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Top things to do in Bilbao

Must-see Bilbao sights

There’s not many cities that have transformed the way that Bilbao has. Once a grimy, industrial city, at the beginning of the 21st century the city reinvented itself to the cultural city that it has gone on to become. A time-traveller from even 40 years ago probably wouldn’t recognise this now-vibrant city, with its cosmopolitan feel and unmissable buildings. That’s not to say that all traditional elements have been wiped out, though - tucking into traditional grub like pintxos bars and dense clusters of old streets are still popular visitor options on many Bilbao holiday packages.

  1. Guggenheim Museum
  2. Casco Viejo
  3. Artxanda Funicular
  4. Pintxos bars
  5. San Sebastian
  6. Azkuna Zentroa
  7. Puente Bizkaia

1. Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum is the symbol of this regenerated city, and a visit here is one of the best things to do in Bilbao. Designed by Frank Gehry, an architect who is renowned for his crumple-like effect buildings, the Guggenheim is a gargantuan art gallery, its titanium curves overlooking the riverside. Inside, you flow through the various galleries by crisscrossing the light-filled atrium on the walkways. The permanent collection is a disorienting sculpture series called The Matter of Time by Richard Serra, where you can sit inside coiled and labyrinth rings of steel. Alongside other changing exhibitions, there are regular points where you can step outdoors - the riverside terrace is the nicest one.

Best for: Art lovers.

While you’re there: Exit the Guggenheim and follow the path that leads you to the white Zubizuri footbridge, with its glass-bottomed floor.

2. Casco Viejo

Bilbao can be easily tackled by splitting the city centre into two parts, with the Casco Viejo on the right (north) bank. This is the older section of the two, where you can see some of Bilbao’s oldest buildings, such as the picture-perfect ancient mansions. Start your old town adventure in the triangular park that is Paseo del Arenal, where you can see the smooth-stone Baroque church of San Nicolas, and then head across to Plaza de Unamuno where you can while away a morning in the Archaeology Museum, which spans three floors and is set in a former train station.

Best for: Old-school Bilbao

While you’re there: Nearby Plaza Nueva houses some legendary bars.

3. Artxanda Funicular

The Artxanda funicular railway, built in 1915, sweeps 770m up the mountainside in just three minutes. It departs from Mugica y Butron to the summit of Artxanda (hence the name), which is the city’s rural playground. Once you’re at the top, head to the circular park which offers incredible panoramic views over the city and across the valley. Pack a picnic to savour one of the most laid-back and picturesque things to do in Bilbao.

Best for: Best views in Bilbao

While you’re there: If you don’t want to take the funicular, you can take a marked walk from La Salve bridge, or take the bus.

4. Pintxos bars

Part of the Basque Country in northern Spain, pintxos bars are a rite of passage in Bilbao. A pintxo is usually made up of one or two skewered foods fixed to a slice of bread, while others are served with a sauce on a plate. If you’re wondering what to do in Bilbao that gives you a taste of tradition, head to almost any bar and point at what you want to eat; it’s an informal way to taste your way around the city. Head to Berton in the Casco Viejo district for some good options.

Best for: Foodies

While you’re there: There’s a decent cluster of pintxos bars around Plaza Barria.

5. San Sebastian

This charming town built around a crescent-shaped beach, and is ideal if you’re looking to make the most of the scorching sun, glittering sea and golden sand. Roughly 70km from Bilbao, San Sebastian is a much quieter spot. Head here to if you want a break from the culture-heavy city centre. In fact, it’s easy to spend a couple of days here, taking in the old town or climbing up to the wooded Monte Urgell hilltop.

Best for: Venturing out of the city

While you're there: One of the best beaches - possibly in the world - is the Playa de La Concha.

6. Azkuna Zentroa

The indoor playground that is Azkuna Zentroa is contemporary Bilbao at its finest, a warehouse-turned-arts-and-everything-else centre. It’s an iconic building that represents the reinvention of Bilbao, and is seen as a place where creatives of all ages can hang out - drift through the gallery, head down to the basement cinema or head to the top floor for a dip in its glass-floor swimming pool.

Best for: Fun for all ages

While you're there: Wander across to Museum Taurino.

7. Puente Bizkaia

This unusual-looking bridge connects Las Arenas (Getxo) on one side with Portugalete on the other, via an astonishing 160m-span. Constructed in the late 19th century to allow tall ships through, today you can take a gondola-carriage that dangles you across the river from point to point. If you’re afraid of heights, then Puente Bizkaia definitely isn’t for you - if you don’t fancy the gondola, you can walk across the upper beam of the bridge, 45 metres above the water...

Best for: Unexpected adrenaline

While you’re there: Once you make it over to Portugalete, explore its old quarter, casco historico, with its 15th-century towers.

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