This buzzing metropolis is known for great food and its vibrant culture. And any visitor to Bilbao is going to want to make the most of their time. Ryan Millar shares seven of the best things to do in Bilbao to get you started!
The arrival of the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in 1997 had a dramatic effect on the city’s fortunes. It triggered a resurgence in culture, cuisine, tourism and everything else quality of life-related.
Best of all: the city’s nicely compact, with great walks along the Nervión River, and lots of worthwhile neighborhoods to explore on foot. Don’t miss the medieval Old Town (Casco Viejo), the pedestrianized streets of Santutxu, and of course Abando, with the Guggenheim Museum and the shopping of the Gran Via.
And here is a list of seven great things not to miss on a visit to Bilbao!
The Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum is the pivot point for Bilbao’s once-fading fortunes. Its arrival in 1997 triggered a resurgence in culture, cuisine, tourism and everything else quality of life-related. The gleaming, undulating exterior is a work of art in itself, and the interior is filled with site-specific large-scale works. A visit is both dazzling and confounding (in a good way).
This river bisects the town, with the Old Town (Casco Viejo) on one side and the Ensanche (expansion) on the other. Get down on the river and walk right through the city. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, take a paddleboard on the river!
This contemporary cultural center, formerly known as Alhóndiga, features 43,000 m2 of cinema, exhibition rooms, cafe and shops – but most enticing is the rooftop pool, where you can swim surrounded by city views. Or, you can just walk underneath and watch the vague shapes swim in the water above you. It somehow feels vaguely futuristic.
Casco Viejo (Old Town)
Full of Old World charm, the Casco Viejo is on the right bank of the Nervión. First laid out in the 1300s, the core of the Casco Viejo is the Siete Calles (Seven Streets). These historic pedestrianized streets are lined with cafés and boutiques and teeming with atmosphere. Get yourself tinned seafood, excellent coffee, or an outstanding hat.
Doña Casilda Park
There’s so much to do in Bilbao, that sometimes you just need a break. The large greenways and plentiful benches of Doña Casilda Park offers a perfect in-city getaway. Landscaped in the Romantic style, it features Neoclassical statues, lovely fountains and even an old-fashioned merry-go-round.
Basilica de Begoña
This important pilgrimage church is perched above Casco Viejo, in the Begoña district. Dating back to the 16th century, modern-dy visitors can make use of a lift from behind the Church of San Nicolás. Hardy souls can opt for a 20-minute walk along the footpath, and get stunning views of the city.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Vizcaya Bridge is more commonly known as Puente Colgante (the hanging bridge). It has a hanging gondola that can transport cars and people across the Nervion to the towns of Portugalete and Las Arenas. Even cooler? It’s the oldest transporter bridge in the world.