Inventive structures, lush greenery, laidback lifestyle


Inventive structures, lush greenery, laidback lifestyle

Iron ore, steelworks, shipbuilding, noise and pollution. Late 19th century Bilbao had it sorted, with all the enviable profit margins and booming employment that comes with burgeoning industrialisation. 100 years on, and the port city on the Bay of Biscay, shared similar tales of decline to those experienced across much of a post-industrial Europe. Not to be defeated, and thanks to some remarkably ambitious interventions from local champions, Bilbao bucked up her ideas and now stands proudly as a symbol of urban renewal and revival. In fact today’s Bilbao feels distinctly inspirational. Huge investments in technology, infrastructure, art and culture, renders a centre well worthy of your exploration. It’s a cosmopolitan core surrounded by the mountains, cliffs and beaches of beautiful Basque Country, a land of great historic importance with its own language, traditions, warm welcomes and delicious cuisine.

For the chance to experience the authenticity and vibrancy of Bilbao daily life, try a low season visit from November through March with numbers increasing again at Easter. During the winter, you may well find a bit of rain, but prices are lower, crowds fewer and temperatures remain wonderfully mild, especially if you are coming from northern Europe. Being a thriving business hub, Bilbao doesn’t shut down once the tourists leave. Instead, restaurants remain open, there’s a dynamic year-round calendar of culture events and it’s the perfect time for that romantic winter walk along the nearby secluded towering Biscay cliffs.

City Living
Life here is good and Bilbao Bizkaia is made for living it. People work hard and play hard, and the city feels relaxed with a large student body from the well-respected university. There’s a superb public transport system but the centre is also easy to navigate on foot. It’s split by the Nervión River forming the city’s estuary and spanned by a number of fascinating bridges. The 700 year old Casco Viejo, comprises several churches, Santiago Cathedral, the elegant city hall, and Ribera Market among its narrow winding pedestrianised streets. Elsewhere innovative structures can be found at every turn. Casa Montero, which resembles the modernist style of Gaudí was built in 1904; Campos Eliseos Theatre is a phenomenal fusion of ornate Art Noveau façade and 1990s glass and steel; Azkuna Zentroa is a former wine warehouse featuring a glass-bottom swimming pool in the ceiling; and the Ministry of Public Health gleams in its guise as mirrored origami. The stand out feature however is the celebrated Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry and constructed from 33,000 fine titanium plates.

Natural Spaces
You’ll find plenty of greenery around the city, and often natural spaces are dotted with random art installations. A favourite spot is Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park, with its century old English-style garden and a duck pond, home to many species of waterfowl, and a cybernetic fountain. Climb the forest parks of Mount Artxanda for the best views, and follow the 2km Iron Belt route that takes in important sites from Basque cultural heritage. Explore the “Green Ring” route, which follows the city hills – Avril, Arnotegi, Pagasarri and Arraiz. Further afield, but within easy reach, take time out for surfing the huge winter swells at Mundaka; check out the migratory wintering birds at the UNESCO protected wetlands of Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve; or discover the Palaeolithic art at the Santimamiñe Caves.

Low Season Months

Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov

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Top Experiences

Mount Artxanda Funicular

Fancy the city views from Mount Artxanda but don’t want the hike? Take the funicular up to summit for a relaxing stroll and to enjoy some excellent local cuisine. The historic cable was built in 1915 and is a fun way to reach the top in 3 minutes. Departs every 15 minutes.

Visit a Txakoli Winery

The Basque climate and land give the popular local wine its distinctive character, taste and hallmark. See how it continues to be made in the traditional way at one of the many wineries within easy reach of Bilbao, and find out about how to pair wines with pintxos.

Be a Shepherd for a Day

Venture 40 minutes into beautiful Urkiola, a protected nature reserve, where you can walk with the flocks, milk sheep and make cheese from the curd. You can also see how wonderfully sheep dogs work, and, during low season, you can feed new born lambs by bottle.

Insider Tips

  • Each of the Nervión estuary’s 10 bridges is stunningly representative of different periods and architectural styles. The 1893 Bizkaia Bridge is the world’s oldest transporter bridge and a UNESCO World Heritage Site while the modern Calatrava Bridge is a footbridge of mesmerising proportions.
  • Take a pintxos tour tasting delicious morsels of seasonal Basque bites in busy bars around town. Favourites includes salt cod in pil-pil (garlic, olive oil and chili) or bizkaina (red pepper, potatoes and onions), marmitako (tuna and potato stew), hake and green sauce, and cuttlefish in its own ink.
  • Your low season cultural agenda is crammed with events, concerts and street performances. Check out the BIME music festival at the end of October and the Bilbao Mendi Film Festival in December. Azkuna Zentroa and the beautiful Arriaga Opera House in the old town have year round offerings.

Good To Know

  • Bilbao has one of best public transport networks in Europe, you’ll find it very easy to get around, especially if you choose a transport card with no limits accessing the train, bus, tram, and metro and covering city, rural and coastal areas. There’s also a phenomenal network of bicycle routes.
  • Whatever the forecast, low season travellers should always carry a raincoat and umbrella. A poncho and mini brolly fit neatly into your day pack and you’ll be lucky if they don’t make a rapid appearance at least once. On the upside frequent rain ensures Bilbao is covered in lush greenery.
  • Many of Bilbao’s smaller museums are forgotten under the massive shadow of the Guggenheim. Check out the Fine Arts Museum, a treasure trove of works by El Greco, Gauguin, Goya and more. It’s set in beautiful Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park and is free to enter every Wednesday.

Food & Drink

Mercado de la Ribera

This historic old town market, once the biggest in Europe, is rammed with three levels of fresh Basque produce, and locals vying for the best pintxos stalls. Not only will you find delicious edibles, it’s worth a visit alone for its architectural features and stunning original stained-glass windows.

Calle Ledesma

This famous pedestrianised food street, running parallel to the main street of Gran Vía, is buzzing by 8 or 9pm. Here you’ll find amazing eateries and bars side by side. Its proximity to both the old town and commercial centre mean a mix of tourists, business executives, and local characters.

Yandiola at Azkuna Zentroa

Inside the astonishing cultural centre you’ll find Yandiola’s world-class Michelin listed restaurant offering traditional cuisine in a modern setting. Less formal options include The Boar for casual dining, Hola Bar, and a stunning terrace which serves cocktails year round whatever the weather.

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