The city of Bilbao in Spain was once an industrial giant during a large part of the twentieth century. Following years of decline, however, it’s image started to change during the 1990’s. A number of well known designers and architects started to breathe new life into the city’s infrastructure and skyline, such as Norman Foster and Frank Gehry. Bilbao has now become a major center for design, architecture, and art, home to many architectural marvels, galleries, and museums. Not to mention it’s food scene of pintxos bars has garnered worldwide attention. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
A good amount of a visit to the Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao could be spent just outside, staring in awe at the glass and titanium cladding and flowing lines. Completed in 1997 and designed by Frank Gehry, the museum helped put the city in northern Spain on the map and houses works by many different artists, including Anslem Kiefer, Yves Klein, Eduardo Chillida, Jeff Koons, and Anish Kapoor. Larger works of art can be seen on display outdoors in the Bilbao “Art District.” This ship-like metal building is made up of nineteen galleries that give precedence to Basque artists.
Avenida Abandoibarra, 2, 48009 Bilbao, Phone: +34-944-35-90-00
2.Bilbao Art District
The Bilbao Art District is the result of a public-private initiative creative to promote activities carried out by the cultural and artistic fabric of Bilbao as an important element in the city’s development and future. The art district was established in 2013 with a goal of making art a “meeting point” for the city’s citizens. Covering the area between Paseo Abandiobarra, Colón de Larreátegui, Jardines de Albia, and the Maritime Museum, the Bilbao Art District is home to some of the most significant art galleries in the city, such as the Museum of Fine Arts and the Guggenheim Museum.
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3.Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao
Considered to be one of the country's finest art galleries, the Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao is a heavyweight with a more traditional museum setting. The span of time covered by the museum's collection is particularly notable, with its oldest work of art dating back to the 1100's and the most recent being present day. Works by Baroque and Renaissance masters like Murillo and El Greco can be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts, along with Francis Bacon, Sorolla, Gauguin, and Goya. Among the masterpieces showcased are “Lying Figure in Mirror” by Bacon and “Laveuses à Arles” by Gauguin.
Museo Plaza, 2, 48009 Bilbao, Phone: +34-9-44-39-60-60
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Casco Viejo, or also known as the Old Town of Bilbao, is a rather interesting area to explore, a place full of bars and restaurants, boutique shops, historic sites, colorful architecture, and winding narrow streets. It’s also a spot for sightseeing, with some of the Old Town’s top sights include the churches of San Anton and San Nicolas, the Arriaga Theatre, the central market, the Plaza Nueva, the Archeological Museum, and the Catedral de Santiago de Bilbao. For travelers headed out in search of pintxos or a meal at night, Casco Viejo is a good place to go.
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The Bilbao Cathedral, also known as the Santiago Cathedral or the Cathedral of St. James, is dedicated Saint James the Apostle, who has been Bilbao's patron saint since the year 1643. Constructed during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the church was originally built in the Gothic style, however, its facade and tower were built in a neo-Gothic style. The Cathedral of Bilbao is both one of Biscay Province’s most important gothic buildings and the oldest monument in the city. Possibly the best way for visitors to enter the cathedral is through the Puerta del Angel, on the north side.
Done Jakue Plazatxoa, 1, 48005 Bilbao, Phone: +34-944-15-36-27
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© Azkuna Zentroa
Formerly called the Alhondiga, the Azkuna Zentroa is a center for leisure and culture housed in the old wine exchange in Bilbao, serving as a venue for concerts, exhibitions, and more. This modernist building was redesigned by Philippe Starck and now sits on forty-three unique columns or pillars, each a work of art on its own. In addition to watching a show or viewing an exhibition, visitors can also take a guided tour of the building. One of several cool features of the Azkuna Zentroa is its swimming pool with a glass-paneled floor on the upper level.
Plaza Arriquibar, 4, 48010, Bilbao, Phone: +34-944-01-40-14
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7.La Ribera Market
La Ribera Market is the city of Bilbao’s famous market situated along the river at the edge of the historic Casco Viejo. The market is one of the best ways for tourists to get well acquainted with the famous food scene of Bilbao and a good place to find numerous local products to bring back home. Housed within a historic building, La Ribera Market is located on the same site of the city’s old market, which dates back to the fourteenth century. Along with food stalls, live music spaces, restaurants, and bars can be found in the market as well.
