10. Visit the Guggenheim Museum
(Abandoibarra Etorbidea 2, 48009 Bilbao, +34 94 435 90 00) This futuristic-looking museum is one of Bilbao’s most recognisable icons and exhibits modern art pieces by some of the most relevant contemporary artists. The area surrounding it has undergone a major face-lift and it has even welcomed sport championships in recent years such as Red Bull’s adrenaline-charged cliff diving competition (see the video below for some unbelievable images!) Be sure to check the giant sculpture of a Westie dog called “Puppy” guarding the entrance and made entirely of flowers; it speaks volumes about the local humour as citizens of Bilbao are said to like to exaggerate a little.
Top Tip: For a different view of the museum, hop into one of the Bilbao river cruises taking you all the way down to the sea.Tickets cost between 12-17€ depending on the cruise you board.
9. Ride the scenic funicular of Artxanda
(Funikularreko Plaza s/n, 48007 Bilbao, +34 94 115 49 58) Bilbao is surrounded by seven mountains so the best way to get an overview of the city is by taking a old-styled, red funicular up Artxanda. If you want to get the best views and take the best pictures on the short journey up the mountain be sure to get in the first wagon – marked for cyclist, it doesn’t have seats but your photographs won’t have unwanted heads either. The views at sunset are amazing with the city lights sparkling to life.
Top Tip: If you are looking for a traditional restaurant with panoramic views of green mountains and a homey feeling, look no further than El Txakoli (Ctra. Artxanda-Santo Domingo 19, 48015 Bilbao +34 94 115 50 15) located just a few metres away from the entrance/exit of the funicular station.
8. Cross Vizcaya Bridge
(Puente de Vizcaya Zubia, Getxo +34 94 480 10 12) Known by locals simply as “Puente Colgante” (hanging bridge), this outstanding UNESCO’S World Heritage listed site is easily reached by underground (stop at Las Arenas and look for Puente Colgante on the station’s map). It links the towns of Portugalete and Getxo and has been operating since its inauguration back in 1893. If it reminds you of the Eiffel Tower it is because its designer, Biscay-born architect Alberto de Palacio, collaborated with Gustave Eiffel.
Top Tip: Instead of heading straight back to the underground, walk along the promenade towards Ereaga beach and Algorta’s Old Fishing Port where I recommend you to get lost in its narrow streets. The fishermen’s houses found here provide a great contrast to the historic manors you will pass on the way to the beach!
7. Go to a cider house
If you are visiting between January and April you cannot miss the opportunity to visit a sagardotegia (cider house in English) to enjoy a most unique dining experience where local cuisine is served amidst a genuine atmosphere that prides the Basques. Although cider houses, like restaurant, differ in what they serve, most of them offer a set menu for a fixed price that includes cod omelette, charcoal-grilled beef and ewes’ milk cheese with walnuts plus all the cider you can drink straight from the barrels.
Top Tip: If you don’t want to rent a car Algortako Sagardotegia (Calle Konporte, 3, 48992 Getxo +34 911 60 23 03) is the best option as you can reach it by public transport. Otherwise, Sidreria Andraka (Andraka Auzoa, 14, 48620 Urizar +34 946 87 93 94) is a great option as it is set in a beautiful traditional Basque country house and surrounded by a gorgeous landscape.
6. Explore Sopelana’s coastline
Just a half hour underground ride away from Bilbao you can find wild beaches and impressive cliffs that stretch as far as the eye can see and will take your breath away. The most popular beach is Barinatxe, also known as La Salvaje (the wild one in English). Surfers and nudists are amidst its most frequent visitors and in recent years has become a hot spot for paragliding. There are surf courses and rentals available right on the beach. Those wishing for a long walk along the beach will find themselves at home at the nearby Arrietara-Atxabiribil beach.
Top Tip: After a day relaxing on the beach, there is nothing like a cold coffee or drink on the terrace of the lively El Peñón (Atxabiribil Hiribidea, 82, 48600 Sopela +34 946 76 07 86). Take your camera with you and enjoy the mesmerising sunsets from here. http://elpeñondesopelana.com/
5. Travel back in time at Butrón Castle
(Butrón s/n, 48110 Gatika) 12 miles north of Bilbao in Gatika and surrounded by 8 acres of parkland stands the only romantic style castle in Spain: Butrón Castle. Home of the Butrón lineage, one of the most important in Biscay, it was built in the 14th century and later restored in the 19th century by the wealthy Marquis of Cuba who gave it its current look. Its interior is closed to the public but the grounds with palm trees and lush trees can be visited for free.
