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Basque in Bilbao

Home to Europe’s largest indoor market hall and the famous Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao has been an inspiration for authors such as Ernest Hemingway and Dan Brown for decades. The city’s charm is simply contagious!

Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country of Northern Spain, and is an important port city known for its incredible food, architecture and appreciation for art. The locals are proud of their distinctive Basque culture and it shows in the abundance of festivals held throughout the year.

Bilbao city attractions

Bilbao looking lovely!

Cheering for Athletic Bilbao, the city’s football team, is another way that locals love to unite in celebration of their city and culture. The natural attractions are plentiful with mountains and beaches nearby and the Nervión River running through the city and into the Bay of Biscay. Whether you’re traveling with friends, family or alone, Bilbao is a destination that I highly recommend!

Bilbao Airport is a 15-minute taxi or ride-share from the city centre, while the bus ride is around 25-minutes (the bus departs every 15 minutes). Bilbao is a city that can easily be explored on foot or bike, however the public transportation is amongst the best in Spain. The bus, tram and metro can take you throughout the city as well as to some of the beaches and mountains on the outskirts of the city.

Here’s a Pro-Tip: It rains an average of 128 days a year in Bilbao, so remember to pack your umbrella!

Rain or shine, here are my favourite things to do in Bilbao:

Guggenheim Museum – Easily the most well-known attraction in Bilbao, this museum is a three-story masterpiece and named one of the most important constructions completed since 1980. It was instrumental in the city’s transformation from gritty industrial metropolis to the inviting cultural hub it is today.

Designed by the Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, it houses a plethora of contemporary artwork by renowned artists such as Andy Warhol, Van Gogh, and René Magritte.

Guggenheim_museum_Bilbao

Guggenheim is a good time!

 

Here are some other amazing museums in Bilbao to check out:

  • Bilbao Museum of Fine Arts – To explore Spanish history and Culture through art
  • Museo Maritimo – For Bilbao’s journey as a port city
  • Euskal Museo – For history of Bilbao

Casco Viejo (Old Town) – Comprised of the seven original streets that once made up medieval Bilbao, it is one of the most visited areas of the city. Here, you can explore some delightful places like:

  • Mercado de la Ribera – The biggest covered market in Europe (10,000 square meters). Over 60 stalls of local produce each day. Great to explore day or night.
  • Santiago Cathedral – Originally built in the 14th -15th centuries, it is a beautiful piece of history and a fine example of Gothic architecture.
  • Arriaga Theatre – Designed by Joaquin Rucoba. This theatre hosts some of the city’s most dazzling preforming arts events from ballets to comic operas.
  • Plaza Nueva – a lovely square surrounded by pintxos bars and cafés. Grab a table and soak up the charming atmosphere (and free wifi)!

Here’s a Pro-Tip: Every Sunday Plaza Nueva hosts a flea market, so be sure to stop by to explore stalls of unique antiques and collectables.

Dragonstone landmark

That building is a church from the 10th century!

Bay of Biscay – If you’re looking for a nature escape, the Bay of Biscay is only a 50-minute drive from the city centre. There you can explore the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve and the islet of Gaztelugatxe, which was featured as Dragonstone in Game of Thrones. The Bay of Biscay is beautiful and contrasts nicely with Bilbao’s Mediterranean opposite, Barcelona.

Visiting the Basque Country calls for indulging in the world-famous Bilbao cuisine. Pintxos, the Basque Country version of tapas, is the most famous of the Basque traditions, and the pintxos bars are abundant! Bilbao is also known for its fine dining experiences with Bacalao pil-pil and Bacalao a la Vizcaína as some of the city’s traditional Codfish dishes. Here are my dining recommendations:

  • Restaurante Markina – Casual atmosphere, simply wonderful dishes served with outstanding quality ingredients.
  • Zortziko – A regular on the ‘best of Basque country restaurants’ list. Serves traditional Basque cuisine in three different dining rooms, each with its own vibe, plus an underground wine cellar.
  • Kate Zaharra – Breathtaking views, excellent wine and delicious Basque food.
basque cusine

I ‘cod’ definitely go for some Basque food!

In general, Spain has a lively late-night culture and Bilbao is no exception! Spain is also known for its major wine regions. One of these regions, Rioja, is located only an hour and a half south of Bilbao.

rioja wine bilbao

Txikitear in Bilbao is a wine-wine situation!

