I went to Bilbao expecting nothing. I was going to visit a friend of mine that moved there with her family and did not care about the tourism I could do there. But when I got there and after some previous recommendations, I discovered one of the most beautiful and modern cities in Spain. So much different from the South. Bilbao has a very interesting and special vibe full of a Celtic influence but without losing the Spanish warm.
Bilbao is located in the Basque Country in the north of Spain. A few years ago Bilbao was a highly industrialized city with a large port. However, it had to adapt to changes in its economy, focusing more on services. In this transition, great efforts were made in the urbanization, cleaning and embellishment of the city. As a result, Bilbao is called today the Best European City 2018 according to The Urbanism Awards 2018.
It’s important to know that as part of the Basque Country, one of their official languages is Euskera, which is not even similar to Spanish. This doesn’t mean the people speak Euskera, in fact, there are just a few people who speak this language. But if you look at Google Maps, many important places, national monuments and signals are in Euskera.
As it is located in the north by the Cantabric Sea, most of the year its climate is characterized by cold and rain. Although the summer is very warm. In my experience, the best season to visit this gorgeous city is from August to October, in this season you will have the opportunity to enjoy clear days and good temperatures.
The municipality of Bilbao is very small but the unofficial city may well consider other close municipalities which are connected to the Centre with a simple and quick mobility (subway, rails and buses).
Although walking on both sides of the River, exploring the surrounding neighborhoods and crossing the famous bridges as the Zubizuri (designed by Calatrava) are the main recommendations, here I mention the 5 must-see spots in Bilbao.
1. The Hanging Bridge or Bizcay Bridge
The Bizcay Bridge, or Puente de Vizcaya in Spanish, is a pedestrian bridge of 61 meters high, which also has a ferry toll for cars and people. It was built this high to let the big commercial ships go through. It was inaugurated in 1893 and declared world heritage by UNESCO in 2006.
To access you must purchase a ticket (simple or round-trip) of approximately 7 euros. To go up there is an elevator. On the top, you can cross to the other side and enjoy from the view which is liberating.
It is located to the North of the city in the famous town of Portugalete. The nearest metro stations are Peñota on the side of Portugalete and Areeta on the side of Las Arenas.
2. Guggenheim Museum
It is one of the world’s largest contemporary art museums. Its architectural design is by itself a work of art that even if you do not visit the inside it is worth seeing it from outside. Leaving aside the exterior design of the building on the outskirts of the Museum you can see works by Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor and Louis Bourgeois.
The Guggenheim was built as a hook for tourism but has become an icon in the landscape of Bilbao. It is located on the banks of the river giving a spectacular view.
Although there are different stations of light rail and bus around, the nearest metro station is Deusto, on the other side of the river. Which can be used to walk along the River and major parks. The price of the ticket is 18 euros.
3. La Ribera Market & Old town
The Ribera Market is a very interesting gastronomic market. It is Europe’s largest covered market. Local gastronomic variety products are sold here. It has a terrace with various bars ideal to eat the traditional “pintxos” and take a glass of wine or a beer overlooking the river.
The market is located in the old town district. So it is highly appealing to walk along its surroundings and visit the most ancient sites of the city including the Cathedral, the Bank of Bilbao, Plaza Nueva, Basque Museum Bilbao and the vast variety of local shops.
4. Viewpoint and Funicular of Artxanda
The best place for a panoramic view of Bilbao is the viewpoint of Artxanda. This Park is located at the top of one of the mountains that surround the Txorrierri Valley. This place was bombed during the Spanish civil war so besides having a privileged view, it has a monument in tribute to the victims of this terrible event called La Huella.
The recommended way to get there is by the Funicular, which is not very far from the Guggenheim. The cost of the ticket is approximately 1 euro (roundtrip).
5. San Juan Gatzelugatxe
Only in 45 minutes by car, you can get to one of the most famous sceneries of the TV show Game of Thrones: Dragonstone. In fact it is a church on the top of a hill at the edge of the sea and not a castle as it is in the show, but it is equally great to be there. To reach the top you will have to walk 1 km composed of 241 steps (and then down). The reward is the incredible view, feel a champion when you get to the top and be able to make a wish as you ring the Bell of the Church 3 times (and realize after 3 months it may not come true… now I’m sad).
If the weather permits it, I also recommend to go down the cliffs and take pictures from there. This is not possible all year since it depends on the tide. There are some unpaved parts of the road so you should not go there if it is raining, it is risky.
On your way back, you may fill up your energy in the restaurant located at the entrance of the viewpoint.
The walk is free of charge.
Finally, to do the 5 spots, and perhaps include the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, you will need a minimum of 3 days.