Puppy, a work of the Guggenheim Museum
Bilbao is the heart of a metropolis where more than a million people live. It is the centre of the economic-social development and the main factor of the modernisation of the Bay of Biscay. The great architectural and infrastructure projects have been the driving force of the urban and economic regeneration of the city. The Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, the Euskalduna Conference and Music Centre, Norman Foster's Underground, Calatrava's airport, the towers designed by the architects Arata Isozaki and César Pelli... are all examples of the dynamism that exists in Bilbao. The city is situated in the area of Bizkaia and is surrounded by a fertile landscape with forests, mountains, beaches and steep coasts. All this makes Bilbao a privileged destination for visitors. The modern transport and network of roads run to locations nearby such as the other capitals of the Basque Country - Vitoria and San Sebastián.
Quantity and quality in all artistic expressions
The cultural activities in Bilbao are irresistible, with two of the best art galleries in Spain, six theme museums, contemporary art exhibitions and an ongoing programme with shows: opera, symphony orchestras, theatre, dance, cinema and light, pop and rock music.
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao has become the cultural and tourism driving force of the Basque Country. This spectacular building (Frank O. Gehry, 1997) is covered in titanium panels and has its own important collection, as well as sharing the largest private modern and contemporary art collection in the world with New York and Venice. The Fine Arts Museum is one of the best in Spain and has a complete and priceless art gallery with three collections: old art (El Greco, Zurbarán, Goya or Van Dyck), contemporary art (Gauguin, Bacon or Tàpies) and Basque art (Regoyos, Zuloaga or Iturrino). The Basque Museum includes Basque prehistory and archaeology; the Diocesan Museum of Religious Art and the Easter Pasos Museum hold religious works connected with Bizkaia. Other museums in Bilbao are the Maritime Museum and the Bullfighting Museum. The Rekalde exhibition hall holds top class contemporary art exhibitions. There are also about twenty other galleries with permanent plastic art exhibitions.
With regards to performing arts, the long-running and prestigious opera season in Bilbao brings together top international singing stars in spectacular shows in front of more than 2,000 people at the Euskalduna Palace. The Bilbao and Euskadi Symphony Orchestras and the Municipal Band offer high quality concerts throughout the year for classical music lovers. In turn, the Arriaga Theatre is home to a varied programme of theatre, dance and music; and there are other stages around the city, and 75 cinema screens. Bilbao's 700 year history can be seen in its buildings and constructions, which will amaze visitors. The old town is an Historic-Artistic Monument and a reference point for reconstructing the city's history from its beginnings. It is an example of urban regeneration, with more than 400 shops of all kinds. The city centre is an example of the best 20th century architecture, with buildings that have been housing the main institutions and companies in Bilbao for more than a hundred years. It is an outstanding architectural site, always designed by the best local architects. Nonetheless, the city continues to expand: alongside the skill of local architects, the top international firms are represented with works by Foster, Gehry, Calatrava, Isozaki, Pelli...
Sports events and activities within easy reach
It is also easy to practise sports in Bilbao. The city's bike lane is constantly growing and is already nearly 30 kilometres long. Swimming pools, gyms and golf are other options, without forgetting running or walking round its streets and parks.
Sports events are another leisure option for visitors, with high-level football, basketball, cycling, rugby, sailing races, surfing, athletics… And, of course, the typical sports of the Basque Country, which are attractive because they are all spectacular. Basque sports and popular games are very close to traditional everyday activities –work that Basque people used to carry out and that served as leisure and competition amongst neighbours on recreation days: seeing who cuts more grass and more logs, who rows faster... Strength is measured by lifting large stones, in races loaded down with weights, tug of war... Or they test the strength of animals - testing oxen that pull stones, rams fighting or sheepdog competitions. However, the most popular sport is "pelota vasca", with its different specialities such as "pelota a mano", "a pala" or "a cesta-punta", which can be enjoyed on pelota courts in every town, with betting to make the competition more interesting.
Situated in the Territory of Bizkaia, the city is surrounded by fertile landscapes, with forests, mountains, beaches, and steep coasts, making Bilbao an excellent destination for any traveller. It is worth mentioning the Gorbeia and Urkiola ranges of hills, both of which have been declared nature reserves, and where you can enjoy a gorgeous landscape, their rich flora and fauna, as well as many activities such as horse riding tours, hiking, cycle touring, fishing, adventure sports, rowing, etc. Along the Biscay coast, you will find small fishing ports, such as Bermeo, Ea, Ondarroa, and Lekeitio, in addition to tourist towns blessed with fine sand beaches, such as Plentzia, Górliz, Bakio, etc. The Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve is located a few kilometres away from the capital and it is one of the most environmentally diverse areas in the Basque Country. Among other activities, scuba diving, sailing, surfing, canoeing, and boat rides can be enjoyed.
