Yes, the Guggenheim Museum building has become the symbol of the city, but Bilbao has a lot more to offer, such as history, nature, excellent food and, primarily, friendly and energetic Basques who will “intoxicate” you with their optimism. What else could you wish for?
One of the best contemporary architects, Frank Gehry, provided the city with a world-famous sight. The Guggenheim museum of modern art was built in the industrial part of the city, right on the bank of the river Nervión. It is surrounded by the original shipyards, docks and foundries. Visitors can admire the works of Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Chagall and Kandinsky there.
Casco Viejo, the oldest quarter, lets you enjoy the traditional feel of the city. Stroll around the narrow streets surrounded by houses with tiny balconies, shops, cafés and galleries to get a feel of the city. Plaza Nueva, which resembles a large inner courtyard, is located in the old quarter and can be entered through original shopping galleries. There is no better place in the old town to relax and enjoy a cup of good coffee.
This is still not it… You should not skip a visit to St. James Cathedral (in Basque: Donejakue) with its 14th century portal or omit St. Nicholas de Bari church, originally a cathedral of fishermen and sailors, located just a few steps from Plaza Nueva, close to the river.
Then, cross to the other side of the river Nervión, using for example the modern Puente Zubizuri bridge to enjoy a quarter with high-rise glass buildings also featuring the tallest construction of the city – Iberdrola – at 165 metres. It was designed by Cesar A. Pelli, the architect of the famous Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia, and was finished in 2011.
Do you want to look at Bilbao from up high? Take the funicular railway to the nearby hilltop. Do you want to explore the city surroundings, too? Then go straight to the Playa Arrietara beach. You can take the metro from Casco Viejo to the Sopela stop and change to a bus which will take you straight to the beach. You can also go on foot – it is about a half an hour’s walk.
The first mention of a settlement in this region dates back to the 3rd century BC. However, the city itself was established in around 1300. Shortly thereafter, construction began near the river, the main access point for ships bringing goods to the city from overseas.
Fancy something tasty? Then try Pintxos, a Basque variant of Spanish Tapas. You can order them in any bar. Locals love spending their evenings bar hopping and tasting various kinds of Pintxos. Alterntively, you can go back to the Guggenheim museum and visit its restaurant, specialising in local Basque cuisine. Try anything – from dried meat, seafood served in a million different ways or mushrooms.