Bilbao is the largest city in Northern Spain and is located in the autonomous region of Basque Country. Nestled in the foothills of lush green mountains and along the estuary that runs from the Bay of Biscay, it’s a modern and urban city that offers plenty for visitors to explore.
In recent years, Bilbao has been transformed from an industrial town known for its Civil War battles and political turmoil into a vibrant and welcoming city. If you’re looking for a city break that offers great hotels, museums, restaurants, and shops, but still maintains its local traditions, hasn’t lost its identity, and isn’t overcrowded, then Bilbao is the place for you.
Take in the Beautiful Scenery
This area of Spain is known as Green Spain and it’s easy to see why – mountains and dense green trees provide an incredible backdrop to the city.
For a panoramic view of Bilbao, head up the Artxanda mountain. This is a steady uphill hike, but you can also take the Funicular, a small train that runs up the mountain within 5 minutes.
A walk along the Ria de Bilbao is another lovely way to enjoy the city scenery. The cityscape at river level shows the merge between the old and new Bilbao, as well as the movement away from the industrial and into the modern. The banks on either side are pedestrianised and dotted with trees and benches to sit down and admire the interesting bridges and buildings along the river.
Marvel at the Guggenheim Museum
The most famous attraction in Bilbao is the Guggenheim Museum. A masterpiece by Frank Gehry, the iconic building is set on the left bank of the city river and draws visitors from all over the world. Its unusual shape, created by the titanium sheets that wrap around the building, has been hailed as one the most significant architectural designs of our time.
Inside it holds ever-changing exhibitions of contemporary and modern art. Also, lots of interesting sculptures surround the museum and create great photo opportunities, including the infamous “puppy” and “spider”.
Wander Around Bilbao’s Casco Viejo
Other, much older city attractions can be found in the old quarter, known locally as Casco Viejo. The charming, narrow streets are full of shops, cafés, bars, and restaurants. When wandering through the area, look out for original features such as the ornate water fountains and pretty balconies.
At the center of Casco Viejo, Plaza Nuevo is an open square of beautiful Neoclassical style buildings and arches – the perfect spot to sit for a while and enjoy the city’s famous pintxos.
Pintxos are a local snack often referred to as the Basque version of tapas. Small bite-sized portions of food, usually meat or fish, stacked on top of a piece of bread with a skewer to hold everything together.
Traditional bars around Bilbao Old Town will put a selection of pintxos out for customers to enjoy in the afternoon or early evening. They are a very cheap option to tide you over until the next meal, and it can be lots of fun to select from the weird and wonderful array on offer.
Pinchos (the Spanish name) exist all over Spain, but in Bilbao there is stiff competition amongst bars to present the most popular or most innovative flavor combinations.
Visit the Local Market
Another great spot to try some Bilbao food is in the Mercado de Ribera, the local food market. In the morning, people will come to buy their fresh meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables, and it’s great to see this type of old market still in operation.
There is also a cool, modern food court area, where you can select freshly prepared foods, grab a drink, and sit back and enjoy the river views.