Once little more than an industrial hub, Bilbao has blossomed in recent years. Reinvigorated by the arrival of the Museo Guggenheim, the city has cemented itself as one of Europe’s leading art centres, with its museums now housing some of Spain’s most notable collections. That being said, there is far more than paint and portraits luring people to Bilbao; seaside towns, rugged coastlines and wild scenery offer a refreshing take on the typical Spanish city break.
Step ashore and explore, starting with these five ways to see the city.
Get a little lost
Bilbao’s Old Town is the perfect place for aimless ambling. The medieval Casco Viejo district sits on the east bank of the Nervión river, encompassing Bilbao’s original seven streets ‘Las Siete Calles’, which dates back to the 1400’s. With the stunning Catedral de Santiago Bilbao also within its boundaries, it’s perfectly possible to lose a whole day here.
Head for the beach
Bilbao’s amazing metro system can take you to some of Northern Spain’s best beaches, including Plentzia beach, which sits at the last stop on the metro line and is especially popular with locals seeking solace by the sea.
Sopelana beach could be easily confused for one of those in the Scottish highlands, were it not for the Spanish sun that warms its clifftop scenery and wild waves; don’t forget your surfboard!
Picnic and people watch
The Dona Casilda Park is located right beside the Museo de Bellas Artes and the best of days can be spent with free admission to the museum, followed by a rustic Spanish feast in the park. You’ll find sculptures, duck ponds and water features aplenty, along with musical performances during the summer.
Meet an icon
No trip to Bilbao is complete without a visit to the Museo Guggenheim. This icon of 20th century architecture was designed by Frank O. Gehry to be every bit as impressive as the artworks housed inside. Admission costs €10 but it’s free to appreciate the unique building from within its grounds and you’ll find various art installations scattered around the photographic area, including the 9 metre tall spider ‘Maman’ by artist Louise Bourgeois.
All aboard the Funicular de Artxanda
The Funicular de Artxanda has been running since 1915 and takes just three minutes to convey you from the depths of the valley to the mountains and hills beyond the city. Don’t forget your camera, along with your walking boots to make the most of the scenic routes at the top.
The views across Bilbao justify the €1 fare.