For some reason the Basque city of Bilbao, on Spain’s northern coast, has remained fairly unspoiled and largely unvisited by tourists.
The world all flock to Barcelona and Madrid but Bilbao is saved for the people in the know.Those who are after something a little different. For many years it was a geographical melting pot, with a thick and muddy Ría de Bilbao flowing right through it, and the towering Vizcaya hills creating a shadow. It was, and in some parts still is, a very industrial city similar to Sheffield in the UK. But the dust has been brushed off in the last decade and it’s become one of the top places to visit in Spain. It’s not all about that museum either.
1. A Visit to Catedral de Santiago
Although this only became an official cathedral in the 1950s, the building is well over 700 years old. It stands proudly as a beautiful, understated piece of Gothic architecture. There’s a mixture of styles, due to the cathedral undertaking various upgrades over its life. For a good example of how subtle and sophisticated the whole city can be, this is a great start.
2. A Stroll through Casco Viejo
Just down the road from the Catedral de Santiago is the old town quarter of Casco Viejo. The cobbled streets, the crumbling stone buildings, and the medieval market sites are a real treat for the eyes and for lovers of traditional Spain. It’s famous for the Seven Streets, or Las Siete Calles, where you’ll find loads of bars, restaurants and little knick-knack shops to stock up with presents galore. It’s a window into the past and a great area to spend the afternoon.
3. A Ride on the Funicular de Artxanda
It’s not just the birds flying above who get to see Bilbao from the air. If you want to get a really good sense of space and location then veer towards Plaza Funicular on the north side of the river and to the base of Artxanda hill. Here you’ll find a hundred year old railway that chugs the 226 metres up, only taking about 3 minutes, until you get to the summit where you’ll be able to gaze at the panoramic view of the city whilst taking in a drink or a bite to eat at the bars and restaurants up there.
4. A Visit to the Guggenheim Museum
It’s amazing to think that it was only in 1997 that this stunning landmark was erected. It feels like it’s been in Bilbao for decades. Canadian architect Frank O’Gehry designed a lavish and totally unique structure that looks like the result of a fight between two iron giants. Inspired by the industrial wasteland that once sat at the same site, O’Gehry intended to take this idea and make it art. Inside the museum it doesn’t disappoint either. The dozens of galleries, all housing work by Picasso, Kandinsky, Braque, Miró, Klee and Rothko, makes it the number one place to see in Bilbao.
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Photo of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, by Envicionpublicidad