Ribera, s/n, 48005 Bilbao
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8.Euskal Museo Bilbao
© Euskal Museoa Bilbao Museo Vasco
Euskal Museo Bilbao is one of the best museums in Spain dedicated to Basque culture, taking guests on an interesting journey from the Palaeolithic days through the twenty-first century. The museum provides an overview of the life of artists, shepherds, mariners, and boat builders who left their mark on the modern identity of the Basque region. On display at the Euskal Museo Bilbao are navigational instruments, sheep bells, woodcutter axes, model boats, fishing nets, looms, clothing, and more that help with illustrating everyday life. Round iconic funerary stones lead into the topics of Basque beliefs and rituals.
Unamuno Miguel Plaza, 4, 48006 Bilbao, Phone: +34-944-15-54-23
9.Bilbao La Vieja
© Adro Hache Erre/stock.adobe.com
Also known by the name of “Bilbi,” Bilbao La Vieja is a place to go in the city for atmosphere, new dining, art, and fashion. Connected to Abando and the Old Quarter, this area brings together both tourists and locals of the city alike who are drawn to fashion, signature cooking, and artwork. The streets of Bilbao La Vieja are filled with urban wall art, where the contributions of many prestigious international artists can be found. Nestled between these art pieces are a number of restaurants, cafes, shops, and bars offering international seasonal food, craft beers, delicious pintxos, and more.
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10.Bilbao Maritime Museum
Located along the waterfront, the Bilbao Maritime Museum is an interactive museum bringing the Basque maritime history and watery depths of Bilbao, Spain to life. Visitors can begin their trip to the museum with a ten-minute film to get an overview of the history of Bilbao from the 1300’s through present day before they explore two display-filled floors showcasing intricate models, pirate threats, innovative coastal rescue strategies, harrowing shipwrecks, and old shipbuilding techniques. Outside, the Bilbao Maritime Museum displays a variety of boats for guests to clamber about. A free multilingual app offers commentary about numerous exhibits throughout the maritime museum.
Ramón de la Sota Kaia, 1, 48011 Bilbao, Phone: +34-946-08-55-00
Situated within the Casco Viejo district, or the Old Quarter, the Archaeological Museum of Bilbao strives to raise awareness of the history of Bilbao and the surrounding region and to connect the past with society of today. This two-story exhibition space highlights the history of the Bizkaia region through traces left behind by its inhabitants ranging back to prehistoric times to modern day. Another goal of the Archaeological Museum is to ensure the conservation, restoration, and safekeeping of archaeological materials and in doing so, the museum collections include all items from the excavations carried out within the Bizkaia area.
Calzadas de Mallona, 2 48006 Bilbao, Phone: 94-404-09-90
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© Euskalduna Palace
The Euskalduna Palace is a performing arts center and conference center in Bilbao and was the second building to be constructed in the Abandoibarra urban area, after the city’s Guggenheim Museum. Designed by architects Dolores Palacios and Federico Soriana, the building was built in corten steel to symbolize the last vessel constructed in the Euskalduna shipyard, which was formerly occupied the site for decades. The Euskalduna Palace Conference Centre opened in 1999 and continues today to run a full programming schedule of performance, ranging from cinema and theatrical productions to dance to both classical and modern music concerts.
4, Abandoibarra Av, 48011, Bilbao, Phone: +34-944-03-50-00
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The Basque Country is famous for pintxos, which are small bread pieces topped with a wide variety of local ingredients, ranging from cheese and vegetables to seafood and meat. Along with Vitoria-Gasteiz and San Sebastian, Bilbao is home to some of the country’s best pintxos bars. Any traveler visiting the city should be sure to check out during their trip, as they are a true Basque tradition, not to mention a great way to taste some of the local food. Pintxos are known to be paired with wine that goes best and are meant to be enjoyed with that particular wine.
