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15 Best Things to Do in Bilbao

Bilbao, Spain – 15 Best Things to Do

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Walk in winsome cobbled lanes, and along the breathtaking river Nervion, enjoy fantastic contemporary museums and visit an enticing medieval neighborhood. Bilbao, the ebullient port city in northern Spain, has so many superb attractions for any traveler.

The city gains world fame for the spectacular Guggenheim Museum, which was designed by Frank Gehry and inaugurated in 1997. Bilbao, rightfully, considered a city of art, and except for the Guggenheim, has plenty of other museums and wonderful art galleries that are a must for any art lover.

The city beautifully combined the traditional and the modern, remarkable gothic churches on one hand and innovative new bridges on the other for example. Bilbao is a city of contrasts that are beautifully entwined and create a whole that exceeds the sum of its parts.

Knowing how hard it is to select from the richness of possibilities in Bilbao, this itinerary with a map, will help you not miss the best attractions this city has to offer.
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15 Best Things to Do in Bilbao
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Artxanda funicular
  48015, Biscay, Spain
The Artxanda Funicular is a funicular railway that links downtown Bilbao with the recreational area at the summit of the nearby Artxanda Mountain, which has a park, several restaurants, a hotel, a sports complex, and offers panoramic views of the city.

A cable railway to the top of the Artxanda mountain was first proposed in 1901, but was not built due to lack of finance. The current funicular was opened in 1915.

The Bilbao departure point of the funicular is just north of Zubizuri bridge, on the right bank of the River Nervion, within walking distance of the Guggenheim Museum. Services run every 15 minutes throughout the day. Tickets can be bought at the stations, or the Barik card can be used.

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Artxanda viewpoint, Bilbao
  Enekuri Artxanda Errepidea, 70, 48015 Bilbo, Bizkaia, Spain
Mount Artxanda is one of the two small mountain ranges that delimit the municipality of Bilbao, the other one being Pagasarri. Of the two, it is the lower one (at no more than 300 meters), the closer one to the center of the city, and the one that has suffered from more intense urbanization. The pass of Santo Domingo separates the main part of Artxanda from Monte Avril, 400 meters high.

The Artxanda Funicular links downtown Bilbao with a recreational area at the top of the mountain, which has a park, several restaurants, a hotel, and a sports complex. The area is quite popular among the city's inhabitants and offers panoramic views of the city to the tourists.

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La Salve Bridge, Bilbao
  Salbeko Zubia, 48009 Bilbo, Bizkaia, Spain
La Salve Bridge is the popular name for the Princes of Spain cable-stayed bridge, that was built in the 1970s to provide northern access over the river to the city. This bridge gained popularity when the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was built right under it, literally merging its structure into the museum.

The bridge is the main attraction at La Salve, a quarter in the 2nd district of the city. It gains its name from the fact that sailors, returning from sea, would first see the tower of the Basilica of Begoña at this point as ships returned up the river Nervión, which runs through the city. According to folklore, they would start praying to the Virgin Begoña, the patron saint of the region, thanking her for protecting them during their time at sea.

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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Bilbao
  Abandoibarra Etorb., 2, 48009 Bilbo, Bizkaia, Spain
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a museum of modern and contemporary art designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. The museum was inaugurated on 18 October 1997 by King Juan Carlos I of Spain, with an exhibition of 250 contemporary works of art. Built alongside the Nervion River, which runs through the city of Bilbao to the Cantabrian Sea, it is one of several museums belonging to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and features permanent and visiting exhibits of works by Spanish and international artists. It is one of the largest and most popular museums in Spain.

One of the most admired works of contemporary architecture, the building has been hailed as a "signal moment in the architectural culture", because it represents "one of those rare moments when critics, academics, and the general public were all completely united about something", according to architectural critic Paul Goldberger. The museum was the building most frequently named as one of the most important works completed since 1980 in the 2010 World Architecture Survey among architecture experts.


The museum notably houses "large-scale, site-specific works and installations by contemporary artists", such as Richard Serra's 100-meter-long (340 ft) Snake, and displays the work of Basque artists, "as well as housing a selection of works" from the Foundation's modern art collection. In 1997, the museum opened with "The Guggenheim Museums and the Art of This Century", a 300-piece overview of 20th-century art from Cubism to new media art. Most pieces came from the Guggenheim's permanent collection, but the museum also acquired paintings by Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still and commissioned new works by Francesco Clemente, Anselm Kiefer, Jenny Holzer, and Richard Serra.

