Bilbao, the capital of Bizkaia, -the host territory of the forthcoming AAL Forum 2018– boasts many spots and places to show (and for the enjoyment of) all its visitors. Sights, which in addition to being very interesting, are particularly suitable for everyone, even people with reduced mobility.
This Basque city, which is the largest and most important one along the Bay of Biscay coastline, has so much to offer in many different areas including architecture, culinary experiences, culture and sport, leisure, shopping or even quality of life, all of which are extolled by locals and visitors alike. Here are some musts for your forthcoming visit to Bilbao:
1.- Architecture (12 must-dos)
- Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, designed by the renowned Canadian architect, Frank Gehry. Make time to go up to the top of La Salve Bridge to enjoy the views (there is a free lift open to the public and the best spot is the section closest to the Guggenheim). The views from there are magnificent.
- Metro Bilbao – Travel on Bizkaia’s modern and safe underground system. The stations are huge (Bilbao style!). The impressive Sarriko station will exceed your expectations.
- Abando Station – Bilbao’s main railway station. The stained-glass mural in the main hall is stunning and one of the city’s symbols.
- Bizkaia Transporter Bridge. It links the towns of Portugalete and Getxo, 13 km from Bilbao, but is easily reached by public transport. This magnificent bridge was built 125 years ago. Visitors can go along the upper walkway, which is over 40 metres high!
- Zubi Zuri (Calatrava Bridge) and Isozaki Towers. The Isozaki Atea area taken as a whole truly captures what is modern Bilbao.
- Azkuna Zentroa-Alhondiga Bilbao – The city’s cultural and leisure centre. It has a reading section where visitors have free access to Europe’s most important newspapers. The terrace bar on the upper floor is a magnificent spot to have a break and enjoy the views over the city centre.
- Route through Abandoibarra (left bank of Bilbao river estuary) – To discover how one of the city’s most rundown areas has (radically) changed and has become one of its tourist showcases.
- Santiago Cathedral and Basilica of Begoña – The main church of the capital of Bizkaia. The cathedral’s cloisters are really worth a visit.
- The Basque Government’s Health Delegation – Striking modern glass frontage in the city centre.
2.- Culinary experiences (8 must-dos)
- Route through Arenal and the Casco Viejo – the city’s old town and brimming with shops, restaurants and the iconic ‘pintxo’ (bite-sized snacks) bars in Plaza Nueva square
- Pintxos in Ledesma – Small pedestrian street in the city centre with many sidewalk bars to linger over a coffee and/or pintxos
- Pintxos at the gastrobars in the Ribera Market –The old Ribera food market has an area with 10 gastrobars, serving a range of pintxos with something for everyone in a relaxed setting.
- Have a ‘Carolina’ – A coloured meringue cake that is only found in Bilbao. It consists of a puff-pastry tartlet topped with a meringue cone covered with chocolate and egg yolk.
- Coffee and a Bollo de mantequilla– The bollo de mantequilla [butter bun], typical of Bilbao, is also a must for breakfast or at teatime, enjoyed with a good cup of coffee (served at the sidewalk bars throughout Bilbao).
- Enjoy the ‘Gildas’ and Spanish omelettes at Plaza Nueva – Bilbao’s Plaza Nueva square is famous of its pintxos in the Casco Viejo. A real must is to try the pintxos of Spanish omelette and ‘gildas’, a skewer with a hot chilli pepper (known as Guindilla and which pays tribute to the character played by the actress Rita Hayworth), with an anchovy and an olive
- Salt Cod with a Pil Pil Sauce – The signature dish of Bizkaia’s cuisine. Pil-Pil is an emulsified sauce made by constantly stirring the salt cod fillets, oil and garlic in a shallow earthenware casserole.
- Squid in its Ink – Despite its being black in colour, anyone who tries this dish… comes back for more.
3.- Culture (7 must-dos)
- Bilbao Fine Arts Museum – This museum in Bilbao, set in a magnificent urban park, houses a collection of over 7,000 works, most of which have been donated by the city’s dignitaries, and heads of industry and business. It boasts one of the best art galleries in Spain.
- Bilbao Museum of Art Reproductions – One of the best museums in Europe with a collection of exact copies, particularly of classical sculptures in other museums. Particularly noteworthy is Michelangelo’s Moses or the Venus de Milo.
- Basque Museum – The best collection of Basque Art in the centre of the Casco Viejo.
- Maritime Museum – Interactive museum (centrally located within a stone’s throw of the Euskalduna Conference Centre) paying tribute to the maritime past of Bilbao and Bizkaia.
- Athletic Club de Bilbao Museum – Athletic de Bilbao, one of the top tier clubs in Spanish football, is an institution in the city. It is the only team in Europe whose members are all home grown, i.e. born or from the Basque Country or which have always professionally played for local teams. Its modern stadium, San Mamés, known as the cathedral of Spanish football, has a (very) interesting museum on the club’s history.
- Arriaga Theatre – The city’s main theatre (guided tours of the impressive building can be arranged)
- Campos Elíseos Theatre – The modernist façade of this recently refurbished theatre is stunning. There is a restaurant on the upper floor.
4.- Other recommendations (8 must-dos)
- Boat trips along the river estuary– It is the most convenient and enjoyable way of discovering Bilbao and its surrounding areas and learning about its industrial past.
- Doña Casilda Park, (also known as the Park of the Ducks), is named in honour of one of the city’s famous benefactors. This urban park in the city centre is home to an array of well-established trees and there are many beautiful sculptures (classical and modern) scattered throughout the park.
- Artxanda Funicular Railway – A different way for visitors to get to the top of Mount Artxanda with its spectacular views over of the city and of its urban area that is sure to delight everyone. It runs four times an hour.
- Routes taking in the city’s bridges. Bilbao has a dozen bridges. They have been built in a variety so styles. The La Salve and Euskalduna bridges are the most spectacular. The Arenal and Deusto bridges are the most picturesque. The oldest, San Antón bridge, even appears on the city’s symbols and coat-of-arms.
- The Tiger Sculpture – A striking sculpture of a tiger that is on the roof of a former zip factory (now a residential block) and which can be seen from the Paseo de Abandoibarra area.
- Souvenir shopping in the Casco Viejo A real must-do is to go souvenir shopping in the Casco Viejo and Plaza Nueva. You will find items with the Puppy, the huge floral dog that ‘guards’ the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; the ‘ Carola Crane’, the last of the cranes of the city’s shipyards, painted in red, the city’s colour. Another typical feature of the city is the ‘Bilbao tile’, designed ‘ad hoc’ to deal with the wet winters in the city There are streets in Bilbao, such Lutxana, which have environmentally-friendly tiles that capture CO2!
The AAL Forum Team