14.Abando Train Station
At the far end of the Plaza Circular sits the Abando Train Station, the city’s main transportation hub and popularly known as well as the North Station. Inside the station, tourists and locals alike can take in the sight of the massive stained-glass window featuring motifs of the customs and life of Bilbao, Spain, summarizing the city’s history. These references include ones to sport, fishing, the steel industry, Basque farmhouses, the San Antón bridge, and the Basilica of Begoña. The beautiful wall occupies the wall of the Abando Train Station’s passenger access from the lobby to the platforms in its entirety.
Plaza Circular, 2 48008 Bilbao, Phone: +34-902-43-23-43
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The Rio Nervión flows from the capital city of Bizkaia to the Cantabrian Sea, traveling a distance of 23 kilometers through an area of major commercial and industrial activity. This river has played a significant role in the city’s transformation throughout history, and the bridges that cross the Rio Nervión have been important catalysts for the dramatic change of Bilbao. The river, which was an important part of maritime traffic, divides the city into two halves, which are connected by ten bridges. Following the Rio Nervión allows sightseeing fans of architecture or bridges to see all of them.
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The Artxanda Funicular is a classic cable car that transports passengers up Mount Artxanda for breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding area below. A relaxing activity in Bilbao for the entire family, the Artxanda Funicular can be found in the Funicular Square, next to the Zubizuri Bridge. This cable car has existed for over a century, providing a way for locals and travelers to take a three-minute trip up 224 meters to the scenic viewpoint. In addition to taking in the views, visitors can enjoy a picnic or dine at one of the restaurants at the top.
Plaza del Funicular, Phone: 800-551-6949
17.Dona Casilda Park
Doña Casilda Park is the largest green space in the city, and with its extension in 2006, none links the Ensanche and Abandoibarra. Construction of the park first began in 1907 and many improvements have been made over the years, evolving and regenerating but always retaining its special charm in the city. Doña Casilda Park features a lake surrounded by often home to ducks and surrounded by wharfs offering rowing boats, as well as a cybernetic fountain, a classic merry-go-round, and a stage for a variety of shows. Sculptures and other monuments can be found throughout the park as well.
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18.La Salve Bridge
While the bridge is known widely as the La Salve Bridge, this historic bridge in Bilbao is officially named the “Prince and Princess of Spain Bridge.” Built with green concrete, the La Salve Bridge was the country’s first bridge to be constructed using the cable-stayed system, as well as one of the few bridges in Spain to feature a steel deck. Built during the early part of the 1970’s, the bridge connects the heart of Bilbao to the surrounding suburbs and also now links to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, making it an important bridge to the city.
19.Museum of Artistic Reproductions
Founded in 1927, the Museum of Artistic Reproductions is one of the city’s oldest museums and has gathered a rather impressive collection of faithful reproductions of spectacular artwork. THe museum was created as a way to bring classical art masterpieces to Bilbao so all the people of Bizkaia can enjoy outstanding works of art. Among the reproductions found at the Museum of Artistic Reproductions are the "Venus of Milo" sculpture dating back to the Hellenistic period, Michelangelo’s marble “Moses” sculpture, the Apoxyomenos, the Diana of Gabies, the “Winged Victory of Samothrace,” the Elgin Marbles, and the Parthenon Frieze.
San Francisco, 14, 48003 Bilbao, Phone: +34-94-415-76-73
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Since opening its doors to the public in 1989, Zortziko has become one of the leading gastronomic icons of Bilbao and continues to still surprise and impress guests with its classic elegance. The chef and owner, Daniel Garcia, views the cuisine he serves at his restaurant as an “exploratory journey” to the roots of Vizcayan cuisine, however, adjust flavors to be more in line with seasonality and modern tastes. The dining room of the formal and beautiful restaurant is designed in the French Empire style, yet the conceptual dishes are very much that of the twenty-first century.
Calle Alameda Mazarredo, 17, 48001 Bilbao, Phone: +34-944-23-97-43
© Restaurante Mandoya
Restaurante Mandoya first opened in the Old Town of Bilbao, Spain more than fifty years ago and has since become a well known restaurant famed for its courteous, friendly staff and top quality product. Mandoya’s famed cuisine provides guests with something different as the restaurant prepares its char-grilled dishes in traditional ways. The restaurant has its own nurseries and buys fish fresh straight from the Bermeo and Lekeitio ports, believing that when working with top quality food, it’s fairly easy to turn raw, fresh material into delicious delicacies only using fire. That’s why locally sourced, fresh ingredients are the focus here.