The capital of cod
Gastronomy is an art in Bilbao. The city is home to prestigious restaurants which offer dishes ranging from traditional cuisine to the most avant-garde culinary creations. Not forgetting, of course, all the different areas of the city in which to savour the famous pintxos (typical appetisers). Come and discover these delicacies, guaranteed to satisfy the most demanding palates.
Eating well is easy, almost an obligation. You'll find varied menus featuring delicious dishes made with top-quality ingredients. Bilbao is famous for being the capital of cod, because of the wide variety of mouth-watering recipes made with this fish. We recommend indulging in the local custom known as "chiqueteo" (having pintxos with a drink) in a few of the city's numerous bars before sitting down to have a meal.
For young people
The latest trends in the city
Avant-garde art, fashion, music and leisure are a constant presence in Bilbao, with latest-generation clubs and shops; light, pop and rock music concerts; and live music in its music venues.
There are also annual events not to be missed, such as the Fantasy Film Festival in Bilbao in April and May, and the International Documentary and Short Film Festival in November. Bilbao is also an attractive nightlife centre for young people from the whole of northern Spain, known for its traditional districts packed with bars and clubs.
Special services for kids
The shows and the leisure and cultural activities also cater for children. An intense programme all year round with musicals or theatre peaks during the Carnival, the Semana Grande Festival in Bilbao or at Christmas. Children are the main protagonists then.
In the third week of August, during the “Aste Nagusia” festival in Bilbao, the children can enjoy shows all day for almost ten days, as well as competitions, parades, fair booths, circus, fireworks, etc. At Christmas, and for over a month, the Christmas Children’s Park opens up in the facilities of the Bilbao International Fair, with rides and activities. We recommend checking out the show programmes all year round, indoors and outdoors, because there is a wide offer for children: theatre, puppets, clowns, cinema… without forgetting the activities that institutions such as the Guggenheim Museum and Fine Arts Museum organise periodically. And in the municipality of Karrantza, 50 minutes from Bilbao, there is a theme park – Karpin Abentura. It has Iberian and European fauna and animated re-creations of dinosaurs, recreation areas, exhibitions, restaurants and other services, in a park that aims to combine leisure, fun, education and fauna protection.
Shopping for antiques, typical ceramics, exquisite cakes and pastries or the latest fashions is one of the options offered by the shopping centres and shops of Bilbao. Going shopping in Bilbao is a unique occasion for enjoying the architectural heritage of the city and whilst out you can enjoy the popular pintxos in one of the many taverns or cafés lining the streets.
The Old Quarter, Indautxi and Ensanche are the main shopping areas in Bilbao. Here you will find a wide range of products in traditional establishments, shops selling the latest fashions and the modern shopping centres.
Other useful information
Opening times: some shops, especially the large franchises and shopping centres, are open from 10am-9pm. The more traditional shops open from 10am-1.30pm and from 5-8pm, Monday to Friday, and most of them close on Saturday afternoons. Sales: the winter sales generally begin in the second week of January and go on until the end of February, and the summer sales begin on 1 July and run until the end of August. How to pay: most people pay in cash or with a credit card, when you must show your passport or identity card. Tax free: residents from outside the European Union are entitled to have Value Added Tax (IVA) refunded on purchases of more than €90.15. Bilbao Card: this card will give you interesting discounts in many shops, restaurants, shows and leisure centres and you will also have unlimited use of public transport. The card costs €6, €10 or €12, depending on whether you have it for one, two or three days.
Bilbao is totally equipped to host any congress or professional meeting and to amply satisfy every possible requirement. It has played a historic role as a conference city, and is today a venue for numerous meetings in all sectors of the economy.
The evidence of this tradition is the Bilbao Exhibition Centre, which every year is hosts a number of important trade fairs. The Euskalduna Conference Hall and Auditorium is another a key infrastructure in the city's conference activity, and has over 100 meeting rooms and a total area of 10,000 m². Bilbao is also home to an ancient and well-established stock exchange. Bilbao's tradition as a financial centre has guaranteed that the city has always had a flourishing service sector. In addition, the European Software Institute and the Zamudio Technology Park are just a few kilometres away. Bilbao also has two universities: the University of the Basque Country, which in spite of its youth, already enjoys a high level of academic achievement and research; and Deusto University, an institution which throughout this century has been the professional and intellectual alma mater to a considerable proportion of Spain's political and business leaders.