In Basque, “txikitear” means to go from bar-to-bar having a small glass of wine. Add pintxos at each stop for a traditional evening! Casco Viejo, specifically Calle Ledesma, is the best place to visit for the most bustling night scenes. Here are my favourite night spots in Bilbao:

  • Café Bar Bilbao – Located in Plaza Nueva, a Bilbao favourite and popular local meeting spot.
  • Irrintzi – Traditional Spanish bar with excellent pinxtos and wine selections. More local than tourist, relaxed atmosphere.
  • The Fever Club – The best dance club in Bilbao with live acts and well-known DJ’s, a short metro ride from the city centre.

Here’s a Final Pro-Tip: Bilbao hosts many festivals throughout the year, so be sure to check out the schedule to see which will be occuring during your stay!

Here are my recommendations for hotels in Bilbao:

  • Miro Hotel – Just across from the Guggenheim, right on the river. Luxury stay with modern décor.
  • Hotel Carlton – In the heart of Bilbao, old-world classy appeal and lovely Basque restaurant.
  • Hotel Embarcadero – A beachside property offering great views of the port. Surrounded by wonderful restaurants and cafes.

Keeping its roots firmly planted in Basque culture, Bilbao is a city full of new growth and opportunity. I’m inspired by the coexistence of tradition and change and hope you are too!

 

Love,

 

Isabella

Isabella’s Checklist

What to see: Guggenheim Museum, Casco Viejo (https://www.bilbaoturismo.net/BilbaoTurismo/en/tourists)

Where to eat: Zortziko, Kate Zaharra (https://www.zortziko.es/, https://kate-zaharra.com/)

Where to party: Irrintzi, Café Bar Bilbao (http://irrintzi.es/, http://bilbao-cafebar.com/)

Where to stay: Hotel Miro, Hotel Carlton, Embarcadero (https://www.mirohotelbilbao.com/en/, https://hotelcarlton.es/, https://hotelembarcadero.com/

Bilbao: Basque-ing in the Sun!
Isabella’s Checklist

What to see: Guggenheim Museum, Casco Viejo (https://www.bilbaoturismo.net/BilbaoTurismo/en/tourists)

Where to eat: Zortziko, Kate Zaharra (https://www.zortziko.es/, https://kate-zaharra.com/)

Where to party: Irrintzi, Café Bar Bilbao (http://irrintzi.es/, http://bilbao-cafebar.com/)

Where to stay: Hotel Miro, Hotel Carlton, Embarcadero (https://www.mirohotelbilbao.com/en/, https://hotelcarlton.es/, https://hotelembarcadero.com/

Bilbao: Basque-ing in the Sun!

10 Comments to “Basque in Bilbao”

  1. I have to admit I never thought of visiting Bilbao, but it’s now on my list.
    And your pictures are great. Thanks for sharing!

    Alexandra at 11:53 am
    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment 🙂 Amazing! I am sure you will love it, it is a fabulous place to explore!

      Love,
      Katie and Isabella

      Katie L at 7:33 am
  2. Oh that’s a lot of rain. Think it gives Dublin a run for its money. Would love to do Bilbao, for the wine and the pintxos especially.

    Carpediemeire at 2:36 pm
    1. Lol, it’s true! The amount of rain comes as quite a surprise. The wine and pintxos are certainly a culture to be experienced. I am excited for when you go!

      Love,
      Katie and Isabella

      Katie L at 7:40 am
  3. The food sounds really good here. It was really wonderful at the restaurants in Valencia, Spain when I was there several years ago.

    Ryan at 8:24 pm
    1. Yes! Spanish food in general is so amazing and The Basque Country definitely follows suit! A foodies paradise 🙂

      Love,
      Isabella and Katie

      Katie L at 7:42 am
  4. Another fantastic blog with great tips and wonderful photos. I just love reading them! I guess Bilbao might have to be added to cities to see in Spain. Oh and do love my cod cakes…yum yum

    Linda at 8:36 pm
    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Linda! I am so happy that you enjoy our blogs 🙂 Bilbao is a great place to visit, especially if you love cod! I have no doubt you will love it.

      Love,
      Katie and Isabella

      Katie L at 7:43 am
  5. nice post introducing Bilbao! I’ve never been but this gives me a taste of what it’s like 🙂

    lannie travels at 3:27 pm
    1. Thank you for your kind feedback! That is exactly our goal in these blogs 🙂
      Love,
      Katie and Isabella

      Katie L at 6:08 am

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