Txakur Kalea, 3, 48005 Bilbao, Phone: +34-944-15-79-84
© Casa Rufo
Casa Rufo seems like a hidden dining gem, tucked away in the back of a little wine shop and deli, however, it’s not such a secret and those wishing to dine here should be sure to reserve a table in advance. Sitting among shelves full of topi quality wine, customers can dine on delectable house-smoked duck, chargrilled steaks, baked cod with red peppers and tomatoes, and Navarran asparagus among several other dishes. An authentic Bilbao eatery, Casa Rufo opened in 1995 and has a special atmosphere that can be felt from when guest first enter the restaurant.
Hurtado de Amezaga Kalea, 5, 48008 Bilbao, Phone: +34-944-43-21-72
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Situated in Santa Maria, Irrintzi is located in the Old Quarter of Bilbao on one of the city’s busiest streets. The restaurant offers a great atmosphere for enjoying some of the best food the city has to offer and a good time with friends. The Bar Irrintzi Pintxos is a popular place among regulars and tourists alike on Calle Santa Maria, close to the Merced Bridge and the river. Part of what makes this bar unique are the innovative pintxos, such as the “Hindu hamburger” and the “kangaroo kebab.” The Malomuymalo iconography featured in the mural on display is interesting as well.
Andra Maria Kalea, 8, 48005 Bilbao, Phone: +34-944-16-76-16
24.Restaurante Víctor Montes
© Restaurante Víctor Montes
Located in the Plaza Nueva, Restaurante Víctor Montes can be found in one of the most historic and central areas of the northern Spanish city of Bilbao. The restaurant’s two dining rooms, with the upstairs dining room being more intimate, are ideal places for locals and visitors alike to savor a homemade, traditional Basque meal, including dishes like hake nape, T-bone steak, and cod either in the Biscay style or in pil-pil sauce. One corner of Victor Montes features a collection of cognacs, whiskeys, and wines that the restaurant has been selecting and carefully keeping since 1846.
Plaza Nueva, 8, 48005 Bilbao, Phone: +34-944-15-70-67
24 Best Things to Do in Bilbao, Spain
- Guggenheim Museum, Photo: Mario/stock.adobe.com
- Bilbao Art District, Photo: Panpiki/stock.adobe.com
- Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao, Photo: JackF/stock.adobe.com
- Casco Viejo, Photo: Brad Pict/stock.adobe.com
- Bilbao Cathedral, Photo: fabiomancino/stock.adobe.com
- Azkuna Zentroa, Photo: Azkuna Zentroa
- La Ribera Market, Photo: Noradoa/stock.adobe.com
- Euskal Museo Bilbao, Photo: Euskal Museoa Bilbao Museo Vasco
- Bilbao La Vieja, Photo: Adro Hache Erre/stock.adobe.com
- Bilbao Maritime Museum, Photo: Erlantz/stock.adobe.com
- Archaeological Museum, Photo: venerala/stock.adobe.com
- Euskalduna Palace, Photo: Euskalduna Palace
- Pintxos bars, Photo: Full Frame Visuals/stock.adobe.com
- Abando Train Station, Photo: dudlajzov/stock.adobe.com
- Rio Nervion, Photo: Brad Pict/stock.adobe.com
- Artxanda Funicular, Photo: Fernando Astasio/stock.adobe.com
- Dona Casilda Park, Photo: Pierre-Olivier/stock.adobe.com
- La Salve Bridge, Photo: JackF/stock.adobe.com
- Museum of Artistic Reproductions, Photo: schankz/stock.adobe.com
- Zortziko, Photo: Zortziko
- Restaurante Mandoya, Photo: Restaurante Mandoya
- Casa Rufo, Photo: Casa Rufo
- Irrintzi, Photo: Irrintzi
- Restaurante Víctor Montes, Photo: Restaurante Víctor Montes
- Cover Photo: Mik Man/stock.adobe.com
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