BilbaoOne of the jewels of northern Spain, Bilbao is a city full of surprises and delights. It boasts a unique blend of tradition and modernity, which is reflected in its stunning architecture, rich cultural heritage, and outstanding cuisine. At its heart lies the magnificent Guggenheim Museum, one of the most impressive structures in the world. Its streets are alive with the sound of Euskara, Europe's oldest and most enigmatic language while the Casco Viejo (Old Town) is full of traditional bars for sampling pintxos.
The CityBilbao, the capital of the province of Biscay or Bizkaia, is also the largest city in the Basque Country. Once an industrial powerhouse, Bilbao has undergone a remarkable transformation. The banks of the Nervión river are home to numerous businesses and factories, which during the Industrial Revolution brought heightened prosperity to the region. The Nervión divides the city in two: the old city and the new. To the east lies the charming narrow streets of the Old Town, or Casco Viejo (or Zazpi Kaleak) district. Casco Viejo is packed with traditional restaurants, Basque cider houses or 'sagardotegis', and pintxo bars. The area is also home to historic landmarks like the St. James' Cathedral and the sprawling Mercado de la Ribera. On the other side of the river lies the more modern half of the city. This section includes the late 19th-century bourgeois expansion of Bilbao, where you'll find iconic buildings like the cutting-edge Palacio Euskalduna and the world-renowned Guggenheim Museum, designed by architect Frank Gehry. While the Guggenheim is an impressive attraction not to be missed, overlooking the rest of the city would be almost criminal.
Do & See
Bilbao has a plethora of interesting sites to visit, both historical and modern. Enjoy some contemporary art at the Guggenheim or go for a more traditional approach at the Museum of Fine Arts. Get lost amongst the streets of the lively Old Town, and be sure to stop by a pintxos bar or take a trip to the beautiful old fishing port of Algorta, or the seaside town of Plentzia.
Bilbao is the home of Basque cuisine–considered the most inventive cuisine in both Spain and France. The city is famous for an array of dishes and for its delicious tapas-like appetizers called pintxos. Seafood forms the heart of Basque cooking, thanks to its strong 'arrantzale' fishing tradition, with cod-based dishes and hake being particularly popular. Despite this, Bilbao offers many other types of traditional food too, making it equally delicious for those who tend to favour meat-based dishes or even for vegetarians. The food here is so mouth-watering that many visitors return to Bilbao solely for the culinary experience.
Bilbao has an enviable coffee culture where people take every chance they get to sit down, socialize, and catch up. After a long day of sightseeing, do as the locals do and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea at one of the many cafés this city has to offer.
Bars & Nightlife
The Basque Country is known for its abundance of bars, and Bilbao is no exception, boasting more than 3.15 bars per thousand inhabitants. The Casco Viejo (Old Town) is the go-to spot for bars, particularly around Plaza Nueva. In central Bilbao, Calle Ledesma and Licenciado Poza are the main areas for bar hopping and indulging in local favourites. While beer is the drink of choice for most young locals, traditional options include red Rioja wine, 'txakoli' (a very dry white wine), and 'kalimotxo' (a popular combination of cola and red wine). For a unique and unforgettable night out, try visiting a typically Basque cider tavern or 'sagardotegi', where you can feast on char-grilled meat and drink copious amounts of cider.
Bilbao’s main street, Gran Vía, is where you will find most of the city's department stores, boutiques, and designer shops. For handicrafts and local wine, head over to markets like the Mercado de la Ribera. If you're looking for traditional Basque souvenirs like wood carvings and woven goods, make your way to Casco Viejo, which also boasts a plethora of independent shops and chain stores. Calle Askao, Artekale, Bidebarrieta, Somera, Correo, and La Cruz are some of the top spots to hunt for souvenirs, but remember that most shops close on Sundays.