Top Tip: If you plan on visiting, I highly recommend you to rent a car as public transportation doesn’t go past the castle and you would need to take at least 2 buses. The grounds feature a spacious parking lot.
If you want to learn more about the Basque Country and Basque culture, I suggest you go to Gernika. Easily reached by train, this historic town is the spiritual heartland of Basques. During the Spanish Civil War it was bombed by the German Condor Legion and inspired Pablo Picasso’s famous ‘Guernica’ painting. In fact, there is a large ceramic replica of the piece in Pedro de Elejalde street. Other attractions include the Tree of Gernika, which is one of the most iconic symbols of Basque culture, the Assembly House where the Lehendakari (Basque Prime Minister) is sworn to office and the Peace Museum.
Top Tip: From June to December every Monday, the marketplace welcomes farmers and local producers and people from all over Biscay flock to the town to buy vegetables, dairy products, fruits and taste traditional Basque delicacies like talo (traditional corn flour tortilla) and txakoli (dry white wine). In October the first and last Mondays are particularly festive.
3. Go to a football game at San Mames Barria
(Felipe Serrate kalea s/n, 48013 Bilbao, +34 94 424 08 77) From the outside, the brand new stadium of local football team Athletic Club may seem like any other stadium, but La Catedral (The Cathedral as it is known by fans) offers one of the best sport atmospheres in Spain; and the world if you ask locals. Players here are called lions because the first stadium was built near a church called Saint Mammes, after the saint who was thrown to the lions by the Romans but, in a turn of fortune, the animals refused to eat him. Another special thing about the club is that they only have players from the Basque Country (not the autonomous community but all the provinces in Spain and France where Basque is spoken) or who have trained with the club from a young age.
Top Tip: before the game crowds of fans dressed in white and red (the team colours) gather in the bars on nearby Pozas street to get a drink and a pintxo. The festive atmosphere is unbelievable with many groups belting out traditional songs!
2. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
(48370 Bermeo +34 946 17 91 54) Located 45 minutes away from Bilbao and easily reached by bus, this breathtaking islet won the most votes in the recent Seven Natural Wonders of Spain awards. And when one stands at its foot and gazes up the 231 steps of the stairway that leads to the hermitage atop, is easy to understand why. The waves crash along the roughed coast and seagulls follow the small fishing ships that depart from the nearby towns of Bakio and Bermeo. The quaint hermitage is dedicated to John the Baptist and has been attacked several times; once even by the famous English pirate Francis Drake. There are two shoeprints carved in the stone (one at the beginning of the stairway and another at the end) where you should place your feet to avoid callouses and if you make it to the top be sure to ring the church bell!
Top Tip: Before departing, visit Eneperi Jatetxea (Barrio San Pelayo 80, 48100, Bakio +34 94 619 40 65) and recharge with some of the delectable pintxos on offer while sitting on one of the charming wooden tables and benches located on a terrace under the shade of a vine. Pure bliss!
1. Bilbao’s Old Town & Pintxos
The old town of Bilbao is a labyrinth of narrow streets where historic buildings, small souvenir shops, classic bars and elegant churches coexists to create a delightful atmosphere that enthrals locals and tourists alike. In fact, this part of the city is home to Bilbao’s Cathedral (Plaza de Santiago 1, 48005 Bilbao +34 94 115 36 27) and the impressive Basque Archaelogical, Ehtnographic and Historical Museum (Plaza Miguel de Unamuno 4, 48006 Bilbao, +34 94 115 54 23) a most for anyone interested in Basque culture. The area is also very famous for pintxo crawling as there are many cafés and bars, however the most popular place for grabbing a lite bite and a glass of mosto (unfermented wine) is the Plaza Nueva (on the picture). Additionally, this square also holds a flea market on Sundays where you can buy anything from used books to coins.
Top Tip: The historic Victor Montes (Plaza Nueva 8, 48005 Bilbao, +34 94 115 70 67) is located here and is without a doubt the best place for pintxos in the city. You can enjoy them both indoors or outside in a shaded terrace. It is possible to have lunch and dinner but booking is highly recommended to avoid disappointments.