Flashback Friday: Bilbao, Spain

Bilbao, part of the Basque region of northern Spain is a great city for the budget traveller. This industrial port city is surrounded by mountains bisected by the Estuary of the River Nervionó (Ría Bilbao) flowing into the Cantabrian Sea. The city is considered to be the capital of the Basque region. It's probably best known for the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which was a spark for the city's revitalization.

Our main purpose in visiting Bilbao was because it was the closest city to the Rioja wine region. This is a favourite wine and we enjoyed a wonderful day trip to the area. To read about that trip, click this link.

Along the river are many beautiful bridges, most of them modern due to repeated floods and WWII bombings. Throughout the city are many lovely art installations and a wide variety of architectural styles. A river tour along the Estuary of Bilbao is a fantastic way to see the city.

The Maritime Authority Building houses the Bilbao Maritime Museum with a collection of maritime objects. Some of the most interesting items are boats belonging to Bilbao shipping companies, including models of vessels built in the city's shipyards, and watercolour paintings of local artist Esteban Bermejo.

The City Hall, built 10 cm from the original town border. This was built in the 1890s's on the site of a former convent.

The Bilbao Guggenheim Museum with Louise Bourgeois' Spider sculpture. The museum houses modern and contemporary works but for many, it's the stunning and curvy, titanium-clad building that attracts the greatest attention.

It's hard to miss this giant tiger on top of an art nouveau style office building. Look at the flags at his feet to get some idea of the size of this fellow. The huge sculpture is the work of sculptor Lucarini who was commissioned to create the large concrete tiger on top of this industrial building in 1942. Recently it was renovated to turn it into houses and commercial spaces.

A major site in any Spanish town will always be the football stadium. The San Mamés stadium is a fairly modern building, inauguated in 2013, replacing the "old" stadium.

Although this is a small town, it is a major center that includes 6 terraced transportation routes within 250m of the river edge but high above most of the city.

Like every European city, there is a huge cathedral. The Santiago Cathedral was originally built during the 14th and 15th century and was classified as a cathedral in 1950.

Plaza Nuevo is the happening hangout. it is a good example of Roman neoclassical architecture with a colonnade and arches, and packed with restaurants and bars. The Plaza is lively throughout the day and evening. On Sundays, there is a public market held in the square which attracts locals and collectors.

This is a fabulous place to enjoy an evening of pinxcos (the local word for tapas). This is a great place to enjoy an evening of Txikitear, which involves visiting several local bars to enjoy a small glass of wine (txikitos) with some pintxos.

The Arriaga Theatre is located next to the bridge that links Casco Viejo to the Ensanche neighbourhood. It is the oldest theatre in the city, named for local composer Juan Crisostomo Arriaga, nicknamed the "Spanish Mozart". The theatre has kept many of the original 19th century fittings and is still in use today.

The Market La Ribera, at the southern end of the old town is Europe's largest indoor market. There has been a market in this same location since the 14th century.

The railway station, Abando Indalecio Prieto or more simply, the Bibao-Abando station is a hub of transportation. The building includes a spectacular stained glass window over the platforms. This 15m x 10m window is composed of 301 pieces and was created by Jesús Arrrechubieta from a sketch by Miguel Pastor Veiga and depicts typical daily life in the region.

The Lookout of Artxanda is on the top of one of the hillsides overlooking the city and is the best place for views across Bilbao. Visitors can walk to the top or take an easy funicular ride to the top. We enjoyed a lovely walk and stopped for coffee in a café at the top.


Our time in Bilbao was short but memorable. Although our main purpose was to visit the Rioja wine region, we found much to enjoy during our short 3-day visit to the city. For those travellers with a love of Gehry's architecture, good food, and good wine, it is highly recommended.