look for great deals on rental apartments - you'll save a fortune not just on your accommodation but on food, too, if you elect to go self-catering for breakfast and lunch and buy your drinks from the supermarket. With bijou urban apartments for rent from around €25 per night, there's no need to lower your style standards for the sake of your budget. If you're flexible in terms of dates and can leave booking your accommodation until the last minute, you'll be in an even stronger position to negotiate a great deal.
Bilbao has a well-earned reputation as one of Spain's most culturally diverse and dynamic cities, and is particularly remarkable for its outstanding modern architecture. What this means for the penny-wise traveller is that there's a lot of free stuff to see and do. Start off with a stroll round the Old Town, where you can admire the magnificent Gothic cathedral, take in the Teatro Arriaga , and soak up the atmosphere of the narrow, cobbled lanes. Next, head out along the river and join the locals for a leisurely stroll past Santiago Calatrava's magnificent Puente Zubizuri and on to the Guggenheim Museum . Although entry isn't free, you can spend as long as you like admiring the sweeping lines of the building, which is widely regarded as the 20th century's finest. Or immerse yourself in Basque culture at the Basque Museum - on Thursdays, entry is free.
To stock up your apartment's kitchen, visit the Mercado de la Ribera, Europe's largest covered market. It's renowned for the vast selection of fish and seafood on sale, but you can also stock up on mouthwatering Iberico ham, Manchego cheese, and wonderful fresh fruit and veg. With produce like this on offer - and so affordable - you might not feel any need to eat out at all, but if you do, the city's pintxos bars are the way to go. The Basque equivalent of Spanish tapas, pintxos are enjoyed with a glass of lager or lightly sparkling white wine, poured from a height and served with a flourish. The Basque tradition is the txikiteo - a sort of nightly promenade from bar to bar, enjoying a drink and a few pintxos in each. Although the snacks are of superb quality, and rivalry to produce the best is fierce, most are based on simple ingredients like egg, potato, bread and shellfish, so they're amazingly good value.
With a bit of planning and an eye for a bargain, a break in Bilbao needn't mean breaking the bank, and you won't have to rough it either.