The exhibitions change often; the museum generally hosts thematic exhibitions, centered for example on Chinese or Russian art. Traditional paintings and sculptures are a minority compared to installations and electronic forms. The highlight of the collection, and its only permanent exhibit, is The Matter of Time (incorporating earlier work, Snake), a series of weathering steel sculptures designed by Serra, which is housed in the 130-meter Arcelor Gallery (formerly known as the Fish Gallery but renamed in 2005 for the steel manufacturer that sponsored the project). The collections usually highlight Avant-garde art, 20th-century abstraction, and non-objective art.

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Fine Arts Museum, Bilbao
  Museo Plaza, 2, 48009 Bilbo, Bizkaia, Spain
The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum (in Spanish: Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao) is an art museum, located entirely inside the Doña Casilda Iturrizar park.

It is the second largest and most visited museum in the Basque Country, after the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum and one of the richest Spanish museums outside Madrid. It houses a valuable and quite comprehensive collection of Basque, Spanish and European art from the Middle Ages to contemporary, including paintings by old masters like El Greco, Cranach, Murillo, Goya, Van Dyck, Ruisdael, and Bellotto, together with 19th century and modern: Sorolla, Mary Cassatt, Paul Gauguin, Henri Le Sidaner, James Ensor, Peter Blake, Francis Bacon, and Richard Serra.

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Gran Vía de Don Diego López de Haro, Bilbao
The Gran Vía de Don Diego López de Haro is the main avenue of Bilbao. The avenue is the most important shopping and business area of the city. If you wish to shop for clothes, this is the best place for it in Bilbao.

The avenue is named after the founder of the city, Diego López de Haro V, lord of Biscay. It was conceived in 1876, when the extension (ensanche) of Bilbao was planned by architects Alzola, Achúcarro, and Hoffmeyer in the wide plains of the former municipality of Abando.

The avenue is 50 meters wide and 1.5 km (one mile) long. It starts at the Circular square, beside the BBVA building, and ends at Sacred Heart square. The main Moyúa square is in the middle of the avenue, about 500 meters from its beginning and 800 meters from its end. The statue of the Sacred Heart is aligned with the spire of the Basilica of Begoña, about 3 km away, through the Gran Vía, forming a monumental perspective in a way similar to Paris' Axe historique.

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Plaza Moyua, Bilbao
  Federico Moyúa Plaza, Bilbo, Bizkaia, Spain
Moyúa (or Elliptic Square) is a public square located in the center of Bilbao's extension, in the district of Abando. The square was conceived in 1876 as a central hub in the middle of Gran Vía de Don Diego López de Haro avenue, from where the main eight streets depart in a radius-like shape and was merely called Elliptic Square because of its form. The square was refurbished in the 1940s to adopt its current form, with a central fountain and several gardens in French and English styles, and was renamed to honor a former mayor of the city, Federico Moyúa.

The square as is today was totally rebuilt in 1997 after six years of work to build the Bilbao Metro. Moyua metro station is the closest to the famous Guggenheim Museum. Trains on both lines 1 and 2 calls at the station, sharing the same tracks and platforms. It is also the terminus for Bilbobus routes 1 and 76.

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Azkuna Zentroa, Bilbao
  Arriquíbar Plaza, 4, 48010 Bilbo, Bizkaia, Spain
Azkuna Zentroa (Basque for Azkuna Centre), previously known as Alhóndiga Bilbao, is a multi-purpose venue in Bilbao. It was designed by French designer Philippe Starck in collaboration with Thibaut Mathieu and was opened to the public in stages between 18 May and 24 October 2010. The venue, labeled as a "Culture and Leisure Centre", consists of a cinema multiplex, a fitness center, a library, showrooms, an auditorium, shops, and a restaurant. In March 2015 its name was officially changed to Azkuna Zentroa in tribute to the late mayor of Bilbao Iñaki Azkuna.

