BILBAO – from industrial hub to city of culture and services
Astonishing architecture, a venerable dining scene and stunning landscapes just outside the city centre: Bilbao is one of the great treasures of the Basque Country.
Cities change; they transform themselves, evolve. Bilbao is a fine example of this, the essence of urban evolution.
The transformation of Bilbao started in the 1970s as a result of the economical crisis that left the industry terribly damaged. To impulse economy, a rehabilitation plan was created with the objective to turn Bilbao into a city of services.
The transformation culminated in 1997 with the arrival of the Guggenheim—the famous art museum that not only transformed Bilbao, but the whole world.
The result of the rehabilitation plan is evident: Bilbao turned from being a grey city living of industrial activity into a cosmopolitan city where design is the order of the day.
The city’s heart still remains in the medieval cobblestone streets of the Old Town, known as Las Siete Calles (The Seven Streets) where you not only find some of the most popular pintxos bars, but also La Ribera Market, Europe’s largest indoor market and the 14th-century Santiago Cathedral.
What everyone knows is that the Basque Country is synonymous with the best and finest cuisine found anywhere in the world. But what not everyone thinks of when visiting this area are its endless beaches and great surf waves. You can even access some of the most beautiful beaches by metro.
Welcome to The Basque Country!
The Guggenheim Museum, the city’s must-see sight, is without a doubt the most iconic building in Bilbao. The building itself is a spectacular work of art and is considered a ground-breaking example of 20th-century architecture. It was designed by famous architect Frank Gehry, using advanced aerospace industry software, and was constructed between 1993 and 1997.
The museum is home to nineteen galleries with a mix of temporary exhibitions of contemporary art by local Basque artists and additional themed exhibitions by artists from around the globe. Surrounding the Guggenheim lies the Art District, filled with large-scale sculptures by famous artists. Look out for Puppy by Jeff Koons, the giant spider Maman by Louise Bourgeois, and Tall Tree and the Eye by Anish Kapoor.
La Ribera Market
Europe’s largest indoor market, with over 10,000 m², the Art Deco-style La Ribera Market simply can’t be missed. Shop for traditional produce, browse fresh fruit and vegetable stalls or simply stop for a drink at one of the bars—something will keep you entertained. Make sure you have plenty of time and empty stomach when you go there.
A mandatory stop before lunch is Café de la Ribera! Why? To have a vermouth and a “gilda”. The Gilda is probably the most known pintxo in the Basque Country. It’s a toothpick with green olives, chili, pickled gherkins and anchovies. And it’s called after the Hollywood star Rita Hayworth and her role in the movie with the same name.
Eat your weight in pintxos
Who hasn’t heard about pintxos—the Basque “tapas”?!?!
When in Bilbao you must do as the Basque do and txikitear. Txikiteo means hopping from bar to bar enjoying a small glass of wine (txikitos) and savouring delicious pintxos. This is how the locals socialise and have a good time.
Some of the best and most traditional pintxos bars can be found in the Casco Viejo. And make sure you don’t miss Plaza Nueva, where you find some of the most popular pintxos bars. Our favourite? Café Bar Bilbao.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe—Mandatory visit
When in the Basque Country you cannot miss San Juan de Gaztelugatxe!!
It is pure magic and a haven in the rough sea.
It is believed that the first hermitage was built in the 9th century. In the 12th century, it became a convent. However, two centuries later, the friars left the place taking all the valuables with them.
Its raw beauty is no doubt the reason why it was chosen as a filming location for Game of Thrones. Whether you’re a fan or not, taking a trip out to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a “must do”.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is located 35 km east from Bilbao—a perfect stop on your way to San Sebastian. The island can be reached via a man-made stone bridge which connects to 241 steps that will lead you to the top of the hill where the church is placed. It is said that after climbing to the top, you should ring the bell three times to attract good luck and chase away evil spirits.
After having visited San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the next stop must be one of the areas where the most famous and charming village is located: Bermeo. It’s a quaint fisherman’s village with narrow cobbled streets and houses in different colours, easily recognizable on any postcard.
After a walk through its old town, you have a mandatory mid-morning appointment in the bars placed in the harbour. The most tender octopus, anchovies and txakoli (local white wine) will make you feel like in heaven!