Bilbao is home to the most spectacular of Guggenheim museums. Hell, it’s arguably one of the most spectacular buildings in the World. But for all of you who think that’s all there is to Bilbao, you’d be mistaken. Here’s our Bilbao guide.
Bilbao is a modern city that’s proud of its history. The exciting architecture is a highlight and you’ll find old, new and different architectural concepts sat side-by-side. This makes it a real pleasure walking along the river and through its various neighbourhoods.
The locals are passionate about being in the Basque country. You can see it in people’s faces as they sit outside drinking wine or standing at a pintxo bar talking about anything and everything. Popular topics seem to be their beloved Athletic Bilbao club, local wines, music, politics and their favourite pintxo bars. I also found them interested in visitors to Bilbao and eager to chat and share some of their favourite things about the city.
East of the Nervion River that runs through the city, Casco Viejo is Bilbao’s old town. It’s a compact neighbourhood with lovely squares and narrow streets. Casco Viejo is also the best neighbourhood in Bilbao for pintxos and going out.
Highlights include: Plaza Nueva; Mercado de la Ribera, one of the biggest covered markets in Europe; Teatro Arriaga, which was inspired by the Paris Opera; and the Gothic cathedral (Catedral de Santiago). Also, if you look carefully as you wander around, you’ll spot markers for the Camino de Santiago de Compostela and find that you’re walking a tiny part of the famous pilgrimage.
Abando is in the heart of Bilbao and home to the city’s most famous attraction: the Guggenheim Museum. It’s an elegant neighbourhood with grand avenues and manicured green spaces and fountains. It’s also a more commercial district with several department stores and large shops. Plaza de Moyua is in the centre of the neighbourhood.
The area is also great for culture. In addition to the Guggenheim, the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) is another fantastic art museum. It features art from old masters such as Goya and Van Dyck as well as more modern painters including Gauguin and Francis Bacon. Close to Bilbao’s main train station (Bilbao-Abando), Teatro Campos Eliseos is also worth a visit for its fantastic art nouveau design and plush interior.
As for the Guggenheim, make sure you explore the different pathways that lead up to it and also go back at different times of day. How the changing light reflects on the museum’s glass and titanium shell is mesmerising. Do also cross La Salve bridge to enjoy views of the museum from the other side of the river. Inside the Guggenheim, the collection of modern and contemporary art is pretty good too!
More Bilbao highlights
To the west of the Abando neighbourhood, close to Indautxu metro station, the Azkuna Zentroa is a cultural centre with changing exhibitions and events. It also hosts a number of shops, restaurants and cafes. Designed by Philippe Starck, the Azkuna Zentroa is another iconic building in the city.
Bilbao’s beloved football club, Athletic Bilbao, has their stadium (San Mamés) in the west of the city, close to the river. So if you want to catch a football game, that’s where to head.
And for some of the best views of the city, take the funicular up Mount Artxanda. The station for the funicular is north of Casco Viejo. It’s close to Zubizuri bridge, which is a fabulous pedestrian bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava. Calatrava also designed Bilbao Airport but is most famous for Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences.