Bilbao is an industrial port city of the Basque Country of northern Spain, with its lush green mountains that surround the city. The UNESCO ‘City of Design’ is especially famous for the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, an impressive, curvy and titanium-clad building that houses prominent modern and contemporary art works. However, the city has much more than just this to offer, from being filled with culture to its delicious cuisine, to its beautiful Gothic architecture contrasting with its striking modern buildings. There are several must-sees on a 24-hour trip here, so these are a few suggestions.
1. Casco Viejo
In any city with a history, the old town is a great place to start, and the Casco Viejo of Bilbao is no exception. From its grid of small streets to its colourful houses nestled in between the squares, bars, restaurants and shops, the area is full of wonders. It is home to two of the oldest buildings in Bilbao, the Catedral de Santiago built in the 13th century, and the Iglesia de San Antón, built in the 15th century, and strolling through the streets you will also come across the Plaza Nueva or Plaza Barria. This is a monumental Neoclassical style square, built in 1821, which d is definitely worth a look. Sit for a while and watch as local kids play in the centre, restaurants lining the edge bustle with people, and above you residents observe from their beautiful apartments. A perfect place to soak up the Bilbao atmosphere.
2. Mercado de la Ribera
Lunch in Spain is eaten late, so a morning snack to get you through is definitely recommended. Mercado de la Ribera is the obvious place for this, but is also a must-see in itself. Located on the banks of the Nervión River, the market is one of the biggest covered markets in Europe, with an area of 10.000 square meters, and provides daily fresh products to locals and tourists alike. One section of the market however, serves as a sort of food hall for takeaway food, so this is where to head for a tasty snack. Bilbao and the rest of the Basque region is known for its great gastronomy, and la Ribera is the perfect place to sample this. It is canteen style, with food stalls and bars surrounding a central seating area, and the food on offer is Pintxos. This is a traditional dish in Bilbao, a bite-size snack made up of a piece of bread, topped with various delicacies and a spike stuck through to keep everything together. You will find these all over the city, however here you can wonder from stall to stall, sussing out the offers of various chorizos, seafood or olive based options, before choosing your favourites. Perfect if you are someone who wants to try a bit of everything! Have as little or as much as you want, plus the bars offer some lovely sangría, wine and beer options to accompany.
3. Walk along the river
Walking out of the old town to the Guggenheim Museum, the route takes around a half hour by foot but is a pleasant stroll. As you reach the Nervión river, Parque Extebarria offers some nice greenery and Spanish style park, and you can then follow the river all the way to the museum. There are several interesting bridges on the way, with modern designs which offer an interesting perspective of the city, and some lovely houses to admire near the waterfront. Once you reach the Guggenheim, there are also two further parks, Parque República de Abando and Parque Casilda Iturrizar which are also pretty and a nice place to sit down for a quick rest.
4. Café con Leche on the Guggenheim terrace
Whether you are a fan of art or not, the Guggenheim is emblematic of the city and a must visit, if just to be inside the fabulous building. Warped designs and artsy lighting, not to mention the fact that it is semi surrounded by water, make it well worth the visit. If this isn’t reason enough, however, the café terrace offers a lovely place to sit with a café con leche and do some people watching, whilst you decide where to head for lunch. There are several restaurants for varying budgets and tastes located in the area behind the Guggenheim, further away from the river, so heading there for lunch is a good idea.
6. Funicular Artxanda
Cross the river and head to Funicular Artxanda for a fun ride up to the Artxanda Mountain, high above the city. The old funicular mountain railway has been running since 1915 and once on top of the mountain there are some beautiful views of Bilbao. Take a walk around and admire the change of scenery from the city itself.
7. Evening drinks and pintxos
For the evening, pintxos are the go to dinner, combined with a drink of course. In the Basque Country, pintxos are an important part of life, for the food, the alcohol and the socialising. In fact they even combine all three on ‘pintxopote‘. This is one evening a week where bars offer one pintxo free for every drink bought. Locals head to their nearest restaurant or bar to meet friends and make the most of the pintxopote offer. It even turns into a bar crawl like activity, with friends meeting for a drink and pintxo before heading to another bar to try another one, and another one after that. So, in the spirit of making the most of Bilbao, its culture and cuisine, it would only be right to try a few locations, sampling the drinks and food as you go!