8 reasons why Bilbao is worth a visit.
Compared to the popular surf town San Sebastián, Bilbao was always seen as an ugly, industrial city. Although the city is still dominated by industry, the city center has been nicely renovated and transformed into a cosmopolitan city following the opening of the internationally renowned Guggenheim museum in 1997. In this article, I give 8 reasons why the city of Bilbao is definitely worth your time.
Bilbao or Bilbo? On the border with France is the autonomous region of the Basque Country (in Spanish: País Vasco, in Basque: Euskadi), on the Bay of Bizkaje. This beautiful region has its own language and culture. Almost all Basques speak Basque (also called Euskeda). This language does not sound like Spanish at all, but this does not have to be a problem, because everyone speaks Spanish as well. It is useful to know that Bilbao is 'Bilbo' in Basque. Also streets and squares both have a Basque and a Spanish name.
The Camino del Norte or the Northern route to Santiago de Compostela runs through Bilbao along the Basque coast. This route to Santiago is not the most popular route but it’s in the top 3 (together with the French and the Portuguese route). The major attraction of this route is undoubtedly the green coast. But the lively big cities such as Bilbao, San Sebastián and Santander are also a great chance for the pilgrims to take a relaxing break and enjoy the local culture.
1 day in Bilbao:
Morning 10h00 - 14h00
Like many cities in Spain, Bilbao also has beautiful parks. Start the day with a nice stroll in Los Jardines de Albia, a small oasis between the old town and the Guggenheim Museum. Here you can also find one of the oldest and famous cafés of Bilbao, El Iruña. Visit one of the breakfast/ brunch places like for example El Cinnamon (200m walking distance from Los Jardines de Albia).
Wander through the Siete Calles (seven streets around Calle del Perro and Calle Santa Maria) of the old Casco Viejo area. This historic district houses some of the city's main must-see´s: the Bilbao Cathedral and Plaza Nueva. This is also the place to be for tapas (pinxtos).
Do not forget the famous La Ribera Mercado, this is one of Europe's largest covered market. This is the place to be to buy local specialties. The art-deco style Mercado was built in 1929 by the architect Pedro Ispizua and consists of 10,000 m² of space and market stalls. The market also has its own restaurant, bar and live jazz bands. You can also brunch here, but don´t forget to make a reservation (€15).
Afternoon 14h00 - 18h00
After brunch, head to the center of Bilbao to visit the internationally renowned museum - the Guggenheim Museum. It is housed in a gigantic titanium metal structure and includes work by some of the most prominent contemporary artists, including Anish Kapoor, Eduardo Chillida, Mark Rothko and Jeff Koons. Built by the American architect Frank Gehry, the museum opened in 1997 and has distinguished itself as one of the best in the world.
Around the building you will find several famous works of art in the arts district, such as the Louise Bourgeois spider (called 'Mama') and opposite the main entrance of the 'Puppy' by Jeff Koons, a work of art made of colored flowers. The entrance fee depends on the exhibition that is currently available. Usually the price is around € 13, - p.p. and under 12 years it is usually free. Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 8 pm. Closed on Mondays, except: all Mondays in July and August.
Evening 18u00 to 20u00
After your visit to the museum, it is now time to cross the river. Not to be confused with the old town of Casco Viejo, Bilbao La Vieja, also known as 'Bilbi', has become the hip and trendy district of Bilbao. It is known for its innovative street art, funky bars and cafes, as well as small galleries and (vintage) fashion shops.
After exploring this neighborhood, pass by the Alhóndiga cultural center. The French designer Philippe Stark has turned Bilbao's Alhóndiga into an eccentric building. Surprising is the space with 43 pillars under a swimming pool, where you can see people swimming above you.
TIP: If you visit Bilbao on a Sunday, the Sunday Market is a must: This is the trendy hipster market of Bilbao, which is held in certain weekends of the year (visit the Facebook page to check the dates). In addition to vintage clothing, jewelry and design products, there are also food trucks.
Night 20h00 - 24h00
Basque Country is rightly seen as the Spanish culinary mecca. Return to Casco Viejo for a Basque pintxos experience. Basques don´t eat tapas, they eat elegantly presented pinxtos. When you enter a pinxtos bar it feels as if you enter a candy shop, you can choose between a huge variation of fresh little snacks.
Pinchox in Bilbao
Pintxos are the answer of the Basque Country to tapas: small pieces of bread, garnished with various local ingredients and kept together with a cocktail stick. The intention is to help yourself and at the end of the night the staff will count your cocktail sticks to see how much you owe.
The kitchen is traditionally based on products of good quality and on simplicity. Shellfish, but also red meat and cheese are the basis of both traditional and new Basque cuisine. The pinxtos are usually ordered with a glass of Txakoli white wine (pronounced as tjakoli), which is produced on the coast of Biscay.
There are a lot of great pinxtos restaurants in the old town Casco Viejo, we suggest Gure Toke on Plaza Nueva.Back