The largest and liveliest city in the Basque Country is Bilbao, which is situated on Spain’s northern coast. This is one of the most exciting cities in Spain because of the numerous structures and historic sites, especially the Guggenheim Museum. The city of Bilbao is renowned for its stunning scenery, abundance of eateries and shops, exciting nightlife, and numerous sightseeing opportunities.

In Bilbao, there are many things to do. The Plaza Funicular, which is one of the attractions worth seeing, is accessible by taking the Funicular Railway up to Mount Artxanda. As you ascend above the city, the train, driven by a pulley system, soars up the steep hillside, revealing breathtaking views. It costs 85 cents one way and runs every 15 minutes.

Discover Architectural Bilbao through Amazing Art and Culture

From the recreation area at the top, you can see the entirety of Bilbao in breath-taking detail.There are many restaurants in the area where you can unwind and eat regional Basque food. Return through the lush hillside, either to the Abando neighborhood or Parque Extberri with its enormous chimneystack.

Additionally, visitors can use the elevator in Casco Viejo, which is located behind San Nicholas Church on Esperanza Street close to the sports center. Once you get to the top, proceed down the hallway and turn left into Park Extberri, where you can enjoy the view and the surrounding vegetation.

The Basilica de Begona, which has a lovely courtyard to sit in and unwind in under the shade of trees, is another location here worth a visit. You will arrive at the Plaza Unamundo in the Casco if you forgo the elevator and descend the stairs.

The Hanging Bridge, which connects Portugalete and Gexto, is another popular tourist attraction. The bridge is accessible by train from Aband or San Mames to Portugalete. A small ferry for cars and people hangs from this massive structure via cables. You board and are lifted above the river as the cables slide along to the other side. It is open every day of the year, twenty-four hours a day.

Bilbao's charming old town

History of Bilbao

The growth of Bilbao started in 1315 when King Alfonso included the town along the Camino de Santiago path. Bilbao was able to vastly improve its economic output and developed into a major trading port, trading heavily with northern Europe and the rest of the Mediterranean countries.

More and more shipyards were built in the following years and the town grew in both trading terms and cultural terms with the arrival of pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

During the 1400s, the town became a city and a network of new roads and the famous Cathedral de Santiago were built. Trading with the entire world opened up over the following two centuries.

Bilbao has an unfortunate military past over the years. Its strategic importance as a commercial and naval port made the city a prime target in the French occupation, the War of Independence, and the Spanish Civil War of 1936. Any civil or international conflicts always affected Bilbao significantly.

It was in the 19th century that industrial expansion in the city spiraled out of control and the whole area became choked with pollution. Bilbao was known as a city of industrial ugliness, despite its cultural past. Thankfully, Bilbao has long since shed this industrial image and is once again considered a cultural city, particularly for its artistic presence.

Bilbao Population

Bilbao lies within the autonomous community of the Basque Country, in the far north of Spain and has a population of around 360,000. Bilbao is very much an international city with around 10% of the population being foreigners, only a third of those living in Bilbao were actually born there.

127 different nationalities are represented in Bilbao with large Bolivian and Columbian communities and many Chinese, Moroccan and Romanians living in the city as well.

Attractions in Bilbao

Bilbao Attractions

Bilbao is bursting with places to visit and see. The city’s cultural and artistic heritage is evident in both the architecture and the many museums. Here are just a few of the places to visit.

Gran Via

This is the city’s main thoroughfare as well as a very important shopping and business area. The start of this beautiful promenade is marked by a statue of Don Diego Lopez de Haro, who founded the city. This is a great place for a stroll, to browse the stores or grab a quick bite to eat.

Plaza de Miguel de Unamuno

The plaza is name after the prominent Bilbao writer and philosopher, Unamuno. His statue sits atop a large column and the square in which it stands is a popular venue for concerts and festivals.

Plaza Nueva

Plaza Nueva

This is the city’s main meeting area and has a vibrant and exciting atmosphere, particularly in the evenings. There is a wide selection of bars, restaurants and cafes and the plaza is the venue for the annual Mercado Rural de Santo Tomas, a traditional market opened every December.

