Top 10 Things to do in Bilbao

Guggenheim Museum (Museo Guggenheim de Bilbao)

This amazing avant-garde structure in the centre of Bilbao and on the estuary came about as a result of an architectural competition held as a part of a reconstruction project and was won by California’s Frank Gehry. This spectacular titanium, glass and limestone museum features changing exhibitions organised by the Guggenheim Foundation as well as a permanent exhibition of a collection from all the Guggenheim Museums.  Its largest gallery is traversed by a vehicular bridge which is also one of the main gateways into the city.  You cannot go to Bilbao without a visit to the Guggenheim.  It is at Avenida Abandoibarra, 2 and you can get there by bus, by train, by metro or on the tram.

Casco Viejo (The Old quarter)

The old quarter of Bilbao covers a compact area filled with the charm of ancient streets, all of which have their share of happy bars, and quirky little shops.  The original Seven Streets of the quarter, Las Siete Calles date from the early 15th century and here you will find the Gothic Catedral de Santiago and north from here is the 19th century Plaza Nueva which hosts a lively Sunday flea market in the morning and on Sunday in the Plaza del Arenal are the scents and sights of the regular flower market.

Mercado de La Ribera

Renovated to resemble a triple decked ocean liner pointing toward the open sea, the best market in Europe hosts more than 400 retail stores within its vast interior.  The ground floor specialising in fresh fish, with meat on the second and fruit and vegetables on the top floor.

Its stained glass entryway over Calle de la Ribera welcomes you to stalls groaning under the weight of their wares; fresh seafood, cured meats, crumbly sheep’s cheese and a variety of the areas olive oils.  The cheerful and delightful vendors offer you tastes while they chat amiably about their produce.  The scene is vibrant and delightful.

Bilbao Fine Arts Museum (Museo de Bellas Artes)

In the city’s Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park is a unique opportunity for you to explore the world of art from the 12th century to the present day.  The Bilbao Museo de Belles Artes now combines the buildings of the old museum building dating from 1908  and the newer museum of 1924.  There is something for everyone in this fine museum from classical art to contemporary and much by the Basque artists Reoyos, Zuloaga and Echevarría.  Included in the chronologically ordered exhibitions are also examples of applied arts and the decorative arts.  The museum also hosts a library, bookstore, prints and engravings department and if you feel like taking a break for some refreshment there is a small cafeteria.

Museo Vasco

The main entrance to this ‘not-to-be-missed Archaeological and Ethnographic History Museum is in the old part of the city on the Plaza Miguel de Unamuno, right next to the church of Santos Juanes, and is within the old Jesuit school of San Andrés, built in 1604.  It is divided into historic sections:  prehistory, fishing and the sea, sheep farming, the iron and arms industries, trade and traditional arts and crafts.  The displays are charmingly lifelike with lifelike models depicting the daily life of the pastoral, through the exhibition, to the whaling, fishing and maritime industries of the area.  There is a large and complete model of the province of Bizkaia (Biscay) and throughout the museum, there is display of religious artefacts and the furniture of the times.

Puente de Vizcaya (Vizcaya Bridge)

Described by UNESCO as “a perfect combination of functionality and aesthetic beauty, in an exceptional expression of technical creativity”.  The bridge was built in 1893 and is still fully functional today.  It is the only monument of the Basque country to be named to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.  If you think it looks not unlike the Eiffel Tower you are absolutely on the button, as Alberto de Palacio was a follower of the great Gustave Eiffel.   It is an amazing iron structure providing a link to the other side of the Nervión river estuary and the towns of Portugalete and Getxo.

Plaza Nueva

This square is the historic centre of Bilbao and the main hub of the city’s social life.  It took 65 years to complete and was finally inaugurated in 1851.  Here among the colonnades surrounding the square shelter the many little shops, bars, restaurants and cafés and every Sunday hosts a street market with an eclectic mix of stalls selling books, second-hand vinyl records, stamps, arts and crafts.  It is in fact, a veritable flea market.  A farmer’s market is held here every December during the fiesta de Santo Tomás.  It is interesting to note the differing sizes of the balconies as these indicated the social status of the householders, and the mean windows at the top are the windows of the servant quarters.  Here you can take in some history while at the same time enjoying tasty Bilbao specialities perhaps with a glass of a good Biscay wine.

Puente Zubizuri (Campo Volantin Footbridge – The White Bridge)

Near the Guggenheim museum, this bridge has caused much upset in Bilbao, as the original architect, Santiago Calatrava, felt his rights, regarding his work, had been infringed when the city built a scaffolding walkway connecting the bridge to Alameda Mazarredo. However, a compromise was reached and now a footway designed by Arata Isazaki, from the bridge to the Isazake Atea Towers is an accepted part of the whole unusual curved bridge.  The bridge is supported by steel suspension cables suspended from an overhead arch.  The glass bricks are still a feature of the deck and access ramps and stairways are at either end on each side of the estuary.

Catedral de Santiago

As you wander the Casco Viejo you will come to the towering Santiago Cathedral that dates back some 600 years.  Not to be confused with the larger church of the same name in Santiago de Compostela in the Camino de Santiago, the cathedral has many small chapels and you can wander its Gothic cloister.  It offers the weary visitor a quiet resting spot from the hurly burly of the medieval quarter and provides a gentle reminder of Bilbao’s past.

Iglesia de San Nicolás

This restored church designed by Ignacio de Ibero and built in 1756 was at one time a place where sailors came before setting out on their voyages.  It is an impressive example of Spanish Baroque and is topped by two towers.  Designed by Ignacio de Ibero, it was built in 1756, and is noted for its striking Baroque façade topped by two towers. It was a meeting point for sailors before going to sea, and it holds beneath its belfry, masterpieces by the sculpture of the time Juan Pascal De Mena.  Its altarpiece is of Saint Nicholas, the sacred name of the church.  The sculpting on the top pediment of the altarpiece by Josep Llimona is unusual as its lack of depth in the faces and figures allow it to be viewed from any angle without the figures becoming distorted.  Restoration work revealed Gaguren stone work from Gadakoa a town in the foothills of Bilbao renowned for its stone masons.

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