Bilbao, Spain

Map of routes and landmarks in Bilbao

Bilbao's must-sees

1. Guggenheim Museum
2. Old Town
3. Cathedral of Santiago
4. Museum of Fine Arts
5. Alhóndiga (Azkuna Center)
6. Plaza Nueva square

Spanish flag and Coat of Arms of Bilbao

Route 1. Pintxos in the Old City

This route starts at the Church of San Antón (Saint Anthony the Great), a local gothic icon from the 16th century depicted in Bilbao's coat of arms. From there, you can see the largest indoor food market in Europe – the Ribera Market – before entering the Old City.

Take Somera/Goienkale street, known for its local shops, restaurants and bars laden with pintxos (pronounced “peen-chos” and are comparable to Spanish tapas, but smaller and usually more elaborate). Walk to the Santiago Cathedral, of gothic and gothic revival themes. The next stop is Fuente del Perro ("Fountain of the Dog"), a neoclassical fountain with three lion heads (which were confused with dogs).

From there, head to the Plaza Nueva (Main Square), which has one of Bilbao's best gastronomic array of Basque and Spanish pintxos. Some of the more traditional options include tortilla de patata (potato omelet), croquetas (fried balls of breaded cream paste), jamón serrano (cured ham), chistorra (Spanish sausage) and lomo con pimientos (pork loin with red peppers). Some of the more elaborate options are made with ingredients like foie gras (duck liver), mushrooms, goat cheese, walnuts and various vegetables. These treats for your taste buds are small and inexpensive (around 2 euros), so don't limit yourself to just one.

After leaving the Plaza Nueva, the route will end at the stately Arriaga Theater, a Baroque Revival building that was dedicated to the talented composer of Bilbao, Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga.

Route 2. Indautxu and the Museum of Fine Arts

From Indautxu Square, follow the avenue Alameda de San Mamés until you reach the Azkuna Center. This unique building has a cinema, a gym, exhibition rooms, restaurants and shops all in one. After stopping for a visit, follow the avenue Alameda de Recalde towards Plaza Moyua, a lovely roundabout/square with flower gardens that's smack-dab in the middle of the modern city center.

From Moyua, follow Elcano street towards Doña Casilda Park, a large open space with a small lake that swans, ducks, families and couples all use as a hang-out. Located in the eastern corner of the park is the Museum of Fine Arts.

Route 3. The Guggenheim Museum and along the Estuary

The route begins at the recently remodeled San Mamés soccer stadium, home to the Athletic Club of Bilbao. From there, follow the route to the Bilbao Maritime Museum, which exhibits the region's maritime industrial history that defined Bilbao's identity for so many years.

You'll pass by the Euskalduna Center and Concert Hall, which hosts operas, theater plays, classical music concerts and other cultural activities. Nearby is the Zubiarte shopping center (in front of Deusto Bridge). Head to the República de Abando Park, from which the modern Arrupe Footbridge and the Guggenheim are visible.

When you reach the magnificent Guggenheim, don't forget to walk around the exterior before going inside to the museum – several unique architectural pieces accompany the museum’s titanium grandeur. These include Puppy, the enormous dog-shaped sculpture covered in planted flowers by Jeff Koons, the giant spider sculpture called Maman ("Mother") by Louise Bourgeois, El gran árbol y el ojo (“the great tree and the eye”), a vertical structure of 80 balls of reflective stainless steel by Anish Kapoor, and Fire Fountain by Yves Klein.

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Population

Bilbao: ~400,000

Metropolitan area: ~900,000

Useful Information

Nearby Towns

Vitoria-Gasteiz (62 km / 39 mi)

San Sebastián-Donostia (101 km / 63 mi)

Zarautz (85 km / 53 mi)

Guernica (36 km / 22 mi)

Plentzia (23 km / 14 mi)

Lekeitio (58 km / 36 mi)

Transportation

Though Bilbao is relatively large, it's a comfortable size to tour on foot. The surrounding metropolitan area, however, must be visited using the metro and the tram, both which accommodate people with limited mobility (including wheelchairs). All metro stations have elevators.

The city's urban buses (Bilbobus) are efficient and comfortable, and also accommodate people with limited mobility. The buses reach some areas the metro and tram don't.

The Bilbao Airport is located approximately 20 minutes by urban bus from the main bus station Termibus. The airport has flights connecting to numerous Spanish, European and African cities.

Bilbao has several train stations, though the main station is Abando. From there, trains connect to numerous destinations in Spain.

Bilbao

Located in the Basque Country, the city of Bilbao is a symbol of modernity and efficiency in Spain. As you walk through the city, you’ll notice the Estuary of Bilbao divides the city in two parts that are linked by numerous bridges. Perhaps one of the most unique is Zubizuri bridge, known as “Calatrava” bridge in honor of the famous architect who designed it. The city center, known as “Bilbao la Vieja”, is the oldest district in Bilbao, where the central square Moyua and the attractive Casilda Iturrizar Park are located. Next to the park is the Museum of Fine Arts, which exhibits works by Goya, El Greco, Francis Bacon, Eduardo Chillida, Joaquín Sorolla and Paul Gauguin, among others.

The city’s emblem is, without a doubt, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao – one of four in the world along with those in New York, Venice and Abu Dhabi, all of which exhibit contemporary art. The Guggenheim Bilbao, designed by contemporary architecture giant Frank Gehry, is sheathed in titanium, glass and limestone. One of the best views of the magnificent museum and its complimentary neighboring sculptures is from the “Príncipes de España” bridge, locally known as “La Salve”. Following the construction of the museum, La Salve was remodeled and painted so to not be eclipsed by the ineffable Guggenheim. Less known but also admirable is the Azkuna Center, creation of the French designer Philippe Starck. This futuristic, revolutionary space with its suspended, translucent pool and screen projection of the sun will impress any visitor. The peculiar complex was dedicated to the ex-mayor of Bilbao, Iñaki Azkuna, named the best mayor in the world in 2012 by the City Mayors Foundation.

Bilbao’s excellent public transportation makes mobility around the city and its surrounding areas enjoyably comfortable. The Metro Bilbao, designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster, has won multiple awards for its innovative design, sustainability and accessibility. The metro's two lines form a Y-shape that run along both sides of the estuary throughout the city’s urban area, even reaching Plentzia, a coastal town with some of the area’s best beaches. Aided by it's exemplary public transportation, Bilbao's infrastructural qualities won the city the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize (known as the "Nobel of Urbanism") in 2010.

One of the most noticeably unique aspects of Bilbao in comparison with Spain’s other large cities is the presence of the Basque culture and language, native to the area containing the seven Basque provinces – three in northern Spain and four in southwestern France. Euskera – the Spanish name for the Basque language – shares no root language with any other language in the world, making it a unique phenomenon in Spain, where all other dialects and languages are related to Spanish (including Catalan, Galician, Asturian, Valencian, etc.).

An equally impressive part of the Basque culture is its delectable cuisine, widely considered one of the best in the world, particularly for its dishes containing seafood, fish and meat. Walking past bars and restaurants in the Casco Viejo, you’ll see counters full of “pintxos” (pronounced “peen-chose”), small elaborate snacks often pierced with a toothpick (see the Pintxos Route above). Basques usually have an early-afternoon pintxo with a glass of red wine or txakoli (pronounced “cha-ko-lee”, a white wine from the Basque region of Gipuzkoa) before sitting down to a traditional dish such as cod with pil-pil sauce, hake in green sauce or squid cooked in its own ink. ¡Que aproveche! – Spanish for “enjoy your meal”, or as the Basques say, on egin!

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