Originally a corn exchange (alhóndiga in Spanish), it was designed by Basque architect Ricardo Bastida and inaugurated in 1909. However, in the 1970s, a new warehouse was planned and the Alhóndiga was abandoned. Several projects were suggested, ranging from public housing, a museum of modern art, or even demolishing the entire building, but all were scrapped. Finally, in 1994 it was decided to renovate it and build a sports and culture center. The Basque Government decided to declare the building "Public Property of Cultural Interest" in 1999.

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Zubizuri, Bilbao
  Zubizuri, 48001 Bilbao, Vizcaya, Spain
The Zubizuri (Basque for "white bridge"), also called the Campo Volantin Bridge or Puente del Campo Volantin, is a tied arch footbridge across the Nervion River in Bilbao, Spain. Designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, the bridge links the Campo Volantin right bank and Uribitarte left bank of the river.

Opened in 1997, the bridge's unusual design consists of a curved walkway that is supported by steel suspension cables from an overhead arch. The structure of the bridge is painted white and the bridge deck consists of translucent glass bricks. Access ramps and stairways are located on both banks.

The Zubizuri offers pedestrians a convenient route from hotels to the nearby Bilbao Guggenheim Museum.

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Casco Viejo, Bilbao
  Casco Viejo, Bilbao, Biscay, Spain
Las Siete Calles or Casco Viejo in Spanish or Zazpikaleak or Alde Zaharra in Basque are different names for the medieval neighborhood of Bilbao, part of the Ibaiondo district. The names mean Seven Streets or Old Town respectively and it used to be the walled part of the town until the end of the 19th century.

The Seven Streets

The name Zazpikaleak or Las Siete Calles (The Seven Streets) comes from the oldest part of the neighborhood which included exactly 7 streets and some much more narrow alleys connecting them, called cantons (kantoi, cantón).

The historical seven streets of Bilbao are:
Somera, "upper"
Artekale, "middle street"
Tendería, "shopkeeper's"
Belostikale, "rapid street"
Carnicería Vieja, "old butchery"
Barrenkale, "lower street"
Barrenkale Barrena, "lower lower street"

The "8th" street is Ronda, which used to be the patrol street outside the walls. Later the town expanded northwards with the construction of the Plaza Berria or Plaza Nueva (new square) and the streets Santa María ("Saint Mary"), Bidebarrieta ("new ways"), Correo ("mail"), and Askao. Nowadays the neighborhood also includes the Ribera ("riverbank") street, the Arenal ("sandy place") Park, and Esperanza ("hope") street as well.

The area is served by Casco Viejo station of the Bilbao Metro.


The area is probably the most colorful part of Bilbao, including many shops and taverns, several historical churches (San Antón, Santos Juanes, the Cathedral, San Nicolás), a large food retail market (Mercado de la Ribera), the public Arriaga Theatre, the seat of the Academy of the Basque Language (Euskaltzaindia), a ball court, and a public library. It is connected to the rest of the city and conurbation by the subway, tramway, and buses. Three public elevators also connect Casco Viejo to the neighborhoods of Begoña and Solokoetxe, which otherwise demand a rather intense uphill walk.

There is a tradition of middle-age men doing a tavern crawl drinking short glasses (chiquitos) of wine and singing choral songs.

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Plaza Nueva, Bilbao
  Plaza Nueva, 48005 Bilbao, Vizcaya, Spain
The Plaza Nueva or Plaza Barria (New Square) of Bilbao is a monumental square of Neoclassical style built in 1821. Its name comes from the previously existing Plaza Vieja or Old Square in the place where the Ribera Market was built. The square is enclosed by arcaded buildings and accessed by arches known as cuevas (caves).

The main building was the site of the Biscay government until a new palace was built in 1890. The place is now the site of Euskaltzaindia, the Royal Academy of the Basque Language.

The arches host many traditional taverns and restaurants, some of the most ancient and typical of the city, and some gift and souvenir shops.

Each Sunday, the square provides space for a traditional flea market where ancient books, coins, stamps, birds, and flowers are sold.

The square is used often for folk demonstrations, festivals, and concerts. The Grand Slam Masters Final, one of the strongest chess tournaments in the world, was held in a glass structure on Plaza Nueva in 2008 and 2009.

