Explore Bilbao, the largest city of the Basque Country and now one of Spain’s top destinations. In this article, you will find a travel guide to make the most of Bilbao on your city break.
The Basque city of Bilbao has many wonderful things to experience, explore and taste, going from the mouth-watering gastronomy to breath-taking landscapes, world-class art museums, contemporary architecture, and colorful old town streets. Discover the northern Spanish gem of Bilbao with our tips!
The city’s main attraction is the outstanding Guggenheim Museum. The building is a work of art designed by American architect Frank Gehry. This museum is one of the most famous in Europe and played an integral role in the transformation of the image of Bilbao. The building is covered in titanium panels designed to capture light. Also, it looks like a ship when viewed from the river and the panels remember the fish scales. This symbolizes a tribute to the river that was historically the economic hub of Bilbao.
Casco Viejo - Old Town
The Casco Viejo of Bilbao (the old town) is also locally known as “las 7 calles” in Spanish since these were the seven streets that formed the original medieval town. Currently, this bizcaino neighborhood is located next to Bilbao La Vieja (popularly known as Bilbi), one of the busiest areas of the city which is full of vitality as the day progresses. The old town combines beautiful narrow streets that are mostly pedestrian-only and are filled with taverns offering tasty pintxos, the Basque Country’s version of tapas (small tasty morsels).
In the old quarter of Bilbao, the heart of the town you can also find important sights like:
Bilbao Cathedral - St. James Cathedral
Dedicated to the Apostle Santiago, the cathedral was constructed in the 15th century in both Gothic and neo-Gothic style and is Bilbao’s oldest church. It towers above the narrow streets of the Casco Viejo and has a pleasing cloister and Gothic Revival facade. If you look carefully, you'll spot scallop shells symbols of Santiago (St James) which are a reference for pilgrims on the northern route of the Camino de Santiago.
La Ribera Market
The market of Bilbao is Europe’s largest indoor market, with open interior space and abundance of natural light that pours through its stained-glass windows. One of its many merits is having been recognized in 1990 as the most complete Municipal Market for Supplies by the Guinness. Here you can discover all the fresh ingredients that are so important in the Basque gastronomy. The art decoration of the La Ribera Market simply cannot be missed.
The Plaza Nueva is the main square of the old town, lined with pintxos bars tucked inside the arch-lined colonnades. It is a neoclassical square opened in 1851 and an architectural masterpiece, where you can find bustling markets, ambient restaurants, and great bars to try the regional pintxo and get an insight into the culinary highlights of the region. Marvel at the architectural splendor of this popular city plaza while trying local dishes.
Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao
The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the most important fine art collections in the Basque Country housing a valuable and quite comprehensive collection of Basque, Spanish and European art from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. It opened in 1914, guided by the will to modernize individuals and adapt to the cultural moment that the city lived. Art has become one of the great attractions of Bilbao, a city that has been able to show off its best side over recent years.
The Arriaga antzokia in basque or Teatro Arriaga in Spanish is an opera house in Bilbao. It is one of the most important cultural institutions of Bilbao and an icon of the city. Built in 1890 by the architect Joaquín RucobaIts, it has been designated as a historical monument. Inspired in the Paris Opera, it was named in honor of the Bilbao musician Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga, known as the Spanish Mozart because of his talent (at 13 he composed his first opera). Its neo-baroque design can be admired by anyone at the entrance of the Old Town. However, its interior can only be appreciated with a visit to the theatre.
Indulge your love for art, enjoy bold flavors and experience the relaxing atmosphere of the Basque city. Your next stop: Bilbao!