Two days in Bilbao
If you want to spend two days getting to know one of the most avant-garde cities in Europe, then Bilbao in northern Spain is the ideal destination. You will find incredible buildings designed by architects from all over the world, including, for example, the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum. Need another incentive? You’ll be able to sample some of the finest gastronomic delicacies in the country.
Day 1: Bilbao at its most innovative
To get to know the most modern part of Bilbao, the best place to start is the Abando area. Follow the Paseo del Arenal boulevard (which commences in the historic quarter where you’ll find a tourist office) until you come to the handsome Town Hall. This is the place to take your first photo as it offers a stunning perspective of the building, the sculpture in front of it and the city’s estuary.
From the heights
Next, continue along the Paseo Campo Volantín boulevard which provides a pleasant route along the estuary. Flanked on all sides by small palaces, you will eventually come to the Zubizuri Bridge. Built by Santiago Calatrava, the bridge is strikingly designed in the shape of a sailboat and is paved in glass. Before you cross to other side of the estuary, why not take a ride on the Artxanda Cable Car? To reach this, turn right up Múgica y Butrón Street. The cable car is a fun method of transport and takes just a few minutes to reach the viewpoint situated 800 metres higher up where you will gain a stunning view of the city and the mouth of the estuary. There is also a variety of restaurants where you can stop for a coffee or have a typical Spanish mid-morning aperitif.
Innovative architecture… even in the kitchen
Enjoy a lovely view of Bilbao as you ride back down in the cable car and then cross Calatrava’s footbridge. Next, walk along the Paseo Uribitarte boulevard until you come to the jewel in the crown: the impressive Guggenheim Bilbao Museum. Designed by the prestigious architect Frank Ghery and now the emblem of the city, it looks like a futuristic ship that has run aground in the estuary. You will feel like you have entered a magical world when an enormous sculpture of a spider greets you in front of the museum, or when you see the colours of the rainbow reflected on the external sheets of titanium, the material from which the building is made. The spectacle continues inside, with the collections waiting to be discovered.
On leaving the museum, walk around the building to take a look at another of its unique features: “Puppy”, a 12-metre-high dog made of flowers and yet another example of Bilbao’s avant-garde flavour. Now it’s time for lunch and there’s no better place to sample the delights of Bilbao’s haute cuisine than at the museum restaurant.
After lunch, continue your tour of the city by strolling along the estuary and admiring a variety of fascinating buildings such as the Museum of Fine Arts, opposite, and the Conference and Music Centre (symbolically shaped like a ship), which you can reach by crossing the romantic Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park.ierence and Music Centre ( buildings such as the Museum of Fine Arts, opposite, a and has a strii
Things to remember
The Euskalduna Palace is only open to visitors on Saturdays at 12 noon.
For sporting enthusiasts there is a bicycle lane along both banks of the estuary. – There is a tourist bus, departing from the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, which makes 15 stops and allows passengers to get on and off as many times as they want.
The “Bilbao Tourist Card”, which you can buy online and at tourist offices, offers unlimited use of public transport, as well as discounts for shops, restaurants, shows and leisure centres.
You can book guided tours of the city at the tourist office next to the Guggenheim Museum.
The shopping area
One of the most convenient options now for getting back to the Town Hall would be to take the city tram. But why not walk into the urban expansion area of Bilbao (the city's largest and most centrally located shopping area) and do a little shopping? You might therefore want to head for Gran Vía Don Diego López de Haro, a wide and elegant boulevard where you will see the stores of all the top international designers. Now’s the moment to treat yourself. As you stroll along this avenue, be sure to take in some of the city’s other emblematic buildings, such as the Chavarri Palace, the palace that houses the Provincial Government and some of the eye-catching metro station entrances, known locally as "fosteritos" because they were designed by Norman Foster.
For dinner, the route between Gran Vía Don Diego López de Haro and the Euskalduna Palace boasts some of the best restaurants in the city, offering both traditional Basque and innovative cuisine. Afterwards, if you are in the mood for a late-night drink or dancing (the variety of music on offer ranges from jazz to house), head for the Alameda de Urquijo, Alameda Mazarredo and the Uribitarte Wharf.
A coffee steeped in history... and luxury dining
On reaching Plaza Circular square you will be greeted by a statue of Don Diedo López de Haro, the founder of Bilbao. It you turn left, you will come to the relaxing Albia Gardens, the ideal place for taking a rest. Why? Because that’s where you’ll find the wonderful Café Iruña, renowned for its history as a place of political and literary gatherings. It also has stunning décor.
Day 2: The flavour of the historic quarter
You could spend the second day of your stay in Bilbao getting to know the most traditional part of the city: the Historic Quarter. This itinerary commences at the Paseo del Arenal boulevard. If it’s Sunday, a wonderful surprise awaits you on the banks of the estuary: a picturesque open-air flower market where you’ll be able to buy the bouquet of your choice. From there, take Fueros Street up to Plaza de Unamuno, a busy square at any time of the day and the ideal place for a coffee. Notice behind you the 213 steps of the Calzadas de Mallona. Walk up a few to take a photo of the picturesque scene below you. Or walk up to the top of the steps and head for the Begoña Basilica. Remember, though, that this will take at least half an hour and you’ll be leaving the historic quarter behind you, so if you haven’t finished exploring the area it might be better to leave that until after lunch.
Let’s assume that you’ve decided to continue your tour of the oldest part of the city. The best option here is to wander through the stone-cobbled alleyways to get the feel of Bilbao’s most traditional side. In this gentle stroll you will come across handsome monuments, tiny squares, craft shops and a whole host of other types of shops. One of the most popular areas is "Las 7 calles" (its name is a reference to the parallel streets that commence in Somera). Along these streets and in their immediate vicinity you will be able to visit the Mercado de la Ribera market (the largest covered market in Europe, which boasts stunning glazed windows), the church of San Antón, the cathedral of Santiago (the oldest church in Bilbao) and the Stock Exchange. Outside the latter, you will find a curious sign on the floor showing you where to stand to glimpse a view of the Begoña Basilica, this being the only point in the historic quarter from which it can be seen.
To end your tour, take Bidebarrieta Street down to the lovely Plaza del Arenal square and admire the city’s finest theatre, the elegant Teatro Arriaga.
Time for a few pintxos
It's time for lunch, and although you will have been tempted by the numerous bars and restaurants in the area, a very special place awaits you: Plaza Nueva square. If it’s Sunday, browse the stalls set out under the 64 arches, where you’ll see crowds of people buying old books, coins, stamps, comics, etc.
And for lunch, you’ll see that the square offers plenty of bars and taverns where you can sample the traditional pintxos (delicious tapas usually made of the local produce), washed down by the local wine, Txacolí. Best of all? Go from one place to another and try them all, then round off the afternoon with a coffee at one of the charming terraces in the square or at a nearby cake shop.
Things to remember
The Mercado de la Ribera is closed on Sundays.
There is a pay lift on Esperanza Street in the historic quarter which will take you up to the basilica of Nuestra Señora de Begoña. This will save you having to walk up the steps at Las Calzadas de Mallona.
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