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Basque Museum, Bilbao
  Unamuno Miguel Plaza, 4, 48006 Bilbo, Bizkaia, Spain
The Basque Museum, originally, 'the Basque Archaeological, Ethnographic and Historical Museum', is a magnificent museum in Bilbao and one of the best in the city.

The museum opened its doors in 1921, occupying the ground floor of the baroque cloister of the old Colegio de San Andrés, which belonged to the Jesuits until their expulsion from Spain in 1767; the adjacent church of Santos Juanes, today a regular worship parish, is the church that once belonged to the Jesuit college. From the beginning, it had the sponsorship of the Vizcaya Provincial Council and the Bilbao City Council. Little by little, the museum was occupying the annex buildings and increasing its collections, which include the archeology of Vizcaya and the ethnohistory of the Basque Country.

Since 1962 it has been an Asset of Cultural Interest (BIC), with the category of National Historic-Artistic Monument.

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Bilbao Cathedral, Bilbao
  Done Jakue Plazatxoa, 1, 48005 Bilbo, Bizkaia, Spain
Santiago Cathedral (Spanish: Catedral de Santiago; Basque: Donejakue Katedrala) is a Roman Catholic church in Bilbao. The temple was originally built during the 14th-15th centuries as Bilbao's main parish church and was only declared a cathedral in 1950 when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bilbao was officially created. Its origins probably date well before the foundation of the city in 1300, when Bilbao was little more than a small enclave of fishermen.

Main portal of the Cathedral, is in the Gothic Revival style.

The temple is consecrated in honor of the apostle Saint James the Great (Santiago in Spanish), by virtue of being a point of transit for the pilgrims that followed the Northern branch of the Way of Saint James.

Architecturally, the present building is a mixture of styles: from the 15th century Gothic of the cloister and the main vault, where of special interest are the cloister and the beautiful portal that gives access to Correo street (Puerta del Angel), to the ostentatious Gothic Revival façade and spire.

A curious custom is the addition of stone carvings of local merchants along the buttresses of the main vault.

It should not be confused with the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

For various reasons, the San Mamés stadium, home of local football team Athletic Bilbao, was referred to as La Catedral several decades prior to the inauguration of Santiago Cathedral. A place of worship is depicted on the club's crest (as in the city coat of arms) but this is the nearby San Antón church and its bridge.

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Mercado de la Ribera, Bilbao
  Erribera Kalea, s/n, 48005 Bilbo, Bizkaia, Spain
The Mercado de la Ribera (Erribera merkatua, Ribera Market) is a market square in Bilbao. It is on the right bank of the Nervion River, next to Casco Viejo. Its built area of 10,000 square meters makes it the biggest covered market in Europe. Inside it, there are stalls that sell different products, mostly fresh produce. There are fish markets, butchers, and greengrocers. There is also a part of the market for the local farmers' products.

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Begoñako Basilika, Bilbao
  Begoñako Andra Maria Kalea, 38, 48006 Bilbo, Bizkaia, Spain
The Basilica of Begoña (or Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Begoña in Spanish) is a basilica dedicated to the patron saint of Biscay, the Virgin Begoña.

The basilica started life in the 16th century, designed by Sancho Martínez de Arego. It has three naves, to which the addition of vaults was completed in the 17th century in construction work that took a century, having started in 1511. During the time of this work, the Gothic style began to show Renaissance influence, and the arched mid-16th century main entrance reflects the transitional style of the Spanish architect Gil de Hontañón. The remainder of the building remains purely Gothic in style.

During the 19th century, the basilica was damaged as a result of it forming part of Bilbao's city wall. The Carlist General Tomás de Zumalacárregui was fatally injured near the basilica. The current tower and part of the exterior were designed by José María Basterra and built between 1902 and 1907.

On 16 August 1942, an incident between Falangists and Carlists resulted in several grenades exploding near the church. Accounts differ on the number of injuries and whether any were killed, but the incident highlighted dangerous rifts between Spanish nationalist factions and prompted a restructuring of Franco's government.

Work was carried out to correct the damage, however, and from September 1993 to June 1994, extensive cleaning and restoration work was carried out on the stone and the clock face and bells were repaired. The clock tower houses 24 bells, with the heaviest weighing a tonne, and was built in Sumiswald, Switzerland. The history of the clock tower dates back to 1922, and currently, seven different melodies can be produced.

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