Bilbao has become a surprising city with many attractions for tourists.
Years ago, Bilbao got rid of that fame of an industrial city in which it ate great, but in which there was little to see. Gastronomy is still exquisite here, but with the renovation of its historic center and the banks of the estuary, there are now a good number of places to visit in Bilbao as well.
During the last 5 years, I have visited Bilbao on occasions and I am already starting to feel at home. People are hospitable, becoming one more asset of a city that has interesting museums, architectural beauties, beautiful green areas, a dock of an estuary that has come back to life and, of course, some pintxos that make sense, accompanied for some chacolís (txakolin, singular and in Basque) that refresh the throat while bringing joy to the rest of the body.
So that you have an experience as good as mine, here are some of the best things to see and do in Bilbao:
1. Visit the Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim is much more than one of the best places to see in Bilbao. Actually, it is the cornerstone and maximum exponent of the revitalization of the city.
Opened in 1997, the Guggenheim Museum already attracts attention in its external appearance. Its metal façade, designed by the famous architect Frank Gehry, is shaped like a ship that seems to be sailing through the estuary at any moment.
Inside, the Guggenheim Museum houses works by artists such as Anish Kapoor, Jeff Koons, Yves Klein or the Spanish Eduardo Chillida. Some of the larger works are exhibited outside, in the area known as the “Art District”. And without forgetting the little puppy made of flowers that guards the entrance to the museum.
2. Take a pintxos route
One of the best things to do in Bilbao is to enjoy its gastronomy. Its thick and tasty steaks are famous, as well as the fish and seafood that come out fresh from the waters of the Cantabrian Sea. However, the most popular way to take the pulse of Bilbao’s flavor is through its pintxos.
Those pintxos will welcome you from the bar of the vast majority of bars in the Basque capital. There are all kinds and for all tastes. Yours is to have one or two in each bar, accompanied by a txakolin and thus go on a route through the city.
3. Roam the streets of Old city
The Old Town is the most traditional and emblematic part to see in Bilbao. It is made up of the ancient Seven Streets, in which, since the Middle Ages, the different professional guilds of the city settled.
Strolling along the banks of the Nervión estuary you will find the San Antón bridge, squares – such as Plaza Nueva and Unamuno – full of life, fountains – such as that of the Dog -, the Arriaga Theater, the Basque Museum of Bilbao, the Cathedral of Santiago, the churches of San Antón and San Nicolás, and an endless number of bars and small venues in which the street life of Bilbao people of all ages and conditions is concentrated. It is the epicenter of Bilbao life.
4. Visit the Museum of Fine Arts
Another interesting museum to see in Bilbao is the Fine Arts Museum. It opened its doors in 1914 and houses one of the best art collections in the Basque Country, with works by artists such as Francisco de Goya, Paul Gauguin, El Greco, Francis Bacon and Eduardo Chillida.
In addition, it has interesting temporary exhibitions.
5. Cross the waters of the Bilbao estuary
One of the most authentic, beautiful and romantic ways of seeing Bilbao is on board a boat that sails the waters of its estuary. Especially considering that much of the great attractions of the city are located on the banks of the estuary.
There are several agencies that operate small boats. It is a great plan for the days when the sun shines.
6. Contemplate daily life in the Ribera Market
The largest covered market in Europe is located on the edge of Casco Viejo, next to the waters of the estuary. Different stalls of fish, meat, seafood, vegetables, fruits and other fresh products alternate with bars, restaurants and spaces where music bands come to give live shows.
It is the perfect place to take the pulse of the city. In this building from 1929, locals and foreigners meet to admire the good genre that will reach bars and restaurants, eat some of it on site or take good viands to cook them at home.
Without a doubt, one of the best places to visit in Bilbao.
7. Enjoy the views from Mount Artxanda
It would not be until my third visit, when my great friend Joseba took me to Mount Artxanda to enjoy the best view of Bilbao.
To ascend to the top of Artxanda you can take the funicular that has been operating for more than a century (since 1915). Then you just have to be charmed by the magnificent views. It is a place very frequented by couples of lovebirds, especially at sunset, when you will see lovers stroll through the beautiful trails of the mountain and have a drink in restaurants.
8. Visit the church of San Nicolás
If you like ecclesiastical monuments, the church of San Nicolás is the most emblematic example to see in Bilbao. It is located in the Casco Viejo, in front of the beautiful facade of the Arriaga Theater, and its construction dates from the 15th century. At least it was at that time that the original hermitage was erected in the fishermen’s neighborhood. However, this would be destroyed after floods and the current temple would be erected in 1756, in the Baroque style.
9. Bizkaia Bridge
This suspension bridge that appears over the waters of the estuary is the only attraction to see in Bilbao that is included in the list of World Heritage prepared by Unesco.
This complex work of man has been standing, right where the estuary merges with the sea, since 1893. It was designed by the architect Alberto de Palacio, a disciple of the legendary French architect Gustave Eiffel.