The city of Bilbao which located in the Basque Region of Northern Spain and is the capital of the Biscay Province has traditionally been known as a center of industry and commerce. For years this coastal city which has one of Spain’s most polluted rivers, the River Nervión flowing through it was known primarily for its shipbuilding industry but in recent years this rather drab city has undergone a major transformation as a result of which it now features on the international tourist map as an important cultural destination which many interesting attractions.
1. Museo Guggenheim Bilbao
The main attraction Bilbao is undoubtedly its rather controversial Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, which opened its doors to the public in 1997. This Frank Ghery designed futuristic building which is covered in titanium and resembles a giant metallic flower is both admired and abhorred by the locals. Thousands however flock to the museum annually to take in its magnificent contemporary art exhibits which are spread over three floors and include the works of famed twentieth century artists like Eduardo Chillida, Yves Klein, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Clyfford Still, Antoni Tàpies, and Andy Warhol as well as works of local Basque artists and travelling exhibits from the other Guggenheim collections in New York, Venice and Berlin.
2. Museo de Belle Artes
If contemporary art is not your thing, can always head out to the Museo de Belle Artes which is located in the city’s Doña Casilda Iturrizar park. This nondescript building is a veritable treasure trove of paintings, drawings, engravings and sculptures that date from the 12th to the 20th century. The rich collection at this small museum features works by renowned masters like El Greco, Goya, Paul Gauguin, Picasso and Velazquez amongst others. Though if you are an art aficionado and wish to visit both the Guggenheim and the Museo de Belle Artes , you should invest in a Bono Artean ticket which gives you admission to both museums at a combined reduced rate of 12 Euros. This Bono Artean ticket is available at the box offices of both museums.
3. Museo Taurino
Bilbao is considered to a gateway to the town of Pampalona which is famous for its annual festival that features the‘running of the bulls’. Bilbao, itself has hosted bullfights ever since the seventeenth century. To learn about bullfighting in Bilbao you should visit the main arena in Bilbao, Alegre that has a museum devoted to bullfighting located adjacent to it. At this museum you will have the chance to see displays that highlight the various accouterments of this gory sport like the matador’s richly embellished costumes, capes, swords and ancient posters that were used to advertise the fights.
4. Bilboko Udala- Bilbao City Hall
Bilbao’s stately city hall building was designed by Joaquin Rucoba in 1892. This neo baroque building which is topped by a spire and has a magnificent façade of balconies and columns is located in the Plaza Erkoreka Ernesto. The main attraction of this building is its opulently decorated ‘Salon Arabe’ or Arab room which is used for conducting civil marriage ceremonies. The best way to explore the city hall is to book one of the offered guided tours however these usually have to be booked in advance.
5. Teatro Arriaga
This magnificent building which is the site for theatre in Bilbao was also designed by Joaquin Ruboca in 1890 who fashioned it on the Paris Opera House. The theatre which was named after Juan Crosótomo de Arriaga, a composer from Bilbao was almost destroyed by a devastating fire in December 1914. It was then rebuilt by an architect called Federico de Ugalde who renewed and strengthened the elaborately decorated structure. The theater today hosts a wide range of shows within its sumptuously adorned rich interiors.
Photo of the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain by Nad Renrel