Bask In Bilbao
How does Bilbao party so hard yet remain so civilised? Bilbao is capital of Spain’s Basque Country, a region that was once vastly different to the rest of Spain. However, after an architectural and cultural makeover, the vibrancy of Spain now comes through – even if some of the locals still dream of independence.
Surrounded by the lush greenery of the Ría Nervión, it’s not just Bilbao’s lifestyle that’s colourful. The sea-themed Museo Maritimo Ria de Bilbao’s interesting and engaging exhibits belie its space-age exterior, while the ancient artefacts in the Arkeologi Museo prove that Bilbao has been bustling for centuries. But if there’s one thing Bilbao does better than making over post-industrial sprawls, it’s lip-smacking cuisine. Café Iruna is an age-old classic, or head to El Huevo Fritofor something bite-sized. In Bilbao, if you’re still keeping it classy after 10pm, you’re doing something wrong.
Bilbao's Top 10
10. Euskal Museoa Bilbao Museo Vasco A museum dedicated to the much-maligned but unique Basque culture.
5. Artxanda Funicular A funicular railway linking downtown Bilbao with nearby Mount Artxanda.
9. Casco Viejo The medieval district is a haven for small squares and hidden bars.
4. Catedral de Santiago This colossal 14th century cathedral is named after Bilbao’s patron saint.
8. Museo Diocesano de Arte Sacro Formerly a convent, religion is now expressed in the artworks rather than the customs.
3. Museo de Bellas Artes The Museum of Fine Arts houses over 6,000 remarkable pieces in its opulent interior.
7. Zubizuri Resembling a toppled harp, this giant white pedestrian bridge is one of Bilbao’s modern icons.
2. Mount Artxanda Home to some of the city’s greatest distractions, including several restaurants and a sports ground.
6. Estadio San Mames A visit to Bilbao isn’t complete without seeing a Lions match at this impressive stadium.
1. Guggenheim Museum Bilbao The exterior of this contemporary architectural masterpiece is as much a work of art as anything inside it.
- Casco Viejo - The old town area of Bilbao with a town square that dates back to the 1800s, a gothic cathedral and a lively market on Sundays.
- Catedral de Santiago - With an amazing Renaissance portico and lovely little cloister.
- Sanctuary of Loyola - Visit the home of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.
- Iglesia de San Anton - Gothic-style church dates back to the early 1400s with a mix of styles including a baroque tower and a renaissance portico.
- Puente de San Anton - The most emblematic bridge in Bilbao.
Bilbao Art & Culture
- Museo Guggenheim - Catapulted Bilbao and modern architecture to the 21st century with an inspired use of cliffs, flowering canopies, promontories, towers, ship shapes and flying fins.
- Open Air Gallery - A lovely place to enjoy art in gorgeous outdoors.
- Museo de Bellas Artes - An amazing collection with everything from gothic sculptures to pop art from the 1900s.
- Euskal Museoa - Housed in a wonderful old building and covers the culture and history of the basque region from the early days.
- Museo Maritimo Ria da Bilbao - Brings the maritime history of the area to life with bright, well-thought-out displays.
- Mercado de la Ribera - This local marketplace in Bilbao provides a marvellous experience.
- Gili-Gili - Outlet store and place to find top-brand labels of fashionable clothing and accessories.
- Elkar Megadenda - Local bookstore with a wonderful selection, including English books and an excellent section of maps and travel books.
- Dos de Mayo - On the first Saturday of each month, this flea market offers books, antiques and more.
- Hazel - The place to find simple but unique clothes and gorgeous shoes at affordable prices.
Gay & Lesbian Bilbao
- High - Cruising bar open until the wee hours of the morning.
- Balcon de la Lola - Local club with a young party crowd.
- La Bola de Cristal - Offers drag shows on Thursday nights.
- Conjunto Vacio - Great Bilbao club with lots of music.
- Lamiak - Quiet cafe by day and hopping bar at night.
- San Sebastian - Enjoy a walking tour of the Old Quarter, followed by local cuisine on the waterfront of the fishing village of Hondarribia.
- Funicular de Artxanda- A breathtaking view of Bilbao.
- Victoria and the Rioja Wine Region - Take a wine tour through the area, visit a traditional cellar and enjoy the wine tasting followed by a walking tour of Victoria.
- Elorrio, Oinata and Arantzazu - Discover the beauties and charm of the Basque country with its rural villages, historical buildings, palaces and breathtaking landscapes.
- Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park - A 231-acre area located near the centre of the city with a dancing water fountain.
- The Nervion River offers wonderful opportunities for boating and kayaking.
- The Athletic Club soccer game plays at the San Mames Stadium.
- The Bilbao area offers wonderful hiking and rock-climbing opportunities.
- For local basketball games with the CB Bilbao Berri, stop by the ACB Arena.
- The Sopelana and Mundaka beaches are great places for surfing.
Bilbao EventsParades and celebrations fill the streets in March for the crème de la crème of street parties, Carnaval.
Children’s choirs provide the backing tracks for the Easter celebrations of Semana Santa.
The best in local and international jazz music goes on show during July at the vibrant Getxo International Jazz Festival.
Also known, rather aptly, as ‘Big Week’, the cultural and artistic festival Aste Nagusia brings fresh flavour to the city in August.
Local farmers and growers showcase the fruits of their labour at December’s Christmas Markets, when preserves and sausages reign supreme.
When To Go
Autumn is the most pleasant time to visit Bilbao, when temperatures are pleasantly warm and the seawater is, too.
September’s International Film Festival brings hundreds to this small city, meaning prices soar.
Winter is especially unpredictable weather-wise, so come prepared.
With its narrow pedestrian streets built in the Middle Ages, Bilbao is not very car-friendly.
The Metro is a great way to get around and services most of the city’s main attractions.
Explore Bilbao on foot to increase your chances of discovering small alleyway bars and hidden boutiques.
Although the Guggenheim Museum tops the list of must-see attractions in Bilbao, the Basque city is much more than a one-trick pony. To be sure, the iconic Frank Gehry design is a modern masterpiece that for many, put Bilbao on the map. The Guggenheim however, was just the cherry on top. Bilbao has always been a rewarding destination for travellers to Spain's unique Basque Country. Wonderfully distinct from the rest of the country, Bilbao and indeed, the region as a whole, boasts a unique culture and lifestyle.
Start with Bilbao's medieval heart for one. The "Alde Zarra" contains a slew of landmarks and gems, from historic churches to the massive Mercado de la Ribera and beautiful Arriaga Theatre. By far the most colorful section of Bilbao, the old town is the ideal place to take the pulse of the city, either from a lively local tavern or quaint artisan shop.
Bilbao has a mild oceanic climate with minimal swings in temperature throughout the year and on average, only three days of snow in winter.
- Winter (December to February) 5-15°C
- Spring (March to May) 6-20°C
- Summer (June to September) 13-26°C
- Fall (October to November) 8-21°C
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