Casco Viejo

This is the place to be for nightclubs, bars and a vibrant nightlife. Situated on the banks of the River Nervion, Casco Viejo is sometimes referred to as the old quarter.

Saint James Cathedral

Catedral de Santiago

Built during the 16th century, this is truly the very epicentre of the city of Bilbao. It is situated within the narrow streets of Casco Viejo and surrounded by the shops and bars that make the area such a clash of the ages. From the cathedral, the original seven streets of Bilbao stretch down to the river.

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

Architect, Frank Gehry designed this amazing looking structure in a free-form sculptural style that is the talk of architects all over the world. It was funded and constructed by the Basque government in collaboration with the Solomon R. Guggenheim foundation and is visited by thousands of people from all over the world every year. The museum is the home to several modern artists including Picasso, Cezanne and Kandinsky. This is truly a world symbol on a par with the Sydney Opera House.

Bilbao Cuisine

One of the most famous Basque dining customs can be enjoyed all over Bilbao. The passion for food in the Basque Country is amongst the most vociferous anywhere in Spain and this is evident in the local’s love of pinxtos. Very much like tapas, pinxtos is a very small appetizer like food.

It is not uncommon to see the locals bar hop and try a traditional pinxto in every bar. The ritual of ‘tapeo’ is similar to the British ritual of a bar-crawl only instead of beer, it’s tapas or pinxtos

The cuisine of Bilbao and the wider Basque country is like all of Spain. The abundance of freshly caught local fish, the very best fresh vegetables and a love for olive oil make the cuisine amongst the tastiest and healthiest in the world. Cod is particularly popular in the area, locally called bacalao.

Cooked in a Biscayan style or ‘pil-pil’ this is as authentic a Basque dish as can be found anywhere. The fantastic restaurants of Amboto, Zortziko and Urrejola offer authentic Basque style cooking in a fantastic atmosphere. A must-see is the annual pinxto contest held every year between the bars and restaurants of Bilbao.

Accommodation in Bilbao

As in most areas of Spain, Bilbao has a selection of accommodation that will satisfy any budget. The Lopez de Haro hotel is at the very top end, offering five star surroundings, service and food. There are also a number of four star hotels to choose from including the Carlton which is the original Basque government building.

Albert Einstein and King Alfonso XIII have stayed at the Carlton giving it a very historical feeling. Other four star hotels include the Hotel Ercilla and the Abando.

For those on a budget, there are other options including the three star Barcelon Nervion, the Duesto and the Barcelo Avienda. All of these hotels are in the city and only a few minutes’ walk from most of Bilbao’s attractions. Budget travelers will find a selection of hostels and low cost accommodation in the Casco Viejo area, which is a great place to stay to soak up the history of this great old city.

Weather and climate in Bilbao

Bilbao Weather

Bilbao is one of the more temperate climates of Spain, offering a typical maritime climate which is consistent all year round. Situated on the north Atlantic coast, it is a city which rarely experiences extremes of temperature.

The winter months are generally cool while the summer months are rarely uncomfortable and the influence of the ocean having a cooling effect, make it a great destination for sunbathing.

The spring months in Bilbao are very pleasant with average temperatures of 14C in February and 16C in March. There are plenty of cloud free, sunny days in spring although it is the time of year where significant rain is most likely.

In April and May, average temperatures quickly rise to around 22C with the summer months of July and August averaging out at around the 30C mark. It can get humid at this time of year but the refreshing breeze from the mountains cools things down slightly.

A great time to visit Bilbao is the autumn as temperatures tend to hover around the 20C mark with lots of sunshine and clear skies. Rain is usually in the form of quick, sharp showers in the autumn months, but these showers are usually quick to clear.

Winter temperatures usually stick around 12C with the odd snow shower is not unheard of.

Transport in Bilbao

The relatively new Metro system in Bilbao is efficient, clean and very reliable. Metro fares can be purchased on a one way basis but there are also Creditrans which are tickets for multiple journeys and start from only €5. There is also a light rail service, a tram system and a bus service that stretches to every part of the city.

The Bilbao public transport system is as good as anywhere in Spain or the rest of Europe. There are also taxis available to hail down in all of the city’s busy thoroughfares.

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