Once a grimy industrial port, Bilbao has transformed into a vibrant and cosmopolitan city thanks to its ambitious urban renewal projects and world-class cultural attractions. XXX reasons why Bilbao is an excellent destination for travellers who are looking for something different and exciting.
The Guggenheim Museum
The most iconic symbol of Bilbao's modernization is the Guggenheim Museum, a stunning masterpiece of contemporary architecture designed by Frank Gehry. The museum opened in 1997 and instantly put Bilbao on the map as a cultural hotspot. The building is a work of art, with its curvaceous titanium-clad exterior reflecting the light and surrounding landscape. Inside, the museum hosts a collection of modern and contemporary art and temporary exhibitions of renowned artists. The museum also features a sculpture garden, a restaurant, a shop, and a panoramic terrace.
The Old Town
While the Guggenheim Museum represents the new Bilbao, the Old Town, Casco Viejo, preserves the charm and history of the old Bilbao. The Old Town is a maze of narrow streets with colourful buildings, quaint shops, and lively bars. Here, you can find some of the city's most important monuments, such as the Gothic Cathedral of Santiago, the Renaissance Town Hall, and the Baroque Church of San Antón. The Old Town is also the best place to enjoy the local cuisine, especially the famous pintxos, small bites of bread topped with various ingredients, such as cheese, ham, fish, or vegetables. You can hop from bar to bar and sample different pintxos and a glass of wine or cider.
The Azkuna Zentroa
Another example of Bilbao's creative spirit is the Azkuna Zentroa, a former wine warehouse converted into a cultural and leisure centre by the French designer Philippe Starck. The Azkuna Zentroa offers a variety of activities and facilities, such as a cinema, a library, a gym, a swimming pool, and a rooftop terrace. The most striking feature of the building is the 43 columns that support the structure, each with a different shape and material, representing the diversity of the Basque people. The Azkuna Zentroa is a place to relax, have fun, and learn something new.
The Artxanda Funicular
If you want a bird's eye view of Bilbao, you can take the Artxanda Funicular, a cable car that takes you to the summit of Mount Artxanda, which overlooks the city. The funicular was built in 1915 and has been restored several times. It runs every 15 minutes and takes about 3 minutes to reach the summit. From there, you can enjoy a panoramic vista of Bilbao and its surroundings, including the Nervión River, the Guggenheim Museum, and the mountains. You can also find a park, a picnic area, and some restaurants on the hill.
The Maritime Museum
Bilbao has a long and rich maritime history, as it was once a major port and shipbuilding centre. To learn more about this aspect of the city, you can visit the Maritime Museum on the waterfront near the Guggenheim Museum. The museum showcases the evolution of Bilbao's maritime activities, from fishing and trade to industry and leisure. The museum also features a dry dock, where you can see historic vessels, such as a tugboat, a fireboat, and a floating crane. The museum also organizes temporary exhibitions, workshops, and guided tours.
The Vizcaya Bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a masterpiece of engineering and architecture. It was built in 1893 by Alberto de Palacio, a disciple of Gustave Eiffel, and it is the oldest transporter bridge in the world. The bridge connects the towns of Portugalete and Las Arenas, crossing the mouth of the Nervion River. It has a suspended gondola that can carry passengers and vehicles across the river while allowing the passage of ships below. You can cross the bridge on the gondola or walk along the upper crossbeam, which offers stunning views of the river and the city.
San Mamés Stadium
This is the home of the Athletic Club, Bilbao's football team and one of Spain's most successful and famous clubs. The stadium, opened in 2013, is a modern and impressive venue that can host up to 53,000 spectators. You can take a guided tour of the stadium and visit the club's museum, which displays trophies, memorabilia, and interactive exhibits.
Bilbao Fine Arts Museum
This is one of Spain's most important fine art collections, with over 10,000 works ranging from the 12th century to the present day. The museum features paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and decorative arts by artists like El Greco, Goya, Gauguin, Picasso, Dalí, and Chillida. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and cultural activities.
Dona Casilda Park
The largest and most beautiful park in Bilbao is Dona Casilda Park near the Guggenheim Museum. The park was created in the early 20th century and named after a wealthy benefactor who donated the land. The park has a pond with ducks and swans, a fountain, a playground, a music pavilion, and a botanical garden. It is also home to the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, the Euskalduna Palace, and a conference and music centre.
This is Bilbao's leading theatre and opera house, located in the Plaza Arriaga, next to the Old Town. The theatre was built in 1890 and named after Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga, a Basque composer known as the "Spanish Mozart". The theatre has a neo-baroque style, with a façade inspired by the Paris Opera. The theatre hosts a variety of shows, from classical music and ballet to theatre and musicals.
The Bilbao Bizkaia Card
The Bilbao Bizkaia Card is the official tourist card in Bilbao-Bizkaia, and it offers many advantages for visitors who want to explore the city and its surroundings. You can enjoy unlimited free public transport, sightseeing trips, discounts, fast passes at leading museums and tourist attractions, and more. You can choose from 24, 48, or 72 hours of options, depending on the length of your stay. The card is personal and non-transferable. You can book your card online before coming to Bilbao or buy it at the Bilbao Turismo offices.