Visiting Spain’s Basque Country and wondering if Bilbao is worth visiting? This post will help you decide.
Bilbao is one of Spain’s greatest and most underrated city getaway destinations. The largest city in the Basque Country and in northern Spain, Bilbao has a unique character and tons of things to see and do.
Bilbao lies on on the banks of a tidal river, the Nervión. Biblao is surrounded by little green hills, which make a lovely backdrop for this city’s landscape. World-class museums, delicious food, fascinating history and culture, and ever-friendly locals are just some of the reasons why you can’t help falling in love with Bilbao.
The enigmatic Basque language is everywhere, but everyone also speaks Spanish and you’ll be fine getting by in English, as there are plenty of speakers here.
It is worth keeping in mind that in the near future, you might need to register online with the ETIAS to visit Spain or other countries in the Schengen Area if you aren’t a citizen of an EU or Schengen country yourself.
The Guggenheim Museum
If you’re a fan of art — especially modern art — you can’t miss Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum. Internationally renowned for its permanent and visiting exhibitions, featuring works by both Spanish and international artists, this incredible building put Bilbao on the map as a must-visit for art lovers.
Bilbao’s pride and joy, the Guggenheim changed the face of the city when it opened in 1997. The once run-down port area of the city was transformed and regenerated into the modern metropolis you see today. The Museum was very much the centre of and catalyst for this change.
As well as the exhibits inside, the building is surrounded by sculptures that can be enjoyed by everyone free of charge. Perhaps the most famous is Puppy, a 40-ft topiary West Highland terrier covered in colourful flowers.
While Barcelona and Madrid have their fair share of art museums, Bilbao’s Guggenheim may well top them all.
The Casco Viejo
At the heart of every Spanish city from Santiago to Almería is a casco viejo, or “old town”. Bilbao’s is up there with the best of them.
The old, narrow streets of the Casco Viejo are home to a plethora of quirky shops and bars, as well as some of the city’s most important sites. Here, you’ll find the epic 15th-century gothic cathedral as well as the Plaza Nueva — home to some of the best bars and restaurants in Bilbao.
But the real reason to visit the old town is the atmosphere. Exploring the old streets is an experience in itself. Every time you go, you’re sure to discover something new!
The Basque Country is known for many things, not least its unique language. When it comes to food, one of the region’s most popular exports are pintxos (pronounced “pinchos”).
These bite-sized tapas come on skewers — usually on a slice of bread. You’ll see them everywhere in this part of Spain, and their popularity has spread to other regions such as Barcelona and Madrid. But the Basque Country is the homeland of the pintxo and in Bilbao, you’ll be getting the original article.
Most bars will have pintxos readily available as snacks and there are also restaurants that specialise in them.
Like most tapas, it’s dangerously easy to just keep ordering these delicious little morsels! You can’t visit Bilbao without helping yourself to a few with a drink. It’s the local way of doing things, and visitors are more than welcome to join in!
Boat ride down the Ría de Bilbao
The scenic River Nervion flows through the heart of Bilbao, with the Casco Viejo and the Guggenheim sitting right on its banks. Taking a riverside stroll is pleasant enough but to really get the most out of a visit to the city, you need to get yourself on a boat.
There are regular boat tours down to the coast. Bilbao is only a few miles inland from the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean.
This final stretch of the river, known as the ría in Spanish, is actually part of the tidal estuary and is wide enough to allow the passage of ships. This led to Bilbao becoming an important port and a centre of industry in the past.
The boat ride offers fascinating snapshots of the city’s industrial past as well as the modern facades of a regenerated town.
You also sail right under the Vizcaya Bridge, commonly known as the Puente Colgante (hanging bridge). This remarkable feat of engineering is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Vehicles crossing the river drive onto a section of road suspended from the bridge, which then moves across like a gondola, carrying the traffic.
For a panoramic view of Bilbao, there’s no better place than Mount Artxanda. Take the old funicular railway to the top of the hill and then breathe in the incredible vista before you.
This is more than just a viewing spot though! The picturesque park on top of the hill is full of sculptures and walkways. If you’re getting hungry, there are plenty of excellent restaurants up here too.
This is a fantastic place to cap off a visit to Bilbao and appreciate this wonderful city.
Cover Photo via Unsplash
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