New architectural and artistic trends, incredible cuisine, a delightful old town and a unique identity are just some of the things that await in one of the most fascinating cities in northern Spain: Bilbao.
Despite being the Basque Country’s main port city, Bilbao has shrugged off its industrial reputation and transformed its urban fabric by firmly embracing culture. The Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank O. Gehry, has become the symbol of the city and houses one of the most popular modern and contemporary art exhibitions in the world. Many other internationally renowned architects have also left their mark here, from Santiago Calatrava and his Zubizuri bridge, with its unusual sail shape and spectacular glass deck, to Norman Foster and his state-of-the-art metro station.
A stroll through the bustling streets of the Casco Viejo – Bilbao’s old quarter – gives you a great chance to admire iconic buildings and sights such as the Santiago Cathedral, the Plaza Nueva and the Basilica of Begoña. It’s also well worth wandering into some of the many markets, particularly the Ribera, where you can soak up the cosmopolitan atmosphere and enjoy the fascinating blend of old and new that’s so typical of Bilbao. Other musts include a boat tour along the Ría – the urban estuary where river meets sea – and a trip to explore the breathtaking local beaches (we highly recommend Sopela, Ereaga and Plentzia) that sit just a stone’s throw from the city and are great for everything from sunbathing to surfing.
No cultural renaissance would be complete without a celebration of local food, and with Basque cuisine being one of the most popular in the world, the city naturally boasts endless options to suit all tastes and budgets. From Michelin-starred restaurants to tiny bars serving up pintxos (typical Basque tapas), every corner of Bilbao is bursting with flavour.
Thanks to the mild temperatures carried by the Gulf stream, Bilbao gives visitors a warm welcome all year round. The best time to head to this part of the Basque Country is May to October, when you’re less likely to get caught out by the rain.