The beautiful Basque Country of northern Spain has much to offer the travel enthusiast. In particular, its capital city, Bilbao, is a must-see. Known for its sophisticated culinary cuisine, colorful and futuristic architecture, and spectacular scenery, this coastal city is well worth a visit. Here are my tips for exploring Bilbao:
Take a walk along the Nervión River. Start from the University of Deusto and walk toward the city center. The river runs through the town and out to the Cantabrian Sea. Along the way, you’ll enjoy the dynamic and modern architecture, including the Guggenheim Museum, the Euskalduna Bridge, Zubizuri, and the Pedro Arrupe Footbridge.
Pintxos are traditional to northern Spain. Similar to tapas, pintxos are small snacks that are often served in bars, the difference being that pintxos are usually skewered and include a slice of bread. Taking a pintxos tour is one of the best ways to submerge yourself in the culture of Bilbao. By bar hopping and enjoying pintxos and drinks, you will partake in an essential part of the Basque social culture. This also happens to be an excellent way to meet new people and spend time with those that you already know.
Start your pintxos tour by visiting the Plaza Nueva. The entire square is filled with pintxo bars that offer their own unique menus. Look for Café Bar Bilbao where you will enjoy fresh seafood dishes. Then, go to Calle Somera and Calle del Perro in the Casco Viejo (Old Town). On Calle Somera, you will find the Bar Montrikes, which serves delicious grilled garlic mushroom pintxos that can be best enjoyed with a glass of red Rioja. Next, go to Calle Ledesma, which also has many restaurants and pintxo bars. On this street, you will find Café Iruña, which is a traditional and beautiful café with incredible mosaics, cozy couches, and a warm atmosphere. Here too, you can enjoy some great pintxos with a glass of Rueda (a subtle white wine from the Basque Country).
Visiting the Guggenheim Museum is an absolute must! There you can enjoy the museum’s innovative 20th-century architecture as well as its fascinating exhibitions. After visiting the museum, check out Casco Viejo or The Seven Streets (Somera, Artecalle, Tendería, Belosticalle, Carnicería Vieja, Barrencalle, and Barrencalle Barrena). This is the oldest neighborhood of Bilbao. It contains the Plaza Nueva and buildings such as Teatro Arriaga, the Bidebarrieta Library, the Bilbao Stock Exchange, the Atxuri railway station, Santiago Cathedral, and the churches of San Antón, San Nicolás, and Santos Juanes. There are also many fun shops in the area, and it has the largest indoor food market in Europe called Ribera Market.
Go hiking. Because lush, beautiful green mountains and forests surround the city, Bilbao offers numerous nature trails for beginners, advanced hikers, and climbers. Pagasarri the most popular choice of most visitors since it is close to Bilbao and provides the most stunning panoramic views of the city. It also offers various routes depending on the level of hiking that you would like to do.
Another worthy visit is the San Mamés Stadium. It is an impressive stadium to see in person, whether you are a football fan or not. This is where the official Athletic Club of Bilbao plays most of their games.
Head out to the Getxo area. Here you will find amazing beaches, as well as excellent restaurants that serve fresh fish. Take a walk through Puerto Viejo (an old fishing port with fantastic bars for pintxo snacking and fresh seafood). While you are walking, you will pass the traditional white houses along the small quaint streets of Algorta. Sit on the steps at Portu Zaharra Bar, and enjoy the view while enjoying drinks and pintxos. As you stroll past the beaches, old mansions, palaces that overlook gardens, and the bay along the promenade, you will be surrounded by the greenery of Monte Serantes on the other side of the water. As you get hungry, head over to the Restaurante Tamarises Izarra, which is located in front of the Ereaga Beach and offers a great lunch and dinner menu.
I’d also recommend walking along the coast from Algorta toward the Sopelana Beach, a favorite stretch of coastline of some of the best surfers of Spain. This would also make an excellent bike ride. As you enjoy your stroll or ride, you will have gorgeous views of the surrounding green mountains and the blue Atlantic Ocean.
Take the Vizcaya Bridge from Getxo to the other side of the water where the town of Portugalete is located. Portugalete is situated on a hill, and its old town is full of steep, narrow streets, as well as many historical monuments that are worth a visit.
I’d also recommend visiting Santurtzi, a port town near Portugalete. Many water activities are offered at its harbor such as whale watching, canoeing, and boat rides. Though no longer a fishing village, you can still buy freshly grilled sardines and freshly marinated anchovies in olive oil with garlic to snack on.
Wishing you all safe and happy travels!